Before Christmas Day arrives, of all the preparations for the day one of the ones most personal happens when we pull out the boxes of ornaments to decorate the tree. Even though stores have shelves of ornaments, every person and family’s tree is unique. Some ornaments are made by children when they are young and stored and added year after year as we recall each season of that child’s life. Other ornaments are those handed down from generation to generation perhaps or given to honor specific points of celebration or achievement. They may be paper, glass, metallic, or ceramic and of every color we might imagine and chose because they delighted our eyes.
If we are older, we recall the different styles of trees we have known over our lifetime. Most of us had “real” trees when we were young. Some of us had trees covered with snowy substances to give a sense the tree standing in our living room was still outside. Others of us once had a tree made of silver aluminum with a color wheel underneath to display a rainbow of hues. Many more of us have had a variety of “artificial” trees and settled the debate within the family if we were going for all white lights or the old-fashioned colored lights.
Unwrapping each ornament reminds us of a person, an occasion, and the sentiments they evoke.
On our tree there will be a variety of those types of ornaments. Some are very old like several delicately crocheted snowflakes given to us by a friend when we were first married nearly 57 years ago. Others are ones we chose from various favorite vacation spots. We have several mirrored little boxes from one special friend and a few adorable bear ornaments from another. They each give us a backward glimpse of special people and places.
When our first grandchild was born we started a tradition of giving a special ornament at Thanksgiving to put on their tree at Christmas. Six grandchildren later and 27 Christmases since that first time, we are still sentimental about choosing a special ornament for each one to receive at Thanksgiving. Those ornaments are reminders of us they may have for many years ahead.
But one of the Gifts of Christmas before any of these things even begin is the gift of promise. Though we had no idea what it would look like or the exact hour it would come. God promised that He would send us the “gift” of Christmas that would restore our relationship with Him that was broken in the Garden of Eden. We find evidence of that in the oldest book of the Bible, Job.
“But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
and he will stand upon the earth at last.”Job 19:25 (NLT)
Those who knew the story of God’s creation and believed in Him knew the promise that one day a Redeemer would come to earth. And after Job, the greatest prophets of old like Isaiah would tell us to expect Him no matter how many years we would wait.
And in the waiting, some stopped believing and looking for Him to come. Some others never gave up and lived to see that day. Of course, there were the wise men we remember easily, but there were others such as Simeon that Luke writes about who had been promised he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ and on the very day Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple to present Him there, the promise given to Simeon was fulfilled. But Simeon wasn’t alone, there was 84-year-old, Anna, a widowed prophetess who also believed and looked for the promise.
But what about now? What about us?
Do we understand that the birth of the Christ at Christmas was not the only promise that came? The gift of Christmas went far beyond that scene in the manger we try to recreate in our nativity scenes. It was a promise of relationship restored with God that would extend into eternity for those who believed and waited even to this day for when that babe in the manger would return to have us join Him in the place He prepared for us so that we could live in fellowship with Him forever.
Yes, it has been a long time since Christ came as the babe and we and generations before us have been waiting, but have we stopped believing He will come again, or do we hold fast to the promise? When Christ came and we choose to believe, we are adopted as sons and daughters and God is a Father whose promises are sure and true. They are not those “pie crust promises” we have heard about – easily made and easily broken. God made the promise and knew what it would cost Him. He loved us that much and wanted us to know that promise was for each one of us who believe.
Peter, the apostle who walked with Christ and learned to know Him, reminds us of the promise:
3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”1 Peter 1:3-4 (NIV)
And a bit later in the chapter, Peter makes it plainer still:
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.”
1 Peter 1: 8-10 (NIV)
So, as you pull out those cherished ornaments and light the candles and sing the carols, don’t forget the Gift of Christmas – Promises – made and kept!