Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Some Thoughts on the Christmas Season

December 8, 2007

Is everyone looking forward to Christmas?

The excitement of children everywhere grows exponentially as the decorations begin to appear. Christmas lighting around town seems to promise that something exciting is coming, creating a feeling of hope; something to look forward to. The growing frequency of Christmas music on the radio often feels like a siren increasing in urgency as the big day edges closer and closer. Merchandise and gift wrap fly off the shelves as shoppers, eager to please and with the best intentions, rush to find the perfect gifts for the children, parents, and the boss who sponsers a lavish yearly celebration in his substantial home. I know that I always looked forward to that part!

But through my young adult years Christmas Day had always left me feeling a little flat. It isn't that I hadn't enjoyed the time with my family and parents and I don't think that was either a Grinch or a Scrooge; it just seemed that the anticipation of the holiday had always been better than the day.  There must be some reason for this.

Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, is a time of preparation. In most homes, we are preparing for Christmas by decorating with pretty and sparkly trinkets, baking, smoking our credit cards and checkbooks, wrapping and rushing around. We are getting ready to have a GOOD Christmas. We want to make it a nice DAY.

Then the day is gone.

Life goes on as it always has. Nothing has changed. The world is the same in contemptuous defiance of our carols of Peace on Earth for the last month. January comes shortly and along with it, the consequences of our indulgence. Worries are multiplied along with ever increasing interest rates, heating and fuel prices, and the cost of food. Hope dwindles away equivocally with the job market. The warm "feelings" that we had before Christmas cannot overcome icy fingers, and a $3.00 head of iceburg lettuce to the man who sits at his kitchen table, home alone, while his children are at school and his wife is at work trying to make ends meet until he can find a job to replace the one at the company that turned its back on America. Maybe his son is fighting in a war he's not really allowed to fight in for the sole purpose of lining the pockets of the representatives that HE elected. Christmas is definitely over. What were we hoping for anyway?

Christmas Day, 2000 and some years ago, was the day the angels of heaven suddenly appeared to a group of shepherds in Israel to bring them some Good News. These shepherds were working the 3rd shift, so to speak, or we can call them "over the road" drivers. They were gone away from their families days or weeks at a time, keeping their herds, trying to make a living under the rule of the Roman Empire, while attempting to maintain their own heritage and the way of life that they believed in. Taxes were becoming heavier and heavier as the Roman rule provided more and more services and welfare assistance. They had heard, from the scriptures and generations passed down that God would send a Savior, but I wonder if they really took it seriously anymore. Maybe it seemed more like a nice traditional story to entertain children with than something that they really believed in; sort of like Santa Claus.

But then the day was there! God had kept his promise! The Savior had been born. The Son of God living among sinners, subjecting himself to the same cold of that night, the same poverty and uncertainty of a family that was soon to be forced from their home by an oppressive king. Oh, praise to God! He lived a life that is just like ours!

Do you think that after the joy of that night though, that the shepherds, too, were left a little flat? What next? How many years would go by until Jesus would come to the rescue? 30 years? Maybe the shepherds began to second guess what they saw that night. Why was He waiting so long to help them?

Jesus was waiting for the right time. John the Baptist first was to prepare the way for Christ Jesus. His message to the people was one of repentance. He called for people to turn away from their sins, to determine themselves to get control over that and receive God's forgiveness with baptism to be made clean, ready, and unashamed to meet God in the man Jesus Christ. This was a time of preparation. This was how the advent was to be celebrated. God Himself was to live among the fallen rebels of his own creation.

After so many years had passed, and Jesus was well into the prime of his earthly life, He began to show people what the Kingdom of God is like. He took time to heal people's spirits and bodies and to teach them what it means to follow HIM. Jesus never hated anyone for their sins. It pleased Him to be among the sinners and to take every opportunity to reveal the power of His love. After preparing the people, warning them of what was to come both sooner and later, the sinless Son of God allowed Himself to be crucified on the cross, finishing the work of His time on earth with mankind. He was dead. The hope felt on that first Christmas had maybe already begun to fade a little as the years went by. By the end of Christ's life, many, many people had turned against Him. He had kept the whole law because we couldn't, yet He was dead. Life was to go on as usual. It may have seemed to many that this was a long time of preparing for nothing.

