I used to be one of those people who looked down on people who started listening to Christmas music before December. They seemed crazy to me.
But this year, I started listening to Christmas music long, long, before December. Whether it was the sentiment or novelty of Christmas getting to me, or an unspoken and thankless desire to rush through the last months of 2020, I think there’s something to be said for what good Christmas music holds.
You see, I think for some of us, we easily gloss over Christmas as a noble holiday that’s not quite as important as Easter. Like younger me, I think we too easily turn our noses at the commercialization of Christmas and “piously” long for Easter. Now don’t get me wrong, Easter is my hope and life. If Christ did not die and rise from the dead, I have no place on this earth and no reason to be alive. It would be better to be dead than to find out Christ didn’t rise. But it’s so easy to miss what Christmas truly holds. The deepest lessons of Christmas are, in my opinion at least, the very reasons for Good Friday and Easter. Christmas, much like a stable two millennium ago, holds something far larger than it seems and bursts over with promise unhoped for.
“Joy to the world, the LORD is come. Let Earth receive her King.”
The first joy of Christmas is Jesus: all that he is, and all that he brings. Christmas boldly proclaims that in Christ the new-born King, joy is possible. Jesus speaks to his disciples, telling them to obey God, love others, and remain in God’s love. He says that, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). No longer must we dimly cry, “O come O come Emmanuel”, we now freely cry as his bride and Church, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3). We are not only empowered to know and love our God, we have the power to seek Christ, kill sin, and live with joy.
Much of my life is lived joylessly by my own choice, defined by shame, guilt, and hypocritical self-flagellation. What if we lived every day with the knowledge of a present and resurrected King, who has come to save and redeem? What if we no longer hoped for joy, but realized we already have joy in Christ? Click To Tweet As my older sister once said, joy is not something we have and then lose, it’s something we misplace and forget. God knows it’s difficult to rejoice in the LORD always, but I want to choose it. Even if I’m not even choosing or believing it as I write, I want something in me to snap and realize that choosing joy is an option. Rejoicing and giving thanks is possible. Seeking the things above (Colossians 3:2) is not a high-minded ideal, it’s the breath of every Christian. However poorly I do it, I want to live in the joy of Christ, the joy of Christmas.
“God rest ye merry gentlemen Let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ our Savior Was born on Christmas Day To save us all from Satan’s pow’r When we were gone astray, Oh tidings of comfort and joy.”
The second joy of Christmas is that it points to the cross and resurrection. John 3:16 tells us God loves so much, He gave. And this gift is his son. We know that Christ came into this world, and he came to die. He did not come only to live as a man, he came so man could live. Ephesians 4:9 tells us Christ descended onto the Earth. This is the first great lesson Christmas teaches us. Christmas tells us that Christ came to show us how to live, and he came to breathe life into us.
The Creator became Creation, and the Priest became Sacrifice. Christmas shows us that Christ’s birth was the very thing that brought us life because in his birth, we see Christ’s death. Luke 2:22-38 tells a very interesting story. The baby Jesus was taken for the ceremony of purification in Jerusalem, and two godly people rejoice upon seeing Him. He is viewed by the godly man and woman in Jerusalem as the salvation of God. Verses 34-35 tell us some of what Simeon, whom the Holy Spirit rested upon, said upon seeing Jesus. “And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.’”
God knows we could never save ourselves. One of the greatest joys of Christmas is that Christ came to save wretched sinners like me, stuck in our sin and shame, stuck in our death and disgrace. God knows my own hypocrisy, pride, lust, and perversity. He knows that I’m so broken and wicked. And yet he gave. We were gone astray, he brought us back to the fold. The Good Shepherd has come to our broken world.
From the first we see Jesus not only as Child of God, but the sacrifice sent from Heaven. We see the one who will bring joy to many, and yet will be led to grief and pain. In Christmas we see the Lamb of God being provided for the altar of Easter. And we see our King, ris’n with healing in his wings.
“He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness And wonders of His love.”
The third lesson in joy that Christmas teaches us is one that has dwelt upon my mind much these past few days. This is the idea that the other has invaded. The holy God whom we cannot approach apart from Christ, has begun his invasion of our sin-ridden planet. As the song says, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.” C.S. Lewis spoke of a “good infection”. While his lesson was more on the idea of sanctification and Christlikeness, I believe a similar infection took place on Christmas, the invasion of light on darkness, the decisive victory of our glorious King. Christmas may point to the cross, but it extends far beyond it, to the glorious reign of a triumphant King.
In Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, the very one whom we had offended and turned from began to ransom his people. Christmas teaches us that not only is the Kingdom of Heaven coming, not only do we have a mighty King, but our King has begun to bring light into our darkness. John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” This is the second great lesson of Christmas, that Christ our High Priest shines brighter than any other, and that the light of his holy invasion destroys the darkness of any false claim to authority. All power has been given to our resurrected high King. And his life-changing love has won the victory.
“Christ by highest Heav’n adored, Christ the everlasting Lord! Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of a Virgin’s womb. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity, Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.”
Possibly the greatest lesson we have to learn from Christmas is this: God is with us, and He has bought a way for us to know Him. This is not only what Christmas leads to, it is what the cross leads to. The end of the Gospel, as John Piper described in a way that blew my mind, is not forgiveness. It is bringing us to God. 1 Peter 3:18 states, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” Christian, I implore you, don’t forget that Christmas points to something far greater than Christmas or Easter, it points to the purpose of everything God has done, for us to know him and for him to be glorified.The great glory of Christmas is the joy of our incarnate God - our King who dwells with us. Click To Tweet
Matthew 1:23 tells us that Christ’s name is Immanuel. The one God, Yahweh, the only King, who dwells with us. His name is him with us. Christmas is primarily joyful because it is primarily God-filled, and He is infinitely joyful. Again, credit to John Piper for explaining this well, but our God is known as the God who does all that he pleases (Psalm 115:3). He is the blessed God (1 Timothy 1:11). The joy that overflows in Christmas songs is apparent, because the greatest songs know that joy is found in God and in who he is.
I know firsthand how easy it is to forget this. So often I want purity or grace or forgiveness, which are incredibly good things, but they are most emphatically not God. God does not want people who are interested in qualities or things, He wants people obsessed with him. I acknowledge even as I write that I find it difficult to believe I actually seek him well. I feel like my faith is a weak thing in a prideful body. But by His grace I will know him. Not my standards or my ideals; by his grace I will know HIM.
For our God is with us.