yes, it is the season, but of what? to be jolly? to shop for stuff? to give? to have peace and goodwill? to celebrate? But to celebrate what? That is the question and how we answer defines the celebration itself. ‘Tis the season, alright, but in recent years this season has undergone some significant rebranding. The Christmas concert is now the Holiday program, Christmas break is now Winter break and we are as likely to be wished Happy Holidays as we are Merry Christmas.
Christmas may have started as a sacred celebration of a miraculous event in history but it has become a cultural celebration as well. To say that Christ is lost in the celebration of Christmas in our culture today is quite the understatement. Rituals are meant to help us remember and the traditions of Christmas are no exception. The purpose of remembering is to remind us of the reason for our celebration. The Israelites had many rituals and festivals to help them remember God’s mighty deeds on their behalf, everything from parting the Red Sea to feeding them in the desert.
One such ritual was the Feast of Tabernacles, which lasted seven days. When the Israelites returned to Jerusalem after their exile, they again celebrated this feast of harvest by building booths out of branches and living in them for the seven days of the feast. The purpose of this ritual of leaving their more comfortable homes to live in these primitive shelters was to remind them of God’s care for them and of His intervention on their behalf when He brought their forefathers out of Egypt, sustained them in the desert and brought them into the land He had promised them. Besides, what better way to appreciate your comfortable home than to live in a stick booth for seven days?
I’m thinking this is hard core, big time. Couldn’t the lesson be learned without living in the booths made of branches? And is remembering THAT important? The answer is yes, remembering is THAT important. Nehemiah 8:17 says of the Israelites that their joy was very great as they celebrated this festival living in their booths. Why? I think there is joy in remembering God’s goodness, His provision and His deliverance. All of these things the Israelites had experienced. They just needed to take the time to remember once again. That’s what rituals are for, for remembering.
So what does all this have to do with Christmas? Christmas is our ritual of remembrance. At least it should be, it could be, if we truly take the time to remember what it is that we are celebrating. Simeon knew. In Luke 2:29-30 he said upon seeing the infant Jesus with Mary and Joseph at the temple, “Sovereign Lord, as You have promised, You now dismiss Your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen Your salvation.” ( what’s Simeon talking about? his eyes are looking at a baby, not at salvation) But for Simeon they are one and the same. It was already complete, God had kept His promise. The birth, sinless life, sacrificial death and victorious resurrection were all accomplished, though they had yet to take place and he would not be alive on earth to witness those events. But those events cannot be separated from the initial event of Jesus’ birth.
When we have children we wonder, we hope, we plan, we pray about their futures but we don’t know at their birth what the outcome will be. The events of their lives are separate entities for us. Not so with the birth of Jesus. As the Son of God, whose plans stand firm through all generations, Who knows the beginning from the end, Jesus’ future was certain. (God had graciously revealed this to His servant, Simeon, who was told that he would not die until he saw the promised Messiah)
When I celebrate Christmas, I’m celebrating all that is contained in Jesus’ birth. I’m celebrating Jesus’ life, His sacrificial death on the cross and His triumphant resurrection. The baby in the manger became the Christ on the cross. The crucifixion is contained within the nativity as is the resurrection. When I celebrate Christmas I’m remembering so much more than a birthday. I’m remembering and celebrating that moment when God entered into our earthly existence and walked with us for a while, His promise kept.
When I celebrate Christmas, I am remembering the lifting of the law, the providing of the ram, the tearing of the curtain, the fulfillment of the prophecies, the forgiveness of my sin, my redemption, my healing, my hope of heaven. I am remembering that God’s presence has come to live with us and then in us, sealing us for the day of redemption. I am remembering my own deliverance from darkness to light, from certain death to eternal life with my Creator. I am reminded that Jesus’ birth is the fulfillment of God’s promise to mankind.
When I celebrate Christmas, I’m remembering again God’s faithfulness to me and to you, His inexplicable care for us in providing the sacrifice (as He did for Abraham) to make a way for us to be reconciled to Him when there was no way. This is the miracle of Christmas. Realizing and remembering all these things should bring us great joy as we observe this ritual/festival of Christmas.
These elements cannot be separated. In celebrating Jesus’ birth we are remembering and celebrating His every promise, His every word, all that God has done and all that God says He will do. THAT’S A LOT TO CELEBRATE! All this should bring us GREAT JOY as we REMEMBER during this ritual/festival of Christmas.
No wonder the angel appearing to the shepards said, ” . . . I bring you good news of GREAT JOY that will be for all the people.” Being this side of the cross, we get the great joy meaning. God had come to us in person, Emanuel, “God with us”. Jesus had come to purchase men for God.
I may be saddened by what the world has done to the observance of the festival of remembrance of Jesus’ birth but I shouldn’t be surprised. How can anyone celebrate the birth of someone they don’t acknowledge and don’t know? It has become something often unrecognizable in our culture today. And so I must remember and in my remembering have GREAT JOY and then I must share that GREAT JOY with anyone and everyone who would desire it.
“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
so remember, rejoice and have GREAT JOY! Merry Christmas to all,
sincerely, Grace Day