Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Manger, The Cross, and The “Christmas Spirit”

I am having a difficult time “getting into the Christmas spirit” this year. Maybe it was hearing about my oldest daughter’s miscarriage on Saturday. Or it could be that all day trip Cindy and I took Sunday to go to a memorial service for a good friend’s 22-year-old nephew on the Peninsula. I think I feel a little like my Grandpa Jim Nickoloff used to feel. In his later years he would bemoan, “People are dying like flies!”

For me, all the glitter and lights just seem to be a little superficial this year. The things that used to excite me don’t really do it for me anymore. The wonder and the anticipation for that big day is not the same. I know retailers are depending on a big December but it all just feels too commercial.

My daughter Holly and I decided to get a little “Charlie Brown” kind of tree while my wife, Cindy, was out of town. But we couldn’t find the lights and couldn’t reach Cindy to ask where she is “hiding them” in the garage. (She doesn’t actually hide them she just puts them in a place that is logical for her.) So for now the tree is left undecorated. It is just a plain green tree.

As I stared at the tree I began to kind of like it just as it is—not only because I was getting out of the sweaty work of decorating it, but because to me this little tree symbolized getting back to the basic unadorned truth of Christmas.

The tree represents a manger made of wood (I know it could be stone and we don’t know for sure but let’s just say it’s wood for the sake of the comparison to the cross, okay?!)

The Christmas tree also pictures for me the cross. As I look at our little tree I notice something I never saw before. The very top of the tree looks like a man with arms stretched out wide like he is on a cross. That man-made star we would always hang up there has always hidden this simple God-created picture at the top of the tree.

The manger was a place of rejection. Jesus and his parents, Joseph and Mary, could not go to the inn. There was no room. The cool, the popular, the achievers were there but the cave with its manger was the place for the rejected, the outcast, the homeless.

The cross was also a place of rejection. Only criminals were executed on the cross. It was a place of humiliation, to be stripped of clothes and to be hung on a cruel instrument of torture. “He came to His own and His own received Him not.”

The manger was a place where sheep ate. The cross was where the Lamb of God, Jesus, offered Himself in obedience to His Father for the sins, my sins, of the world so that we, His sheep can feed upon Him, the Bread of Life.

The manger was likely inside a cave of some sort that was used for animals to feed under cover. These caves were also used for burials. The cloths that Jesus was swaddled in were likely Joseph’s swaddling clothes that he kept for burial purposes if that should be necessary on their journey. The Jews were fastidious about burial, always carrying some swaddling clothes with them, just in case.

After the cross Jesus was laid to rest in a tomb hewn out of the rock like the cave he was born in.

Maybe in allowing myself to reflect upon the reality of death through recent experiences of those close to me I am zeroing in on the true spirit of Christmas. This makes me yearn for something that gives real, lasting hope in a dying world.

The true wonder of the Christmas story is that the God of all creation became a baby boy who was born to suffer, bleed and die to buy rebels like myself, my family and the whole world to His Father, to be his beloved children, even His brothers and sisters—forever and ever.

So, maybe by slowing down, screening out the clutter and focusing on the manger and the cross I am actually getting into the “Christmas spirit” after all.

Savoring the Spirit of Christmas,


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Anonymous said...

I like this. I needed the reminder this year of what Christmas is all about! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Appreciate your thoughts Jamie, and so sorry for the loss you have recently experienced. Blessings