The Christmas Story

“Don’t you love Christmas?”

I glance up from my grocery list to look at the woman next to me. She smiles a wide smile. A jaunty Santa cap perches on her curly hair, and two little elves dangle from her ears.

“Don’t you love Christmas?” she asks again, and then continues, “I just love Christmas—the carols, the cards, the decorations, the gifts, the food, the story…I just can’t wait!” She pauses long enough to grab a box of Stove Top stuffing from the shelf and to wink at my children before sauntering down the aisle, humming “Jingle Bells” as she goes.

I push my shopping cart past the meat department, where turkeys and hams are on sale this week, and a row of tiny, blinking Christmas trees line the counter. Even here in the grocery store, carols ring out, and boxed Christmas cards and trinkets flank the ends of the aisles. I duck my head as under an arch of gaudy tinsel bells, and the words of the woman pass through my mind, “The carols, the cards, the decorations, the gifts, the food, the story…” The story. What story does she have in mind? I wonder to myself as I hand my daughter a package of butter to place in our cart. My one-year-old son points at a parade of Santas, Rudolphs, and Frostys that bob from the ceiling as we make our way past the frozen goods. One of those Christmas stories? Or the Christmas story?

A big “Countdown to Christmas” calendar greets us as we approach the cash register. One by one, I lift the groceries from my cart as a lady over the loud speaker sings about children waiting impatiently for Santa. The teller grins at my two little ones as she hands them each a candy cane. “So are you guys getting anxious for Christmas?” she asks them, and then she shakes her head at me. “The season starts so early nowadays; kids have to wait twice as long for the day to finally arrive!”

The courtesy worker loads the groceries into my trunk and I strap Leah and Will into their car seats. The sparkling lights of a Christmas tree in the window of a nearby store catch my eye. Not so long ago, when I was in college, I worked part-time at that small store, ringing up customers who came in to buy fresh flowers, home décor, or specialty coffees. Our store would start receiving ceramic snowmen and snowflake ornaments already in June, and the season’s new Christmas trees made their debut in early October. Among all of those shimmering lights and glittery ribbons, the smell of peppermint-flavored lattes wafting through the air, I remember feeling as if I “just couldn’t wait for Christmas.”

I drive home, carry my two sleeping toddlers into the house, and tuck them into their beds for a nap. As I haul my groceries into the house and begin putting them away, my mind wanders again to the woman who said that she “just can’t wait” for Christmas, and “the story” that she added onto the list of things that she loves about the season almost as an afterthought.

Are you waiting anxiously for Christmas? What does “Christmas” mean to you?

Long before Clement Clark Moore’s eager children nestled all snug in their beds, or Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge, or Dr. Seuss’ Grinch, holy men of old penned the Christmas story. It’s a story that begins before the beginning, in the eternal counsel of God. It’s a story that was first spoken on earth to Adam and Eve, as they stood soon to be banished from the Garden of Eden. There God promised them the seed that would crush the head of the serpent. Throughout the rest of their earthly pilgrimage in a world now cursed because of their sin, Adam and Eve longed for the coming of that Savior, and they diligently taught their children the blessed “Mother Promise.” And so, Abel looked for the fulfillment of the sacrifice that he made to God. Likewise Enoch and Noah, Abraham and Sarah, received God’s promise of redemption and saw the realization of that promise afar off. They were persuaded of the certainty of the coming of the promised seed, and they lived embracing that hope. Isaac, too, dwelled in the land to which his father had been sent, that physical land that pictured the spiritual reality, for he also sought a heavenly country. The patriarch Jacob spoke to his children of the coming of Shiloh even on his deathbed. Moses by faith instructed God’s people to keep the Passover and led them through the Red Sea and the wilderness back to the Promised Land, which they possessed under the leadership of Joshua, “Jehovah Salvation.” Throughout the years of the judges, the kings, the prophets, and the captivity, true children of God longed for the fulfillment of that promise…for the birth of the Messiah, the Christ. They looked for the day when their King, the Son of David, would come to make them right with God. They were waiting…waiting for the day that we remember as “Christmas.”

