It doesn’t take very long to notice that Christmas is only one week away (unless you don’t own a radio, TV, have no friends and never step a foot outside your door). Everywhere you look you can’t help but see the lights, decorations, and store front signs declaring great deals to entice the dollars out of one’s pocket in order to ‘help’ celebrate the spirit of Christmas.
But what is the spirit of Christmas – really? Is it about turkey and stuffing? Is it about presents and family? Is it about time off from work and the start of the World Junior Hockey tournament? Go Canada! Or is it something more?
If you asked the average person on the street, you may hear answers such as the spirit being about generosity, giving, kindness, world peace, or that it’s a general feeling of emotional goodness to everyone at least once in the year.
I don’t know if I’d necessarily disagree with any of those sentiments but I would have to say that they have only given a glimpse into the true spirit of Christmas. That’s because I believe it’s all about a gift from God which includes parts of those other answers but is so much more as well.
I really think that because the nativity story has become so familiar to many of us it’s easy to forget how profound this gift from God really is. We receive Christmas cards that contain simple, yet startling phrases that should help us recapture the awe of this season yet often they don’t because we have become so used to them, so much so that they’ve lost their impact.
It can be so easy for us to throw around words without taking the time to explain or understand their importance. Words like Emmanuel which means “God with us.” Do we really understand what that means? We sing songs with that word in them, we read cards that use that word, but do we really understand the meaning? Emmanuel literally means, “God is with us”.
That name tells us something amazing about God. He is not some distant deity separated from our daily struggles; rather he uses that name to tell us a very special & deeply meaningful message. What is that message?
Well… if you were to ask me, “Steve, what is your favourite Christmas passage?” I would have to say that other than the Luke passage it’d have to be the chapter three passage that’s found in John’s Gospel, and more specifically the following verse. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but will instead have eternal life.” – John 3:16
John is saying that the creator of the cosmos is deeply interested in us, much like a father getting down on his knees to be with his kids on their level. That’s the picture we have in John 3:16 – God bending down and leaning into our lives as he offers the most incredible Christmas gift to us, his kids.
That’s the meaning behind the name Emmanuel. God is with us and keenly interested. He’s with us when we’re lonely or afraid or hurting or worried, even when we’re stuck in our sins. Emmanuel captures the essence of Christmas. In fact, the spirit of Christmas is really the infinite becoming an infant.
The back story to Christmas is that there had been a broken relationship. In the beginning of the human narrative, Adam & Eve broke the one relationship that meant anything, that all other relationships stemmed from – a relationship with God.
There obviously needed to be a reconciliation. Reconciliation entails the coming together of two parties in order to make right what went wrong in the relationship.
The truth of the matter is that our relationship with God was broken, but not because God said the wrong things, or did the wrong things. Rather, it was we who said and did the wrong things. And we’re still saying the wrong things, doing the wrong things, failing to say and do the right things. And we’re all suffering for it. And it all stems from our selfish desires.
If we are honest with ourselves, we know that we live for self. You can call it selfishness, but I like Luther’s way of talking about it – in Latin. Not because I understand Latin, but because it just sounds cool! “Sin”, Luther says, “is INCURVATUS IN SE”, which means ‘to be curved in upon the self’.
The rupture in our relationship with God occurs when we decide that we are independent, autonomous individuals who are quite capable of living life on our own, thank you very much.
And because of that decision we work to make all of life curved in upon self, such that we are holding up our own little world like little Atlases of Greek myth fame. Problem is however that our personal globes are getting very heavy, because our little worlds are too much for us to bear.
If that is where you are at, finding that the weight of your world on your shoulders is much too heavy a burden to bear, then this Christmas I invite you to accept the message of the season.
The message that the baby Jesus came for all who recognize that they are tired of living INCURVATUS IN SE, and who realize that they can’t continue carrying the weight in their own strength and so are now ready to give up all that load they carry and give it to someone (Jesus) who can and will carry it for them if you give up everything for him.
The spirit of Christmas is a proclamation of good news of great joy from God that tells us that we don’t have to live for ourselves anymore and that we don’t need to carry that heavy weight any longer.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6
Here’s the amazing thing. You see, according to the word of God, we are all sinners which means that left on our own, we would never have sought God because we never would have understood him and would never have recognized him, so he had to come looking for us. That is the inescapable conclusion of the Christmas story.
The Christmas story is about God tracking us down, each and every one of us, to find us and reveal himself to us because he wanted us to know him. Christmas is God coming to us, entering our world, stepping into our time and space because we couldn’t get to him.
He wanted us to know the depth of his love for us, but because words weren’t enough, he came to be with us by taking the form of man, incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ – the Prince of Peace. And as the Prince of Peace we can finally be reconciled with God the father and enjoy peace with him as we were originally created to enjoy.
Over the coming days, focus on and celebrate who Jesus is and all that his coming means. His miraculous birth was the start of something that history will never repeat. And as we are heading toward Christmas day at the end of this very week, let us focus on the spirit of Christmas – which is only Jesus, which is always Jesus.