Dec. 23, 2012
Background Scripture: John 1:1-14; Ephesians 4:17-5:20
Devotional Reading: Psalms 97
In the last two months I have been deluged with advertisements for “lighting up your property in true Christmas style!” Practically every house on our block and surrounding streets will be similarly lighted “in true Christmas style.”
I have to admit, those Christmas lights make for a bright and cheery neighborhood. This section of Dallas, Texas, is particularly known for its elaborate Christmas decorations.
But, realizing that I may sound like an octogenarian Scrooge, I cannot help but disagree that these elaborate and brilliant decorations are necessarily in “true Christmas style.”
They are more reflective of the ever-growing Christmas-without-Christ phenomenon. Christmas is more and more becoming a celebration of “we’ve-forgotten-why.”
When I first realized the background scripture for this column appearing two days before Christmas would begin with John 1:1-14 and not either of the nativity stories in Luke and Matthew, I was distressed.
But, as I re-read the passage, it occurred to me this passage – and others – keeps Christmas from becoming or remaining just another charming children’s story upon which the economy has become dependent, a holiday that has lost much of its holiness.
In reading John 1, I like to supplement the usual translations with the J.B. Philips rendition: “At the beginning God expressed himself. That personal expression, that word, was with God and was God, and he existed with God from the beginning … So the word of God became a human being and lived among us.”
The term “word” comes from the Greek logos, the means whereby God makes himself known.
So the Christmas story begins with a helpless baby born to peasant parents in the feeding trough of a Bethlehem stable, and that is God expressing Himself by joining us in our humanity. This is the incarnation, the word made flesh.
The true purpose of Christmas, then, is to celebrate God’s revelation of Himself in the birth of a helpless infant. To put it simply, if we come to know Jesus, we actually come to know God. If to that you want to add Santa, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer and Christmas lights, okay – so long as we don’t forget who really heads the guest list.
John goes on to tell us the purpose of this unimaginable event: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (1:3b).
Jesus was born into this world, not to show off God’s power, but to overcome the darkness of this world with light, a power to transform life in this world according to God’s plan and purpose. So, actually an icon for Christmas is light – to overcome the darkness of a world living in light that is not truly Light.
Christmas calls us to see not only the lights of Christmas, but Christ the light: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light” (5:14). That is the first part of the Christmas message, but there is an equally vital second part.
Christmas is not only the assurance of God’s light shining in the darkness, but the challenge for each of us who see the light of Christ to become that light for others. In Matthew 5:14 we read: “You are the light of the world … let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
The writer of Ephesians puts it this way: “For once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord: walk as children of light …” (5: 8). That is the commission of every Christian individually and every church collectively.
Bearer of light
Henry P. Van Dusen says the Christian mission, “with all its weakness and its pettiness, its failures and its follies and infidelities, is the bearer of the Ultimate Power of the Universe. It is the bearer of the Light which cannot be overcome because it is lit from the Eternal Light of God himself … That light no manmade power can ever extinguish.”
The message of Christmas, then, is to both see the light of Christ and to be his light for the world. So, if you are going to decorate with lights, remember what they represent and with what they challenge us. The light we seek is the light of which we sing:
Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light,
And usher in the morning;
O shepherds shrink not with affright,
But hear the angel’s warning.
This child, now weak in infancy,
Our confidence and joy shall be.
The power of Satan breaking,
Our peace eternal making.
(Words by Johan Rist, 1641, and Fred Pratt Green, 1986, music by Johann Schop, 1641, harmonized by J.S. Bach, 1734.)
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Those with questions or comments for Rev. Althouse may write to him in care of this publication.