It only happens once a year, but gratefully it happens every year. Consistently and faithfully this day becomes an anchor of our childhood, our family memories, and on a much larger scale, even our faith. This one day that is different than the other 364. It seems that nearly everything about our culture and society has shifted, but this one day has some how withstood the crushing avalanche of change. The times and seasons change. For instance, I haven’t noticed a fight over Cabbage Patch dolls this year or people being trampled by a mob in search of Tickle Me Elmo. The times and seasons change, but Christmas day is a tide of consistency. In fact, this one day in December now casts a long shadow all the way into the month of October. October seems a tad early for Christmas music, but I sometimes watch Christmas movies in July so who am I to judge. Here’s a spoiler alert for that Christmas movie you are going to watch, it’s going to snow and everything works out in the end. Our economy still very much revolves around this one day. Our retail stores depend on one Friday in November to put them in the black. We call it Black Friday. It should be noted that it’s only Black Friday for Gap and Banana Republic. It’s probably Red Friday for the consumers. It’s still a wonder to me that a sizable portion of the economy of one of the most powerful and wealthy nations the world has ever known revolves around the birth of a baby in a small city called Bethlehem 2000 years ago. It’s not just commerce, but even our calendar hinges on this one day. Vacations and trips are planned, parties and family gatherings are set in motion. The season struggles to contain all of the activity that we try to cram into it. It would sometimes seem easier to negotiate peace in the Middle East than to negotiate which side of the family gets the Grandkids on Christmas morning. I honestly don’t know how long this will last for our society in general. It seems like our culture tries to reject anything to do with God, even his birthday. Yet, this day still influences the world around us. We all still spend a little more than we should, rush a little more than we should, so that we can stop, at least for this one day. Stop to share gifts, stop to share family time, and stop just to reflect. This one day becomes a birthday party celebrated the world over. How powerful is that? An event that happened 2000 years ago is still shaping and influencing the world around us. So what happened on this one day that made it more marvelous than all others.
I would say it was Favor Found. It was Grace discovered in cloth and a manger. People tend to search for things, especially answers. And especially to answers to questions like is God good or bad or perhaps indifferent? It’s a question that has rolled through the ages like tumbleweed. The world seems harsh. People seem harsh at times. If you have ever read through the Old Testament you find a mix of a God that seems to be imploring people in love to obey him. Yet, unable or unwilling to follow the commands the people like clockwork go astray. On time and on schedule the judgment of God would arrive. It was severe and yes, it would be harsh. We watch it play out in a never ending circle in 39 books that make up the Old Testament. God loves, but God has rules, and God has judgment. People break the rules and disregard God and then the judgment comes. That judgment was harsh. But one day a new page starts. It’s different. It’s not the same and will never be the same. The circle is broken. There, lying in a manger under starry sky is the same God of fiery judgment and watery retribution. It’s the same, He’s the same, but yet not the same at all. In Bethlehem the harshness of a judgmental God has turned as soft as a baby’s bottom. The rigid justice of a God of rules and regulations became as tender as a new born’s lips that Mary probably kissed more than a few times. All of that judgment, all of that justice, all of that authority and power. It was wrapped up in 10 tiny toes and one little nose. Weak and vulnerable, completely dependent, and even fragile. A baby lies in a manger. Maybe the world is harsh, maybe people are harsh, but maybe God isn’t so harsh after all. One day a God thundering on a mountain that causes the earth to burn and tremble. This day, this one single, solitary day, a God who’s cries are only heard by a caring mother and some random livestock. Born to rule in grace, born to save in love, born to conquer death and our sin, but first a diaper change and a nap. Is God good or bad? Is he harsh or angry? We can easily see there is harshness in the world he created. The bad is evident all around us. But in the tenderness of his advent we see the heart of the God who loves us. Omnipotence became vulnerable just to help me find my strength. Sovereignty got scolded by a mother just so I could have peace even if I don’t have all of the answers. Omnipresence got held in a Father’s arms just so that I would know that I am never, never alone in this world. So we stop. Or at least we should. Because this day, this one day, is special. It’s Christmas. Our savior is born.
We aren’t alone. We aren’t neglected. We aren’t left in our sin waiting for judgment. Immanuel, God is with us, for us, over us, good to us, and faithful to us. We often want God to fit with in the perimeters of our own comfort. A God of judgment that punishes for sin doesn’t sit well with us. It may be uncomfortable and even challenging, but its the perfect truth of God. But it’s against this bleak backdrop of sin and judgment that God painted the portrait of his grace. We no longer have to fear him, run from him, or hide from him. The God that thundered from mountains, and was off limits to mortals, is now as approachable as a baby.