The Christmas season of 1979 had an element of intrigue in Lawton, Oklahoma. Police and local media were getting numerous calls from concerned citizens who said there was a dead man in a department store in town. The stories varied in some details, but the consensus was that he had fallen and died in the middle of the Christmas rush, and the oblivious shoppers had unknowingly nudged his boy with their feet under a counter, where he lay abandoned. Every department store was checked, and no body was found. Finally, after some serious investigative work, the police found the source of the story. It was Rev. Forrest Siler, a local Baptist preacher (he would have to be Baptist, wouldn’t he?). Apparently, in a recent sermon, Rev. Siler had told a modern day parable about a man standing in the gift wrapping aisle of a department store with no gift in his hands to wrap. The people pushing toward the counter eventually knocked him over and nudged him under the counter, where he died of neglect. Mysteriously, the dead man was found to have holes in his hands and feet. Apparently, the people of the First Baptist Church of Lawton had heard the story and forgotten it was a parable. As Rev. Siler told a local newspaper, “It was just a parable about Christ being crowded out of Christmas by commercialism. I evidently oversold it a bit.”
We often seem to get Christmas wrong, don’t we? My dad and I were talking recently about this, and he pointed out an ironic fact: We’ve taken Christmas, a holiday that recalls that God came to Earth to save us with no strings attached—the ultimate sign of grace—and turned it into a day when you’d better watch out, you’d better not cry, you’d better not pout, I’m telling you why…and most of all, you’d better be good for goodness sakes; all of which is the OPPOSITE of grace. Why do we do this? At our Christmas concert, the choir sang, O friendless world, to you is the song! All heaven’s joy to you may belong! You who are lonely, laden, forlorn: O fallen, O fearful, O friendless world to you a Savior is born! That’s what Christmas is about. That is what is worth celebrating. But for some reason, we can’t seem to accept the fact that God loves us just the way we are and longs to help us become all He created us to be through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of His Son. If we did accept that fact, more people would become believers in Jesus at Christmastime. We would have to make our worship services two or three hours long to accommodate all the baptisms. I’d wear out a pair of waders once a month. If we did get it, people who call themselves Christians would demonstrate more joy than we do. I’m reminded of the Christian woman who got onto a packed elevator at a mall. A stranger asked, “How are you?” She grumpily replied, “I’d be a lot better if I knew who was going to pay for Christmas this year!” And the stranger said softly, “Someone already has.”Maybe it’s because we don’t like to think of ourselves as fallen, fearful and friendless. My son, before he really knew how to read, took a nametag one Sunday and wrote, “I am awesome” on it. Only, he spelled it, “I am OSUM.” That’s a pretty good metaphor for us. We want everyone to think we’re awesome. But all our attempts to show ourselves powerful and successful and self-sufficient just make us look more foolish. John 1:14 reminds us that at Christmas, The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. If you really want to receive the greatest gift of all, if you really want the amazing generosity of God to become yours at Christmas, you have to willingly rip off that tag that says, “I am awesome.” You have to come before your God in humility, freely confessing your brokenness, your loneliness, your inability to do it yourself, and call on Him for salvation and renewal. Then you will experience the Joy of Christmas.