By Teresa Sayles, Children’s Curriculum Specialist
Woodland Hills Church
With all the holiday hubbub and festivities, cheery music and yummy treats, gift giving and receiving, the original meaning of Christmas can get a little lost. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve got nothing against Bing Crosby, cookies, parties, Santa, and seasonally wrapped gifts. In fact, I love them and look forward to them each Christmas. However, I find I can loose sight of what Christmas is really about amidst it all. I even remember as a kid sitting in church and thinking the story of Jesus’ birth was not nearly as exciting as Santa. But as I’ve grown up and come to a better understanding of Jesus and who He is, I’ve found Santa’s got nothing on the story of Jesus’ birth.
The Creator of the Universe, whose very essence is love, looks upon the world He has created and is saddened. He made it perfect – so perfect – but his own children, his image-bearers, have allowed sin and darkness to pollute and corrupt it all. For centuries, the world has known grief, violence, sickness, and death. And yet, despite His sorrow at it all, He does not despair for He has a plan. He will save it all. He will redeem what was lost, free what has been held captive, and, eventually, return it all to the glory and perfection in which He made it at the very beginning. To do so, however, will cost Him more than we can even imagine.
He works with people throughout the generations, drawing them close to Him and helping them learn His ways. He molds and shapes the ancient world so it will be fertile ground for the work He will do. And when the time is right, He sets it all in motion. God Himself takes on flesh as He is formed into the tiny body of a child within the womb of a scared but faithful young girl in the relatively unimportant land of Judea. God the Father continues to guide the girl and her young fiancé as they prepare for the child’s birth and travel to the distant village of Bethlehem. And there, under the light of a celebratory star, God the Son – Jesus – is born. His surroundings are meager and humble. His bed is little more than a feeding trough for animals. He is not robed in rich fabrics but in a simple swaddling cloth. And, yet, His birth is the greatest news ever to be heralded. The heavens cannot contain it, and as an angel appears to a group of poor, marginalized shepherds in the nearby fields, an angelic choir breaks into song. God has come! God has left that which is perfect and chosen to come into the mess of our world, a mess we have made all on our own. He has come to set us free, redeem us from our sins, and banish the darkness with His glorious light! Even distant scholars who do not know God find themselves drawn to His side. Meeting this infant who is God, they cannot help but worship Him.
In the years to come, Jesus grows into a man whom people continue to be drawn to as He teaches, preaches, and does the miraculous. His words ring true in their hearts and give them newfound hope. He shows love and grace to those who have sinned and goes out of His way to include those whom others have overlooked or stigmatized. He humbles the prideful and raises up the lowly. And although He dies at the hands of angry and vindictive men who cannot see past their own sin to recognize who He is, He forgives them. He forgives us all. His death – the death of God Himself – is a sacrifice on behalf of the whole of creation. Through it, He brings eternal redemption. And with His resurrection three days later, we are given new life. New hope. New joy and a new beginning.
The everlasting peace and redemption Christ’ birth promised has not fully happened just yet. We still wait, knowing that His work is not over yet and trusting it will come. But we do not wait idly by. Rather, He calls us each to live in such a way as to be a witness of His love and grace as we work to bring His Kingdom and His ways into this world that is still suffering in the darkness of sin. He calls us to be storytellers and grace-givers. He calls us to redeem in His name what we can and draw people into His love and truth.
This Christmas, as we go about our family traditions and enjoy the holiday season, let’s make sure we take time to truly think about why we are called to have such joy and generosity and peace this time of year. It’s not because it’s the “Christmasy thing to do” or even the nice or “Christian” thing to do. It’s because it’s the Jesus thing to do, and His birth is something that should bring us joy and peace every day of the year.