It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas and as the 25th rapidly approaches the anticipation of the joyous celebration grows.
But what is there to celebrate? Are colorful packages underneath a nicely decorated tree or even the jolly old elf, Saint Nick worthy enough to stir within people a feeling of celebration?
Consider me a Scrooge, but I find all the lights, decorations and even Santa Claus himself rather boring this time of year. I will also add that if your Christmas is ultimately summarized by those things and is the apex of your holiday, then you are severely limiting yourself from having a truly satisfying and extraordinary Christmas.
Christmas is about Christ. Of course, you would expect a Christian and a pastor no less to say such a thing. In fact, this statement has become a rallying cry for people who see this once considered holy season degenerate into materialism and has been the go-to response in the apparent "war on Christmas."
However, I'm beginning to wonder sometimes if we, believers, really understand and have come to appreciate why this time of year deserves such a huge celebration. When we read in Luke's gospel about the angelic proclamation, "I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people," (Lk. 2:10) and then the angel proceeds to tell the shepherds about the birth of the promised Messiah, does that news produce in us a sense of great joy? It is an unfortunate reality that for some the great joy is all but absent in Christmas.
When we say that "Christmas is about Christ" what we mean to say is that Christmas is the celebration of the Incarnation - that God stepped into his creation and became a man. This man was named Jesus, who was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem and every year Christmas day is devoted to his birth. The Incarnation is an event that is unprecedented in all of human history. There has never been a moment in time where God has so uniquely acted by coming down in the flesh and dwelling among people (Jn. 1:14). It has been considered the marker that divides history, which everything that predates the Incarnation was known as B.C. (Before Christ) and everything that came after the Incarnation was recognized to be under Christ's lordship, A.D. ("Anno Domini, which means "Year of our Lord"). To put it simply, Christmas, indeed, is a festival of the miraculous and of epic proportions.
Part of the miracle is that the Incarnation was expected and planned. As the reformed theologian Loraine Boettner once wrote, "Jesus Christ emerges as the only expected person...no other person has had his course foretold or his work laid about before him centuries before he was born."
The Old Testament which was written centuries before the arrival of Christ records the exact place of where Jesus was to be born (Micah 5:2) and the miraculous nature of his conception and birth (Isa. 7:14). Again these prophecies were recorded roughly around 600 years before the event of the Incarnation and to see them so overwhelmingly fulfilled is absolutely astounding!
Why the Incarnation is such good news, produces such great joy and makes all other Christmas competitors rather uninspiring and dull is because Jesus Christ is the gift of Christmas. Imagine when you were younger, how you anticipated Christmas morning and the feeling you got as you tore open a present to find the very thing you had always wanted. But then as reality shows us that older we get the sentiment of elation that Christmas morning fades away and becomes somewhat of a distant memory.
Not so with Jesus. The gift of the person of Christ and everything associated with him, like everlasting life and indestructible joy is forever. Imagine forever opening up a present that would never grow old or wear out, would have eternal novelty and was something that you had always wanted. Now this present was not wrapped up in fancy paper or with a big red bow but was wrapped up in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger and was named Jesus.
What a gift Christ is and he is for everyone. If your Christmas season has been cheerless or difficult because of pain or loss, you will find the gift of Christ there waiting. I would invite you to open it, experience the fullness of joy and truly have a Merry Christmas this year.