Despite Facebook, email and e-cards, Americans will purchase and send approximately 1.6 billion Christmas cards this year. Christmas cards lift our spirits, keep us connected and represent a tangible expression of thoughtfulness in an increasingly digital world. Christmas is the time to communicate and gather with friends.
The gathering part can be a challenge. Office parties, church groups, close friends and family quickly fill the calendar. Some of us will travel great distances and juggle schedules to spend this special time with family members we have not seen in a year.
All of this communicating and gathering challenges us for control of our time and our lives. With continuing duties for work, school and family overlaid with Christmas commitments, we sometimes find ourselves weary and exhausted, feeling as if our lives are spinning out of control.
Part of the tension comes from our effort to create the perfect Christmas. We have made Christmas a spectacular event: spectacular performance, spectacular lights, the spectacular gift. But, we know down deep, that our lives are not spectacular. Most of our days and most of our lives seem rather common and ordinary.
It might help to remember that the first Christmas had little resemblance to our contemporary traditions and expectations. The birth of Christ occurred in the chaos of the common and the ordinary: a common stable surrounded by common animals in a common village. Few took notice.
There was no extravaganza staged in the cities. The angels’ announcement occurred in a remote region with only a few simple shepherds present. The Magi, who observed the star in the east, came and went almost unnoticed.
It was for the common and the ordinary that Christ came. He grew up in a carpenter’s shop in a remote village. He owned no house and had no possessions. He had no place to lay his head. After a brief public ministry in which he healed and taught thousands, he died upon a common cross outside Jerusalem and was buried in a borrowed tomb. In birth, life and death, Jesus redeemed the common and the ordinary and elevated each of us to an extraordinary relationship with God.
The first Christmas was an “out of control” event for Mary and Joseph. The tax summons that took them to Bethlehem could not have come at a worse time. The baby was due. She was in no condition for such a long and arduous journey. When they arrived, the town was a bedlam of people. No one wanted to be there. They had come because they were obligated under Roman law. Of course, what appeared to be an onerous obligation and an inconvenient time was actually a fulfillment of prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
Perhaps God planned it this way to teach us that his intervention must be experienced in the common and the ordinary chaos of life. When we look for Christmas in the spectacular, we can only experience it once a year. But when we discover Christmas in the common and the chaotic, it can change our life every day.