The Desperation and Consolation of Christmas

Christmas2Media saturates our minds with images and messages of the “magic of Christmas“. We’re told this time of year is a time of family gatherings, love, selflessness, and cheerfulness. I admit, these are wonderful things. In fact, I love the Christmas season. I love the festive songs, decorations, gatherings and giving. The merriment of Christmas can be intoxicating. We are intended to believe all is right with the world as it is the most wonderful time of the year.   However, if we’re too consumed or even blinded by the common expressions and foci of Christmas, namely commercialism and materialism, we will not understand the desperation of Christmas. Former pastor and author, John Piper said, “Christmas is an indictment before it becomes a delight. It will not have its intended effect until we desperately feel the need for a Savior.”1

Before we are meant to understand and feel the true joy of Christmas, we must first understand its underlying message – we’re guilty and hopeless.  Genesis 3 tells us sin entered the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve.  In Romans 5:12, the Apostle Paul lays claim to Moses’ account regarding the entrance of sin into the world and its ultimate effect – death, which I believe is both physical and spiritual. Due to Adam’s sin, mankind has inherited a sinful nature (Ps. 51:5), is dead in trespasses and sin, following the prince of the power of the air and by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:1-3).  The indictment – mankind is guilty of sinning against his creator, which also results in sins against himself and others. The desperation –  mankind is utterly hopeless in himself of living as God intended nor can he remove God’s warranted wrath, which the Bible describes as eternal conscious torment in hell (Is. 66:24; Mk. 9:42-48).  This is the truth we need to understand and seriously consider before we can appreciate the significance of Jesus’ infancy narrative of Luke 2

Perhaps one of the most overlooked instances of Jesus’ infancy narrative involves a man named Simeon. In Luke 2:22-34, Luke makes mention of Simeon during Jesus’ time of purification and dedication according to the Law of Moses. Simeon is mentioned as righteous, devout and one whom the Holy Spirit was upon. He is also noted as one who was waiting for the consolation of Israel and he would not see death until he’d seen the Lord’s Christ.  As God’s covenant people, Israel often experienced the chastisement and judgment of the LORD for violating the covenant made at Sinai (Ex. 20-23).  The LORD told Israel that if they obeyed his word, there would be blessings. If they disobeyed his words, there would be curses (Lev. 26; Deut. 27-28). If Israel disobeyed the terms of the covenant, God promised to punish them by bringing disease upon them, famine, drought and ultimately taking them out of the promised land, scattering them, allowing them to be oppressed by foreign nations. Essentially, the LORD would reverse the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant (land, people and blessing).  However, through the prophets, the LORD repeatedly promised to forgive His peoples’ sins, restore and comfort His people as an act of grace and mercy and to have His name glorified not only by Israel, but by all the nations.  

One of the clearest promises made to God’s covenant people is found in Isaiah’s prophecy in the fortieth chapter – 

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

 and cry to her

that her warfare is ended,

 that her iniquity is pardoned,

that she has received from the Lord’s hand

 double for all her sins.

3 A voice cries:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;

 make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

4 Every valley shall be lifted up,

and every mountain and hill be made low;

the uneven ground shall become level,

and the rough places a plain.

5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,

 and all flesh shall see it together,

 for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

In these verses, through the prophet, the LORD is speaking comfort to His people though they’re on the cusp of experiencing His judgment through the Babylonian invasion.  Though Judah has been and would be the object of His discipline, He is now proclaiming comfort to His people. Judah’s warfare will end eventually and her sins will be pardoned. What a comforting promise from God! Surely being at peace with God is comforting rather than being the object of His chastisement and discipline. But how will this comfort come? Verses 3-5 gives us the answer. The LORD himself will bring comfort to His people. Matthew 3:1-3, Mark 1:2-3 and Luke 3:4-6 reveal that the voice crying out in the wilderness is John the Baptist, who will prepare God’s people to receive their Lord and King, Jesus.  Jesus is the object of God’s comfort to His people. He is the consolation of Israel that Simeon was looking for. Jesus came to bring peace and comfort between God and man of all nations. In Jesus, salvation will reach the ends of the earth (Is. 49:6). As Simeon held his Savior in his arms, he said – 

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,  

according to your word;

30 for my eyes have seen your salvation

31  that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

 and for glory to your people Israel.”

Jesus is the one appointed to bring salvation to all peoples! Jesus is God’s Servant, the True Israel of God who lived in perfect obedience to the Father and died for the sins of those who trust in Him for forgiveness. His resurrection is his vindication and the assurance of eternal life  for all who come to Him with repentance in faith. If you’re in Christ, may you delight and be consoled by the truth that Christmas is chiefly about Christ coming to destroy the works of the devil, absolve our indictment, relieve our desperation and reconcile us to God.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

1 “Prepare the Way of the LORD”, John Piper

Give Thanks

Praise and gratitude should be the refrain of the Christian heart. In fact, Christians are commanded to give thanks. Throughout the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms, the people of God are commanded to give thanks to the Lord. In a series of exhortations to the church at Thessalonica, Paul says, “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18). It is God’s will that His people give thanks to Him in all circumstances. 

