Tag Archives: Christmas

Finding Hope and Joy at Christmas

I have many fond memories of past childhood Christmases as well as those spent with our own children (now grown and on their own).  Children possess both a joyous anticipation and an enduring sense of wonder over the Christmas season.

Of course, not all this wonder and anticipation grows from the soil of pure motives.  Getting as many gifts as possible always lurks just below the surface.  And yet, many much more important things helped point our hearts in the right direction, bringing a genuine sense of joy and true anticipation: the spiritual rhythms of advent season at church, the Christmas eve candlelight service, the singing of carols, rituals of tree acquisition and decoration, special indoor and outdoor ornamentations, extended times of fun and fellowship with family and friends, cookie baking and eating, special meals, foods, and movies, the reading of the Christmas story, and so much more.  These holiday traditions afforded a deep sense of Christian grounding and identity in a world filled with bitterness and fear.

Too often in my adult years, however, the only sense of anticipatory joy is born of the hope that Christmas will soon be over so a “normal” pace of life can be restored.  Somehow in the rush to make Christmas memorable, I often forget to make it meaningful in all the right ways.  That sense of wonder and hope, so prevalent in childhood, is often nearly lost.

Not only this, the challenges of life in a fallen world keep forcing me to come face-to-face with the realities of living a world marred by sin.  More importantly, they continually reveal the many ugly and dark aspects of my own soul.  I find it harder and harder to escape the obvious sins, scars, and dysfunctions that seemed much easier to brush aside in youth.  But while the demands of the Christmas season can easily make us jaded and cynical in ways that push away any deep sense of joy, wonder, or hope, it is still possible to experience these things once again.

When Simeon took eight-day-old Jesus in his aged arms, he offered thanks to God this way: “My eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.”  Simeon’s faith-filled and joyous hope helped him see that God’s coming salvation for the whole world was somehow bound up in this holy Infant.  Reading the rest of the astonishing story, we see this truth ever more clearly, that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us.

Hope and joy may be in short supply these days, but when we take Jesus in our arms and gaze amazed upon Him once again, we can recapture that sense of joyous hope that our gracious God will wondrously save and restore all who hope and trust in Him.

God of the Unexpected

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When people hear the word, “Christmas” it brings many things to mind, but I have to confess, one of the words that comes to my mind is expectations. I feel the expectations from every side.

Society expects us to buy lots of stuff, our neighbors expect us to decorate our homes, our friends and family expect us to send them gifts and cards. Our church expects us to attend extra concerts, plays, and productions, make shoeboxes for the needy, and reach out to our non-believing friends and relations.

Sometimes the highest expectations come from ourselves as we try to become superheroes and fulfill these expectations while still managing to make the perfect meal, complete with all the trimmings, deserts, and specialty items.

Now don’t get me wrong. Many of these expectations are wonderful things. But when they overwhelm and pull us away from the real reason for the season, we have allowed them to become one more idol that draws us away from our Lord, Jesus Christ.

When contemplating the first Christmas, you begin to realize that it actually did not fulfill a lot of expectations—in fact, quite the opposite. Through Christmas, God reveals Himself to be the God of the unexpected.

Mary expected to get pregnant only after getting married. She did not expect to be visited by an angel, impregnated by the Holy Spirit, or to have her baby—the God of the universe in human flesh—in a feeding trough. The angel Gabriel told her that her son, Jesus, was the One who would “reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” It consequently seems unlikely Mary would have expected to watch Him die an ignoble criminal’s death on a cross.

As an honorable man, Joseph expected to marry a virgin who hadn’t already been pregnant and birthed a child. He expected to be the biological father of his first-born son. He did not expect to have to take his pregnant virgin wife not only down to Bethlehem, but also to flee for their lives down Egypt and back. Nor did he expect to be father to the Son of God.

The shepherds expected to spend a quiet night like any other watching their sheep in the hills overlooking Bethlehem. They did not expect to have a terrifying divine visitation. Nor did they anticipate being granted the honor of seeing the Christ Child or being the first to proclaim His coming to a waiting world. They were the outcasts and rabble of society, and yet beyond all expectation, God chose them to hear and proclaim the gospel before any of the influential and wealthy in society had the chance.

Throughout His life, Jesus did not feel obligated to fulfill everyone else’s expectations. Instead, He was constantly failing to meet them. He castigated the rejected religious establishment while eating and hanging out with sinners and whores. He embarrassed and confounded His own family while creating a new community and a new way of loving one another. He perplexed and reproached His disciples but then entrusted them with the monumentally important task of taking the message of His love and forgiveness to the ends of the earth.

In the end, no one expected Jesus to die and rise from the grave to save the world from sin. But that’s exactly what He did, because Jesus had only one expectation to fulfill in this life. And according to His own account in John 17:4, He fulfilled it when He said to the Father, “I have brought You glory on earth by finishing the work You gave Me to do.” He did everything God asked Him to do—nothing more and nothing less. He obeyed, even to the point of dying on a cross.

Christmas is a time filled with expectations, but there is only one expectation that really matters, namely what the God of the unexpected expects of us. Micah 6:8 gives us a clue as to what that actually is: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him, not merely at Christmas, but each and every day He gives us life.