The Pagan Festival
Many Christians are rightly sceptical about terming Christmas time a “celebration of Jesus’ birth”. It is often noted that in the past Christianity simply hijacked a pagan festival and infused a little bit of ‘Christian religion’ into it. Additionally, can hardly be denied that this time of year is one of the most commercially lucrative. In fact, in many ways it goes against so many Christian values – Christmas is now about what you want, eating way too much, and binging on boxsets. Therefore, we may legitimately ask can the Christian actually delight in Christmas? Is it possible in the midst of this madness to worship Christ? Can Christmas be redeemed?
As I considered these questions, these are three of the (legitimate) reasons for delighting in Christmas that came to my mind.
God is with Us
The first reason I delight in Christmas is the carols! I am not a huge fan of music, and don’t spend a lot of time listening to it beyond the month of December. However, come Advent the Christmas CDs are on. Like everyone else I am partial to a little bit of Cliff Richard, Wham! and Slade, but better than that are the carols.
Thinking and meditating on the lyrics of many of the Christmas carols warms my heart as I picture what it meant for God to dwell with His creatures in the flesh. The image of a new born babe lying in a mother’s arms strikes a chord which brings the name Immanuel to life. God physically presenced himself with His people. And that is no less true today, in and through the power of His Spirit.
Christmas is a powerful reminder to me that God is with us. At various times this was manifested physically: the tabernacle, the temple, and the Son. Now it is not manifested physically – but it is no less true, magnificent or comforting.
Waiting builds Anticipation
Two of my favourite carols are O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and Come, Thou long-expected Jesus. This is because the second reason I delight in Christmas is the reminder that waiting builds anticipation. During the intertestamental period the Jews could very easily have sung the words of the two carols mentioned above – they anticipated, eagerly desired and in all reality were desperate for God to send His Promised One.
As the nativity narrative is heard again, we cannot help but have anticipation build, because we know that the waiting will be worth it. Jesus will be born. He will save His people from their sin. He will offer them all that they have desired, just in a fashion they did not expect. Living in the here and now this is a helpful encouragement. Many of us would desire for Jesus to return and end all of the suffering, sadness and pain that we observe in our world. But don’t be too eager, because waiting builds anticipation.
Just as we open one door at a time on our advent calendar, counting down to December 25th, and eagerly looking forward to the morning we can open our presents. So we live one day at a time, with anticipation ever building, as we wait for Jesus to return and take us to be with Him.
Marvelling at the Strangeness of the Plan
The final reason that I delight in Christmas is because I am reminded once more about the strangeness of God’s plan. In order to rescue the world from its sin, a baby was born of an unknown virgin, in a backwater town, under the guise of a scandal! It is not how I would have planned it…and yet it is perfect. Look at the nativity scenes, watch children’s faces as they hear the narrative recounted for the first time, and listen once more to the words of those mighty Christmas carols: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see!” What a strange occurrence. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:4-5).
It is a mad time of year, and many of us do get our priorities in the wrong order – but in the midst of it all, see if you can’t find reminders of God’s remarkable rescue plan which might aid you in delighting in Christmas.