As the calendar puts Thanksgiving and Christmas behind us, and we move into the New Year, we move from loving others and cheer to cultivating discontentment and feelings of insufficiency. We were not good enough last year, we think to ourselves. We’ll be better this year.
Within this attitude of self-improvement lies a risk of missing the whole point of Christmas! Way more than cultivating contentment and sufficiency within material goods, Christmas cultivates contentment and sufficiency within our restored relationship to God. In Christ, we have been endowed with the highest value. And that truth extends beyond December 25th!
Because Christ came to earth and gave his life as a ransom for us, he opened a way for us to find contentment and sufficiency in him. When we experience that selfless love, our hearts and minds will overflow with thanksgiving and our hands will mirror God selfless love towards our neighbor.
Creation: God’s Sharing Himself with Us
Out of his infinite love, God primarily created us to display his glory to us and allow us to relish in it. God did not create us to fulfill some need of his. He had everything in himself.
God selflessly blessed Adam and Eve with his presence and with abundant life in Eden. Yet, they failed to submit themselves to his will when tempted by the devil. They could have demonstrated obedience and devotion from a heart of thanksgiving to God.
Instead, their minds nursed bitterness, their hearts grew bitter towards God. And, because their hearts grew bitter towards God, they were obedient and devoted to their desires of self-fulfillment.
We do the same thing. From birth, we suppress the truth that God is the good Creator of all the things we enjoy. We ponder on false pleasure apart from him, inflame our desires to pursue this pleasure, and love ourselves instead of loving God and loving others.
Instead of expressing thanksgiving to God, we try to replace him with our self. In our eyes, the world rotates around us. Thus, all things and beings, including God himself, exist to serve us, fulfill our passions, and help us achieve our goals.
Jesus’ Incarnation: God’s Response to Restore the Broken World
One night in Bethlehem, Jesus laid in a manger as a babe. Maintaining his divinity, Jesus descended into humanity. He momentarily gave up his rights and prerogatives as God.
If Jesus had wanted to, he could have been the conqueror the Jews expected. But, he did not. Jesus made himself of no reputation, being born in a manger to a teen mom and a carpenter. He willingly became vulnerable to limits, pain, rejection, and scrutiny.
In eternity past, he was limitless. He was serenaded by angelic praise. He gave all this up to restore us to his Father and to one another. And, he came to renew our vision of God as our provider, not our enemy, and of our neighbor as our co-laborer in love, not our enemy.
That night in Bethlehem, Christ laid as a covenant given to us from the Father to restore us to him. All of God’s promises to his people throughout the Old Testament were fulfilled:
- Jesus was Eve’s seed who would crush Satan.
- He was Abraham’s offspring through which all of the nations would be blessed. He was David’s heir who would eternally sit enthroned in Jerusalem.
- As the servant Isaiah prophesied to the Israelites, Jesus brought salvation to Jerusalem.
- Jesus accomplished Satan’s defeat, the offering of salvation to all nations, and his seat of uncontested rule over the cosmos and global adoration from the cosmos.
He restored us to the Father, earning perfect righteousness we could never achieve and bearing God’s wrath on the cross.
He modeled the result of his labors: The Father’s approval and the Holy Spirit’s power exhibited in a glorified body. Lifted up to the Father’s right hand, Jesus is our head and the first-fruit of transformative resurrection.
Our Response: Gratitude and Sacrificial Acts of Love
We did not have to lift one finger. Christ did all the work of us. Therefore, we must rest in Christ as our Redeemer. Christ surrendered himself to his heavenly father as the permanent servant of his people. Therefore, we must surrender ourselves to him as his servants.
As his servants, we must serve one another since we are all members of one spiritual family. Being transformed into new creations, we must let our light shine before the world, so that people may behold our good works and glorify our Father, residing in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
When Jesus was with his disciples during the feast of Passover, he washed their feet, resumed his place, and declared:
“Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:12-17, italics mine).
Similar to how Christ washed the disciples’ feet, he washed and cleansed us with his blood. Once repugnant and unable to enter God’s presence, we are presentable before God, because we are holy and blameless in Christ.
Make the New Year about Loving Others
Modeling Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith, we must seek opportunities to be serving and loving others, no matter the severity of the debasement and humiliation our service must take on.
That was the whole point of Christmas: Christ’s taking on flesh to serve us that we may become God’s children. So, as the new year approaches, let’s not forget what the Christmas season meant. And let’s not neglect to model Christ’s example by serving each other.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (Romans 12:1).