Christmas: Past, Present and Future

For many of us, there are certain things that have become part of our Christmastime routine. One of mine is that I make sure that I watch Dicken’s “Christmas Carol” with George C. Scott playing Ebenezer Scrooge. He does a masterful job of depicting the tight-fisted, grumpy Ebenezer, who was visited by three spirits in one night. These spirits gave Christmas-hating Ebenezer a glimpse of his Christmases past, present, and future. In the end, Scrooge had a complete change of heart and became one who celebrated the Christmas holiday with generosity and enthusiasm. Though theologically questionable, it is a great story.

While none of us, I am sure, would be seen as a twenty-first century version of Scrooge, we do have our own Christmases past, present, and future. And I have mused a bit about these three aspects of Christmas.

Christmas Past.  We all can and do reflect back on Christmases that we have experienced. As with most memories that we have, we do have the tendency to filter out bad stuff and, if possible, recall those pleasant times. And yet hopefully, there are many pleasant memories that we have from Christmases past. Maybe there is even one Christmas that stands out from all the rest. We remember the Christmas cantatas and programs; the excitement of the kids the night before and the morning of Christmas; and the special traditions that were part of how we celebrated with family and friends. Hopefully, the great theological truth of Christmas was part of those December days; that amazing truth that the infinite, eternal, Creator God took on human flesh and entered this world to deal with the matter of our sin and our separation from God (John 1:14). And because He did so, deliverance from eternal death and the gift of eternal life is given to those who believe. Wow, what a truth. If this central truth was an integral part of your past Christmases, then you were blessed indeed in your past Christmases. 

Christmas Present.  If you have lived for more than 2 or 3 decades, then you likely have the sense that Christmas present feels a lot different than Christmas past. Of course, life changes as do relationships and circumstances. As strange as it might seem, our American culture has pretty much changed regarding Christmas, removing Jesus from Christmas. In Jesus’ place has come Rudolph the Red-nosed reindeer, Frosty the snowman, the Grinch, and many romantic Hallmark movies which center around the Christmas season, without, however, any real reference to Jesus. In fact, to mention Jesus in the public square is viewed as “offensive” to many. But this same Jesus-free culture is now producing people who are increasingly angry, depressed, stressed, and without any hope personally. Suicide is rising as for many the “light at the end of the tunnel” has gone out. Hope is pretty much gone. Into this somewhat demoralizing scene there is opportunity for believers in Jesus. More intentionally we need to maximize the life-giving message of Christmas; that God became flesh to die for mankind so eternal life (and abundant life) might be theirs. A virgin bore a child who would be the Savior. A Savior who would completely take care of the sin problem by His death on a cross, and to offer the free gift of eternal life (His life) to all. And while we certainly can enjoy the lights, the food, the music, and times together, we ought to remember that life has changed in our culture. And we need to become more mature in our approach to the Christmas season. No longer will our culture be communicating the message of salvation through the Lord Jesus. That task is ours. 

Christmas Future.  Have you ever wondered if the event of Jesus’ entrance into the world will be celebrated in the future kingdom of God? Will we celebrate “Christmas” in the future? It is here suggested that it is very possible that we will. One reason why the Lord God established feasts and festivals for Israel was for the purpose of helping His people remember Him and His workings. And so, in the Church we too have the Lord’s Supper which was given to “remember Jesus” (Luke 22:19). In the O.T. the seven feasts along with various days were set aside to assist Israel in remembering the works of the Lord Jehovah. Other workings of God were also memorialized. For example, at the crossing of the Jordan River, Joshua was ordered to have 12 large stones taken out of the river and piled up at Gilgal (which was next to the river), to commemorate Israel’s crossing of the Jordan River (Josh. 4:1-7, 21-22). These stones were set up so that future generations would ask “what are these stones” for (Josh. 4:21) and they would be taught of God’s great deed in the days of Joshua.

In the future messianic kingdom (the Millennium) all the feasts of the Lord will be observed (Ezek. 44:23-24). The prophet Ezekiel says that the Levitical priests will instruct the citizens of the Kingdom of Messiah Jesus about these feasts which taught Israel (and gentiles also in this kingdom) about the ways and works of the Lord Jehovah. Zechariah specifically focuses on the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths) which will be observed by Jews and gentiles alike in the Millennial kingdom (Zech. 14:16). This feast had reminded Israel in the O.T. that the Lord cared for and protected His people. The Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23: 33-44) celebrated the “ingathering” at harvest time and was a time of great joy and thanksgiving. It will be a time of remembrance of God’s abundant grace and provision for His people. Isaiah also informs us that “new moons” and “sabbaths” will be a part of the coming ages (Isa. 66:22-23). Gentiles too will come to Jerusalem to worship King Jesus, and observe these festivals. This, by the way, apparently was the main purpose of Matthew including, in his gospel, the gentile “wise men” from the east coming to worship the newborn king. They were a picture of life in the Messianic Kingdom of King Jesus.

The O.T. writers knew nothing of the Church, the “body of Christ,” and would not, therefore, have talked about the Lord’s Supper or any other related Church matter. But it is hard to image that one of the greatest events in the history of the planet (that of God taking on human flesh as a baby born to the virgin) would not be remembered and celebrated. All those born during the kingdom of Jesus Messiah would be aided in their understanding of this great event by a time of celebration and teaching. His entrance into the world would answer their questions about the “Lamb that was slain” (Rev. 5:12). If it was important to set up 12 stones beside the Jordan River, certainly this great event of Christ taking on human flesh (John 1:14) would be memorialized in the life of the people in Messiah’s kingdom. 

“Christmas future” may well be the greatest “Christmas” celebrations that we will ever experience. While Rudolph, Santa and Frosty will be absent and not remembered, a pure unvarnished focus on the Incarnation could well be part of the joyous times in Jesus’ kingdom. So don’t be surprised if the millennial calendar has “Christmas” on it somewhere. Our best Christmas celebrations may well be in the future. In the meantime, may our Christmas present be a joyful and mature celebration of Jesus’ entrance into our world.