Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time

     Growing up, two nativity scenes were a staple in the Vandzura household. The first was a simple, white, ceramic set that sat on a table in our den. The second was a large wooden silhouette that went in front of our house. It was basically one large piece and included Mary, Joseph and Jesus. It looked much like the one below:
     Incidentally, my mom didn’t find this picture very amusing when I showed it to her…

     Obviously this joke is somewhat crude, but I don’t show it without purpose. Nativity scenes are extremely familiar to us. It doesn’t take much detail for us as Christians to identify the iconic scene. This picture amuses me because it gives me a window into what someone unfamiliar with the scene might see when they look at it.

     If you have grown up with the Nativity scene, familiarity is inescapable. Of course Jesus was born in a stable. Of course he was wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger. This is all so expected. It’s so normal. Unfortunately, familiarity is often the enemy of good discipleship. A sense of familiarity causes us to overlook the shocking implications of the life of Jesus. Familiarity causes us to assume that we know all of the lessons, that we have drawn all the correct conclusions, that we have wrestled with all of the burning questions, and that we have seen all of the beauty that there is to see in the story of the Gospel. I think our approach to the Christmas story is a prime example of this.

     But consider the initial reaction of the first people who heard of this scene.
“And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them…”
     As the event’s of Luke’s birth narrative come to an end, the shepherds go about spreading the news of what they had seen. No one saw a “normal” nativity scene. Instead, the response of all who hear it is to wonder. What does this all mean? The king has been born here in this tiny village? The heir of David has begun his life in a stable? The one who will save us has no status? All of these are surprising and difficult realities demand reckoning. They force one to rethink all of his or her assumptions, and what’s more, they make one long to know what comes next. The story of Christmas is one of wonder. It is unexpected, and its richness and beauty is found within that unexpectedness.

     As you celebrate with your family today and tomorrow, re-read the story. Don’t assume you know it. Enter it with fresh eyes. Identify the strangeness, celebrate the truly unexpected nature of what you see, and ask what question such a surprising beginning to Jesus’s story begs. Abandon familiarity and see what you find.

     And then as you walk into 2022, ask yourself what other things about Jesus familiarity has caused you to take for granted. Open yourself up to the rest of his shocking life. Let him challenge your most closely held beliefs, even if they were the ones you assumed you learned from him (but perhaps never did). Enjoy the beauty you find in this fresh new look, and learn to look forward to what comes next.

Merry Christmas!

(My initial intention was to end this blog with a more relevant song choice; however, since Pastor Rob threw me under the bus last time and announced to you all that my favorite Christmas song was “Christmas Shoes”…)

I give you: the actual greatest Christmas song of all time

Dan Vandzura