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Christmas creep. That term is commonly used to describe the merchandising phenomenon that occurs when retailers introduce Christmas decorations and merchandise earlier and earlier every year. Stores want to lengthen the most prolific time of the year for their sales.
But it’s not just stores. More than a quarter of American homes put up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving, and many are doing so earlier and earlier.
Some psychologists believe our desire to lengthen the holidays has to do with the happiness it brings us. In a world filled with stress, the atmosphere of Christmas lifts our spirits and comforts our hearts. The anticipation for Christmas seems to rally the world and bring joy to our homes.
We want more of it. We always have.
If we travel back across time to the first Christmas, we will find two special groups who greatly anticipated this season as well – albeit not for the presents and decorations, but for the manger and the Messiah.
One of these groups was the mysterious Magi who traveled from various countries in the East, following the star, seeking the Messiah. We read about them in the first Gospel: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him’” (Matthew 2:1-2).
Who were these mystical guests? As far as we know, they weren’t visited by an angel as Mary and Joseph were, nor did they see choirs of angels as the shepherds did. God gave them a special sign – a star. They were stargazers in Babylon and points east. We aren’t sure how they knew their unique star was connected to the birth of a King, but God knew how to tell them in a language they understood.
They were filled with excitement as they collected their gifts, planned their long treks across deserts, and set off with pomp and ceremony. From Jerusalem, the Magi traveled the final five or six miles to Bethlehem. And there they found Him. They spent time with the boy and His family, presented their gifts, and worshipped Him. The stargazing and the journey were worth the wait. They had found the King they were looking for.
Another group looking forward to the birth of Christ – the shepherds – couldn’t be more different from the Magi. The Wise Men were Gentiles from far away, yet the shepherds were Jews who watched their flocks nearby.
These lowly sheepherders didn’t have camels, fine clothes or expensive presents. They were society’s lowliest workers. Many scholars believe they were banned from the cities because of their filth and smell. They were sweaty, dusty ranch hands. How odd they were invited to see Jesus before anyone else.
These local shepherds were a preview of the kind of people to whom Jesus would later minister – the loathsome lepers, the despised tax collectors, the poor, and the outcast. These Jewish shepherds knew of the Biblical promise of a coming messiah, and were surely waiting and wondering if it would happen in their lifetime. Their hearts must have leaped in their chests when they realized what was about to unfold.
After the angels appeared to them, they ran to Bethlehem, on foot, looking for Jesus. And just like the Magi, they rejoiced when they discovered Him. In that unassuming stable and manger, they worshiped at his feet.
The original Christmas Spirit gave the wise men and shepherds a longing for hope that far exceeds the excitement of children waiting to open their presents. That hope comes from our Creator, who I believe blessed us with a gift that tops them all – a Savior that carries our burdens and wipes our slates clean. There are a lot of reasons to hang the lights and stockings sooner, and start belting out Christmas tunes earlier than we did the previous year.
We need that joy. Yet that joy doesn’t have to be seasonal. The apostle Peter wrote, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8).
This Christmas, take a moment to find joy not only in the simple habits and traditions we’ve employed, but in the simple fact that God loves us and is near to any who will seek him. Scripture highlights both the mystical astrologers and the humble shepherds on that first Christmas for a reason.
It’s a demonstration that Jesus can be found by anyone from all walks of life – the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the Jew and the gentile, the religious scholar, the criminal, a faithful daughter, or a wayward son. All are welcome at his feet.
Now that’s a reason to start celebrating sooner each year.