Hope-Filled Christmas

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
John 1:1-2, 14

Experience has taught me that oftentimes it’s within the midst of change and the unexpected that we learn what we truly hold dear. So as I’ve decorated our new home, shopped for presents, and prepared holiday meals, I’ve also been asking myself why I celebrate the holiday–what does Christmas mean to me. I’ve been asking this question in recent weeks as I’ve faced a Christmas that looks a bit different than Christmases past. I’ve wondered if the joy of Christmas would be different this year than in years past, if my love of Christmas would move with me. For if you have read any of my prior posts, then you know my family and I recently relocated. The place from which we moved I called home for about 20 years; nine of those years were at the same church, surrounded by many familiar faces. Those faces may not have been related by blood, but they were indeed family to me.

Yet as we attended the Christmas Eve service at our new church home yesterday, I found myself able to worship God in full assurance that yes, yes my love of Christmas did go with me.  In fact, I dare say my love for Christmas has deepened.  For God has taught me some amazing things about Christmas I would not have grasped within the familiarity of my comfort zone.  God has used a new place to instill in me an important truth: Christmas marks the beginning of God’s perfect plan–a plan foretold yet unforeseen.

As my pastor stated at our Christmas Eve service, the birth was just the beginning. Think about that for a moment.  The birth of Jesus  was just the beginning–the catalyst that set into the motion the final stages of God’s eternal plan.  Jesus’ birth was the beginning of the next chapter of God’s eternal plan of salvation for His children. Before the foundation of the world, God knew we’d sin; He knew we’d need a Savior.  And He knew He’d send His son.  The cries of that baby Jesus, which I’m sure reverberated throughout that barn, signaled the arrival of God’s promised Savior. Nevertheless, the birth of Jesus alone didn’t save us.  It was the beginning. It took 3o years of righteous living, 3 years of dedicated ministry, and the selfless sacrifice on the cross to fulfill the purpose for which Jesus was sent. In other words, Christmas is not just a celebration of a birth; it’s the celebration of salvation’s plan coming to pass.

Furthermore, in addition to His birth being just the beginning, Jesus’s birth as well as His ministry were foretold yet unforeseen.  Jesus was not the Savior people thought He’d be. Yes, His parents knew Jesus was destined for great things; after all, the angels told them such.  Yet even though God foretold them of Jesus’ mission, the details of that mission unfolded in a way unexpected and unanticipated. Jesus was not of noble birth; He was actually born in a barn.  He didn’t one day grow up to physically overthrow the government and reign on an earthly throne.  He grew up to be despised and rejected and to die a death He did not deserve. From before He was born, Jesus was destined to die. And as God’s perfect plan unfolded, it appeared to man as an awkward way to save the world. Jesus our Emmanuel was foretold, yet not foreseen.

So how does this deepen my love of Christmas?  One word:  hope.

Christmas brings hope. Hope that regardless of where I am and what I may be going through, God has a plan. Remember that job way back when that I could not get back?  I see now the necessity of me being without commitments at that moment in my life.  What I thought devastating was indeed necessary.  Saying goodbye to the church family I knew so well?  I see now how God has strengthened my relationship with Him while  also expanding the number of people in my life who will encourage me to draw closer to Jesus.  I’ve been able to maintain a few relationships while forming new ones.  I see now how the same God who began His plan of salvation with a baby in a manger also works within every detail of my life, even the seemingly yucky ones.

Christmas is not about where we live.  It does not depend on the church we attend, the friends we have nearby, the parties we host, or the number of presents under the tree. Christmas goes much deeper.

Christmas is hope. Yes, hope. Christmas is God working out all things.  It is God fulfilling His promise through a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a  manger. Christmas is knowing that even though we may not understand what is going on, God knows.

So when you look at the Nativity this year, I encourage you to look at it through eyes of hope. Hope and faith knowing God hears your prayers. And He’s answering them. Sometimes He answers right away and gloriously obvious. Other times He answers in an unlikely way over a span of several days, several months, or several years. Sometimes he will answer in eternity. Nevertheless, regardless of how He answers, we can know with certainty God hears,  God sees, and God moves.  So go forth today and everyday knowing “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

 

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