There is nothing like the holiday season. Our towns shine with festive lights, the weather gets chilly, and you have an excuse to drink hot chocolate often. Christmas music is listened to during car rides and family members gather from afar together on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.
It’s also a great time to be reminded of our calling as Christians to live our days full of thanksgiving and prayer in light of the gospel (Colossians 1:3-12). Christmas reminds us of our Messiah’s birth.
Thanksgiving and the Need for Gratitude and Prayer
In the hustle and bustle of our culture where we give ourselves little time to reflect and ponder over God’s Word in prayer, the days around Thanksgiving are a great time to remind ourselves to follow the example of Paul as he says,
“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven… And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 1:3-5; 3:17)
And “… godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-7).
Here I’m convicted because, in reality, how often do I pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ? And how often do I pray with the faithfulness of doing so from the moment I heard of their faith in Christ and their love for the saints and with the confidence of the hope awaiting them in Heaven? Not as often as I should.
Plus, there are so many blessings in our lives (both spiritual and physical) that we can thank God for. Yet often we fall to the temptation of lacking thanksgiving for God’s blessing in our lives. Christians ought to be the most joyful people because they have had the weightiest of yokes and burdens lifted off their shoulders. Wretched, treacherous sinners have been made right with God through Christ’s purchasing us with His blood.
And that is the greatest source of joy and hope. Christians have nothing to fear since our Heavenly Father is the hand through which we receive both blessing and affliction. And He will not withhold anything from us since He gave up His only begotten Son for us.
New Years and the Need for Self-Denial
One of the maxims of our culture is, “it is more blessed to receive than to give,” in comparison to that of the Kingdom of Heaven which is, “it is more blessed to give than it is to receive” (Acts 20:35). Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
That’s in contradiction to another of our culture’s maxims: don’t deny yourself but instead satisfy every carnal desire you have. Jesus humbled Himself by giving up His throne of glory for a manger of humility, from where He would eventually be lifted up on a cross of humiliation. In light of the sacrifice made by Christ in denying Himself of His rights (yet another contradiction to another cultural maxim), we need to deny ourselves and give of ourselves to others.
As I said above, our culture does not encourage self-control and self-restraint, but rather self-indulgence.
Still, before New Years Eve, I hear countless people say that they’re going to begin a journey to a “new them.” Yet, even if they do successfully achieve their goal(s), how different are they than before their great transformation?
Fitness, productivity, money, and romance (depending who you are) are not bad things in and of themselves but they are awful sources of identity. Any progress you make will not be enough if it’s what defines you.
You will never look good enough; you will never appreciate the fact that the ability to walk and get up out of the bed are gifts that many people wished they had. You will never be efficient enough, and will always be “wasting” time. You will never have enough money, and you will find more and more stress as you make more and more money.
In our culture where sentimentalism is passionately preached, the thought of singleness can be crushing for some people. The longing for a romantic relationship with somebody of the opposite gender is not a bad thing, but a romantic relationship will not fill that hole of longing which only God can fill. Remaining single for the remainder of your life and being joyful, hopeful, and thankful is a very possible combo.
Yet, what is our motive for desiring transformation as Christians? Our root of self-control and self-restraint is not trivial, but rather it is from the motive of gratitude and conviction in light of Christ’s sacrifice.
Plus, we are not left to ourselves to put to death the misdeeds of the flesh, but are given the Holy Spirit to empower us to do so. Once we, as Christians, are convicted of a potential sinful addiction in our lives, we can begin right away with daily and practical self-control and self-restraint in making our bodies “slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” because we are dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:19).
Christmas and the Need for Worship
The highlight of this season is remembering the coming of Immanuel, God with us. Jesus humbled Himself. The Word through which the universe was created and is sustained condescended to a crude manger.
From here, He would live a life destitute of a place to lay His head but abundant of the curses and hatred of man.
Eventually, Jesus gave Himself up to be lifted up to a grotesque cross fit for a criminal to be scorned, beaten, and mocked by man, and crushed by God in the place of reprehensible and traitorous sinners. But, on the third day, He rose from the grave in a glorified body. He ascended back to His throne in Heaven with His Father to intercede for us.
This is the good news of a Messiah among a world full of bad news. It’s the publishing of salvation for those enslaved to sin, the law, and the prince of this world, Satan.
And it’s the proclamation of the reality that God reigns in a world that proclaims He’s nothing more than a figment of our imagination.