On Thanksgiving afternoon, my friend Matt sat watching the Detroit Lions on TV, while his wife, Becky, and her sister Sarah were at Walmart doing reconnaissance.
On Thanksgiving afternoon, my friend Matt sat watching the Detroit Lions on TV, while his wife, Becky, and her sister Sarah were at Walmart doing reconnaissance. They used data from their daylight intelligence-gathering mission to formulate an effective Black Friday battle plan.
After checking item availability and prices, the advance scouts put together a list of the items they hoped to acquire in their midnight raid. They then returned to home base to lay out an operational plan for the midnight mission.
Three agents would be deployed to different locations throughout the store. Operative One would be stationed in housewares. Operative Two would stake out toys. And Matt — Operative Three — would take up position in the video section. (He was actually demoted to video, when he admitted his reluctance to engage in close combat over a particular toy.)
Each of the operatives requisitioned a cart (not so much to hold product, but to take up critical aisle space, thereby foiling raids by bargain guerillas), and they marched off to their designated posts.
There were already people in the video section when Matt arrived, but he was able to get in and scope out the key assets. He quickly decided the cart was a liability, ditched it and maneuvered behind a lady occupying the video high ground. He spent the next hour waiting, holding position and staying in contact with his fellow operatives over the wireless.
As 12 o’clock neared, the field was packed with bargain hunters and retail combatants. The adrenaline was definitely pumping. No more small talk now. Matt needed to stay focused.
When word finally came, the plan sprang into action. When the shrink-wrap was cut, the lady in front of Matt went low for videos on the bottom shelf, and he went high, grabbing two “How to Train Your Dragons,” then spun around and captured the “Lord of the Rings” (Blue Ray edition) from the display behind him. He completed his mission in under five seconds.
Matt rendezvoused with his sister-in-law in the clothing section, where he took possession of a doll (which had been won in arm-to-arm combat), then assumed a defensive position in the check-out line. His wife and sister-in-law cut through the rear lines to deliver their spoils, and all three were out of the store by 12:25.
When people think of a “Christmas battle-plan,” this is the kind of thing they have in mind: Setting goals, balancing gifts, and strategizing purchases. Most people never stop to realize that Christmas itself is a strategic engagement in a cosmic battle plan.
The way the story is usually told is full of human interest: unwed pregnant girl; the young guy who mans up and marries her; arriving in inhospitable Bethlehem on a cold, snowy night (though it almost never snows in Bethlehem); forced to give birth in a stable. It makes us feel good to see the poor girl and her noble guy succeed in spite of the obstacles.
But we miss the broader themes. This story about a stable, shepherds, wise men and, most of all, of a tiny baby, is part of a larger narrative about God’s promise to rescue and renew his creation. Remove Christmas from this larger narrative and you will still have a nice story, but you will miss the point: The child from Bethlehem is the “one who will be ruler” (Micah 5:2).
This tiny baby is the fulfillment of great promises. He is the king. Bethlehem is not just an inhospitable town; it is an invasion site. Bethlehem ought to be listed with Thermopylae, Troy, Normandy and Iwo Jima. It was ground zero for Operation Messiah.
The Bethlehem Campaign was the first stage in a multi-pronged offensive. Heaven was on the move, and the long-awaited king had arrived. The battle has now come to us, and we must choose our side. There is still a role to play in the “Christmas battle plan.”
Shayne Looper is the pastor at the Lockwood Community Church in Michigan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.