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  • Writer's pictureKeith Haney

Rediscovering the True Spirit of Christmas: A Journey of Recovery

When Pope Julius I authorized December 25 to be celebrated as the birthday of Jesus in A.D. 353, who would have ever thought that it would become what it is today?

When Professor Charles Follen lit candles on the first Christmas tree in America in 1832, he could have never imagined that the decorations would become as elaborate as those in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

It is a long time since 1832, longer still from 353, from that night brightened by a special star in which Jesus the king was born. However, as we approach December 25 again, it gives us yet another opportunity to pause, amid all the excitement, elaborate decorations, and expensive commercialization surrounding Christmas today, to consider again the event of Christmas and the person whose birth we celebrate.

As rich and incredible as the pure gospel message of the Christmas story is, it is just as easy to douse it out with the trappings of the secular winter festivities. It is easy to overlook this birth's impact on the lives of simple folks like the shepherds. It forever altered their lives because they were the heralds of the good news that salvation has come to earth in the person and of Jesus Christ. They saw this miracle for themselves. They were active players in the events of that glorious night and are forever part of the nativity account.

So, it is Christmas, and many Christians can almost recite from memory the scripture reading that begins, "In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be taxed ...." It tells of a journey, a child born in a stable and a visitation of angels announcing to shepherds the good news of the birth, declaring that the Christ child is the Savior of the world.

Good news of great joy for many, but not for some

The gospel of Luke, from beginning to end, reveals God's love for the destitute, the downtrodden, the untouchable, and the disenfranchised of society. The gospel of Luke shows that the privileged and powerful think very little about God's kingdom. It is not surprising that, as Luke tells the most remarkable account ever told, he alludes to those in authority. 

No matter the century or the seasons, the powerful in the world and the religious community find their agendas in stark contrast to God's kingdom and rule. In Jesus' birth narrative, we see that Emperor Augustus issued a decree that all the world should be registered. This account sounds eerily like the events of today. The whole world must show their health status and must be registered. Joseph and Mary complied with that order. However, it was God who chose them to be parents of the Messiah.

Sometime later, Matthew tells us that the good news of Jesus was not good news for Herod. King Herod felt intimidated when the wise men came from the east and inquired about the child. Herod plotted to have the child killed. He did not see a Messiah; he saw a threat to his power. God sent an angel to warn Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt. They stayed in Egypt until Herod's death when they could return.

Thus, fulfilling the words of the Prophet Hosea, "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." (Hosea 11:1)

At 12 years of age, Jesus stayed in Jerusalem after the family had started back home following the annual celebration of Passover in the city. Three days later, his parents found him in the temple, sitting with the teachers, asking questions, and giving answers. When Mary and Joseph finally found him, Jesus' mother asked, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your Father and I have been searching for you with great anxiety." His mother said, "The bad news is we could not find you." And Jesus' answer was the good news: "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know I must be in my Father's house?"

Throughout the gospel, Luke tells of secular and religious leaders who did not see "good news of great joy" in Jesus. Indeed, both groups worked against Jesus and were together responsible for many of the events that led to Jesus' crucifixion.

Good news of great joy! In each case, Jesus was "born where people needed him most."

Jesus brought the good news of great joy through his death and resurrection to all who believe. He asks us to continue that work and ministry.

Good news of great joy to all

Today, we celebrate Jesus' birth. We celebrate God coming down from heaven to live among us and be our Savior. We can sing "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World" and feel good about celebrating another Christmas. Nevertheless, we also realize that Jesus' good news extends to those who have given up on God.  

It extends to those who have given up on themselves and cannot bring themselves to worship on Christmas and pretend everything is all right. We can decide here and now that we will attempt to spend time with them on the fringe of life. You may just let them know or help them see that God has a word for them: good news of great joy!

You may even realize today that you are one of those living on the fringe right now, and you've just gotten very skilled at hiding it. Maybe you've given up on God and yourself, and you're just going through the motions. God has a word for you: good news of great joy!

Throughout the entire history of Christianity, there have been faithful people who recognized God's call on their lives to go to the places and see and help others see Jesus, being born where people need him most. The best gift you can give this year is the gift of Christ's great joy. This is good news indeed!

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