1Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” 3King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. Matthew 2:1-3
So much for a silent night. There was nothing about the arrival of the Christ child that was convenient or peaceful. When you take a look at the narrative as a whole it’s interesting to note that every major player in the advent found their lives turned upside down. Long before we find King Herod and “everyone in Jerusalem” in a state of a deep disturbance at the news of Jesus we see the lives of others confronted by an unforeseen crisis. Zechariah and Elizabeth had their lives turned upside down at the promise of the miracle birth of John the Baptist. Then, we find Joseph’s wedding plan completely wrecked by the divine impregnation of his fiancé Mary. Shepherds just doing their duty find themselves face to face with a host of angels and an impromptu plan. The wise men surrendered up a couple years of their lives to follow a star from Ethiopia. Like a rock thrown into a quiet and still pond, the ripple effect of Christ’s birth moves out in ever widening circles until we find this description of King Herod and all of Jerusalem being rocked from their slumber by this news. The word for “disturbed” in Greek is “to agitate, trouble (a thing, by the movement of its parts to and fro), to cause one inward commotion, take away his calmness of mind, disturb his equanimity, to disquiet, make restless, to stir up, to trouble.” So much for a Merry Christmas right? This reminds me of something Christ said later on in His ministry that ties directly this reality of His arrival, 32“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. 34“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to turn “ ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—36a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ (Mt. 10:32-36). I used to wonder why the angels sang about “peace on earth and good will toward men” if Jesus had come to bring a sword until I realized something. The crisis of Christmas is that Christ’s arrival demands a response. This demand upon our conscience is disturbing because it means nothing will ever be the way that it was. Everything changes the moment I grapple with His coming. Comfort and convenience are out the door and I must choose to receive Him or reject Him, but there is no middle ground. It’s not enough to simply acknowledge that He came but to ask why He came. As Jesus says in Mt. 10, He came to ask us to choose. This choice demands that everything else takes second place to Him. We will either be like Joseph and Mary who chose, in their crisis of faith, to trust God or we will be like King Herod who tried to stop it! The peace the angels promised isn’t automatic. If we don’t surrender our swords, our will and plane to the Lord, we will find ourselves facing the sharp end of a battle of wills we cannot win.
It’s confession time. It’s not even Thanksgiving and our family has already put up our Christmas tree and decorations. I know that for some this is a cardinal sin. I can’t help it. Christmas is my favorite time of year and I wanted to celebrate just a little bit longer this year. I love everything about it. The beauty of the decorations, the smells of pine and fresh-baked cookies, the delight of lights wrapped around commonplace items instantly transforming the house into a place of wonder and peace. What’s not to like about Christmas? Except, that, if I’m not careful, I can become so enamored with the trappings of the season that I become trapped by them. I must not miss the reason the Savior came. It turns out He didn’t came to make me comfortable and to pass around another cup of creamy eggnog. No, Jesus came to confront me in my revelry and call me to a fresh place of surrender. Will I surrender my plans, my parties, my perfectly placed decorations to find His heart again in this season? When I embrace Him again it actually frees everything else up. My peace is no longer dependent upon the perfect turkey or the “best gift ever” under the tree. In fact, even if everything else goes horribly wrong I’m still in perfect peace because I’ve surrendered it all to Him in the first place. Instead of competing with Christ this Christmas I’m caring for those around me who are facing their own crisis of faith. Due to memories of the past, broken relationships, lack of finances, and other challenges there are many who face the crisis of Christmas with dread. Instead, I can join with the wise men and meet them where they are and assure them that Christ has come to bring them through. It won’t be how they planned it and they won’t ever be the same, but the full surrender Christmas calls us to is truly the most peaceful place to be. It’s peace with a purpose and it reminds me of my purpose.
Lord, I thank You for this fresh reminder of why You came for us. I don’t want to lose this focus You've brought to me this day. When I’m tempted to turn your story into a fuzzy fiction right alongside Santa remind of what You’ve shown me here. When I’m tempted to the busyness of the season keep me from being with You remind me of what I’ve surrendered to. When I’m tempted to be lulled to sleep by my traditions remind that the peace that lasts is only found through full surrender to You!