“When I say CHRISTMAS, is your first thought Missions?”
Have you ever played the psychological analyzation “WORD GAME” where someone asks to give them THE FIRST WORD or THOUGHT that comes to mind when they say a WORD? Some say the purpose of the “game” is an attempt to find out “who you REALLY ARE”, or if you are “NORMAL”, or just a bit “WEIRD.”
For example, they might say, “What is the FIRST word or thought that immediately comes to your mind when I say the color ‘red’?” In quick response, if you are “normal” you might say apple or fire truck or cherry pie or lipstick. But if you are “a bit weird” you might say your favorite color socks or your mom’s eyes when she is angry or your favorite flavor of Jell-O! If they said, “FOOTBALL GAME”, if you are normal you might say Super Bowl or Dallas Cowboys or cheerleaders or “My favorite sport.” But if you are a bit weird you might say, “My team always loses” or “Getting tackled by Big Foot” or “Canceled due to Covid!”
OK… got it? Well, let’s seriously play the game. When I say “CHRISTMAS”, what is the first thought or word that comes to mind? If you are normal it could be one of the following: Gifts, Toys, Caroling, Santa Claus, Manger, Wise Men, Shopping, Amazon, Jesus, Holly, Christmas Tree, Stockings, Giving, Christmas ornaments, Shoeboxes, Tinsel, Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer, Christmas tree lights, Christmas Dinner, Family & Friends, Black Friday, or Credit Cards. Right?
BUT would you be a bit weird if your first thought after hearing the word “CHRISTMAS” was “MISSIONS”? In the same line of thinking, if I said, “CHRISTMAS TREE” would you think “THE CROSS”? Or if I said, “HOLLY” would you think “CROWN OF THORNS and the BLOOD JESUS SHED ON THE CROSS”? Or if I said, “MANGER IN BETHLEHEM” or “SANTA CLAUS”, would you think “JESUS GIVING THE GIFT OF SALVATION TO THE WHOLE WORLD”? Probably not.
First of all, NO, you would not be a bit weird for not having those “OTHER” missions or Christ-related responses when hearing the word “CHRISTMAS”. However, may I suggest that thoughts like “Cross, crown of thorns, the blood Jesus shed on the cross, salvation to the whole world and MISSIONS,” are exactly the Biblically normal and most accurately TRUE thoughts that should come into our heads and hearts during the Christmas season.
No, this is NOT a statement intended to put anyone on a guilt trip, neither is it a pious rebuke, but hopefully rather a thought provoking and heart-felt admonition to take some time this Christmas to think MISSIONS, which I believe to be the ultimate “NORMAL” idea behind CHRISTMAS.
I LOVE ALL the beautiful and fun traditions of Christmas but consider this: The first Christmas tree was an evergreen tree brought into the homes of German evangelical Lutherans in the 16th century because the “evergreen” tree symbolized the “everlasting life” the baby Jesus came to offer the world by dying on a TREE – the Cross.
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written, ‘Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree: that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” [Galatians 3:13-14]
Consider this: The holly plant was adopted by Christians to be used as a Christmas decoration because the thorny leaf symbolized the crown of thorns that Jesus wore on the cross and the red berry symbolized the blood that Jesus shed on the cross for the redemption of the world.
“They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ they said.” [Matthew 27:29]
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” [1 Peter 1:18-19]
Consider this: Historians tell us that the person behind the Santa Claus story was an early fourth century Greek Christian Bishop by the name of Saint Nicholas who was persecuted as a staunch believer in Christ who took the Gospel to many countries in Europe. Tradition states he was the first bishop to wear a red bishop’s robe. He went around giving gifts to poor children on Christmas eve as a model of giving the ultimate gift of salvation to the lost sinful world brought by the baby Jesus on that first Christmas.
“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” [Matthew 1:2.1]
Consider this: Arguably the most popular sacred Christmas carol, “Silent Night”, declares in its third and final stanza:
Silent night, holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of REDEEMING GRACE (Salvation),
Jesus LORD (Savior of ALL who accept Him) at Thy birth,
Jesus Lord at Thy birth.
YES, I believe that Christmas is ultimately the celebration of and challenge of MISSIONS:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” [John 3:16]
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” [John 3:17]
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” [1 Timothy 1:15]
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” [Luke 19:10]
“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” [John 12:46]
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” [1 John 4:9]
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Romans 6:23]
Yes, ULTIMATELY to us as Christ-followers, CHRISTMAS should mean MISSIONS.
“As you (God the Father) sent me (Jesus) into the world, I have sent them (Christ’s followers) into the world.” [John 17:18]
As Jesus Himself puts it:
“Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” [Matthew 28:19-20]
So, I challenge us this year, as we gather around the Christmas Tree, think of the Cross upon which Jesus offered his life for the salvation of the lost world. If we see holly think of the crown of thorns Jesus wore and the blood he shed for the lost world. When we see or hear Santa Claus, think of an historic follower of Christ modeling the giving of the ultimate gift of salvation to a lost world. And if we sing or hear the song Silent Night, perhaps think to yourself … “I will never be Silent about the gift of salvation for which the baby Jesus came into the world to give to the lost world through His death, burial, and resurrection – and came with the ultimate goal of sending US, His followers, into the world to share His Gospel of salvation to ALL peoples!”
Merry Christmas from myself and all of our YMI team!
Dr. Randy Smith, YMI Founder/President