When I was growing up, I had many favorite Christmas traditions: baking, decorating and delivering Christmas cookies to some of the elderly members of our church; listening to Chrsitmas music; watching Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life or Bing Crosby in White Christmas (and, for some strange reason, The Sound of Music ) all of which came on the TV as this was before the time of VCRs and DVD players. Singing Christmas carols at church all through December; pulling decorations out of the box and hearing my mother recount where she had gotten them; caroling around the tiny village with my church; sipping hot chocolate in the glow of the Christmas lights. These were a few of my favorite things.
But there was one special thing about Christmas in my family that seemed to make the holiday extra exciting. My mother is a Christmas Eve baby.
I was always slightly jealous of my mother’s Christmas Eve birthday. How wonderful it seemed to me to be able to share a birthday with the baby Jesus! The lights, the decorations, the foods, the carols, the parties and gifts … why all of those wonderful activities and traditions must make a Christmas birthday seem to last forever! And who wouldn’t want to extend their birthday celebration out for as long as possible?
The countdown to my own September birthday began as soon as school started in mid-August. I was prone to making a big deal of the countdown, especially during the last week, while dreaming of all the gifts I would open and the fancy cake my grandmother would make me. The most exciting thing about my birthday is that I would be the center of attention!
But my mother never expected anyone to remember or make a fuss over her birthday. She didn’t seem to care if she only got one gift labeled for both birthday and Christmas among all the wrapped presents under the tree, and seemed to actually prefer to think about what good things she could do for others instead of thinking about how people might pay attention to her. And perhaps most of all, she seemed to insist that her three children put our Christmas focus on the Christmas Child in the manger and the reason for His Holy birth instead of putting even an ounce of importance that it was her birthday too.
I suppose a part of me figured she did those things because she was all grown up and grown ups aren’t supposed to love their own birthdays quite as much as little children do. And yet I don’t think that was the case at all. My mother, it seems, was always gracious about her birthday and not prone to expecting a big to-do over it.
I know this to be true because tucked away in my mother’s wedding album was a letter, written in my grandmother’s beautiful cursive handwriting. The fragile paper yellowed, dated December 24th of the year my mom turned 4 years old, contained my grandmother’s recollections of my mom’s 4th birthday party, just a day or two prior. All the neighborhood children came because Santa was going to make an appearance at the party. When it came my mother’s turn to sit on Santa’s knee, she asked him to bring a doll to a little girl who didn’t have one to play with. My grandmother recorded her as saying, “I already have a lot of dolls and toys.”
Most Christmases, I pulled out that precious letter and read it to myself, wondering about the little girl who had grown up to be my mother. How could she be so good even when she was so little? Even my grandmother seemed to marvel at her oldest daughter’s generosity.
As a child, I firmly believed that my mother got to share her birthday with Jesus because she was so very lovely and good. I would looked longingly at the old photos of her childhood, thinking how her white-blonde hair, bright blue eyes and sweet smile gave her the appearance of a tiny angel without wings. I wished I could be that lovely, too.
Instead, I felt more like Maria from The Sound of Music, desiring so much to be a good girl but constantly getting sidetracked by my own character flaws and failings.
Christmas only seemed to highlight this problem. After all, Santa Claus brought gifts to good children. The big question every year was would you end up on the naughty or the nice list? I never actually knew anyone on the naughty list. Even the worst kids in school got gifts from Santa! At the same time, deep down I knew that my ability to be good wasn’t very good either. My anxious little heart worried over being good enough all year long, especially at Christmas.
The trouble is none of us are good enough. The standard has been set and we absolutely fail at hitting that mark. The sum of our sins is remarkably high. Like the United States debt marker climbing to ridiculous numbers no one can truly fathom, our individual and collective sin debt soars to insurmountable heights.
Oh, we try to make it right, don’t we? Volunteer for a charity. Give money to the needy. Show up to work on time. Be polite. Do your best. Never give up. Be good. Do better. In the end all the matters is that you do more good things that bad things. That’s how you end up on the nice list … right?
