Gather round, ye children, come listen to the old, old story–Andrew Peterson
Of the power of death undone by an infant born of glory.
For a child will be born for us, a Son will be given to us,Isaiah 9:6 (CSB
and the government will be upon His shoulders.
And He will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”
- The Meaning of Christmas
- The Story of Christmas
- The Lessons of Christmas
- The Music of Christmas
- The Movies of Christmas
The Meaning of Christmas
By far and away, Christmas is my favorite time of year. And for a long time, I’ve wanted to create a page on which I can share “a few of my favorite [Christmas] things.” Each of the following are Christmas traditions in our home, and represent ways in which we desire to worship well the King who came down to walk among us, experience our pain, relate to our struggle, and conquer our enemies, even death. Christmas is certainly not about presents or shopping or trees. It’s not even about warm, fuzzy feelings. Christmas is about the King of the Universe. And not even just that… It’s about the King who did the impossible by crossing an uncrossable chasm between the transcendent and the creaturely, becoming one of us, so that we could be united with Him in unimaginable glory. At Christmas, God drew near to us in a way nobody saw coming, so that He might draw us near to Him in a way nobody could formerly imagine.
The Story of Christmas
In the beginning, before there was anything else, there was only God. “God” is just our word for a real, personal, individual Being so incomprehensibly great and complex that He can only be described as One-but-Three, or Three-but-One, or “I am what I am.” And so, in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was Himself God. God described Himself as the Father and the Word as the Son. Father and Son were together in the beginning, and this God sent forth His Spirit (the Third-of-the-Three-in-One) and by His power made the heavens and the earth. And so, in the beginning, the Father made the world, through the Son, by the life and power of the Holy Spirit. Through His Word, all things were made. In Him, by His Spirit, was life, and that life was the light of all humanity. That light shone forth in the darkness of the void, and the darkness was powerless in the face of it, being rolled back like a receding wave. And so, the heavens and the earth were made — the separation of those realms, the land and the seas, the vegetation, the stars and planetary bodies, the birds of the air, the creatures of the deep, the beasts of the field, and ultimately a man named Adam. God formed Adam from the dust of the earth and breathed into Him the breathe of life. Finally, as the crown of all creation, the Lord God then created a woman named Eve, from Adam. So, Adam and Eve walked with God in a lush and beautiful garden, designed to be content in their intimate companionship with God, with each other, and with the world God had made for them. (See John 1:1-4, Genesis 1-2)
But the people God made weren’t content. They lusted for power and independence, even in a perfect garden, walking with the One who made and loved them. They rebelled against the Lord God, and destroyed the peace they took for granted. They went to war with God, with each other, and with creation. But God, who is rich in mercy, did not snuff out the life He’d given them. Instead, He promised that someday there would be a Savior to restore what they had broken … then He covered their nakedness, turned the pain and complexity of the world way up, and cast them out of the garden. No longer would life be easy, so that they would seek Him once they were no longer in paradise. No longer could they eat from the tree of life, so that they would be prevented from living forever as fallen, sinful monsters. No longer would purity and perfection be enough. God had a more audacious plan.
The centuries wore on, and humankind’s lusts got worse, not better. Eventually God chose a man named Abraham, to create a people for Himself from His grandson Jacob, whom He renamed Israel. A thousand years after that, God installed a king on the throne of Israel named David. And because of David’s heart for God, the Lord promised him that one of his descendants would sit on the throne forever. This is the Savior God promised way back in the garden.
Another 400 years go by, and by now, God’s people had been through a lot, including slavery, exile and oppression. Despite God’s promises of a royal priest who would save His people, things seemed worse, not better. But then a prophet named Isaiah spoke for God, reiterating His promise… “[Though it may at times seem hopeless] … Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. [The Lord God is about to] honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea [in Judea], beyond the Jordan [river]…
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.Isaiah 9:1-7 (NIV)
On those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
You [God] have enlarged the nation and increased their joy;
They rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest,
As warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.
For as [God did long ago temporarily, He will bring permanent peace].
For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given,
and the government will be on His shoulders.
And He will be called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.””
Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over His kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
Then, 200 years later, even the voices of the prophets were silenced, and it felt like all the lights in the world went out. Everyone who was waiting on God to keep His promise was plunged into a silent darkness for another 400 more years, until… Love came down to find us.
In the time of Herod, king of Judea, in the year we now call 4 BC, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, in an obscure corner of the Roman empire … to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. The girl’s name was Mary, and the angel announced to her that she would have a son, even though she was a virgin. The angel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High God will overshadow you. So the holy One [you will bear] will be called ‘the Son of God.’ For nothing is impossible for God.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be with me just as you have said” … which is a pretty awesome response, if you think about it. Then the angel left her. Soon after that, she learned she was in fact pregnant, though she had never been with a man. Because an angel also appeared to her fiancee Joseph, and because he was an honorable man, he claimed the child as his own and married Mary anyway, though the social stigma against them both was great.
