15 December, 2012

Is it a Grindstone Christmas?

"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.” Luke 2:8-12

Life is a grind.  I say this in a very positive way but it is a grind.  The shepherds were in a grind, too.  Day after day tending sheep, caring for family, making ends meet.  Many of us get up in the early morning, exercise, read the paper, shower, dress, drive to work or stay home to work.  At work, we are focused on the goals of our employers and that requires our full concentration and effort for the day.  After a required business reception, we arrive home around 7:00 p.m., have dinner, perhaps attend a school function, get home again, put kids to bed, and then ourselves to bed.  The next day we get to start all over again.  And now it’s December, so we have the opportunity to combine our daily grind with Christmas receptions, parties, cooking, gift shopping, tree buying, house decorating, family dinners and more shopping for the perfect gift.  To borrow a familiar idiom, to make-it through these next few weeks we must keep our nose to the grindstone!

I shared this idiom recently in a weekly English class.  The class is composed of university students wanting to improve their English.  We currently have three countries represented: China, Vietnam and Nepal.  The accents are extremely varied but the teaching is fun.  This week after our consonant work we focused on reading comprehension and pronunciation while speaking.  The article we read was entitled, The Real Meaning of Christmas.  It was the Christmas story as told from the Biblical account in Luke.  I explained to the students that this story was the REAL story not Santa, which one student asked, “is he the man in the red suit?”
After reading the selection, we engaged in questions about the text.  My first question was: “Have you ever heard this story before?”.  Of the 5 students attending that day, three had never heard the story.  It was completely new to them.  Then I asked, “What does this story mean?”  One girl from China answered like this, “that the God came into the world as a baby so He could be God and be like man too.  He came to us.”

As I go about with my nose to grindstone of Christmas preparations, this simple time with these international friends reminds me again of the REAL Christmas story.  It’s a story of re-claiming.  It is a story of God becoming a God/man to recover us from our broken selves. 

Let’s get back to the shepherds….we find them with their noses to the grindstone.  They are working hard, working late into the night, looking down and watching sheep.  And suddenly, angels appear above them.  They instinctively must look up.  The news they hear is a new story to them and they suddenly have a choice.  Stay and keep watch over their jobs, families and responsibilities, i.e. keep the grind going OR go.  From the story in Luke, they left and left quickly.  Suddenly the every day requirements of life were insignificant to the new, never-heard-before news.  The Bible says they “hurried off”.

I want to get my nose off the grindstone of Christmas activity and look up.  Look up into the real story of the One who is coming.  Go run from the grindstone and find Him and worship. 

“whether we know it or not, the only question is: are we going to let it come to us too, or are we going to resist it?  Are we going to join in this movement that comes down from heaven to earth, or are we going to close ourselves off?  Christmas is coming – whether it is with us or without us depends on each and every one of us.  Advent creates people, new people in Advent.  Look up, you whose gaze is fixed on this earth, who are spellbound by the little events and changes on the face of the earth.  Look up, your redemptions is drawing near.  Wait and something quite new will break over you: God will come.”  Bonhoeffer advent sermon, 1933

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