Um … Really? I mean, it sounds good but is it even possible?
I can’t even manage to do more positive actions than negative ones in just one day, much less over my lifetime. Not a day goes by when I don’t say something snarky to my husband or rant at the car ahead of me in the line at the red light while cursing the driver in the depths of my mind. I sigh when my kids ask me for a favor that’s a bit inconvenient for me. I roll my eyes when someone does something I don’t like at work. I gossip. I exaggerate the truth (because I don’t want to call it what it is … a straight up lie). And on top of all that, I’m rather prone to being stingy, ungrateful, and totally self-centered.
Ha! I know me and I know I am anything but good. The ugly truth is I cannot manage to be good for even half an hour, much less be good enough to eventually gain heaven.
I’m on the naughty list. You are too. Even my sweet little angel momma with her Christmas Eve birthday is on the naughty list. Because none of us is good enough.
That’s the bad news of Christmas.
Don’t worry … there is good Christmas news.
Remember the Christmas story? The angel visits the shepherds in the field and says,
“Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you GOOD NEWS of great joy that will be for all the people … :
Luke 2: 10 CSB
Shepherds, who were not good enough even to be considered upstanding citizens in their day, got the news first. And then, without hesitation, they raced off into he night in search of the baby born to save the world.
They found Him … just as the angels said, lying in the manger, wrapped in strips of cloth. He was the good news of Christmas, for God knew we would never be good enough to be on the nice list. Not on our own anyway. So He gave us Jesus, the baby in the manger, God in the flesh, fresh from heaven, born simply to be good enough for us all.
Perhaps the sweetest part of the story is those unworthy shepherds left the Holy Infant and went back into the night to tell everyone about the things they had seen and heard.
Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere …
And what were they telling?
That the best and greatest gift of Christmas is that we don’t have to worry about being good enough anymore for the One who is good enough for us all has been born. His name is Jesus.
I saw the disappointment in Jon’s eyes, so I rushed to try to smooth over my words with an explanation. “I mean … this is just not my sort of idea of summer fun, First of all, I’d have to wear a costume. You know how I hate to wear costumes. But then there will also be a large crowd of people, and large crowds always make me nervous. Plus the bugs and the summer heat. Honestly … I can’t think of anything I’d like to do less. Okay, well, except maybe spending a long hot day in the middle of July at a theme park full of roller coaster rides. That I would definitely hate more than this. But this is a close second!”
I knew this opportunity was a dream-come-true for him. Jon was a huge fan of The Chosen, a two season show currently ranked as the #1 crowd-funded series ever. Now he had a chance to be an extra during the filming of an episode of season three, specifically for the scene where Jesus feeds the five thousand. It was the sort of opportunity that only comes along once in a lifetime.
“Paige, out of all the people I could take, you are the one I want to go with me. I know it’s not the sort of thing you will enjoy, but the truth is I would enjoy it more if you were there with me. And so, of all the people I could ask to go with me, I still choose you. Please … just say yes.”
His words sank in. Jon could have taken several of his friends or almost any of our children. Yet all he wanted was to go with me. A dozen years ago, he chose me to be his bride. Now he was declaring I was still his favorite pick. How could I say no?
And so … I slowly nodded my head and agreed to go.
That conversation happened in mid-March. The filming of the feeding of the five thousand scene wasn’t scheduled to happen until early June.
Before long, we were receiving emails full of information from The Chosen costuming department. Everything needed to look authentically first-century, just as if we had stepped off the pages of the Bible.
Leather sandals without buckles or zippers. Check!
Tunics with sashes. Check!
Head coverings. Check!
Wooden walking stick. Check!
Long bags to carry so we would have a way to hide our modern day supplies (car keys, cells phones, etc). Check!
Once we got our costumes put together, we started thinking of things we would need to help us survive a 12+ hour day in the middle of an open Texas field.
Bug repellant. Check!
Electrolyte packs for our water. Check!
Portable, battery-operated fans. Check!
A small first aid kit. Check!
