What’s your favourite Christmas hymn? Is it ‘Silent Night’ or ‘Away in a manger’ – or could it possibly be ‘O Come all ye faithful’…as we acknowledge the mystery and mission of Jesus who entered our human existence, with little pomp and ceremony…a displaced person, far from his parents’ home. For me, I like ‘Joy to the world, the Lord has come – let earth receive her king, let every heart prepare him room.’ So here’s the first question, have you prepared room in your heart for Jesus this Christmas?
Last week I talked about some practical ways that we could keep the Christ in Christmas this year. How have you done? I chose to forgive someone as a gift to God – and I feel much better. Luke 6:37 says to forgive and you will be forgiven…it goes on to say the measure that you give to others is the measure that you get back. People often say that Christmas is about giving…but in focusing in on the giving gifts we often forget about the giver.
Do you remember your childhood when you were so excited about Christmas that couldn’t sleep? When Christmas came and you got to open your presents, do you remember the joy that you felt in receiving a special gift – or the joy that you received watching others as they were excited about the gift that you had given. Joy…it’s a little word with a BIG impact. When we are excited we celebrate the good thing that has brought us happiness – we rejoice.
What have we been given by God that worth getting excited about? Today’s passage in Zephaniah 3:14 starts off by reminding us to rejoice in God, no matter what our circumstances because God gift to us all is more than matched by any circumstances that we might be going through. Psalm 30:5 says that weeping and pain lasts the night, but joy comes in the morning. Like the Israelites of old, exiled from their homeland, God promises to give a hope and future to the faithful. However, often in the darkness of our distress, hope seems far away. Psalm 126:5 says ‘those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy’.
As we reflect on the hope that we have in Christ we are reminded that our joy is not based on circumstances, but in a relationship with God whose arrival into our lives gives us both a present and a future hope. However, many people in church lack the joy for life that should be characteristic of our confession of faith and desire to follow the example of Jesus. Nehemiah 8:10 says that ‘the joy of the Lord is your strength’…the Bible is full of references to joy and joyfulness, yet us church people are often so lacking in joy and enthusiasm for what God has done, is doing and will do, that we only perpetuate the perception of those outside that church is dull and boring.
This should be the furthest from the truth. We have so much to thankful for; so much to be grateful for; so much to celebrate; that we should be known for our infectious joy. So, let’s make this Christmas a real celebration of the Christ’s redemptive act in our lives…and pass on that unspeakable joy to those around us.
I was reading an article about a recent study in Europe that found that Christmas made most people miserable and that they enjoyed lower feelings of quality of life in the lead up to Christmas day, except if you were a Christian! That’s right, this study found that those who were Christians and had a deep sense of religiousness celebrated Christmas differently than the majority of non-Christians and as a result were less prone to become absorbed in the consumerism that precedes this special holiday.
Now you are probably thinking that we did not need a survey to tell us that. But it does show us that without Christ as the central focus of Christmas, Christmas is just another day…a family celebration; a holiday; a day of gift giving…of overeating…without the Christ in Christmas we are left with very little to celebrate. So in our secular society, that has substituted the greatest gift of all with a jolly fat elf in a Santa suit…it’s no surprise that Christmas has lost much of its meaning.
So how can we buck the trend? How do we confirm our commitment to keep Christ in Christmas and not get caught up with the stresses and pressures that flood our lives at this time of year? Keeping Christ in Christmas is not about whether we say Merry Christmas, or give gifts…it’s about the way we live. Keeping Christ in Christmas starts with knowing Jesus, and in response to God’s great gift to us challenges us to do things differently to the ways of the world. So what can we do that sets us apart? What can we do that makes us different?
We celebrate Christ’s birth…either Christmas Eve or Christmas day…but there must be more that we can do than go to a special church service! Why not give God a special gift this Christmas? But what could the King of the Universe possibly want that we could give? God has very simple tastes – he just wants us to give of ourselves. But when we give, it needs to cost us something – it needs to be a sacrifice. Why not chose to forgive someone….and when you do you might discover that it’s a gift that gives right back. Jesus said, give and it will be given to you, forgive and you will forgive…the measure we use for others is the measure that God uses for us.
How about spending more time with God across this time…rather than saying, “I’m too busy”, give God some quality time each day and you will find your focus on time will change…and may just get a lot more done along the way! How about sitting down with your family and friends and read through the Christmas story as devotions for Christmas Eve or Christmas day? Or you could do a kindness project, for someone in genuine need (involve your whole family if you can)…it’s God’s kindness that bring us to the place where we recognise our need to repent and turn to follow Jesus. So in showing kindness to others out of love for God, we sow seeds mercy, generosity and compassion in the lives of others.
There are so many ways that we can put the focus back on Jesus Christ this Christmas. We have a reason to celebrate…so let’s keep our focus on what is the true gift…and keep the Christ in Christmas.