It's sad to me that this holy time of year has, for many people, become focused on themes such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday and a host of other subjects that have nothing to do with the Christian observance of Jesus' birth.
The real joy and beauty of Advent and Christmas never will be found in swarming shoppers, fighting to be first in line for a purchase, playing parking-lot bumper cars or giving gifts to those we know will reciprocate. Only when we look away from the cultural mayhem associated with the holiday will we rediscover God's gift of the Son.
God has given us this gift to redeem and free us. During these few weeks, we again must decide to open or reject that gift.
Every December, I point toward the true message of the Advent and Christmas seasons. I do that because I know how easily we get caught up in other, gaudy themes contending for our attention.
For thousands of years, the hopes and expectations had grown about the Messiah's coming. But with each passing century, so did questions of God's faithfulness. Then, in God's appointed year, at a specified place and involving a host of unlikely characters, God acted.
We do not know why God chose to send Jesus during the reign of Augustus Caesar. Was it accidental, coincidental or providential that the most ingenious of the Caesars sat on the Roman throne and ordered a worldwide census that required the Son of God to be born in Bethlehem of Judea?
Reflect on where Jesus was born. Five miles north of Bethlehem was the finest religious center of that time: Jerusalem. Why not there? Could it be that Bethlehem fulfilled the prophecy? And Jesus was born in a barn. What place could be less desirable for the birth of a person? Circumstances dictated this birth, for the Gospels report there was â€œno room for them in the inn.â€ Despite what our songs and legends declare, a manger is a dirty, crusty trough for feeding livestock. Surely the God of Heaven and Earth could have selected a better place. But He didn't.
Who other than God could have written, directed and produced such a beautiful story? Could it be God is reminding us there is no situation from which God cannot bring joy?
Advent and Christmas remind us that God comes into our midst in ways we least expect, even now.
Robert Hayes Jr. is bishop of the Oklahoma Conference United Methodist Church and Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.