Easy to carry snacks, like beef jerky. Check!
Jon joined a Facebook group that was created just for The Chosen Extras, where he gleaned all sorts of ideas. It was so helpful, he added me to the group. Every day, we got new information — from warnings to products. We read through them all and tried to determine how to prep our bags for the big day. Someone in the group suggested packing a compact UV umbrella, so we added that to our growing collection of necessities. Another person warned against the field being full of chiggers and stickers. We threw some AfterBite and a pair of tweezers into the first aid kit.
After two months of prepping our bags, we were nearly ready … or so we thought.
As the filming day approached, I began to regret my decision to go with Jon.
The weather looked to be exceedingly hot with record-breaking temperatures upwards of 100 degrees. The Chosen Extras began to refer to the filming event as The Feeding of the Fried Thousand. It sounded cute in our little FB group, but deep down I felt nothing but dread in the days leading up to our experience.
Sitting out in a field in the middle of that kind of heat will quickly lead heat exhaustion. I knew all about the dangers of heat. I had a near heat-stroke a decade earlier, and ever since my body did not tolerate heat nearly as well. Now I was really worried about going to be a part of The Chosen filming.
“You go to the filming and I will stay back at the hotel. I can work on writing my book, “ I suggested a day or two before we were set to leave.
Jon gave me a long look out of the corner of his eye. Finally, he said, “What are you talking about? Is there something you aren’t telling me?”
I sighed. “It’s the heat. I’m scared I’ll get sick again.”
“Paige, we have prepared for heat. We have electrolytes to add to your water and a fan and a UV umbrella. Besides, I read that they will have medics on site. I know it looks like the weather will be super hot, but I think we can manage. Last time, we didn’t know how to prepare to protect you, but this time we are preparing. You’ll be okay.”
“I know … but, I can’t help but think that it won’t be enough. I get scared thinking about how terrible I felt last time and what if it happens to me again? I can’t quit worrying about it.”
Jon gave me at thoughtful look and said, “I promise you that if you start to feel bad, we will both leave … together. I really want you to come with me. It just won’t be the same without you there.” He paused and then added, “Please … let’s do this together. Are you still with me?”
I nodded and agreed to go.
The alarm went off at 5 am.
As soon as our feet hit the floor, our bodies were moving quickly as we tried to dress ourselves in first-century garments. There wasn’t any need for make-up. After brushing our teeth, the only thing left to do was hide my blonde hair underneath a head wrap.
Half an hour later, we were in the car and on our way to the football stadium in Midlothian, Texas. The big day had arrived and we were about to become part of large throng of people needed to stage The Feeding of the Five Thousand scene.
From the moment we stepped off the luxury travel bus onto the remote field, we knew we had entered into a special place. The feeling, though difficult to explain, was nearly palpable … a sort of holiness or sacredness. It was still early morning when we arrived, but the air had a coolish feel to it and the wind was blowing briskly.
The crowd was large and yet I felt right at home. Normally, I don’t do large crowds well. I feel nervous and my overactive radar is on high-alert in any sort of scenario where I am around a group of people I do not know. But on this morning, I felt right at home, almost as if no one was a stranger to me.
Our first stop was a large holding area where we would wait until it was time for our group to go to the filming site. We ate a bit of breakfast and enjoyed a concert by The Bonners. We talked about going to the gift shop, but decided to wait until after we had been to the filming area so that we wouldn’t need to lug anything extra with us. While we waited, I drank two bottles of water with added electrolytes because I wanted to stay fully hydrated for the day ahead.
Around 10:45 in the morning, it was our time to go and film.
It was a 10 minute walk over to the field where the filming was taking place. We joined the others in our filming group and began the trek.
It was exciting to crest the hilltop and see several sets. Most of them were little tents or huts, but there was a watering welling and a little cooking area, as well as a few other props.
The crew there to help usher us along gave permission to take photos as we walked, but we were not allowed to stop and pose as filming was on a “hurry up and wait” sort of schedule.