The following year, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to the town of their ancestors to register. So, Joseph went up from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem, the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in strips of cloth and placed him in a feed trough with the animals, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were utterly terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all the people. For today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is God’s promised and long-awaited Savior, the Messiah, the Word made flesh. The Apostle John would later put it this way, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
As the shepherds stood amazed, suddenly a great company of heavenly beings appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those on whom his favor rests!”
This is the story of Christmas… God created. We rebelled. God promised a Savior. No human could get that done. So, God came Himself, literally writing Himself into the story as a frail, human character that He might rescue His people from themselves. This is the first half of the story of the humanity. For the other half, we’ll have to wait for Easter. But for now, prepare Him room in your heart. “He has come for us, this Jesus. He’s the hope for all mankind. He has come for us, the Messiah, born to give us life.” (Meredith Andrews)
(Read the full Christmas story yourself in the passages I paraphrased to create the above narrative: Genesis 1-3; Isaiah 9:1-7; John 1:1-18; Luke 1:1-2:20; Matthew 1:18-2:12; Isaiah 52-53)
The Lessons of Christmas
In 2015, I wrote a series of posts about some of the lessons we learn from the lives of people in the Christmas story…
- What Joseph teaches us about poverty
- What Mary teaches us about worship
- What Simeon and Anna teach us about hope
- What Jesus teaches us about love
The Music of Christmas
And of course, we have to talk about the music, when we talk about Christmas. I don’t know about you, but I feel it has been increasingly difficult to find radio stations or streaming playlists which I feel capture the Christmas message and stir in me the Christmas spirit. There are typically too many jingle bells and too much dashing through the snow, and not enough worship … not enough remembering that God became a man to change our lives and our eternities. Consequently, over many years, my wife and I have assembled a playlist that we now love to listen to every year, so we thought we’d share it with you. I hope it blesses you as you prepare your heart for the coming of the King.
Jeff’s Favorite Christmas Music Playlist
Another playlist I thought I’d share…
Vertical Church Band’s Christmas Favorites
The Movies of Christmas
Although there are a ton of really fun seasonal movies out there, we try to remain focused on what will exalt the King. So, we’ll start with the important stuff, and then give some fun picks we like to watch each year as well…
The Nativity Story (2005)
A masterful dramatization of Luke 1:5-2:20 and Matthew 1:18-2:18. Christmas each year in our home is not complete until we’ve watched The Nativity Story. It’s for sure my favorite Christmas movie. I find it a worshipful experience to watch it with no distractions, at night, with a hot drink, by the light of the Christmas tree.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
I absolutely love this gem from start to finish, especially Linus’ use of Luke 2 to answer Charlie Brown’s excellent question, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Isn’t there indeed! Only 23 minutes long, this is also a “must see” in our home at Christmas.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
This timeless classic tells the story of a man who spends his whole life sacrificing himself to serve others, but who struggles to see the value in that kind of life … until an angel gives him an incredible gift, “the chance to see what the world would be like without you.” The movie depicts what it means to love, and shows us that it truly more blessed to give than receive. Don’t miss making it part of your Christmas celebration.
But Christmas movies aren’t all serious. Here are two more favorites that are loaded with fun and laughter and Christmas spirit! Our family also watches these every single year…
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
If you don’t find this movie hysterical, I’d be surprised. In fact, if I woke up tomorrow with my face sown to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised. It wouldn’t be the Christmas season without Clark Griswold and family to add a ton of laughter to our traditional movie lineup. A must see!
(There are two scenes — time index 0:15:15-0:17:33 and
0:53:25-0:54:40 — we skip over because they’re a bit racy.)
I’m not a big Will Ferrell fan, but this movie makes me laugh til I cry. There’s no real moral here, but it’s a ton of family fun awaiting you here.
Honorable Mentions: Other Christmas movies that I’d recommend and that our family loves…
- Arthur Christmas (2011) – Fun animated new twist on an old tale
- A Christmas Carol (1999) – This movie has been made in one form or another like 30 times, but my favorite version is the Patrick Steward edition.
- Christmas Lodge (2011)
- Last Holiday (2006)
- Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
- Trading Christmas (2011) – My wife loves Tom Cavanagh, so of course this one and Snow (2004) are on the list.
- White Christmas (1954) – A timeless classic
And that’s about it for now. I hope this brief review of Christmas at the Block’s is a blessing to you as you celebrate this year the coming of the King. May you know His love, which surpasses understanding, and which goes to such lengths as to wrap flesh around the God of creation in order to be with you. I certainly hope you’re opening that present this Christmas.
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”Luke 2:14 (NIV)