Hey Everyone! Merry Christmas!
Last week, against my better judgment, my friend Denny and I went to the “Ginormous” Tyson’s Mall, to do some Christmas shopping. I am not usually a fan of shopping, crowds, Christmas sales or pushy kiosk sales people. However, we did have an exciting brush with the Big Man himself, and his entourage, coming down the escalator. (See Picture: Denny and I both agreed that this was one of the most legit Santa’s that we had ever seen. He was also the most diesel Santa we had ever seen too. He looked like maybe he played linebacker at North Pole State.) Anyway, somewhere between 5 Guys Burgers and Cinnabon Denny asked me what I wanted for Christmas. At first, I had a hard time answering the question. I don’t know why, I am usually pretty good at telling people what I want. I think it’s my spirituals gift. I tried avoiding the question as the two of us walked into the Apple store. We both immediately went into apple-salivation mode, it was like a sick and twisted Pavlovian-Jobs experiment (as in Steve Jobs? Get it?). I thought I had avoided the question, but he had the nerve to ask me the question again, “Barry, what do you want for Christmas?” I found myself giving a rehearsed answer about a new pair of pants or shoes or something. Now, I didn’t mention this at the time, but I have always wanted to get my wife, Rachel, and I tickets for Oprah’s new gift Christmas show. You know the one, where she shows a television studio full of ravenous women all the cool stuff she bought over the last year. She then proceeds to give one, free, to every member in the audience. Rachel would love that! I just love watching the people in the audience going absolutely insane! Like, “Beatlemania” level crazy.
“Starbucks gift cards are always one of my favorites!” I usually get a lot of those little gems. Starbucks even has these cool little Christmas gift card holders that are pretty festive. I was telling Rachel that, next year; I was going to use the gift cards as Christmas tree ornaments, on my “all Starbucks Christmas tree”. I could string some coffee beans together as garland, get some green lights and use a lighted Venti cup, on the top of the tree, as a the star. She looked at me as if to say, “Your an Idiot. Aren’t you a Pastor?” I get that look a lot.
Later, as I was reflecting on the day, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed. You see, when Denny asked me what I wanted for Christmas, without even thinking about it, without a hesitation, I instinctively spewed out a litany of “things” that I “wanted.” This was unfortunate because the question that Denny asked was not specifically about “things”. You see, I could have answered that question in a ton of different ways, like, “I want the Phillies to win the World Series.” (Oh, yeah, Sorry, they already did that) or, “I want the Eagles to win the Super Bowl.” “I want World Peace.” or “I want to have a safe and fun Christmas with my wife and kids.” I would have been happy if this sentiment had been even a tiny part of my answer. Was it? No.
Now, before you go and write me an angry letter, realize, of course, that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with “stuff”. I like stuff just as much as the next person! It’s just that I feel, as of late, that “stuff” and the desire for “the stuff” have infiltrated my perception of reality. “The stuff” has cast a spell over me and I remain unaware of how deep my sleep is. This spell of “stuff” has the power to skew my perception of my needs verses my wants. The spell has made the “stuff” my first response and my last hope.
There is a picture that I have, at home, in one of my childhood photo albums. It’s a terribly dated 34-year-old snapshot of me, when I was 4 or 5, opening either a birthday or Christmas present. I am holding up the present with this indescribable look of elation. I am victoriously holding the present in the air like an Olympian after winning the gold medal. In this picture I look triumphant, elated and assured that all is right in the world. The only thing wrong with the picture is that, for the life of me, I have NO IDEA what the heck I am holding. No clue as to what this present I am frantically waiving about is. I have asked my parents, siblings I have even considered a hypnotist to bring me back to that day. The point is, at that moment, I was beyond excited about that specific present, but the excitement didn’t last! Even the very best presents in this world fade away and turn to dust.
I think back to my “All Time Favorite” childhood presents that I do remember:
#3. Rock’em Sock’em Robots: AWESOME! My brother, Brandon, and I actually disconnected the spring-loaded head from the body. Then, every time the robots head popped up, after being hit in the chin, it would fly across the room instead of just merely bouncing up and down attached to the body.
#2. Stretch Arm Strong: (Poor Stretch Arm Strong. Let’s just say that we discovered that the mystery syrup-guts, inside stretch arm-strong, do not light on fire.)
Atari 1600: One red button. Just one red button! Brilliant!
All these toys are long long gone! Dust!
Last week, at my weekly 5:30 am High School boys small group, we read through Matthew and Luke’s account of the Birth of Christ. Whenever I hear Luke’s account I hear Linus, as the narrator, in my head. Luke 2:8- Maybe you will recognize this scripture from the clip below.
If you read on though, just a few verses later, after the Sheppard’s Find Mary, Joseph and Jesus, hanging out with some donkeys, they retell the story about hanging out with the angel of the Lord and then a cameo from a heavenly traveling Choir and, most importantly, how the angel told them of “a Savior”, “the Messiah”, that had been born to them that day. We find Mary, still a glow from just giving birth to her child, she is listening to the amazing story the Sheppard’s are telling. She is holding the story up against the backdrop of a tumultuous and mysterious 9 months, where she silently wondered, many times, if she had just imagined the whole thing. Enter the Sheppard’s divine appointment that assures Mary that the child asleep, on her breast, is no ordinary child.
Then, the Author of Luke Says, in verse 2:19 “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” In Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible, The Message, he writes: “Marry kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.
I love that verse. I think, Mary somehow knew, at that exact moment, that that this child in her arms was the gift that would never stop giving. He was the gift that would be “re-gifted” more than grandma’s fruitcake. He was the gift you can’t return, that always fits and is the perfect price. This gift is free, but He will cost you everything. Mary knew, at that moment, that she was to be intimately involved in Gods salvific plan for the whole world, yet to unfold. Yet, the plan didn’t merely just unfold, the plan was born and lived among us! The reality of the situation began to settle upon Mary and that unlikely cast of characters. The uncomfortable and spectacular reality that God was going to save the world through the seemingly illegitimate child of a homeless unwed teenage peasant began to sink in. She realized that, in her arms, amongst the Sheppard’s, manure, a fiancé who should have run and angelic visitors, was laying the savior of the world. Mary treasured up these truths and put them in a deep place within her spirit. She put them in a place easily accessible for when the trials of being the earthly mother to, well, God, that this treasure buried in a place deep within her sprit would be her comfort and her hope.
So, if I could go back in time, and answer that question again, this is what I want for Christmas. I want to treasure up all these things! To keep deep within my heart this beautiful mystery that is Christmas!
Merry Christmas Everyone!