The people who handle sweepstakes contests seem to know a lot about the way Americans celebrate Christmas. As you read this article, millions of entry-forms have already been addressed, bundled, and are now waiting to be fed into the stream of mail after December 26. Not before Christmas, when Third Class mail is impatiently tossed aside; not months after Christmas, when life’s pace is back to normal, but as close to the 26th as possible.
Merchants ride the wave of pre-holiday excitement, as enthusiasm soars and anticipation builds, but sweepstakes companies look beyond Christmas when bank-accounts are depleted and shallow wells of holiday sentiment run dry. The season for which Americans spend more time preparing than any other, ends abruptly; like a blown fuse. The world’s interest in Christmas may seem passionate, but is only passing.
No surprise here. True today are the words that Paul penned by inspiration nearly two thousand years ago: “Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16). “Mystery” is the key word, both to the passage and to the reason why the world abandons the season so suddenly. Bright lights and festive gatherings, gift giving and false notions of worldly peace, these may generate a holiday spirit, but have little to do with the mystery that Christmas is about. “The “mystery of godliness” is beyond the grasp of human reason and cannot be understood apart from the Spirit’s power. No wonder the world shrugs and moves on to other things.
And yet, the same “mystery” is precisely what makes our celebration a lasting one.
No Ordinary Birth
Every birth is a mystery. Each is an awesome miracle of God’s wisdom and power. But here is no ordinary birth and Jesus is no ordinary child. This is the birth and He is the Child to whom all of Scripture testifies, upon Whom the faith of every believer rests. The mystery is not that a child would be born but that the Child was born. Not another in the long line of sinners, born in a natural way, but God Himself coming to this earth to redeem us from our sins. Each Sunday we rattle off the truth: “He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.” But think of what that means: This Child, helplessly cradled in His mother’s arms, is really the almighty God!
Therefore, lest seasonal distractions rob us, Christians need to step back from the mad worldly scramble and to quietly ponder the stupendous truth that “God was manifested in the flesh.”
Why not revisit those wondrous accounts in Scripture — noting every miraculous detail, allowing the Spirit to drench your heart with joyful appreciation and to fill your faith with the wide-eyed wonder that does not diminish with time. Replay the scene in the theater of your mind, asking, not, “How could this happen?” but, “What happened?” and “Why?” Then listen to the Spirit’s response: “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him” (1 Jn. 4:9). It’s another mystery, of course, one we call the Gospel, which heralds God’s unfathomable love for us, and yields the peace of sins forgiven.
Ironic, isn’t it? The world’s celebration screeches to a halt because Christmas is a mystery. Yet, the same mystery charges our faith with abiding joy.
Thanks to the Spirit, you can celebrate a lifetime of Christmases and the same message never loses its wonder. Even winning the sweepstakes is pointless by comparison.
— Pastor James Albrecht