I noticed when the writing assignments were distributed late last year that I had been assigned to make a post on Christmas day. That’s remained in the back of my mind through the past twelve months. I never took the time to examine the reading assignment for December 25. I simply assumed I’d be writing something ‘Christmasy’. Maybe the reading plan would be arranged in such a way that we’d get to spend time in one of the first chapters of Matthew. Better yet, maybe the second chapter of Luke. I imagined writing something about God with us, or of God’s declaration of peace with men. The very last thing I expected to face was a description of God’s wrath…
1 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.”
8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. 9 They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.
10 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish 11 and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.
17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18 And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. 19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath.
Revelation 16:1, 8-11, 17-19
This isn’t a description of Christmas. This is the very opposite of Christmas. This is an image of the fate I earned the moment I first sinned against my Creator, a fate I’m escaping only because He chose to deliver me from His justice and wrath. The description of these and the other judgments in Revelation 16 are breathtaking. It amazes and grieves me that so many people plan to face God standing on a foundation of their own merit. Even more incomprehensible is the idea of some of those same people, suffering the opening rounds of God’s wrath, actually cursing Him rather than repenting. Silent Night? Hardly.
22 And Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to all the Levites who showed good skill in the service of the LORD. So they ate the food of the festival for seven days, sacrificing peace offerings and giving thanks to the LORD, the God of their fathers. 23 Then the whole assembly agreed together to keep the feast for another seven days. So they kept it for another seven days with gladness. 24 For Hezekiah king of Judah gave the assembly 1,000 bulls and 7,000 sheep for offerings, and the princes gave the assembly 1,000 bulls and 10,000 sheep. And the priests consecrated themselves in great numbers. 25 The whole assembly of Judah, and the priests and the Levites, and the whole assembly that came out of Israel, and the sojourners who came out of the land of Israel, and the sojourners who lived in Judah, rejoiced. 2 Chronicles 30:22-25
Here we have a scene reminiscent of many others from ancient Israel. The people described here are, at least momentarily, trying to please God. They are rejoicing in Him and for the deliverance He’s provided their ancestors. But, look at the cost required to make the celebration possible. How much blood was spilled that day to satisfactorily consecrate those involved? This isn’t even a description of the Day of Atonement! It’s simply the Passover celebration.
No, this isn’t a scene of Christmas either, but at least it’s a scene made possible through the promise of Christmas a few centuries to come. This is O Come O Come Emmanuel. This is progress.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another. John 15:12-17
This is Christmas fully revealed. This is God unilaterally declaring peace with His creation. This is the God we’ve so grievously offended through absolute rebellion stepping down from His throne, departing His palace, descending to the dust with us, experiencing our suffering, and lighting within our hearts the flame of His love. Here, God Himself declares that we are not His enemies. Nor are we His pets, nor His subjects, nor His servants. Here He calls us friends. Earlier in John He called us children of God. He makes it clear that this was His doing, not ours. He chose us, not the other way around. He came to meet us because we were incapable of reaching up to Him. The Christ is born. Go Tell it On the Mountain!
“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. Zechariah 12:10
This is Christmas missed. So much of Biblical truth is hard to fathom. I count the chosen nation’s rejection of their long-awaited Messiah as one of the prime examples. There wasn’t any mystery about when or where He would arrive. Magi from another realm showed up at the right place and only slightly behind schedule due to the distance they had to travel. They probably knew the who, when, and where based on an ancient institutional memory of Daniel’s teachings. If they found the Christ child, what is the excuse of the scholars of scripture sleeping within sight of Bethlehem? How could men who knew Psalm 22 and Isaiah’s prophecies by heart not recognize their Messiah even when He hung on the cross? I know, they were expecting a conquering hero, but why were they expecting that when the scriptural truth was so plain? Sadly, their blindness continues to this day. This blindness is going to end though. The descendents of Israel have missed the last 2000 Christmases, and they may miss 2000 more, but one day, at the time of the Father’s choosing, they will see the Son. Then, even as they mourn, it will truly be Joy to the World.
You know, maybe today’s reading selection is appropriate for the occasion after all.
Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts with you this year, and Merry Christmas!!!