This Christmas, I’m trying to focus on the negative. You should too.
That’s probably not the most encouraging lead-in to a blog at this time of year, but at least in a way, I think it’s true. Allow me to explain. Christmas has always been a special time of year to me, even before I became a Christ follower. As a kid, my family made sure to create some traditions and some magic moments. We always had to get a real tree, watch the Claymation Christmas specials on TV, and (thanks to an aunt who worked at the local police department) I usually got to hear my name called on the radio while Santa was “tracked” making his deliveries. Talk about a clever way to get a kid to go to bed on Christmas Eve when they think Santa is coming down the street.
As I’ve gotten older though, my appreciation of Christmas has shifted. I still love the lights, the Claymation Christmas specials, and I have to get a real tree, but my love of Christmas has turned into something deeper and richer. Some of that has come with age, but much of it comes from having my eyes opened to the true significance and meaning of Christmas as a believer. Now, some of the things I get most excited about this time of year are the times with family and friends, spiritually preparing during the Advent season, and sharing the Christmas story with my kids. One of the other things I’ve grown to love and appreciate are the familiar Christmas hymns that resurface this time of year in our worship and as carols. Something about them and singing along captures so much of the joy and togetherness of the Christmas season and they’re usually packed with theology too.
One of those hymns, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”, has been particularly meaningful to me this Christmas. The somber and melancholy lyrics and melody articulate something I’m more in tune with this year than ever before after the difficulties of 2020 and listening to our current sermon series, “The Arrival”. As wonderful as this time of year is, this hymn, this year, and our sermon series spurring us to look forward to the next coming of Christ are serving up a reminder that things really aren’t truly wonderful yet. We sing this hymn in an already-but not yet-kingdom of God. Christ's first coming gives us a reason to rejoice knowing that sin and death have been defeated, but we are reminded of the reality that we don’t see the fullness of that yet. Alongside our rejoicing, the words of this hymn draw us to reflect on that reality and plead for Christ to come again and do away with the “yet”. It articulates our desire to see Christ perfectly fulfill the promises of God that all darkness will be turned to light and we will no longer see death, disease, crying, pain, sin, or suffering anymore.
But for now…we wait. And those things linger on. Yet somehow, the harshness of this reality and the longing that I’ve been reminded of through this hymn have also increased my hope and my joy. Somehow remembering the fact that it’s the most wonderful time of the year but, behind the veneer of comfort and safety and happiness of our modern existence, that the years themselves really aren’t very wonderful has renewed my focus. Seeing the unwonderful has renewed my appreciation for the wonderful. That God loves us so much He sent His one and only Son to Earth to live and to die and to declare that “It is finished.”
While it may not seem like the normal thing to do this year, I pray and challenge you to take a healthy reminder of the “yet” this year. The negative. The unwonderful. The light shines all the brighter in juxtaposition with the dark. This paradox was captured by Jesus in a parable He tells us in Luke 7. He tells the story of two debtors who have their debt forgiven by a moneylender. One is forgiven little and one is forgiven much, and Jesus asks, “Now which of them will love him more?” As many of us know, it concludes with Jesus establishing the principle that one who has been forgiven much loves much and one who has been forgiven little loves little.
This Christmas, remember that we have been forgiven much. Remember our sin. Remember the death, disease, crying, pain, sin, and suffering that lingers on. But know also that things are finished. And one day we’ll see that. You appreciate the mountaintop moment of Christmas more when you understand the depths of the valley on either side and know that one day the “yet” will be gone and the mountaintop will be the reality.
What are you longing to see finished in your life?
Are you maintaining a healthy focus on the gift of Jesus this Christmas and the realities of what He came to fix?