Lately, I have been contemplating what grumbling and complaining are.  To grumble is to protest something in a somewhat muted ill-tempered way. To complain would be a more vocal ill-tempered protest. Given these understandings, are Christians ever justified when they grumble or complain? To answer that, careful consideration needs to be applied when assessing the root of complaining. Grumbling and complaining are both rooted in dissatisfaction. So can Christians ever be dissatisfied about anything? Certainly. Because of the fall and the pervasive spread of sin, we should be dissatisfied when we see acts of sin being committed or celebrated. We should be more than dissatisfied. We should lament (Lk. 19:41; Jhn. 11:35). We should be righteously indignant (Jhn. 2:13-17; Lk. 19:45). To show such dissatisfaction is to be in step with how our Holy God feels about sin. 

But when are our expressions of dissatisfaction unwarranted? I believe when our grumbling or complaining is rooted in a desire to obtain or preserve our comfort and satisfaction, we have wandered over into sinful grumbling and complaining, which is usually accompanied by an ill temper. It’s an exasperated expression of selfishness. One of the strongest biblical cases for this is highlighted in Exodus and Numbers concerning Israel’s deliverance and journey to the promised land, Canaan. Let’s look at the events- 

  • (Ex. 2:23-25) Israel cries out to God for rescue from being enslaved in Egypt and God heard their cry.
  • (Ex. 3 & 6:1-13) God commissions Moses to be His instrument of Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage. 
  • (Ex 7:14-12:32) God displays His power over the Egyptian gods via ten plagues that culminates with the death of every firstborn male, including Pharoah’s son, in Egypt whose home was not marked with the blood of a sacrificed lamb. God’s wrath passed over those houses who had the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and the lintel.
  • (Ex. 12:33-40) Israel begins to leave Egypt.
  • (Ex. 14) Israel crosses the Red Sea on dry ground as God miraculously drove the sea back via Moses’ outstretched arms. As the Egyptian army tried to pursue Israel, the waters came back down on them and they were consumed.
  • (Ex. 15:1-18) Moses and the people of Israel sing a song of praise to God for His deliverance.
  • (Ex. 15:22-27) Israel grumbles about the lack of good water and God provides water.
  • (Ex 16) Israel grumbles about food and God gives them manna and quail. 
  • (Ex. 17:1-7) Israel quarrels and grumbles against Moses for water and tests the LORD by inquiring if He is really on their side or not.
  • (Num. 12:1-2) Moses’ sister and brother, Miriam and Aaron, disapprove of Moses’ marriage to a Cushite (dark skinned) woman and questions his leadership, which was appointed by the LORD. 
  •  (Num. 14:1-4) After hearing the report by the spies, many people in Israel grumble against Moses and Aaron accusing them of bringing them out into the wilderness to die by the hands of the enemy. They also desire to raise up a leader who would lead them back to Egypt.
  • (Num. 16) Korah institutes a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, which was a form of rebellion against the LORD since the LORD had appointed Moses and Aaron to be leaders of Israel. The LORD brought judgment on Korah and all the insurrectionists via death.
  • (Num. 20) The remaining Israelites quarrel with Moses about water and accuse him of leading them to the wilderness to die.

Israel repeatedly grumbled and quarreled about food, drink and God’s appointed leaders. Warranted judgement befell a remnant of Israel. Essentially, they were questioning the love of God. Although they had been the recipients of God’s covenantal love and saw mighty acts of His deliverance and provision, they grumbled and quarreled against God because they were dissatisfied with how God was ordering the events in their lives. Their dissatisfaction was rooted in unbelief and resulted in grumbling, quarreling and rebelling against God. 

Aren’t we just like Israel? We often think the events of our lives ought to go as we would like. When they don’t, we end up being dissatisfied and grumble against the Lord. Instead of recalling God’s past faithfulness and being thankful, our selfish short-sightedness only looks at the present and doesn’t factor in that God is working out all the events of our lives according to His will for His glory and for our good (Rom. 8:28). God is not obligated to do things the way that we would like them to be done. He is obligated to carry out His perfect will to achieve the most amount of glory and He will do just that while at the same time conforming us to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29). Oh how we need to recall God’s goodness toward us, which is primarily evidenced in salvation through Jesus Christ. A heart filled with trust, praise and gratitude has no room for grumbling and complaining. 

Has God saved you? Give thanks! Is God keeping you? Give thanks! Does God promise to bring you to himself through Christ for all eternity? Give thanks! Is God good? Give thanks! Does His mercy endure forever? Give thanks! Does creation testify to His glory? Give thanks! Has Christ defeated every sin and death? Give thanks! Is God’s love toward His people unmovable and unshakable? Give thanks! Has God not given us His Spirit? Give thanks! Has God not given us His Word! Give thanks!  

We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds.

Psalms 75:1