Pastor Vernon Giesbrecht
The 2020 Christmas season will not escape the memory of most of us. Like Thanksgiving celebrations and family get-togethers, Christmas and the accompanying exchanging of gifts may be a lonely time for many as difficult decisions not to gather together are made. It reminds me of the Christmas when I had a bad case of the flu. It lingered for two weeks. Our son’s family, not wanting to be exposed, rang the doorbell on Christmas morning and essentially threw the gifts through the front door. Well “threw” would be overstating it; they “exchanged” gifts with my wife through the open door. I waved “Merry Christmas” from the far end of the house!
Yes, this year has been like no other. Anxiety, fear, loneliness, sorrow, isolation, fatigue, and more have all been part of our corporate experience. Yet you do see human resilience evidenced with people attempting to make the best of this pandemic. The internet has offered us the opportunity to still accomplish our work (at home), have Zoom team meetings, and conduct community Bible studies. Live streaming church services, virtual concerts, and of course, TV and streaming movie services have helped us keep entertained. During this season, I’ve heard that there are more outdoor light displays than in prior years. The attempt to foster the joy and excitement of a normal Christmas has been pervasive.
Ironically, or should I say interestingly, my Bible reading during the first part of December has been, not in Advent passages or themes, but in the Gospel of Luke leading to Jesus’ mock trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. It has been a stark reminder of why Jesus came to this earth through a miraculous birth. We celebrate this baby as the “greatest gift.” Why? Because He was the fulfillment of the long-promised Messiah; because He showed us a fresh vision of God through his life and teaching; but ultimately, He cleared the way to peace with God through His sacrificial death, taking the punishment we all deserve for our sin. Then, conquering death, He rose again and now lives to intercede for all those who place their full trust in His “work of salvation.”
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3:18)
The baby we celebrate at Christmas was born to die. Splitting history in half, God in his love became part of his creation in the form of a human baby, fully God and fully human – “God with us!” His supreme purpose was to die for the sins of the world. His was the perfect and final sacrifice for sin and thus satisfied his necessary judgement on sin. Love and justice met at the cross. What mercy, what grace! Now forgiveness, a new life with his indwelling Spirit, and an eternity with God is promised to everyone who professes faith in Jesus. While we celebrate with joy Jesus’ birth, the cause for real joy and hope is that our salvation has been secured through his death and resurrection, and that his strength is available to face the challenges of life. Even if this Christmas may look different.
“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1b-3)
Whatever your circumstance, may you celebrate with joy God’s “gift of grace” – unmerited favor – during this Christmas season!