Over the last ten or fifteen years, various Christian lobbying and activist groups have been notifying me of the reality that many companies are “taking Christ out of Christmas.” So with great enthusiasm, I filled out petitions to various stores in order to encourage them to “keep Christ in Christmas.” After all, what is Christmas without a hearty, “Merry Christmas?”
The dull, placid remark, “Happy Holidays,” holds about as much cheer as “Grandma got run over by a reindeer.” And the thin veneer hung over the commercialization of Christmas and other associated holidays has become ever more sheer, so much so that I’m afraid my 5-year-old son is about ready to notice the proverbial emperor is no longer wearing any clothes. All sincere meaning seems gone…
Expectations run high but emptiness often trickles into our Christmas scene. Behind all the bright red bows, sparkling Christmas trees, and neatly wrapped packages we see ahead to the morning after Christmas morning, the dead batteries, and fast approaching…the day after New Year’s.
So we may donate money to “Christmas-saving” groups and receive a pin to wear, notifying persons we speak with that, “I say Merry Christmas, and so it’s okay for you to say it, too!” But I wonder how many of us – my family included – focus on Jesus Christ in our Christmas season?
Now don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that you’d be wrong to support these Christian organizations that lobby on behalf of Christmas. I love saying, “Merry Christmas!” to everyone I meet this time of year. My heart is warmed when I walk into a store and see the words “Merry Christmas” hung across the entrance. I am delighted when my children squeal with joy when they spot a Nativity scene displayed in a window, front yard, or city square.
Sure, we may say, “Merry Christmas” and donate $5 to receive a Christmas pin. We can energetically petition stores to put the name of Christ or the word “Christmas” back in their holiday displays.
But is Christ really in my Christmas?
How much is Christ in our Christmas? Historically, the word Christmas is an abbreviated form of Christ-mass, meaning the celebration of Christ – specifically in His first Advent. Yet is Christ actually remembered and in center-focus during our Christmas season?
Or is it really more about fulfilling everyone’s expectations for honey-baked ham, turkey, carols, presents, fruitcake, re-runs of Rudolph, and more? Are you stressed about your party schedule for work and extended family? Are you scrambling to figure out how you’re going to have enough money to buy the gifts your kids really want? Or do you feel lonely, even depressed about Christmas because a loved one is now gone, and they’ll never enjoy another Christmas with you?
Maybe during this Christmas season, what we need most is not a petition to Target or Wal-Mart to put the word Christmas back on display, but for you and I to fully receive Christ back into our Christmas. And maybe then, Jesus Christ, the source of true love, joy, peace, and hope will be on display in us.
When an angel of the Lord declared the most shocking message of all-time to a ragtag, outcast crew of shepherds on the fringes of society, it wasn’t a sermon of condemnation but a proclamation of joy:
“And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all people…” (Luke 2:9-10)
But how can these shepherds who were scared out of their pants (pardon the colloquial expression) have joy? And why does this angel have such good news that will result in great joy for everyone – even stinky, dirty shepherds?
One word: Christ.
Here’s the earth-turning, life-changing reason delivered from God’s holy messenger: “…for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior…” (Luke 2:11a)
A Savior – a Rescuer is here! And this Savior is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy: He was born in the city of David: Bethlehem. In Mathew’s account of the story, he recorded that King Herod – who was incredibly nervous and agitated about losing his throne – gathered all the chief priests and scribes together and asked them where the Christ, “the Messiah,” was to be born (Matt. 2:3-4). Their response unearthed an amazing parallel from a rather obscure Old Testament prophet named Micah. You might have to dust off the pages of your Bible as you look at this passage with me:
“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity…” (Micah 5:2)
The entrance of Jesus the Christ into the world was not a random occurrence or like a lotto ball that just happened to drop down the right tube. The day Christ moved into the neighborhood of fallen, sinful humanity had been planned before the earth was formed and prophesied hundreds of years before the Great Arrival. All the pent-up anticipation broke out into a broken world and light spread through the darkness.
But look again, carefully: the angel said the Savior was born for them – to save the shepherds. He came to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21) and God didn’t make an exclusion clause for those who didn’t have their act together or who weren’t accepted by the so-called righteous people.
