This holiday season, people will ask, “Are you ready for Christmas?” My advice? Dodge the question. If you can’t avoid it completely, then answer shallowly. Talk about your gift list, travel plans or house decorations.
But be careful about stating your “heart readiness.” Don’t make bold talk about being spiritually prepared. Now, if you do have a trusted conversation with a friend, talk instead about being un-prepared. Confess that, although you’ve heard the story over and over, you don’t understand it. Talk in hushed tones. If you feel a little afraid, you are probably on the right track. You are facing an unfolding mystery. Do your best to be in a position to be ambushed.
This Christmas, you can work hard as you wish to be on top of logistical expectations; make lists, bake early, order on-line, get-it-done. Get distractions out of the way so that you can be properly shaken. Properly disrupted by the mystery. Be like the characters in the Biblical Christmas story. Caught by surprise, every one.
- Mary – An angel (an Archangel at that) just ‘appeared’ and dropped the news on her. Her response? Luke 1:29 “She was greatly troubled at the saying…” Mary’s head spun and her heart pounded – she was definitely not ready for Christmas.
- Joseph – What! Huh! Pregnant?! Expectations reversed.
- The Shepherds – Luke 2:9 “…an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.” These guys were terrified. For them, Christmas had all the subtlety of a dropped bomb. Disrupted their night, their lives.
- Herod – Matt. 2:16 “…when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem…” Herod had the royal rug pulled out from under him, and murderously panicked. Dislodged him from his throne.
In each case, these characters didn’t see it coming. Angelic messengers suddenly appeared, lives shaken, destinies revised. They weren’t ready for Christmas; Christmas invaded. It is as if the way to be prepared for Christmas is to be unprepared.
Now you might be saying, ‘What about the Magi? They saw it coming didn’t they? They made travel plans, they even brought a gift!’
But the exception of the Magi proves the point. You don’t come all prepared to Christmas; Christmas comes to you. In the case of the Magi, God didn’t suddenly frighten them in the form of a close angel; God mystified them in the form of a faraway Star. Christmas came unexpectedly to the Magi too. God sent them a message in their language (call it Astronomy or Astrology), reveal the sign of a King. By coming astronomically closer, Christmas dislodged them from their world. Christmas, in fact, blew up their universe. They were wise men divining the sky searching for a king. But instead, the Divine King was searching for them on the ground. They went looking for an earthly king from the local royal line. That’s why they went to Herod first. Instead, they discovered and worshiped a heavenly king from beyond the stars who was looking for them.
You can’t be ready for Christmas. You cannot prepare for an Epiphany. It comes to you and when it does, it disrupts, mystifies, and dislodges you. The shocking message is that God is after you whether you are after Him or not.
So this year, in regard to your logistics, be prepared. But as far as an Epiphany goes, do your best to be unprepared. God has come to you. Let yourself be startled, dislodged, mystified. And blessed.
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. He works with both with individuals and couples, helping people confess their need and embrace their available choices to lead healthier lives. Roger also teaches and leads discussion groups and retreats applying the Gospel to everyday life. He is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean and they have seven children and nine grandchildren.