Christmas, at Last

My colleague, Keith Collier, is a proud “Post-Turk” theologian—no Christmas music or decoration until after Thanksgiving turkey. I cheated on that this year as I listened to music in preparation for our church’s early December Christmas program. I must say that a pretty steady diet of “Joy to the World,” “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen,” “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” and “O’ Come Immanuel” did wonders to my late October and early November attitude. I needed that after a tough 2016. Maybe you need that also this year. This being our December issue of the TEXAN, you are entitled by even Keith’s standards to let the best songs in Christian hymnody minister to your heart. 

It seems right that after a year of alarms, upsets and even disagreements within the body, that we would have a season of peace. Isn’t that a small version of the historical context for the first Christmas? 

If you’ve said “how long, Lord?” this year, imagine Israel in 6 B.C. God’s people were led by religious leaders who’d grown cold and legalistic. The king, a vassal of Rome, taxed the people heavily, offended the religious of all parties, and murdered his wife and her mother and two of his sons in his mad paranoia. The nation was in fact occupied by one of the most brutal empires in history. The differences between the rich and the poor were vast, and starvation was a real possibility for those who fell ill or were orphaned. Thus, we read of the joy of the shepherds and the gratitude of Anna and Simeon, who counted it an unspeakable honor to merely see the beginning of the Redeemer’s human life. I don’t know that we can imagine it, but perhaps if we visited a poor and brutal third-world dictatorship we would get a picture of it. And these were God’s people, and Jerusalem was his city. The Lord had not spoken to Israel in 400 years, a span nearly as long as the entire period of the Judges, during which he provided 16 deliverers for the nation. Israel faced the invasion of the Greek Empire, the fragmentation of that empire, a successful rebellion against the Greeks, a period of independent monarchy and the conquest of the land by Rome—all without a prophet or a word from the Lord. 

Our nation has had a troubling year. 2016 was a year in which the two major political parties fielded more than 20 candidates and then selected two that many people found unacceptable. We’ve seen devastating tragedies in cities across the nation and the re-opening of racial tensions that many hoped we were moving past. The death of Antonin Scalia last spring caused anxiety across the board as the court considered culture-altering issues. And then came Election Day. Nearly everyone was surprised and many were outraged and disappointed that 60 million of their neighbors, and fellow church members, voted for a man they found so offensive—they made him president.

I think even this horrible, terrible, no-good year looks bearable compared to the epoch into which Jesus was born. But it’s fine to desire a respite. I desire a season of peace, of healing. As we consider the Romans 5:20 nature of God’s redeeming grace (“where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”) celebrated at Christmas, we are reminded to lift our eyes from our mobile devices, away from outrageous headlines … up from outrage itself, to that holy night of peace and promise. 

Whether accurate or not, I’ll always think of that first Christmas as a cold and clear night—a night when the stars shone brightly and the world was quiet. That’s what peace looks like to me sometimes. Of course many significant things happened during that quiet night when “How long, O’ Lord?” became “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” This year, that story seems to be written small during these 12 challenging months.  

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe portrays the fallen world as a place where it is “always winter but never Christmas.” When the Savior, a great lion in that story, begins to move across the land, things begin to sprout and ice begins to melt—the promise of justice restored and life renewed. For us that promise was just as certain in June as it is in December, but the Christmas season is uniquely focused on redemption and hope. I look forward to it especially this year. 

I wish you joy as you celebrate the Savior this year. May he fortify us with faith that he is strong each day in the lives of those who trust him, regardless of what alarms arise in the coming months.  

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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