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The Redemptive Spirit of the Holidays

Brian Shepard


So, here we are in the holiday season. Thanksgiving is a few weeks behind us and we now find ourselves looking forward to the biggest (at least in my book) holiday of them all, Christmas. The holiday hype of sales, sports on TV, food and family time surrounds us. We expend much of our energy on it. And somehow, in the midst of it all, grace and the gospel are left to the wayside.

Rather than reflecting on the goodness of God, we rush to the table to eat, then to the TV for the big game. Or we open gifts, eat, watch movies and NBA games rather than think about Christ coming in the flesh. These Thanksgiving and Christmas activities are not evil or even negative, but I would like to highlight an element that would take our holiday experience to the next level.

The Three R’s

Pastor Mark Driscoll taught me the “Accept, Reject, Redeem” concept a few years ago and I’d like to give you a crash course on it so that we can look at ways to redeem the holidays.

Accept means the object (song, speech, movie, game, etc.) is good in nature. It comes from God and is to be enjoyed by God’s people.

Reject is the exact opposite. It’s nature is evil. It comes from the enemy and is meant for destruction.

Redeem means that there are both good and bad things about it. We want to highlight the good things, expose the bad things and use it as a means to the ultimate end, which is to glorify God.

Giving Thanks

How do we redeem the holidays? First, let’s take a look at Thanksgiving. We know that food and family are blessings and of course football is a blessing, amen! The issue with Thanksgiving is that we tend to forget the meaning within its name, which is the process of giving thanks.

The Israelites had a festival similar to our Thanksgiving called Sukkot or the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles). During Sukkot, Jews take time to reflect on the 40-year journey from Egypt to Caanan. During the seven-day celebration, families set up a temporary booth where they have the ceremonial meals and some even sleep in this booth. A friend of mine, Andreas Beccai, recently spoke on this and how it’s connected to Thanksgiving:

There is evidence that the Pilgrims in giving thanks, did so with the ancient agricultural pilgrimage of Sukkot in mind. In this day and age, Sukkot reminds Jews that “faith in God transcends our material well being and comfort.” It tells them not to worship the creations of their hands and challenges them to seek justice, well being, and flourishing for their communities.

Just as the Israelites depended on God to sustain them during their journey, the Pilgrims looked to God as they set sail and began their trek to the New World. And today, we should embody this same spirit and should daily seek to live a life that echoes Hebrews 11:14-16:

For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

We look to Thanksgiving as a time in which we look back over our shoulder of time and see the goodness of God lavishly poured out in our lives.

Let Heaven & Nature Sing

Now let’s look ahead to Christmas. As much as we love singing Christmas carols heralding the good news of the Savior’s birth, attending school programs, decorating trees, opening gifts, and watching Home Alone 1 & 2, somehow the significance of the Christmas story can get watered down or missed altogether.

We love the sweet baby Jesus but tend to forget that this little child would eventually grow into adulthood and die to pay sin’s price. The plan for our rescue and eternal security starts here. Without the birth, there is no life lived by Christ. And without the lived life, there cannot be a life laid down. And without the death and burial, Christ cannot be raised back to life. We are not just celebrating a baby’s birth, but celebrating the start to the end of our death sentence. We should have a humbling joy when we think of the full magnitude of the plan of redemption. It is by this plan that we have been reconciled to God through Jesus.

Oh Come, Oh Come

It is with this humbling joy in mind that I bring a third celebration on display, the celebration of Advent, which is the countdown to Christmas. It’s a time to reflect and prepare our hearts and minds to celebrate the birth of our Lord.

As we celebrate this time, I want to call our hearts to another time of Advent. Just as the Jews awaited the arrival of the Messiah, so we now await the return of the King. No longer as a baby coming to be our atonement, He now comes as Victor and Lord. We must prepare our hearts for His coming, lest we are like those who were awaiting the first coming and missed it completely. So as we look back and reflect, let us also look forward and anticipate.

So, as we celebrate this holiday season, it is my prayer that our hearts have joy that wells up and springs forth, not just from food, gifts, games, and good times, but that it springs forth from celebration of the God who gives us those things for our pleasure. Let us turn our hearts to Him for it is He who truly gives us comfort and joy.

Question: Have we lost the Gospel during the Holidays and swapped the Christ for Commercials?

1 Comment

  1. Keith Butler Jr.

    Thanks for this!

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