“Always Winter But Never Christmas?”: Finding Joy This Season

This article appeared in the December 20, 2019 edition of our local paper, The Manchester Journal.

“It is winter in Narnia, and has been for ever so long…always winter and never Christmas; think of that!” With these words, Mr. Tumnus the faun from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe captured the imagination of my children—and me. This winter, my wife and I have been reading them “The Chronicles of Narnia” for their bedtime stories. I had read the beloved classics, as perhaps you have, as a boy, but it had been decades since I last read them. This time, reading them as an adult and as a pastor, I have been amazed at the beautiful parallels with life and even the Christian life as Lewis’ allegory points to Jesus through Aslan, the lion.

But I have not been able to let that phrase go: “always winter and never Christmas.” We know that in one sense so many of us love winter or we would not live in Vermont. We love the skiing, we love the crunchy snow under our feet, we love sipping hot cocoa while watching the snowflakes gently fall. There’s nothing quite like celebrating Christmas in Vermont with snow on the ground. But if it was always winter and never Christmas, if there was no joy in the midst of the long winter, if six months of no leaves stretched into twelve months with no foliage, we would tire of the winter weather.

Lewis described our hearts without joy so well with his phrase, “always winter and never Christmas.” As we approach Christmas, I have been thinking about what we try to draw joy from around Christmastime. We see the word “joy” all over the place: in decorations for the season, in songs on the radio and in the stores. But joy can be elusive. The grandkids don’t visit. The cancer has returned. The toys were exciting for the kids for a couple of hours, but now they’ve moved on to playing with the boxes. Maybe for you the season brings back difficult childhood memories. In your soul, you feel like it is always winter, but never Christmas, even on Christmas Day.

Lift up your head. Aslan breaks the curse, and even heals our hearts. There is joy available that is outside of our circumstances, joy that can coexist with tears. It is a joy that is elastic enough that it can bring the joy of Christmas to both the young parent with the overwhelming list of things to do for the kids, and the elderly person in his or her empty home. It is a joy that stretches to magnify the best times of life and that quietly comes alongside of us to meet us during our darkest moments. This joy is a person who is so much more than a person. His name is Jesus. This is why Christians get so excited about Christmas.

The Gospel of John explains about Jesus, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.” (John 1:5, 12, 14) You see, Christians get excited about Christmas because we truly believe that we can’t work our way to God. The darkness is not only outside of us, it is even in us. But the message of Christmas is that God didn’t expect us to work our way up to him, but he came down to us to offer us free joy now and for eternity.

Before the spring thaw comes, my kids and I will be reading the seventh book in the Narnia series. We will read these words in The Last Battle that I hope will ring true to your heart this Christmas season so that for your soul it will not be always winter and never Christmas: “‘Yes,’ said Queen Lucy. ‘In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.’”

Talk about joy to the world!

For Those Who Need Hope (All Of Us)

the-hope-of-christmasA shortened version of this post appeared in The Manchester Journal.

I love everything about Christmas. The decorations. The lights. The snow. The music. And yes, Christmas movies. My wife and I began a yearly tradition of watching White Christmas when we were first married fourteen years ago, and two years ago we watched it in Vermont for the first time, after I became a pastor here. “Vermont should be beautiful this time of year, all that snow…” But the last two years Christmas has been snowless just like in the movie, except without the surprise snow on Christmas Eve. Maybe this year will be our first white Christmas!

I have noticed over the years that there is one recurring theme in every Christmas movie, even if it has nothing to do with the Christmas story from the Bible:  HOPE. In White Christmas, it is the hope of snow and true love on Christmas. In It’s a Wonderful Life it is the hope of finding purpose and joy in life again. In How the Grinch Saved Christmas it is the hope of even the most depraved person finding their heart and caring for others again. We could go on and on. Hope–in every one.

I think this is because innately, people know that things are not the way they should be, and if a miracle is ever going to happen, a miracle that changes things, then why not on Christmas?

Pushing Back the Cultural Haze
There are so many messages in our culture about what the basic meaning of Christmas is: love, giving, a warm feeling, family, or friends. Christmas means lots of things to lots of different people, and all of these things are good things. But since Christmas began as a holiday to celebrate Christ’s birth, we need to push back the cultural haze to see clearly what the Bible says Christmas is all about. What is the most basic meaning of Christmas? The angels can tell us.

