Christmas is a time for families and friends to come together and spend time with each other. We "deck the halls", hang up colorful lights, sing carols, eat food and swap gifts... all because a gift was first given from our Creator God for us. As Christians, most of us know the story of the baby Jesus in a manager. We put nativity scenes in front of our houses, and sing about the babe in a manger, but does any of it really remind our hearts of the gravity of what God did for us through this baby boy? We look at the pretty lights, the decorations, and speak of joy, but do we receive joy or just talk about it? Or how can we know true Joy, until we first know sorrow?
There's a popular song that says, "You're gonna miss me when I'm gone" and I think we can all relate to this experience. There are many things we don't realize we will miss or realize we need until it's gone. Sometimes it's family members who drive you crazy during the holidays, and when you get back to your lonely apartment you realize just how much you miss them. Or, maybe when you were a kid you wanted to grow up so fast, until you went to college, got a job at Wendy's, and realized how much you miss being a kid under your parents’ roof. I grew up in a Christian family singing "Jesus Loves Me" and attending church, but it wasn't till I lost myself that I was reminded how much Jesus meant to me.
It's so easy to tell people that Jesus is my Savior and forget what it was I needed saving from. Just because you can cite John 3:16, that doesn't mean you understand the kind of shape you'd be in if that verse wasn't true. For me, it took sitting in a dark space in the corner of my bedroom all day on Dec. 26th questioning why an all-perfect and almighty God would care so much for me. I could not come up with a single good reason for God to allow a crumb of grace for someone like me. I knew my purpose as a Christian, I knew how to act, I knew his promises, I even knew that “the thief (aka the devil) comes only to steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10), and that I was falling for his lies...but I still failed to see why Christ would put up with me. That day was one of the hardest days of my life, yet it was only the beginning of my journey. BUT I am thankful to God for that day because it took me feeling like a hopeless wreck to reevaluate my faith in a God I've claimed to follow all my life. I realized that I felt shame because I didn't feel deserving of Grace, but that didn’t change the fact that I still believed in Christ! That was when one of my favorite verses helped put it all into perspective for me:
“‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’” Mark 9:24
I never once doubted God’s existence, or Jesus’ birth, death, or resurrection, and to several people’s surprise, I never blamed or grew mad at God. I simply blamed and shamed myself. So I prayed for God to help me in my unbelief because no matter how I felt in those dark moments, one of two things had to be true: Either the entire Gospel story was a total myth because there was no way grace was possible for me... OR it not only had to be true but that God must be a God whose love transcends all human comprehension to allow us, unconditional Love and Grace. So I chose to forgive myself and to allow myself grace because I couldn't claim to follow and believe in Jesus if I didn't.
With that said, we celebrate Christmas to remind us that we were given hope when we were hopeless, Grace when we were a disgrace, Peace when our hearts were trying to make themselves whole, a refuge when we needed safety, and open arms when all we wanted was love. Most importantly, we were given life when we were staring death in the face and shrugging our shoulders.
This Christmas gives you a special chance to look upon that humble manger scene and imagine the sorrowful state you would be in, how empty you would be if that manager was empty. Now, this isn't a request to make you feel guilty if you've become distracted from Jesus this holiday season, but it should make you step back and realize how much Christ Jesus means to you personally. Sometimes it takes getting the breath knocked out of our lungs, to realize just how much you needed it. So, when you look at the evergreen sitting in your living room, and the star or angel perched on top, you may be reminded of the true Joy we have in a Savior we didn't deserve.
So, I ask that as you spend time with family, and you open gifts, remember that all of it is in celebration and remembrance of the Gift God gave us! People say Christmas is about giving and not receiving so that kids don't focus solely on getting presents. But it’s important to understand as Christians that it really is about receiving. Mark 10:15 says that “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it”. You see, looking forward to receiving gifts is a tradition meant to remind us of the gift of love we received through Jesus Christ! A gift is worthless if it is not received! A present that is never opened is just a box with pretty paper. How we receive it is important! Imagine if we received Jesus the way you received that sweater you got last Christmas and never once tried on. That said, we must receive Christ with open hearts and joyous praise! Just as the Shepherds and the three Wise men did when they met baby Jesus to welcome him into this world!
“On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).
How will you receive Christ this Christmas? How will you keep him in your thoughts and traditions as you celebrate the season? Lastly, take some time to remember the hardest times in your life that remind you how thankful you are for Jesus Christ!