Christmas list: check. Travel plans made: check. Menu for Christmas dinner: check. Husband delegated to get tree: check. Kids' pictures with Santa: check. Party invitations mailed: check. Strategy for dealing with strange relatives: in process.
This time of year, Santa is not the only one making a list and checking it twice. Even kids have a list: "What can we buy for Mom and Dad at the Dollar Tree?" Right now, I have three lists on my desk: one for tomorrow, one for shopping, one for work.
Imagine Mary and Joseph's list for Christmas.
Unexpected messages from angels: check. Imagine being 14 and 16, the probable ages of Mary and Joseph. You're betrothed. An angel appears to Mary. It's the last thing she expected. "You're going to have a baby who will save the world," the angel says. In a moment of supreme trust, she says, "I'm God's servant. Let His will be done." Obedience: check.
Then she goes away for a few months. Joseph misses her until she comes back. She's got a baby bump he didn't put there. He's beyond hurt. He decides to quietly divorce her (the only way to break an engagement in those days). Then an angel appears to him. "Joseph," the angel said, "Don't divorce Mary. God's up to something in this baby. Call him Jesus." Jesus means "God saves." Joseph believes. Obedience, husband version: check.
Trip with pregnant woman: check. Just when things couldn't get any crazier, a far-off Roman emperor puts a whole empire in motion. Mary and Joseph knew, as did all Israel, that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David. Imagine them trying to figure out a reason for a trip to Bethlehem. Imagine them laughing when they heard the news an empire had been turned upside down just for them. Then imagine Mary walking to Bethlehem (no mention of a donkey in the real Bible story). Imagine any pregnant woman willing to walk 90 miles so the Son of God could be born in the right place. Imagine Joseph being a newlywed husband but under instructions from God not to do what every newlywed husband wants to do. Faithfulness: check.
Place to stay: check, sort of. They tried to find a decent place for the Messiah to be born. Everything was jammed. The place they expected to stay couldn't even offer them a corner of the floor. Instead, they went out back to the barn. Jesus started as an outcast before he even made his entrance into the world. I wonder if Mary and Joseph felt like they were letting God down by not arranging things better? Humility: check.
Strangers dropping by to visit: check. The night Jesus was born, the shepherds stopped by. With wonder in their eyes, they described an angel speaking to them and then a heavenly choir of tens of thousands singing. The noise must have been thunderous. With a song ringing in their ears, they went to find Jesus. They praised God that the lowly and outcasts had been included. Grace: check.
The wise men showed up, too. No one is sure how much time had passed. It could have been anywhere from two weeks to two years. These were the brightest of the bright, the most scholarly of scholars. The shepherds brought their wonder. The wise men brought gifts of honor. Gold, frankincense and myrrh were gifts for a king. Praise: check.
What if God wanted you to have a Christmas list like the people of the first Christmas? What if on your list there were obedience, faithfulness, humility, grace and praise? Maybe Christmas wouldn't be just a holiday to complicate your life; maybe it would become an event to change your soul.
Clay Smith is lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church of Sumter.