I think that I was in the fifth grade.
In our family, Halloween had been a big deal. We had certain costumes that you “grew into.” A person had to be Frankenstein until either my older brother got tired of trick-and-treating or out-grew the “hobo” costume. The “hobo” costume was the sign that you had left childish things behind. My fifth-grade year was going to be that year. My older brother had decided he was not going to be going out with us that Halloween. He’d been invited to a party.
So, it was my year to be the “hobo.” I was very excited. I really didn’t pay attention to the news reports in the fifth grade. I did have my very own transistor radio. Having that radio was one of those milestones of maturity as well. I could listen to my radio as the Orioles beat the Dodgers in the World Series that year. But I missed the news that there was something going on in Milwaukee that had all the adults in an uproar. I don’t recall what that “something” was, but it meant that we had to “trick-or-treat” in the daylight. I think that’s what took the magic out of Halloween for me. You could see all the reality. Being the “hobo” didn’t mean I was some mysterious traveler just passing through—I was just Jeff in old clothes and a floppy hat. The pretending was over.
Christmas is just the opposite for me. I love the reality. I like the straw in the manger scene. I like babies crying in church as we sing “Silent Night” and light our candles. I like “living nativities.” No plastic figurines on the lawn for me. I imagine Bethlehem that first Christmas was filled with very real people. Crowded with very real people with very real needs—even a need they didn’t even know. However, not knowing you have a need doesn’t mean you don’t really have it.
But there, in the middle of all that reality, all that busy-ness, all that messy-ness, Luke tells us what happened so very simply: a pregnant woman gave birth to her First-born, a Son. Luke, who in so many other places gives us so much detail—shepherds in their fields, the glory of Lord shining all over the place into the darkness—keeps the reality of Jesus’ birth simple. To me, Luke makes the story real by not embellishing it with details. Luke will use the economy of words when he describes Jesus’ crucifixion.
This Advent and Christmas season, we will use the theme, “Be born in us today.” The line is obviously taken from “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” That Bethlehem to our Bethlehem, praying that the reality of Jesus’ birth would continue to be real in our lives. There are—just as there were then—distractions. Did you know that Herod had a fortress not too far from Bethlehem? On that dark night, how could his guards have missed the angelic host? Apparently, they did miss it.
Back in El Paso, years ago a teen-ager told me he didn’t come to church any longer since it was always the same story. We celebrate that same story because it speaks the same good news to our same need for a Savior. We are real people ruined by our self-centeredness who really need a Savior. Join us this Advent and Christmas as we celebrate again the news that we REALLY have one!
Pastor Jeff Shearier