A Heart for Christmas or for Christ?

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“This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”
– Jesus –

The Christmas music played in the background as Rod wrapped packages. While the music brought back many happy memories, recent events took his mind in another direction.

Work at the courthouse was increasingly difficult. Last year they removed the Ten Commandments. This year county employees received a memo requesting everyone to tone down “Christmas” rhetoric. They didn’t outright censor “Merry Christmas,” but they might as well have.

Closer to home Rod received his yearly Christmas list: Put up the tree. Buy non-perishables for the church’s homeless offering. Put up the crèche. Have some holiday cheer.

“Very funny,” Rod thought to himself. “My wife thinks of everything: Have holiday cheer!”

And she did. She knew the pressures of work and the added stress of church had made Rod more than just a “grouchy bear,” as she liked to call him. Only two weeks remained until Christmas, and he was overwhelmed with Christmas events at church. And as a result his Joy to the Lord was out of tune. So to spark his Christmas spirit, Rod’s wife put him to work on the crèche he loved. It worked marvelously.

*****

The crèche was Rod’s pride and joy. When his kids moved out of the house, he took a whole year to make a life-size nativity. He loved to tell people he crafted it by hand. Their astonishment (and compliments) always pleased him. His no non-sense reputation as Washington County’s District Attorney had earned him the nickname, “the hammer.” But now with an artisan’s touch, he showed another side.

It always surprised people that he was so passionate about Christmas. After all it was during this time of the year that he was most on edge. But he put that thought aside as he pulled out all the pieces. He liked to think of himself like Joseph, that great carpenter of old, who had so wonderfully taught Jesus all he knew about woodworking.

He went to work on the manger. It took hours to unload half the garage, but when he was through, he stepped back and cited one of his favorite verses, “It is finished.” He couldn’t remember where that verse came from, but he liked to say it to himself whenever he won a case—or finished such a magnificent project.

*****

Two thousand years ago another Rod—Herod to be exact—was renowned for his artistic feats too. Among his many projects, he rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem. And like Rod, he became deeply interested in Jesus’s birth. Matthew 2 tells his story.

When wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, Herod heard they sought the Jewish messiah. Being deeply concerned for the peace and prosperity of the nation, he too inquired into the birth of this child.

He learned the wise men had traveled from afar to worship him, and a star had led them to Jerusalem. Such exciting news stirred the whole city; everyone was talking about what this child meant to them—peace, joy, and national restoration.

Herod too was excited, but for other reasons. He knew such a child would need to be protected. After all, if the most powerful and wise men from the nations came to worship him, there is no telling who else would seek his court.

A student of history, Herod took interest in the ancient prophecies. He had heard about a coming messiah, and so he invited his favorite teachers to come and instruct him in the ancient words. He was troubled that he might miss the birth of such a king.

The chief priests and scribes who attended Herod had served him for years. They knew his anger and severity, but put up with him for the many things he had done for Israel—not least of which was building the most glorious temple in Israel’s history. Though they were uncomfortable with his violence, as priests they reasoned that a little bloodshed was better than a lot of bloodshed.

From the priests Herod learned the Jewish king would come from Bethlehem. In turn, he called the wise men and sent them on a covert mission to find the child. Deeply concerned with the birth of Jesus, he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”

Some of the chief priests and scribes found his desire to worship bizarre, sort of like the way Rod’s co-workers puzzled over Rod’s obsession with Christmas. But others surmised Herod was changing, perhaps even on account of their working relationship. All in all, it looked like the making of a very good Christmas: the Christ-child would be worshiped by wise men and Herod alike.

*****

Rod got ready for church. He groomed his beard and looked out the window. What started as a warm gaze at his crèche soon turned into an intense squint. A light dusting of snow covered the earth, but his yard wasn’t white.

He noticed footprints encircling the nativity. And what he saw was a great obscenity. All the characters had been rearranged. The holy family was stationed outside the stable. The animals were gathered around the manger. In the arms of Mary was a sheep. And baby Jesus was put underneath the cow’s udder.

Horrible thoughts raced through Rod’s mind. Those stupid kids! And Scripture: “What God has joined together, let no man separate.” He thought that verse had to do with something else, but it sure seemed to fit.

Rod raced to finish his shave and then jumped down the stairs to rescue Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. “It’s children like this who grow up to be in my court,” he muttered.

Fifteen minutes later, the crèche was safe, and he was on his way to church—worried sick about what might happen next.

*****

In the ensuing weeks, Herod learned he’d been tricked by the wise men. Impelled by betrayal and worship, Herod desperately sought to find the child. So great was his desire to find this baby, he sent an envoy on horseback.

His army was to find every child born in the region and return with good news. But tidings of Christmas cheer would not find the man who wanted to worship the baby in the manger. While his lips feigned worship to Jesus, his heart worshiped something else—the work of his own hands.

When his soldiers returned, they told him the gruesome news. All the children had been killed, just as Herod had ordered when he said, “Kill them all.”

*****

Two thousand years later, in a snow-covered cul-de-sac sits Rod’s crèche. This year, despite the threat of vandalism, his crèche had more visitors than ever. The newspaper story about “The Hammer’s Holy Habit” spotlighted his artistic side and drew in many new admirers. He even had a few church groups stop by.

Rod was increasingly proud of his crèche. But he was also anxious about all the last-minute details for the Christmas event. When Christmas Eve arrived, he was flustered but not fuming. All the hard work he had put into the performance paid off, and the annual event was the best it had been in years. At church, Rod thanked everyone for making this the best Christmas he could remember. His holiday cheer had returned. And right on time.

*****

Rod joked with his wife in the parking lot that he had just checked off the last item on his Christmas list. She laughed and they drove home in the snow.

As Rod and his wife returned home, they basked in the success of the night. They were deeply thankful for Christ’s birth and for the season he had given them. Joy to the world had returned . . . until the lights of their Lexus illumined the crèche—which had been overrun in the last hour by a storm of children in the years first snowball fight.

Rod’s wife braced his arm, but Rod was out the door in a flash. He ran to the scene of the carnage. Broken was Joseph’s leg. Severed was Mary’s arm. Overturned was the manger. And trampled was baby Jesus.

Aghast, Rod looked into the streets with rage in his eyes. He muttered something under his breath, and then in a voice reminiscent of Ramah, he roared: “Those kids! Those stupid kids! They ruined Christmas! I’m going to kill them! Kill ‘em all.”

*****

“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”
– Jesus –

 

This Christmas, may Christ’s light shine on our hearts.
May it expose sin and our great need for salvation.
Jesus came into the world to save sinners and
to save those who love Christmas more than Christ.
This Christmas may our hearts love Christ more
than any other thing our hands have made.

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