How should we celebrate Christmas?
Christmas Day often turns out to be a day of pressure and panic for many people. For others, it often turns out to be a day of disappointment, failing to live up to their high expectations.
I believe David Grayson expresses it accurately: “I sometimes think we expect too much of Christmas Day. We try to crowd into it the long arrears of kindliness and humanity of the whole year. As for me, I like to take my Christmas a little at a time, all through the year.”
Truly, Christmas is not about a particular date. (In fact, it is almost certain that Jesus was not born on December 25.) It is not the date that is important; it is the miracle of God entering our world as one of us that is important!
Therefore, our Christmas celebration should not begin and end with hanging Christmas stockings and unwrapping Christmas presents. Nor should our Christmas celebrations consist merely of hanging decorations and sending cards to old friends and singing carols and putting spare coins in the Salvation Army kettle.
If we really want to honor the birth of the One who is true love in human flesh, we should do so by making it a habit throughout our lives to return to Him the love we have received from Him and by extending to everyone we interact with the love He brings to our lives.
I love how Howard Thurman put it:
When the song of the angels is silent
When the star in the sky is gone
When the kings and princes are home
When the shepherds are again tending their sheep
When the manger is darkened and still
The work of Christmas begins…
To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry
To rebuild the nations
To bring peace among people
To befriend the lonely
To release the prisoner
To make music in the heart.
“Prince of Peace”
When prophesying the birth of Jesus, Isaiah said that He would be called “Prince of Peace.”
In two passages near the close of the Gospel of John, Jesus provides some indication of what it means for us to call Him “Prince of Peace.”
In John 14:27, while soldiers are on their way to arrest Jesus, He says to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you.”
By identifying the peace He would give to us as “My peace,” Jesus indicates that the peace He gives is a peace that has to do with His own character. It is a peace that is intimately connected to Him.
Jesus’ peace is a peace that did not panic in the worst of circumstances. His peace allowed Him to sleep in a boat through a storm at sea while others on the boat fell to pieces. His peace kept Him calm and focused even while adversaries tried to catch Him in various traps. His peace kept Him treating others with compassion even amidst the agony of hanging on a cross.
For some of us, peace has to do with everything going our way. But that’s not the peace of Jesus. His peace is a peace that left the comfort of heaven to step into our world to minister to people—even to the point of giving His life for us.
For some of us, peace has to do with avoiding conflict. But Jesus’ peace was not a running-away-from-things kind of a peace. It was a peace that chased money-lenders from the temple and stood up to those who wanted to stone a woman. It is a peace that maintains conviction and compassion without inner turmoil.
In John 14:27, Jesus goes on to say, “I do not give to you as the world gives.”
By identifying His peace as a peace that does not come from this world, Jesus lets us know that His peace is not dependent on conditions of this world turning out pleasant. His peace come from a source that is above and beyond the limitations of this world. Therefore, it is peace we can experience even when conditions in our lives are a mess.
When Jesus appeared to His disciples following His resurrection, He said to them, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19, 21, & 26).
By announcing peace to be with them when He made His appearance among them, He lets us know that peace is not the absence of problems in our lives but the entrance of Jesus into our lives. Even as the disciples hid away in a locked room, afraid for their own lives, Jesus brought peace into their midst by putting Himself among them. Even amidst the struggles and problems of our lives, Jesus brings peace into our mess by bringing Himself into our midst.
Speaking at a Men’s Conference, Josh McDowell shared research showing that a child raised in a two-parent family who has a fair to poor relationship with the father is 68% more likely to get involved with alcohol, drugs, violence and anti-social behavior. He concluded that a child’s greatest need in life is a loving bond and an intimate connection with a parent, and he made a strong plea to fathers to establish that connection with their children.
Because many fathers have done a lousy job of establishing intimate connection with their children, I have known many people who struggle greatly with the concept of God as “Father.” But 700 years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah 9:6 prophesied that the coming Messiah would be called “Everlasting Father.”
In the spiritual dimension of our lives, what kind of Father do we need?
Since we experience much rejection in life, we need a Father who will not push us away or keep us at a distance from Himself, but One who will reach out to embrace us in His care for us.
The December 30, 1996 issue of Sports Illustrated described Greg Norman’s ice-cold stoicism which he learned from his father. He once recalled, “I used to see my father, getting off a plane or something, and I’d want to hug him, but he’d only shake my hand.”
After leading from the start the 1996 Masters Golf Tournament—golf’s most prestigious event—Norman blew a six-shot lead in the last round. When Nick Faldo made a 15-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to win the tournament, the two golfers came toward each other. Norman tried to smile, expecting a handshake, but found himself wrapped in a warm embrace by Nick Faldo instead.
Sports Illustrated records, “As they held that hug, held it even as both of them cried, Norman changed just a little. ‘I wasn’t crying because I’d lost,’ Norman said the next day. ‘I’ve lost a lot of golf tournaments before. I’ll lose a lot more. I cried because I’d never felt that from another man before. I’ve never had a hug like that in my life.’”
Sadly, many people have never experienced such a genuinely caring embrace from a father (or anyone else), but repeatedly throughout His time on earth, Jesus revealed the compassion of the Everlasting Father by reaching out to embrace people. That’s what we continue to find in Christ.
Since we face so many struggles in life, we need a Father whom we know we can depend upon to be there with us and for us in all the challenges that come our way.
In December of 1988, a devastating earthquake struck Armenia. A boy named Armand was at school when the quake struck. The school building collapsed on Armand and his schoolmates. Armand’s father rushed to the school. Those who arrived at the school before Armand’s father told him that it was hopeless. When he stepped toward the building anyway, they warned him that the danger to himself would be too great if he tried to dig through the rubble and that he would probably not find anyone alive anyway. Nevertheless, Armand’s father dug into the ruins, pulling aside debris, trying desperately to reach his son. Hour after hour he worked, into the night, and into the next day, and into the night again. For forty hours he scraped and dug. Then he pulled aside one great block, and he heard his son say, “Father, we’re down here. I knew you would come, because you told me that you would always be there for me, no matter what the problem might be.”
The father told his son to reach up and that he would pull the boy to safety, but the boy declined. Armand said, “Bring the other children out first, because I know you won’t stop until you have brought me out safely, but they might not have someone who would do that for them.”
Jesus revealed the dependability of an Everlasting and Ever-loving Father who would not stop until He had rescued us—even though that rescue cost Him His life on a cross!