Whether you’ve grown up in the church or not, whether you’ve worshiped every Sunday or never darkened a church door in your life, you probably know the words to this song. They’re familiar; most of us can sing them by heart. But do we sing them with heart? Do we sing them with an awareness or understanding of the message? Does the message engage a response in our souls?
In recent generations the message of Christmas has been lost among the commercialization of the season, yet most of us still have a general knowledge of what it is supposed to be about. Mary and Joseph, baby Jesus born in a manger in Bethlehem, shepherds in the fields, the three Wise Men. Unfortunately, knowledge of facts does not have transformative power. That only comes with understanding, with a comprehension of the ‘whats’ with the ‘whys’ behind them. Really grasping the message of Christmas and the meaning behind it will change us. It will transform our hearts and be evident in how we live. But it requires intentionality.
The lyrics to one of my favorite Christmas songs (and I have many) say:
Did you pick up on the word ‘learn’? Living our days, and especially the Christmas season, with our hearts near to Christ requires something of us. It won’t happen automatically. In the words of D.A. Carson: “People do not drift towards holiness.” It requires conscious effort.
As we come to the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s easy to get caught up in the chaos of Christmas. To focus on what is right before us instead of the deeper meaning behind it. That’s why we celebrate Advent. In a season of commotion, hurry, and noise, Advent invites us to pause, wait and reflect. It asks us to put aside our expectations and desires to entertain, impress and awe…and instead seek, hope and cherish. Seek to know the child asleep in the manger. Hope in the Son of God who offers forgiveness of sins. And cherish the love of the Savior who redeems us and restores us to our Father in heaven.
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
1 John 4:9-10 (NIV)
God, out of love for us, His children, gave His Son to the world as a baby and then handed Him over to death on a cross as an adult, so we could enter His presence and live. This is the story of Christmas. It’s a love story. The story of God’s love for a broken people.
Do we truly understand the significance? Does our understanding initiate a response?
We’ve been extended an invitation. Yet in a season of invitations and parties, we can easily miss the offer. We get wrapped up in ourselves and lose sight of Him. But God invites us to look beyond the parties, the decorations and the gifts to receive what money cannot buy. He asks us to pause in the midst of our scurrying, our shopping and our planning to unwrap the only gift that matters. A baby, wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel [meaning God with us].
Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom establishing it and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
Isaiah 9:6b,7b (NIV)
And yet, the greatest gift we’ve ever been given often lies unopened or discarded in the dusty corners of our hearts while instead we eagerly and excitedly seek joy and fulfillment in the presents under the tree.
But this joy; this fulfillment, it won’t last. It won’t satisfy. Only Jesus Christ will ever be enough. And so, until our eyes are fixed on Him and our hearts are tuned to His, we will continue to look for meaning in all the wrong places.
Consider the season; we light up our homes and trees with countless lights and yet miss entirely the brightest light of all, Jesus Christ, the Light of the world. We offer family and friends temporary pleasures from what we can buy instead of the eternal joy offered in Christ alone. We want more presents under the tree instead of the presence of Christ Himself. And we seek to feast on the fancy meal before us rather than the bread of Life, our only true source of strength and sustenance.
In [Jesus] was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
John 1:4-5 (NIV)
The light shines in the darkness. Will we choose to see it this Christmas? Will we seek to understand it?
Look at the lyrics of Joy to the World once more. Let the message sink in. Reflect on your response. Is there joy in your heart that the Lord has come? Have you received Him as your Lord and King? Have you prepared your heart for His presence? Do you wonder at His love?
May we, this Christmas season, and for all our days to come, follow the example of the Wise Men, and seek with all our being, the One who came to earth as a precious infant to heal our brokenness, satisfy our souls and redeem us for all eternity. And in doing so, may we experience His presence and truly discover the wonder of His amazing love.