Every year it seems as though there are more attacks against anything that points us back to the original meaning of Christmas. Last December, when Agape Church in Little Rock, Ark., invited children from Terry Elementary School to a production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” a group of atheists protested. The church had to cancel their plans.
And nowadays, people don’t want to call Christmas trees by that name anymore. Instead, the new term is “holiday trees.” In stores, it is somewhat rare to hear an employee wish customers a “Merry Christmas.” Instead, it is usually “Happy Holidays,” even though a survey revealed that 68 percent of those polled still prefer “Merry Christmas.”
For many today, the Christmas story is about Scrooge and his visits from the various ghosts of Christmas. For others, the Christmas story might be about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Frosty the Snowman or Santa Claus.
We have even managed to do the same thing with Thanksgiving. It isn’t called Thanksgiving anymore; it’s called Turkey Day.
In this so-called time when we are celebrating the birth of Jesus, it is very easy, in a sense, to lose God.
To me, the whole Christmas celebration is like a surprise party someone might throw. Let’s say it is your 40th birthday, so your friends and family get together and decide to throw you a big party. Everyone you know is there. People have come in from out of town. They have bought the biggest cake you have ever seen. They actually have strung your name in lights and hired a band to perform songs written exclusively about you. There is just one oversight, however: Someone forgot to invite you to the party they were throwing in your honor.
So you think, They were so busy and excited, they forgot all about it. I’ll just show up. They’ll be so excited! As you approach the house, you hear your name being sung. You see people talking about you and can’t help but notice some pictures of you creatively displayed. You knock on the door, anticipating how thrilled they will be when you came walking in. But to your surprise, they actually ignore you. You knock louder, and someone actually makes eye contact with you and says something to someone else. Still, they go on with the party without letting you in. Then it dawns on you: They didn’t want you at the party.
That is what Christmas is like. We are celebrating the birth of Jesus, but we are forgetting about him. We buy our presents. We trim our trees. We string our lights. We get gifts for people we love (and sometimes for people we don’t love or don’t really know). And in all of this craziness, we can actually lose Jesus.
Even Mary and Joseph lost sight of Jesus at one point. According to an account in Luke’s Gospel, Mary and Joseph were returning home after being in Jerusalem for the Passover when they realized that Jesus was missing. In those days, the men and women would travel separately (probably because the guys were tired of waiting for their wives to show up). The men would basically say, “You go ahead, and we’ll see you back home.”
Mary and all of her friends were going back to Nazareth, and Joseph came along a little later. Mary thought Jesus was with Joseph, and Joseph thought Jesus was with Mary. Can you imagine that conversation?
“Where is Jesus?”
“I don’t know. I thought Jesus was with you.”
“He isn’t with me. Where is he?”
“I don’t know!”
What a crazy situation. How could you lose Jesus? But they did.
Now if Jesus looked the way he has been depicted in religious art, he would have been very easy to find. You would just go back to the city and say, “Has anyone seen a child glowing in the dark? He has a halo. You can’t miss him. That’s our son.” But Jesus didn’t glow in the dark, and he didn’t have a halo.
Interestingly, a whole day had passed before Joseph and Mary missed him. They had breakfast, lunch and dinner, and never once saw his face. It wasn’t as though they had lost their love for him or had lost their faith. They just lost him.
Technically, can a person lose God? No, we really can’t. You can’t lose something or someone if you know where it is or where they are. If you know where someone is, he or she isn’t lost. But you can lose sight of someone. And many have lost sight of God in their lives.
It is possible to go through an hour, a day – or for some, even a week – without a thought about Jesus. It is possible to not even think about him, not even think to pray, not even crack open the Bible and not even give him a passing thought – that is, until a crisis hits. And suddenly turning to him is an instinctive reaction: “Oh God! Oh God!”
Thankfully, God hears us, even when it is a crisis that finally causes us to turn our attention toward him. The good news is that even if we lose sight of him, he never loses sight of us. Even if we forget about him sometimes, God never forgets about us.
Christmas is not about buying presents; it is about his presence in our lives. And really, the essential message of Christmas is given to us in the Gospel of Matthew: ” ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us'” (Matthew 1:23 NKJV).
That is the message of Christmas: God is with us. We are not alone.