Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Christmas Season is Here: What does Christmas mean to You?

It's Christmas, it's Christmas!  Thanksgiving is over.  But I try to live a lifestyle of thanksgiving, of being thankful for the little things I have, and the big things in life. But now we move past turkey day, and into the Christmas season. I'm a big Christmas fan, and I hope you are too.  It comes around every year, doesn't it? Over and over but it seems like every year it surprises me.  I'm surprised by each season when it comes, I'm surprised by the wintry air, the fall, and so on and so forth, and I'm surprised by the advent, the coming of Christ.  

When I was a little kid I asked my mom: Why do we do this?  We were at Catholic mass watching a shadow play of the crucifixion of Jesus.  I asked Mom: Why do we crucify Jesus each year?  That's how I interpreted the event each year.  And the Catholic view is really that we do something like that, and we receive the bread and wine as the living, real body of Christ, and each year and each service we repeat that ritual to receive continuous salvation.  Today I realize that such a practice is not rooted biblically.

My family, mom, dad, sister and me would sit around the Christmas tree and pass out presents.  I loved it as a kid.  I loved the excitement.  We would leave out cookies and milk for Santa. We had a little calendar that we'd open the day each day, and eat a little piece of candy. We'd count down the days until Christmas and it would seem to crawl by so slowly!  We'd decorate the trees on our property with lights.  We'd go out together as a family, out to the tree farms, and buy a tree, cut it down, and set it up in the garage and dad would flock the tree.  We decorated the house, set up the nativity set, and hung our Christmas stockings above the fire place.  It was picturesque, sublime.  

We'd gather around the Christmas tree, dad would spill his coffee, because it was tradition, and we had one of those old massive camcorders, set up on a tripod, set to record, so we could record our family memories via videotape.  

Why do we have all these traditions?  What do they mean? Is it biblical?

There is something biblical about celebrating a season, a date and time each year to bring into recollection in our minds the importance of something we can so quickly forget: The coming of Christ.  So on Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  On Thanksgiving we thank God for all the gifts we receive from Him.  On Easter we celebrate the resurrection of Christ.  This is biblical because the Bible in fact instructs us to meet weekly together to celebrate Christ.  And in the Old Testament we see the nation of Israel celebrating yearly festivals like the festival of booths and other holy days.  Why?  To remind themselves each year of what God had done for them in the desert, and how God set them free from slavery in Egypt.  

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days to the Lord..." -Leviticus 23:33

"On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. " Acts 20:7a
So it's biblical to celebrate Christmas.  It's a time when we remind ourselves that God came to save us from sin.  God became a man and was born in the stable because there was no room at the inn. Interesting that the world had no room for the one who made it.

"...she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them." -Luke 2:7

Jesus came into the world.  So we dedicate the time between Thanksgiving and December 25th to celebrate the birth of Christ into the world.  

So here is my question: What does Christmas mean to you?  How does it come together in your mind?  What is your focus during this season?  

Think about it.  What traditions do you uphold?  How do you spend your time?  Do you hoist up a Christmas tree?  Do you attend church services or mass?  Do you drink and party?  Do you spend large amounts of money on gifts?  

Christmas has meant a great many things to me.  It's been a time of tedious family get togethers.  It's been a time of magic, and a time that reflects something special in my mind.  It's been a time when things seem possible that might otherwise be impossible.  Christmas time has often meant to me, that this is a time when humanity tries to be it's best.  And we see some good in people.  Fair enough, fair enough. Yet it's also a time when I saw my life begin to unravel, when I began to drink heavily, when I began to misuse cough medicine, when I would connect with strange women, and watch my family begin to fall apart and collapse.  Yet Christmas was always a special time, even as my life begin to unravel. 

It's hope, in the winter night.  It's cold, it's dark, the snow is falling, and sometimes it seems like life is dismal, dark, and dull.  Maybe it's just my SADs!  But winter to me reflects the fall of man, the collapse from summer, to fall, to winter. Yet winter in all it's beauty also offers a future hope, a silver lining in the cool snow drifts.  The beauty reminds us of the hope that springs forth in the midst of winters... which is the coming of Jesus.  

When you lose hope, all is lost, and we bring a little bit of hope, when we bring Jesus. 

I didn't know about Jesus for most of my life, but I still found Christmas to be magical.  But I thought Christmas was about Santa, and reindeer, and gifts.  But Christmas is really about Jesus.  I knew that, sort of, but I didn't understand what it meant or how it applied to my life. 

I knew Jesus as a far off historical figure of sorts.  I knew Jesus Christ was born.  I probably even doubted that. But what I didn't know about Jesus was why he came.  Why did he come?  What did he do? 

