I wonder what your agenda is for a typical Christmas holiday season? For example, perhaps it includes travelling to meet up with family and friends? In the original Christmas story, Mary had to travel more than 80 miles even before Jesus was born – while she was heavily pregnant! And I also wonder if anything surprising or unexpected has ever happened to you over a Christmas period? Mary, I’m sure, never expected to cradle her new-born in an animal feeding-trough, of all places! That would definitely not have been on their agenda, but by the time they arrived at Bethlehem there were no other options left open to them.
I suppose it’s quite likely that your doorbell has sounded at some point over the holidays and you received some unannounced well-wishers and visitors. Well, I hope it was a nice surprise! In Mary’s case, she welcomed shepherds she’d never met before – they just walked in from the fields to welcome her new arrival! But, tell me, what do you do when the holidays are over? Do you quickly forget it all? Well, that’s where Mary gives us the very best example. Luke’s Gospel chapter 2:19 says: ‘Mary treasured all these things [about Jesus], pondering them in her heart.’
At home, like a great many other people – probably every family – we have a baby book for each of our children. Very occasionally we come across those books and so remind ourselves of the significant early milestones in the lives of our children. Each of that type of book tends to follow a standard design with spaces to allow the parents to put in a description and a photograph of ‘baby’s first outing,’ ‘baby’s first flight,’ ‘baby’s first birthday,’ ‘first time found standing up unaided in the cot’ etc. etc.
Mary’s baby book – if we could imagine her having such a thing – would have featured such milestones as a visit by the angel Gabriel; contact she’d had with her close relative Elizabeth who was six months or so further into her pregnancy carrying John the Baptist; then there was the first visit of the shepherds; – oh, and their meeting at Jerusalem with Anna and Simeon! That first Christmas was truly memorable! And Jesus is what’s really valuable about Christmas, so don’t just lay aside any thoughts of him along with all the leftover clutter. Jesus is for ever; not just for Christmas.
I once heard someone mention a slogan they’d read on a T-shirt. They’d spotted one which read: ‘Dear Santa, I want it all!’ Is that all that Christmas really means for some people – perhaps for you – is it just an opportunity to grab the latest must-have gadgets? Sometimes we want so much, and maybe we even have so much, that we can even lose track of what we already have.
William Randolph Hearst was a wealthy newspaper publisher in the 1920s. He was also an art-lover and had a huge collection of paintings. One day he read about a particular painting and decided he simply must own it. He immediately sent two men to Europe to track it down and buy it. The two men scoured European art galleries for seven weeks. They finally located the painting and contacted Mr. Hearst with the information. “Where is it?” Hearst demanded. They replied, “It’s in your own warehouse in California – you already own it!”
Yes, people want many things, they want to own the latest devices, and so they put them on their Christmas list – possibly their Amazon wish list – often what we want is nothing more than a passing craze – as when last year’s iPhone or iPod Touch – or whatever – is now discarded in favour of this year’s latest device. May I suggest that we try to remember – as good advice – the example of Mary which we were thinking about earlier? Luke’s Gospel chapter 2:19 says: ‘Mary treasured all these things [about Jesus], pondering them in her heart’ … Her good example was to keep safe and close the precious memories of Jesus’ birth, collating and storing all the information – all the memories – so that she could enjoy them again afterwards.
I guess what I’m saying is: among all the valuable things you hold in your heart, please don’t lose track of the fact that to possess Jesus by faith in your heart is the greatest treasure anyone can possibly have in this life … for in Jesus, God has given the greatest gift of all.
I’ve never forgotten the story of a little boy out at night walking with his dad. It was a clear, cold night, and their walk took them past a row of terraced houses. Many of them were displaying a star in their window. The boy asked his dad what this might mean. His father explained to him that there was a war going on and each time there was a window with a star in it, that meant that the family who lived in that house had sacrificed a son in the war – meaning, of course, a son of theirs had gone to fight for his country and had been killed in action. This was naturally a great sadness for those families and to commemorate their loss, they’d each put a star in their window. The little boy listened quietly to his dad’s explanation, and they again walked on in silence for a while. After a while, they came to a break between the rows of terraced houses. At that point the boy looked straight up into the section of sky which was visible between the houses – and he saw a single bright star there. ‘Oh Daddy, look,’ he said, ‘God has given his son too!’
And how true! Yes, God gave his son to the mean circumstances of his birth and then – most importantly – some thirty-three years later, to the cross: to the outside place at birth and the outside place at death. Why? So he can be IN our lives. We did say above that to possess Jesus by faith in our heart is the greatest possible treasure anyone can have in this life, for to know Jesus is to know that all your shortcomings in God’s sight are already fully forgiven, for always. We’ve sinned, but he was born to die that he might deliver his believing followers from their sins.
If you’re not sure if you already own him as your saviour – remember how William Randolph Hearst was very far from sure that he owned the painting he wanted – so if you’re not totally sure you already own Jesus in your heart as saviour, it’s best for you to make sure now by turning your thoughts away from centring on yourself and your own gratification and turning them towards him instead, by consciously inviting him into your life.
Once, a mother was very carefully putting away all the Christmas decorations for another year. It can be such fun to bring them out, and such a chore to put them all away again. This particular year, as she stored all the items belonging to the little nativity display back into the box, she noticed the baby Jesus was missing. She asked her young daughter if she’d seen the missing piece. The little girl nodded, and admitted that she’d taken it. She then explained: ‘I don’t want you to put Jesus away with the decorations for another year.’
Very soon the holidays are over, and it’s back to school and back to business as normal again, and so the decorations – and the sentiments – get packed away for another year. That little girl’s appeal is worth listening to. ‘Don’t put Jesus away with the decorations’ – but instead enjoy your treasure ever after! Jesus is for ever, not just for Christmas.