This is the final part of a 3-part series. Read Part 1: Christmas Past and Part 2: Christmas Present.
This year has been hard on us all. No one could have predicted the anxiety, disappointment, and uncertainty that seem to permeate 2020. Because of the struggle that this year has been, it would be easy to lean into fear, despair, and hopelessness during the holiday season. Furthermore, it is all too easy for us to fall prey to the hustle and bustle that distracts us from resting each Christmas. However, Christians are called to rest in the peace of Christ and not despair like those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Christmas is the perfect time to re-center ourselves on biblical truth and learn to rest.
The night before Christ was crucified, He reassured his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In other words, we should not be surprised or discouraged by the trials we have and will face in this year and the next. None of us could have predicted the events of 2020, and no one can predict what 2021 has in store. However, we can have confidence that God knows what the future holds, is still on the throne, and forever in control (Ps. 45:6, Lam. 5:19).
This season of Advent and Christmas is an opportunity to remind ourselves of God’s promises and rest in the knowledge that He who promised is faithful (Heb. 10:23). Though the seasons may change, our God never changes (Heb. 13:8). Although Christmas is primarily a celebration of the fulfillment of God’s promises in Christ’s first coming, it is also a time to renew our hope in His promised second coming. As the Nicene Creed states: “He [Christ] shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead; and His kingdom shall have no end.” Difficult years like this one serve as reminders that this world is temporary and not our ultimate home; we are called to look forward and await the second coming of Christ and the restoration of all things (Heb. 13:14). This Christmas, our souls can find rest in the hope of His second coming.
Rest is something with which many of us struggle. We want to rest but cannot seem to find the time to feel rested. As my dad reminds me, we often think that rest’s opposite is work, but the opposite of rest is actually restlessness. The Christmas season can often feel like a restless and busy time rather than a restful and peaceful time. We can counteract the restless feeling by pausing to reflect on Christ’s first coming, His presence with us, and the hope of His second coming when all will be restored and made new. As Augustine famously said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”
Each Christmas season is an opportunity to intentionally practice resting. We wait and pray for Christ’s second coming, His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, and we do so with hope and patience. We must endure hardship and opposition for the hope set before us (Heb. 12). The Jews waited for hundreds of years for the messiah to appear and save them from their oppression. But the way Christ chose to come surprised many of them. He came not as a political conqueror but as a humble child, on a donkey, and a suffering servant to save His people from their sins (Is. 52:13-53:12). In His second coming, Christ will come as the righteous judge, on a white horse, and as the King of kings (Rev. 19:11-16).
When we gather together this Christmas and sing carols about peace, joy, and rest, may we begin to implement these themes into a way of life and not just a season of life. The words of “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World,” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” all teach us these themes. Consider the words of one of these carols: “God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day. To save us all from Satan’s pow’r when we were gone astray. Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy. Oh, tidings of comfort and joy!” As you celebrate Christmas with those you love, remember to rest in the hope of these words.
When you feel restless, remember the admonition of the writer of Hebrews, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest of the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (Heb. 4:9-11). Remember that true rest is found in Christ and our eternal home with Him in the new heavens and earth at His second coming.
While we are here on earth waiting for Christ to return, may we celebrate Christmas with hope and peace. Psalm 4:8 says, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety.” Do not be afraid, for God has promised good news of great joy (Lk. 2:10-11); not only has the Savior of the world come, but as Christians have confessed in the words of the Nicene Creed ever since A.D. 325: “We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and to life in the world to come. Amen.”