What does Christmas really mean for you? I once read a quote, supposedly made by an eight-year-old girl named Emily. Whether entirely true or not, I still appreciate the thought . . . “Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents long enough to just listen.”
As I sat down to write this, my mind wandered back to a Christmas nearly 45 years ago when I was in graduate school. The church I was part of asked me if I would be willing to escort a mother and her three young children all the way to India so she and the kids could be with their missionary father for Christmas. He had been ministering for months in remote villages, bringing the “Good News” to the lost and hungry. We brought presents from the church, but my best gift that year was seeing the joy on the faces of those children when they ran into the arms of their dad.
It suddenly hit me . . . Christmas is about leaving! That was the first and only Christmas I have ever not spent with family members, and yet, it was one of the most deeply significant for me. Let’s look a little closer at the biblical narrative and consider this notion.
The greatest gift in all eternity is found in one of our most beloved Scriptures . . . John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” It was the Father’s love and the Father’s plan, but Jesus had to be willing to leave heaven and come to the earth. Philippians 2:7 says, “. . . He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” I often wonder what the angels must have thought to see the Creator take on the form of the created, hidden in Mary’s womb, and then as a newborn baby. Why did He leave heaven?
Hebrews 12:2 offers an interesting thought, saying, “For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross.” What was that joy? Was it you and me? Redeemed humanity? I would give an emphatic, “Yes” to those questions. However, if we were to examine the words a little closer, we see that the word “for” in the Greek is “ante,” which can also be translated “instead of.” Let’s reread the verse with this in mind . . . “Instead of the joy set before him, He endured the cross.” So, what was set before Him? The splendor and glory of heaven was before Him. Pure, indescribable joy and fellowship with the Father and the Holy Spirit was before Him. Yet, He chose to leave all this for the sake of you and me. No wonder the Apostle Paul could say, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15).
There’s more. Mary and Joseph left Nazareth and made their way to Bethlehem in fulfillment of prophecy about the coming Messiah (Luke 2:4). On the night of Christ’s birth, the shepherds left their flocks after the heavenly birth announcement delivered by a chorus of angels (Luke 2:15). Magi from the east (though not in Bethlehem that night) left their homes to find the King of Kings and worship Him (Matt. 2:1-2). Mary and Joseph then left Bethlehem and fled to Egypt after being warned by an angel (Matt. 2:14).
In God’s upside-down kingdom, we often have to leave something in order to find something. What are you looking for and what do you have to leave to find it? Today, God still invites us to leave. All it takes is a step of faith, the willingness to trust or an act of obedience.
Before I close, let me ask one last question. What do you give the person who has everything? In fact, what do you give to the One who is everything? Let’s take another look at the gifts the magi brought. Gold speaks of great value, majesty, and being a king. Give God your time, talent, and treasure—those things that are most valuable to your heart. Frankincense was only used in altar worship and represents the offering of prayer. Give God your worship—your attention and devotion. Myrrh speaks of death and burial. Give God your sacrifice, so that whatever dies can also be resurrected.
Not just “wishing” you a Merry Christmas, but praying for a profoundly transformative one!
Eric Scalise, PhD, currently serves as Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) with Hope for the Heart. He is also the President of LIV Consulting, LLC, the former Senior Vice President for the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) and former Department Chair for Counseling Programs at Regent University. Dr. Scalise is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with over 42 years of clinical and professional experience in the mental health field, and he served six years on the Virginia Board of Counseling under two governors. Specialty areas include professional/pastoral stress and burnout, combat trauma and PTSD, marriage and family issues, grief and loss, addictions and recovery, leadership development, and lay counselor training. He is a published author, adjunct professor at several Christian universities, conference speaker, and frequently works with organizations, clinicians, ministry leaders, and churches on a variety of issues.