I’m staying in a mountain cabin for Christmas this year, which is a complete first for me. I’ve never had a Christmas that wasn’t at my home or at family’s home. Granted, my family is out here with me and it is a beautiful wintry setting, but it simply has a different feel to be in an unfamiliar place.
One thing I was especially worried about coming out here was that we didn’t know anything about the church where we would be attending Christmas Eve service. I absolutely love singing Silent Night by candlelight on Christmas Eve and I was genuinely worried that we would be missing one of my favorite parts of Christmas if the church didn’t have that.
Fortunately, and I’m sure this was nothing short of God’s work, we drove up to the church and my first thought was, This looks traditional. I’m excited.
We walked in to a beautiful little sanctuary and were immediately handed bulletins and – wait for it – candles. My worries that Christmas would be lacking my favorite part vanished, and I was actually really excited for the service.
The pastor started his sermon with a children’s message in which he told a simple version of the story of Christmas, occasionally saying something intentionally wrong so that the children would correct him. It was a fun reminder of the simple innocence of the Christmas story that we grow up with. As children, there is awe in the Christmas story, but also a beautiful simplicity that children can grasp easily, so they love it. I know that story still holds a warm familiarity with me, like a friendly hug every year.
But Christmas isn’t as simple as it seems. The pastor’s sermon for those of us who are older and supposedly wiser in the ways of the world was all about the meaning behind Christmas. Yes, it was a little baby born to a poor teenage mother in a stable, but it was so much more than that.
As a kid, it wasn’t ever a question of why he came. Jesus came to save us from our sins. That seemed pretty straightforward to me. But it never occurred to me that God, the creator of the vast universe and every minuscule detail in it, became a part of his creation. And it wasn’t a pleasant creation that he entered either. Sin had already done a number on God’s beauty and humanity seemed beyond redemption. So this sets the scene of the world that God entered. He loved those humans, no matter how sinful they were, so the creator of all things became a piece of creation to save it. And that is only the beginning. God could have chosen to become a human in a showy, celebrated way. He could have been born to royalty or skipped the indignity of being born at all and arrived in this world on a golden throne and start throwing down orders to creation. He could have, but he didn’t. Instead, he chose to be born into a family that lived in near poverty and make himself known to shepherds, who were more or less the scum of society. He did things his own way, never advancing his earthly station in life, even though he could have taken the world by force with a flick of his finger.
As if that isn’t enough, he came to die for our sins. He didn’t come to lead an easy life, nor to give luxury to those who please him. He came to die. In the pastor’s sermon, he said that “the road to Calvary began with that ‘no vacancy’ sign in the hotel window at Bethlehem.” Christ’s life of suffering for our sake began when he was born amidst livestock and placed in their feeding trough to rest.
But that isn’t the end. Thank God that isn’t the end. Because if Christ merely came to suffer, than that is a depressing story indeed.
1 Corinthians 15:19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
Our hope in Christ is certainly not only for this life, but rather for eternal life. You see, Christ didn’t come only to die, but rather to conquer death.
We are more than conquerors through Christ. You have overcome this world, this life.
Because of this, we shall have eternal life with Christ, never separated from our creator. This is the message of Christmas, which brings me to the pastor’s next point: fear not. Because Christmas brings us eternal connection with God, who is in control of every aspect of all that has been created, which includes us and our lives, we do not need to fear. God has taken all fear out of our lives with the message of Christmas.
“Joyless faith in Christ is a contradiction of terms.” This was another of the pastor’s quotes that I couldn’t help but write down. How true it is though! Because we have faith in Christ, the fear is voided in our lives which leaves us with joy.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that we don’t still have grief or pain, but it is a grief that still retains the joy of Christ. Death is no longer final.
1 Corinthians 15:55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
We will not bow to sin or to shame. We are defiant in your name. You are the fire that cannot be tamed. You are the power in our veins, our Lord, our God, our Conqueror.
So, this Christmas, joyfully celebrate the birth of Christ. There is no one more powerful, nor anyone who cares more for you, than Christ, so fear not and be joyful.