It is a time-honored tradition when a college football home team unexpectedly wins a game or snaps a long losing streak, for the jubilant fans to storm the field and tear down the goal posts. Sometimes, this sacrificing of the goal posts can actually upstage the actual game, particularly when the goal posts are snapped like a wishbone and taken to different places on campus or the city as souvenirs. I wonder what a similar celebratory activity from God’s people during Christmas would look like? I mean, God has become a human in the person of Jesus! A celebration on a grand scale is in order, don’t you think?! In reading the nativity narratives, you are left with the distinct impression that the celebration of the birth of Christ was open-throated, loud, and filled with merriment. There is this palpable lively, festive, lighthearted, and cheerful spirit exuded from each of the nativity actors announcing the Advent of the Christ. We hear a lot about the “spirit of Christmas” this time of year. The spirit of Christmas according the Scriptures is a spirit of mirth, joy, and celebration. The angels announced to the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people” (Luke 2:10b). “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying. ‘Glory to God in the highest!’” (Luke 2:13-14). John Piper reminds us: “The whole Christian message from beginning to end is good news.” Is that the spirit of Christmas that we demonstrate? Is it possible that we get more lathered up about what department stores or cafés are saying “Merry Christmas!” rather than just being merry Christians? Consider.
The gloom is gone!
Do you remember the scene in Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in which Mr. Tumnus is crying? Lucy asks him why he is crying. Mr. Tumnus responds by saying that he has taken service under the White Witch. Lucy inquires about who the White Witch is. Mr. Tumnus then informs Lucy that the White Witch is the one who rules over all Narnia and that it is she that makes it always winter and never Christmas. Nearly eight-hundred years before the birth of Jesus, a prophet named Isaiah described the world, like Narnia, as one of gloom, darkness, and winter all year long. But, he announced that the gloom would be eliminated when the Child that was to be given was born.
“But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtalis, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light: those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation: you have increased its joy: they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. 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. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:1-7).
The essential Christmas announcement is the message of the Gospel (good news) that a Savior has come. This announcement was not, as some misunderstood, that the Assyrians would be defeated. Rather, it looked forward to the day when the Light of the World would minister around the Sea of The Galilee and bring light to very dark human hearts. In other words, this announcement was about dispelling moral, spiritual darkness rather than political oppression. (Matthew 4:12-17) So the “spirit of Christmas” is the gloom is gone! Do we as Christians sometimes get our cues more from the Scarlet Letter than from passages like Isaiah 9 and Luke 2? Do we communicate through our spirits that Christianity is essentially sour and dour and about rules, regulations, and the absence of joy? What about joyfully celebrating the announcement that in the bleak mid-winter, when all creation was groaning, in darkness, and frozen as a stone, that a Light was breaking forth in a stable? Are we gloomy or merry Christians?
Joy has come!
You probably noticed that Isaiah used two illustrations about this joy and merriment that has come to God’s people at the birth of Christ. He says “they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest.” Now, most of us are not as familiar with an agrarian society as the original readers would have been accustomed to. Most of us get our harvest at the local grocery store’s vegetable counter. However, the illustration pictures the joy of the first produce coming from the garden. It illustrates a joy of knowing that all your needs were met. The next metaphor is “as they are glad when they divide the spoil.” Here the prophet paints the picture of the joy that would come at the sharing of the bounty from a defeated foe. The feeling of this joy is one of security, knowing that your enemies were defeated. This is the joy that has come! Joy of provision. Joy of security. Isn’t this joy reflected in our Christmas carols that we sing during the Christmas season? “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!” Fundamentally, Christianity is about human beings being brought into the joy of knowing God and being loved and accepted by Him! It’s Christmas! The angels are singing! The bells are ringing! And we should feel like shouting “Joy to the World!” Jesus is born! Are you a merry Christian?
Merry Christmas comes from Merry Christians
How can we communicate that gladness, cheer, and mirth? Here are three ideas.
1. Meditate on the Good News of the Incarnation until your heart is glad. Do this by reading the Nativity narratives in Matthew 1 and Luke 2 during the month of December. Listen to Christmas music that stirs your heart!
2. Participate in the celebration! – Light up your house! Set up your Christmas tree! Participate in giving gifts. Stimulate a spirit of celebration around your home through fun traditions, meditating on the Christmas story, and creative ways of giving to others.
3. Attend your church family’s special Christmas meetings! – The Good News should be heralded louder and clearer from the church gathered than at any other place. Invite a friend. (BTW-There is great Christmas worship planned for December 20th and then, again on Christmas Eve, December 24th. Plan to be there!)
There is no more gloom! There is no room for any Christian to be a scrooge. Off with the “bah humbug” and on with the celebration! Remember, the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the most important events in the history of the world, and we should celebrate them with cheerfulness as those who know their true meaning best! There is a time for fasting and feasting in the Christian life. Christmas is a time for feasting and celebration! Merry Christians!