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Dooley Noted: Christmas in humble places

By Adam Dooley

Englewood Baptist Church

I love preaching at Christmas. A beautifully decorated church warms my heart and singing theologically rich carols is both nostalgic and worshipful at the same time. I enjoy the colors, the lights, and yes, even all the ugly sweaters people wear. Special concerts and candlelight services are also advent traditions that stir my heart with the joy of the season.

Recently, though, a dose of humility jolted my perspective.

Time Magazine estimates that by the end 2022, 860 million people on Planet Earth will live in extreme poverty, defined as an income of less than $1.90 per day. Those numbers represent just over ten percent of the world’s population. Over half of that existing poverty exists in just five countries: Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and India. It is difficult for most of us to imagine, but in places like these there will be no family meal, no decorations to enjoy, and no gifts to share. Many people won’t see flickering lights, they won’t hear a crackling fireplace, and they won’t smell a ham or turkey in the oven.

This doesn’t mean that those less fortunate don’t celebrate Christmas. It does mean, however, that their observances will be much more humble than what many here in Jackson will enjoy. Even in the U.S., though, some Christmases are simpler than others, often out of necessity. After months of recession, many just cannot afford to break the bank. Perhaps grief or circumstances will require you to tone down your celebrations this year. Or maybe the commercialization of the holiday is something you intentionally avoid regardless.

Can I suggest that this is not altogether bad? Sometimes the simplicities of the season remind us how blessed we really are and what really matters. Far too quickly we forget that the first Christmas was the most humble of them all. Examining Mary’s response to the news of her immaculate conception teaches us much about the beauty of simplicity. Yet far too often we overlook these profound lessons because receiving them requires losing a bit of control.

And if we are honest, most of us are control freaks. In fact, Christmas is the one time of year when it actually seems normal to regulate everything. We plan every detail of our Christmas celebration, from the traditions we hold dear to the moments we long to create. By now, chances are you know WHAT you want to do, WHO you want to do it with, and WHEN it’s all going to happen. Tragically, we sometimes reduce the holiday to what we can manage. And, in our extravagance, we miss the gift of losing control.

In the first half of what has come to be called The Magnificat, Mary says, “My soul exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name (Luke 1:46-49).”

Glossing over these statements because of their familiarity is temptation for many. Yet, behind these inspirational words of faith was a frightened, young girl whose life was completely upended by the news Gabriel delivered. We easily forget that Mary was just a teenager, likely just 13 or 14 years old. Betrothed to a man named Joseph, she was probably like any youthful bride, planning her life with her husband to be. I imagine she was giddy over how handsome Joseph was. She must have daydreamed about how to decorate the house the two would share. Surely, she wondered how many children they might have together. THEN, in a moment, everything changed.

  • How will I explain this to Joseph?
  • What will my family say when they find out?
  • What will my friends think of me?
  • Will the wedding still happen?
  • Will anyone ever believe me?

How could someone so young, facing so much, express such profound faith? The answer lies in Luke 1:38, where Mary simply says to the angel Gabriel, “. . . may it be done to me according to your word.” In other words, she willingly lost control. No tree covered with tinsel adorned her family room. No gifts lay wrapped with paper or decorated with bows. Mary had nothing but the Word of God, and yet, she celebrated anyway.

In the hours and days that followed, God settled Mary’s pondering heart and rewarded her loss by revealing Himself. In those moments, she found a joy and intimacy with God that she had never known before when she had everything under control.

Could the same happen for us?

Is there real joy to be found behind the trappings of our annual traditions? Would we benefit from focusing on the less glamorous expressions of Christmas? Do we need to shake ourselves free from the lie that the seasonal calendar revolves around us? In order to exalt the Lord like Mary, we must be more impressed more by Him this Christmas than anything else. So,  keep your eyes open if things don’t unfold exactly according to plan this year. You might see Christ like never before in the midst of those humble moments. Merry Christmas!

Dr Adam B. Dooley is pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, TN, and author of Hope When Life Unravels. Contact him at adooley@ebcjackson.org. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBDooley.

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