Advent Reading Day 9 – Beyond Celebration to Surprise

“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.”  Luke 2:8 – 9

On a recent trip to Nairobi we saw the only signs of Christmas that we will most likely see before December 20th here in Addis.  It kind of caught us off guard.  We walked into an upscale shopping center (read mini-city) and Christmas had exploded everywhere.  There were Christmas trees and decorations and candy canes and poinsettias.  Somehow Christmas had arrived in Nairobi, Kenya much sooner than we experience it here in Addis Ababa.

It was a moment of noticing how our tastes have changed, though.  This will be our second year without experiencing the hustle and bustle of Christmas on American soil.   And, I have to admit that I miss the tree and digging out ornaments that have huge memories attached to them and the parties that we used to have at our house.   And I’ll especially miss giving away free coffee and donuts at the hospital on Christmas Eve and being with family, yet in underneath it all it feels like we are somewhat advantaged to miss the Christmas rush again.   No lines.  No plastic overspending.  No Black Friday early mornings.  No office gift exchanges.   No Good Drive traffic.  In some ways we feel blessed to have greater opportunity to focus on Jesus’ coming, apart from some of the cultural nuances that so easily and subconsciously consume our attention.

I wonder what it must have been like for the shepherds to be caught up in the surprise of Jesus’ birth.  Totally unexpected, out of nowhere comes the news that The King is born.  Angels appear declaring good news…scaring the shepherds’ pants off while they were just going about their nightly business.  God snuck up on them and did the unexpected – He surprised them with great news that transformed them and their world…and still transforms everything today.

Perhaps that’s why some of us try so hard at Christmas when we get older.  We keep trying to put back into Christmas the mystery and magic that we experienced when we were younger, but we never quite get there.  We keep hoping that Christmas will sneak up on us and surprise us…but somehow it loses its glimmer.  Along the way we have kids and we try to recreate the magic for them…and then grandchildren come, I suppose.  Yet, most people will express a type of post-Christmas let down.  The magic wasn’t quite what we remembered, it shimmered a bit less this year and now post-Christmas sales are here and its already time to start thinking about next year.

Maybe one of the keys is to try something different.  Maybe one of the keys to restoring the magic of Christmas is to focus on the celebration of Jesus’ coming and all that means.  This year we are trying something different.  A couple of days before Thanksgiving we asked our kids about why we give gifts on Christmas.  Joshua said to us that it really doesn’t make sense that we give gifts to each other instead of giving gifts to Jesus on Christmas.   As we talked more and more they came up with the idea that rather than gifting each other we should give Jesus our gifts this Christmas.   We’ll still spend time together and we’ll make Birthdays extra special, but as for Christmas, we’ve decided that this year its Jesus birthday so we’re going to bring Him all the gifts. Then the ideas started free flowing all around the table about practical ways that we can give gifts to Jesus by giving to the poor.  It was sweet.  And our kids were super excited about it.

My expectation is that Jesus is going to meet us as we put this into practice and that we’re in for some surprises.  I don’t look for an angel choir, but I do think that somehow we are in for hearing the Good News of His coming with new ears – like some shepherds long ago minding their business in a field.


Jesus help us to focus on you this Christmas.  In the midst of all of the busyness, the preparation and the glimmer, help us to focus on You and to bring to You ourselves and our gifts.  Help us to re-center ourselves on the Good News of your coming, rather than trying to re-create the magic of Christmases of old.  And, in the middle of all of it, sneak up on us – reveal yourself to us in a way that takes us back and leaves us speechless – like those shepherds in the field.  And, don’t leave us the same, but may we run about sharing the Good News like them…especially to the poor whom we are reminded that what we do for them we do for You.  AMEN.

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