IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR:
I love that the year closes with the holiday season. This is such a special time of year; with the crisp air of the winter, the fresh scent of evergreen, the warm fire in the fireplace, the delicious aroma of the holiday pastries, and the colorful decorations that proclaim happiness and joy. Christmas is the season that we expect happiness and joy to surround us. But as the season rushes by, our joy may be left empty. A joy that is based upon external desires will never fill its internal longings. Rather, it becomes a joy that produces stress, depression, and loneliness as one tries to fulfill all his and others demands. J.M. Stubblebein, director of California Department of Mental Health, says, "The Christmas Season is marked by greater emotional stress and more acts of violence than any other time of the year." Statisticians tell us that the suicide rate mounts alarmingly at Christmas time. This time of year has become an excuse to get drunk, have a party, leave work early, give a little, spend a lot, and overeat-a time to exploits temporary pleasures rather than eternal treasures.
Today, our country is in an interesting mood: We have just gone through a Presidential election; watched inflation rise and jobs drop; see the reality of war in Middle East, and hear new cries of personal rights. This scenario of today reminds me of the mood in the Middle East about 2,000 years ago. Sherwood Wirt, editor of Decision Magazine, has captured the mood of the first Christmas when he wrote: "The people of that time were being heavily taxed, and faced every prospect of a sharp increase to cover expanding military expenses. The threat of world domination by a cruel, ungodly, power-intoxicated band of men was ever just below the threshold of consciousness. Moral deterioration had corrupted the upper levels of society and was moving rapidly into the broad base of the populace. Intense nationalistic feeling was clashing openly with new and sinister forms of imperialism. Conformity was the spirit of the age. Government handouts were being used with increasing lavishness to keep the population from rising up and throwing out the leaders. Interest rates were spiraling upward in the midst of an inflated economy. External religious observances were considered a political asset, and abnormal emphasis was being placed upon sports and athletic competition. Racial tensions were at the breaking point. In such a time, and amid such a people, a child was born to a migrant couple who had just signed up for a fresh round of taxation, and who were soon to become political exiles. And the child who was born was called, among other things, Immanuel, “God with us."
Immanuel, "God with us," is the best way to describe the birth of Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ birth, the presence of God is to be found. God has come to His people in the form of a little Child. Immanuel is the best present that Christmas could ever give-the gift of eternal life. Immanuel gives us true joy in life. Not a joy based on circumstances or gifts, but upon the internal reality that we are children of God and that He is with us. Immanuel can give us calmness during the storms of stress and pressure; He can give us friendship during the wars of hostility; He can give us strength during the setbacks of weakness; He can give us hope during the darkness of despair; He can give us forgiveness during the pains of guilt and bad decisions. Immanuel is the true meaning of Christmas, and He can give us the true perspective of this time of year-a time to worship God and love others.
Don't substitute the worship of God for the worship of fat men in red suits, plastic credit cards, overindulging and overspending. Allow Immanuel to give you a different perspective of Christmas than the rest of the world. See the real purpose of the Christmas season-to let the world know that God is with us. Tell others about the wonderful gift of Jesus Christ so that God can be with them. Relax and enjoy this Christmas season, because you can trust in Immanuel.
May God richly bless you and your family this holiday season.
-Pastor Mike Kotrla