Some of us have seen a lot of Christmases come and go, and now it’s coming again. We pastors are expected to have some new things to say every time, and it’s hard after preaching about Christmas for 30 or 40 years. Sometimes in frustration pastors try to do a “re-run” sermon for the holidays, but there’s always someone like the late Jean Watters of Suttle, Ala., who kept a record in her Bible of my texts and dates!
But is there anything wrong with hearing familiar things again? Someone suggested a list of the five sweetest phrases in the English language. These are:
1. Here’s that $20 I owe you.
2. Sleep ‘til noon.
3. Paid in full.
4. All is forgiven.
5. I love you.
Would anyone among us grow tired of hearing these words again and again?
In the same way, the shop-worn stories of Christmas, though familiar, continue to beckon us forward.
We know about the angel’s announcement to the shepherds of Bethlehem. This story reminds us that we are wayward sheep. Isaiah wrote so long ago, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way” (Isaiah 53: 6). A sheep has no sense of direction, so one nibble of grass after another can lead the animal away from the sheepfold into danger. But Jesus is the good shepherd. He leaves those who are safe to go in search of the one who is lost. The angel’s word to the shepherds reminds us of our waywardness and our Shepherd’s resolve.
We know about Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would bear the Messiah. This uncanny thing had not happened before, and she was overwhelmed. Gabriel said the Holy Spirit would overshadow her and make it happen according to God’s plan. The same Holy Spirit overshadows us, leading us in the pathway to holiness (1 Corinthians 6: 19-20).
We know about the star appearing to the magi. These men were probably from ancient Persia and studied the stars every day. On this day, the Star-maker directed them with a new and brilliant astral body. They came to the place where Jesus was and learned about the wisdom of God. They also brought costly gifts that were no doubt used when the family had to flee to Egypt for safety from the murderous Herod.
We, too, should bring costly gifts to Christ. We do this with regular gifts for the ongoing work of our churches, but also with special offerings throughout the year for worthy causes. Christ deserves our best gifts.
The stories are old. Most of us know them from memory. But we still learn valuable lessons from the stories of Christmas.
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church's website is siluriabaptist.com.