Today is Christmas morning, which at our house means presents, lights, laughter, food, family...one of our most fun days of every year. I love Christmas and all the trappings of the season--I am my Daddy's son after all! But in all the echoes of making new memories & chasing old ones (I do a lot of both this time of years), there's a shadow.
I love Christmas cards. Greetings from friends & relatives, both near and far. A reminder of family and friendship, two things that make me very happy. But even looking at pictures and reading cards & letters, there's a shadow.
I love to look through my own pictures from days gone by. My family I grew up, and my family that began when Lisa & I got married 29+ years ago. I can hear the joy-filled echoes, again, laughter, family,...But even then, hearing the echoes of Christmas laughter gone by, there is a shadow.
I love taking pictures of landscapes and looking at others' pictures of landscapes. The beaches of my youth, the woods along Longleaf Trace (where I ride my bike), the mountains of TN & CO & Southern Poland, the high plains of the upper midwest...again, I'm my Father's son. But even looking at the beauty & wonder of earth, or when gazing into a clear star-filled sky, there's still a shadow.
Luke's Gospel records a humble birth, out in a stable in a small, overcrowded town of little consequence at the time. Smelly shepherds were the only guests to "ooh & ah" over the infant boy in the stable. But all of heaven rejoiced, even as a throne was emptied for the first & only time in all of eternity. A star lit up the sky. Multitudes of angels sang & heralded the arrival of this One long promised.
a Savior Who is Christ the Lord."
for He will save His people from their sins."
This is what the angels said. One was anouncing His arrival to the shepherds on a hillside. The other was said to the baby's Mother when her role in the unfolding of God's redemptive plan & the fulfillment of so many prophecies & promises was made known to her.
And there, the shadow fills in. How, after all, is one "saved from their sins" before a Holy & Righteous & Just God? By a sacrifice. One death for another. Temple worship in those days was a bloody affair. Innocent animals screaming as they were brutally killed to atone for the sins of people. For people back then couldn't follow enough rules well enough to make themselves good. Better than another, sure; but when compared to a Holy & Righteous God? Thus, atoning sacrifices were required. Scapegoats bore sins into the darkness. And the shadow became much more clear.
People today can't follow enough rules well enough to make ourselves good either. This is confirmed by a quick glance at the news. Or into a mirror. We live under a shadow. The same shadow Jesus was born under. The shadow of death, depravity, destruction, despair.
My God, why? Why are so many things amiss? Why is there such death, destruction, disaster in our world today? Why have you forsaken & forgotten us?
And then we celebrate Christmas. And if we look closely enough, we'll see a shadow behind the celebrations. Both our celebrations today and the angels' celebration that first Christmas. Stare long enough, and the shadow becomes a bloody cross outline on a hill. The only truly innocent person to ever walk this earth screaming as he's brutally killed to atone for the sins of others. Me. You. Only, unlike all the sacrificial animals through those years, He gave Himself up, facing death voluntarily. Joyfully, even.
Spend a moment wondering why there's Christmas at all. As Mr. Tumnus said in C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, "Always winter & never Christmas...just imagine." Imagine living only in shadow. Another illustration is Tolkien's Nazgul characters, who live forever, but who have fallen into shadow.
And the veil of the temple separating the very presence of God from His people was torn in two. And the shadow fled.
One day, the shadow will never again be seen. The One born that first Christmas will return and make all things new. Redemption of His people will be complete and eternal.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.
Merry Christmas! Rejoice, for any shadow we now experience is but temporary. Tolkien's Sam Gamgee in Lord of the Rings: “Is everything sad going to come untrue?” Yes it is, Samwise. Yes it is.