December 8, 2008

“12 Worrying Days ‘Till Christmas”
by Pastor George Van Alstine

When I was a kid in New Jersey, we had the Paterson Evening News delivered to our home. Beginning the day after Thanksgiving, each day the newspaper printed a box on the front page announcing “12 Shopping Days ‛Til Christmas.” Since stores were closed on Sunday back then, the “12 Shopping Days” included only weekdays and Saturdays. Each day I’d anxiously look at the box for reassurance that we were actually one more day closer to the Christmas celebration.

My current newspaper, the LA Times, does not print a “Shopping Days” box. If that isn’t bad enough, yesterday it was announced that the parent company of the newspaper had gone into bankruptcy. These are hard economic times.

Our family is being pretty cautious about gift-giving this year. We’re nervous about job-security and other areas in which the national economic recession might hit us. Some of our friends have even more serious concerns, such as heavy mortgage payments, maxed-out credit cards, and layoff notices. We think the newspaper should start printing a daily box: “12 Worrying Days ‛Til Christmas.”

Actually, this might help us get into the true spirit of the holiday this year. As they counted down to their encounter with the Baby Jesus, the familiar characters of the Christmas story, were all full of worries. Mary, like all expectant mothers, worried about her child’s safe delivery, as well as her own health. She also puzzled over the prophetic words of the angel, who indicated her baby would have a special place in God’s plan. Would this mean he would suffer, as most of God’s messengers in the past had suffered?

Joseph had lots to worry about. Here he was with a pregnant wife carrying a baby that wasn’t his. This brought whispers and even scorn from people around him. Now, as her delivery time was close, he had to travel with her to another town so that he could pay some of the heavy taxes the Romans had laid on his people. And, when he went to find shelter at the Bethlehem Bed and Breakfast, he was sent instead to a dirty stable, where he could only offer his wife a mat of straw. Yes, Joseph was a worrying man.

King Herod was also worried. He was worried about his throne and his power. There were rumors that the newborn baby was some kind of a king, and the insecure Herod couldn’t tolerate such a threat. He was so worried that he did his best to kill the child.

Those Wise Men from the East were worried that something was not normal in the heavens. They had spent their lives studying the courses of the stars, and anything that wasn’t predictable made them nervous. They traveled hundreds of miles to find out what was up. Then, after their meeting with King Herod, they worried about what he might do. Had they triggered an international incident? Or genocide?

Yes, these people would have identified with our pre-Christmas worries. It was into a sea of worries that Jesus came. Into a frail body and inadequate shelter. Into a threatening world of powerful, but insecure rulers. Into the care of inexperienced parents who did not have the support of many in their extended families.

So, as we count down the “12 Worrying Days ‛Til Christmas”—“11…,”  “10…,”  “9…”—we’ll be in good company. The true Christmas has always been a worrying time. Pray that the Lord will use the unique financial pressure of these days to bring you into closer contact with the worriers of that first Christmas—and with the God who worried so much about us that he sent his Son into the world.