This simple picture of some cows enjoying a meal is always a helpful reminder to me of what really matters. When our concept of sanity begins to crumble towards the end of the calendar year as a holiday we call “Christmas” draws near, I appreciate the simplicity of watching some cows enjoy a simple meal. I don’t appreciate this picture because these livestock have no concept of the stress many humans around them bring upon themselves as they rush get their Christmas preparations completed. I don’t mention this picture because these cows seem to have a sense of satisfaction that is far from the contentment that many Americans feel the day after Thanksgiving as they rush to the department stores in search of a coveted bargain.
The reason I like this picture this time of year is because I like to be reminded what a “manger” really is. When I remind myself that the romanticized manger scenes of modern-day Christmas have much more to do with tradition and warm fuzzies than with the stark reality of our Savior’s birth, I stand amazed at the humility and glory of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:5-7). To realize again that the King of Creation allowed Himself to go through a messy human birth experience with a couple of poor and unprepared human parents, and then to remember that He allowed Himself to be placed in an undignified feeding trough designed for several slobbering livestock to dine in, I realize that Christmas is much more about an amazing God’s plan of love for His creation than it is about us rejoicing over the ability to place the newest annual trinket under a well-decorated fir tree (or imitation fir tree like we have in our home).
Remembering what Christmas is all about is necessary for the Christian—not for the sake of making us into a spiritual Grinch, but to remind us of our need and calling to be light and salt to a discouraged and lost world that needs true hope and joy. Here are some reminders that may seem too obvious to mention but are important for me to remember daily this time of year, because this is what really matters:
- Remember that truth must trump tradition, especially at Christmas.
This is not to say that our family or church traditions are not fun or cool or that tradition in of itself is naturally wrong or evil. Many of us enjoy wonderful family traditions which actually kicked off already on Thanksgiving Day. However, this reminder means that tradition, whether it is culture-driven or family-cherished, must always take a back seat to truth. I’m not suggesting that we totally throw tradition under the bus or burn Santa Claus effigies in our fireplaces. However, any extra-biblical tradition, especially during the Christmas season, must not be allowed to sit in the driver seat of our thoughts, emotions, and ultimately our decisions and actions.
The raw and gory reality is that Jesus Christ came to this earth in an incredibly appalling manner as the King of Creation so that He could be murdered on a cross by a bunch of sinful thugs to not only appease the wrath of God, but to also make a way for the eternal recreation of many such murderous sinners into worshippers of His Heavenly Father. This is sovereign grace. This is unwavering mercy. This is amazing love. This is what Christmas is all about. This is what really matters. When reindeer, gift cards, eggnog, or electronic tablets crowd out and daze our view of the humble glory of our Servant King we need a reality check. Remember the reality of a dirty feeding trough. No one would choose as their first option to place a precious newborn in a slobber-covered feeding bowl. And yet God chose a feeding trough to shelter His precious Son—His only-begotten—and yet that wasn’t the worst thing His Son would ever be laid on for the cruel nails of the cross were coming.
- Remember to make much of the Gospel at Christmas.
This is so obvious I’m sure many of you are like, “Well, yeah?!” Well, how have we made much of the Gospel since last Thursday when many of us were lulled into a stupor of turkey, comfortable couches, and football? With all the reasons we have to be thankful, did you thank God for His Gospel or did you tell anyone why you are truly thankful to God?
Be committed to making a big deal about Gospel truth in how you and your family prepare your hearts and minds, in how your maintain your focus on Jesus and His glory, and in how you talk to people about Jesus Christ as you prepare for Christmas.
- Remember that Christmas is neither the beginning nor the end of the grand story of God’s love.
As the Apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians 1:3, God is to be blessed and praised because He has blessed His children with every blessing in Jesus Christ. God chose to call out and recreate worshippers unto Himself from His fallen creation before He created the foundations of the world. God chose to do this simply because He wanted to—because it gave Him great pleasure and glory. This is sovereign grace.
Christmas is really in the middle of God’s great love story that began in Genesis 1 and finds its consummation in Revelation 22. From creation to Christmas to Easter to eternity, God’s great plan of redemption is ongoing and is alive as God continues to give rest to all those who call upon Him in faith (Matthew 11:28-30).
Remember that Christmas, as wonderful as it is when properly observed by the Church, is not the end of the story. God’s Story is much grander and more beautiful than a Baby in a feeding trough. This story is leading us to see a Lamb, appearing as butchered yet standing and receiving the praise of countless numbers of worshippers from every people group and nation, as the conquering Lion over the great adversary called Satan (Revelation 5).
At Christmas, stand in awe of the risen and conquering Lamb Who loved His Father enough to love you by coming to earth to deliver and live out the good news of the Gospel. A proper focus on the incarnation of the Son of God at Christmas as well as a focus on His death and resurrection at Easter leads us to worship the glory of God. One day His glory will be seen and worshipped by all creation—Christmas is not the end of the story of God’s love!
- Remember that Christmas is not about us—it is about Jesus and His glory.
This kind of goes without saying, but make sure that your friends and family know that Christmas is all about Jesus, not about you or them. Enjoy the presents, enjoy the fellowship, enjoy the sweet time with loved ones, but most of all adore and saturate your soul in the joy that God gives through Jesus and your union with Him.
Remember that life on this earth is incredibly short—so make the most of your time here to make Jesus great in the minds and hearts of your earthly neighbors. In other words, be salt and light to a world and culture that is looking for satisfaction in all the wrong places. Always give Jesus His proper place, especially at Christmas, and watch God work His sovereign grace through you to others.
O come, let us adore Him.
“And you shall call His name ‘Jesus,’ for He will save His people from their sins.”
“And they shall call His name Immanuel (which means, God with us).”
Matthew 1:21, 23