On Christmas Day, after the presents were opened, a family was having a dispute on the topic: “When does the Christmas season really end?”
Dad said, “The season is over on the twelfth day of Christmas, and I have a song to prove it!” The teenage daughter argued, “The season is over the day we finally take down the decorations and the tree.” Mom entered the fray by saying, “Christmas is over when the last bill is paid, when the last cookie is eaten, and when we’re done with all the leftover turkey.” Their son chimed in, “Take it from an expert--when you get tired of your toys, or when they’re all broken, Christmas is over…when the fun is gone, Christmas is gone.” But then Grandma piped in: “Whoever said the Christmas season was supposed to end?” And with that, everyone sang “Joy to the World”!
We’ve reached Christmas Day, and for many, this is it—the end. Some people wait till Epiphany (the coming of the Wise Men), but after the 25th most of us begin shutting down the holiday spirit. But does it have to end?
What about you? As you clean up the torn wrappings from this morning, and you pack away all the gifts; as you travel back home or prepare to head back to work, what difference has Christmas made in your life? Have you thought about it? Did the fact that a Savior was born make a difference in your life this season? Are you living a life that reflects that truth? Or are you still wondering what all the fuss was about?
I realize that for some, there’s a sense of relief when it’s all over—the rushing around, parties, shopping, decorating. And if that’s all Christmas is, I can understand why people are glad to have it over. If the holiday isn’t a holy day, it will be a hollow day.
Some people aren’t content with a simple Christmas; they think they’ve let everyone down if they haven’t gone all-out with elaborate decorations and expensive gifts and fancy meals, and so on. Yet none of those things were present in Bethlehem. Yesterday NPR broadcast a concert celebrating the simple wonder of Christmas…from the Biltmore estate! Mary and Joseph were in a more humble place.
One thing I could do without is wrapping presents, something I’m not good at. I know the Magi who visited the baby Jesus did not bring wrapped gifts. There are two very clear biblical reasons why I know this: 1) They were wise. 2) They were men.
We celebrate the coming of hope into our world at Christmas. For us, this is greater, and far more significant than Frosty and Rudolph. I don’t mean to sound like our Puritan forefathers who threw out the holiday altogether, but “peace on earth, good will to men” isn’t on Santa’s sleigh.
John Piper describes the Incarnation as “the end of history”. We don’t think of the birth of Christ as the end, but this pivotal event marks the end of our sorrow. God cared enough about our predicament to do something about it. The author of Hebrews calls Christmas “the culmination of the ages” (26). Christ’s birth was a turning point that set the stage for His sacrifice and second coming. The word “culmination” could be rendered “fulfillment.” God’s plan for us is fulfilled in His Son.
Lauren Winner notes, “If we knew what the Incarnation meant, we’d be so preoccupied with awe that we wouldn’t notice all the shopping.” And Christmas for us would not end. Its impact would continue on throughout the year. Jesus left the realm of endless day to plunge into the dark storms of human life for us. Madeline L’Engle adds, “I have long felt that the sacrifice of the mystery of the Word made flesh was a far greater sacrifice than the crucifixion.” Consider what Jesus left to come for us…
People are fond of their pets. For you dog-lovers, imagine that your dog--and in fact every dog in the world--is in deep distress. If it would help all the dogs in the world to become like them, would you be willing to become a dog? Would you set aside your human nature, leave your loved ones, your job, hobbies, your art and literature and music, and choose instead to be a dog? Instead of the close communion you enjoy with your loved ones, you choose instead the poor substitute of looking into furry faces. Christ by becoming a man lowered Himself, limiting the thing which to Him was the most precious blessing in the universe--His unhindered communion with the Father. While considering what Christmas means to us, let’s think of what it meant to Jesus--submission, service, suffering, sacrifice, salvation.
Jesus becoming like one of us helps us to visualize the compassion of God. For people with bodies, important things like love have to be embodied. The Word did not become a philosophy, a theory, or a concept to be discussed, debated, or pondered. The Word became a person to be followed, embraced, and loved!
In the same breath, the author of Hebrews mentions the death of Jesus. Christmas has a context--the Cross. Jesus came forth to die for us. Every other person who ever came into this world came into it to live. Christ came here to die. At the manger and the cross we see Jesus embracing the bitterness of the world. “If there is no cross in the manger, there is no Christmas” (Weems). The cross is where wrath and mercy meet. Let’s put the Easter back into Christmas. Our homes are beautifully adorned; this is a time for festive decorations…but the Cross is not a decoration but a declaration!
Also mentioned in our text is the Second Advent. Jesus is returning--not in humility, but in great power. The salvation He began for us will be fully realized. He will be bringing salvation with Him when He returns.
The holiday spirit we need to hold on to includes joy, compassion, giving, peace and goodwill. These yuletide virtues are vital all year-long. And when its finally time to pack up the Nativity figures, let’s be careful that peace and goodwill are not also boxed for another year!
It’s not over, and Christmas doesn’t have to end. Poet Ann Weems writes: “The Christmas spirit is that hope which tenaciously clings to the hearts of the faithful, and announces in the face of any Herod the world can produce, and all the inn doors slammed in our faces, and all the dark nights of our souls--that with God all things are possible. That even now, unto us a Child is born!”
And one more poem: “When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with the flocks, then the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal those broken in spirit, to feed the hungry, to release the oppressed, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among all peoples, to make music with the heart…and to radiate the Light of Christ, every day, in every way, in all that we do and in all that we say. Then the work of Christmas begins.”
In Christ’s birth we find ours. When our hearts and hands are full from giving gifts to one another, let us remember the tiny Babe Who gave the greatest gifts of all!