Christmas in Light of Eternity

Yesterday I received news that a beloved member of my extended family, my aunt Debbie, passed away unexpectedly of a heart attack. My heart aches for my uncle, for my cousins, and for all who loved her dearly. It’s not what we expected.

Unmet Expectations

The unexpected loss of my aunt stands out even more against the backdrop of what we expect this time of year to feel like. We expect joy, festivity, and merry-making. We don’t like unexpected heartbreak, especially during the holiday season.

The truth be known, unmet expectations plagues many a Christmas gathering. You may expect that perfect gift, or that perfect someone, or that perfect family tradition, or that perfect treat, or that perfect home decor to satisfy you. But it can’t, at least not for more than a few fleeting moments. This transient life was never meant to satisfy you. Whatever ideal you have in your mind of what Christmas should bring, I’d like to suggest to you this Christmas that you change your expectations. Instead of expecting Christmas to satisfy you in ways it never can, let the passing pleasures of Christmas turn your longing heart to behold the eternal love of God.

Eternal Love

The center of this celebration, Jesus, is Himself eternal. All who repent of their sins and place their faith in Him alone for salvation can know for sure they will spend eternity with Him. My aunt Debbie professed faith in Christ. While we grieve, we do not grieve as those without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Because Jesus is eternal, Aunt Debbie can live forever.

We find the theme of eternal love in the Psalms. God repeatedly reassures believers of His eternally steadfast love, His covenant commitment to them. And because God’s love is eternal, His covenant love still applies to those who believe in Jesus Christ. Psalm 89 reminds us nine times that the love of God endures “forever.” Other passages repeat the theme:

For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
Psalm 100:5

Praise the Lord!
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Psalm 106:1

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Psalm 107:1

For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord!
Psalm 117:2

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say,
“His steadfast love endures forever…”
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever!

Psalm 118:1-4, 29

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.
Psalm 138:8

And, if those passages weren’t enough, Psalm 136 repeats the phrase “His steadfast love endures forevertwenty-six times! It is called an antiphonal song, designed so the congregation can repeat the same phrase in response to truths proclaimed by the worship leader. In light of the wonderful acts of God, we affirm over and over again “His steadfast love endures forever.

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Great Expectations

I can expect, in joy mixed with sorrow, that someday I will see my aunt Debbie. I hope you approach this Christmas with radical, hope-filled expectations of what Christmas can bring. In Jesus Christ, Christmas brings hope in our sorrow, joy in our sadness, solace in our suffering, grace in our weakness. And it will last forever, because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Merry Christmas!

C.P.

Competing with Christmas?

Emily and I have a deep-seated desire raise our 4 year-old daughter with Christ at the center of our family this Christmas. But it can be hard to compete with the excitement of presents, the glow of lights, and the taste of treats. I have confession to make- it’s not just my daughter who has a hard time concentrating on “the reason for the season.” It is hard for Evelyn to keep Christ in Christmas because it is hard for me to keep Christ in Christmas.

If you are like me, you have a lot going on. Gifts to order, a tree to decorate, lights to string up, parties and programs to attend, Christmas music to play (gotta hear ’em all!)- the list seems endless. How can we keep focused in the midst of the craziness?

I’d like to recommend that instead of competing with Christmas this year you leverage it. Earlier I made the argument that we should emphasize the season of Thanksgiving in order to adequately comprehend the meaning of Thanksgiving. And we can carry that same mentality into the Christmas season. Every good teacher knows repetition aids learning. You need to establish a pattern of worship this Christmas season that will help you see the beauty of the incarnation in a fresh way every day this month. With that thought in mind, here are a few recommended resources to help you keep Christ at the center of your Christmas every day in December.

Come, Let Us Adore Him by Paul David Tripp

This book is a daily advent devotional designed to keep you meditating on the incarnation all throughout December. For example, last night Emily and I read the devotional for December 3rd which focused on the promises of God as fulfilled in Jesus Christ. You can click on the link here and read about the book for yourself. But, in summary, I like this book for it’s

  1. accessibility (short, 2-3 page devotional readings)
  2. theology (Bible-saturated truths about the incarnation with a recommended short Scripture reading at the end)
  3. relevance (each reading includes suggested ways to discuss that day’s topic with your child or family)
  4. repetition (it covers every day in the month of December)

Creative Connections

If we are going to leverage Christmas, we need to be creative. However, I would not recommend reading Christian symbolism into cultural Christmas elements (like Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas) as if pagans intended the Christmas tree to always represent the cross. I think that practice is misleading at best and dangerously confusing at worst.

