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God’s gifts for us at Christmas

December 10, 2007

Pastor Ingrid Bloom, Montrose United Methodist Church

The holidays are very demanding on our time – there are so many extra tasks to be done in our “outer” life.

For example, there is extra cooking, baking, and cleaning as we celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends.

Throughout December much effort will go into finding the right gift for family members and friends for Christmas. Extra time will go into taking out boxes of decorations and decorating homes with Christmas ornaments.

Extra hours will be spent writing Christmas cards and letters. There will be many family gatherings and parties planned. And amidst all this extra activity, most will keep up their regular work responsibilities.

How did December become one of the busiest months of the year? Why have we become so attached to accomplishing all these tasks in one month?

Having so many extra things to do is not very conducive for any kind of reflection, contemplation, or internal preparation for Christ’s presence among us. Jesus came to earth so that we would learn how to have peace on earth and good will to all. He came to earth so that we would have help in learning how to put God first in everything.

Jesus came to help us increase our receptivity to God, to the stranger, to the one in need; to become healers, teachers, and to help us have right perspective, right awareness, and right relationship with God. Jesus came so that our anticipation would not be for personal gain, but for true compassion.

Christmas is the celebration of the coming of Christ into this world, and into our consciousness. So, praising God is certainly an important activity of Christmas.

Rereading the stories that Jesus told, and that reflect God’s mercy to us, is certainly an important activity of Christmas. Quieting ourselves so that we can increase our consciousness of Christ is at the very heart of Advent, the four weeks leading up to the celebration of Jesus coming to earth.

December has become a balancing act of finding time for our cultural traditions, for fulfilling our responsibilities and regular commitments, and finding time to quiet ourselves to increase our consciousness of Jesus Christ in us and around us.

When we think of the story of Jesus’ family and their challenges in preparing for his birth, we notice that they, too, had many demands on them. They were living in a country that was occupied by foreigners (the Roman occupation). They had to leave family and friends and home, at a time when they were getting ready for childbirth, in order to meet the state requirements of census taking.

They had to take a trip by foot and donkey that would be wearying and dangerous to someone just about to deliver a baby, for where would Mary get medical help if she got into any kind of trouble?

Joseph had to put aside his work, and all the orders that were waiting to be completed in his carpentry shop, just when they needed extra money to prepare for another family member.

And Mary must have been worried about who was going to help her with childbirth, since they didn’t know anyone in Bethlehem.

So, how did Mary and Joseph stay attentive to God in the midst of the flurry of activity and tasks in their life? How was God preparing them to be the parents of Jesus, who would become the master of the inner lives of all of us?

We know that when they got to Bethlehem, they met an innkeeper, whose inn was full. One can just imagine how busy the innkeeper was, answering questions nonstop to his help, who were getting all the rooms and food ready for the guests, and being approached by travelers looking for a room when every inn was full.

And yet, he didn’t treat Mary and Joseph like another interruption. He took them out to his stable and made sure they had bedding and food. Mary and Joseph found themselves in the quiet stillness among the animals in the stable, rather than the hustle and bustle of jostling crowds, dusty streets, and the clamor of an endless stream of people.

God was preparing Mary and Joseph to recognize that God would provide, and that kindness and mercy would accompany them wherever they went. They were to discover that when they were in the midst of hardship, faced with tasks that seemed more than they could handle, and overwhelmed with disappointment at not finding what they needed, God would provide for them.

It wasn’t the nice clean, warm room at the inn they had hoped for, but they had much to be thankful for, especially the innkeeper’s kindness, for there were many on the crowded streets of Bethlehem who had no place to stay at all.

They discovered the fulfillment of a verse in the Bible, from Colossians: “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to God, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.”

Our tasks during the Christmas season must include giving thanks to God and noticing how God is providing for us and showing us mercy.

Our tasks at Christmas time should also include enduring with patience, keeping up our faith in God, and knowing that God will provide the strength we need.