Today, we begin our journey toward Christmas.
Growing up in a Baptist church, we didn’t celebrate Advent like some denominations do. In fact, the first time I experienced a family gathering around an Advent candle, I was already married with at least one child. But I did understand the anticipation of waiting for Christmas, and the growing excitement as the days passed, knowing that Christmas was getting closer and closer. Each tradition and celebration throughout the month made it more real. Singing carols at church, practicing for Christmas pageants, shopping and wrapping gifts, decorating the tree, making cookies and candies, the exhilaration of the last day of school before Christmas break, and yes, even visiting Santa at the mall…all these events served to solidify the knowledge that there was something really special about Christmas, and that it truly was the best time of the year.
While we did all the secular things (trees, cookies laid out for Santa, etc.) I never was confused about the real meaning of Christmas. After a certain age, I realized Santa was just a fictional character, but my faith and belief in the reality of Jesus never wavered. I think children can discern the difference and if we model and teach a consistent, real faith in God all year round, they will know God is real and Santa is just a fun fairy tale. Even today, our grandchildren might enjoy waking up to see what mischief or kindness the “elf on the shelf” got into while they slept, but they know what’s real and what is make-believe.
My granddaughter left me a reminder of what is real in her mind and heart yesterday. I have two nativity sets and I intentionally put the smaller, more child-oriented one in the bedroom where she sleeps. (She also got her own little tree, of course). Her mom had warned me she does this, but it was so precious and sweet to find she had re-arranged my carefully placed nativity characters to better illustrate what Christmas is really about.
Mary and Joseph have always focused on the baby Jesus, but most of the time we arrange the pieces with the shepherds and wise men spread out as if approaching the manger. My granddaughter had a better idea. As you see in the picture, they are all gathered tightly around Jesus in a circle. Everyone is as close to the baby in the manger as possible, and no one is straggling behind. The wise men aren’t concerned about watering their camels and the shepherds aren’t distracted by their sheep. No one is left out; no one is too timid to approach. And Mary and Joseph certainly aren’t worried about keeping their visitors back from the baby in case someone has a cold!
They have all drawn near.
They have all come to behold the Son of God.
What a sweet reminder that God is not a far-off God. He left the wonders of heaven and laid aside the glory He had with His Father to dwell among us. He came close to us, but we must choose how close we want to be to Him.
John 6:40 – For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.
James 4:8a – Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
Have you been “around” Jesus but failed to draw near? Has God given you glimpses of His power and glory and might and grace and mercy and providential care, but you’re still far off, unwilling to draw closer? Have you beheld the Son, but not believed?
Do you realize that it is the mercy of God that you have breath in your lungs, strength in your legs, and a mind that can think clearly to make rational decisions?
Do you understand that when you recover from an illness, the medicine that helps is a blessing from God and that He is the One who designed the tiniest cells in your body to work together in miraculous ways that allow you to heal?
Do you fully perceive that your ability to give and receive love, to enjoy relationships was intentionally created by God for your joy and pleasure in this life?
James 1:17 – Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.
Every good thing in your life is due to the mercy and grace of God. And every good thing lost – every hardship, every pain, every disappointment, every addiction, every broken heart – is due to the sin that shatters our world and severs our relationship with God.
And that’s why the baby came.
Jesus came to heal our world and give back to us all that God planned for us before time began. He came to allow us to behold Him and believe in Him.
How will you celebrate Christmas? Will you stand far off, observing the faithful followers of Jesus who gather near the manger to worship? Will you recognize the goodness of God in your life, but fail to give Him glory for it? Will you behold Jesus, but not believe in Him?
Or will you do as my granddaughter knows we ought to do? Draw near – as close as you can get to the Savior who humbled Himself to enter our world, so that we could enter His.
John 6:35-37 – Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.