Ripped and crumpled wrapping paper everywhere… The familiar image is one I am sure many of you were face to face with this past Monday. Christmas Day seems to come and go so quickly. I hope you had the opportunity to take a breath and enjoy each moment. I hope as you sat and watched children’s faces light up as they opened those special gifts you were able to find joy in the act of giving. However, mostly, I hope you were able to reflect upon the glory of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Gifts are a wonderful tradition this time of year, but if that is all you got out of Christmas then you are really missing out. Gifts are great when they are first given but that joy doesn’t last. Presents break or get old, you grow out of those things you once loved, and kids simply lose interest in that toy they “couldn’t live without.” In the live action film version of the classic Dr. Seuss story “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, the Grinch yells out, “That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? That’s what it’s always been about. Gifts…! You wanna know what happens to your gifts? They all come to me. In your garbage. You see what I’m saying? In your garbage!” I’m not trying to be a grinch, but I think that line sheds light upon how we often look at Christmas. If Christmas is about the gifts, then what do we do once they are opened and eventually forgotten? Yes, they will be enjoyed and played with for a time but eventually the Grinch has it right: most of our gifts end up in the garbage.
Jesus says something very similar to this during His sermon on the mount. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21) Again, I’m not saying gift giving is wrong. I enjoy giving and receiving gifts myself. What I think Jesus wants us to see, though, is that all of our gifts, good things, “treasures”, etc. do not last. If those items are the sole means of our joy, we must be prepared to be let down by the simple fact that the feelings they might bring for a moment soon fade away. So what then? If all of this holiday cheer is simply about gifts and treats, what happens when it is all gone? Now that the gifts are opened, the boxes and used wrapping paper has been thrown out, and the decorations soon to be placed back into storage, now what will we do? I suppose we wait for next year… and the next… and the next… Each new holiday season brings with it the promise of joy and happiness that goes as quickly as it came. January hits and we each go back to our everyday lives longing for that feeling of joy once again.
However, if we celebrate Christmas in light of the birth of Jesus, then we are able to retain that joy throughout the year. How? Simply because we recognize that Christmas is not the end of the story but only the beginning. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ, the fact that God took upon human flesh and entered into His own creation. This is most definitely a beautiful thing to celebrate and it is right for us to do so. Christians, though, understand that the celebration of Christmas would not be possible without the cross and resurrection of Christ, which we celebrate at Easter. When we remember this, the joy of Christmas does not disappear the moment the last present is unwrapped. Instead, we are daily filled with joy throughout the year because Jesus was born, yes, but also because He lived a perfect life, died as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of His people, and rose again three days later defeating sin and death. This is the Gospel message that saves. Do you believe it? Do you trust in Christ’s sacrifice for your sins? Only when you understand this will the joy of Christmas remain even after all the gifts are old and ready to be thrown away.
So here we are a few days after Christmas. How do you feel? Worn out? Tired? Ready to get back to the grind? Perhaps the answer is “yes” to all of these, but are you holding on to that joy that we celebrate at Christmas? The joy that comes from knowing you have a God who loves you so much He came to earth to save you. The joy that comes from knowing Christmas is only the beginning of all that God has in store. Finally, the joy that comes from knowing that although the treasures we have on earth will rot and fade away, the treasures that await those who trust in Christ are infinitely beyond comparison. The gifts under the tree are gone but the gift of life in Christ remains.
By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