Preparing Him Room This Christmas – Luke 2:8-18
Recently I was watching the Charlie Brown Christmas Special with my kids, which, by the way, has been shown on television now for the past 50 years. If you are not familiar with it, it is a musical animated special based on the comic strip Peanuts, by Charles Schulz.
The special focuses on the main character Charlie Brown who is depressed at how we have lost the meaning of Christmas due to all the materialism and over-commercialism that surrounds the season. A character named Linus at one pointrecites Luke 2:8-14 from the KJV (our passage today). It is 51 seconds long of Scripture being read on television. So far no one has complained that I know of! Linus concludes his Scripture reading with, “And that’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown!”
We are going to look a little bit closer at what Linus was reading today as we prepare our hearts for Christmas this week. I love the fact that Linus does what the angels do. Just proclaim the good news. In a world filled with bad news, we need good news that the God who made us, the God we’ve run from, the God we’ve disappointed and sinned against—that God is coming to us, stepping into our mess and His heart is set on our irrevocable rescue.
As the songwriter says, “Let every heart prepare him room.” Every day and especially this season we need to prepare the room of our heart for Him to be our Savior and Lord. Last week we looked at sitting at His feet as He reorders our disordered love. This week we are going to look a little closer at the love that came down for us. What does it mean to prepare room in our heart for Him this season? We will take our lessons from the shepherds encounter today. First, preparing Him room means having a:
- Confrontation with His Glory
Typically Christmas is portrayed as calm and soothing—chestnuts roasting on an open fire—kind of thing. But actually when you look at this text, the shepherds here are freaked out as a huge light shines around them. The first Christmas was terrifying. Usually people are afraid of the dark and light is comforting. You feel better when you turn on the light. Here it is dark and suddenly the light terrorizes them.
Obviously they were scared because this was unusual. But there is another reason I think. It’s the natural reaction when God comes close to you. See, it’s not any light. This is the light of the glory of God.
Glory means weight. It is the heaviness, immensity and bigness of who God is. When that comes close, we should truly freak out. This happens a lot in Scripture. In Luke 5, Peter, the master fisherman catches nothing all night until Jesus steps on the boat and it seems like He can look into the water and summon all the fish to the net. Peter says, “Leave my boat. I’m a sinner. I’m not all that I thought I was.” But Jesus doesn’t. It wakes Peter up from thinking he was in control, he was big in his own eyes and capable and strong.
This happens in our lives all time. We are confronted with someone else’s glory all the time. You were the best singer in your small town, you think you are the bomb, but then you audition for American idol and end up in their highlight reel of funniest and silliest auditions. You are devastated. What happened? Glory. The weight of someone better musicallythan you has crushed you. You were valedictorian in your high school and get into an Ivy League School, only to get B’s. Now you are in counseling. What happened? Glory. The weight of the standards of the school and the other really smart and some smarter people crushed you. You’re not as smart as you thought.
If you have a job where you feel inadequate and unqualified, most of the time you will probably feel anxious, defensive and frightened of criticism. The worst thing that can happen to you is if you meet a coworker in your department who seems adequate and competent and has the skills you know you don’t have and they are succeeding. What happens when you get near that person? You are afraid. The reason for that is the closer they get, the more your “imposterness” is revealed. The more it’s possible for people to see and for you to see that you’re unqualified for that job. It’s a confrontation of glory.
You cannot be a Christian unless you had an encounter with the immensity of who God is and a recognition of the immensity of our sin, our foolishness to think we can control our lives and how needy you are. Only patients need a doctor and only those who see how sinful they are can be saved (Luke 5:31-32).
The first thing we need to prepare Him room in our hearts is a confrontation of glory. It’s a reality check. It shows us we are not as big as we thought. It shows us we are creatures, not the Creator. You can’t see the sweetness of Christ unless you taste the bitterness of sin.
Is God shining His glorious light in your life right now? Don’t curse it. Embrace it. There are other heavier things in our life right now and Christmas is God saying, “What you need more than anything is an encounter with my bigness.” In the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia, a character named Lucy (not from Peanuts) says, “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”Yes, some big gifts come in small packages!
Are there circumstances out of control? That is Him preparing the room of your heart for Him. He’s saying, “I am more important than your agenda. I weigh more than that.” Are you weighed down single person with the thought of not finding someone? You need a confrontation of glory and God says, “I want to more heavier and more beautiful in your heart than the weight of getting married.” Are you weighed down with the future of your kids or your finances? We need a confrontation of glory where God says,“I want to be more secure in your heart than the importance of finances and security for kids.”
