Christmas is a favorite holiday for many of us. The religious and secular aspects combine to make a joyous, cozy, happy celebration. There is much that is cheerful and bright about the season. The church I worship at Christmas Eve is beautifully decorated with sparkling trees, deep red poinsettias, and glowing candles.
As I reflect on Christmas hymns and Bible readings, though, I am struck by a deeper aspect that we don't usually focus on but underlies the entire reason for the season: Sin. It's the reason the baby was born in Bethlehem. It is present in the liturgy and hymns we sing at Christmas. Behind the beauty and peacefulness of the holiday is a dark truth. The baby came to save lost sinners in rebellion against God.
Oh, come, oh, come Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, Oh, Israel!
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by;
Yet in they dark streets shineth the everlasting light.
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
We sing an older version of a verse of Away in a Manger:
Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
And fit us for Heaven, to live with Thee there.
We aren't fit to live in Heaven until the Son of God makes us so through His sacrifice for our sin. Christmas only makes sense with Good Friday and Easter. Otherwise, it's just another birthday among billions.
Throughout the message of the Christmas account and carols is the hopeless condition we find ourselves in alone, without God. But then God comes to be with us, Emmanuel, to pay our debt for us. What relief! What joy!
I was thinking ahead to the account of Jesus' presentation at the temple eight days after His birth when Simeon and Anna saw the Savior they'd waited for, and generations had waited for (Luke 2: 21-38). Their responses, songs, express the great hope and relief at the salvation this baby would accomplish. Their words echo my joy and relief that my sins are forgiven.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
'Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees
Oh, hear the angel voices.
Oh, night divine,
Oh, night when Christ was born!