The Christmas tree, the colorful lights, the festive mood that permeates our community — all these things can be the cause of much happiness and many smiles.
But they are not the source of our joy.
Think about it: The whole world seems caught up in celebration, but what exactly is being celebrated?
Actually, it’s not a what. It’s a Who. And His birth in that humble stable in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago changed the course of history. The crucial question is, has it changed the course of our lives?
I ask this in the hours after reading an opinion piece in The Guardian written by a prominent humanist/atheist who wonders why we can’t celebrate Christmas without the “tragedy of religious baggage” that she says she finds “loathsome.”
Oh dear. Where to begin.
Christmas without Christ is like achievement without sacrifice or love without commitment; empty and devoid of any real substance. It might charm you for the while, but in the end, it’s filled with disappointment.
At Christmas, we celebrate the incredible gift God gave us in His Son Jesus, who came to save us from slavery and death and give us new life.
At times it seems like this Good News gets reduced to an intellectual idea or a set of rules, something to file away with other information we occasionally consider. Unless we have had a personal encounter with Christ and unless that encounter continues in a daily journey with Him, Christianity loses its power to transform and becomes merely an idea or a cultural notion; mildly pleasant, but in the end, easily discarded for the next shiny bauble.
Accepting Jesus as Lord of our lives, our relationships, our work, our bedroom and our wallet is a fundamental shift. This is not the secularized version of a God who makes no demands. This is a God who gives Himself to us entirely and asks us to give ourselves completely to Him in return.
Consider this mind-blowing verse from the first chapter of John’s Gospel: “But to those who did accept Him, He gave power to become children of God…”
In becoming children of God, we are no longer slaves, but rather daughters and sons, heirs to the Kingdom. This is such an awesome reality but often we don’t see it with fresh eyes. How do you get that fresh vision? It’s heady combination of God’s grace and a movement of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. We need to be receptive to it.
What does it mean to be a child of God? What does it look like in everyday life?
It means we live in peace in the middle of the storm.
It means we delight in pleasing God.
It means we keep His commandments.
Check out what John says in his First Letter: “And His commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.”
Let that sink in. Even when it doesn’t feel like it, even when we feel stuck, even when everything seems to be going wrong, God is our Father and He has given us the power to overcome the world.
You may still need counseling. You may still need a support group. You may wonder and doubt and struggle with fear. You’ll still make mistakes and need to repent.
But you can KNOW that God keeps His promises. Through the gift of His Son, He gives us new life. We need not fear death or any power on Earth. Our joy comes from knowing He is Lord and He will never let us down.
He has made us His own and we are His.
Are we His children? Certainly Baptism washes away the sin of our first parents, but we must accept Christ’s invitation to follow Him daily and let Him be the very center of our lives, trusting in Him even when might be tempted to do things our own way (that never ends well, trust me.)
Christmas without Christ, as atheists would have it, may placate passing desires but will never truly satisfy.
The Baby born in a manger in Bethlehem became the One who set us free by His death on the cross. Let us follow Him in joy, knowing that this life is but a pilgrimage toward our heavenly home.