Monday, December 5, 2011
Finding Christ in Christmas
I've noticed this year that more stores have put Christ back into their store. Before Thanksgiving had even arrived, Wal-Mart was playing Christmas carols--and I mean Christmas carols, not holiday songs. The web is full of people outraged over our society's attempts to remove Christ from the holidays. Many Christian activists are up in arms over the attempts of society to remove all references to the birth of Jesus.
While Christian activism is the joy of some, I prefer to take a quieter approach. Christmas could be removed from the calendar, but no one can remove Christmas from my heart. In my way of thinking, Christmas was absconded years ago by merchandisers. The day has had so much hype and pressure attached to it that by the time the day arrives and the 30 minutes of frantic "stuff unwrapping" has ended, everyone falls exhausted to the floor while the true meaning of the day is lost or is no more than a fleeting thought like "oh yea, Jesus came to earth today." It's almost as if Christ is lost in Christmas!
After becoming a Christian, a wise person asked me one year, what are you doing to stay focused on the true meaning of the holiday? It kind of surprised me a little because up until then all I knew was what I had always done. You buy gifts for as many people as you can afford. You go to church on Christmas eve and sing carols and give Jesus his well-deserved head nod, you get up the next morning to a nice breakfast, followed by gift opening and long distance phone calls to missing family members and then you spend the rest of the day playing with "stuff." When I weighed in the balance the amount of focus the Lord was getting against the focus spent on cultural tradition, Christ was being left out in the cold, just as He was the night He was born.
I resolved to change this "tradition". About the middle of November, I begin to pray and ask the Lord to focus my attention on the birth of His son in the coming month so that the true meaning of Christmas will not be lost in the holiday hysteria of my culture. I can honestly say that in the 20 some years I have done this, God has never failed to open the eyes of my understanding and to thrill my heart with some aspect of Lord's coming to earth.
One year He brought my focus to the miracle of the incarnation. Another year He fascinated me with an in depth look into the character of Mary. Another year seemed to bring the richness and the depth of the Christmas carols to life to the point that I couldn't sing them without crying. Yet another year I was enthralled with all of the miracles that occurred in such a short time after 400 years of God's silence in Israel as He solidified in my heart that new beginnings are always wrought with miracles. And so it has been, year after year, God brings my spiritual eyes into focus around a manger in Bethlehem.
This year I feel the Lord leading me again, as is His holiday custom, not to the manger but to redemption. I'm finding that the word "redemption" is a BIG word, not in the number of letters it contains, but in the meaning that it represents. I'm finding that my definition of redemption was way too small, and that smallness has hindered my experience of the fullness of all the benefits that it provides. Contained in redemption is reconciliation, cleansing, pardon, union with God, sanctification, victory over sin, life everlasting and many others. Honestly I think that the study of this may lead me all the way into next Christmas! After all, it is the theme of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation! As I have been studying the last few weeks, God has been opening my understanding of His redemptive plan to me in a way that I have never known before.
Now some may say that this is elementary, something I should already grasp and understand. But I believe that just as the mind of God is unfathomable, so is His Word in the depth of meaning and richness that it can supply to a human heart. We've all experienced reading a verse and gaining an understanding of what it means and how it practically applies to our lives. Then when reading it at a later time, we get something totally different from the same verse that again blesses us and helps us in our walk with God. I don't believe that redemption is a cut and dried issue except when it comes to faith in the blood of Christ. Although I don't totally understand it, simple faith in it's authenticity is what counts me reconciled to God in Christ. God had to make that part simple because He knows the human mind is very limited-especially my own! LOL! But in each living, active Word of scripture, there is a depth and a fullness that is without end and as a child of God I have the awesome blessing of being able to search and seek out all of it's richness for my own life.
As I once again read the very "Christmassy" words in Isaiah 9:6, my eyes observed the context in which the verse was written. It almost seems out of place. Amidst the judgment of God for sin, the promise of redemption is interjected. A few verses later this statement appears, not just once but three times.
"For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still."
This is the root of all redemption. Reconciliation.
God's dilemma? Our sin has caused his wrath to be stirred. His justice has declared us guilty and demands punishment. But yet, His love for us remains unchanged, in spite of the sin that now defines us.
God's solution? Reconciliation that then opens the doors to all the fullness and the richness of redemption.
That is the essence of Christmas. Our reconciler has come to begin the great work of redemption for all mankind.
Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill towards men!