We all get a little nostalgic during this time of year. After all, as my neighbor declared (singing at the top of her lungs at the first sight of Christmas lights on our street), “It’s the most wonderful time of year!”
We love the red cups, the traditions, the gifts under the tree, all of it. We get a little more generous and compassionate, a little more forgiving of family members, and a lot more flexible on our Paleo diets.
But soon, our nostalgia will inevitably turn into real life and we’ll remember the long lines at Target, the traffic at the mall, the pants that no longer fit around us, thanks to the gift of “holiday weight.”
We’ll begin to see all of the posts on Facebook saying things like “Keep CHRIST in Christmas,” and the protest against holiday trees and the signs that read “Jesus the reason for the season.”
And every year I cringe. Because, really, “Christmas” isn’t actually about all of this stuff we have made it to be about. But we’re quick to draw a line in the sand that says true Christians buy Christmas trees, not “holiday trees,” forgetting to be careful to not project an American holiday onto the true meaning of why baby Jesus, born in a manger, is really about.
The reason for the season is not gifts and trees and red cups. The reason for the season is Immanuel.
Presence, not presents.
The incarnation of Christ.
God with us.
Throughout the Bible, we see that God’s greatest gift, His greatest blessing for His children, has always been His very presence. In fact, the Scriptures show over and over again that being in His presence is a blessing, and being cast out is a punishment.
Look at how Adam and Eve’s responded after they sinned: “They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8 NASB).
As Moses is leading the people out of Egypt, look at what God is concerned with most: “And [God] said, ‘My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.’ Then [Moses] said to Him, ‘If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here’” (Exodus 33:14-15 NASB).
If God’s presence isn’t with them, they don’t want to go.
Where do we find fullness of joy? In God’s presence:
You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.
- Psalm 16:11 (NASB)
David, in the midst of repentance and confession of sin, asks God to restore Him, and look at what He begs of God:
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
- Psalm 51:10-11 (NASB)
Just a few chapters after announcing the sign of Immanuel in Isaiah 7, we read:
The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them.
You shall multiply the nation,
You shall increase their gladness;
They will be glad in Your presence…
- Isaiah 9:2-3 (NASB)
John tells us, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 NASB). Jesus, God, present with us and among us.
We read in Luke 1-2 about the gift of God’s presence through baby Jesus. The incarnation of Christ in Philippians 2 tells us He left His position on high to come and dwell with the lowly so we might experience His presence for all of eternity.
And in Revelation 21, when it describes the new heavens and the new earth, the greatest gift is His presence:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” - Revelation 21:3-5 (NASB)
This is the true meaning of Christmas: Immanuel, God with us – He with us, and us with Him.
The time when we’re supposed to be remembering Christ the most is when we abide in Him the least. Let’s remember to truly keep Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, the focus of Christmas by abiding in His presence.
Here are some tips for practicing His presence during the busyness of the holiday season:
- Start your day with Him. Perhaps some of the greatest Christmas carols are worship songs. Stay in the Word, follow advent Scriptures or read the Gospel of Luke. A chapter of Luke a day will take you right up to Christmas.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Slow down enough to keep a list of things you are thankful for each day.
- As you’re wrapping gifts, pray for the person whose gift you’re wrapping.
- As Christmas cards come in, thank God for that family and pray for them.
- In checkout lines, make eye contact with people and smile. These are both gifts in today’s busy world.
- Remember the hurting. Holidays are hard this time of year for some, especially widows. Send her a card or take her some cookies. Be present.
- Ask God to give you eyes to see as He would see. There is opportunity to be in His presence and shine for Him all around you.
What do you do to remember Immanuel in this season? How do you slow down to abide in Christ during the busiest time of year? How do you practice His presence daily?
Previously published on selftalkthegospel.com. Used with permission.