- Celebration of His Grace
This passage also shows us that Christmas is all about grace. “Fear not! I come to bring you the gospel of MEGA joy FOR ALL PEOPLE (including you!). Notice v.14: “peace among those with whom he is pleased!” That could be misleading. It literally means, “Peace to those whom his favor rests.” Notice thatthe first recipients of good news are shepherds. In general shepherds were dishonest and unclean according to the standards of the law. They represent the outcasts and sinners for whom Jesus came. Notice they were not praying for a Savior. It was an ordinary night. Notice they tend to not be moral people. These are the people that get an angelic visitation and the first commission to preach the gospel! They did not achieve this. In fact, they were the last people who should get this. But that’s who God goes to!
In fact, the entire Christmas narrative shows that it is all God and His grace that brings Christmas about. It seems like Luke and Matthew as well, go to great lengths in describing the story of Christmas to demonstrate that we, as Pastor Will Willimon says, “…with our power, generosity, competence and capabilities — had little to do with God’s work in Jesus. God wanted to do something for us so strange, so utterly beyond the bounds of human imagination, so foreign to human projection, that God had to resort to angels, pregnant virgins, and stars in the sky to get it done. We didn’t think of it, understand it, or approve it.”
How does God want us to respond to His work? Receive it from God as a gift. This is hard for us. Christmas tells us that we should be givers. Yes, we should give. Jesus said it is better to give than to receive, but I wonder if it is more difficult to receive. I wonder if we are better givers than getters, not because we are generous people but because we are proud, arrogant people who want to always be in a position of giving because that frees us from not being needy ourselves.
Think about it.Willimon brings up an example. He asks if we ever received a gift out of the blue from someone we really don’t know entirely well? And then to our consternation, the gift turns out to be nice, something that we didn’t know we wanted and certainly didn’t ask for, but there it is, a good gift from someone who is not really a good friend. Now, what is the first thing we do in response? We try to come up with a gift to give in return — not out of gratitude (after all we didn’t ask for it) or out of friendship (after all we hardly knew this person), but because we don’t want to feel guilty.We don’t want to be indebted. The gift seems to lay a claim upon us, especially since it has come from someone we barely know. This is uncomfortable; it’s hard to look the person in the face until we have reciprocated. By giving us a gift, this person has power over us.
Christmas we think brings out the best in us. Even the worst Scrooges are putting money in the Salvation Army kettles outside of Jewel.Willimon adds,“We prefer to think of ourselves as givers — powerful, competent, self-sufficient, capable people whose goodness motivates us to employ some of our power, competence, and gifts to benefit the less fortunate.”
Which is a direct contradiction of the biblical account of the first Christmas. There we are portrayed not as the givers we wish we were but as the receivers we are… The first word of the church, a people born out of so odd a nativity, is that we are receivers before we are givers. Discipleship teaches us the art of seeing our lives as gifts. That’s tough, because I would rather see myself as a giver. I want power — to stand on my own, take charge, set things to rights, perhaps to help those who have nothing. I don’t like picturing myself as dependent, needy, empty-handed.”
When you are confronted with His glory, you should be terrified and crushed. We repent. However, at the same time, we celebrate His grace. After the angel comforts the shepherds and says, “Fear not! The next word is not BEHAVE! But to behold.” Run with haste and go see Him who has come to put an end to our striving and working and achieving grace. There we just simply receive it as a gift. By the way, His first human messengers are these shepherds. What encouragement! He’s not looking for amazing competent evangelists, but people who have been confronted by His glory and grace. This is good news for us!
The other day my oldest daughter Abbie came home from school and told us, “Did you know that we have elves living here?” First I was like, “What? Is that what you’re calling your sister now?” Apparently there is a phenomenon now called “Elf on the Shelf.” It’s a book and a doll. The doll is an elf that parents are instructed to hide around the house. The book explains how Santa Claus keeps tabs on who is naughty and who is nice by using these creepy stalker elves who hide in children’s homes each day during the holidays to monitor their behavior before returning to the North Pole each night with a report for their boss Santa.
It’s cute right? Not really.You set an elf on a shelf in a funny predicament and you leave notes such as, “I saw you steal a cookie today. If you are good from now until Christmas I promise that I won’t tell Santa. If you are extra good then maybe you will get that iPod you asked for.”What bad news every Christmas!
It’s just another extension of the naughty and nice list. Remember? “He’s making a list, Checking it twice; Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. He knows if you’ve been bad or good. So be good for goodness sake.”In one article a child screamed, “If there really was a nice and naughty list, we would all be on the naughty list.” Amen! Brilliant theologian there.
What bad news! Do good and you will be accepted and will receive good things. Do bad and you will be punished or worse yet, be turned away.This is karma.
Christmas from Scripture says something totally different. God made a naughty list and took it not to a Christmas tree, but another tree.He also had a nice list and Jesus is the only one who earned to be on that list. None of us are good enough.But amazingly, the cross says that God switched the lists.
