Christmas Letdown

Christmas is my favorite holiday. Even this year, as I adjust to missing a piece of my heart, I still love Christmas.

Sappy movies with happy-ever-after endings.

Hectic schedules punctuated by peaceful moments listening to Christmas carols in the subdued light of the Christmas tree.

Receiving cards from people I haven’t talked to all year and reconnecting as I read their Christmas notes and updates.

Most of all, celebrating the reason for the season—the miracle of God becoming human to enable humans to become sons and daughters of God.

So the days after December 25 had traditionally been a letdown for me. Christmas trees dumped on the curb, shreds of tinsel still clinging precariously to their branches. Bright lights unplugged. Traditional carols of yesteryear pushed aside in favor of contemporary songs.

Worst of all, the change of perspective fueled the letdown. From the heaven-sent Christ child to earthbound cares. From music and lights to bills and worries. And from silent nights to discordant days.

In many ways, the week after Christmas signifies the end. The end of the Christmas season. The imminent end of the year. And for me, this year, the end of a year marking my greatest loss.

But it’s not the end. The day after Christmas is a beginning.

The beginning of the time God stepped into His creation. A cradle leading to a cross. The beginning of our salvation, when a life was born for the purpose of death. A death that means life for you and me if we choose to receive it.

Strip the tinsel and needles from the Christmas tree and we’re left with a different kind of tree. Bare wood, just as the cross Jesus hung on was bare wood. Several New Testament verses speak of Jesus on the cross. In these verses the word for cross actually comes from the Greek word for wood. Some translations use the word tree (Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; Gal. 3:13; I Peter 2:24).

No, December 26 is not the end of Christmas. It’s the beginning of Immanuel, “God with us.” It’s the beginning of the opportunity for an intimate relationship with the One who not only created us, but sent His son, Jesus, to die for us. It’s the beginning of a chance to be and have all God intended for us.

Christmas letdown? Not anymore!

Exceeding Expectations

NASA surprised itself. Thirty-six years ago, Voyager I was launched for a four-year mission to Saturn. Exceeding expectations, it recently exited our solar system—the first manmade object to do so. Living up to its nickname, “The Little Spacecraft That Could” has exceeded all expectations.StarsBy today’s standards, Voyager I is antiquated. It carries an 8-track tape recorder (remember those?). Its onboard computers have 240,000 times less memory than the most basic iPhone. But Voyager I is still sending data back to earth from more than ten billion miles away.

What can Voyager tell us about a part of space that humanity has never explored? Scientists have gazed from afar using powerful telescopes, but now they are receiving actual data from this unmanned probe.

Hmmm. The story sounds familiar. Simple technology used to communicate unimaginable complexities. It reminds me of what God did for us. After sin broke humanity’s relationship with God, people could only imagine what God is like. The Bible records descriptions using similes, metaphors, analogies, and foreshadowing to help us understand our awesome God—like glimpses through a telescope.

But God didn’t leave us wondering from a distance. He sent His Son to show us who He is. Taking on the simple (from God’s perspective!), finite form of a human being, the infinite God became flesh so we would no longer have to wonder about His nature…and His heart.

The thirty-three year old “mission” of Jesus accomplished what nothing else could, and far surpassed anyone’s expectations. God in flesh. The heart of God shedding tears over His people…and shedding His blood for His people. One of Jesus’s names is Immanuel, God With Us. That’s what He did. He walked with humanity, touching us, laughing with us, weeping with us, and ultimately, saving us.

One NASA scientist called the Voyager I travels “historic”—an accurate description as it puts a face on uncharted space. But Jesus showed us the face of God. And the benefit to humanity is more than historic…it seals our eternal destiny.

Three Months Until Immanuel?

Three months from today. Thirteen weeks. Twelve weekends. Ninety-one days. And then it will be over.

Yes, Christmas is coming. And that statement will either cause you to roll your eyes, panic, or smile, depending on your age, your perspective, and your schedule. 

Remember when we were kids and it felt like Christmas would never arrive? Now we blink and it comes and goes.

Perhaps I’m thinking about Christmas because I recently finished teaching about the birth of Jesus from Matthew 1 in a Bible study class. Or maybe it’s because two friends already have their tree up – one keeps it decorated in the living room year-round, the other put his tree up last week. Perhaps it’s due to having attended the Hallmark card store summer Christmas Open House. It could also be because the Hallmark television channel has announced their Countdown to Christmas movie schedule will begin November 2.

Christmas montageSome of you want to quit reading now, if you haven’t already! You’re thinking that you have to get through Halloween and Thanksgiving before you can even think about Christmas. Or you’re wondering if this will finally be the year that you get your Christmas shopping done before December 24.

Stop. Take a deep breath.

For the next five minutes, don’t think about the decorations, or the shopping, or the cooking. Don’t thing about the financial pressures, or the unrealistic expectations, or the overbooked calendar.

For the next five minutes, think about Immanuel, God with us. Dwell on the truth that by the power of the Holy Spirit, God the Father sent His Son to become our Savior. I love how Charles Spurgeon described it:

“In sacred worship at the tabernacle and the temple, the thought of distance to God was always prominent….in the innermost place, the Holy of Holies, only the high priest entered and just once a year….When the gospel came, we were placed on quite another footing….Distance gave way to closeness….Incarnate Deity has no wall of fire around it.”

All because of the birth of Jesus – Immanuel, God with us. And He is Immanuel all year long, not just in December. So whether it’s January 25, July 25, September 25, or December 25, remember what God has done for us.

When we recall the precious salvation purchased by Immanuel, every day becomes a Merry Christmas!