Are you experiencing a letdown after Christmas? When I was a boy I remember feeling that letdown in the middle of one Christmas day long ago when I realized all the presents were done and I’d have to wait another year for the happy season to come again. What’s the cure for this case of holiday doldrums? No, it’s not to just look to next Christmas or even the possibilities and resolutions for the New Year. The cure is actually to look back to Christmas and the joy found in the gift of Jesus. How can this joy of Christmas and Jesus transcend our ups and downs?
First, the joy of Christmas is about favor. The apostle Paul once wrote, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (Titus 2:11, English Standard Version). If not for this grace or favor of God, which “appeared” in the Baby Jesus that first Christmas, you and I would have no hope of salvation. God‘s favor is essential to salvation, for Paul also wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV). Despite our sinfulness, how we constantly rebel against Him and His perfect Law, God delights to show mercy to us and save those who come to faith in Jesus Christ. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves, for Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29, ESV). Paul further clarifies the fact that salvation is by God’s favor and not by our works, when he says, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7, ESV). When you and I come to understand that this favor of God is nothing we can earn, but just humbly receive from the hand of a loving and faithful Father, then the joy of Christmas will be with us always.
Next, the joy of Christmas is about forgiveness. Just like our physical needs of food, water, clothing and shelter, forgiveness is a basic spiritual necessity for us all. Surely we’ve all done things (and continue do things) we know are wrong; we’ve all sinned against God; we cannot keep God’s righteous demands in His Law. Our spiritual parents, Adam and Eve could not keep one law, and we do an even less than stellar job obeying the Ten Commandments and the rest of His Law in the Old Testament. We don’t love God with all of our beings, nor do we love our neighbor as ourselves or treat others as we would want to be treated. One of the main purposes for Jesus in coming to us on Christmas was to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21) because it is “to him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43, ESV). While the Bible says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness,” it also says, “in (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7, ESV). Through Jesus and His shed blood, you and I can always enjoy God’s forgiveness because “he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24, ESV).
The joy of Christmas is about freedom. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law of the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17, ESV). Jesus came to fulfill the Law’s demand of complete obedience for every person who believes. Because Jesus has done it all on our behalf, this means you and I who believe are set free from the Law. Jesus said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). The apostle Paul also wrote of this: “For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:5-6, ESV). Since believers are free on the basis of what Christ has done in His perfect life and then sacrifice on the cross, each believer can live free: free from guilt, free from fear, free from despair, free from sins that threaten to reign in and over us. The Christmas joy that lasts is choosing to live free from sin and free for God. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
Finally, the joy of Christmas is about forever. The most familiar verse in the Bible is John 3:16, which speaks of the eternal gift of Jesus. It says, ““For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The unbelieving world celebrates Christmas just like any other holiday. Today we sing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and tomorrow we go back to our lives as we put all of Christmas and Jesus back into the box till next year. To really appreciate the gift of Jesus and the celebration of Christmas, we must grasp that the favor, the forgiveness, and the freedom offered to you and me from God are not to be remembered just one day of the year. They are forever! “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11). Though we deserve death because of our sin, “for the wages of sin is death…” that is not the end because the verse continues “… but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). And Jesus said, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40). And speaking to His Father, Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 6:40, 17:3). It’s as we enter into this intimate relationship with our gracious and merciful God that we can transcend our ups and downs and enjoy the eternal and abundant life God wants to give us today and every day.