How pastors can redeem “the most wonderful time of the year”

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Redeeming “the most wonderful time of the year”: Three countercultural principles for Christmas

November 28, 2023 -

A manger at night sits in contrast to three crosses on a hill at daybreak signifying Christ's birth at Christmas, his death on the cross, and his ultimate resurrection. By Kevin Carden/stock.adobe.com

A manger at night sits in contrast to three crosses on a hill at daybreak signifying Christ's birth at Christmas, his death on the cross, and his ultimate resurrection. By Kevin Carden/stock.adobe.com

A manger at night sits in contrast to three crosses on a hill at daybreak signifying Christ's birth at Christmas, his death on the cross, and his ultimate resurrection. By Kevin Carden/stock.adobe.com

Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year” unless you’re a pastor. I don’t mean to be negative, but you know why I would say that.

The challenge of telling the same story in new ways is challenging enough. Then there is the fact that the Christmas season as our secularized society celebrates it is so counter to the biblical message of the God who became one of us that we might be one with him. Consequently, you and I are responsible for explaining the truth of Christmas to people who are less than motivated to hear a message that contradicts the consumerism in which they are immersed.

Add the pageants and programs which you are expected to attend and perhaps help to lead. And the Christmas parties to which you’re invited and expected to “say a word.” And the P&L (poinsettia and lilies) church attendees you feel the burden of reaching so effectively that they will come back when Christmas is over.

I remember vividly the emotions of driving home after the last Christmas Eve service each year. The only thing “wonderful” in that moment was the relief I felt.

Wisdom from a spiritual genius

So, let’s begin the Christmas season with some words of guidance and encouragement from a source upon which I depend every day.

Oswald Chambers (1874–1917) was a spiritual genius. The son of a Baptist minister, he was led to Christ through the teachings of Charles Spurgeon. After an experience of “spiritual emancipation” in which he learned to abandon entirely to the Lord, he became a preacher, academician, and military chaplain. He died from a ruptured appendix and complications from the ensuing surgery, having written nothing.

However, his wife used her shorthand notes from his sermons and lectures to produce My Utmost for His Highest, widely considered the most significant devotional book in the English language. (For more, please see Dr. Ryan Denison’s excellent biography of Chambers.) I have been reading from it every day since a copy was given to me thirty years ago. I commend it to you most highly.

In the last three days, three principles from Chambers have especially struck a chord with me. Let’s reflect upon them together.

“Concentrate on the right thing”

In Sunday’s reading, Chambers notes:

We lose power if we do not concentrate on the right thing. The effect of the Cross is salvation, sanctification, healing, etc., but we are not to preach any of these, we are to preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. The proclaiming of Jesus will do its own work. Concentrate on God’s center in your preaching, and though your crowd may apparently pay no attention, they can never be the same again. . . .

We have to concentrate on the great point of spiritual energy, the Cross, to keep in contact with that center where all the power lies, and the energy will be let loose. In holiness movements and spiritual experience meetings, the concentration is apt to be put not on the Cross of Christ, but on the effects of the Cross.

Here we are reminded of the true reason for the season: Jesus came to die so we might live eternally. As Irenaeus noted, he became one of us that we might be one with him.

In everything we say and do this season, let’s point people from the manger to the cross and the empty tomb. Let’s use his birth to lead them to the new birth. When we do, those who hear us “can never be the same again.”

“The consecration of our spiritual energy”

In yesterday’s reading, Chambers said of Jesus:

He did not cut himself off from society, but he was inwardly disconnected all the time. He was not aloof, but he lived in another world. . . . Our Lord never allowed anything to interfere with his consecration of spiritual energy. . . .

We must never allow anything to interfere with the consecration of our spiritual energy. Consecration is our part, sanctification is God’s part; and we have deliberately to determine to be interested in that only in which God is interested.

Here we are reminded that we must know Christ to make Christ known. We need the spiritual power and personal transformation that comes only from knowing Jesus intimately.

Consequently, let’s intentionally use this season to draw closer to the One whose birth we celebrate. Let’s make extended time to join the shepherds in their worship. Let’s make our hearts his home, our souls his manger. And let’s invite those we serve to do the same.

“The door of destitution”

In today’s reading, Chambers notes:

The great blessing spiritually is the knowledge that we are destitute; until we get there our Lord is powerless. He can do nothing for us if we think we are sufficient of ourselves; we have to enter into his kingdom through the door of destitution. As long as we are rich, possessed of anything in the way of pride or independence, God cannot do anything for us. It is only when we get hungry spiritually that we receive the [power of the] Holy Spirit.

Here we find the power to experience the consecration by which we proclaim the message of Christmas. Our goal is not to try harder to do better. It is to stay so submitted to God’s Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), so dependent on him in humility and reliance (cf. Matthew 5:3), that he can form the character of Christ in us (Romans 8:29) and manifest the “fruit of the Spirit” through us (Galatians 5:22–23).

Consequently, let’s begin every day by yielding that day to God’s Spirit. Let’s ask him to empower us, guide us, and use us. Let’s trust our Lord to redeem this season in ways that draw us and those we serve ever closer to our Savior.

Imagine the impact on our materialistic, secularized communities if we and our congregations took these three steps this Christmas.

If we do, this will truly be “the most wonderful time of the year,” to the glory of God.

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