Finding Christ Despite Christmas
By Dianne D. McDonnell
Many people find Christmas to be a difficult time of the year. With all the emphasis on receiving presents and giving presents, it is especially difficult on people who find themselves in financial hardship. Those who have no family, or who are away from their family – find themselves lonelier than ever. So while Christmas preparations swirl around them, these people and many others find themselves alienated and sad and feeling a great sense of loss.
Of course December the 25th is not really the time of the birth of Jesus. The book of Luke tells us in Chapter 2, verse four, that there were shepherds living out in the fields on the night that Jesus was born. December is a cold and rainy season in Israel, and shepherds did not live outside watching over their flocks at that time of year. The December 25th day was actually picked because a pagan god named Mithras was once worshiped on that day, and the bawdy Roman Saturnalia celebration was held at that time of year, the winter solstice. The evergreen Christmas tree that is so central to today's Christmas celebrations actually originated in earlier cultures that worshiped a tree as a pagan symbol of life. Today's presents under the tree echo the offerings beneath those ancient tree idols. So we find everyone running about getting presents for each other, decorating with all kinds of pagan symbols, and pretending that it has something to do with Jesus Christ!
In view of all this, Jesus himself probably feels very alienated from the present-day Christmas traditions! None of it was a part of the New Testament church, or commanded by God. So if you are standing outside of all of this looking on, realize that it is a great time to really and truly turn your heart to God. You can just step aside from everything like an observer, and instead use this wintery time to search out what is true about God.
It is true that he cares very much about you. Whatever pain and anguish or suffering you are going through, you can pour out your heart to God and he will really care! Jesus, like his Father, was full of caring and compassion and never turned away from those suffering and in pain. The earthly ministry of Jesus was full of healing, teaching and loving the ordinary person! Even when Jesus was arrested and about to be led away to face death – he took time to care for someone who was his enemy. The apostle Peter whacked off a servant’s ear with this sword while defending Jesus. Jesus said to Peter, “No more of this! Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me? ” Then Jesus put the bloody ear back in place and totally healed the man! See the accounts in Matthew 26:51-54; Luke 22:50 -51; and John 18:10-11 for the combined account. Note that a “legion” is 6,000 troops, so Jesus had immediate access to over 72,000 angels.
Jesus did indeed drink that bitter cup. He endured a painful death rather than calling out to thousands of angels to save him. His motivation was loving obedience to his Father’s will, and his kind and compassionate love for each of us. Because of his sacrifice, and the completion of that great plan, we can turn to God the Father and ask to be forgiven of our sins! As the beloved Apostle John wrote,”…the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7. And John wrote in the next chapter, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:2. So even if Christmas is not the true time of the birth of Jesus -- it can mark your spiritual entry into God’s kingdom! What can be more significant than that? A million Christmas presents pale into total insignificance before such an event!
Even if you have no earthly family at all – you can still become a part of the most fantastic family of all! When you turn to God in true and sincere repentance, he stands ready to totally forgive you, give you his Holy Spirit, and then you become a child of God. What are you promised after full repentance? According to the words of Jesus, you are promised that death will not end your existence! “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.” John 3:16-17, New Living Translation. Just a few paragraphs later we find that we must be ready to “obey the Son” as part of full repentance. “The Father loves his Son, and he has given him authority over everything. And all who believe in God's Son have eternal life. Those who don't obey the Son will never experience eternal life, but the wrath of God remains upon them.” John 3:35-36, NLT
Becoming a “child of God” is not just a religious phrase – it is a reality that impacts your future! And it doesn’t have to be a “public” thing. It can be a very private event on your knees in your own bedroom. Here’s how:
Do this personal part first. Then later, once you have made this personal commitment, you can find someone that is willing to baptize you simply into Jesus Christ—not necessarily into all the details of their own denomination.
John is speaking to a group of repentant believers looking forward to eternal life when he writes, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.”
John is telling us that as children—at a future time– we are going to be like our Father. “What we will be” refers to what bodily form we will have – how we will look! It isn't yet known what we will look like, but we shall be like him with a real new body not subject to decay!
John goes on to state that everyone “who has this hope” of eternal life in a new form – “purifies himself” just as he, Jesus, is pure. John is talking about maintaining the purity that we have upon forgiveness. A child of God “purifies himself” – by avoiding sin! By ourselves that would be impossible. But with God's help, as His child, then it is indeed possible!
We need to have this concept of being pure broken down into more details for us for the world has gotten pretty mixed up on this point. Turn to 1 John, chapter 3, in your own Bible, and read in context the verses quoted above.
Verse four in this chapter makes a critical point. The King James Version translates this verse: “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” 1 John 3:4, KJV. To put this verse into contemporary words, “Whoever commits sin also transgresses the law; for sin is the breaking of the law.” John refers to God's own law – the Ten Commandments. So we see that it is the breaking of God's Ten Commandments that constitutes sin. Jesus was asked how one obtains “eternal life” meaning life beyond death, and he explained in Matt 19:17 “…if you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” Jesus also said in Matthew 5: 19, “So if you break the smallest commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God's laws and teaches them will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (New Living Translation)
Once we have been truly repentant before God, the sacrifice of Jesus covers the sins we have committed to that point. We have not earned that forgiveness, it is a free gift given in compassionate love. Jesus paid a high price for it, but we receive it free. When we turn to God and accept these things in a simple childlike belief, we can receive his own Holy Spirit, and become a child of God. But as His repentant, newly begotten child having a part of God's own spirit, we must be obedient to the laws of our Father. Jesus himself says we must obey God's laws– just as he obeyed them!
We find God’s Commandments in Deuteronomy 5 and Exodus 20. Read them over aloud for yourself and think about each one of them. According to the Bible, they define sin. Reading them over you may realize that there are some things you need to repent of that you hadn't even realized were sins! The article, Defining Right and Wrong, on this web site, may also be helpful in understanding the relationship between repentance without earning salvation, being forgiven, and then going on in daily obedience to God.
Try to read a little of God’s word every day, and you will slowly start to realize God’s true personality, and His amazing love toward you. Start your study with 1 John, then Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and on through the New Testament, and finally the entire Bible. Daily ask God to show you what he wants you to understand, and the truth you need for that day.
You will need to daily go to God in prayer asking him for help in living a new life free of sin. Talk to him about everything in your life – not just the “spiritual things.” There is a link between receiving from God what we ask in prayer and our loving obedience to his commandments and willingly doing what pleases God. See 1 John 3: 22, on this point. If you are doing your very best to obey God's commandments you will experience more and more examples of answered prayer. And when you do slip up and do something you realize is wrong, go to Him and ask for forgiveness. God is a loving God, and gentle in his mercy toward us when we are trying our best to obey His Commandments. Prayer does not have to be formal; it can be like simple and direct conversation. There are no “rules” to prayer other than to be aware that you are really being heard by a Mighty Father who loves you.
So even if Christmas is now a desolate time of year for you, it does not have to stay that way! It can become the time when you come to Jesus Christ!
Then each year will become a happy anniversary of new life as a true child of God!
For more information on the history of Christmas see:
On the Christmas Tree and its History
The History of Christmas - Christmas unWrapped [1/5]
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