This is an updated version of an article that first appeared at RadicalStory.com in 2020
Christmas is in full swing once again. Homes are decorated with string lights, Santas and reindeer. Stores are full of frantic Christmas shoppers. Everywhere you look there are office Christmas parties, gift exchanges, Christmas treats, greeting cards and elves on shelves. Kids are getting excited about what they will find under the tree. After the last couple of Christmases of restrictions, it’s nice to be able to move about freely and Christmas is always a great time of year for fun and celebration.
There are many stories associated with Christmas. Stories full of wonder, excitement, mystery and love. In the best stories we learn and experience meaning that has potential to change and shape our lives. I want this for my kids, both in the tales they are told and the tales that they tell.
Our traditional Christmas stories here in North America vary a great deal. On one hand we have Santa in the North Pole with his army of elves making presents for good little boys and girls. We have flying reindeer pulling a sleigh that can whisk Santa all over the world in one night. There is a sack full of gifts that can magically hold enough for every child. We have dancing snowmen, scrooges, nutcracker soldiers, and Cindy-Lou Who, just to name a few.
On the other hand we have a story of a different kind. A story that is older and deeper and richer. A story of history and truth. The first chapters of this story begin with a good and beautiful creation, a broken relationship, and a foretelling of the One who God will send to restore it.1
In this story we have prophecies, hundreds of years old, that predict a child born in Bethlehem,2 from a specific ancestral line,3 who will save a dark and hurting world from itself.4 We have an angel appearing to a young woman, a virgin, telling her that through the power of God’s Spirit she will bear the child that will save the world.5 We have that same young woman, now pregnant, forced by governmental decree to travel to Bethlehem with her husband,6 who accepts her story because he also experienced an angelic encounter in his dreams.7
We have angels from heaven, lighting up the sky, singing praises to the Creator. They have news that will change the world but they don’t seek to give this news to political and religious leaders or to the rich and famous. They go to shepherds in the fields, telling of the birth of the King that will bring joy to all people… starting with people like them.8 We have the story of a child-king born alongside farm animals because no one else has room for Him, and how He is laid in a food trough for a bed. 9 It is here that the shepherds come to see with their own eyes who the angel had told them was the long foretold Messiah.10
We have a God who so loves His creation that He willingly sets aside His rights as ruler of the universe to become a vulnerable human. Entering the world surrounded by dirt, foul smells and hardship. Born to poor, working class parents into a life of struggle. Coming as a human who would hunger and thirst, feel loneliness and betrayal, suffer and die. All things He needn’t have ever experienced first hand as God.11
Whether or not we return His love, we have a God who is willing to go to these lengths because of His great love for us.12
We have Magi from far to the East who see a sign in the sky and know a new King is born. They journey to Jerusalem, then Bethlehem, arriving some time after the child is born, bearing Him gifts. Gold for a king, frankincense for a deity and myrrh to prepare the dead for burial.13 Gifts that tell us of who the child is and what He will become.
The story doesn’t stop with Christmas. It goes on with dreams of warning and a flight out of the country to escape an evil King.14 There is a boy, growing and learning15 and showing divine insight to His elders.16 He becomes a man who starts a ministry,17 performs miracles,18 turns the religious establishment on its head,19 claims to be God,20 then proves it by rising from the dead.21
We have a man who inspired a following who would take His story to the entire world.22 A story that tells of evil and death defeated in an act of love.23 Broken humans being reconciled with the God who made us.24 We have a promise of eternal life25 on a new earth where evil has been banished and where He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.26
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Revelation 21:3-4
While other stories might contain some simple moral truths and entertain us, the story of Jesus offers the ultimate gift of life to anyone willing to receive it. It is free, for both the naughty and the nice, for the rich and for those who cannot afford to put presents under the tree, for the educated and uneducated, the powerful and the weak, the popular and the outcast.
Jesus doesn’t offer the latest toys and gadgets, but peace and love and strength and hope and joy, no matter what our circumstances. He offers us the ability to become the people who God created us to be. He offers restoration of our relationship with the God who made us and our relationships with each other. He offers life and peace and hope and strength and joy, both in this world and for eternity.
There is real darkness in our world. It’s not just in our world, but inside each of us. Much of our focus at Christmas serves to distract us from that darkness. We are distracted from seeing our real need. Our need for a saviour. But when we do see it, Jesus helps us discover who we really are. He gives us a real and lasting hope for the future.
It is now our sixth Christmas since my wife, Kimberly, died of cancer. The kids are now 10, 11 and 13 years old. At Christmas, I want them to focus on the stories that gave us peace and strength and hope as a family, even as we watched their mother’s life slowly fade away. Peace and strength and hope that our family still needs in greater measure at this time of year.
I want us to focus not on distraction, but on meaning and purpose in our lives as we continue on as part of the Great Story, bearing the image of God as we await Jesus’ return. A story where we have real hope of seeing Kimberly again. Seeing her with a new and healthy body in a renewed and healthy world where no evil is permitted to dwell. Where no cancer will be able to take her from us.
I haven’t quite gotten my head around why, even in Christian households, there is often more focus on celebrating Santa than Jesus at Christmas. Maybe it’s because distraction is easier than thinking about who Jesus really is and why we are here. Maybe many of us are more interested in ‘stuff’ than in Jesus. Maybe it’s because we don’t want to believe that we truly have a darkness inside us that we do not have the capacity to take care of by reaching within ourselves… that we need someone to save us. Or maybe we have a hard time believing that the God of the universe really has an inexhaustible love for us, despite our darkness and brokenness.
Whatever the reason, the best Christmas story is a story of incredible hope. A brilliant light born into a dark world. A Saviour who was laid in a manger. The story of the Hope of the World that will cause great joy for all people. I pray for everyone who reads these words, that you will encounter the story of Jesus in a new and deeper way this Christmas.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. – Isaiah 9:2
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6
- Genesis 1-3
- Micah 5:2
- Jeremiah 23:5, Matthew 1
- Isaiah 61:1
- Isaiah 7:14, Luke 1:26-38, 1 John 4:14
- Luke 2:1-5
- Matthew 1:18-25
- Luke 2:8-14
- Luke 2:6-7
- Luke 2:15-20
- Philippians 2:6-8
- John 15:13, Romans 5:8, John 3:16
- Matthew 2:1-12
- Matthew 2:13
- Luke 2:52
- Luke 2:41-52
- Matthew 4:12-25
- Luke 7:20-23
- Matthew 23
- Melinda Penner, Stand To Reason, “Where Did Jesus Claim to Be God?”, https://www.str.org/w/where-did-jesus-claim-to-be-god-, Date Accessed: December 14, 2020.
- Mark 16, Luke 24, Matthew 28, John 20, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8
- Matthew 28:16-20
- Isaiah 25:8, 2 Timothy 1:10, Hebrews 2:14
- 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, Romans 5:10,
- John 3:16, 1 John 5:13
- Revelation 21:1-5