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Christmas. A sweet celebration of the fact that God in His mercy chose to not abandon us to the consequences of our rejection of Him, His Word and His love!  What a joyful time for us to be made new or be renewed in our walk with Him by fully embracing His love and forgiveness!

No matter what era in which we live, if there is anything that we can conclude from the wonderful news of the birth of God’s Son, it is that no matter how ugly, horrible, or sad things seem in the world (and they do indeed seem ugly, horrible and sad), we can know for certain that God is not removed from us by the complacency of one who simply does not care. Nor does He hold Himself aloof from us in contempt which we, arguably, deserve because of our spurning His holiness.  No, He sees, He cares and He moves… in our world and in our lives.

But when we suffer and find ourselves accosted by unanswered questions, we lose heart.   When we tire of waiting for what we want and feel affronted by life’s twists and turns as if there is a divine conspiracy afoot committed to our inconvenience, we turn our backs on Him.

How prone we are to blame God for the messes that we make for ourselves! We resist His will, yet angrily accuse Him of nonexistence when He allows us to do our own will.  We object to His Word and then slander Him with claims of blatant cruelty when He allows us to refuse His interventions in our lives.

But the Christmas story is the announcement that God remembers us and remembers us in a spirit of compassion – with or without our consent. Why else would He endure the donning of flesh and blood with all its aches and pains?  Why else would take upon Himself all the limitations of human flesh when He Himself knit the fabric of our forms in the wombs of our mothers?  Why else would He forgo power and glory for a moment so that we could be forgiven and be given life with Him forever?  Why else would He suffer to let men drive cruel nails through His flesh and publicly hang His broken body upon a cross?  Why else does He today permit us a season of grace in which we can repent and turn to Him, forsaking our own ways and embracing His love and power?

The Christmas story is a wonderful story, but it is in truth part of a greater story: the epic journey of God’s Son to the cross of Calvary.  The Christmas story is about hope because God refutes our despair by refusing to stand idly by as we hasten to our own destruction.  The Christmas story is about peace because He took our sentence of death upon Himself so we might no longer be His enemies.  The Christmas story is about joy because while the manger did indeed lead to the cross, the cross was merely a doorway that led through the tomb to a resurrection that guarantees us eternal life through faith in the glorified, risen Savior Who intercedes for those who turn from their sin and place their faith in Him alone.

The Christmas story is the breaking dawn of light and life in a world of darkness and death.

The Christmas story is the breaking dawn of light and life in a world of darkness and death.

The Christmas story is the breaking dawn of light and life in a world of darkness and death. If your Christmas is only about presents, decorations, Santa, and family traditions, your Christmas is only a lump of coal.  But if you will let the fire of God’s grace ignite it, your Christmas can burst into a fiery blaze of real meaning that goes on when family and friends have moved on or when health or wealth have come to nothing for you.

December may be the darkest month of the year from a natural point of view, but it can be the bright start of a bright year when true faith in Jesus Christ is awakened in us!

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’… Behold, My servant (Jesus) shall act wisely; He shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted….  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, Who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient (to God the Father) to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore, God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Isaiah 52:7, 13; Philippians 2:4-11 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

 

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The coming of Jesus was, in more ways than one, an invasion of radiance that still shocks the cosmos with the brilliance of infinite, holy love.  Just as surely as a star lit the night sky, irresistibly drawing the gaze of those who sought truth and led them to worship Jesus, His life and love today draw the gaze of those who even now crave and seek truth.  The love and holiness that shone through His life were beacons to a heart-hungry people who had been locked away from the mercies of God.  His mercy and fairness lit His countenance so that when people looked upon His face, they beheld the luminance of the Lord of light.

The coming of Jesus was an invasion of radiance that still shocks the cosmos with the brilliance of infinite, holy love.

The coming of Jesus was an invasion of radiance that still shocks the cosmos with the brilliance of infinite, holy love.

“Behold My servant, whom I uphold, My Chosen, in Whom My soul delights,” said the Lord of His Son hundreds of years before that first Christmas, “I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.  He will not cry aloud or lift up His voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; He will faithfully bring forth justice.  He will not grow faint or be discouraged till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for His law.  Thus says God, the LORD, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, Who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: ‘I am the LORD; I have called You in righteousness; I will take You by the hand and keep You; I will give You as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah 42:1-7 ESV).

