What could be more familiar to us than Christmas? As a child, Christmas was pure enchantment — picking out a family tree at a tree farm, decorating with sparkling lights, (my favorite were bubble lights that looked like a candle), smelling Christmas cookies baking in the oven.
The mystery of wrapped gifts under the tree kept us four boys guessing what was in the box. Mom tired of hearing us ask her how many more days would it be until Christmas morning. When Christmas carolers from the local Methodist Church would knock on our door and stand in the falling snow singing familiar Christmas carols, we knew it wouldn’t be long till Christmas morning.
I don’t know if you remember when the fantasy and wonder of Christmas left you, but I do. Sometime in my high school years, there was not the same excitement about Christmas I once felt. I wondered why? Why did I not feel the excitement and joy of the season. I felt flat and unmoved. I wanted to live the fantasy again, but I was not a child anymore. I’d grown up. I could not be a child anymore who got up early, real early — maybe two to three times too early, before Mom would let us four boys open our gifts.
Mom was always careful about making sure we each received the same number of gifts. One year I received a yellow Voit basketball. The smell of it, the newness of it, the way it bounced was so gratifying to me that I ran to the school playground to play basketball in freezing weather. I scooted six inches of snow off one end of the court with a snow shovel and shot baskets till my hands were frozen. At home, I’d wash the basketball to keep it bright yellow until the newness wore off.
Of course, I’d heard the Christmas story. Mom made sure that her four boys were in Sunday school every Sunday, and we had Christmas program speeches to memorize. I heard the angel’s message: “Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all people; for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” I neither knew Christ as my Savior nor as my Lord.
I’d seen the love of the adults in our church as they reached out to the community with Christmas gifts and food for the needy. I’d seen the peaceful countenance that adorned so many of their faces; I’d felt their concern for me to know Christ personally. Their names and their love still have a place in my mind and heart: Rose McGilton, Ann Gibson, Wanda Clark, Agnes Coleman, Gail Saffell, Bill Fox, Earnest Kettlewell — all in heaven now.
Coming from a small town with one church, I guess I just expected older adults to show kindness to others. Most adults I knew were generous and compassionate. I did not connect their saintly lives with their conversion to Christ.
I heard about the need for spiritual birth, but I did not get beyond a Sunday school’s knowledge of Jesus. What I knew about Jesus had reached my mind and did have a great impact on forming my moral character as a teenager. I believed I was responsible to God for my behavior. Yet, my beliefs had not traveled from my head to my heart where the reality of Christ’s presence could change my sinful desires.
In my early 20s, I experienced an existential crisis. As a college sophomore working and attending evening classes, I could imagine myself graduating from college, getting a job, marrying, having a family, building a house, working in my chosen career, retiring, growing old, getting sick, and dying. What was the meaning behind it all? There was no hope in living only to die.
I did what I’d avoided. I repented of my sinful life and asked Jesus, if He really existed, to reveal Himself to me. I told God that I would obey what I knew He wanted for my life. The presence of the Spirit in my life became undeniable. Like a megaphone, the Holy Spirit was leading me to think like Christ, act like Christ, and feel like Christ. I was reborn mentally, behaviorally, and emotionally.
I became serious with God, and my spiritual transformation was underway. Do I experience joy at Christmas. Yes, not only during this season, but I celebrate Christmas every day through the good times as well as the bad. Why? I know who I am — a child of God. I know where I’m going — to heaven. I know what I am to do — live a life that brings honor and glory to Him. His purposes are the overriding meaning of my life.
For the believer, Christ is a gift that endures forever. He has been born in my heart, so setting aside this season to celebrate His coming takes me beyond all the glitter, gifts, and gaiety to my own Bethlehem where I kneel before the Savior in love, humility, and appreciation for His giving me spiritual life.
For I was dead to His grace, lost in my own sin and selfishness, but He has entered into my heart. Now, I know the truth of Jesus’ words when He said, “I’ve come to give you an abundant life” (John 10:10b).
What about you? What meaning does Christmas have for you beyond all the preparation, decorations, and gift giving? If the external things are all that Christmas means to you, you’ll be glad when it’s over. If you know Christ, everything you do should be done for Him.
When you cook, you’re cooking for Jesus, when you shop, you’re shopping for Jesus, when you give gifts you’re giving for Jesus. Live for the glory and honor of Jesus, and you’ll experience Christmas everyday. It’s true. When you seek Him with your whole heart you will find Him.
Written and submitted by Pastor Doug Stull.