Our family celebrates Christmas early. This Saturday, weather permitting, the children and grandchildren will gather at our house for a traditional Christmas meal and the exchanging of gifts. For two grandparents who can never see too much of our grandchildren it is a very special day.
Last Sunday my church held their Sunday school Christmas concert during the Sunday morning service. It was a production with an hour-long play and lots of singing. Most of all it was a beautiful reminder of that miracle that took place two thousand years ago on the first Christmas morning in Bethlehem.
My wife has started playing Christmas music in our home. I know that people have different tastes in music but I do believe that God gave the composers a little extra measure of giftedness when they sat down to compose Christmas songs. I love Christmas music, old and new, because again it reminds me of the wonder of Christmas.
The manger, the cross and the empty tomb
I had the wonderful privilege of taking a course at seminary with Dr. Alan Sell. One of the truths that I learned from that class was that the death of Jesus should never stand alone. We know that in his death, he paid the penalty for our sin. That truth is absolutely central to our Christian faith but the death of Jesus should always be accompanied by the truth that he didn’t remain in the tomb. He rose in victory over sin and death and we celebrate a living Saviour today.
Dr. Sell almost never referred to the death of Jesus. He would talk about the cross/resurrection event. I have come to love that phrase because Good Friday is only good if it is followed by Easter Sunday.
So what does this have to do with Christmas.
Without the Incarnation the cross and the empty tomb could not have happened. Without Christmas there would be no Good Friday or Easter Sunday.
Many church sanctuaries have crosses at the front. I love those reminders that Jesus died and that we are in church on a Sunday morning because of his death but I wonder if there should be a manger and an empty tomb mounted on the wall on either side of the cross.
Without the manger there would have been no Saviour to die. Without the empty tomb his death would have accomplished nothing.
The miracle of Christmas
When our children were small the month of December was filled with Christmas traditions at our house. We went as a family to cut down the tree. We opened the nativity calendar each day as our way to count down the days. We took them to the mall so that they could have breakfast with Santa. On Christmas morning I was always up at 5:00 am so that we wouldn’t lose a moment of Christmas day. I loved every moment of the entire month.
With all that we did though, I do have one regret. In the churches in which I pastored at that time we didn’t have a Christmas Eve service. We were in rented facilities and they weren’t available on Christmas Eve.
Now that service is my favorite part of Christmas because for that hour or so I am reminded that the incarnation is what the season is all about. The presents and the turkey and the times of wonderful family fun will come but they aren’t what is important.
On that first Christmas the eternal Son of God, creator of the universe, ruler of heaven and earth, the Lord of lords and King of kings, became a tiny baby in Mary’s arms, helpless, dependent and human just like us.
That is the miracle of Christmas. That is the rock upon which our whole Christian faith is built.