Celebrating the Hope of Christmas
Nothing brings into focus the questions of eternity like losing a close family member. I got the bad news of my dad’s cancer diagnosis in August. One day he was on the golf course with his buddies, enjoying a round of 18 holes at the local country club. The next morning he was coughing up blood and in the ER, where he was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. We were told it was small cell. It was aggressive, the oncologist said, but it was treatable.
The treatments were effective. After his first round of chemo the tumor shrunk significantly, giving him, me, and my three siblings hope that his life would have a reprieve from cancer’s initial harsh sentence. That was in early November. But our hopes were dashed the other day with another round of bad news that the cancer metastasized in his spine, leading us to change our Christmas plans.
My wife and I arrived in Northeast Wisconsin yesterday and are staying with my dad. Fresh snow from the night before blanketed the ground. Now we’re anticipating what weather forecasters are calling a blizzard not seen in decades. As I shared with friends my change in plans and the reason why—the likelihood that this will be my last Christmas with my dad, a flurry of emotions and grief would well up.
The holidays, for some reason, amplify sadness. Sometimes unresolved conflict or pain comes to the surface. Sometimes it’s family estrangement. And for some, it’s too much to bear. The holidays can be a double-edged sword. The joy of being with loved ones and celebrating can bring cheer. Good food and drink accompanied by fond memories are celebrated for some. Disappointment and past trauma surface for others. So what’s the solution?
Aspects of Christmas can be cathartic. Some choose to numb themselves with shopping sprees, great food, sweets, or even spiked eggnog or other strong drink. But food, drink, and presents are, at best, temporary and can never fill our deepest needs. They cannot give us the deep healing that we need. Only Christ can do that.
A common version of Christmas celebrates a tame version of the Messiah– a baby lying in a manger in Bethlehem with Mary and Joseph looking down upon him and local shepherds mesmerized by angels singing in the night sky. It’s all true. Yet, lost in the miracle of the incarnation–God made flesh who dwelt among us (John 1:14)–this Jesus came to wage war on sin and hell and destroy the works of Satan (1 John 3:8). He was the One appointed for many to rise and many to fall in Israel (Luke 2:34). And the One whom the great dragon in Revelation sought to destroy (Rev. 12:13-16).
Part of the Christmas story is awful. It’s about King Herod’s royal jealousy and murderous dictate to kill all the baby boys in Judea under two years old who might compete for his throne. It’s the ancient story of the Jewish people, who waited for the prophesied Messiah to come and deliver them from their enemies. When He arrived as a fulfillment of the law and offered spiritual renewal, they rejected what He offered and condemned him to a cross.
Christ’s coming is a reminder of our sin, guilt, and our great need for a savior. It’s a reminder of just how broken the world is and just how needy each one of us are. The greatest gift this Sunday won’t be found underneath the Christmas tree. It will be found in the depth and breadth of what the Messiah offers us. After all, He provides the greatest needs of our soul. God incarnate, giving His life as a sacrifice so that through faith and repentance, we could be made right with him.
Christmas is good in many of the ways we celebrate and enjoy it. But let it sink in deeply what is really at the heart of Christmas and the implications it has for all of us. Let Christ be better than any elixir who can deal with past hurts and pain and trauma, and let us celebrate what he came to do. Even for those with loved ones whom they might be celebrating their last Christmas with. Merry Christmas.