Finding Comfort in Christmas Throughout the Year
© C. O. Bishop
All in reference to Luke 2, comparing with other scripture.
How do we really feel about Christmas?
To those of us who have recently lost loved ones, and to those of us who suffer from depression, or have experienced the loss of a job, etc., Christmas is not “the most wonderful time of the year.” It’s the very worst. Our society has taught us to expect sunny feelings of joy and happiness, and to expect to give and receive wonderful gifts, and that everyone will love one another, and politicians will all tell the truth… and that “Santa Claus is coming…” and it is all these unfulfilled expectations that cause the feelings of disappointment, grief and depression that frequent the holiday season for many people; especially those grieving the loss of loved ones. There is a reason why police and emergency medical personnel refer to this season as the “suicide season.” There are more self-inflicted deaths in the country during this season than at any other time of year. And it is increasing as our nation has turned it’s collective eyes away from the Christ who is the person of Christmas, and the source of real joy.
To those of us who hurt, or who have suffered loss, all of the above seems a cruel hoax. And in some ways it is, even if those who are responsible really meant no harm. We have been given false expectations, and we have been taught to turn our eyes away from the real truth. Let’s see if we can turn that around, just for a moment, today….
The Birth of Christ:
Let’s go back and consider the first Christmas…the real one…the one no one really noticed except some farmer types…shepherds, in fact. It happened in a barn; a stable, if you want to be specific. There was no tree, no tinsel, no eggnog. “No crib, for a bed…” the only “gift” in sight was a baby. “For God so loved the World, that He gave his only begotten son…” (We don’t think of it very often, but the wise men showed up quite some time later—not that day…probably not that year. But when they did arrive, remember; they brought gifts to HIM, and not to one another.) But those who were there—those shepherds— were overwhelmed with joy. Why?
How is it that without any of the things we think ought to be there, the partakers of that first Christmas were filled with joy? Mary was having her first baby…do you think maybe she would have liked to have her Mom, or an Aunt, or someone like that to help her? How do you suppose Joseph felt about the accommodations? Do you think a stable would have been his first choice as a place for his young wife to give birth? And the shepherds? They still had to go back to those sheep, and the smelly, hard job that was their whole life. They got no day off for Christmas…no bonus; no free turkey, or whatever. Just… great joy. Why??
Do you suppose they understood a little about what had happened? They were all orthodox Jews, and they, with their forefathers, had been waiting for the Messiah for thousands of years. The promises were there, for anyone to read. And the angels that showed up clearly told them that this was it: The real fulfillment of God’s real promise. Did they understand all of it? Nope. They almost certainly did not. In fact, they may have had some real disappointments a few years down the road. They thought he was come to be a king (He was!), and a deliverer (He was!). But they also thought he would throw the Romans out of Israel, and reign there in Jerusalem in their lifetimes. (He did not, and He never said he would.)
Their later disappointments were based on false expectations, just like ours. But those who remembered could look back with wonder and recall the voices of the angels, praising God, and announcing the Holy birth. They did not cease to believe in the goodness of God, and his faithfulness.
So, What was the Promise?
We have forgotten what was really promised, and how we are to take part in it. There is no promise to us, that we will “live lives free of pain.” Quite the opposite: God says that it is given unto us “…on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on His name but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29) Not what we really hoped to hear, is it?
So what really was promised, and how do we take part in God’s real Christmas? How can we find Comfort in Christmas?
To begin with, immediately after Adam and Eve fell into sin, as recorded in Genesis, God prescribed a plan of redemption. He said that a person would come, called the “Seed of the Woman”, and this person would undo Satan’s work, done through the serpent. We discover later, in the New Testament, that the plan was actually laid before the Creation: God knew what was going to happen, and He prepared in advance.
The promise was repeated, with more and more details, until just before the time of Christ (actually, the last detail was given right about 400 years before his birth), so that if they were actually reading and studying God’s Word, they pretty much knew all that was supposed to happen regarding the Messiah. They did not understand it all, any more than we can claim to understand it all today, though (as we do) they had all the information.
But the believers, mostly Jews, had come to believe in the character of God, and they believed His Word was true. They believed his promises. When he told them to place their trust in His redemptive plan, and it involved a blood sacrifice, they brought that blood sacrifice, as directed. Did they understand it? Did they really know that all those little lambs were “pointing forward” to the One True Lamb of God? Somehow I doubt it.
When John the Baptist introduced Jesus, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” some understood the intent; though most did not. But many believed that He was the fulfillment of God’s Promise. We can look back and see that they were right. He fulfilled God’s Word to the letter…even that thing about being the “Seed of Woman”. (Who else in history has only one human parent?)
Jesus was born in obscurity, with shepherds rejoicing, and few others even taking notice. He preached in a tiny nation, for three years or a bit more. He had twelve devoted followers, about ten times that number who were part-timers, and thousands who claimed allegiance to him. But he was betrayed by one of those “inner-circle twelve” (Judas Iscariot) and he died a criminal’s death, condemned by Jew and Gentile alike. He was attended at His death by only one of his twelve disciples, and a few women, including his mother. (We don’t know the names of the few who stayed and watched, but He does.)
He was lent a tomb by a rich man (Joseph of Arimathea) who secretly believed. It turned out Jesus only needed it for three days and three nights, just as predicted. He was physically resurrected that third day, in spite of efforts aimed at preventing such an occurrence, and he showed himself to all his close disciples, and on one occasion to 500 people at once. He ascended back to God, physically; bodily. And He promised to return in the same manner: Physically…Bodily.
We, who do find comfort in Christmas, whether Jew or Gentile, do so because that day was the beginning of all that was to follow. We find hope in the Christ, in the Cross, and in the empty tomb. We find hope in his resurrection, and in his promised soon return.
We find hope in His written Word, where He promised, personally, that “Whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)
We look back to that first Christmas and the unspeakable gift of God’s Son, and we find comfort in the Goodness of the God who gave the Gift. When we suffer losses, we look back to what our redemption really cost our Lord, and our Heavenly Father. We trust in Him to do all things well. We trust in Him to give what is best, even when we think things ought to proceed in a different way.
How do we Receive that Promise?
How can we take part in God’s real Christmas? Jesus said “He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed over from death into life.” (John 5:24)
Notice the tenses there—he covers my present, saying that because I have heard his Word, and believed the promise of God, I have eternal life now…I don’t have to wait ‘til I die to see if I got “good enough grades”. He covers my future, promising that I will never be condemned by God: He is never going to give up on me, even if I fail miserably in my attempts to serve Him. He covers my past (perfect tense), saying that I have permanently crossed over from being spiritually dead, to being spiritually alive.
This is the hope of all believers. And those of us who believe, and who have lost one or more believing loved ones, have the sure hope of seeing them again. There are some we are not sure of, because we can’t see their hearts, but God knows, and His justice is perfect. He loves them more than we ever could; and we rest in hope, assured that he has done right by them.
Christmas, the way the World presents it, can be very depressing, quite honestly. But the way God presents His gift it is a never-ending source of joy—it is not “seasonal” at all. We simply have to choose to rest in that gift, rest in His character, and to experience the peace, hope and joy He brings.
So, to each of you, in the name of the Christ of Christmas, I wish you a truly joyous Christmas season that will last throughout the year.
Blessings upon you all.