Well, Christmas is just about upon us. Oh sure, there's still time to panic, to go to Walmart at midnight and buy that one last, heartfelt, carefully considered gift that the recipient probably doesn't need anyway. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in this next week. And some will be disappointed no matter what you give them. Unhappy holidays!
And, unfortunately, there will be much sadness as well. Myriads come to this joyous season and can do nothing but remember lost loved ones and lost opportunities. For folks like these, and others, Christmas isn't a time of celebration, a season to remember, but another holiday to be endured. Melancholy Christmas!
A sure remedy to these merriment maladies is to keep a proper focus on Christmas. I'm not talking about family and friends, though they're important. And, I'm not talking simply about the Baby in the manger (or those three wise guys who don't belong in your nativity scene). I'm talking about the real reason for the season. God became flesh and dwelt among us to provide salvation for those who would trust in Him. He came on that midnight clear to create worshipers of His eternal glory.
Thus, this Christmas, and every Christmas, we need to be reminded that Christ is the greatest gift and worship is the only proper response. After all, worship was the response of every actor in the very first Christmas drama.
Take for example, Mary's response to the revelation that she would miraculously bear the Christ child. In Luke 1:46, in what is known as the Magnificat, Mary responds to Gabriel's message by worshiping, not the angel, not the message, but the Author — God (which, by the way, "magnificat" means, to magnify God).
Mary begins her hymn of God's praise with a proclamation of her recognition of God's grace: "My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior." Then, Mary gives voice to her praise as she considers the reasons she has to worship Him.
She worships because of God's great love. She realizes that her humble estate, as His bondslave, does not merit His grace. Yet he loves her anyway and she praises Him. (v. 48)
She worships because of God's great work. She knows that it is by God's grace great things have been done for her. (v. 49a)
She worships because of God's greatness. "Holy is His name," she rejoices. God is great and greatly to be praised. (v. 49b)
She worships because of God's great mercy. His mercy, she reminds us, is upon generation after generation of those who fear Him. He had us on His mind when He came 2000 years ago. (v. 50)
She worships because of God's great faithfulness. He tears down the prideful. He rescues the lost. He does so, Mary reminds us, because of His covenantal promises. Promises He voluntarily made. Promises He graciously kept. To God be the glory. (vv. 51-55).
Mary had it right. She knew what was going on. She understood what the first Advent was all about. And, she gave God the glory He sought then and seeks today.
On Christmas day many folks will rejoice over gifts that will be long forgotten come summer. Others will be disappointed. Still others will rejoice that the holiday thing is over and behind them for another year. Yet, others will see past the Christmas decorations, the symbols, the nativity scene itself, and consider the reason for the season — Christ's substitutionary death for the purpose of bringing worshipers to God. With them will you give God the glory? If you will, it's sure to be a Merry Christmas!
Peter Beck (Ph.D. Southern Seminary) is assistant professor of religion at charleston southern university in Charleston, South Carolina and a former Senior Pastor.