“…And you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
Even in such a digital world, many of us still send, and many of us still receive Christmas greetings via the good old-fashioned mailbox. If that applies to you, then you probably know that at least some of these cards contain a letter. I think we could call this kind of note an “update letter”; a way of letting you and me know what we missed over the course of the past year in regard to the ‘happenings’ of the letter sender or senders.
As I sat reading through several of these letters the other day, a question came to me: “If I sent out a letter like this, what would I write about my own life over the course of the past year?” Then another question followed quickly on the heels of the first: “And what if I wrote this letter with the focus on my being, rather than my doing; not in light of what has happened to me, or around me, but within me?”
There is absolutely nothing wrong with hearing about a friend’s career highlights, how a co-worker spent her summer vacation, or about a nephew’s Little League victory. These are wonderful parts of our lives “under the sun”. But we all know that a full accounting of the past year would also include so many things we would never want to highlight. But what if I did? Would anyone really be interested in hearing about my weaknesses, doubts, cynicism, pride, and impatience? About my gnawing fears, destructive desires, and ugly indifference? And in terms of the spillover, would it really be appropriate for me to send out a summary of my year that spoke of all the times I blew up at my children, or got defensive with my wife, or was callous in regard to those in need, or was tepid in my spiritual disciplines and desires?
I have no doubt that some would find such a letter strange and out of step with the ‘holiday spirit’, with our modern emphasis on family, fun, and scrapbook-suited memories. But from the perspective of Scripture, wouldn’t such an accounting be perfectly in step with the miracle of Christmas? You see, the real miracle of Christmas is not that a virgin had a baby. If God made a man from dirt, He had no problem filling Mary’s womb with life. No, the real miracle of Christmas is that God came to save me from, not sentence me for my sins; that there was Incarnation and not incarceration. The real miracle of Christmas was that Eternity was born in time, so that the time of my eternal death would be cancelled.
Speaking of ‘full accountings’, remember the whole story. The lowly wood of Jesus’ manger must point us to the lowly wood of His cross. The light of His birth star must always be bound with the darkness of His dying breath. But unlike my being and doing, His were unstained. Thus, only He can “save his people from their sins”. And wonderfully there’s more! Even Christmas and Easter are intertwined. On both days Jesus was brought forth in new life; once from the womb, then from the tomb. Have you embraced these things, as God’s gift to the neediest person you know: you?
Maybe, just maybe, such a letter would reassure someone that he or she is not alone in their struggles, failures, and jumbled desires. Maybe at least one reader would be able to relate to such an update. And maybe these would come to understand the joy of Christmas in a whole new light, as truly the “dawn of redeeming grace”.
Because of Jesus, I can and should rehearse a year of failure and disobedience. Why? Because it reminds me (and hopefully others) of why I (we) so desperately need the saving grace Jesus died to give me. Even more so, because it reminds me that now, my victories and obedience are born of the One born at Christmas. I know what is of me, and I know what is of Him.
Friend, rejoice! Christ has come. The world may not be new, but you can be. Merry Christmas!