December 19, 2011

Christmas, the Gateway to Easter

Christmas is less than a week away.  Have you been thinking about Easter?

Wait … what?

Allow me to explain.

This year, as I’ve been reading the Bible on my own, in Advent reflections, hearing it preached, and pondering the Christmas story, I have found myself overwhelmed by the connection between Christmas and Easter.  Perhaps it’s obvious – Jesus is the central person in each of these historical events – but this year I find myself especially fixed on how Christmas is the gateway to Easter and the “spirit” of both of these holidays should mark the life of the Christian 365 days a year.

In our country, there is a well-defined Christmas season, beginning sometime around Thanksgiving and continuing until December 25th.  (Excluding the retail world, of course, in which Christmas begins before Halloween!)  As I discussed in this post, Christmas is a time we’re invited into “wonder” and “belief” with little more basis than an imaginary (but fun) benevolent fellow in a red suit.  We’re invited to “hope” and “wish” for gifts and dreams that may or may not come true, because we live lives on limited incomes and in relationships with real people – who are not always jolly … like Old St. Nick.  I don't mean to be cynical; Christmastime is delightful.  What the culture offers, however, usually leaves us wanting something deeper and lasting, no matter how magical the holiday is.

Friends, Scripture too invites us to wonder, believe, and hope.  But the invitation of the Word that became flesh finds its basis not in futile wishing and dreaming.  Oh no.  This invitation grounds itself in truth, the historical reality that Jesus became the God-man that we mightbecome members of God’s family through faith.

J.I. Packer offers an interesting connection between John 1:14

The Word became flesh and made its dwelling place among us.

and 2 Corinthians 8:9

You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty you might become rich.

that has synthesized for me what I’ve been thinking throughout this Advent season.  Packer offers that John states the fact of the incarnation and Paul explains its meaning, that we might move from simply marveling at the nature of the incarnation to wondering at its grace.  (Guthrie, p. 70*)

I would summarize it this way:  Easter explains Christmas.

In this season, sentimentality can easily take over as we enjoy traditions, spend time with family, attend parties, wrap packages and, even, contemplate the birth of Jesus apart from the whole and intense story of redemption that we read in the Bible.  We cannot create a Christmas spirit that the Lord never intended, which is why December 26th can be such a let-down of a day.  Or worse, despair can take over as we find we just. can't. get. into. the "holiday cheer" everyone else seems to be enjoying so whole-heartedly.

He became poor, so that through His poverty we might become rich.

Packer says this (Guthrie, p 71-2):
We talk glibly of the “Christmas spirit," rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity on a family basis.  But what we have said makes it clear that the phrase should in fact carry a tremendous weight of meaning.  It ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temper of him who for our sakes became poor at the first Christmas.  And the Christmas spirit itself ought to be the mark of every Christian all the year round. 

The Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor - spending and being spent - to enrich their fellow men ... in whatever way there seems need.  If God in mercy revives us, one of the things he will do will be to work more of this spirit in our hearts and lives.

Do you find yourself thinking about these things this Christmas?  Have you considered spending and being spent to the glory of God the Father to enrich your fellow man - whether they live in your house, down the street, or on the streets?  Or are you so lost in the busyness and confusion of the season, trying to create the perfect holiday while ignoring or mistreating your fellow man (even those under your own roof) and missing the Creator who became flesh, dwelt among us, rescued fallen humanity, and calls us to look not to our own, but the interests of others?

This Christmas, I pray that this Christmas spirit would grip your heart.  That the Holy Spirit would move in you to believe and follow with renewed vigor as you contemplate and celebrate the birth of Jesus - the Word become flesh that died on a tree, that we might have new life, even life eternal with our God!

Merry Christmas
Happy Easter!

 *Come Thou Long Expected Jesus  ed. Nancy Guthrie

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the great reminder, heather. I'm so exhausted by the frenzy that Christmas often becomes in our culture. Looking forward to Easter with you!