Advent Series Conclusion: the post-Christmas let down

Christmas is over. The gifts which looked so pretty under the tree just a few days ago are now scattered in messes around the house. Decorations which raised our spirits last week are now taunting us to take them down. Vacation days have ended and we are back at work, with more to do than before we left. The overeating of delicious treats has begun to take its toll on the fit of our pants. We are in the post-Christmas let-down.

Are we doomed to feeling a let-down around this time every year?

Decorations come down. Cheery carols are no longer played on the radio. Gifts are done being exchanged. If Christmas is about these things, the let-down is difficult to avoid.

But Christmas is not about these things. Christmas is really a celebration of Immanuel: God with us. We celebrate Immanuel at Christmas, because, as Matthew 1 points out, Jesus’ birth fulfills this promise.

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”(which means “God with us”) – Matthew 1:22-23

However, this celebration does not end at Christmas. It did not even end when Jesus left this earth. Just as the first chapter of Matthew fulfilled the promise of God with us, the last chapter of Matthew continues it. Jesus’ final words are:

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. – Matthew 28:20

Immanuel is a truth that never changes. There does not need to be a post-Christmas let-down. We can celebrate the truth of Immanuel every day of the year.

We celebrate the truth of Immanuel first by remembering what it says about God.

Immanuel is the truth of a God whose deep desire is to be with His beloved for eternity. The truth of Immanuel is the truth of a Father who loves us so ferociously that He sent His Only Son to this earth. It is the truth of a Son who chose to live out every piece of the human experience, including the fragile life of a newborn, and the humble death of a criminal. It is the truth of a Spirit who lives inside of us and guides our daily lives.

We celebrate the truth of Immanuel second by remembering what it says about us. That we can live like God is with us.

That we can live according to how the Bible calls us to live, because God is with us. That we can pray about anything at anytime, because God is with us. That we can have the courage to face our fears, because God is with us. That we can love others more than we thought possible, because God is with us. That we can have forgiveness from our mistakes, because God is with us. That we can have purpose and meaning in our lives, because God is with us.

Christmas may be over. But the celebration of Immanuel can happen every day. It happens every time we approach God with confidence in His love. It happens every time we put the needs of others ahead of the needs of ourselves. It happens every time we root our identity in what God says and not what the world says.

The birth of Jesus did not just change the world once a year. It changed the world forever.

God is with us. Always. Immanuel means there is no post Christmas let-down.

(Were you not able to follow the Prepare Advent series? You may be interested in the most popular posts from it: Faith in the Promise, Fulfillment of the Law, Immanuel,  and Entering the Mess.)

 

Advent Series Day 25- come and worship

Merry Christmas! It has not been easy to get to today. We have endured long car rides and busy airports. We have baked, cleaned, decorated, and crafted. We have worked extra hours. We have navigated sticky family dynamics.

There has been a lot to do. Some has been beautiful. Much has been stressful. Yet, we do it every year. We do it because we think it is worth it. We think that seeing family, watching joy on kids’ faces, and celebrating with those we love is worth extra effort.

So, it is appropriate to wrap up the Advent series by looking at a group who also had a lot to overcome. Yet, they thought it was worth it.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.  – Matthew 2:1-12

“Magi” comes from a Persian word referring to an expert in studying the stars. The Magi were worshipers of the heavens, not of Yahweh. Yet, when this star appeared, they recognized that it meant something more. They came to worship the Messiah.

The Magi likely came from Babylon, since that was a center for the study of the stars. A caravan would have to travel about 1000 miles to get from Babylon to Jerusalem. This was not a journey of days. It was a journey of months. Perhaps even a year. {The idea that this was a long journey is reinforced by 1) fact that the Magi came to a “child” at a “house,” not an “infant” at a “manger” and 2) because Herod kills all males age 2 and under in Bethlehem, “in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” (Matthew 2:16)}

The journey would have taken much time, energy, and resources to complete. Yet, the Magi did it. They came to worship the Messiah.

This group of Magi, who had no connections to Israel or its prophecies, made an incredible journey to worship Jesus. They dropped their lives as they knew them before. They used their resources to collect gifts fit for a king. They used their time and energy to make a long journey. It took a lot, but they knew it was worth it. {This is in contrast to Israel’s own leaders, who tell the Magi where to find Jesus, but don’t even make the effort to investigate themselves.}

The Magi were outsiders. Yet, God welcomed them just as if they had been a part of His family their entire lives. God led them through a star. God spoke to them in a dream. God recorded their story in the Bible for future generations to hear.

Just as the light of the star led outsiders to Jesus when He was born, those who know this truth are called to be a light to lead outsiders to Jesus now.

As we celebrate, let’s share the story of God’s love and salvation come to earth. Let’s share the message of Christmas:

It does not matter where your journey has taken you before. What matters is where your journey takes you now. It may be difficult. You may have to give up some things. But it is worth it. Jesus came to this world to rescue you. He is Your Savior. Believe in Him, and your sins are forgiven. Believe in Him, and your relationship with God is restored. Believe in him, and your life has a new purpose.

The Messiah has come. The message is for all. Come and worship.

Advent Series Day 24: spontaneous joy

Life holds many great moments. Moments of beauty, of wonder, of excitement, of victory, of love. In these moments, no one has to tell us to feel something.

No one has to tell a groom that he should be happy to see his bride walk down the aisle. No one has to tell tourists to the Grand Canyon that they should take pictures of what is in front of them. No one has to tell sports fans that they should cheer when their team wins.

No one has to tell a college student that he should be excited when his last exam is finished. No one has to tell a mother that she should smile when she holds her newborn baby in her arms.

True joy is spontaneous.

There was true joy the night of Jesus’ birth.

It’s interesting to me that so many of our sacred Christmas songs are slow and reflective. There is definite value to that. In fact, some of my personal favorites  are slow. (Anyone else adore the song O Holy Night?)

But sometimes, I think these songs give the wrong impression. They give the impression that we need to create our own joy at Christmas. That for solemn reflection we look to the church, and for lighthearted joy, we look to the world. That without Santa, and decorations, and presents, there would be no joy at Christmas.

We forget that the first song of Christmas, the song of the angels, was a song of great joy.

When Jesus was born, heaven burst into applause.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. – Luke 2:8-20

All of heaven and earth had been waiting for this night. Waiting for thousands of years for the Messiah to come.

I love the word “suddenly” in this passage. It makes me think that the heavenly host couldn’t help it. They could hold back no longer. It was time for them to release their joy and burst into praise.

Why is this such a joyful moment?

Because the birth of Jesus brings not only a baby, it brings gifts. The gift of a world rescued. The gift of grace. The gift of promises fulfilled.  The gift of God's presence with us. The gift of hearts and lives at peace. The gift of answered prayer. The gift of forgiveness. The gift of eternal life.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. -  John 3:16

The time of waiting is over. The Messiah has come.

JOY to the world.