But three days after Jesus was laid in the grave, some women came to prepare His body. I suppose this preparation was some sort of an embalming, or preservation to some degree. But when they got there, He was gone. The heavy stone had been rolled away. The linen that the dead were wrapped in was still there, empty, but Jesus' body was gone. Did someone steal Him? Does it make sense that someone who would want to steal the dead body would unwrap it? The body had been in the grave for 3 days. It would be horrible to unwrap it! Again, an angel appeared, just as on Christmas, to give another message of great joy and hope. Christ Jesus had overcome death and the devil, the power of sin could not keep Jesus dead! He took all of our sins to the grave, received the punishment in Himself that WE deserve, and then freed Himself from the power of death. We all know that once something is dead, it's dead. No plant, animal, or loved one that we know of has ever, as much as we pray, risen from the dead. Death is powerful. It is more powerful than our fallen humanity. But Jesus, our Savior, has rescued us from this eternal death. For those that trust His salvation and truly believe it enough to prepare themselves by turning away from their sinful ways, they die once in the body, just the same as Jesus, but rise again to eternal life, right along with Him.

Folks, God keeps His promises. He promised to send a Savior, Christ the Lord, and He did. And He has promised to come again. Immanuel, in His unbounded mercy, has given us 2,000 years to prepare ourselves for His return. How much longer? A month of Advent before Christmas seems like a long time to prepare for one single day, but Christmas Day is only a reminder that this time of Advent, this 2,000 year Advent, is going to end. And when Jesus returns, He won't be a baby here to teach us about the Kingdom of God. He has already done that. When He returns, He will be ready for his wedding day, the day the Church of His body becomes joined with Him. Oh, yes, there will be a multitude of heavenly host praising God and saying (among other things) "Hallelujah! Salvation, glory, and power belong to our God because his judgments are true and right...Hallelujah!" Revelation 19:1-6. When He returns He will return to judge and then all hope for the unprepared will be gone.

Friend, if Christmas is leaving you flat, it's because you haven't prepared for it. Turning away from your sins and allowing yourself to receive the forgiveness of Jesus during this month of Advent, we CAN continue in the world, but with hope, because our hope is not in the world. It is in Christ Jesus who has overcome the world. We await the execution of His judgement on that last Christmas Day (figuratively, of course; I do not presume to know the day of Christ's return). Where will you be? Will you still have your empty and unfulfilled hopes in the world that awaits judgement? Or will you be forever satisfied because you chose to forsake the way of the world, and the false hope of a "Christmas feeling" made up of toys, cookies, and tales of flying reindeer? I pray that you choose to put your hope and your faith on something that you can stand on, the sure promises of God.

Talking to God is easy, because He is NEVER far away from those who truly seek Him.

Acts 17:26-28 (King James Version)
King James Version (KJV)
Public Domain

26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;

27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:

28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

Humble yourself and ask a loving Father to forgive you for ignoring His mercy. I can tell you that any father should receive his child gladly and never withhold forgiveness, and though not every earthly father does this, we all know that it is right.  How much greater is the love of a perfect and almighty God?

Don't leave it there. Find a faithful Christian to explain your salvation to you so that you can be sure that you are saved. Read the Gospel of John. If you don't have a Bible let's look it up on the internet.  John

Jesus is calling you today and as of right now, He is still waiting for your answer. Don't wait too much longer. Prepare yourself now to stand before your God (and he is everyone's God, whether you like it or not, and whether you confess it or deny it) clean, washed in the baptism of His blood which He shed for you, ready, and unashamed.

Truly, I wish you the merriest of Christmases.

~ GG

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