The Baby born in Bethlehem is a Savior…
For those who don’t have their ears clean and haven’t bathed in weeks
For those who can’t afford expensive clothes, new cars, or a house of their own
For those who have a bad reputation and have done some time behind bars
For those who haven’t been to a church service in years
For those who the so-called religious elite ignore and sometimes despise
For those who have a dark past they’re too ashamed to talk about
For those who wonder if God really cares they exist out on the pastureland of earth
For those who everyone else thinks is unimportant or a liability
For those who might carry chronic diseases and infections
For those who feel like they wear a scarlet letter because of past sins
For those who are rejected or ridiculed by people who claim to follow God
For those who are worn out from trying to measure up to people’s expectations
For those who are filled with sadness and tears because they think they’ll never be close to God or never know real love…
And who is this Savior… this One born in the city of David? God’s angelic messenger finishes the sentence: “…for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11b)
One word again: Christ. The title “Christ” signifies this little newborn baby is the Messiah, the Anointed One who has come to save and rule and shepherd the flock of God, the One who will restore justice and righteousness, and reign with truth and grace. He is the One who Moses foretold in Deuteronomy 18:15-19:
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.” (Deut. 18:15; cf. Luke 24:27; John 5:46; Acts 3:22-23)
He is the One who Isaiah prophesied about in detail:
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” (Isa. 7:14)
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of Dave and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.” (Isa. 9:6-7)
He is the One who Jeremiah shouted about long before the Incarnation:
“‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely; and this is His name by which He will be called, ‘The Lord our righteousness.’” (Jer. 23:5-6; see also Jer. 31:31-34)
Ezekiel, Daniel, Micah, Zechariah (3:8-10) and others all pointed to the Messiah, the One who would come to save. Yet, we cannot overlook the already-but-not-yet tension in the prophetic thread running through the Old Testament to the birth of Christ in the New Testament. He is the Savior who is currently saving people from their sins and reconciling them with God. Yet He is also the Savior who will come and rescue, restore, and redeem all things to Himself at His Second Coming.
Already: Jesus Christ saves those who trust in Him for salvation, giving hope and joy for the unfolding of His future grace.
Not Yet: Jesus Christ will fully redeem us and rule over the renewed creation with justice and righteousness.
So look again at Luke 2:11: This Christ is the Lord. He won’t become the Lord over all when he returns to build His literal, physical kingdom on a renewed earth. He is already Lord over all and always has been. Right now, today, Jesus is the Christ and the Lord.
Back at the Ranch, i.e. Smelly Sheep Station
So this sweaty, tired crew of shepherds stands with eyes gawking, hands shaking, and hearts trembling. But the angel of the Lord isn’t finished with the message, he says:
“This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.’” (Luke 2:12-14)
They received an invitation to find and receive God’s gift, the gift of a Savior – Jesus the Christ. He is how these scared shepherds can receive joy. He is the reason why the angel’s message will result in great joy for everyone – even outcast shepherds.
And they immediately go find Him, look upon Him, and go tell everyone about Him (Luke 2:15-18).
The Gift For You
God sent His holy messenger to invite the shepherds to find His Son and receive His Gift – to receive His great joy – even in their sadness.
But Christ’s gift of joy is also for us. God invites us to receive the great joy of the Good News through Jesus the Savior. And in finding Him, we behold Him and receive Him as the only true Messiah who can save and bring joy in our sadness, grief, and tears. He, the only One who can wipe away your scarlet letter – never to be seen again, never to be talked about again, never to hold you back from His joy.
Here’s the amazing invitation at His incarnation: although He will one day return to restore all things, He – right now – offers to you and me and the shepherds, joy and peace with God through Him alone.
The Way Back to Christ in Your Christmas
The only way to find true love, joy, hope, and rest this Christmas (beyond the stress, emptiness, busyness, and negative cash flow) is for us to have Christ back in our Christmas. But how does this work? Is it putting up more overtly Christian decorations? Is it wearing more Christmas clothing? Does it mean singing more Christmas carols or reading more Christmas stories in the morning? Does it mean escaping the Christmas season altogether?
No, receiving Christ back into your Christmas (maybe for the first time) is not through something we do but through what He gives by what He has done.
Receiving Christ’s gift of joy in your sadness begins with hearing the message of great joy in Him, going to Him with all your sadness, brokenness, and tears, and then receiving Him in trust as the only One who can save, rescue, and give true, lasting joy.
And it is a gift, a gift only possible because of grace. Here’s how Romans 6:23 presented the Good News of great joy:
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23)
God offers you this gift through Christ not to declare condemnation but as a proclamation of joy: a Savior came for you and He’s inviting you to receive Him, be redeemed through Him, and rejoice in Him.
Christ is waiting to enter your Christmas. Will you receive Him and His joy… today?
Listen to the 4-part series of full audio messages below by clicking on the play buttons below or by subscribing to our iTunes podcast. These messages were originally delivered at North Park Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI, on Sunday mornings: PART 1 – Dec. 7th 2014: “Christ’s Joy in Our Sadness” (Luke 2:8-18), PART 2 – Dec. 14th 2014: “Christ’s Rest in Our Stress” (Gen. 2:1-3; Matt. 1:18-23; 11:25-30), PART 3 – Dec. 21st 2014: “Christ Love in Our Emptiness” (John 3:16-21), PART 4 – Dec. 28th 2014: “Christ Hope in Our Fear” (Romans 8:18-30).