It's the most wonderful time of the year. Or so they tell us. J.C. Penney has a television commercial wishing everyone Joy, Comfort, and Peace - JCP, get it? And Lexus, along with other automobile manufacturers, wants you to give your loved one a new car for Christmas. What world do they live in?
But what makes this the "most wonderful time of the year"? On what basis can anyone find "Joy, Comfort, and Peace" in the midst of the chaos and conflict in our society and the troubles so clearly seen around the world? How does one find Christmas cheer when the paycheck doesn't stretch from one pay period to the other, when just putting food on the table is an ongoing challenge, when marriages and families are falling apart, when one is struggling with chronic illness?
For many people the Christmas season doesn't bring joy, comfort, or peace. For them it's not the most wonderful time of the year. Right now people are running around trying to find that most perfect gift for that special someone or trying to find the right gift for every person on what seems to be a list that gets longer every year. As reality sets in it seems that Christmas doesn't deliver as advertised and Santa Claus isn't going to make it to everyone's house to leave presents for Christmas morning.
In trying and failing to reach some imagined ideal about Christmas a lot of folks become frustrated, angry, disappointed, and depressed. Even in the midst of Christmas crowds people find themselves lonely and lost. And as the pressure of the season builds, some of these lonely, lost, and desperate souls lose hope entirely, concluding the promises of the season to be empty. In the grip of a darkness they can't shake some tragically take their own lives out of sheer despair.
But here's the deal. All the promises of Christmas you see and hear put forth in our culture are not the real promises of Christmas. Christmas isn't about giving and getting gifts. It isn't about seasonal cheer or living out some imagined ideal that has as much substance as a will-o'-the-wisp. These things are counterfeits, created to sell products and services, designed to entertain and distract, the pursuit of which will actually keep you from experiencing the life-changing reality of Christmas.
But to get to the life-changing reality of Christmas you have to leave the manger and go to a cross. The reality of Christmas is found at the cross. The Son of God didn't come to earth just to give us a baby to coo over. This Child was born for the specific purpose of dying a horrible death to save us from our sins. Granted, without the Nativity there would have been no Golgotha. But it is Golgotha that gives meaning to Bethlehem.
Lives are not changed by the Babe of Bethlehem. They are changed by the risen Redeemer who became sin for us so that we might be reconciled to a holy God who loved us enough to send his Son to save us from the deadly consequences of our sins. This Babe, this Jesus of Nazareth, this Lamb of God, crucified for the sins of the world offers forgiveness of sin and eternal life in the world to come for every guilty sinner who will acknowledge his spiritual bankruptcy and turn to him in repentance and faith. None will ever be refused.
Joy to the world!