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Monday, January 2, 2017
Once in royal David’s city
stood a lowly cattle shed,
where a mother laid her baby
in a manger for his bed:
Mary was that mother mild;
Jesus Christ, her little child.
He came down to earth from heaven
who is God and Lord of all,
and his shelter was a stable,
and his cradle was a stall;
with the poor and meek and lowly,
lived on earth our Savior holy.
Cecil Frances Alexander’s “Once in Royal David’s City”
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal
When I think of Christmastime in Chicago, I often think about the splendor of Michigan Avenue with all of the lights and decorations, the plethora of holiday parties to attend, and gift exchanges with friends, families, and coworkers. Certainly some of these have connections to the biblical Christmas story or at least aren’t contradictory to it. After all, the magi brought gifts fit for a king, and the angels sang songs of great joy out in the fields to celebrate. And if we are going to light up buildings, fly flags, and hang banners to celebrate the Cubs, then I think it’s great that we decorate our homes, churches, and cities with similar enthusiasm to celebrate Jesus’ birth.
Still, none of these ways of celebrating Christmas has much in common with the scene described by these verses. The Son of God was born in very modest circumstances to a family that wasn’t particularly rich or successful. Later the baby whose birth we celebrate grows up to preach against greed and power. He teaches that he came to bring about the kingdom of God here on earth and that God’s kingdom doesn't conform to earthly standards of royalty. Jesus explains true religion as taking care of the widows and orphans. He challenges us with the message that it’s impossible to serve both God and money. And he consistently defies the religious leaders’ expectations about who is worthy of his company.
God, thanks for coming down to earth from heaven and living as our Savior. As we wrap up many of our Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, please let the modest circumstances of Jesus’ birth continue to challenge our perceptions of what’s important to you. Please help us further the work of your kingdom in our families, churches, schools, workplaces, and communities. Amen.
Written by Luke Beasley, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church
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