Mary was startled to learn from the angel Gabriel, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” (Luke 1:31-32a)

Joseph had his moment of clarity from an angel of the Lord in a dream: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

On the night that is now known as the hinge of history, the fog was really pushed back when an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds in a field outside Bethlehem and assured them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

Don’t Let Christmas Be Stolen From You
The Bible boldly proclaims that the greatest miracle that ever could happen already happened on Christmas. Jesus is the reason for Christmas. God was in the manger that night. God entered into our suffering world, physically. God himself appeared in the flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ. God is not “out there,” God is here. Jesus is Immanuel–which means, “God with us.” That is why we celebrate Christmas, because Jesus didn’t just give us hope in the past; Jesus’ salvation and presence today give us hope today.

This is good news. If Christmas is mostly about love, then Christmas will be stolen from me if I don’t feel like loving others, or if I am hurt by someone I love. If Christmas is mostly about giving, then Christmas will be stolen from me if I am ever in a tough situation and can’t give. If Christmas is mostly about a warm feeling, Christmas will be stolen from me if I wake up on the wrong side of the bed on Christmas morning. If Christmas is mostly about family and friends, Christmas will be stolen from me if I am ever far from my family and find myself with few friends. But if Christmas is not about what I can do or what my circumstances are any given year, but about God himself coming to me, then I can be joyful each and every Christmas. Jesus is for those who need hope–and that is all of us.

Jesus Lives!

It is amazing how our hope is tied into the fact of Christ’s resurrection.  As Christ Himself taught, “…I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.  Do you believe this?” (John 11:25b-26)  He could actually call Himself THE resurrection before He had died or been raised.

He had just been discussing resurrection with Martha, because her brother Lazarus had died, and she had pointed to the Old Testament hope of resurrection.  He lovingly pointed out that there is no resurrection outside of the Son of God, Himself.  Then He proved it by raising Lazarus from the dead.  Martha got it right when he asked her if she believed this: “She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” (John 11:27)  Have you made this confession (see my earlier post, “What is the Gospel?”)?  If you have, then you can be abounding in hope because of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:19-20).

This Resurrection Sunday may you rejoice in Christ and in our hope that is in Christ, because He is risen!  I have recently been moved by the words of a song called “Jesus Lives” from Risen, a Sovereign Grace Music CD that is completely about the Resurrection.

Here is the music, but if you don’t listen then check out the words below:

I no longer fear the grave

Christ has come

Took the sting of death away

Through His saving blood

Though my body fails and my flesh grows weak

Till my final breath, to this hope I’ll cling

Jesus lives and so shall I

I’ll be raised from the dust with Christ on high

Jesus lives no more to die

And when He returns, with Him I’ll rise

Jesus lives

In this fallen world I cry

For the day

When Your glory splits the sky

And you come to reign

All creation waits for that promised hour

When the saints of God are revealed in power

Not death nor any power of hell can separate me from

The love, the love of my Savior

(Words by George Romanacce and Bob Kauflin, Copyright 2011 Sovereign Grace Worship)

Christ Our Only Hope

"Nothing in my hands I bring, Only to Thy Cross I cling." -Adapted from "Rock of Ages," words by Augustus Toplady

Where would we be if it were not for Christ?  Certainly not in a right standing with God!  How amazing it is that we can call the perfectly holy, all-powerful, sovereign, and transcendent God “Abba,” Father, because of what our Advocate (see next post!) Jesus Christ has done.  His advocacy on our behalf (if you are in Christ) means that the ultimate question in all of life has been answered.  To know that all is right between you and God means that there can be no event in your life that happens out of His sovereign and loving care (Romans 8:28), and that nothing can separate you from your identity in Christ nor from the love of Christ (Romans 8:31-39).  Christ truly is our only hope…I don’t know how people who don’t know Christ as Savior cope with living in a world that is so scarred with sin and the effects of sin. Surely that is God’s grace in itself, that they continue on and may repent (2 Peter 3:9).  How thankful I am that we have the cross to always look to, to be reminded of God’s grace!  It is because of Christ that I dare come into the presence of God the Father (Hebrews 6:19-20).

If you read this post, please don’t move on without asking yourself if Christ is your Advocate.  Have you confessed Him as Lord and Savior, believing that you are in need of forgiveness of sins (Romans 3:23) and that ONLY by placing your faith in God’s Son Jesus you can be saved?  Have you asked Him to save you from the penalty of death for your sins (Romans 6:23) and believed that He died on the cross for your sins and rose from the grave on the 3rd day?  All other religions and worldviews, which rely on one’s own accomplishments ultimately for salvation, bring glory to self, not Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).  But believing that Christ is your only hope for salvation brings glory to Him as the God-Man, the Son of God, and also brings glory to God as we rejoice in His provision of salvation and a right relationship with Him.  May Christ become greater, and may I become less!  I hope that your prayer is the same.