When Jesus began His public ministry, He openly declared the heart of God and the heart of His mission when He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19 ESV; Jesus was citing Isaiah 61:1-2a).

At Christmas, we think of baby Jesus.  But He became a baby that He might become the man who died for our sin, the perfect Lamb of God.  And He died the death we deserved that we might be forgiven of our sin and live eternally with Him, the resurrected King of Kings.  He came to penetrate the darkness of our ignorance of God, His love and His ways.  Today He still invades dark hearts, shrouded with fear and hate, with the hope that only His love can bring.

Darkness in December in the Northern Hemisphere grows, but if God’s people allow Jesus’ light to shine through them, a ray of light pierces through the darkest night of sorrow in the heart, the dreariest dungeon of despair in the most forlorn soul, and the grimmest shroud of bitterness in the mind of the most forgotten.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.  For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you.  And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:1-3 ESV).

Darkness still covers the earth as people struggle with ignorance and rejection of God’s grace.  Yet, to those who finally surrender the shadow of selfishness and confess the stain of sin, His light drives away the nightshades of fear and condemnation and brings to light a true knowledge founded upon eternal truths.

“This is the message that we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.  If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7 ESV).

The Christmas story is an annual inspiration that should reassure us with the truth that no matter what we face or fear to face, God is steadily loving us with a profound and perfect love that is not predicated on our living up to the standards of His Law – because we can’t – but relies upon His own mercy for those who still need to be awakened to the life that only Jesus can give them.

“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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True worship is the savoring the worth of the Savior.

True worship is the savoring of the worth of the Savior.

From the weekend following Thanksgiving Day until Christmas, our family has the tradition of spending fifteen to thirty minutes each evening together wherein we light our Advent candle, read the Bible, pray together and sing a Christmas carol. It’s a Christmas tradition we have observed for twenty years in one way or another.

My wife puts in a lot of effort and works months ahead to prepare for the Advent season, securing a daily prize (which is often an object lesson of some sort), and builds a schedule in which each family member is assigned a special task (such as lighting the candle, moving the appropriate part of the Advent calendar accordingly, and so on). The traditions we observe help to keep us grounded in an otherwise chaotic schedule (which is not to say that we don’t have our moments of chaos!).

There is for us a great deal of meaning in these moments and I expect that one day they may be as much joy in the memory of them as there is the doing of them. Still, while such traditions have profound value for us (as some traditions undoubtedly do for you in your own home), we try to never allow them to become ends unto themselves.  We remind ourselves  over and over again that they are merely “pointers” to Jesus’ love and power and the ritual of doing them (or any other ritual) must never replace the living relationship we have with our Heavenly Father through Jesus, His Son.

Think the traditions commonly associated with Christmas. Those that may seem pretty secular may have originally had some sort of spiritual significance in their beginning.  For instance, as much as we sometimes go overboard with gift-giving on the one-hand, we can go to the other extreme as well in our lament over the materialism associated with it.  But gift-giving originally represented something meaningful as it allowed us a small taste of what God did in giving us His Son as a sacrifice for our sin.

Indeed, while the gift-giving of today little resembles the personal sacrifice of what we find in the gift of God’s Son, it can still be a meaningful expression of our devotion to Him and an opportunity for sweet fellowship with Him if we give with the same loving and gracious attitude that moved His heart.

What traditions do you observe each year as the nights grow both longer and colder? Do lights adorn your tree or your house?  Might they be reminders of Jesus, the true light of the world entering the darkness of our lives?  Do you have family gatherings that could in small measure remind us of the fellowship we have with God and with the spiritual family to which He has joined us?  Do you cook or have special meals with many different foods that perhaps tantalizingly bring to mind the banquet we enjoy with God spiritually as we feast upon the truths of His Word?  Maybe it’s too obvious to mention that so many of the Christmas carols we love to hear and sing at Christmas time are really songs of worship that bid us to “Come, let us adore Him!”

In all your Christmas festivities enjoy your Christmas traditions, but don’t settle for allowing them to merely be the point of your Christmas season. Rather, see them as “pointers” that point to the Person for Whom we were created and for Whom the season is named.

Let your “Christmas”, therefore, be about Christ. Enjoy the season.  Enjoy the fellowship.  Enjoy the songs, lights, and foods.  But most of all, “enjoy” Jesus.  True worship, after all, is characterized by savoring the worth of the Savior.  He is worthy and the affection you lavish on Him and the adoration you pour out upon Him will not be squandered but will render for you a sweet fragrance that no scented holiday candle or freshly baked Christmas cookie can possibly rival.

