What is it about Christmas that draws us every year to celebrations of this holiday? What is so special about Christmas?
Christmas is a special time because of the happiness it brings. It’s a time of giving and receiving, a family time, a time when we feel especially close to friends and loved ones. It is a time of happy reminiscing; remembering the carefree happy days of our childhood. We hear an old favorite carol, we catch the scent of balsam, we see the bright lights; and then, if we’re lucky, we get that blanket of white, and we are transported back to lighter days. Yes, Christmas is a happy time.
Yet, if we were to talk to counselors, we would find the picture is not all rosy at Christmas. Suicide is up, and depression is rampant… Does this mean Christmas is not a very special time after all? No – the opposite is true. Aren’t people sad because they know it is a special time, and the holiday they are experiencing just doesn’t live up to the expectations of the day that they hold in their hearts? Some folks are grieving over a recent loss. Perhaps this is the first Christmas without mom, or dad, a beloved spouse, or a child. Christmas heartache is the worst heartache of all. The bright gaiety of the season might even seem to mock their pain.
Some are sad because they are pining for the ideal childhood Christmases of hazy memory. What current Christmas could compare with the Christmases of innocence? For some people, it may be the years when their children were small that they miss most of all. It is such a joy to see Christmas magic reflected in the eyes of a child.
Or, maybe the opposite is true…Many people are pining for the ideal Christmas or the ideal childhood that they never had. Not all families are happy; not all childhoods are ideal.
Maybe it’s a simpler thing…Do we miss the carefree days when someone else was making the day special for us? I think women especially feel this keenly, because women, as a rule, are the ones who feel the greatest responsibility to make the holidays special for their families. “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen,” the carol says. And what are the merry ladies doing while the merry gentlemen are resting? They are out there killing themselves at the mall!!! Then today, as never before, women are caught in a vicious time squeeze. Much more likely than their mothers to be working full time, they still try to do it all. And what often happens? Work and entertaining overload meets energy and appreciation deficit.
But there is something even more special about Christmas, isn’t there, that produces a longing in us, a yearning for something. What is it?
We mourn the passing of the innocent faith of childhood. We long to believe in someone or something again…long to see goodness in the world, to believe in peace on earth, to experience sharing and caring, giving and loving. We want to believe that there really is a good God in heaven, and to feel his presence in our lives.
What happens to us over the course of our lives that robs us of this childlike joy, this childlike love of goodness and peace? Life happens, doesn’t it? We tend to develop a layer of cynicism as we grow up. We’ve seen much more fighting and strife than peace on earth. We’ve witnessed selfishness and greed and, if we’re honest, we have to admit we’ve participated in it as well. Politicians let us down. We’ve seen televangelists fall into disgrace, and priests and ministers stand accused of sexual escapades and child molestation. Yes, even those we classify as “good people” have a bad side, don’t they? So we have become disillusioned, and it has made us wary of believing in anything or anyone again. And our faith in a good God has been shaken by the evil we see in the world around us. We keenly feel the disappointment of seeing the world as it is, not as we once believed it was.
The Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”, really sums up what I am trying to say.
I heard the bells on Christmas day,
The old familiar carols play.
And wild and sweet, the words repeat,
Of peace on earth goodwill to men. And in despair I bowed my head,
There is no peace on earth, I said.
For hate is strong and mocks the song,
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.
We want so bad to experience the holiness and the peace deep down in our souls, but it eludes us. Yes, Christmas can be a sad time, but is sadness and disillusionment the final word on Christmas? No, I don’t think so. The last verse of the song conveys to us what I believe is the final word on Christmas…
Then pealed the bells both loud and deep,
God is not dead, nor does He sleep,
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, goodwill to men.
Much of the appeal of Christmas is the renewal of hope and faith. At Christmas time our cynical “adult self” is reminded through carol, candle, and whatever else it is about Christmas, of our childhood hopefulness, our childlike trust in the ultimate triumph of God and His goodness. Peace on earth; goodwill towards men!
The notion calls us, strikes a longing chord within us, and reawakens our need to believe in something greater than ourselves. We want to experience God’s presence in our lives. I think that often even very secular people do really feel some of the presence of God at Christmastime. People may impersonalize His felt presence by calling it “Christmas spirit,” but I feel it is no less than the tug of the almighty that warms our hearts.
But then, after Christmas, God is often put away, up in the attic, with the lights and the trimmings and the little nativity scene. Why do we do that? Why do we distance ourselves from the love and goodness, indeed the God that we all need?
Most people tend to see God as way up there, while they are way down here. The gulf between our sinfulness and God’s holiness seems too large to bridge. Human beings do not understand the love that God has for them, and they often view God in almost an antagonistic light. They don’t know what it is He wants from them.
What does God want from us? If you took a survey among the people you know, asking them what God requires from them in order to gain His acceptance, how do you think they might answer? I think most people would say that God wants us to be good; to keep the Ten Commandments, to follow the golden rule. God wants us to go to church. God wants us to give to the poor, be kind to strangers, be patient and loving towards our family members. Some people might stress the “don’ts” over the “dos”. Don’t get drunk, don’t cuss or swear, don’t be mean or jealous or uncontrollably angry, or greedy, or racist, or practice any other of the “negative” behaviors that we humans are prone to.