And that day came. You know the story, don’t you? The Christmas story? Come to Bethlehem. See the young virgin who labors and brings forth Jesus, “Jehovah Salvation,” her firstborn child, wraps him in rags, and lays him in a feed trough. This scene is not the one I saw displayed as I entered the grocery store earlier today, the one with the smiling, golden-haired woman, and the serene, chubby baby laying on shimmering yellow hay. Nor is it the one of which the lady crooned over the loudspeaker, the one in which the cattle are lowing, but the baby utters not a sound.

There was no room for this child. No room in the inn, no room in Bethlehem, no room in Israel, no room in your heart, no room in mine. As Isaiah foretold, if we were to have seen this humble baby lying there, he would not have looked beautiful to us. This child is humbly clothed, he lies in rough manger, and he cries like no other child has or will ever cry. Why? Look a little closer.

Neither you nor I would want to bring forth our child in a barn. We who are used to clean, comfortable hospital rooms would refuse to give birth lying in the filth and the stench of farm animals. And yet, who is this child born tonight? Who put this child there? You. And me. This Jesus is the Child that the Church brings forth. We put that tiny baby in that dirty manger, and he cried out on that night as he bore already then the ugly weight of our sin. Look one more time, and see, even more startlingly, that confined in the helpless body of this tiny infant…is God.

Christmas comes and goes every year, and yet, to the believer, the story never grows old. It’s not a tale of Santa, Rudolph, or even a cozy nativity scene. It’s the story of the dirty, rotten, shamefulness of our sin, and the Savior God who stooped down to earth and came as a baby to bear our curse for us.

But that’s not the end of the Christmas story—there’s more. We read in the gospels that the child Jesus grew and found favor with God and man. As a boy he had to learn the Old Testament Scriptures just like you and I did, only as he read the Old Testament prophecies, he read about himself, the longed-for fulfillment of those promises. As he entered adulthood, Jesus lost the favor of many men, for few were they who sought that heavenly country. And so, the man Jesus lived the life of a suffering stranger, until his persecution culminated in his being mocked, beaten, and crucified as all around ridiculed him. Who would do that to a man? Who could do that…to God? You. And me.

As I put the last of the groceries on the table and begin setting the table for supper, I glance out the window. The wind has picked up, and tiny, white flakes are swirling to the ground. There’s still more to the story: the angels sang, remember? And the shepherds, when they saw that crying babe in the crude trough, praised God! For that same longed-for Messiah who was killed as a fulfillment of all those lambs slaughtered in the Old Testament is the Star out of Jacob and the Scepter that rises out of Israel. He lives! And he is coming again, the One whose life and death have opened our way into the heavenly kingdom for which the Old Testament saints, too, so desperately longed. The hopes and fears of all the years were fulfilled in Bethlehem that night. For the little babe born and the man crucified is Christ by highest heaven adored, Christ our Everlasting Lord. Rejoice! Immanuel has come to thee, O Israel. And he comes again!

Are we waiting anxiously for Christmas? What does “Christmas” mean to us?

Is Christmas all about trimming our tree or agonizing over what gifts to buy for those on our lists? Like the lady in the grocery store, do we celebrate the carols, the cards, the decorations, the gifts, the food…or is a Christmas a season in which our love for our Lord is renewed? We have a different reason to celebrate, don’t we? To the point that we spend more time with the merry distractions of the season than we spend in adoration of and fellowship with our Savior, they become tools that the Tempter successfully uses to draw us farther from him. A different reason to celebrate calls for a different type of celebration.

Supper is just on the table as my husband’s car pulls into the driveway. My children, up from their naps, stand by the window, and they erupt with squeals of delight as Daddy makes his way inside. I stoop by them, noting the drifts that are sweeping ‘round the house. I smile to myself as the inspired words of the prophet Isaiah come to my mind, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”

That is the story of Christmas. What a beautiful story! What a glorious gospel!

Don’t you love Christmas?