Jesus didn’t come for those who were good enough and He certainly didn’t come to tattle on us like Santa’s elf. The Big Son of God humbled himself into the restricted form of a human body, became small for us big people, lived a sinless life worthy of one million iPods, and willingly hung on a tree to die for those who deserved not gifts but death. He did this all knowing that we could never be good enough to appease the Father. God took the list and in Colossians 2:14 it says, nailed the record of debt that we got for all of our naughtiness and canceled it.
So when Jesus says, “It is finished!” It is a cry of destruction of the nice and naughty list. It was with that cry that He pushed that elf off the shelf so that we could be free.He is so much better than Santa.Parents,please, give your children the greatest gift that they will ever receive: the grace that tells them that they have a Savior who loves them and has come to rescue them from the crushing news that they will never be good enough. The good news of the gospel is NOT that good people get good stuff. It’s not that life is cyclical and that “what comes around goes around.” Rather, the only One who deserved the best got the worst so that those who deserved the worst get the best.
But in order for you to give it,you must receive it for yourself. Celebrate His grace. Notice the glory shines on the shepherds and though initially there is fear, mega joy is promised. Why doesn’t the glory crush them? It doesn’t crush them because on the cross, the weight of sin crushed Jesus so now when the glory of God confronts us, we don’t get crushed, we just get a quake, our heart quakes and we wake up from our spiritual slumber and see His grace.
What intrigued me this time around from watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special was the subplot. Charlie Brown needs to find a Christmas tree for the play he’s directing. Lucy tells him to go get a “big shiny aluminum tree” (big fad in those days). Charlie and Linus go to the tree market and find many big and shiny aluminum trees. In the midst of all of it, is a wimpy real tree. It’s more of a standing twig with some leaves on it, which keeps shedding. One blogger notes, “If you are familiar with Charlie Brown, in many respects, Charlie Brown and the tree are one and the same. The tree is really a projection of its owner.”
Charlie Brown sets his love upon this tree and brings it back for the play. The other children, Lucy chief among them, have a much different opinion. Their perfect Law of Christmas trees says this one is not big enough, shiny enough, or pink enough! It cannot live up to their commercialized standards. “You were supposed to get a good tree. Can’t you even tell a good tree from a poor tree?” says Lucy. “You’ve been dumb before, Charlie Brown, but this time, you really did it.”
Charlie Brown is frustrated and angry and that’s when Linus proclaims the good news of a Savior, which is Christ the Lord—coming in humility, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger who would “paradoxically bring peace and goodwill towards men through his sacrifice.” Encouraged, Charlie Brown decides to love the disgraced tree anyway. He picks it up and walks off and tries to decorate it, but it’s so wimpy it can’t even hold an ornament and falls from the weight of the ornament.
The Peanuts gang, who was following Charlie Brown the whole time, sees what happens. Then Linus says, “…Maybe it just needs a little love.” The tree is then literally robed in righteousness not of its own making when it is redecorated and completely transfigured by the children, complete with Linus’ security blanket as support. The treereceives imputed righteousness as the kids sing, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
Charlie Brown’s love for this imperfect tree is a lot like God’s love for us. If we are honest with ourselves, we are all Charlie Brown Christmas trees…we don’t feel like we are very promising. But He came for you wimpy tree! He came to make you glorious, covered in His glorious love and grace. This is often the way God loves us: with gifts we thought we didn’t need, which transform us into people we don’t necessarily want to be. Christmas says, “Be confronted with my glory as you see who I am and who you really are.” Then come as an empty-handed recipient of this gracious God who, rather than leave us to our own devices, came to find you, rescue you, redeem you and make you into something more glorious than you could have ever asked or imagined. Receive this gift today.
Lewis, C. S. (1956; 1984). The Last Battle (p. 177). New York: Harper Collins.
Stein, R. H. (1992). Luke (Vol. 24, p. 108). Nashville: Broadman& Holman Publishers.
Willimon, W. (2012, December 14). ADVENT MEDITATION: The God We Hardly Knew. Retrieved December 18, 2014, from http://thevalueofsparrows.com/2012/12/14/advent-meditation-the-god-we-hardly-knew-by-william-willimon/.
Crandall, K. (2014, December 08). Jesus Pushed the Elf Off the Shelf. Retrieved December 18, 2014, from http://www.dropping-keys.com/jesus-pushed-the-elf-off-the-shelf/.
Schneider, M. (2012, December 07). That’s What Christmas Is All About, Charlie Brown: Law and Gospel According to Peanuts, Pt. 2. Retrieved December 18, 2014, from http://www.mbird.com/2012/12/thats-what-christmas-is-all-about-charlie-brown-law-and-gospel-according-to-peanuts-pt-2/.