We have a beautiful Christmas tree next to our new fireplace, both of them all lit up with lights and flames and sparkles. The tree is fake, the lights and fireplace are electric, and the ornaments are made of plastic. It’s all about safety around here.
We don’t want a dried out tree burning down this firefighter’s house. So.Embarrassing. Nobody puts burning candles on household trees anymore, either. Doubly.Dangerous. Nor will the EPA let us have a wood burning fireplace in our desert home, and since there’s no gas coming into our neighborhood, there will never be gas-fed flames near our hearth. Still, our pseudo fireplace is more fun than the ambiance we got from our old crackling fire DVD. And it’s been a while since I stepped on a glass shard from a shattered ornament.
I love the whole illusion of Christmases Past, but sometimes I wonder what’s real. And what do we miss out on by staying so safe?
Think about the first Christmas for a minute. Remember those three wise men? Those guys were astrologers. Star studiers who, as astronomers, understood the science in the sky. They weren’t into zodiac symbolism, but they paid attention one night to a radical new star, setting out in their camel caravan on a journey that took one or two years until they landed at the front door of a toddler Messiah’s home.
I can’t think of anywhere I’d want to go that would take me two years to get there, can you? Especially, if I had to do it on foot across a desert. It just doesn’t sound safe.
And what about the toddler’s mother, Mary? Terrified by the surprising announcement from a freaky angel two years earlier, she probably could have declined to be involved in God’s whole salvation scheme and saved herself a lot of anguish.
“Hi, there, lucky girl!” God’s messenger, Gabriel, began. “You’ve found favor with God. And listen! You’re going to become pregnant and will give birth to a baby boy, and you’re going to name him Jesus. By the way, He’ll be called the Son of God.”
You don’t even need street smarts to know that didn’t sound safe. Mary saw the significance of the situation from God’s point of view and decided not to fight it. But she wasn’t stupid. Being favored by Him meant people would misunderstand her pregnancy. No one, including Joseph for a little while, would believe her insistence that she was still a virgin even though she was definitely pregnant. It was a high risk scenario and she knew it. According to the laws where she lived at the time, she could have been killed for being an unwed mother.
Talk about courage. I don’t think I’ve ever needed to be that brave.
Then there’s her boyfriend, Joseph. He got a personal visit from the Lord Himself in a dream. You’ve probably figured this out by now, but I’ll mention it here anyway—I don’t like freaky dreams any more than Joseph did. I like happy, silly dreams that don’t make me wake up in a sweat, wondering why I ate so many enchiladas for dinner last night.
“Hey, Joe,” the Lord began, “don’t be afraid to marry Mary.” Cute. “She hasn’t done anything wrong. Her pregnancy is miraculous, just like she said. The baby is My Son, and I want you to take care of them both. This kid is important,” the Lord continued. “He’s going to save His people from their sins; that is, He’s going to prevent them from missing the true scope of life, which is Me.”
Wow. That’s a heavy load to put on the shoulders of a young man who’s never even spent an afternoon with a hormonal woman trying to figure out why she’s crying for no apparent reason. It really doesn’t sound safe.
Three ordinary stargazers. One ordinary man and woman in love. A helpless baby. One elaborate plan to change the world. Joseph, Mary, and the wise men were audience members cast into lead roles for an unbelievable drama they never auditioned for. By the time the curtains came down and the final bows were taken, the only safe place left was in the arms of the One who gave up His own safety for them. And us.
Dreams. Angels. Stars. Visitors. Prophecies. People and things were not what they seemed. They were neither ordinary nor insignificant. Lives were interrupted as the unseen world revealed itself to the seen, and suddenly people understood that what they saw was the real illusion and what they could not see was reality.
It was a collision, perfectly timed, between humanity’s self-reliance and the Trinity’s intervention. No matter how hard we tried, we could not save ourselves. We needed Someone to keep us from missing the true reason for life, which is God.
Even if we burn real logs in a real fireplace next to a sappy tree covered in fragile ornaments, the dazzling lights can easily lead me to think that I know what’s real and what isn’t. On other days when the decorations are packed safely away and I’m not thinking about a baby in a manger, it’s easy to imagine that I don’t need a savior. That I am in control.
But that’s not really safety.
This Christmas I wish for you and me and all those we love a collision with the One Who invaded our world to save us from ourselves. Even if believing Someone we can’t see doesn’t seem safe.
“Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
― C.S. Lewis,