When I was about four or five years old, my mom bought my sister and me our first advent calendar. It featured a snowy scene with children playing, making snowmen, and sledding, drawn and tinted in soft shades and highlighted with white glitter. Every morning we woke up excited to see what surprise picture hid behind that day’s window.
At almost 52 years old, I still love a good advent calendar, and these days they’ve gotten more elaborate. I’m especially partial to the ones that hold samples of candy or coffee behind each door. But if you like perfume, tea, socks, or anything else, there’s a calendar for you.
The thing about advent calendars, besides opening the door to a fun surprise, is that they signal the beginning of the countdown to that one day we celebrate that changed everything. Jesus’ birth was also a countdown, a 33-year countdown to the day when the veil that separated us from God would be broken in two and we would receive full access to God. You know the veil I’m talking about; the one that measured seventy feet wide, thirty feet high, four inches thick, and according to Jewish tradition, took 300 priests to move it. The one that would be broken and replaced with Christ’s broken body so that the words of the writer of Hebrews would be true
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Heb. 4:16
Growing up in the Jewish tradition, the shepherds were acquainted with the story of the coming Messiah. Most likely, they weren’t assuming they’d be the ones to hear about it first
. I imagine the scene like this: a group of shepherds, some sleeping (no doubt), others talking, others maybe chasing some sheep who managed to wander off from the group. Whatever their activity, they stopped when the night sky suddenly filled with a heavenly choir announcing the one thing they’d heard about their whole lives. After the initial shock and at the encouragement of the angels, they take off to find this Baby.
Upon entering the stable, they stop short, bumping into each other like a stack of dominoes. And they just stare. There He is. The promised Messiah. After hundreds of years of someone else entering the Holy of Holies on behalf of the people, face shrouded because the mere reflection of God’s glory was too much to bear, that same God lay in front of them in human form, a tiny, vulnerable baby unable to care for Himself just like any other baby. Astonished, the incredible sight propelled the shepherds onto the streets to tell everyone what they had seen.
Usually when we get to the Christmas season, we call each other to shun the busyness and consumerist tendencies the season brings and replace them with intentional remembrance of the true meaning.
This year, like the last one, brings with it a new layer of grief and worry for many people. As people shop and prepare, I’m guessing it’s with one eye on the news and one engaged in the hunt for the year’s most popular toy or newest gadget. More than ever, we need a heavy dose of remembering and meditating on what exactly the birth of Christ means for us. At least I do.
This side of heaven there is no way to fully comprehend the depth of what the season represents, but we can ask for eyes to see, hearts to understand, and a craving for more of Him in a posture of worship and thankfulness.
It really is a miracle. No other religion in the world can claim that the object of their affection and worship loved them to the degree that God loves us. No one has ever done what Jesus did.
You’re invited to join me each week this month as I reflect on what the miracle of the Christmas season has meant for me. So, in the words of one of my favorite Christmas songs, “Come and see what God has done.”