Does Christmas Really Matter?
The first Christmas changed everything forever.1 And let’s be clear about what that means. Christmas is not an idea, not an emotion or an attitude or an ethos or symbol. Christmas isn’t a metaphor; it’s an event. It’s a fact of history. It really happened, and when it happened everything changed. The King of Kings is born!
“Unto us a son is given” (Isa 9:6). The world has been given a “son.” Why is that helpful? Did the world need a son? Yes; yes we did. Since the failure and fall of Adam the whole world has needed a Son (Luke 3:38), a New Adam (Rom.5), a Good King. Christmas marks the day when the world received its King. That’s what Isaiah 9:6 prophesies, and what Christmas is ultimately about: the world has been given a King that is good; and he is good in all the ways: “wonderful,” “wise,” “strong,” “father-like,” “peaceful,” everlastingly. That’s the fundamental reality of Christmas, and as our church returns to the Gospel of Mark in the coming weeks, the implications of this will become increasingly evident: this King will demonstrate his goodness by coming into His city, dying for His people, and ascending forty days later to sit on a heavenly throne (Mark 8:27-9:13).
That’s the true meaning of Christmas. But then Christmas is over. We go back to work. The kids start fighting again. Old wounds are remembered, or worse: re-applied. The lights come down, the tree is dragged out to the curb, and the snow (if there was any) is now black with dirt and salt and soot. All remains is the cold. The problems of the world assail us, and it’s all just days really. The 25th isn’t special if the 26th is just like the 24th. Did everything really change? Did anything change?
It did. We have hope now, and here’s how that works.
First, we need to remember that even after Jesus’ resurrection we’re still living in a wilderness (Heb. 3:7-4). This is why it sometimes feels like nothing changed. “We do not yet see all things subject to him” (Heb. 2:8). The world still feels like the world, and the world is a wilderness (Heb. 3:7-4:16). Suffering, decay, loss, fear, anxiety, conflict, sadness, pain—these things abide, and they test and tempt trouble us as we continue our journey to promised land. It’s better now, to be sure, but death and decay still encumber this world and so the world continues to groan for its redemption (Rom 8:18-30). What’s next? We are called to persevere, to press on, to hold fast.
Second, though: the New World has already begun! Jesus really does sit enthroned. We may not see all things subject to him, but we do see Jesus “crowned in glory and honor” (Heb. 2:9). Things are better now. Jesus has poured out His Spirit on all flesh, he has bound the strong man, his messengers proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth, he continually intercedes for us in a heavenly tabernacle. What’s next? We draw near to Jesus as he drew near to us (Heb. 10:26-29), finding comfort and help as we journey, and praying as he taught us to pray: “your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”
Finally, since Christmas fulfills God’s promise to “visit his people” (Luke 1:68), it is also a reminder that he will visit us again. A “rest remains” for the people of God (Heb. 4:9-11). The world will not always be a wilderness; no, an “imperishable” world awaits (1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Peter 1:7). It will be an entirely different order, with different physics and different biology and different social structures. Onn this new earth life cannot but flourish, and love will abide in ever increasing measure. What’s next? We live for the next world, even as we continue to wander in this one. We sing anew that same old song of advent, now infused with a greater hope, “come thou long expected Jesus.” He has come already, and will come again. Come Lord Jesus; come quickly.
- This post is adapted from a devotional I wrote for my church, McLean Presbyterian. [↩]