As the walk continued, we noticed a drone flying overhead. It made several trips over us as we moved toward the set. The next couple of photos are of the group walking along the path toward the filming area. I am leaving them large so that you can see the size of the crowd (guessing about 1000-1200 people in our filming group), and so you can see the drone.
Soon we were walking down into a smallish valley of sorts. There was already a huge crowd of people seated on the ground. The crew began to usher us into various areas for seating. Jon and I were guided over to a place on the far left side of the set. We settled our mats on the ground and sat down to observe our surroundings.
A large boom with a camera attached was nearby. We quickly realized we would not be able to see much of the action from Jesus or the disciples as we were situated near the camera crew. Instead, we mostly saw and heard the crew setting up the camera to capture various angles on each shot.
Soon after we sat down, the sun grew very hot. It was close to 11 am and in that little valley where we sat, the wind movement had come to a halt.
Sweat caused sunscreen to get into my eye. My left eye began to water and burn. I felt it swelling.
About half and hour into our filming, I felt like I was getting overheated. I needed more water. Jon got up to find me some and soon brought back two bottles of water. I quickly added electrolytes and drank down the first bottle. Jon added electrolytes to his water and after he took a sip, I drank the rest of his bottle too.
By the time our group was released from the filming area, I was starting to feel dizzy and lightheaded. We still had a 10 minute walk back to the main holding area. I knew Jon was worrying about me. I staggered along, thinking if I could just sit down in the shade for a bit I would be able to cool down and feel better.
Instead, we got to a tent and I started to feel worse. My left eye was nearly swollen shut. I couldn’t open it fully. My head was pounding. My heart was starting to race. I knew I was going into heat exhaustion. Jon brought me more water and I drank another bottle with more electrolytes. Meanwhile, Jon soaked a rag in water and held it to my neck in an attempt to cool my body down.
Finally, he suggested we go over to the medical tent to see about my eye. He thought there might be a way to flush it out. I agreed to go. Once we got there, though, the medics were clearly concerned about me being overheated. It wasn’t long before the head paramedic suggested to Jon that we might need to leave. Jon agreed. I tried to let them know I was willing to try to stay longer … but Jon was adamant. “It’s okay, Paige. I knew when I chose to ask you to come with me, that we may need to leave early. But I still wanted you to come and I am glad you did. Now it’s time for us to go.”
Back at the hotel, I slept close to 4 hours. When I woke up, my left eye was still significantly swollen.
It was hard not to feel sad that we had to leave The Chosen set before the end of the day. And yet, God was still in all the details. From me not feeling anxious about the crowds of people to even part of a group that filmed a scene in the morning, God worked it out of us to enjoy an entire morning on the set of The Chosen.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be chosen.
Something that is chosen is something that is wanted. When Jon asked me to go with him to be a part of the filming, he was choosing me over asking anyone else. I wasn’t his second or third choice. I was his first pick. His number one choice. I was chosen.
But what’s it like to not be chosen …
Perhaps you were the person with all the right qualifications and yet you still were not chosen for the job …
Your resume looked great. You had all the right training and education and experience. Your interview went smoothly. You wait anxiously to hear back and when the call finally comes, instead of getting a job offer, you hear the words, “We just don’t think you are a good fit for our company.” Or maybe the voice on the other end said there was someone else more qualified. Or perhaps there was just not a call back at all.
To be the one who is not chosen … wow, that stings deep down in the soul, doesn’t it?
But sometimes when we are chosen it can hurt just as much. Maybe you can relate…
Were you the kind of kid who was picked last for teams in school?
There’s nothing worse than standing there waiting for your name to get called, and when it gets down to the end you know deep down no one really wants you on their team.
Being the last pick is almost worse than being not chosen at all. The team captain picks this person and then that person … and so on and so forth until the team is complete. Still, when everybody else has been picked and I’m the last left, it’s like the leader is said, “We really don’t want you here, but if we don’t pick you it will make us look bad. So just to be nice, you can be a part of our team, but please don’t get too involved or you might cause us to lose the game. Tell you what … just stand over there and cheer.”
