Christmas is here, and I love it. I love the whole sensory overload of the season. I love the lights and music, eating tree-shaped cookies and even the late night wrapping sessions while watching absurdly corny movies. The best part is celebrating with friends and family. But what is it we are really celebrating again? Oh, that’s right…Jesus. That accounts for the whole “Christ”mas thing.
What the heck does it look like to celebrate Jesus? Let’s be honest, we struggle with this. Is it simply saying grace before meals? “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays”? Is it singing religious music, putting up a nativity, going to church on Christmas Eve? Even if we do all of these things (which are good) it still feels seriously inadequate. We have a God that “was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5. A few verses of “Joy to the World” in church is not going to cut it.
We need to get one thing straight right away, God does not need our attention or our good works. He is not a pansy-god who thrives on human interaction or human charity. He is fully God on his own, lacking nothing. Conversely, we humans desperately need God. We lack everything, including the ability to save ourselves from hell. The son of God, Jesus, paid the death penalty for our sins and reconciled us to God. Therefore if we know Christ and believe in what he did for us, we can celebrate him at Christmas (and always). Exclusive? Absolutely. If you are excluded as an unbeliever, you have no reason to rejoice. Enjoy the corny movies and the cookies, that is as good as your lot gets.
For the rest of us, we need to celebrate Jesus. Let’s get to the “how”. I’ll make it easy to understand: open the Bible and read it, then do what it says. There you go, “How to Love God 101”. God has kindly written down for us: who he is, what he has done, how much he loves us, what will happen if we reject him, future events and, in light of all of this, how we should live right now. How is reading the Bible better than singing or prayer? God reveals himself through his word, if you don’t know his word, you do not know him. If you don’t know him, you cannot pray or sing to him with a heart that honors him. He is far away from you (Proverbs 15:29), no amount of “O, Come Let Us Adore Him” will get you closer to him. Listen to Christ when he says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Luke 11:28.
When we pick up the Bible to read God’s word, this is an act of desire on our part. We are desiring to know him more, to understand and see him. In essence, we are reaching out our arms to our Father asking him for wisdom, mercy, and love. Saying, “Please, God, give me more of you!” God doesn’t need us, but he loves us and knows the best thing for us is to become more like Jesus. When we model Christ, we honor God and exult him as holy. When we hold out our arms to God, he reaches out to us as well. No, strike that, his arms were open before ours, he is already stretching grace-filled arms out to us. We need to respond by grabbing his hands and joyfully being gathered to his heart as we enjoy his presence and listen attentively as he speaks to us.
That is celebrating Jesus, reading his Words and doing what it says. We often do just the opposite in December, we set our Bibles aside and rush around greedily shopping, planning and cooking. We may sing louder, give more and be at more parties, but then the emptiness comes. We feel drained, broken and tired. It is no wonder people try to “fix” themselves as soon as the New Year arrives. They have been grasping and consuming lifeless dust. Keep this simple verse running through your mind this season and forever, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” James 4:8a. It has served me well over the years as a constant reminder of God’s faithfulness. It is truly life’s mission.
So begin now, read God’s word like never before. Get up earlier, stay up later, attend Bible studies and services. Be taught and study on your own. Be filled with what is truly good. Start the New Year overflowing with hope and joy; not because you will change but because you have already beenchanged by the power of God’s written voice. This alone will cause you to pray in sincerity, sing heartfelt praises, to give generously and to joyously fellowship like never before. This will cause you to do Christmas differently. You will truly be celebrating Jesus.