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Finding the joy of Christmas

By David B. Crabtree

The old Christmas song says, "It’s the most wonderful time of the year." And for the Christian it should ring true. Yet for many, Christmas is a season to survive. Depression, grief and loneliness are often exacerbated by shattered family circumstances and increased debt loads. Christmas calendars are overloaded, causing us to think in terms of "getting through the holidays." We are left to wonder if the "postcard" Christmas exists anymore. What happened to the snowy white Yuletide of childhood?

Christmas has been hijacked by cynics, exploited by capitalists, and trampled by consumers. Christmas cheer comes under a withering attack. The checkout lines go on forever; we growl and whine when only one of 10 registers is open. There is no charity in the mall parking lot; we hunt the elusive parking space like wolves. Cheap-suited Santas charge a king’s ransom for a picture of little Eddie or Tiffany crying. December is full of long, clamorous days culminating in the wearied singing of "Silent Night." Exhausted by cantatas, parties, shopping, feasting, families and travel, we arrive at the Bethlehem manger suffering from heat prostration. Christmas Eve will find us lifting up our weary voices to sing, "Joy to the world, the Lord is come." Then we rush from the service to get one last gift, or visit one last party.

So soon it is over. We save the bows, burn the wrappings, strip the tree, and labor over our New Year’s resolutions. Too often we have missed the point. We’re like the man who goes to the coast but never sees the ocean. The threat of a holiday hijacking is all too real. Unless we engage our hearts in a true celebration of Christmas joy, we are easily caught up in a pointless and mindless holiday. When we lose sight of the meaning of Christmas, the season is deeply devalued.

Isaiah saw religious celebration divorced from true worship. The people loved their feasts and festivals, but they lost their perspective. God speaks words through Isaiah that fall like a blow: "The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies — I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them" (Isaiah 1:13,14, NKJV). The children of Israel turned their holy days into holidays and God declined to be added to the guest list. If Isaiah were around today, he could well offer the same prophecy without changing a single word.

The true spirit of a Christian Christmas must be reestablished in our hearts and homes. All is not lost. The ultimate story of God’s love is still true. The glory is still there to be witnessed by seekers. How shall we truly experience the joy of Christmas? How can we define a true "Christmas spirit"?

The joy of Christmas is to be found in a spirit of reconciliation.
Christmas should focus our hearts on the reconciling work of Christ. Paul couches the coming of Christ in terms of reconciliation. "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19). Any celebration of Christ should reflect the core purpose of His appearing.

Most of the issues that drive people apart are petty and selfish. What a tragedy that the Christmas celebration is often the backdrop for renewed acrimony, or the tired rehearsal of past offense.

What joy we can know when, in the spirit of Christ, we exercise the same prerogative that God exercised in sending His only Son to the world, the prerogative of forgiveness and reconciliation. Christmas affords a stern reminder that people we have left in the cold could have a warm place with us around the Christmas tree if we were only willing to be more like the One we celebrate.

The joy of Christmas is to be found in a spirit of reconnection.
Good news must be shared. Christmas should draw us together to tell the world’s greatest story once again, and share true fellowship. Jesus told of a woman who lost a valuable coin. She searched her house until it was found, and when that precious coin was restored to her she called all her neighbors and friends so that they could rejoice together. The implication is inescapable. The good news is cause to gather those near and far to celebrate. Families that fight over the Christmas holidays show a callous disrespect for the Lord.

Family fights rarely yield anything but more rancor and bitterness. The Christmas celebration should put all grievances "off limits" if Christ will truly be honored. A proper celebration and shared appreciation of Christ’s work will often dissolve disputes and heal broken hearts.

The older I get, the more I appreciate the Christmas morning reading of the greatest story ever told. There is something powerful and sacred when generations share the core of our faith.

The connection of grandchildren and grandparents through a shared faith creates memories that touch generations to come. "Christmas" and "alone" are two words that should never connect. Joy in the season is found in reconnecting with those we love, and even with those we have lost touch with along the way.

The joy of Christmas is to be found in a spirit of rejoicing.
Luke reports that Christ’s birth was accompanied by angelic praise (Luke 2:13,14). We would do well to join the angelic chorus. A conscious effort should be made by every believer to put away all impediments to praise. Scrooge should not be numbered among us on Christmas Eve.

The Christmas season affords an opportunity to rid the heart of sadness and gloom. Hope brightens and whitens all that it touches. The Bethlehem manger is much, much more than a historical milestone; it is an unfolding promise to all who believe. Jesus is the Gift who keeps on giving. The Christian can rejoice in things eternal, even when temporal circumstances are difficult.

The joy of Christmas is to be found in a spirit of generosity.
My favorite Christmas text is found in John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that He gave …." We need to reaffirm the sacred foundation that supports the gift-giving tradition of the Christmas season. While we should not be carried away to excessive debts and pride-driven spending, we should exercise generosity in deed and spirit as a true celebration of Jesus. Remember that the gift is always a token of the heart. Most gifts are soon broken, used and forgotten, but a loving, giving heart endures the tests of time.

Unless we reinvest Christmas with its glorious message and meaning, the holidays will pass like a pagan festival. Unless we truly celebrate Christ, the greatest story ever told will be lost amid the bells, bows and baubles. Make your holiday a holy day. Add another seat or two at your table. Set free whatever grudges or ill will you would hold on to. Sing the carols at the top of your voice. Tell Christ’s story with thanksgiving and awe. Wrap every present in love. You are the reason Jesus came. No one has more cause to celebrate than you do.

David B. Crabtree is senior pastor of Calvary Church (Assemblies of God) in Greensboro, N.C.

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