It might sound crazy but, all I want for Christmas this year is absolutely nothing! Why? In honesty, because I truly believe that nothing always leads to something. I started thinking about this probably about a week ago while reading the story of Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem in Luke 2:1-7.
It starts by saying that, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town.” Of course this was a big thing for many Jews as many would not be in there own ancestral home towns. The Roman Empire had brought the technologies and road systems which would spread the Jews all around the known world and so it would take them a great deal of time to work there way back to Israel and their own respective ancestral homes.
Mary and Joseph where no exception. It would probably take them several days to navigate and walk all the way from their small village of Nazareth in northern Israel down to the birth place of their ancestor David and the home of the tribe of Benjamin; the city of Bethlehem. It is here where I begin to reflect on the state of nothingness that Mary and particularly Joseph would be feeling.
Mary is pregnant and on the verge of giving birth to their first born son. After being inquisitively held under the judging eyes of their friends, their family, and their fellow neighbors in Nazareth they take the dangerous and long journey down to Bethlehem to register under Caesar's censes with all that they own on the back of a lone donkey. Tired, sore, and straining to find a place to rest they are confronted by the cold and suppressive shoulders of their distant relatives. There is no room in the inn. No extra space by the fire. And no place for Mary to lie back while going through the labor of Jesus’ birth.
I can just picture Joseph’s anguish! Why? They are not important enough. They are not intellectually, politically, our religiously astute enough. They wouldn’t be able to give an entertaining enough conversation at the supper table. They are not rich enough or they just don’t have the right connections with the right people. I imagine them listening to the whispers behind the closed doors of the city homes as they heard the same adage Jesus would hear thirty years later; “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46) They were worthless and unimportant. They were nothing.
My friend Patrick wrote an article several weeks back on the word ‘Kenosis’. It is a Greek word meaning “nothing” or “nothingness” and he points out quickly the struggles we often face with this kind of state or value. He says, “It’s a curious sort of now because it doesn’t seem quite a Christian value. Buddhists believe in emptying. Christians believe in filling. Buddhists pursue a divine nothingness. Christians the fullness of God. So such a term becomes easy to write off as not being Christian. Only it’s entirely so.” More pointedly we find Paul using this word of kenosis in describing his picture of the first Christmas in Philippians 2:5-7 as being in the character of Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
We go back to our passage, our first Christmas scene (Luke 2:6-7), “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger.” Joseph and Mary that night found themselves completely empty, void, and without significance and yet in the flickering of the torch light, laying there in the straw bed of an animals manger was a tiny baby. A baby which brought a smile to each of them as they knew that even when life seemed empty and without purpose, God would bring fullness to it. Nothing always leads to something.
I would like to borrow the words of my friend Patrick again when he said, “Being emptied is assuming there’s still something, only it has been gutted, poured out. The container remains. The content changes.” Perhaps, you have felt this same sense of meaninglessness or loss of purpose. Maybe you have felt pushed to the side or felt a sense of a numbing nothingness in your life. I offer you the same promise Jesus offered through his Spirit of Christmas; nothing always leads to something. Again, nothing always leads to something.
Nothing always leads to Hope.
A hope that says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:1-11) Jesus promises that in the authentic expression of even our most deepest emotions we can find hope in witnessing and looking for his kingdom around us.
Nothing leads us to Faith.
I am reminded of a quote which I read from Sam Ervin. He said, “Faith is not a storm cellar to which men and women can flee for refuge from the storms of life. It is, instead, an inner force that gives them the strength to face those storms and their consequences with serenity of spirit.” In other words, faith is to say “the kingdom of God is near” and to truly believe it not because it is written in the bible or even in our heads, but because it is shown through our actions, our words, and our daily activities to which that kingdom has come to be present. It is an unseen power which we have in the simple choice of following Jesus!
Nothing leads to Eternal Life
On that first Christmas, after all that had happened – Mary’s encounter with the angel, Joseph’s dream, their traveling down to the city of Bethlehem - Do you think that while looking into the depth’s of their babies eyes that they would have any clue as to Jesus’ promise of God’s love for this world, “that he would give his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Not even the empty nothingness of death can stop Jesus and his followers from the reality that nothing always leads to something.
All I want for Christmas is absolutely nothing because nothing always leads to something.