How do you celebrate Christ’s birth? For the Broadways it will involve the kiddos placing the baby Jesus figurine in the manger, praying and thanking God for Jesus, giving and receiving presents, sharing time and meals with family and friends. I imagine you’ll do similar things. But the best way to celebrate Christ’s birth is to receive and respond to him.
Mark 1:14-15 records Jesus’ first public address. Let’s give his words the same intensity of focus we give all our other Christmas preparations.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)
Christmas is a celebration of the fulfilled time.
Jesus proclaimed the gospel. The word gospel means literally ‘good news.’ What is the good news? “The time is fulfilled.” In other words, the wait is over for the promised king.
Do you remember the long wait for Christmas when you were a kid? For me, the month before felt like a year. The week before felt like another year. The night before felt like yet another year. But both the amount of time and the level of anticipation God’s people endured while waiting for their promised king was a billion times more. They had been waiting for centuries. Generation after generation passed by, waiting. And Jesus proclaimed the good news that the time was fulfilled.
Christmas is a celebration of the at-hand kingdom.
Further clarifying the good news, Jesus announces “the kingdom of God is at hand.” The kingdom of God is a tricky concept. When we think of kingdom, we tend to think geographically. But the kingdom of God transcends geography. When the Bible talks about the kingdom, it’s talking about God’s rule in the hearts and minds of people (thanks to John Stott’s commentary on Mark for help clarifying this for me).
That baby in the manger is more than a lucky rabbits foot. He’s greater even than an prophet or angel. He is the true king. And we all long for the true king. This desire is stirred up every election cycle as we hope for a great leader, yet are disapointed again and again. This desire is expressed in our literature and films from Robin Hood to The Lord of the Rings to The Lion King.
We long for an Isaiah 9:6 leader. A Wonderful Counselor, wise and warm. A Mighty God, divinely strong. An Everlasting Father, nurturing and loving. A Prince of Peace, able to bring wholeness out of our brokenness.
Christmas is a celebration of the fulfilled time and the at-hand kingdom. Jesus, the true king is born!
Celebrate Christmas by turning toward the king.
Humanity’s primary problem is self-rulership. From Adam and Eve forward we have always wanted to be our own kings and queens. We fashion silly wooden crowns and make believe we are sovereign and divine. We are like Israel during the time of the judges. “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
In the midst of this chaos, Jesus commands “repent.” To repent is to turn and go the opposite direction. In this context it means to toss off our crummy crowns and swear allegiance to the true king. It means to stop living under our own rule and submit to the rulership of King Jesus.
Think of yourself as a royal flag bearer. You are born clutching a tiny novelty flag with your name on it. The day you repent is the day you burn your flag and take up the majestic flag of King Jesus.
Let’s celebrate Christmas by turning away from our tiny kingdoms and toward the true kingdom.
Celebrate Christmas by trusting the king.
Jesus then commands us to “believe in the gospel.” He means for us to entrust ourselves to this good news of the fulfilled time and the at-hand kingdom. He means for us to abandon our makeshift castles and accept God’s rule in our hearts and minds.
This is different from Santa Claus belief. In the Santa mythology, human belief is the fuel that empowers Santa’s existence. He fails when humanity’s belief fails. Jesus belief is nothing like this. Jesus is the true king whether we believe if or not. (Thanks to my wise wife for reminding me of this.) Santa belief is wishful thinking. Jesus belief is entrusting ourselves to the truth of Jesus’ reign. It is loyalty and allegiance to him above all other kings.
Christmas is a celebration of the fulfilled time and the at-hand kingdom. The best ways to celebrate are turning from our tiny kingdoms and renewing our allegiance to the true king. Before and above all your other celebrations, turn and trust King Jesus!