“I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him” (Philippians 3:8-9a ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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The Christmas season is a strangely intense time of year.  I can’t help but think that most of us are missing something in the hustle and the bustle of busily buying things, the ambitious arranging of awkward family events, or the creative cooking up of our annual Christmas concoctions without the benefit of the true meaning of Jesus’ advent sinking into our conscience.  There is a kind of busyness that gives us an illusion of purpose that actually hinders our laying hold of the genuine hope and peace that Jesus’ coming gives.

On the other hand, it is also possible for us to become so relaxed in our annual routines and rooted in our seasonal habits that we become spiritually lethargic and inattentive to its wonder. We so easily miss the awesome message of God’s love as revealed in Jesus Christ and what it means for us today.  Just think how we can become so focused on either our plans or our comforts that we forget that the living God Who invaded the darkness of our world with the subtle light of Jesus’ birth is the same God Who rules today, sovereign over all His creation, calling us to be living heralds of God’s holy love and power.

When I encounter the hurt or need of another, do I notice and then drink from Jesus’ compassion as I would a cup of hot, creamy cocoa on a cold winter night?

When I encounter the hurt or need of another, do I notice and then drink from Jesus’ compassion as I would a cup of hot, creamy cocoa on a cold winter night?

Ask yourself, if God were to interrupt my schedule this very day with a marvelous truth from His Word, the Bible, would I stop and savor it as if it were a freshly baked Christmas cookie?  If He were to have my path cross that of someone whose heart is breaking or health is failing, would I notice and drink from Jesus’ compassion as I would a cup of hot, creamy cocoa on a cold winter night?  Would Jesus light and love be present in me and my choices?

The true test of our Christianity is found not so much in our memorizing certain Scriptures, attending special services, or singing spiritual songs (even at Christmas), but in our handling of His intrusion into our affairs.  What is your response when He opens the door for you to detour around mere mortal aspirations and beckons you to participate with Him in divine, heavenly moments.  Do you share a word of hope with a down-trodden life, a morsel with a hungry tummy, or a prayer for a soul oppressed by the spiritual darkness of our age?  Or do you fail to notice, or notice but fail to stop because you’re too busy with something else or too lazy to be bothered by someone else’s need?

The people that God uses most are those who are most available to His will.  The folks who are most celebrated in the Kingdom of God are those who are the most ready to dump their own agendas for the sake of God’s agenda.  This was true throughout the ages of the Bible and it is true today.

When God’s messenger, Gabriel, suddenly appeared to Mary to announce to her God’s incredible plan for her to conceive and carry God’s Son, although she was a virgin, her response was as what all our responses should be when God shows up “out of the blue”:  “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 ESV).  Talk about inconvenient and awkward!  Yet her attitude and corresponding actions were in line with God’s leading and she was used by God in an unthinkable and unexpected way!

Of course, the question arises, does God speak today?  Yes, He does!  His Spirit takes the words of the Bible and shepherds us though them into a true knowledge of Him, His purposes and His ways!  So today, because we read (presumably) the Bible and see Jesus’ instructions to us on how to treat one another (as in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7), how to truly follow Him (as in Matthew 16:24-25), and how to love one another (as in John 13:34-35), we are actually hearing from God a special message meant for our ears and intended to be lived out in specific, real-life ways in our daily experience.

Therefore, Christmas becomes truly meaningful when you and I forgive as Jesus told us to.  The holidays take on special meaning when we choose to follow Jesus’ pattern of living (sacrificially giving and serving).  And this truly does become “the most wonderful time of the year” when we see ourselves as Jesus’ hands and feet and love others with tenderness and kindness when we have all sorts of reasons to begrudge them our time and talents.

December may indeed be the coldest and darkest month of the year (at least in the northern hemisphere), but it does not need to be the coldest and darkest month in our attitudes and actions.  Instead, Christmas can be and should be both wonderfully warm and beautifully bright.  It can be and should be a launch pad of renewal for Believers as we prayerfully reflect on how perfect and holy love condescended to put on human flesh and bear the burden of both our humanity and ultimately our sin.  As the light of Jesus conquers by love the cold grip of hate, we can agree with the words of Phillips Brooks’ beloved Christmas carol, “O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.”

“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him.  He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.  But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:9-14 ESV).

 

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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