“Christmas isn’t a season. It’s a feeling.” ~ Edna Ferber
To be a child again at Christmas time. To stare in awe and wonder through the childlike eyes of innocence. When Christmas was magical and all other concerns melted away in the excited anticipation. Christmas was a sensory experience like no other…it had a scent, freshly baked sugar cookies ready to be decorated and the fresh-cut pine of the tree; it was visual, lights dancing along city streets and in picture windows as they illuminated the world with the joy of Christmas; it had a sound, caroller’s bringing good cheer through the melody of music and the silver bells ringing reminding us all that Christmas was a time of giving as well as receiving. Every year the magic would return and the pattern would repeat.
It’s been a very longtime since I felt like a child at Christmas. Like many of you, as I got older Christmas became a hectic endeavor to get the best gifts for the people I loved the most, to attend all the events that I had been invited to, to get out my Christmas cards on time, to bake cookies that were actually edible, etc. Rush! Rush!! RUSH!!! That is how most adults spend Christmas…rushing around like chickens with our heads cut off. Our calendar, long since maxing out capacity of what any sane person might attempt to do, is screaming…”IS IT NEW YEARS YET?!?!” We go through the motions and many of us do an outstanding job of looking like we are taking it all in. We laugh and revel in the merriment of the season yet we really don’t slow down long enough to truly enjoy it, to really remember what it is all about.
“The small Babe of Bethlehem, the dismissed Son of God, the stripped and beaten Messiah hanging exposed on the Tree – He begs us to spend the attention of Advent on the little, the last, the lonely, the lost.” ~ Ann Voskamp, “The Greatest Gift”
Advent. Like a neon sign flashing on the map of life, it blinks “You are here” and we find ourselves in the midst of the season of waiting. I cannot help but wonder in this time of rush how many of us really stop and take in the awe and wonder of Christmas? To really stop and let the Christmas story marinate on our hearts and allow it to soak in and permeate the story of our own lives. Advent is the season of waiting…waiting with eager anticipation for the coming of the Messiah, the promised Son of God. His first advent, the moment that God left heaven to dwell among humanity so that His love for His people could be fully revealed and realized through His Son Jesus Christ, this is the season we find ourselves in. Although wars rage on, racial divisions and tensions are brewing, disease has paralyzed portions of the world, poverty stills exists, and there a more slaves in the world today than any other point in human history…the Advent season always shouts the resounding message that our God loves us and is coming to rescue us. He came the first time as the babe in the manger to conquer death and He is coming again, the Almighty King, to establish His kingdom here on earth. In the hectic pace of what man has created Christmas to be we gloss over the details of the true Christmas story. As children we see Christmas as magical but as adults we should see it as miraculous. The miracle of Christmas is love. God’s great love for all of humanity was demonstrated through His coming to earth in the flesh.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” ~ John 1:1-4, 9,10, 14
Wrapped up beautifully in the opening chapter of John’s gospel we find the miracle of Christmas. Contrary to popular belief the story of Christmas does not begin in Bethlehem just a little over 2000 years ago. No, to find the real beginning you will have to journey all the way back to the beginning, to the book of Genesis, to the Garden of Eden. The story of creation unfolds as the full creativity of Almighty God is unleashed on His canvas, the planet Earth. Like Michelangelo, DiVinci, Monet, Rodin, Picasso, and Warhol all wrapped into one, with His words He sculpted and crafted all of creation in vibrant color, with unique shapes and sizes, populated with creatures so complex and diverse, all set to landscape of lush vegetation with pristine bodies of water. He created paradise, a visual representation of His glory and it was good. But He wasn’t quite finished. On sixth day God reached the climax of His creative process. In His own image, by His own hand, and with His own breath humanity came alive. God’s beloved creation, people, were created special because He desired to live in relationship with us. He shared parts of himself with humanity that He did not share with any other part of what He created. In His image we are created, by His hand we are created, and then He breathes the breath of life into us…why? Because we are special…we were created for greater things. It’s important to note that in Genesis 1:26 God says “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” The “us” and the “our” are so important there…do not miss it. God was not alone when He created the world, Jesus was with Him…“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
