I’m a sucker for the Christmas season. In December you’ll probably find me watching Buddy the Elf journey through the seven layers of the Candy Cane Forest or rocking out to Michael Bublé’s latest yuletide jams.
For some of us, it’s a struggle just to make it through the holidays. Broken relationships and past hurts rob us of the cheer that so many seem to have. But whether we get swept up with the merriments of the season, or fight to find any good spirits through it all, we can easily miss the truly profound news that Christmas brings.
IS THERE MORE?
To most of us, including myself, Jesus doesn’t always seem as appealing as all the festivities. Part of the reason we can be so unfeeling toward the advent of Christ, is that we’ve either forgotten or never known what really happened that night. For us to grasp the real hope of Christmas and actually be thrilled by Christ himself more deeply than the lights and presents, we must see the darkness that made the first Christmas necessary. Christian scholar Luke Stamps wrote, “Bethlehem's star is only visible against the black sky of sin and death.”
THE DARKNESS AROUND US
Consider the world we live in. The news headlines we read are just a snapshot of the hate, abuse, and rivalry that have plagued our societies throughout history. Though it may be harder to notice, this evil exists in our classrooms and neighborhoods too. Fractured friendships, selfish ambitions, and subtle cruelties are all around us. Jesus taught that inside every mall shopper, Christmas caroler, and family member is a valuable person, made in the image of God, who has rebelled against their Creator and is in dire need of salvation.
THE DARKNESS WITHIN US
We should be able to observe this darkness most in our own hearts. Have you been self-centered, prideful, or unloving even in the last week? I know I have. And it goes much deeper than that. We all think about what we can get out of other people. We all obsess over any number of things more than God. We all ultimately reject His lordship by spending our time, energy, and resources to create our own little kingdoms. Because we’ve committed this cosmic treason against God, the grim reality is we don’t deserve a happy holiday but a horrible hell. No Christmas gift, good deed, romantic relationship, college diploma, or new job can save us from the horror of being separated from the goodness of God forever.
IN THE DEAD OF THE NIGHT
This was the same bleak reality on one cold night in the 1st century among the hills of the Palestinian wilderness. A group of sheep herders were tirelessly working in their fields when a terrifying messenger from God suddenly appeared above them. Imagine how confused and afraid they must have been! The imposing herald then looked at the shepherds and compassionately declared, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The dreary darkness that surrounded them every night as they tended their flocks instantly changed. The sky lit up as a massive army of brilliant heavenly creatures began to shout, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” God had come to save.
A BRIGHT STAR APPEARS
This is the bright hope of Christmas! The King of the universe entered into our hopeless world as a fragile human baby. He grew to be a man who was ignored, despised, rejected, and killed. But he did all of this in the place of those sinners who would trust in him. Theologian John Stott explained, “The essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man.” Though we deserve death for our sin, Christ came and died to give us life. He rose from the dead to give us victory and He will return to give us heaven. As the prophet Isaiah put it, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined.”
CELEBRATING THE LIGHT
To contemplate the darkness behind Christmas isn’t to suck the fun out of this time, or to give in to the difficulty of the season, but rather to build a foundation of lasting joy and heartfelt worship through the incomparable gift of Jesus. So if you enjoy the Christmas festivities, go ahead and chug that third glass of eggnog as you watch Kevin McCallister defend his house from bandits in Home Alone. If Christmas is painful for you, don't be ashamed to tell your friends and family how hard it is. But for you and I to find the greater hope beyond a fun and sometimes challenging season, we have to take the time to reflect on the sin and sorrow of our world and of our hearts. Only then will we be able to truly celebrate deep within us as we turn our eyes to Christ and sing:
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born!