For many of us the Christmas season brings many family traditions to life. After almost a year of slumber we start bringing forth various trinkets, and decorations and we begin to bombard our senses with those things that can undeniably and only mean - Christmas.
In the early days of my childhood Christmas in our home was quite simple by modern standards. My father was fresh out of university and my mom stayed home raising us kids. There wasn't much about us that the world would consider to be 'rich'. I clearly remember one Christmas where my mom would spend her nights sewing a strange brownish-red, corduroy house coat. Our home was very small, and she would sit in her bedroom sewing. I asked her what she was making and she said something for my cousin. I then asked why there was a 'J' stitched on the pocket. She turned and smiled at me and simply stated, "It stands for Jammies" which I accepted as a reasonable explanation. I know what you're thinking, but to a young 8 year old 'J' for pajamas was a viable explanation for the golden 'J'. Christmas morning I opened my gifts and low and behold there was a brownish-red, corduroy housecoat with a hand stitched 'J' on the pocket. It didn't take me long to realize that I had been tricked, and that I had been night after night witnessing my mother's love for me as she sewed. (The reader will be happy to know that I did eventually begin to trust her again.)
In all actuality I must confess that I cherished that housecoat and I literally wore it out, having long outgrown it before I stopped wearing it. Money you say? Nope. But we were rich - actually richer than I thought at the time. We've come a long way since those early days, but the simple traditions we established back then carried forward throughout the years. Some of those traditions I have now passed on to my own family.
One such tradition occurs on Christmas Eve. Essentially we make every kind of Hors d'oeuvre and finger-food that you can imagine and we devour plates full of them while watching 'A Christmas Carol"; the timeless classic which tells the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge - a grumpy old miser who receives a new chance at life on Christmas Eve. He is offered this chance by his old dead partner Jacob Marley and is visited by three more ghosts that night. Each ghost brings Scrooge face to face with elements of his life that he becomes increasingly ashamed of, and therefore increasingly repentant of. The night culminates with the last ghost who is described as a ghastly figure (imagine the grim reaper) who brings Scrooge face to face with his own tombstone at some point in Christmas future. Scrooge cries out,
"Spirit! Hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been… I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh , tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!" (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, pg 277)
It is, without question, a somber and repentant scene.
We love the morning after scene where Scrooge with his 'transformed life' bustles around spreading cheer and merriment all to the surprise of those who knew the old man - the old Scrooge. The scene plays out as Scrooge, in a sense, has been born again anew. He then goes out of his way to surprise and bless those he knows in sort of a redemptive offering for past sins. It makes us feel good inside to watch this once wretched and despised man become happy, joyous and loved. We laugh and a tear wells in our eye at the look of surprise and joy he spreads wherever he goes.
However, with all of this merriment, I have to reflect on the real story of Christmas, of what the Christ Child brought to earth and what "honouring Christmas in my heart" might honestly mean. The story and purpose of Christ isn't really clearly stated within the story of Scrooge. Perhaps the true idea behind Christmas appears in a type and shadow, but not in a way that brings real, honest meaning to Christmas. From a secular viewpoint it may be so with "Peace on earth and Goodwill to all men", but not from a truly Biblical standpoint. (Although the phrase is in fact taken from Scripture. cf. Luke 2:14)
The Bible tells us that like Scrooge, all of us are in a wretched state before God. We don't like to hear this part of the story, but inwardly the unregenerate man is in fact Ebenezer Scrooge at heart. We are wretched, selfish, wicked and no matter how good we think we are, we are unrighteous before God.
"As it is written: "there is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after god. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one." - Romans 3:10-12
"But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags;" - Isaiah 64:6
The problem is that the unregenerate man does not recognize this state. We believe in our hearts that we are inherently good, and we trust in our hearts that this is so. But the Bible says,
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" - Jeremiah 17:9
"For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies." - Mat 15:19
We in a sense require the visitation by ghosts of our own. Not in the literal sense, but like the ghosts to Ebenezer Scrooge, the Law of God exposes our lives, and intents of our hearts, for what they really are.
"Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin." - Romans 3:19-20
The Law of God exposes our sin. It stops our self-righteous mouths and we realize that our position before a holy and just God is dire indeed - we are all guilty before God. Like Scrooge we recognize before God and by the law that we are in fact a wretched being. Is this not why Paul cries out,
"O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" - Romans 7:24
The Bible clearly states what the punishment for sin is.
"For the wages of sin is death…" - Romans 6:23
And it affirms,
"And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment," - Heb. 9:27
One day upon our death we will have to stand in judgment before a holy and just creator. When we stand before God on that day, we would all stand guilty.
"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," - Rom 3:23
The law of God condemns us.
"Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." - Galatians 5:19-21
We cannot enter the kingdom of God and Ephesians 2:2 tells us that we are children of wrath. Revelation 21:8 issues our sentence and declares we will have our part in the Lake of Fire.
However! Praise God that He - this same God who is holy, just and righteous - is also rich in mercy, grace and loving-kindness.
"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." - Rom 5:8
"But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)" - Eph. 2:4-5
This was the meaning of the message the angel declared on that first Christmas night when he said, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." - Luke 2:10-11This was the Christ; He whom Isaiah declared, "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel." (Isaiah 7:14)
This Immanuel - the one of whom John the Baptist would later cry out, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" had a grand purpose in God's eternal plan. This Christ child whose purpose was declared to Joseph, "He will save His people from their sins." (cf Matt 1:21) is the true reason for reflection, celebration, wonder, awe and worship at Christmas.
We know from God's Word that Christ came as a final redemptive sacrifice for all those who would respond. As a propitiation for our sins, at the cross Jesus Christ paid the punishment for our violation of God's law.
"In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." - 1John 4:10 (see also Romans 3:25)
The proper response to salvation by Christ is clearly spoken in Scripture. By repentance and faith in Him, we can indeed be saved.
"Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." - Mark 1:14-15
By repenting of our sin, and trusting the Lord Jesus to save us, we cast off our old man, and put on the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 13:14) and we now war against the carnal man within us in response to the awesome mercy that God afforded to us.
With our own tombstone in view and the cold icy hand of death pointed toward it we, like Scrooge, utter our repentant cry.
'Hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been… I will honour Christ in my heart, and try to keep Him throughout the year. I will live in remembrance of Him in the Past, the Present and the Future. The Holy Spirit shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons He teaches. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!'
(For a truly wonderful prayer of repentance I urge the reader to read through Psalm 51 at your earliest convenience)
When we turn to Christ in repentance and faith God gives us a new heart, with new desires (cf. Ezekiel 36:26), and we are regenerated within.
"And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins," - Eph. 2:1
"Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."" - John 3:3
We now move from death to life and the wrath of God no longer abides on us because it was paid in full by the shedding of Christ's blood.
"and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." - 1Thess. 1:10
"For God did not appoint us [Christians] to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ," - 1Thess. 5:9 [notes mine]
Like Ebenezer Scrooge our old life is dead, and our new life through Christ is what shines through.
"For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. - Galatians 2:19-20
I desperately urge each of us to ensure that we have the Gospel of Christ on our lips throughout this holiday season. Secular tradition and secular reasons have all but erased the meaning of Christmas from the world around us. We Christians are charged with the preaching of the gospel unto every creature (cf. Mark 16:15). Romans 10 declares, "Whoever call's on the name of the Lord shall be saved", and it goes on to say, "how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?"
And who are they that are sent?
"As you sent Me [Christ] into the world, I also have sent them into the world." - John 17:18
No wonder Paul reminds us:
"How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!" - Romans 10:15
Did you catch that? Peace and glad tidings of good things. Somehow, somewhere, that sounds so familiar.
"Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy which will be to all people… And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" - Luke 2:10-14
Merry Christmas to all of you. May God encourage and keep you this season. And may your feet carry the glad tidings of great joy as you continue to serve the King.
- J.R. Hall