Now we all know that it doesn’t take Adam and Eve very long to disobey God. In fact by chapter three in the book of Genesis it all goes south. Sin enters the world and all of creation is now fractured. Sin unleashes pain, suffering, destruction, and ultimately death unto all of creation. Our planet moans and rages because of sin. Humanity suffers because of the consequences of sin. And the world cries out “WHY?” Why, did you let it happen God? If you are almighty God why didn’t you stop it? Because in His infinite wisdom, a wisdom we cannot fully comprehend, God created us with freedom…the freedom to choose. He wants our love and devotion because we choose to give it to Him not because He commands it of us. With that freedom of choice we can choose to obey Him or disobey Him. Adam and Eve had been given only one rule, do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They broke the one rule…sin enters the world…and our relationship with God is altered and creation is fractured. We now have a sin nature and Almighty God cannot be in the presence of sin. “When sin effectively ended our time with God in the garden, God could have effectively ended all time in the world.” Ann Voskamp. To the utter devastation of the Father, humanity fell into sin and in that moment He could have extinguished the world. But true to the character of God, His grace flowed down and the plan to rescue us begins. The plan to bring God’s beloved creation, humanity, back to Him unfolds as the pages of the Old Testament unfold into the pages into the New and as the biblical story unfolds into our story as God’s people in the present age.
The miracle of the Christmas story is God’s great love for us. It is a love that is lavished on us through pain and suffering…not our pain and suffering but the pain and suffering our sin causes God. The choice God made in the garden the day sin entered the world was that loving us was worth any cost. The cost for God was the disappointment He feels when we are disobedient; the heartbreak He feels every time one of His beloved rejects Him; the let down He has when we do not make Him a priority in our day; the holy discontent of watching His people suffer injustice, cruelty, disaster, and illness; the heartache He feels as His people long and mourn for those they have lost to death; the pain a relational God feels when all around the world He sees hurting and broken relationships, abused children, and broken marriages. In loving us God chose pain. The ultimate anguish of that choice was being separated from His Son, Jesus Christ, as He hung on the cross and bore the sins of all humanity. How much does God love you? What is the miracle of Christmas? It is simply grace. Wrapped in a beautiful package named Jesus Christ and He comes with the banner of God’s great love for us. This gift of grace…God didn’t have to give it, we do not deserve it, we are not entitled to it, and we cannot earn it. God freely gives it to us because He has a love for all of humanity that far exceeds any love we will ever know or even be able to comprehend. God created us for better things and His Son makes the way for us to live in the life God has planned and prepared for us.
“We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Coming of Jesus in Our Midst”
My journey through Advent this year has been one of great reflection. I never want to become so comfortable with the divine, all-consuming love of God that I become complacent. Christmas should always be a time of awe and wonder. The fact that God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son to reconcile us to Him should always leave us with eager expectation of what He wants to do next. The true beauty of Christmas is that God’s story is not finished…it is ongoing and it continues through His people. Jesus Christ came as the blessing of grace, love, salvation, and hope. These are gifts that transcend this life…they are not gifts of the material nature but rather of the eternal nature.
It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. The miracle of Christmas, if we only slow down enough to let it pierce our hearts and penetrate our lives, is that we have been rescued. Rescued by a God who loves us in spite of our shortcomings, our flaws, our pasts, and our weaknesses. Rescued by a God who so loved the world that He chose to suffer so that His beloved creation could come home to Him. It is at this time of year, when the Giver of life becomes the Gift of life, that we the people of God also have the opportunity to be a gift. To be the gift of Jesus to the lonely, the hurting, the suffering, and the ones who do not know that their heavenly Father has a limitless and eternal love for them. Jesus was the light in our darkened world, let His light shine brightly in you. Slow down and revel in the glory of the season. Like a child sit back in awe and wonder…eagerly anticipating all that the Father will do this Christmas.