Time to start putting the lights away. Off come the decorations. Down come the stockings with which we adorn our fireplaces. And away with the trees that have stood in our homes during the Christmas season. Now begins the arduous process of undoing Christmas holiday decorating (unless, of course, one’s habit is to keep the decorations up until January 6th, the Epiphany – also known as the 12th Day of Christmas).
But either now or later, as those decorations begin to come down and the trappings and trimmings of Christmas celebrating are moved out of the way, it is very much hoped that we don’t get carried away and also pack up for the year those immaterial things that we say we cherish during the Christmas season.
Though our tinsel is tightly wound up and packed away, our hope should not be. Though our ornaments are each carefully placed within their boxes and stored again for a year, peace should still be our aim. In spite of the unplugging of the tree lights for another year, the light of God’s love should yet be shining in our hearts. And though stockings have been emptied and are neatly folded in a drawer some place, our joy should yet remain full to overflowing.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:3-6 NIV).
It does not matter that nativity scenes are plucked from our yards; their central figure should yet remain in the center of our own lives – Jesus should still be the One about Whom we gather to worship, bringing gifts as we come. Nor should we consider Him Something that can be packed away, but Someone Who perpetually deserves our love and devotion.
Having said that, we now come to the time of the year where the “rubber hits the road” (or should I say, “the reindeer hits the roof”). We now come to the point of having to apply what we said we believed over the past few weeks – not because we’re “guilt-ed” into it by sentimental movies, pious Christmas caroling, and the warm-fuzzies associated with the season, but because we really do believe they’re true: that the virtues we celebrated are truly worth possessing and demonstrating and that the object of our faith really is Who He says He is.
Permit me to risk an observation that I absolutely believe is true but may well give a bit of post-Yuletide indigestion: millions of people are “Christians” during Christmas who have no interest in God at other times of the year. Many of us treat Christmas like some treat St. Patrick’s Day. How often have you seen the cliché, “Everybody’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.” I am not concerned about the latter but enjoy the fun that people find in their suddenly being “Irish” and having to wear green for a day. I am extremely concerned, however, by the thought that there are folks whose faith is tied up only in the days associated with the Christmas season. I would rather you find the holiday utterly frustrating and meaningless than to find in it shallow satisfaction and false fulfillment.
What am I saying? I’m saying that Christmas is about our being called from sin and death back into the loving arms of a loving God Who condescended to become completely human, sharing in our weakness, feeling our hurts and sorrows, yet pointing us to the Father, sacrificing His Own life, and rising from the dead – that through faith in Him, we might have eternal life.
“Christ Jesus… being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness…. (He) has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin…. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father…. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Philippians 2:6-8, Hebrews 4:15b, Philippians 2:9-11, Hebrews 4:16 NIV).
What is this need that the Scriptures of God is talking about? It’s the need we have for eternal reconciliation with God which brings with it the healing of our hearts as we daily walk with and live for Him. And when is this “time of need”? It’s now. God is not Someone Who can be put off. His invitation to know Him, be forgiven and set free from sin is a “limited-time” offer – or at least, we should consider it so: open now to any who’ll heed it, and yet not guaranteed for tomorrow.
The days remaining in this year are rapidly running out. So also are the days in which we each may personally respond with acceptance the invitation of God’s love. Don’t let your days run out, but receive this wonderful gift of gifts.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (John 3:16, Romans 6:23 NIV).