The countdown to Christmas is on. Last-minute shoppers will clog the stores tomorrow and Saturday. Gifts will be wrapped. Meals will be prepped. Families will start their get-togethers and gatherings. The hustle and bustle of the season is about to reach its climax.
Believers are trying hard to remember the reason for the season. The Incarnation gets lost between the wrapping paper and the bows. Glimpses of Nativity sets offer fleeting thoughts to Jesus and his birth.
I have had lots of preparation time leading up to Christmas this year. It is great because everything is ready for the festivities of family Christmas tomorrow and on Christmas day. I have also had time to think about what this time of year means for me and other believers.
Adapted into plays and movies around the world since its 1843 publication, Charles Dickens'”A Christmas Carol” offers a heartwarming Christmas story and is an easy introduction to reading Dickens.
Dickens is not known for being concise or succinct. What can be said in two sentences, he is loath to say in anything fewer than two pages. This is how he tells stories. The challenge for the reader is to sift through his verbose descriptions and meandering dialogue to get to his purpose, his motif, his message.
“A Christmas Carol” is a beautiful diversion from Dickens’ usual writing style. Noticeably shorter than his other novels, this book also relies more on clear dialogue than lengthy descriptions.
Dickens’ protagonist, Scrooge, has certainly made his mark on culture. While we freely borrow from Dickens and call anyone who is cranky or miserly a Scrooge, such an assertion reflects an ignorance of the character, the story, and the author.
For years I have been using a yearly Bible reading plan that propels me through the major and minor prophets for the last few months of each year. A few years ago (and pretty much every year since) I found myself lost in the sea of imagery, language, and lessons that I didn’t have a clue about.
It is hard to love reading Scripture that seems so far away from life in the twenty-first century. There’s Ezekiel, the intrepid prophet. He was naked, cooked his food over dung, and lay on each of his sides for some time. There’s Jeremiah, the sorrowful man whom nobody in Israel listened to, but had not problem dragging him off to Egypt. There’s Hosea, who had to marry a prostitute, one he could not change (let that be a lesson, ladies and gentlemen). There’s Jonah who ran away, Daniel who went through the Babylonian wringer and came out on top, Isaiah who had to name his children some very complicated, symbolic names, Amos the shepherd, Haggai, Zephaniah, Nahum, Micah, and all the rest. Each prophet was sent by God during specific times and with specific messages about Israel’s faithlessness, disobedience, and idolatry.
Each Christmas the story of Jesus’ birth is told in homes and preached about in churches everywhere. People take this time to consider the events that led up to the arrival of the Son of God on earth as a baby in a manger. With annual citations it can be easy to stop paying such close attention. It can be easy to stop listening and really caring.
So the Christian must fight during this time of year to not let the Incarnation seem mundane or routine because it is a familiar story. It is anything but mundane. Yes, God used the ordinary and unexciting (a mom and a manger) for His Son, but the Incarnation is spectacular.
Comparably, the events leading up to Jesus’ birth can be overlooked and oversimplified, too. Think of how quickly you read through the account of John the Baptist’s birth in order to get to Jesus’.
This year, though, when reading the pronouncement of John the Baptist’s birth, something about his father, Zechariah, stood out to me. When Zechariah came face to face with the angel Gabriel, it becomes clear that while Zechariah had once prayed for a child, which God was decisively answering, he had stopped praying because of his age.