I’m a little embarrassed to say that my teenage and young adult formative years intersected with the show South Park. While I wasn’t a frequent watcher by any means, I heard enough quotes and saw enough pieces of this just through being around friends at that age to capture the essence and patterns of this assortment of young, snowsuit-bundled kids in Colorado.
There’s a character on the show, a teacher at South Park Elementary, who is named Mr. Garrison. Mr. Garrison is a very twisted, complex character with major identity issues going on, and in a South Park Christmas episode, he sings a song, the name of which I cannot bring myself to share in a blog post for our church. Even at the age of 17 when it was released, this song immediately rubbed against everything in me when I heard it. There’s a line that’s repeated over and over again throughout the song that is basically this, “In case you haven’t noticed, it’s Jesus’s birthday. So get off your heathen #@% and *%^#!#* celebrate!” If the language wasn’t bad enough, this satirical message about Christians asserting themselves as better than everybody else and rudely demanding that everybody else fall in line just hurt me at my core.
And yet today, I look at the way I’ve spent the month of December and sometimes wonder how we got here.
There’s a pile of beautiful Christmas cards that I ordered sitting on my desk, but that I was never able to find time to address or make it to the post office to buy stamps for. And the week after Christmas, I’m asking myself if I’d be ridiculous to go ahead and send cards that say “Merry and Bright.”
There’s a stack of colorful plastic ware in my pantry and a Pinterest board filled with baking ideas for my neighbors that I never executed. And the week after Christmas, I’m asking myself how awkward it would be to take these acquaintances a “Happy New Year” box of goodies.
The list goes on for me, and I’m sure you have some similar “never got to” items from this Christmas season. Because the whole month has been about making choices. Address the Christmas cards or write heartfelt notes to my kids’ teachers? Spend an evening shopping for some special gifts or invite some special friends over for dinner? It’s not always an easy choice with only 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, and 4 weeks in the Advent season. It won’t ever all get done, and as this year proved yet again, it didn’t. I think in a subtle way, I find myself constrained to celebrating “Jesus’s birthday” in ways that Mr. Garrison would expect me to and feeling that I’ve failed when I don’t.
But it hasn’t always been this way. Celebrating the birth of Jesus hasn’t always been a month-long season with a million external things on the do list.
There was a time when Jesus was just a little bitty guy. When He was the God of Earth and Heaven, but he just couldn’t quite get how to make his feet move so that he could walk. I bet in those days, he would hold his mommy and daddy’s hands for support or maybe cruise around the work bench in his daddy’s carpentry shop. And yet, one day he’d be commanding the lame to walk with all of the power of the universe.
I believe that Mary and Joseph cherished this little guy. Smiled at every little wrinkle of his face and flutter of his eyes while he slept. Comforted him when he cried. Maybe got overwhelmed at times about why he was crying, but learned patience for him and from him.
The week after Jesus was born, I hope Mary wasn’t sitting around wondering if she’d made the right choice in putting her baby that close to those animals, exposing him to whatever diseases they could have had. I mean, how else would we have gotten the great song, “Away in a Manger?”
I hope she wasn’t worried whether she’d offered the right hospitality or said the right things to the random dudes who showed up with their sheep right after she’d given birth.
I hope she wasn’t concerned with whether she’d completed the correct steps in registering with the census while they were in Bethlehem.
And I certainly hope she wasn’t asking why more people haddn’t come to see the newborn king. I know she didn’t throw a first birthday party for him and shun any who didn’t show up.
The only evidence of anything remotely like Mr. Garrison in Jesus’s life came much later, from his closest friends, and He had no tolerance for it.
“He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said. You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”—Mark 8:31-33 NIV
“’Teacher,’ said John, ‘we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.’ ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said. ‘For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.’”—Mark 9:38-41 NIV
“Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him……..’Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’ ‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said……….’You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”—Mark 10:35-45 (excerpts) NIV
When the disciples found themselves focused on elevating Jesus’s social status in the world, exerting him above others, or having themselves on the “inside” along with Jesus in his glory, he outright rejected it. He couldn’t have been less concerned with this stuff.
Jesus submitted himself to the time limitations we have here on this Earth. 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week. And yet he managed to save the whole world in a 33 year lifetime, a 3 year ministry, and a 3 day death and resurrection. Along with all of this, however, he expected nothing of anyone. He asked much and offered much, but demanded nothing. That is power, my friends. And it gives me reassurance that my daily choices of how to spend my days the past month couldn’t be wrong as long as they were of pure heart and aligned with the Father. It’s what Jesus had to do every day in the same time constraints.
So as I head into this New Year, my prayer is that I, and all of us, may live in this pure way: worrying less about what everyone needs to do for us, how they need to see things our way, or how we need to impress others with our ability to follow all of the expectations put on us. Instead, may we know our Father deeply, listen to him daily, and live in the way that Jesus did his entire life, starting in his childhood.
We’re really not that far from Bethlehem, are we?