Jesus was God come to Earth.  We could stop there and reflect on the incredible nation of this statement.  God the architect of reality, time, space, matter, dimensions unknown, the designer of the human body, the brain, the systems that cause lifeforms to function, the one who made all this, from nothing, the one who is timeless, who exists beyond finite time and space... came into His own creation on a rescue mission.  And he came for you... and for me.  That's crazy.  That's incredible.  It's shocking, stunning, totally amazing!  

What exactly does it mean? The full scope of this is beyond us.  There is a great deal of mystery in this coming.  But it's clear from a practical stand point that Christ came to deal with a very serious and damning problem: The problem of sin.  Some have called this the problem of evil.  Others call it the problem of suffering.  But specifically in this equasion Jesus came to deal with the sin in us.  Essentially this "sin in us" is this lingering struggle within each of us.  It's the thing that causes us to steal from our parents, that which causes us to lie, and to act selfishly, and hurt those around us.  This sin is the issue that causes us the world to be the state that it is in right now.  Celebrities who molest children, politicians who cheat on their wives, corruption in 3rd world countries, overcrowded prisons, on and on the list goes... the problem of which, is sin.  And Jesus came to set us free from that thing within us that causes us to be self destructive and selfish.  

How does Jesus do this?  He does it by dying.  He's arrested, he's put before the judge, their is this conspiracy against him where false witnesses testify against him and the leaders try to find any way they can to get rid of this Jesus guy.  And Jesus lets it happen.  But think about it, he's God almighty, He would snap his fingers and be free. But he offers himself freely, as a sacrifice, as an atonement for sin.  He deletes sin on the cross by receiving the just penalty for sin.  Understanding the deep theological and philosophical implications of this event is secondary to the primary practical quality of this event: The fact that is applies to your own sin.  If you'll access this absolution, if you'll step into belief in Christ, and accept Christ's gift, done on the cross, to set you free from sin, then, you will be reborn.

You'd say well, that seems too simple.  It is simple, in a way.  Yet it's also so hard, because we as people are arrogant and egotistical.  We don't like to admit our own sin, and we don't like to admit our need for a savior.  Both are necessary to receive Jesus as savior.  That's a very humbling experience, to admit we're sinful and admit our need for Jesus.  But if we do, everything changes. Our whole world changes when we finally get "plugged into" the source, who is God almighty.  

So if I could go back in time and talk to my twelve year old self I'd tell Him: Jesus is a living God.  He's not dead.  He's not far away.  You need Him right now.  Your caught in a dead end consumerist lifestyles that leads nowhere.  In all your pain little Justin, only Christ can heal you.  Would I have listened?  Who knows!

But in any case, that's why Jesus came.  He came to save us.  He came to give us new life.  He came to die, and to rise from the dead three days later and declare victory over death itself.  Amazing. It's very deep and intellectual and mysterious and melancholy and spiritually and philosophically meaningful.  It's there to be searched for those who think deep, but it's also simple, simple enough to be received by a three year old child.  

In Christmas, as I think to myself about the future, I think about my hope of one day getting married and having a family.  I have neither now.  But I think about Christmas and how I would want my children to know what is behind all the Christmas celebration.  Behind it all is the birth of Jesus.  I love Christmas season.  I love the joy.  I love seeing my family.  I even love the Salvation Army kettle season and all the strife and stress of it.  It's still fundamentally good and a blessing of service from God.  I love going to nursing homes and preaching the gospel.  I love all the things we do in the army.  But most of all today, I love Jesus and the fact that God was born into human history to save us.  Hope came, and set me free five years ago.  Today my life is totally new, I was so lost, so broken, so suicidal and dark, and addicted, and today, I'm free.  I'm free at last and it's amazing.  And I have a bright future now... All thanks to a little baby who was born two thousand years ago, who was named... Jesus.  

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. 

-Isaiah 9:6

So this Christmas season, I'd like to encourage you: Reinvent some things in your Christmas season.  What new traditions can you establish in your family to more clearly point your family toward Jesus?  What times of prayer?  What devotionals or activities?  I decided that I would purchase a Christmas tree shaped as a cross, so that I myself and my family would always be pointed toward the victory of Christ on the cross during Christmas season.  But there are many ways we can establish a Christ-centered Christmas season.  Be creative, start in prayer, and ask the Lord to be the centerpiece of your Christmas season.  Light candles, burn incense, attend services, or just sit down and talk with your family about what it means to follow Jesus.  Because, very simply, Christmas is all about Jesus.

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the King, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. Matthew 2:1-2