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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...




A Simple Christmas

By David B. Crabtree
Dec. 14, 2014

It’s just around the corner. How has Christmas come again so quickly?

It seems only last week the tree was closed up in its cardboard coffin; strings of lights were wound on makeshift spools; unused wrapping paper was consigned to the deep recesses of the guest room closet.

So soon the retail frenzy and unbridled spending have returned, maxing out credit cards and depleting savings accounts. The merchandising machine is humming again, racing to the rescue of an economy dependent on “the holidays.”

Were the stores to hang the lights any earlier, some hapless “associate” would be changing the bulbs mid-season.

Christmas has come again, louder and longer, and as busy as ever. Yet, the heart yearns for a simpler Christmas, for a season of rest and reflection on the “good news of great joy” the angels proclaimed. But it’s hard to know where to begin.

Despite our verbal protest and pretended nostalgia for a simpler past, we are quickly bored with simplicity and tend towards complexity. Simplicity to complexity is natural, almost organic; but complexity to simplicity requires deliberate downsizing, and we’re not very good at downsizing.

In the “constant whitewater” rush of change, we hardly know how to leave good enough alone anymore; and so it follows that Christmas traditions should spill over from a single-day remembrance to encompass Christmas Eve and the week that waddles into the New Year.

That is not to say a season of true remembrance is out of order. Through the Church Age, sincere believers have reminded themselves of the coming of the Christ child, His Advent, over several weeks of prayerful observances.

But the merchandising? The Black Friday super sales? The endless round of holiday parties? The guilt over missing some third-cousin or distant co-worker on our Christmas card list? It seems almost natural for us, considering our love of excess, to glut the good to exhaustion.

We created a season, which spawned a pre-season that encroaches into autumn practically before we can breathe the last warm breeze of summer. Christmas is inevitable, but one wonders if its core meaning is lost in its creeping, all-too-secular expansion.

A hundred years ago the true meaning of Christmas was well written into our national consciousness, but with each advancing decade we let the actors range further and further from script and stage. We are left to wonder if outsiders, invited to our Christmas theatre, would find Christ at the center … or if they might find Christ at all in the holiday that bears His name. More and more, Christmas is what we have made it to be.

No directive in Scripture commands or implies our holiday observances. If Jesus intended anything of the sort, it failed to impress the authors of the Gospels, or the apostles of the Early Church. There is no accounting of Paul and Barnabas passing the Christmas holiday on the mission field, or of Peter hunting a proper tree in Lebanon, or of John fashioning a crèche in a cave on Patmos.

Jesus requested that He be remembered at the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup, but said nothing of marking His birthday. Indeed, three centuries after His death, when men felt the need to celebrate the day of His birth, no record remained of the exact date, and thus we settled on a December day that was almost certainly not the day of the Savior’s birth.

But all is not lost. On whatever day the Savior was born, the impact of that event shapes every day into eternity. Yes, there are forces at work that would distract us from this central truth of Christmas. But God is not blind to those distracting voices, and His Spirit is with us to speak quietly and convincingly of that which would bring us back to the manger and truly restore our souls.

WONDER

“If Christmas should be ... what should it be?” Our restored and simple Christmas should connect with the Scriptures, where the complexities of deity, eternity, love, sin, and redemption were answered with the simplicity of a single child born to live and to die for our salvation.

We should celebrate with wonder the miracle of Christ’s virgin birth, the genius of His mission, and the miracle that God became a Man that men might be made free. Such wonder must lead us not to theological complexity, but to the simplicity of worship.

So thought our fathers who penned our Christmas carols calling for glory, love, and adoration fitting a newborn King. We don’t have to figure it all out ... as if we ever could. The Incarnation must not be emptied of wonder, but reinvested with awe that is the essential core of worship.

Our Christmas trees shelter presents which hold mystery until they are opened, and then, the mystery is lost. Our Christmas story holds untold mysteries, unanswered questions, unsearched treasures that, when opened for us in Christ, reveal a never-ceasing, ever-increasing, revelation of God. Wonder gives way to wonder. The discovery of Jesus opens new wonders to lead to new discoveries that lead to new questions and deeper amazement — a never-ending cause for worship.

The Gospel writer and apostle John never lost that sense of wonder. “If every one of [Jesus’ deeds] were written down,” he wrote as he concluded his narrative of Christ’s life and death and resurrection, “I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25, NIV).

Surely, if we restore Christmas, it must be established on the foundation of awe and wonder that caused the angelic hosts to sing, the shepherds to worship (see Luke 2:8-20), and the Wise Men to journey at great risk to bring their gifts (Matthew 2:1-12).

How then, can we look upon the marvel of God made flesh with little more than a knowing glance? Have we allowed the lights and bells, the fables and trinkets, to render us deaf and blind to the Gift of gifts — the King of kings — the Christ of Christmas? A simple Christmas revolves around wonder.


JOY

A simple Christmas must rediscover joy. The angel didn’t say, “This will make you happy” or “This will brighten your day.” The angel cried, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10).

The announcement wasn’t a bit of superficial happy news to inject a little excitement into the hard lives of local shepherds. It went far beyond humble circumstances — beyond all circumstances — to provide a well of light that shines in the hearts of the hurting when the world goes dark.

Joy is not dependent on happenings. It is not a fleeting condition of the mind, but a steadfast condition of the heart. It is a gift, not a construction; a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), not a drummed-up spark of personal motivation.

The unsearchable depth of joy the angel promised has been sadly shallowed by our unrelenting quest for a constructed happiness. We have settled for the cheaper imitation emotion and find it wanting when the holiday is over and our happenings lapse to a dulled routine. When Christmas cheer is over and done, will Christ’s joy remain — or does our well of light close with the season?

Christmas joy, the true variety found in relationship with the Heavenly Father through Christ, allows us to hearken to the Old Testament invitation to “not grieve,” no matter our circumstances, “for the joy of the Lord is [our] strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). 


PEACE

A simple Christmas must rediscover peace. If it will be found at all, we must look beyond this world; for there, peace is utterly impossible when left to the best of human effort.

As never before, we are connected to and aware of the globe beyond our Christmas hearth. Bombs are falling, beheadings are posted on the Internet, rusty sabers are rattling in the Eastern Bloc, Ebola disrupts and destroys, villainy and infamy seize the headlines, polarity makes unity in diversity a pipe dream.

We have searched the human potential to exhaustion and peace seems always in doubt. But this too points us to the miracle of Christmas. Jesus promised to give us peace, but not along the lines this world would offer it: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

When the angel proclaimed peace on earth, it was no declaration of a global cessation of war, but of an inward deposit of something otherworldly … the very presence of God. And if that Presence is pursued, experienced, and valued, then grace flows freely to everyone we touch — truly, goodwill toward men. A simple Christmas must be rooted in a godly contentment, a quiet confidence, and the soul at rest.

And so, if a restored Christmas will be celebrated, let’s free ourselves from the seasonal clutter — even tired traditions — that we might give all energy to celebrating Christ alone.

Let’s seize the day with the singular purpose of making worship, joy and peace our overarching goals. Let’s give in the manner and pattern of our Lord. Let’s love following His example. Let’s slow it all down to where Jesus isn’t lost in the seasonal blur.

Let us marvel that, in spite of our sin, the matchless Son of God came to Earth that we might live forever. Let’s draw from the bottomless well of God’s love the light He desires to shed on our lives and sing with the angels: Joy to the World, the Lord is come.


DAVID B. CRABTREE has served as lead pastor at Calvary Church (Assemblies of God) in Greensboro, N.C., since 1985 and is a speaker and writer with a long history of contributions to the Pentecostal Evangel.

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