As a boy I delivered newspapers in order to earn money. Since it was a morning newspaper, I was required to get up at 3:00 every morning, 7 days a week, in order to have all 140 of my papers delivered to their appropriate homes by 6:00 a.m.
But one day each year was different. We would deliver the Christmas morning newspaper on Christmas Eve—meaning that Christmas was the only morning of the year I could sleep in and rest like a normal person.
Over the years, I came to appreciate Christmas for many reasons, but one that was special in those days was that, unlike any other day of the year, it was a day of rest.
At that time, I didn’t fully understand the meaning of the true rest that Christmas brings. Christ came so that all who labor under the weight of a law that can never be fulfilled might find rest through the forgiveness Christ offers. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). In a world that is too much for us to bear alone, Christ has come to bring us into a relationship with Him and give us rest.
Every year our local botanical garden hosts a celebration of Christmas around the world. My favorite display is a French nativity. Instead of the traditional scene showing shepherds and wise men with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh gathered around the manger, it shows French villagers bringing their gifts to baby Jesus. They bring bread, wine, cheese, flowers, and other items that God has given them the ability to produce. This reminds me of the Old Testament command to bring the firstfruits of our labor to the house of the Lord (Ex. 23:16-19). This depiction of the nativity illustrates that everything we have comes from God, so the only thing we have to give is something that God has given us.
When Paul instructed the Romans to present themselves as a living sacrifice, he was telling them to give back to God what God had given them—their own selves (Rom. 12:1). This includes the gifts He gave them, even their ability to earn a living. We know that God gives people special abilities. Some, like David, were skilled in music (1 Sam. 16:18). Some, like Bezalel and Oholiab, were skilled in artistic works (Ex. 35:30-35). Others have skill in writing, teaching, gardening, and many other things.
When we give back to God what He has first given to us, we give Him the perfect gift—ourselves.
When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and then to shepherds with good news for the world (Luke 1:26-27; 2:10), was it good news to this teenage girl? Perhaps Mary was thinking: How do I explain my pregnancy to my family? Will my fiancé Joseph call off the betrothal? What will the townspeople say? Even if my life is spared, how will I survive as a mother all alone?
When Joseph learned about Mary’s pregnancy, he was troubled. He had three options. Go ahead with the marriage, divorce her publicly and allow her to be publicly scorned, or break off the engagement quietly. Joseph chose option three, but God intervened. He told Joseph in a dream, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20).
For Mary and Joseph, Christmas began with submitting themselves to God in spite of the unthinkable emotional challenges before them. They entrusted themselves to God and in doing so demonstrated for us the promise of 1 John 2:5: “If anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them.”
May God’s love fill our hearts this Christmas season—and every day—as we walk with Him.
Fifty years ago A Charlie Brown Christmas was first broadcast on American television. Some network executives thought it would be ignored, while others worried that quoting the Bible would offend viewers. Some wanted its creator, Charles Schulz, to omit the Christmas story, but Schulz insisted it stay in. The program was an immediate success and has been rebroadcast every year since 1965.
When Charlie Brown, the frustrated director of the children’s Christmas play, is discouraged by the commercial spirit of the holiday season, he asks if anyone can tell him the real meaning of Christmas. Linus recites Luke 2:8-14 including the words, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (vv. 11-14 kjv). Then Linus says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
During this season filled with our own doubts and dreams, it’s good to ponder afresh God’s great love expressed in the familiar story of Joseph, Mary, the baby Jesus, and the angels who announced the Savior’s birth.
That’s what Christmas is all about.
According to a New York Times article, children in many African countries are often named after a famous visitor, special event, or circumstance that was meaningful to the parents. When doctors told the parents of one child that they could not cure the infant’s illness and only God knew if he would live, the parents named their child Godknows. Another man said he was named Enough, because his mother had 13 children and he was the last one! There’s a reason for everyone’s name, and in some cases it also conveys a special meaning.
Before Jesus was born, an angel of the Lord told Joseph, “[Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua, which means “the Lord saves.” In that day and culture, many children would have been named Jesus, but only one came into this world to die so that all who receive Him might live eternally, forgiven and freed from the power of sin.
Charles Wesley wrote these words we often sing as Christmas nears: “Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free; from our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in Thee.”
Jesus came to turn our darkness into light, to transform our despair into hope, and to save us from our sins.
In recent years, my daughter has become fascinated with the history of the indigenous people in northern Michigan where she lives. One summer afternoon when I was visiting, she showed me a road that had a sign designating “Trail Trees.” She explained to me that it’s believed that long ago the Native Americans bent young trees to point the way to specific destinations and that they continued to grow in an unusual shape.
Ted Robertson’s home in Colorado was one of more than 500 destroyed by the Black Forest Fire in June 2013. When he was allowed to return and sift through the ash and rubble, he was hoping to find a precious family heirloom made by his wife—a tiny ceramic figurine of baby Jesus about the size of a postage stamp. As he searched the charred remains of their home, he kept wondering, “Is the baby Jesus still here?”
One year when our family was traveling through Ohio on the way to Grandma’s house, we arrived in Columbus just as a tornado warning was issued. Suddenly everything changed as we feared that our children might be in danger.
It was the buzz of our neighborhood. A famous professional football player had moved in just two houses down from where we lived. We had seen him on television and read about his great skills on the field, but we never thought he would choose to reside in our neighborhood. Initially, our expectations were that we would welcome him into the neighborhood and we would all become great friends. But his life was obviously far too busy for any of us to get to know him personally.