Every year many Christians commemorate the Incarnation of Jesus Christ as the babe in the manger—God becoming flesh to dwell among us. Most celebrate this holiday on December 25, but Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7. In many countries around the world, this is a time of feasting, spending time with family and friends, and giving presents (this tradition honors the magi’s gifts to Jesus; however, ultimately our gift giving commemorates the greatest gift of all—God the Father sending his Son into the world).
Of course like any other holiday, Christmas has been commercialized and saturated with secular motifs and themes. One can hardly escape seeing Santa Claus, elves, reindeer, and snowmen everywhere, and being bombarded with ads for the “perfect holiday gifts” for your loved ones. This commercial blitz begins in November and usually lasts through New Year’s Day.
Christians are not immune to being swept up in the preparations for Christmas. Parents want to give good gifts to their children and kids may want to buy or make gifts for their parents. Some people may have to plan vacations to visit relatives or may need to work on Christmas and schedule a different day to get together with family. Travel may involve icy roads, long trips with young kids, and of course the inevitable traffic jams. Or it may involve housecleaning, shopping for food, cooking, and hosting family (sometimes big and extended families).
But when we have a spare moment to stop, breathe, and reflect, we enjoy spending time with loved ones, some whom we only see around Christmas. We enjoy watching faces light up as they open gifts, and we enjoy opening our own gifts. We enjoy warm fires (if we have a fireplace or the Yule log TV channel if we don’t), Christmas carols, hot chocolate, and good food with family and friends. But we also reflect on the gift we have received as Christians—salvation from our sins—all because Jesus entered into history as a baby born in Bethlehem, a baby who came with the express purpose of offering himself as a perfect sacrifice. In our moments of clarity, we recognize that the gifts we give are offered in honor of that supreme gift.
The Day After Christmas
But what about the day after Christmas? As family members leave to head back home or we head back to work or we clean up the house after the festivities, what do we think about then? In some countries, such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the day after Christmas is Boxing Day, which involves more shopping and more gift giving or extended time with family. But Christians should not just shift our thoughts to the next holiday (typically New Year’s Day) or back to the tasks and concerns of the coming days.
The Incarnation was not an isolated event, but was the beginning of the plan for Christ to redeem us.
As Christians we should remember that the Incarnation was not an isolated event, but was the beginning of the plan for Christ to redeem us. Just as we have to (eventually, if not immediately) go back to work, school, or taking care of the home, we can remember that Jesus also had school, work, and a mission to accomplish. Jesus “grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him” (Luke 2:40).1 Jesus also studied, listened to, and asked questions of the learned men of his day (Luke 2:46–47); he obeyed his parents (verse 51); and when he was older he worked as a carpenter (Mark 6:3). Like us, Jesus knew times of hunger (Luke 4:2), tiredness (Mark 4:38), frustration with people who misunderstood or rejected him (Matthew 17:17), suffering and temptation (Hebrews 2:18), and even doubt and rejection from his own earthly family (John 7:5).
This should cause us to meditate on not just the birth but the life of Jesus as well. He experienced the same things we do, and because of this, he can empathize with our human frailties (Hebrews 4:15). He did not come to be pampered and served, but to be a suffering servant himself (Matthew 20:28). As we return to our daily tasks, duties, and responsibilities after Christmas, we should shift our focus from the birth of Jesus to his life, his work, and his death, burial, and Resurrection. When we start to get bogged down with the concerns of this daily life, we need to look beyond those things and recognize that they are in the hands of the Father who loves us and takes care of us (Matthew 6:31–34).
So what should we think about on the day after Christmas? As we put away the gifts we have been given, or even as we use them, we should consider them reminders that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). As we leave family behind, perhaps to not see them for another year, we can meditate on our relationship to God because of the work of Christ (Galatians 3:26), and as with our earthly families, we can look forward to the time when we will be in the presence of Christ. That will be a family reunion that will never end in bittersweet goodbyes, but will go on for all eternity! Finally, as the gifts we received wear out or are used up, we can thank God that his gift to us is eternal (Romans 6:23). Like the Apostle Paul we should be thinking of this gift of salvation and expressing our gratitude to God.
Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)