However, I am a fan of using cultural Christmas elements as a springboard into gospel-centered discussion. This year I bought a Lego advent calendar for Evelyn. She was kind of disappointed at the size of the first set we opened, but has since caught on to the fact that we get to open a new set every day and put it on the tree. Now she reminds me that we need to do the Lego advent calendar.

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And every time we reach for that box, I am reminded to start the discussion of what I have read the night before in Tripp’s advent devotional. This morning as I built a Lego fireplace with her, I explained to her what a promise was and how God kept his promises by sending his Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins. We talked about how we can be confident that Jesus will save us, because God always keeps his promises. We will have this type of discussion every day in the month of December as we build sets from her Lego advent calendar. Thank you, Lego!

You can do this with any type of Christmas cultural element that you cherish. The beauty of it is we all have the opportunity to create our own family traditions, to be creative in how we keep the gospel fresh on our minds every day.

Isaiah Christmas

One final spiritual exercise I would recommend relates to your Bible reading habits. Author Tony Reinke has produced a simple Bible reading plan that takes you through the book of Isaiah in the month of December. Every day Reinke helps you know what to look for by sharing a few insights about the upcoming reading. He also helps you understand the overarching purpose of the book of Isaiah and how it relates to the incarnation of Jesus Christ. I would recommend reading his introductory comments by clicking on the link here. There is one extra step, and that is to create a Twitter account if you don’t already have one. Perhaps someday he’ll make everything available on his website, but until then you will need to search #IsaiahChristmas on Twitter to read his comments.

This format has given greater meaning and depth to my daily devotional reading. I look forward every day to opening my Bible and learning more about Christ’s incarnation from the Old Testament. Then I just take a moment to Tweet my favorite verse from each day’s reading. Today’s verse was Isaiah 9:6:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

My hope and prayer for you is that you will truly be able to keep Christ in the center of your Christmas, not by competing with Christmas, but by leveraging it. I encourage you to establish a routine every day that keeps the gospel in the forefront of your mind. May you see more of Christ this Christmas than ever before.

C.P.

The Perfect Christmas Present

Do you have a wishlist? Recently I began the arduous task of sifting through various wishlists to pick out just the right present for each person. But, to me, the best gifts are not the ones found on a list, but the ones discovered in the little moments of life. Perhaps it’s happened to you- you make a passing comment in conversation, so passing in fact that you forgot you said it, but your friend tucks it away in his or her mind. They make a special note to get the gift that you love.

When you open your gifts, what is the most surprising and delightful gift of all? The one from the person who remembered what you said. In a world of wish lists, nothing beats thoughtfulness. That, in my mind, is the perfect Christmas present.

And you can have confidence that God will remember his promises to you. Nothing beats God’s sovereign “memory,” his sovereign “thoughtfulness,” his sovereign care.

God Remembers

Scripture teaches that God is omniscient, knowing all things, and yet it says he “remembers” us and his promises. So we have to ask the obvious question- why would God talk about himself in this way? The five-dollar word is anthropomorphism, which simply means God intentionally describes himself with human traits so we can better understand his character.

So when God “remembers” his covenant, it doesn’t mean he somehow forgot what he promised. It means that God is taking action on the basis of His covenant promises. So the Psalm writer prays,

Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people;
help me when you save them.
Psalm 106:4
(see also Ps. 105:8-11; 136:23-24; 132:1-5; 132:10-18)

He is asking God to save him just like God will save Israel. He is asking God to act on the basis of previously made promises.

We pray this way all the time. We ask God to take action based on the promises we read in his Word. We ask him to remember us.

But if we only call on God to remember us, we will fail to see the entire picture. It’s like completing the border of a puzzle but leaving the inside in pieces. You see, it’s not just that God remembers, it’s that he wants us to remember something, too.

We Remember

What should we remember? In the book of Psalms God calls the nation of Israel to remember their own history. In it they find repeated evidence of God’s covenant loyalty. Did they remember the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Aaron? Did they remember the events of the Exodus? Did they remember the wilderness wanderings? Did they remember the possession of the Promised Land (Ps. 105:12-44; 135:4-12; 136:10-24)? If they remembered those miraculous moments, they would find abundant reasons to trust in God. And so can we. Because God “remembers” us, we can, along with Israel, “remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered” (Ps. 105:5-6).

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So before you update your wish list, I’d encourage you to stop and consider what God has done for you. Remember this Christmas that he sent his Son Jesus to be born as a baby and live a perfect, sinless life. Remember that Jesus willingly chose to go to the cross and die for your sins and my sins. Remember that Christ rose from the grave, proving his deity and securing his exultation. Remember the gospel and believe (Philippians 2:5-11).

We can place our full confidence and trust in God because he remembers us. But it all starts with remembering him and what he has already done. Remembering God and his work in Jesus Christ is the best gift you can offer God this Christmas.

C.P.