Advent Reading for Christmas Eve: Luke 2:8-21
Reflection: The True Longing of Christmas
It was Christmas Eve in Decatur, Georgia, and my brothers and I had been tucked into bed. In the darkness of my room I opened the curtains on the window next to my bed and peered out into the dark night, my eyes scanning the skies expectantly. But I wasn’t looking for a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer. I was hoping to see the star of Bethlehem appear.
Unlike my 3-year-old brother and my 5-year-old peers, I wasn’t interested in Santa Claus. The story of Jesus’s birth enthralled me from a very early age. My parents weren’t particularly religious, but I had heard the Christmas carols and there was something far more intrinsically appealing about a mystical, guiding star and angels appearing from nowhere singing among the stars to shepherds than some scary old guy watching my every move as he checked off my good and bad deeds. Every Christmas Eve for years I would scan the dark skies looking for that wondrous star and imagine what that first Christmas morn must have been like as the Son of God was born. How would I, if I were a shepherd, have reacted to seeing this spectacle?
One of the most vivid memories of my childhood was my 13th Christmas. I had a paper route delivering the Washington Post and Christmas fell on a Sunday that year. I pulled my wagon loaded with heavy Sunday editions of the paper in the wee early hours of the morning through the streets of my neighborhood; the snow on the ground and the cold air created a profound silence, my boots and the wagon wheels making the only sounds as I trudged from house to house, all of them dark and quiet. The cold, quiet night enhanced the mystery as if all of heaven and nature were holding its breath waiting for the world’s Savior to arrive. I stopped in the middle of the road on top of a hill, looking up at the vast sky; I once again looked for that star and imagined the sky erupting forth with angels giddy with the happiest news and wished I could have been there at the first Christmas. I was in awe just thinking of how it must have been. It was “magical.”
John Piper wrote, “So the birth of the Son of God, the very God, very man, is simply stunning and glorious and infinitely serious, an overflow of the happy news. The angel called it "good news of great joy" — great joy, not small joy, not a little bit of joy, but great joy (Luke 2:10)." How could Santa Claus ever compare to that? As an adult I now know that even at an early age God was wooing me to Him, softening my heart to hear the Gospel, and what I was experiencing was a child-like, naïve kind of worship even though I was not to become a believer for several more years.
As I matured further into adulthood, I lost that sense of wonder as I learned of the historical realities regarding Jesus’ birthday. He wasn’t really born on December 25, the scholars and theologians say. But as I grew in my understanding of the gift of God’s son to a sinful, weary world, the awe of the mystery returned and with it came a desire not to see the star of Bethlehem, but to worship the One for whom the star was shining, to know fully the mystery “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).
This Christmas season, may your hearts “be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:2). There is the real wonder of Christmas, not in snowflakes and angels on a tree or even angels singing to shepherds under a special star, but that God Himself, Lord of heaven and earth, for whom and through whom and from whom all things were created, came to live among us, came to be one of us, came to die for us, came to defeat sin and hell and death for us. Wonder of wonders! We who had gone astray are the objects of His infinite love. We who deserve wrath and destruction receive gentle adoption and atonement. That is the wondrous Christmas Present we celebrate in this joyous season.