God is With Us

Have Yourself an Unfamiliar Christmas

By: Chris Johnson

Here’s an old adage which we’ve probably all heard: “Familiarity breeds contempt.”

As we grow more and more accustomed to things or people, even when we first really enjoyed them, eventually the shine wears off. We find what we once thought to be endearing to be frustrating. What was attractive becomes obnoxious. What was funny, can become infuriating.

Case in point, Christmas music. There was a day when I thought the song, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” was hilarious. These days, it has lost its charm.  Even my favorite childhood Christmas song, “The Little Drummer Boy” – I’m happy if I only hear it once or twice a year. As far as the traditional Carols go, there are about ten or fifteen which get rerecorded by a dozen artists every year, and are played by every Christian radio station, and sung in every church service, and they have lost their novelty.

The same, of course, can be said for every holiday tradition. From Thanksgiving to New Years is a time where many families have traditions: when we get together, what we do when we get together, what we eat together, how we decorate, what we say and what we sing. When we established them, these traditions were fun and special, but a few years down the road if we do not find them obnoxious, neither do we find them as meaningful.

Even the pithy little saying that Christians remind ourselves with at Christmas: “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” rolls off the tongue – into one ear and right out the other.

For me, the Christmas season is always a wrestling match, an attempt to pin my attention to the mat and focus on the wonder of the Incarnation. I feel the struggle now, in even describing it: every word is so familiar this time of year! What can we say that doesn’t sound reheated? “The Miracle of Christ’s birth?” “The Coming of the Messiah?” Even these phrases, though true and majestic in their meaning are so familiar that they no longer communicate the awe that we should feel when we think of what we’re celebrating. Christmas should send a chill down our spine every time we think of it.

Let us imagine a Hebrew perspective.

For forty years, their fathers wandered the desert. For forty years, they encamped around the tabernacle. When they woke up and threw open the flaps of their tents, the first thing they saw was the glory cloud of their God above the tent of meeting. When they went to bed, it was in the light of God’s pillar of fire. They knew their God was with them.

Then, the Word of the Lord came to prophets, bringing messages to His people of judgment on the nations, but always ending in mercy and grace for the children of Abraham.  But there had been no Word from the Lord, no prophets for almost five centuries, and they were being crushed by the oppressive Roman empire.

In that time and place, “The Word Became Flesh, and Dwelt Among Us.” Once more God was encamped in the midst of us, not as a pillar of fire or cloud, but as one of us. And he was not just a prophet bringing the Word of God, He was the Word of God. Emmanuel: God With Us.

When we understand how God’s glory and power and sinless perfection set Him apart from us, the understanding of what we celebrate at Christmas cannot grow stale. There can be no familiarity with such a Being! His condescension to becoming human for our sake must always provoke awe.

Remember and meditate on these things this Christmas.

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