Let us pray: Dear Savior, as we continue to make preparations for Your birthday, don’t let the ambivalence of the world subtract from our joy. Don’t let the “Happy Holiday” vs. “Merry Christmas” war of words sidetrack us from approaching Your holy day with awe and wonder. Instead, stir up our hearts so that our minds and bodies may be emboldened to live and act out the joy and gladness only You can bring. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR COMING CHRISTMAS KING!
TEXT: I Thessalonians 5: 16-24
Fellow Redeemed In The Coming Savior:
Our Christian faith is based on the Word. The eternal Word of God was made flesh that first Christmas and came to save us. Likewise, that eternal Word speaks to us via the Bible comforting our souls and uplifting us. The high point of the church service, the sermon, is based on God’s Word and uses words to convict us of sin and to raise us up in holiness. But, all these words are not just human talk. They are not just some impartation of information. No, they are also the vehicle the Spirit uses to transform our hearts and spur us into action. They are the power of God unto salvation. They are also transportational.
One of the pitfalls that young pastors and young Christians make is that of being talkers about the word but not doers of it. It’s an easy trap to fall into. For example, we can talk and talk about evangelism and have a whole lot of meetings devoted to discussing what it is, how important it is, and why we should do it. Some of that is o.k. But, isn’t it more profitable to just go out and do it—one-on-one with another hurting sinner? I’m reminded of my painting crew days of 30 years ago. I recall a couple of the guys discussing and plotting exactly how they would tackle a difficult ladder set on the back of Hazel Reede’s house. Meanwhile, I just went and placed the ladder, climbed up, extended my reach and finished the job before they concluded their discussion. End of problem.
This past week I read half a dozen articles bemoaning “Happy Holidays” vs. “Merry Christmas.” Then there were the references to menorahs, Santa Claus manikins, shoppers too busy to enjoy this joyous season, crass materialism, and the news that some of the mega-churches in U.S. are not holding Christmas Day services because people are too stressed out and won’t attend! It all got me to thinking how the simple joy of Christ’s birthday has been crowded out of our societal conscience and how we Christians have allowed such worries to subtract from our personal joy.
If we could time travel back about 1700 years ago, we’d discover many similar pressures put on Christians during this time of the year. The very first reference to celebrating Christmas on Dec. 25th is found in a writing dated about 336 A.D. It seems that believers picked that time to focus on Christ’s birth in contrast to the pagan Roman festival of Saturnalia—which was an eat, drink, and party time. In those days Christians were in the minority. Christmas trees had not yet been invented. Merry Christmas greetings were many generations in the offing. Gift giving was basically non-existent. No one bothered to try to interject Saturnalia elements into the Christian worship pattern because Christians were an afterthought. And the faithful didn’t sweat over any of this. They didn’t allow any of this to occupy their time of grace and to subtract from their joy over Christ’s coming. I think we need to go back to that same approach. So, today I urge all of you:
WHEN IT COMES TO CHRISTMAS JOY—JUST DO IT!
I know that we all want to honor Christ by preserving various Christmas traditions we’ve grown up with. And over coffee many of us have lamented the secularization of this special season. But, have we spent too much time and energy on talking about and around such issues? Why not just do it! Put up your tree remembering that it prefigures the cross—the green of youth (Christ in the manger) is followed by the stark dryness of the cross. Decorate with lights to recall that Jesus is the light of the world. Give simple gifts and then remind those receiving them that they pale in comparison to the greatest gift of all—A Savior from sin! Focus on your own Christmas preparations by first preparing your heart to meet the Baby Jesus. Show the world, one person at a time, that your celebration is special, more special than theirs, because God in the flesh lies at the heart and center of it. Yes, if you want to increase Christmas joy, don’t just lament its lack in others, instead, just do it!
Why did Christmas become such a special holiday, or holy day, among so many in Western society? Was it just because every enjoyed a day off of feasting and receiving special attention? Was it just an appeal to the flesh? No! For Saturnalia did all those things and more and Christmas wiped that celebration off the map! No, Christmas became attractive to the masses because the joy of Christians was something to be envied. And that joy was born by the truth that God’s Son was born of human flesh to buy our souls back from sin, Satan, and death. God’s Son came to honor us with His presence. God’s Son came to meet us in humble love and to forgive us in humble love. The life-transforming message of Christmas was evidenced in the early Christians. They didn’t just talk about it, they lived it. Or, to paraphrase Scripture, “the believers let their light shine and the unbelievers saw their joy and wanted it, too!”
Today, all the trappings of this holy day have become secularized to the point that Christmas is often viewed as a big, fat hassle. Its joy is gone for most, beyond the dopamine high of ripping open some presents and feeling warm and fuzzy inside as we watch kids’ eyes light up. And that, my friends, is why the day after is such a let down for most.
So, when it comes to Christmas joy—just do it! Live it. Act on it. Follow St. Paul’s words: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies (the ancient foretelling of Christmas) with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”
The news reports that the Willow Creek megachurch, and others like it, are foregoing Christmas Day worship because so few attend, is troubling. It is a decision based on human practicality and not on Christmas joy. For true Christmas joy has only two components: Christ comes to honor us and we come to honor Him. We do so guided and moved by the Spirit. And in the process, the God of peace makes us holy and makes our joy complete. So, just do it! Put Christ back into this holy season. Don’t fret over the attempts to take Him out of it. Let His light shine in and through you. For then you’ll be joy-filled and your light will shine! Amen