We often associate Christmas with many comfortable concepts such as babies in swaddling clothes, pageants of toddling sheep and little angels, tutus twirling with time with nutcracker soldiers, to name a few. It’s a holiday readily embraced by all even those who don’t place their trust in Christ. Who could blame them? It’s evolved into an enjoyable celebration which gets us through some long and sometimes brutal winter months.
In contrast, Easter is not so embraced by the masses. Who wants to dwell on the brutal and seemingly senseless killing of an extraordinary teacher in His prime, especially one as gentle and kind as Jesus was, in the way He healed all He touched. It seems that everyone likes Christmas, but only the religiously dedicated are able to stomach Easter. It makes sense. We give presents, eat cake and laugh when someone is born. We offer condolences, eat cold casseroles and weep when someone dies. We like Christmas and only seem to tolerate Easter.
Someone once said that there would be no Easter without Christmas. While it’s difficult to argue with that logic, it’s also true that Christmas has absolutely no value without Easter. They come as a package deal, so we don’t get to choose, but Christmas undoubtedly reigns as our favorite of the two holidays. It’s much more anticipated and far less infringing on our comfort zone – in America anyway.
So what’s the point of Christmas? Looking up at the eye of a storm of wrapping paper and flashing Christmas tree ornaments, it may be difficult to know. Sometimes, the eggnog clouds our vision, but the purpose of Christmas calls out each year to remind us. No, Linus Van Pelt didn’t necessarily get the whole picture, neither did Charlie Brown or Dr. Seuss. One person who did seem to get it was the cousin of Jesus and it didn’t take him very long.
After Elizabeth and Mary were each told by angels that they would miraculously bear sons, Mary went to see her relative, who was filled with the Holy Spirit as soon as Mary greeted her. Elizabeth was obviously overwhelmed as she called out to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:42-44).
John the Baptist got the point of Christmas, before he was even born. But we don’t want to be too hard on ourselves. It was the Holy Spirit who tipped off the embryonic prophet and filled him with joy. We should pray for that kind of joy this year, too. It may be the only way we’ll get it.
No doubt, Christmas can get complicated, mostly because we make it that way by trying to please significant others, but Christmas is really quite simple. Christmas happened because we needed joy and had no way to gain it. We were looking for it in the wrong place and working way too hard at trying to achieve it. Yet, true joy eluded us. That’s because it only comes from the presence of God. Pure, undiluted, no-strings-attached joy only comes when we understand that God the Almighty wants to be with us. He only wants to be and only can be with those He deeply loves. That should bring us great joy!
That was the reason Jesus was born among us. That is the point of Christmas. God brought joy to miserable sinners and that is what we are. Yet, He completes His joy by perfecting us through the faultless performance of Jesus, “To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen” (Jude 1:24, 25). We will leap for joy if we believe what God has planned for us through Jesus. First, Jesus had to come into our midst to make our joy possible. By His Spirit, God makes what is possible actually happen. We can rejoice now in the presence of God. We don’t even have to wait for Christmas.
We may not feel like rejoicing because we know how far from perfection we are, but when the Spirit of the Lord moves, we can dance because the gift of Christmas was intended to bring us joy. Yes, it is a gift which is so undeserved but beating ourselves up doesn’t bring Him joy. It was His good pleasure to give to us the only avenue to joy. It was what He desired. No one knows why. Our actions in the past, present or future fail to explain it. Our performance on any given day doesn’t make any sense of it. We don’t deserve Christmas. No one ever can, but God decided to bring joy to many through Christmas—through the baby, not the hoopla. He decided to give joy to those He loves.
So, before we rip off all that pretty paper, maybe we should ask ourselves why joy is so important that it’s printed all over our packages at Christmas. Materialism won’t conjure up the joy we crave. Determination will not bring it home. Only our faith in the sacrifices made by Jesus, both to come as a helpless human, then later to die on our behalf, can bring us such unrestrained joy. That only happens when we believe what He has in store for us in the end. His loving presence is with us now because of Christmas, and it will never go away. Now, that’s a cause for joy!
(I believe He wanted me to remind you of this.)