And how well do people succeed in living up to the expectations that they think God has of them? Not very well, do they? So I believe the reason most people put God away with the trimmings is that trying to be good, when you’re human, is like trying to get over an impossibly high wall without a ladder! People do make the effort to run up against that wall, to try to scramble over, but grow weary of the game when they fall back every time. So I think it is with some sadness, some sense of loss that we go our way, and try not to think of the ways we fall short.
But it doesn’t have to be this way! The good news of Christmas is that God does not want us to give Him something. God wants us to receive something from Him! It’s a FREE GIFT, with no strings attached! No matter how many Christmases you have lived, whether 20 or 50, you may have missed the best gift of all!
John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Ephesians 2:8-9 “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no man can boast.”
Here’s God’s Christmas gift to us; He wants us to receive something – the gift of His Son, the gift of salvation.
What does this gift cost us? That’s a silly question, isn’t it? Gifts, if they are truly gifts, don’t cost the receiver, do they? If it has a price tag, it’s not a gift. Have you ever been offered a “gift” to hostess a Tupperware party, or to open an account at a bank? We know that they are not truly gifts at all; they’re rewards. We have to earn them.
Why would we want God’s Christmas gift anyway? What do we gain by the “salvation” offered to us by God? It means the forgiveness of our sins, the release of a debt we have no hope of paying. We all owe a debt to God. We’ve done things wrong; we’ve violated God’s rules, broken his commandments. We have all failed to love as we should, and failed to forgive the failures of others. We have done unto others what we certainly would not want done to ourselves! Isn’t this the reason that we put God away?
How do we react when we owe someone an impossible debt? We avoid them. We see the person coming, and we cross the street to the other side of the road. Fear, guilt, and pride are relationship killers.
So the release of this debt that allows for our reconciliation to God is the best gift anyone could receive. Jesus died to pay for our sins, so that the Father can declare that our debt has been paid in full. Colossians 2:14 tells us that our IOU was nailed to the cross.
It’s as if God is now saying to you and me, “Hey, don’t avoid me. I covered your debt. I love you; put your pride away and come to me.”
The question is, will we accept his love and forgiveness or spurn His precious gift. It’s up to us. I could stand here all day holding out to you a gift of great value, but until you take it, it is of no value to you!
People have been making this choice since the gift was first offered in the first century.
John 1:11-12 “He came unto His own, but His own did NOT receive Him. Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”
There are two things to notice in this passage. First of all, many people did not receive God’s gift. And secondly, only those who do receive it become children of God! Many people today believe that everybody is a child of God. And many do not understand what it means to “believe in Jesus”, confusing that concept with believing things about God or Jesus. It’s the difference between knowing facts about a person, and actually knowing the person.
John 17:3 “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
We gain eternal life by knowing God the Father and Jesus personally. But what does it mean to receive Christ, to believe in Him, to know Him? Let’s use the example of Barack Obama. Since he was elected, I have learned a great deal about him, but do I know him? No. his daughters Malia Ann and Sasha do, Michelle does, but I do not. And if I continue to learn things about Barack Obama from now until doomsday, will I actually know him anymore than I do now? Of course not. Many people make this very mistake about Jesus, though.
Jesus, in speaking about the Judgment day, talked about this common mistake that people obviously have made down through the centuries.
Matthew 7:22 “Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?”
Note that these were religious people. They call Jesus “Lord”, obviously considering themselves to be Christians. They have done many good things, even performed miracles in the name of Christ. But how does Jesus respond to these folks?
Matthew 7:23 “And I will declare to them, I never knew you!”
You see, in Christianity, it’s not what you do, but who you know that matters. And to know someone involves personal contact.
Romans 10:9-10 “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.”
This is the believing part. These are the specific things we must believe and confess about Jesus in order to be saved – that He is God almighty, the Lord, and that He was raised from the dead. Yet many people do believe these things without knowing Jesus anymore than I know President Obama by possessing knowledge of him. The problem is that they have never received Him!
In order to actually get to know President Obama, what must I do? I must meet him! Perhaps I could call him up on the phone. “Hi Barack, this is Joy here… I’ve wanted to get to really know you!” Well, OK, realistically that probably won’t work with President Obama. I probably wouldn’t get past his secretary if I could get that far! Even if I was a Democrat! But with Jesus, you can get right through. He will personally answer your call!
Romans 10:13 “For whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
How do we call Jesus? Is there a communications system that connects heaven and earth? Yes, it’s called prayer. Pray to Jesus. Acknowledge your debt and ask Him personally for His gift of forgiveness. Tell Him that you want to receive Him.
But isn’t that too easy? Many people have said that to me. I like to turn it around on them…WHY SHOULD IT BE HARD? Does God really want us to receive His gift or not? If I want to give you a gift, would it make sense to offer it to you, but then make it nearly impossible for you to actually receive it? Receiving a gift should be easy, and it is!!!
If there are any reading this who realizes that although they have known things about God for all their lives, they have never really known him, please call on Him today. Receive God’s Christmas gift this Christmas.
O Little Town of Bethlehem
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of his heaven
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Immanuel
No ear may hear his coming
But in this world of sin
Where meek souls do receive him still
The new Christ enters in.
Love to all,
Don & Joy