Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

December 28, 2021
Following Christ’s example and teachings is the best way to ‘Keep Christ in Christmas’

It is fairly common for people of faith (including yours truly) to have a “good news – bad news” approach to religious holidays. It is good news that culture acknowledges the importance of sacred days. It is gratifying to get a day off in recognition of their significance. But, it is bad news that the sacred aspect of those days too often gets lost in the process.  

A wise pastor once said, it is sad that the common image of Christmas today is “presents” under the tree when the greatest gift of all is God’s “presence” on the tree. Of course, he is referring to the Savior’s sacrifice on the cross.  

Realizing that, it is hard not to think of Christmas as over-commercialized when Santa displays go up in the stores as soon as the Halloween decorations come down. Religious folks have developed some not-so-subtle memes to deal with this situation. We encourage one another to “Keep Christ in Christmas” or to remember the “Reason for the season.”   

And lest you think me some kind of spoilsport, you should know that I don’t have a problem with Santa Claus or Rudolph. I think it is up to us as believers to keep Christ in Christmas without regard to what the rest of the culture is doing.  

And at least for the last few weeks of December, it is not all that hard to do. Faithful people all over the world love to read the Christmas story in chapter 2 of Luke’s Gospel. It is told and retold in Christmas Eve services everywhere. We read and we remember how Joseph and Mary, great with child, travel to Bethlehem and how they end up in a stable because there was no room for them in the inn.  

The birth of the Christ child is world-shaking news, but it is not made known to the power people of the day. Choirs of angels sing praises to God and announce the Good News to lowly shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. The shepherds go to Bethlehem and find the Baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.  

And they cannot keep this Good News to themselves. The Bible tells us they tell everyone what happened and that all the people who heard the shepherd’s story were astonished. Luke ends the nativity narrative reminding us that Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.  

For faithful people, keeping Christ in Christmas comes easily when we remember the details of St. Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus. We realize that up to that time, the birth of Jesus was the most important event in human history. In fact, we in the western world count the years based on the year Jesus was born. We are in A.D. 2021. “A.D” is abbreviated Latin for Anno Domini – which means year of our Lord.  

But what you may not know is that Luke tells this whole amazing, miraculous, story in just the first 20 verses of chapter 2 of his Gospel. He uses fewer than 400 words to describe the most significant event in human history. It comes as a shock to those of us who long so fervently for Christmas that Luke manages to tell the story so brilliantly and so succinctly.

It is even more of a shock that while we are still in chapter 2, Luke moves quickly to telling a story about Jesus at age twelve. After his family makes their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, the pre-teen Jesus gets left behind in the big city.  

It takes three days of frantic searching for Joseph and Mary to find him. And when they do, it is in the Temple where Jesus is listening, asking questions and answering questions of the religious leaders there. Jesus acts surprised that Joseph and Mary did not know where he was. He asks them calmly, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” Luke is letting us know that already at age 12 Jesus knows who he is. He is the Son of God.

And not just that. Jesus realizes he has important spiritual business to attend to as the Son of God. I think this rapid shift Luke makes from Baby Jesus to twelve-year-old Jesus is for our benefit. Longing as we do for Christmas, we are tempted to linger in the innocence of Bethlehem.  

But Luke reminds us that the urgent business Jesus MUST attend to connects the cradle to the cross. There is no time to linger in Bethlehem either for Jesus or for us. We all have God jobs to attend to. Yes, it is wonderful to celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus, but the real way for believers to keep Christ in Christmas is to imitate Christ. At age twelve he was working on his own spiritual maturity and he was anxious to be about his Father’s business. May it be the same for us this Christmas season.

Rick Ehrheart is pastor of Mountain of Faith Lutheran Church in Tooele.

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