By Jason Hiles, Professor of Christian Studies at Louisiana College
If advertisements paint an accurate picture of public sentiment, then Christmas for most people has become little more than an opportunity to indulge in rich foods and expensive products that would otherwise seem extravagant.
The shopping season begins a little earlier each year, encroaching more and more on the only holiday dedicated to expressing gratitude.
Midnight sales, black Fridays, and online specials abruptly interrupt Thanksgiving with promises to deliver happiness in the form of electronic gadgets, sparkly jewelry, and the latest toys.
Thus many Americans are content to indulge in a day of feasting and football followed by a month of feverish buying, a few more days of feasting, and a little more football. In the end closets are packed with more stuff, bellies and waistlines are padded with extra pounds, and credit card accounts are extended beyond the possibility of repayment.
Unfortunately this “eat, drink, and be merry” approach to the holidays fails to satisfy and so the process must be repeated year after year in the hope that at some point lasting satisfaction will result.
It is a vain hope.
The great tragedy of the modern Christmas season, however, relates more to what is obscured by all the revelry than to the revelry itself.
The hustle and bustle of the holidays demands attention and affection that should be directed to the Christ whose coming radically altered the course of history and transformed countless human lives.
But such neglect is by no means new to those living in the present day. In many ways contemporary Christmas celebrations follow the pattern of the first Christmas, when the Christ child entered a world where His glory and majesty were largely ignored.
The eternal Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, but few had eyes to see His excellence or ears to hear the promise of peace that accompanied His arrival. Most simply carried on as if nothing much had happened.
The Almighty Maker of Heaven and Earth made His dwelling among us, but most never even bothered to notice.
To this day, an enormous throng of inferior passions and preoccupations compete for our attention, obscure Christ’s glory, and threaten to rob Him of the reverence He deserves. This was the response of the world in the day when He was born to the virgin, and it continues to be the world’s basic response nearly two millennia later. Perhaps this should not really surprise us. Lost people tend to act as if they are lost and do not recognize the all-surpassing glory of the Lord Jesus. But this cannot be the reaction of the Christian disciple who has seen the beauty of the Lord and tasted His goodness.
Rather, like Simeon who could not be consoled or depart this world in peace until he saw the Lord’s Christ, we should rejoice in this season that reminds us of Jesus’ first coming.
As Simeon held baby Jesus in his arms he praised the Father crying out, my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel (Luke 2:30-32).
Simeon, like believers in our day, perceived in this helpless child the wisdom of God by which Satanic strongholds would be destroyed and wicked hearts made new.
Similarly the church must be diligent to jealously guard the precious gospel that begins with the Holy One’s arrival among us as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes.
This child is ignored and at times mocked by the world, but His humility is recognized by God’s people as a sign that He is the Savior, Christ the Lord spoken of in Luke 2:10-12.
The announcement of Jesus’ arrival to shepherds by the angelic messengers continues to resonate with those who have experienced peace on earth in Jesus Christ (Luke 2:14), and the message must be shared with others.
As the Christmas season comes around again and the familiar story of Jesus’ birth is retold, we would be wise to distance ourselves from the distractions of the holidays enough to follow Mary’s example.
As she listened to the accounts of the shepherds, the praises of Simeon and Anna in the temple, and as she watched her child grow in wisdom and stature, she treasured up all these things in her heart.
As she pondered them she grew in the knowledge of God and His saving grace and came to recognize in Jesus Christ the wisdom and power of God unto salvation. As her child was hung on a cross to die many years later, surely Mary’s heart was pierced as with a sword (Luke 2:35).
But her heart was also filled with the understanding that God is merciful to those who fear Him and reveals His strength in such a way that the proud are scattered and brought low while the humble are exalted (Luke 1:46-55).
The One who humbled himself most in leaving the glory of heaven to redeem a fallen world is surely the most exalted of all. This is why we joyfully repeat the praises of angels in singing gloria in excelsis Deo (glory to God in the highest) as we remember His birth. In the person of Christ, God became a human child in order to redeem His people and to save all who believe in the precious name of Jesus.
God’s children understand the wisdom of the manger and the power of the cross and cherish the life-saving gospel of Jesus Christ as the precious treasure that it is.
When the culture that surrounds the church concerns itself more with the buying and selling of goods than with the arrival of Immanuel, God among us, the church should not be shocked as much as saddened.
Certainly the wrath of God looms large over those who fail to honor Jesus as God, Savior, and King.
But it is difficult to look upon the hopelessness of a lost world with eyes that see Jesus’ glory and a heart that has been warmed by the Spirit’s love and yet fail to feel profound pity.
Thus instead of indulging in overspending and wild consumption along with the people of this world, Christians must rest in the peace of God during this busy season and rejoice in His mercy to mankind. Only in doing so will we find ourselves in a good position to call others away from the false pleasures and comforts of the “inn” to the glory of the humble “stable.”
There and there alone is the majesty and grace of God experienced in Christ the Lord.