A war will be waged again this Christmas, a battle far more pressing than whether to say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.” For believers, the real challenge is something entirely different. It’s a battle for our heart, our joy, and our worship.
I’m no Scrooge. I love the holiday, even some of the silly things we do that have very little to do with the birth of Jesus. I’m not the “Christmas is a pagan holiday” guy. But we have to know what we are up against this season. Almost every commercial, television special, and classic movie promises us a false reality. These things tell us that we’re going to gather as a family, group hug while we carve the ham, and end with us all laughing in pure joy. There’s a feel to this time of year, and we love the feel.
But as we start celebrating earlier and earlier, wearing Christmas sweaters in 90-degree weather, we must ask ourselves: What do we truly want from this season? What do we put our hope in that makes the season merry? What do we long to have that makes Christmas a favorite time of year? A thousand other answers subtly (or overtly) compete with this: “To us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6).
Our battle is to get underneath all the commercialism and consumerism, to actually experience Christ Jesus, our Savior, who has come — and who will come again.
Less Merry Than We Hope
When we shift from the real meaning of Christmas, when we go looking for some other “good news of great joy,” we long for something that will never come. Why? Because we live in a fallen world.
Something has gone wrong in you. Something has gone wrong in me. Something has gone wrong in the cosmos. Something is broken. This severance between God and humankind led to a brokenness that overflowed into a brokenness in the systems we have built, in the governments we run, in the businesses we lead, and the families we grow. We have no power to save ourselves. No amount of might or education will usher in peace on earth (or in our extended families).
Instead of hiding from this reality, this is the very context which makes the real meaning of Christmas irreplaceable. The Christmas joy, the Christian hope, the baby given to us in love (John 3:16), is to be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). A Wonderful Counselor for those who mourn and have lost their way. A Mighty God able to redeem his people from their past, present, and future sin. An Everlasting Father — not to replace the first person of the Trinity — but to imitate his fatherly care for his people. Our Prince of Peace to cease warfare and usher in what no government, treaty, or president can: peace with God himself.
To not lose the substance of Christ in the shadows of all the Christmas hoopla this season, we must seriously reflect upon this good news of great joy given to those in a broken world. It may feel counterintuitive to consider our brokenness during “the most wonderful time of the year.” But instead of merely distracting ourselves with the lights and the tinsel and the trees — none of which are bad things in themselves — we should consider the reality of sin in order to remember why we need a Savior, to sit in darkness that we might marvel that the Light of heaven came down to earth.
Redeeming Our Anticipation
So, to keep Christ in our Christmases, we consider the bad news that makes the good news wonderful. But we shouldn’t stop there. We also rebuild anticipation.
Even for our broader society, this holiday season is built on anticipation. Over time, you roll out the lights outside, you put up the tree, you put presents under the tree, all anticipating Christmas day. But we believe that the same God who promised Jesus would show up the first time, to win and save his people, said that Jesus would return to bring them home. We celebrate the first Christmas because we know there’s a second coming.
In the first Advent, Jesus comes as a baby in a manger to inaugurate his kingdom. When Christ returns in the second Advent, he will consummate that kingdom. Christ will not come as a baby who needs to be swaddled, but as a man with a tattoo on his thigh and a sword protruding from his mouth (Revelation 19:5).
Our Savior will come again to judge the living and the dead, to make all things new. When he returns, Christ will transform hearts and, ultimately, this world. He finally and completely will fix what has been broken. The full womb which led to a full crib which led to an empty tomb should fill us with great joy for this simple reason: he is coming back. God said he would come once, and he did. He said he would lay down his life for his people and take it up again (John 10:14–18), and he did. He said he will return, and he will (John 14:1–3). We celebrate Christ’s birthday knowing that one day we will celebrate with him face to face.
Getting Back to Advent
In the swift-flowing river of commercialism and consumerism this Christmas season, in the hustle and bustle of buying and traveling and gathering, we need to drop an anchor. And I believe that anchor is essentially the practice of Advent. This traditional Christian season calls us to reflect on the brokenness of our hearts and of this world and to look ahead to a day in which all that brokenness will be eradicated once and for all upon his return.
That’s the real (and subtle) war this Christmas. It’s not some debate about political correctness, but it is a focused and passionate effort to make the most of this season — instead of being swept away by the decorations and gifts. Instead of falling for the feelings of Christmas, we’re learning to truly enjoy the child.
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