Or maybe you were chosen initially and then replaced … is that you too?
Once upon a time, my first husband left me for another woman. Fourteen years and three children and yet he left as if none of that ever mattered.
The heaviness of being unchosen hurts just as much as the sting of not being chosen or the bitterness of being chosen last.
Then there is God. Some of us don’t feel chosen by Him either.
God tells us that He is planning a large banquet, a wedding feast.
Invitations have gone out and literally everyone is invited to the party. Everyone. The entire world. Not one person has not received an invitation to go to the biggest and best wedding party ever given in the entire history of mankind.
How do you get to go? Basically, you just show up dressed in wedding attire.
What am I talking about?
Well … quite frankly, I’m talking about the state of your soul, both here on this earth and for all of eternity. But I am also referring to a parable Jesus told. You can find it in Matthew 22: 1-14, but here is a synopsis:
The king’s only son is getting married and he is throwing a huge feast to celebrate. He sends his servants out with invitations and instructions to invite everyone to the wedding banquet. Most people had one excuse or another for why they couldn’t attend … business trips, family matters, or just didn’t want to bother with attending.
The king sent his servants out again with invitations. This time the servants were beaten and killed by those who the king invited. The king sent out yet more servants and told them to look everyone and to bring anyone they could find for the banquet feast was ready. This time, they brought all the people they could find, some of whom were not ones you might expect to find at a royal celebration. And yet, the king wanted everyone in his kingdom to come and share in his joy, so that even those who had nothing suitable to wear were given a wedding garment.
The king walked into the banquet to see it crammed with people. He looked around and spotted a man who was not wearing to wedding robe provided for him. The king had that guest kicked out and said, “For everyone is invited, but few are chosen.”
Everyone is invited but few are chosen? What does that mean?
Maybe I should say this another way …
If you were invited to be a part of a particular team, but you refused to wear the jersey, are you choosing to be part of the team? Sure, you were invited, but by your own decision chose not to become a member simply because you wouldn’t wear the team jersey that was given to you to wear.
Jesus has invited everyone to be on His team.
Everyone. That includes all the worst of the worst people we can think of throughout history. Yep. You guessed it. Hitler, Stalin, Attila the Hun and Vlad the Impaler all got an invitation, too.
The thing is, you gotta chose to put on the team jersey. Like it or not, some people just choose not to wear their spirit shirt. Jesus isn’t going to come down here and shove it over your heard and make you wear it. Your momma might have made you wear clothes you didn’t like once upon a time, but Jesus doesn’t work that way. He isn’t your momma. No, He just holds out the team spirit shirt and says, “If you want to come to my party, you need to wear this.”
(By the way, a couple of years ago my daughter Julia decided to have a Star Trek themed birthday party. She made everyone wear black jeans and solid red, blue or yellow t-shirts. She crafted Star Trek insignias for everyone to wear on their t-shirts. It was part of accepting her party invitation. There were a couple of people who didn’t come because they didn’t want to wear the required outfit. Now I’m not much of a Trekki, but I still wore the outfit because I love my girl and I wanted to be a part of her party.)
In order to put on Jesus’ party clothes, you first have to take off the old clothes. That’s right … you will have to change your outfit. Ephesians 4:22 puts it this way: “Take off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires” It goes on to say that those who follow Jesus should put away lying, stealing, foul language, bitterness, anger, shouting, slander and malice.
Instead, we are to allow Jesus to renew our minds and give us a new self, one that is created in God’s likeness — to resemble His righteousness. The new outfit God gives us looks something like this:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another … And above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Jon invited me to be his plus one. I had to chose to go with him. I had to agree to wear the costume.
Jesus has invited you to his eternal banquet. But in order to attend, you have to chose to go. Doing so will mean changing your life. But it will also mean you are given eternal life with Jesus.
If you aren’t sure how to do that, please reach out to me. I’d be happy to talk to you more about it.
If you haven’t watched The Chosen, I encourage you to download the free app and start watching. It’s an amazing show that truly brings the Bible to life.