I grew up in a conservative, fundamentalist church, one that didn’t believe in practicing anything not specifically sanctioned by scripture (something which I still consider a proper and safe practice). To my younger mind, it didn’t make any allowance for opinions not in direct violation of faith and practice as outlined in the Bible. Specifically, any profession or decoration celebrating Christmas as the actual date of the birth of Christ was sort of a no-no, as it might make us look like one of our denominational neighbors, something to be strenuously avoided.
Growing up in a strongly Catholic neighborhood I’d heard of Advent but knew nothing about it, and back in those days it was still acceptable to have a nativity displayed in public places. I knew the story of Christ’s birth from Matthew and Luke’s accounts in the Gospels and believed them; we just thought the world had the date wrong. It was fine to have Christmas trees, Santa Claus, silly Christmas songs and drooling over the Sears Wish Book. Looking back, I realize we didn’t have a problem with ‘commercialized’ Christmas but sort of missed out on the reason Christmas was instituted in the first place.
I’ve come to appreciate the idea of Advent, because it’s a daily opportunity to remember what God has done for a lost and dying world. Even though I know December 25th isn’t the actual date (if I recall correctly, it was originally a pagan holiday that was appropriated by the Catholic church), Jesus’ birth was a factual occurrence recorded in Scripture. He was born to a young woman who was engaged to a blue-collar worker, in a stable due to no vacancies at the local Motel 6. His birth was announced by the heavens to a bunch of shepherds rather than declared to the rich and powerful. His mother had been told Who he was, but you get the feeling she was just as confused about it as everyone else. And He came to His people with one overriding purpose: to die a horrible, shameful death as God’s perfect sacrifice to deliver us from the power of sin and death, and to bring life and hope to those who had neither. That needs to be remembered every day of the year, but especially now when the world is in such desperate need of a message of Good News and hope.
We who profess to be Christians are constantly bombarded with messages showing just how misguided, blind, perverse, insane and evil this poor old, sick world really is. If it’s not in-your-face demonstrations by those who call evil good and good evil, it’s constant messaging to convince you the only “proper” way to celebrate Christmas is to spend exorbitant amounts of money on useless gadgets, expensive vacations, or endless stuff designed to massage our egos. We invest our lives in accumulating things that can’t possibly last and then complain we can’t afford the necessities we need. We chase shadows and lose hope.
I’m discovering God plants His messages and clues in places we’d never think to look and don’t expect to find them. God’s desire is we should all choose Him by surrendering our pride, our sins, our will, and ourselves to His son Jesus, the Messiah, the Promised One, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world and reestablishes our relationship with God. We need to take advantage of every opportunity to “think on these things” (Philippians 4:8) and proclaim them to the world. Spending daily time in the Word is the place to start, and it should be the standard against which everything else is measured. But in such a divided, disturbed world we should also be willing to find some commonality of belief with other believers with whom we may have some disagreements. Profession of Jesus as Savior and Lord would be a good place to start. Proclaiming the Light of the World in this season of darkness and hopelessness is another.
The Christmas message is one of hope, peace and joy. It is a time to be thankful for our blessings and open our hearts to share some of them with those who have none. I can’t think of any better way to express it than the angels’ announcement in Luke 2:
Then an angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord. You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger. Suddenly, there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to the people he favors.“
My hope for you this Christmas season is that you may find joy, peace and hope through the One who came to give us all of that and more.