He was like a Kindergartner with a beer belly and a scraggly beard. I'd say his momma dropped him on his head, but I suspect it was more like she never held him, never showed him any attention, because the boy craved it. And he got that attention by telling the tallest tall tales I've ever heard. When our trucks were sitting idle, usually after midnight, all the drivers would crowd into a ramshackle shed to smoke and talk the hours away. When the kid walked in, our custom was to reach down and tuck our jeans into our boots because every man there knew it was about to get deep. If I were to remark, ''Clear night. Lots of stars out,'' the kid might say, ''I ever tell ya'll about that one night I seen a star fall and the thing fell smack dab on a gas well. KaBOOM! Looked like WWIII out there. So I hightailed it to the local fire department, drove a truck over, and had the fire out in half an hour or so.'' He'd wrap up the story and the room would fall as be silent as death. He'd scan our blank faces. Then somebody would light another cigarette, and ask no one in particular something like, ''Say, is that transmission in Eddie's truck still giving him problems?'' Somewhere along the way, the kid had chosen outlandish lies as a means of getting folks to notice him, but he never seemed to figure out that he told his lies all wrong. He was blind to an elementary fact: the best lies are those mixed with truths.
Nobody’s got this down pat like the father of lies himself. In fact, he’s even been able to use that uncomplimentary label given him by Jesus to further his mission. He gets us to assume that if he’s the “father of lies,” then all he does 24/7 is tell untruths. You listen for the lie like you’d listen for the rattle of a rattlesnake, for once you hear it, his cover is blown and you’re safe from his poisonous bite. But that’s not the way things work. Unlike when the kid walked in the room, nobody ever reaches down to tuck their jeans in their boots when the devil shows up. Chances are, they’ll sit up and be all ears because the devil can tell a story like nobody’s business. He’s a funny, smart, sympathetic, insightful master of rhetoric who knows that if you’re going to get your audience to swallow a big ole fat lie, you’d better hide it inside a tasty meal of truth they’ll think nothing of devouring.
It just so happens that we have now entered the devil’s favorite time of the year: the holiday season. Stores may have been making money hand-over-fist on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but nobody’s making a killing during these weeks like the devil himself.
My wife and I are trying to get our schedule arranged so we can see as much family as possible over the Christmas break. We’re picking out everybody’s gifts and planning menus—the same kind of stuff millions of Americans are doing. And while we’re all doing it, an unseen guest is there affirming many of our choices. He’s saying, “Yes, family is extremely important, especially this time of year. Spend as much time with them as you can. Nothing says Christmas like a table spilling over with food, brightly wrapped packages under the tree, and late nights with family just talking the hours away.” It all sounds so good and so true.
And it is good and true…part of it is anyway. The other part is a lie of diabolical proportions.
Family is indeed a gift of God to be cherished, defended, loved. And since most of us get together with families during the holiday season, it is the perfect chance to spend as much time with them as possible. But Christmas is not about family; it is about Christ. When Christmas becomes all about family, and not about Jesus, we have transformed the holiday into an occasion of idolatry, where what matters most to us are the people we love, not the God who gave them to us. We confuse the gift with the Giver.
Here is the truth: nothing says Christmas like an inn with no room for the teenage mother in labor pains, an infant wrapped up in the animals’ feed trough, a late night when shepherds from the fields leave their flocks to see the wonder about which the angels sang. Nothing says Christmas like a church full of worshipers of the newborn King, an altar that the Babe of Bethlehem transforms into the House of Bread, a sermon in which the preacher directs the hearts of the faithful and unfaithful to the tree that bears the Christ of Christmas.
Nothing says Christmas like Christ, who along with all the good things in our lives, like family and friends, gave himself to us as the greatest gift of all. And that’s no lie.
If you enjoy my writings, please consider purchasing my newly published book, The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems. This poetry gives voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. Whether you weep, rejoice, struggle, or hope, through these hymns and poems you can speak to God with honesty and fidelity. By buying a copy, you will also aid mission work, for 25% of the proceeds from book sales go to benefit Lutherans in Africa. Click here to purchase your copy. Thanks!