Jeremiah 31:7-14 & John 1:10-18

You’ve noticed that we haven’t packed up Christmas for another year here at church. Take a few moments to just take in what you see in these lighted trees, especially the Chrismon Trees, along with the garland and the entire decor. It’s still beautiful, isn’t it? It still strikes you with awe, doesn’t it? I’m not going to ask you to confess, but I do have an inkling that some of you haven’t packed up Christmas either. If it will help, ourfamily hasn’t. It will probably happen sometime this week. This Worship Center will be “undecorated” later this week by the Flower Committee and our maintenance staff. I know that “undecorated” really isn’t a word. Somewhere, maybe in the Bible, it says preachers can make up words when appropriate. The “un” seems appropriate.

Now I realize some people think all of this Christmas stuff should have been boxed up the day after Christmas. I pastored such a person years ago. She was responsible for decorating the church at Christmas and always did a splendid job. A good woman, yet rather peculiar (who isn’t), she had this thing about “undecorating” Christmas. As sure as there was a Baby Jesus placed in a manger, she and her family would, on Christmas afternoon every year, go to the church house and “undecorate” it. From her vantage point, Christmas was over on December 25. She told me once, “It is time to get on with life. No more carols and décor. No more Christmas until the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

Her action of undecorating the church house begs a question. When is Christmas over? I mean when is the appropriate time to pack it up for another year? From the commercial standpoint I suppose it was over on December 24. But from the spiritual standpoint it’s never over. From the Christian calendar point of view Christmas actually begins on Christmas Day, which is The First Day of Christmas, and doesn’t end until tomorrow, January 5, which is The Twelfth Day of Christmas. Yes, Virginia, there really are Twelve Days of Christmas.

I know this all gets confusing since we Christians operate – or we are supposed to operate – with two calendars since we are citizens of two kingdoms. We operate by the Civic Calendar, and rightly so, because we are citizens of this world. We also operate, or we should, by the Christian or Church Calendar because we are citizens of a Kingdom that is not of this world. The Christian Calendar binds us to other believers worldwide and it has nothing to be with being Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, or whatever. It has to do with being a believer in Jesus Christ. So we talk about and celebrate Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. This is why I’m still focused on Christmas. It’s still Christmas!

A week before Christmas Day I purchased John Grisham’s novel, Skipping Christmas, and read it. This year they made it into a movie, though with a different name. If you’ve not read it, I encourage you to get it and read it just after Thanksgiving. Don’t read it now. Wait until December. It will mean more to you.

It is funny and drives home a powerful point. While it is tempting to skip all the festivities and decorating and buying that is associated with Christmas, you can’t skip it since Christmas is about relationships with neighbors and family all year long. One thing that struck me in reading this short story is how we tend to forsake the spiritual for the secular. I think we do that partly by packing up Christmas too soon. Most of us are so tired of all the advertising and rushing around that we can’t wait until December 26. With all the commercialization today is it any wonder? Sadly, even we in the church may have been tempted to forget and have already forgotten. Forget or forgotten what?

That Christmas is packaged in a Word – a Word that became flesh and lived among us. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). John, one of those eyewitnesses to the Word, which is Jesus by the way, wanted his readers to know for certain that God had been in their midst. And was He ever. God had come to humanity as a flesh and blood human being. You can’t get more personal than that. It was the fulfillment of what prophets, like Jeremiah, had preached in previous centuries. Such knowledge brought joy to those who heard such powerful words like: “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).

Most people sitting in here have received the Christ of Christmas, have believed in His name, and have received the power to become His children – His own flesh and blood. And our lives, hopefully, have been so wrapped up in Christmas that whenever we go into the community, let alone the world, we go with the same knowledge Jeremiah shared with the people of his day centuries before Christ’s birth.

Those words from Jeremiah 31 were directed to a people whose lives were wrapped with grief and discouragement. They had lost all as a result of their sinfulness – a sin shrouded in refusal: refusal to obey God. They had been forced by an international power to pack up all, which was very little as a result of the destructive nature of war, and trek hundreds of miles east to a strange land. They were sad. They were despondent. They were pitiful. They were angry. So Jeremiah, that weeping prophet, wept with them and through his tears brought consolation and hope. Jeremiah understood God to have something good on the horizon for them. That is one of the many benefits of being in a relationship with this God of the Hebrews.

He is always about the business of offering us something good in the future if we’ll just seek to get it right in the present and acknowledge when we miss the right, owning up to the fact that we’ve done wrong – sinned that is, a refusal to obey God. When we make that acknowledgment, He begins the process of turning mourning into joy, dissatisfaction into satisfaction, punishment into comfort. He did just that for the folks of Jeremiah’s day after their repentance and He does the same for us through the sending of His son in a beautiful package – a Word that became human and lived among us. I might add that this Word still lives among us and in us. As a result we can face things that otherwise can’t be faced.

We can face life’s challenges and difficulties when our lives have been packed with Christmas – and I don’t mean the things we got on Christmas morning in material possessions. I’m referring to the Word that has become flesh for us and walks in our midst and, in fact, walks in us. The means for responding is to allow your life to be packed with Christmas and then you can do what Jeremiah said we could do like rejoicing in dance, being merry, being joyful, having gladness, and being satisfied no matter what.

Whenever we allow Christmas to pack itself into our lives, we discover that it points us to something better. We are to look forward to the future. Christmas, a day about a Child being placed in a Manger, points us to a Cross, on which this Child would die some thirty years later for our sins and then to an Empty Tomb where a resurrection took place through the very power of God, thus ensuring eternal life to all who would believe.

As a result of that belief, we await His Second Advent, which will result in each of us doing just what Jeremiah said we would do: rejoicing in dance, being merry, being joyful, having gladness, and being satisfied no matter what may come our way. As we wait, if we’ll allow the Holy Spirit to do His work, we’ll be packed up with joy and gladness and satisfaction no matter what.

So this week as you go about the task of packing up Christmas for another year – all the decorations and stuff that help you celebrate – make sure your life, your very existence is packed with Christmas. Now be very careful as you pack. You might accidentally pack up your faith for another year. Even worse. You might intentionally pack up your faith. Now that wouldn’t be so good. Don’t pack up your Christmas faith. You need it all year long.


Jimmy Gentry is Pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Carrollton, Georgia

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