Christmas Like a Christian

Five Glories the World Belittles

Words alone could never fully capture the meaning and wonder of Christmas — but we can sure do a whole lot better than the card aisles in stores today. “Many blessings and wishes to you.” “May your life be filled with warmth and good cheer this holiday season.” “Sending lots of peace and joy to you and your family this Christmas.” “It’s people like you who make this season so magical and bright.”

No, it’s not people like you (or me) that make this season merry, magical, or bright. In fact, by increasingly thinking we’re what makes Christmas so merry, we’re slowly siphoning off its true power. The Son of the living God was born human in a small town in the Middle East, sent to bear the awful weight of sin and shame, overpower Satan’s terrifying forces of evil, place death itself in the grave, and clear the narrow path to paradise, and yet how many settle for something superficial and fleeting instead — for greeting cards, newly released electronics, and a few LED lights?

Read enough cards and watch enough movies, and you begin to wonder if the actual “magic” of our modern Christmas is avoiding the real Christmas altogether.

Unfeigned Magic

The world can have its makeshift magic over these next couple days; we’re praying for a spiritual miracle — in us, freshly and more deeply, and then in everyone we love:

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory. (1 Peter 1:8)

Do you still love the King lying in the manger? Does your heart still rise to see him serve his friends, heal the sick, deliver the possessed, and then die for the world? Do you recognize yourself in the verse above, rejoicing “with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory”? If not, come and look again at the deeper, earth-shaking, heaven-filling magic of Christmas, all from just one paragraph in Colossians 1.

1. This Christ shows us God.

He is the image of the invisible God. (Colossians 1:15)

Those eight words really ought to be enough to drive the banality right out of our homes and pews. The man who was born to a real woman, with a real womb, in a real city, during a real time in history has made the infinite and invisible God seeable. Recognizable. Huggable. Human. This Christ was in the beginning, and all things were made through him. And then he took on the flesh that he had made, and ate the food that he had made, and walked over hills that he had made, and loved the people that he had made — all so that we might see God.

And not only did God make himself seeable in the child born in Bethlehem, but he’s opened our eyes to see his glory — in the manger, at the cross, on the throne. Before we believed, “the god of this world” kept us from seeing what we now see. And then, whether suddenly or slowly, we saw him differently. We came to see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). In this Jesus, we’ve seen God.

2. This Christ created and upholds all things.

By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16–17)

The man at the center of Christmas changes how we see God — we actually see him — and he changes how we see every other thing we see (and everything we don’t). Christmas isn’t only an opportunity to place Christ above all else, but to see him in and behind all else. “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). The one who came to live on earth invented earth and life. This makes everything around us, everything in the universe, everything beyond our universe its own Christmas devotion about Christ.

He assembled the trees in our yards, wrapping their rings, stretching their branches, carefully placing leaves and fruit — billions and billions of trees, and yet each of them their own. And over all those trees, he painted a sky, that cosmic canopy of blue. And over that canopy, he taught the sun how to rise each morning and dance, in all its colors, each evening. And beneath that dance, he wove together the people we love, all the people we love, for all the reasons that we love them. Everything that is or will be, he made. He was and is the great Carpenter of creation.

This carpenter was in the beginning, but he wasn’t only in the beginning. He made all things, but he didn’t only make all things; he also holds them together — right now, as you read, and eat, and unwrap presents, and sing. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3).

3. This Christ came to receive the wrath of God.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him. (Colossians 1:21–22)

As genuinely miraculous as his coming was, we celebrate what happened that night in Bethlehem because of why he was born. This Christ came and lived to die. The Son of Man did not come merely to be born, “but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He received the wrath of God so that we might enjoy his presence and favor.

In the end, it’s the death of this human Son that sets a Christian Christmas apart from all its pagan and commercial imitations.

We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:23–24)

Some may join us in celebrating the cute baby in a domesticated manger, but only Christians find peace and joy beneath the bloody cross. Their stumbling block is our cornerstone. We were once alienated from God and hostile to him — not neutral or indifferent, but venomous — and yet Jesus laid down his life, paying for all our hideous hissing and defanging our mutiny against him. Christmas is about the canceling and dethroning of sin.

And he died not merely to forgive an enemy, but to have his bride — “he is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). He’s not a mercenary Savior, but an adoring and devoted husband. He entered the filthiness of a stable, the indignity of human life, “that he might sanctify [the church], having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing” (Ephesians 5:26–27).

4. This Christ holds the keys of Death.

He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:18)

You could of course argue that we celebrate what happened on Christmas morning less because of how he died and more because of how he rose. The man who was born in Bethlehem did in fact die, but then he was “born” a second time when he shook off his grave clothes and walked out of the tomb. He didn’t merely come to die, but to put death itself in a grave.

“Fear not,” this Christ says again this Christmas, “I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17–18). He’s not the cuddly, defenseless baby the world would prefer. No, his resurrection announced his awesome power and authority over all rivals. None can withstand this Christ, and none will avoid his judgment.

And all who take refuge in him will never die (John 11:25–26). Because of Christmas, death will now kneel to serve you, one day lifting you into the life you’ve always wanted and never deserved. In fact, God has already “raised us up with [Christ] and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6–7).

5. This Christ will inherit and transform everything.

In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19–20)

He may have been raised in the humility of a remote and obscure town, but he came to capture the world, to unite every throne on earth under his rule. And not just the cities and governments, but everything that is — mountains and oceans, grizzly bears and goldfish, evergreen trees, snow fall, and reindeer. And not just everything that’s here on earth, but everything in every realm, all the spiritual realities and forces that invade human life without being seen. “All things,” verse 16 says, “were created through him and for him.”

Christmas is as good a moment as any to stop and remember that God has already made known his “plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:9–10). When this world comes to an end, we’ll look back at it all and see him. We’ll see how the wildness of creation and the even greater wildness of history all ties together into one stunning tapestry of the glory of Christ. Christmas, then, is the beginning of the end of history — the inbreaking of the one who both makes sense of it all and owns it all.

So, from all the depths and riches of all this Christ is and means for us, merry Christmas! As you prepare your heart and family to remember him, resist the safe and comfortable seduction of worldliness, and press into the Christ-exalting, world-offending, heart-stirring words God himself has given us for this wonderful day.