I hope you enjoyed a wonderful Christmas celebration with friends and family. We Peases were very thankful and blessed to have our family together, including some from out of town. It’s hard to imagine a better reason to gather and celebrate, than to remember again the gift of Jesus Christ from a loving God at Christmas.
More and more each year, I appreciate the liturgical (traditional Church) calendar that reminds and invites us to celebrate Christmas as a season, not just for a day. The “twelve days of Christmas” bring us to January 7th, when many church traditions mark Epiphany, the day we remember the wise men who traveled from the east and who represent Jesus’ gift of salvation and abundant, eternal life to all people, not just to Jews. The season of Epiphany brings us right up to the start of Lent, which this year begins in mid-February.
These calendar traditions remind us that the gift of Christmas is not something to leave behind when the calendar flips to the new year. Consider the Charles Wesley Advent hymn, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus”:
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.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.
Wesley underscores the double meaning of Advent: the coming of Jesus as a baby, and our longing for his return as triumphant King. He reminds us to linger at the manger and contemplate this One who brings us true freedom from death and sin, and who supplies strength, hope and joy for the journey of life.
If we think of Jesus only as that baby in the manger, we run the risk of missing his regal honor, his titles of Prince and King, and his destiny of eternal Kingdom reign. However, if we move too quickly from the scene of Christ’s birth into the busyness of the new year, we may fail to grasp the depth of God’s love and the enormity of the gift that was given to humankind in that manger so long ago.
As we head together into 2018, let’s be people who keep an eye on the manger even as we’re fully aware of the cross that lay ahead for Jesus. Let’s remind ourselves and each other of the implications of both manger and cross in our everyday lives. Let’s live as people who have been transformed and who continue to be shaped by both.
May the joy of Christmas continue to ring in our hearts. May the truth and hope of the cross fuel and guide our mission as a church. And may the certainty of Jesus Christ’s return encourage us and spur us on in fresh ways in this new year.