Theology 101

Remembering Who We Celebrate & With Whom We Celebrate this Christmas Season

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Panic! Perhaps you’re feeling it. The countdown is on. Holidays are quickly approaching. Family and friends are coming! There might be decorating to finish, food to prepare, tables to set, plus dusting and dog fur to vacuum. If you’re hosting at your house this year, you’re likely feeling some pressure. If a gaggle of family is invading, you’re likely thinking, “How will I get it all done?” 

And perhaps there’s also that haunting thought: “Will family and friends be duly impressed?” How can you do it all and avoid being stressed? Shift your focus for just a few minutes. 

Let’s join the Wise Men and ponder one sentence in their story: 

On coming to the house, they saw the child… (Matt. 2:11).

Not a Stable?

Most of the time, we meld the Magi into the same nighttime scene with the shepherds, a non-hospitable inn keeper, the pa-rum pum pum pum-ing of an annoying little drummer boy, plus the heavenly choir of angels. However, Matthew very specifically notes the Magi’s arrival at a house in Bethlehem. In Luke’s account, a manger is mentioned. That’s led readers across the centuries to the assumption there was a stable-like place. Historically, some have even suggested that a cave might have served as a barn or stable.

But for the Magi’s arrival, Matthew distinctly notes their arrival at an oikian, a house. Based on the additional timing clues in our story (vs. 7 and 16), it’s solid to conclude that Jesus was somewhere between one and two years old. Matthew refers to him as a “young child.” The Jesus these Wise Men found is a tiny boy.

How meaningful to ponder. The Magi did not arrive to find Herod 2.0 or some other rendition of power, prestige, possessions, or popularity. No, instead they encountered the new King in all-out humility, relative obscurity, and about to be sent running for his life along with his loving mother and father. The Wise Men discovered a very young, very vulnerable, utterly dependent young King.

This matches how Paul described Jesus in one of our earliest pieces of poetic Christian liturgy. In an early hymn, the Apostle shares: 

And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
    even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:8)

Notice what was already in view: His appearance as a man. This Jesus, son of Joseph, became a tekton, a carpenter or handyman (Mark 6:3). Fascinating to think that Jesus likely worked on houses, furniture, and other building projects. This same little boy the Wise Men found went on to grow strong and use his hands on wooden beams and nails. 

Eventually, those same hands held sacred scrolls as he read and taught divine truth. Those hands touched and healed blind eyes and deaf ears. One dark day, those same hands held beams and nails as he hung on the cruel cross. This little King the Magi found was destined to be their Savior. And yours and mine.

Ponder this: it’s not really all about the house. 

It’s Who’s in the House

As we experience festive days and all the trappings, we can lose sight of what matters most. Even with the sacred story, it’s easy to get caught up in the Magi, the star, the gifts they brought and even questions about the house. But let’s never lose sight of who was in the house: Jesus, the precious child. The one they had journeyed to find and adore. Jesus was in the house. He was the one they came to worship. Without his presence, it would have been just any old house in Bethlehem.

As you contemplate your gatherings this month—at your own house and others’—do your best to fuss less about the mess. Sure, there are task lists to check, pies to bake, packages to wrap, dishes to wash, and a host of other chores and details. But give yourself permission to very intentionally simplify everything. Say it right now: “The pressure’s off!” You really can stress less. 

Who cares if dry, dead pine needles and dust bunnies are on top of that bookcase? Really. And remember, you were born in AGB—the Age of Gift Bags. Skip the fancy finessing and ribbon crimping. Martha Stewart is not coming. Go ahead and greenlight yourself and everyone else. AGB this year!

When it comes to the house and crazy details, say it: “The pressure’s off! People matter most!” Focus on those precious people, those eager little faces that run gleefully through your door. And the grandparents as well as those awkward middle schoolers. Drop the dish towel. Pull up a chair and another mug of coffee. Listen to their stories by the fire. Soak up their laughter. 

Most importantly, calm your own heart. Make space for the one person who matters most. Let him come to your house this week. Yes, your humble, loving King is eager to come. The humble boy, sought by the Wise Men and found at that humble house in Bethlehem. The humble child who grew up to work as a carpenter and eventually place his hands on rugged beams and nails. The King who gave his life on the cross for you. The King who was raised from the grave. He delights to join you and your family at your house. Paul affirms such with this prayer: 

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is (Eph. 3:16-18).

Rolling into the coming days, don’t forget. It’s not really about the house. It’s about who’s in the house! Let Christ make his home in your heart as you trust in him.

Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from the new book, The Jesus You’re Searching For: Daily Reflections for Advent, by John Pletcher and Holly Hall-Pletcher. You can order a copy here.

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