UPDATE: This is part 1. Part 2 here.
The nature of all sin is that we are so easily willing to settle. We could have the very best of all that God has in store for us, but all too often we take the easy way, the short cut, the path of least resistance or instant gratification. Instant gratification may the biggest temptation our culture offers today. A functional relationship with an actual human being takes time and effort, whereas “hooking up” for a one-night stand requires no long-term commitment. I contend that the long-term benefits make the commitment a worthwhile endeavor. A thief – or simply someone who is lazy – is thinking hard work pays off eventually, stealing pays off right now. But there are also consequences for cheating to get ahead. Sin is almost always an attempt to skip to the good part. Satan tempted Jesus three times with shortcuts; turn this bread to stone, prove yourself by jumping from a high place, bow down and worship me. (1) Any of those would have brought more immediate although less rewarding gratification than by taking the slow, painful path to the cross. Sometimes God’s will is the slow, tough path. The problem is that we are willing to settle for less.
The same is true with Christmas.
It is easier to settle for a version of Christmas that evokes a sentimental, warm fuzzy feeling than to proclaim that God is in the manger. We let beautiful women in choir robes pass as angels when in scripture they are mighty warriors. (2) Satan stalks like a roaring lion for whom he may devour, and what better time to take Jesus out of the picture than as a defenseless newborn baby? That’s not a choir singing to the shepherds, it’s an entourage escorting Jesus safely into the world; the fallen world, inhabited by rulers of spiritual darkness. We settle for stylized images and cartoonish angels, wise men, shepherds, and even the family of Jesus. Or we ditch Jesus altogether, and settle for the notion that Christmas is about decorating the tree, or family get togethers, or snow covered landscapes. Christmas is reduced to a season peace, love, sharing and caring. Which is not untrue, it’s just not all there is. God gave us more. The reason Christmas is about peace on earth is that Jesus is in the manger. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. He is the incarnation of God. He is the Prince of Peace. He put on a robe of flesh and walked in our shoes for 33 and a half years. He was tempted, suffered, bled and died. Christmas is a turning point in the epic story of how a Holy God relates to fallen, broken and sinful mankind.
Our family decorates a Christmas tree. We go caroling, eat cookies and cakes, and watch holiday television specials. We meet for dinner on Christmas Day. But Christmas should mean even more for those who have knelt at the foot of the cross. We didn’t need a list of rules or another chance to try to do better; what we needed was a savior. Christmas should remind does us that God sent us one. The God that created heaven and earth and ordained the events of history… is in the manger. That is good news for all mankind.
1) Jesus’ Example: Resisting Temptation