Another Christmas has gone. A new year approaches and brings equal measures of possibility and problems. Jesus was definitively not wrong when he alerted his disciples, “In this world, you will have trouble” (John 16:33). While some families welcomed Christmas babies this year, others likely said tear-filled good-byes to cherished loved ones. Christmas will forever mean something very different around those tables.
A Day of Hope
Eartha Kitt, Emmy and Tony Award winning actress and singer, died at the age of 81 on December 25, 2008. If you know of Eartha Kitt, you recall her very distinctive voice. You know that she was the first to record the holiday hit, "Santa Baby." You know that she took over the role of Catwoman for Julie Newmar in the 1960s Batman series starring Adam West. You also understand, then, that her casting was a significant moment because Eartha Kitt was a black woman taking over for Newmar who originated the role.
Born in 1927 in a very segregated south, talking about struggle would be putting it far too mildly. The list of achievements on her resume is as remarkable as it is long, especially considering the era in which much of it was achieved. The date of her death won’t be what her fans recall first or what history notes most, but those who love her won’t soon forget the day they lost her.
When a person is born on Christmas day, whether they identify as a person of faith or not, their date of birth is associated with the miraculous one of Christ. A day that denotes personal joy is forever attached to worldwide hope. When someone dies on Christmas, a day marked by heavenly peace is now synonymous with searing loss.
As great as the grief can be, it does shine a light on the ultimate love. After all, the reason we sing Advent carols about the birth of Jesus is because He came to die to free us. Christmas may be all about a monumental birth, but what the world so desperately needed was a sacrificial death.
Newness in Christ
The year was 1991 and the resignation of Mikhail Gorbachev on Christmas day officially signaled the end of the already crumbling Soviet Union. While the transformation of the USSR was due largely in part to Gorbachev’s innovative policies, it was an incredibly slow process with significant adverse events, especially toward the end. The Nobel Peace Prize Winner (1990) once named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year (1988) followed by Man of the Decade (1989), eventually had no option but resignation after months of house arrest during severe political unrest. In his speech, Gorbachev stated, “The old system collapsed before the new one had time to begin working.”
Think of all the ways that statement is wildly apropos in history and even relevant in everyday life. In Israel alone, the nation was divided, exiled, restored, and reconquered before Jesus came. The Jewish system was fractured and all-but crumbling long before Christ’s final sacrifice was made. And in Christianity, His birth wouldn’t be marked or celebrated until Constantine 300 plus years after Jesus’s death. Sometimes an old system crumbles and collapses long before a new one comes.
Christ certainly had to die so that you and I might one day live. What else in your life needs to be laid to rest, so that newness in Christ can truly come to be?
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!”
Paul told the church in Ephesus to, “put on the new man” (Ephesians 4:24).
Sometimes new is quick and easy. Other times, it takes a while. Sometimes new looks different. Other times, it bears a resemblance. As Gorbachev remained committed to the democratic changes and progress his reforms attempted, he stated clearly and eloquently, “All these changes demanded immense strain. They were carried out with sharp struggle …” So goes the Christian life as well.
The Miracle of Resurrection
eWhen it comes to following Jesus, death really does come before birth. The death of our Savior atoned for our sin and invited us in. If it weren’t for the death of Jesus remembered most at Easter, His birth celebrated over Christmas wouldn’t matter. When it comes to following Jesus, His isn’t the only death that counts. It’s the death of our old selves that must occur before anything else can occupy our lives. That process of sanctification is not without “immense strain” or “sharp struggle.” In taking on Christ’s life, the trouble is real.
Pause and think about that as you head into another year. Christmas can only be the celebration of Christ’s birth if we first reconcile the reason for His death. Christmas must come to mean much, much more if it is to ever be rightly enjoyed. There is really no point in honoring Christ’s birth if one doesn’t believe in the reality of and purpose for Christ’s death along with the miracle of his resurrection.
Paul wrote about that too. To the Roman church, he penned:
“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Grieving any loss is tragic. Mourning one lost on a day like Christmas is an added depth of sorrow, but linking loss to Christmas is not a bad thing. Christ’s death was to our gain. And it’s in the death of our old selves that we gain even more.
A person can’t start a new year without adjourning an old one. A person can’t live a new life without losing an old self. It may be a slow process, even painful and full of sharp struggles at times, but putting on a new you in a new year through Christ can prove to be the best thing checked on anyone’s Christmas list or added to anyone’s New Years goals.