To one group, the word evokes feelings of warm, loving, belonging with safety, abundance, and cherished family that, even in adulthood, have the lasting power to wrap themselves around one’s heart like a warm and cozy blanket. To a second group, the word conjures unbidden images like screaming fits and drunken brawls, the presence of abusive family members, broken dreams, splintered families, and the dreaded two-week school break obligating the witnessing of these things with no escape. That word is Christmas.

Maybe, as an adult in the first group, and now a follower of Jesus, there’s a sense in which Christmas, as celebrated in years gone by, meant parties and presents and food and decorations, Santa (painfully discovered to be as unreal as his blow-up likeness on the front lawn) and reindeer and elves. Now, figuring out how to hold all of that in tension with the harsh and disheartening realities of the world, is a growing challenge.

Maybe, as an adult in the second group, and now a follower of Jesus, there’s a sense in which Christmas is all the beautiful things people say, but the ugly, chill-producing memories form a formidable blockade to the rejoicing going on. The old and familiar, if unwelcome, image of Christmases past means that there is no holiday spirit in reserve to draw upon. No cheerful anticipation of the next social function. It all seems more like a recurring nightmare.

There is great hope for both of these extreme groups. For group one, the fulfillment of the prophecies for a Deliverer, the virgin conceiving the One to be called Jesus, the spectacularly underwhelming arrival of the King destined to rule over all kings for all eternity, merits a grand celebration. For group two, the supreme tranquility of the birth, the astonishing humility of the first invited guests to pay homage to the baby king, the near invisibility of the young family at the center of the drama, merit the quietest of reflections on these deep and mysterious wonders.

Christmas 2023, then, at its core, at its purest, is a heartfelt, worshipful acknowledgement of our release from bondage to sin and the grave. It is the soul’s cry of ‘Freedom!’ It is the giddy response to a development too good to be true, but that is, for all that, still undeniably true. It is the outburst of energized emotion that can never grow old. It is forever new. It is the morning-by-morning awareness of new mercies, new tendernesses, new Holy Spirit accompaniments. It is the grand restorer of equilibrium, the Great Physician’s healing touch on old wounds. What form and shape and volume our celebration takes is as varied as the individuals God has wooed to His heart, His Beloved. May we experience the freedom to shape our Christmas as He gives us liberty. Looking forward to more tomorrow, 10 AM, 3 PM, UK, 4 PM ES.  PD

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