In 2016, Saturday Night Live did a Christmas themed sketch that many of us could probably relate to (The Nativity - SNL - YouTube). The scene opens on Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in a barn. There’s a knock on the door. “I wonder who that could be?” says Joseph. “Well, whoever it is, tell them to leave,” Mary replies. She explains that she’s not really in the mood to have people over. She just had a baby. In a barn. Friendly Joseph lets the guests in anyway. It’s a couple of shepherds who have come to see baby Jesus. “Sure! Come on in, have a look!” says Joseph. “So, we’re just going to have visitors even though the place is a mess and I have no time to get ready?” asks Mary. The shepherds ask Mary if she is okay since she looks so tired. “No more guests,” Mary says just before Joseph lets in the wisemen. “I know you’re all judging me because my hair is a mess and my shawl is jacked,” she explains. “But just like- know that I had a baby in a barn today.” As they present their gifts, Mary wonders aloud if blankets, diapers, and a crib would have been more appropriate, but okay.
Another round of shepherds come in and Joseph asks their many guests (including animals at this point) if they want drinks. And then he asks Mary if she could get them since he doesn’t know where they keep them. She about to blow, so when Joseph says “Mary, you’re being crazy.” She bursts into tears and says “I guess when I found out I was going to give birth to the savior, I just assumed it was going to be nicer. That there would be a real bed and I don’t know, like a doctor and no sheep poop on the floor. But everybody’s looking at me and I feel puffy and I feel gross.” Joseph finally gets the hint and asks everyone to come back the next day. Just at the end though, the angel Gabriel speaks from the heavens, checking in because “Mary? Are you okay? You look tired.”
Mary in this sketch is so relatable. We’re trying to have a nice Advent and Christmas. We’re trying to make time and find the energy to really be with Jesus, but boy howdy does life keep interrupting us. We want to rest and be with God and instead, we’re overwhelmed. For many, even people who love the Christmas season, Christmas feels really…like a lot. Decorating can make your house look like a hurricane came through. You’re cooking and eating special foods for so many days that a green salad starts looking like a treat. You’re watching your bank account drain while you buy more and more presents, sometimes for people you know won’t appreciate any gift you could give them. For those experiencing grief or estrangement from family, the pain can be particularly sharp. For those who want to go and do but instead are left behind at home, home feels particularly lonely. The “to do” list is extra long. Trash cans are overflowing. Chaos is mounting.
And also, many people love this season. They love the coziness of cuddling under a blanket and watching a Christmas movie. They love the lights, the hot chocolate, the Christmas carols, the warmth and shine of everything. I love those things. But none of those things, the hard or the wonderful are really the point of Christmas. The point of Christmas is the holy. The point of Christmas is worship.
On the night Jesus was born, an angel appeared before shepherds who were living in the fields tending their sheep. The glory of the Lord shone, and the angel revealed that a Savior, the Messiah, had been born. And then the sky filled with angels praising God. “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” The angels are worshipping, and the shepherds follow their instructions and find Mary, Joseph, and Jesus lying in the manger. Everyone is amazed (although I have no doubt Mary was also exhausted, overwhelmed, and terrified). She treasures their story and ponders it in her heart.
But the shepherds… that’s who I’m really interested in right now. Luke tells us that they returned to the fields, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” The shepherds have worshipped with the angels. They’ve come close to Jesus. They’ve heard the story, and they are transformed. And their response is worship. The shepherds go back to their regular lives, their regular work, but they are different.
And that is really the point of Christmas- coming close to Jesus that we may be transformed by God’s grace and respond in gratitude. Like the shepherds, when we come to Advent and Christmas in worship, we become participants in the story- and not just observers or consumers of the story. Participants, not consumers.
This morning we read a few verses from Romans that remind us to not be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We have choices this Advent season- conform to the hustle, the overconsumption, the overwhelm or be transformed by thinking differently about what we’re doing in this season. This is the invitation: let your Advent be rooted in worship, giving yourself to God first, and then let your actions flow from there. Worship fully, be transformed.