For those of you who don’t enjoy the holidays,
the sentimentality or the commercialism,
the way everything is airbrushed to perfection,
for those whose homes look nothing like they “should,”
with no fire, no chestnuts roasting,
not even laughter or warmth or festivity,
for those whose love for their families
only just exceeds the patience required to be with them,
for those whose lives look nothing like what they want,
or picture in their heads, or feel they deserve,
Christmas is for you.
Christmas is for you because it’s real. This is as real as it gets. A child who was born in a manger is not too easily airbrushed. If we think about it for too long, we are reminded that childbirth is messy and painful–beautiful in the product, not the process. We are reminded that a manger is a wooden container out of which animals eat. Mary was a young, pregnant woman who traveled a long way because of a census. And Jesus was the Son of God, who underwent the most dramatic demotion in the history of the world, born in flesh as of men. He went from unconstrained power in the heavens to self-constrained power on earth. And He came so that He could live a perfect life, minister to the weary, proclaim the message of salvation, and die.
I all but guarantee that life was more difficult for the Israelites. Near the beginning of their nationhood, God had promised them a king whose throne and kingdom would be established forever, and who would build a temple where God would dwell (2 Samuel 7:10-16). They held onto this promise. Then David died. And his son Solomon died. Then the nation of Israel was split into two kingdoms. King after king after king after king succumbed to death. And there were kings who did not seek after God, who made a mockery of His promise by worshipping other gods. They adopted figures of stone and wood and base elements of nature as the objects of their worship. How could this promise be true, when kings turned away from God, and even the kings who stayed true to Him wasted away in death?
And to make matters worse, both nations were led into captivity and subjugation. The sovereignty of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were trampled underfoot–literally, under the boots of thousands of Assyrian and Babylonian soldiers. These empires laid waste to their smaller neighbors, and destroyed the temple of God in Jerusalem. For some, this was too much. “Forget this,” they must have said. “God isn’t going to keep His promise. So we will figure out how to navigate this mess. We’ll do it ourselves. We’ll keep our heads held high, shoulders back, and face this disaster of a world. We’ll do the best we can with what we’ve got. We’ll be the best people we can be–and if God is watching, he’ll owe us for our composure during all of this.”
Christmas is for you because that is the tendency of every heart. You feel dissatisfied because Christmas, or school, or grades, or work, or your family, isn’t the way you think it should be. Your family is dissatisfied for the same reasons: the children never listen, or after a long day of work there’s no time to rest at home, or money is always tight. And all too often, this leads to us giving up on God and breaking our covenant with Him. We may not verbally demand things from Him, but our frustration with our circumstances demonstrate what’s in our hearts: we want things to go our way. We get frustrated, even angry, when they don’t. We hurt others. Often verbally, sometimes physically. Sometimes we even hurt ourselves. Some of us try to hold it together, doing the best we can. Some of us go the other way and live our lives to satisfy our cravings and desires. We try to deal with the hand we’ve been dealt, and we fail miserably. We’re so broken we can’t even deal with good things. When God gave the Israelites a promise, they sinned when they failed to trust in a trustworthy God. And when God gave us life and other common graces, we sinned by pursuing those things instead of Him.
You want to get real? Let’s get real. Inside me is a heart that never fails to sin. There’s one inside you, too. Together we have spent every day since our birth pursuing ourselves and what we want, utterly failing to please God by doing what He wants. We get distracted; we get easily dissatisfied. You and I are, just as the Israelites were, tired of waiting. We’re especially tired of waiting for God to “show up” and meet us where we are. Christmas is for us because while we may not be waiting for the coming of a king whose throne and kingdom will be established forever and who will build a temple as a dwelling place for God, our biggest problem is that we have sin. We have sin, and we have a God who going to punish it. If He met us where we were, we would be dead.
But God saw our situation, just as He sees everything. He saw how desperately we needed help to stop sinning. He saw that, as hard as we tried to cope with the tumultuous tale that is our lives, we continued to fail. He saw how much we had rejected Him and chased after a host of other things to give us the satisfaction we want. So on the first Christmas day, He sent His son. They called him Immanuel, which means God with us (Matthew 1:23). He saw our plight, and He responded with the incarnation of His Son. He came because He cares. God is not sleeping. He is not dead. In one moment, He demonstrated His love for us by giving us His only Son. He kept His promise to the Israelites (Luke 1:31-33); and to them and every other person in the world, He gave a Savior. The culmination of God’s love is that this Son that He sent would, through death, take the punishment for our sins that brings us peace with Him (Isaiah 53:5).
So for you who find the holidays to be a trial, Christmas is for you. For you who find that family lets you down, Christmas is for you: God the Father gave His Son so that He could make you His own child. If you’re frustrated with life, frustrated with God, Christmas is for you. If you’re frustrated with the sins and shortcomings of others, Christmas acknowledges that, and it asks you to look at your own sins and shortcomings. Christmas is for you, because Christmas is for people who have sinned (Matthew 1:21). Be honest with yourself this Christmas. Be real with yourself. Because it’s when you admit your weakness that the joy of Christmas rings clear: on that first Christmas, God gave you what you needed most–Himself, as a gift; the satisfaction of a relationship with your creator, made possible through the birth of a child and forgiveness of sins through His death. Christmas is for you.