A Shoebox and a Stable.

We are doing Christmas wrong. We have stripped it of its “humanity” and “humility” and “holy” and simply inserted “holiday”, “holly” and “Hallmark”.

Volunteering with Operation Christmas Child has sent my world into a tailspin and caused a major paradigm shift. I work alongside an amazing team at Liberty University to help pack shoeboxes. And as a team, we bend over backwards to pack just one more box. But for what? We stood outside in 28 degree weather until 1 in the morning on more than one occasion, just to pack One. More. Box. But why?

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Each box represents more than a child. It represents a family, an entire community. Zach, one of the men that I have blessed to work with puts it this way:

It’s not just a shoebox (gift). It’s hope in a shoebox (gift) form.

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And we believe that. Why else would we have put in the blood, sweat, and tears that we did? Each box has a Gospel booklet put into it, and then the shoebox gift is sent all over the world. The children who receive them open the box to find more than toothbrushes, Match Box cars, and colored pencils. They hear about the person of Christ. They hear about His miraculous birth and what it means for their eternity. They learn, quite possibly for the first time, that the birth of Jesus of Nazareth means that they can be born again.

More simply stated, they hear about Good News and Great Joy. And it’s this focus that we have lived with for the past several months. Every day. All day. Good News. Great Joy. For all people.

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I’ve seen the joy. I’ve experienced the joy. And for the first time, I’m noticing the flip side. This Christmas-everyday mentality that I have been living in since August has lead to some painful self evaluation.

Holiday movies, Christmas cards, Christmas shopping, Christmas Eve service, milk and cookies, Christmas pajamas, stockings, presents under the tree.

This is the cookie cutter Christmas. The sad thing is, most every family in America celebrates it this way. Non Christian families celebrate Christmas in much the same was as Evangelical families do. Shouldn’t that give us pause? Now I hold firmly to the conviction that Christmas should define our lives, and not simply the calendar dates between Thanksgiving and New Years, but the 25 of December should hold some potency. If we truly believe what we say we believe, shouldn’t this season hold a little bit more? This event, Christmas, divides history (BC and AD) and defines our sense of time. But somewhere along the line, it stopped defining us.

Because we have forgotten.

We forget that 2,000 years ago, there were no holiday wreaths or silver tinsel or Christmas trees and red nosed reindeer. There was no Grinch who stole Christmas and there was no Christmas to steal. There was no Toy who Saved Christmas, because there no Christmas to save. There was no Scrooge, there was no Buddy the Elf, there was no Santa Clause.

We have stripped Christmas, robbed it, of its “humility”, “humanity”, and “holy.” We have made it something beautiful, festive, and Hallmark card worthy. It certainly is all of those things, yes, but we have this water-downed, Cookie cutter version that even atheists are comfortable celebrating, and that isn’t okay!

We forget that a teenaged woman gave birth in a barn. We forget what that looks like. We picture the Hallmark version, with the halos and perfectly behaved farm animals. We forget, or chose to ignore rather, what was really happening here. A natural birth. In a barn. Yes there is immeasurable and ineffable beauty is this moment, but we so often refuse to acknowledge the pain and blood and rawness and humanness of this moment.

When we stop and think about it, those few, precious-to-us, agonizing-to-Mary moments right before the bleating of the sheep and the braying of the donkeys blending with the cries of a new born, something incredible was happening, something aside from the birth of our Savior. This teenaged girl, while paying the consequences for Eve’s sin (pain in child birth) bore The One who would pardon that sin, and every sin thereafter. We have lost the wonder and the “holy”. Somehow, the sacred holiness has become a secular holiday.

And it’s time to reclaim it. There is nothing wrong with Santa or movies or presents, but when that is the center of what we celebrate, then we need to reevaluate.

No one on Liberty’s OCC team put forth all the effort that we did simply to celebrate a holiday. They did it to celebrate Christmas. The real Christmas.

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Christmas carries with it a weight that is so powerful, it literally divided history. But it is in the form of a baby. A message this powerful should define more than a season, it should define a life.

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It is time to celebrate the reason that almost 10,000,000 shoeboxes were collected this year alone. And it’s the same reason that a great company of Heavenly hosts appeared, singing “Glory to God! And on earth, good will to man”. This is why we have Good News and Great Joy to talk about! This is the Good News and the Great Joy.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (‭Luke‬ ‭2‬:‭6-7‬ NIV)

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She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (‭Matthew‬ ‭1‬:‭21‬ NIV)

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For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (‭John‬ ‭3‬:‭17‬ NIV)

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And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (‭Luke‬ ‭2‬:‭8-14‬ NIV)

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When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (‭Luke‬ ‭2‬:‭15-18, 20‬ NIV)

The shepherds ran. They hurried back. They had an incredible sense of urgency. They had just met the Christ!

But we’ve met Him too. We have had the same earth shattering encounter. We have personal relationships with the Creator God. It’s time for us to hurry. It’s time for us to find that urgency, that desire to tell everyone what we have seen and heard and experienced, and who we met.

Because He will come back, once we have wished all the world, A very Merry Christmas.

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (‭Matthew‬ ‭24‬:‭14‬ NIV)

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