Picture with me, for a moment, what life was like for the Jewish people 2000 years ago. They were living under Roman rule. While technically, they were “free”, in reality, the Romans had great control over many aspects of their life. The Romans pronounced that all people had religious freedom, political freedom, and freedom of thought, yet they maintained strict control. The Jewish self-government reported to the authority of the local Roman government, which reported to Rome. They were heavily taxed by the Roman government and there was a great disparity between the rich and poor. The Jews had great contempt and hatred for the Romans…they were definitely unwilling subjects of the Roman rule. The Jews believed in ONE God, while the surrounding culture believed in many gods. The Romans taught that all religions could live compatibly with one another in peace. (Hmmm, I wonder if they used the words tolerance and diversity?) The Jews were anxiously awaiting their promised Messiah, whom they believed would come and save them both spiritually and politically. They thought that the Saviour that God had promised would come and relieve them of the foreign oppression they had suffered under for centuries. I’m sure they pictured some great political leader who would come and right all the wrongs they had suffered and topple the Roman Empire. It had also been 400 years since God had sent them a prophet to remind them of His love for them. It was a time of darkness for them…a time of clinging to the hope they had that God would break His silence and send them relief from their sufferings.
Does this sound at all familiar? It’s been less than a month since our country held its national election. I know as my family sat that night and watched the results come in, our spirits sank. We watched as our nation voted for people and policies that are diametrically opposed to our beliefs as Christians. What began as a party atmosphere at our house ended with us on our knees, begging God to change our country and bring us back to Him. We grieved as it became obvious how far our country has fallen from its God-fearing foundation. As we processed our emotions that night, God made something very clear to me. My hope is not, and never will be, in a political leader. It is not in laws, or government, or any man. Like the Jews, we may be unwilling subjects of a government that protects the right to kill our unborn babies, but not those babies’ right to live. We may groan under the heavy taxation enforced on us by that same government. We may hold our belief in the One God as sacred, while our culture tries to teach us that all religions are equal and that there are many ways to spiritual fulfillment. We may imagine, and even pray for, a great political leader to rise up and rescue us from this downhill slide into a country that will eventually lose God’s hand of blessing. Just like the Jews of 2000 years ago, we may feel a sense of despair and hopelessness.
BUT, we have one advantage over the Jewish people of long ago. We know that the answer to our problems has already come. We know that the Messiah is not going to be a Republican or a Democrat or a member of the Tea Party, but the very Son of God himself. We know that 2000 years ago, on a night much like this one, God heard the cries of the Jews who begged Him for salvation, and He answered. Not with a warrior, nor a political champion, but with a Child. He answered with the cry of a tiny baby, born to a poor family, to a mother and father willing to be obedient to all that God had asked of them. He gave them the greatest gift of all time…the gift of His very own son, sent to bring hope and peace and joy into a world full of turmoil and anguish. Let’s read the most beautiful story in all of history…
Luke 2:1-20 “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth, peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
and on earth, peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
I know that this time of year, it has become almost impossible to be still and really contemplate what is truly important at Christmas. We bustle around, decorating and shopping and baking and attending our children’s many Christmas recitals and plays and concerts. We worry and fret about finding the perfect gifts for our extended families, and getting the Christmas cards out on time, and we have so many expectations of what the perfect Christmas will look like, that we completely forget to sit and be still and gaze at the baby in the Manger who came to give up His very life to bring us hope and reconciliation and forgiveness. Many times we get through the Christmas season and are left feeling empty and disappointed, as though the entire season passed us by without our having a moment to enjoy it.
Christmas is NOT about all the activities and parties and things that distract us, but about one simple thing: a tiny baby, come to earth to give us the greatest gift of all, HOPE for a future in heaven with our Lord. This year, I hope that you will not just celebrate Christmas, but that you will find a way to celebrate Advent…the coming of our Lord. This advent is not just something that happened in the past, when Jesus was born. In celebrating Advent, we celebrate Christ’s coming to earth as a baby, His continuous presence as He reigns in our hearts and walks with us through our struggles, and His future second coming, when He will take us to Heaven to live with him forever. This is the true story of Christmas, and it is one that gives us a real reason to celebrate this year! If we can keep this truth foremost in our thoughts, then we can find Him in all that we do this next month. We can do more than just celebrate one special day…we can anticipate eternity. We can see him in the symbols of Christmas: His everlasting love symbolized by the evergreen trees, a reminder that He is the light of the world when we see the pretty Christmas lights, the forgiveness of our sins thru his blood, shed on the cross, in the color red that is everywhere this time of year, and a reminder of His perfect gift to us every time we give or receive a present. No matter what you face this Christmas season, whether it is serious illness or missing a loved one or a broken relationship that desperately needs mending, or just plain busyness and distraction, please remember that absolutely nothing can separate you from the greatest love ever offered to man. Romans 8:37-39 says, “No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Did you catch that? “Nothing in all creation”…no matter what circumstances you are facing this year or how heavy your heart may feel, absolutely nothing can separate you from God’s love for you, expressed in the gift of His son.
This Christmas, when you see these three words, remember that Jesus came to bring us JOY (by setting us free from our sins), HOPE (of an eternity in heaven with Him), and PEACE (because we can never be separated from His love, no matter our circumstances). Let’s eagerly anticipate His return while we celebrate this very special season. Romans 15:13 says, “ May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Now, that’s not a typical Christmas verse, but doesn’t it express what we should be experiencing this time of year? I encourage you to purpose right now, before the season really begins, to set aside just a few minutes a day to sit quietly and think about a Saviour who came to earth as a baby to bring you salvation, and who will return some day to take you home.
I’d like to close with a link to my very favorite Christmas hymn, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”. It expresses such a longing for Jesus to come and never fails to bring me to tears. May our hearts be filled with such a longing this Christmas, and may we experience His hope, peace, and joy in a new and amazing way this Christmas.