True confessions… I don’t love Christmas. I didn’t say I hate Christmas; I just don’t love it. My ambivalence around this holiday has developed over time. Too many years of disappointment when a family member’s illness cancelled our celebration and all the best gifts broke before New Years. The busyness, the hype, and the commercialism inevitably promises something it can never truly deliver. To take time to be with family, enjoy good food, and give gifts to each other- those are good things. However, mixed in with the goodness, our hearts can quickly be distracted from the best things.
Those of us who recognize Jesus as the centerpiece of Christmas fight an uphill battle not only to focus on Him, but also to worship Him for who He is through this season of Advent. The apostle Paul wrote many letters to the early church. The emphasis of his letters was to make sure that God’s people worshipped the true Jesus, not some cultural variation of who they wished Him to be. Paul’s greatest warning to Christians was to not fall into believing false gospels and begin worshipping a made-up form of Jesus.
As I reflect on that warning in my own faith journey, I can see the temptation to transform Jesus either into a form of Santa Claus or into some version of the Ebenezer Scrooge. The truth is, Jesus came neither to grant all of our wishes nor to steal our joy.
The world’s caricatures of good and evil help us sort our experiences into understandable categories. We can all wrap our minds around a god who exists to make life pleasant and to reward those on the “nice” list. And Santa grades on a very generous curve. Only the naughtiest boys and girls get coal rather than presents. There is a part of us that wishes for God to be this way. We secretly hope that if our good outweighs the bad, God will give us a wink of approval and possibly spare us from painful experiences. We read our Bibles selectively, skipping over those portions that speak of judgment, hell, and suffering.
Others reject the concept of God’s goodness altogether. Rather than Santa, the only god that could exist is one more like Ebenezer Scrooge, unreasonable and sadistic in his demands. A god who condemns sin, allows a worldwide pandemic, or creates a place like hell doesn’t deserve our recognition or worship. We are higher moral creatures than such a supposed god.
So who is this Jesus helpless in a manger? Hanging on a cross? Seated at the right hand of God the Father? He is the mystery of God’s love. A mystery that completely transcends any earthly understanding of what it means to be “good” or “loving.” A mystery, Peter writes, that angels and prophets longed to see. A mystery of holiness that cannot coexist with pride, greed, and rebellion but who conquered sin and death through humility and love.
For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor? Or who has given a gift to Him that He might be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:34–36).
Jesus has changed the course of history. He neither shows up once a year to bring us trinkets for our kind deeds nor condemns us without compassion. Jesus changed the course of my history. Because of Jesus, I do not fear death. Because of Jesus, I can grieve with hope. Because of Jesus, I can loosen my grip on all of the earthly pleasures the world clamors for. Because of Jesus, I am dressed in a white robe of righteousness in spite of my rebellious heart. And because of Jesus, I have fellowship and intimacy with my Creator.
How has Jesus changed your history?
Christmas is the most joyful time of the year if, and only if, I can settle my heart and worship the One true God who sent His Son to save us. In the cacophony of parties, feasts, concerts, and gatherings, may we hear the whisper calling us to worship. My friend, receive with me the invitation of Christmas. Be amazed by Him. Emmanuel. God with us. O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
What comes into our minds when we think of God is the most important thing about us. —A.W. Tozer
If you’re wanting to cultivate a deeper relationship with the Lord but feel overwhelmed by the distractions and stressors of life, we encourage you to read the book Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow. The book is filled with encouragement and practical help for moving toward contentment and trust in Him, no matter what your circumstances.