If I may borrow from Charles Dickens’s famous opening line, Christmas can be “the best of times, and the worst of times.” We have them both, don’t we?
Who hasn’t cringed in early October as stores drag out the artificial Christmas trees and put them on display? Who doesn’t dread the extra traffic and the gaggle of people in the shopping malls when you have to go get something that has nothing to do with Christmas? Who hasn’t felt uneasy about the obligatory exchange of gifts with individuals you hardly know? Or sending Christmas cards to people you haven’t written to since the last Christmas card you sent them? And how about feeling the pressure to hang lights on your house in a neighborhood because you’re the only house that doesn’t have lights hung? There’s something about those annual experiences and obligations that seem to make them “the worst of times.”
In spite of all the challenges, I prefer to view Christmas as “the best of times.” There’s no better time of the year to enjoy the color that enhances our streets. At no other time of the year do the faces of little children glow with such wonder. And there’s nothing like the music of Christmas! They’re playing our songs in grocery stores, elevators, shopping malls, and on every radio station: “Joy to the world! The Lord is come.” They’re talking about our Savior. It’s our message on their lips. Have you noticed? Don’t miss that!
And I must add, what better time of the year is there to share with others your faith in Jesus Christ? At no other season is the unbeliever’s heart softer toward the message of Jesus. Be aware of that. Stay sensitive to that. Be ready to speak. It’s “the best of times” for it.
This is God’s annual reminder to us—luring us, pulling us, encouraging us, in effect: “Feel the warmth in that light bulb? Smell that tree? See those gifts? Hear those songs? My Son came and died for you. I love you.” All these things familiar are reminders of things essential.
“I will always be ready to remind you of these things,” the apostle Peter wrote, “even though you already know them” (2 Peter 1:12). Isn’t that great? Sometimes there are people who will say to me, “Well, you said that before, Chuck” or “You may have forgotten, but you’re repeating yourself.” I’ll think, Good! The best way to learn is by repetition, by saying it again, and by reviewing the truth over and over and over. The apostle Peter continued: “I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder” (1:13, emphasis added). Peter was determined to remind them of what they already knew—in order to stir them to action. Paul, in writing to the Philippian Christians, confessed: “To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you” (Philippians 3:1).
Most of us who attend good, Bible-believing churches know more about Christ than most people will discover in a lifetime. We are neck-deep in the truth of God. Our problem? It isn’t knowing the truth; it is living it. If we stopped learning new things this very moment and simply drew from the reservoir of knowledge we already have, that would keep us busy for an awfully long time.
But we need regular reminders of those truths to stir us up to action. In the Old Testament, the Lord used tangible objects and actions as memory-triggers—phylacteries on the forehead, special food at Passover, stones at a body of water, trumpets for the New Year, and sacrifices in the temple—to prompt His people to remember the essentials. “And it shall serve as a sign . . . and as a reminder . . . that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth” (Exodus 13:9). The sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes—these seasonal traditions—reignited the passions of God’s people and reminded them of His love, His commands, and His grace.
Christmas can do the same for us this year.
You string up the lights. You trim the tree. You buy gifts. You wrap the presents and place them under the tree. You attend a church service—including a Christmas Eve service. You know the songs by heart. It’s all familiar . . . it’s all routine. It’s just words, just lights, just a tree, just gifts, just songs—Wait a minute!
The holidays needn’t be a rote repetition from last year. Maybe it’s time to use these familiar traditions as reminders of essential truths.
Don’t forget that Jesus was born of a virgin—His very conception, a miracle! Remember how the angels lit the shepherds’ field with God’s glory that night, announcing the birth of a Savior. A Savior. You and I needed a Savior—One who would and could die for our sins.
My advice this Christmas? Allow the traditions of the season to stir you up by way of reminder. Allow the things familiar to point you to things essential.
Don’t miss them.