"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3).
December 26th has a very special meaning for me, for it was on that day that God blessed me and my wife with a beautiful baby girl. She wasn't supposed to be born for another six weeks, but she and God had other plans and she made her entrance into the world under less than ideal conditions, due to her mother's health and an emergency delivery. She is our "Christmas Miracle." Michelle Diane was born in a huge hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, where I was attending Covenant Theological Seminary.
Three years earlier, on December 29th (no, this was not planned) ... our son had arrived - also more than a month early. He was born in the same small hospital as I was, in a small rural town in Iowa. The three years that had passed between their births had been an amazing time of seeking the Lord, hearing His voice and responding to His call. Chad William was less than a year old when my wife, Kathy, and I left the familiar surroundings of the area where we both grew up, leaving families behind, and moved to St. Louis because of God's call on my life to preach the gospel.
The year 1973, when we made that move of faith, is now nearly 40 years ago. God has displayed His faithfulness to us over and over and over. Our parents have left this earth, our children have grown and gotten married, and we have seven grandchildren ranging in ages from 6 to 16. They are all beautiful gifts from God. And the most wonderful gift is the privilege of worshiping together at Lighthouse Community Church in Allendale, Michigan, and watching my grandchildren grow up to know and love Jesus Christ. The oldest three have confessed their faith in Jesus and I am confident the rest will follow, as their parents, Sunday School teachers, Youth leaders and others work together to teach them God's Word. I am, of all men, most blessed.
Perhaps this is why I feel compelled to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ; perhaps this is why God called a shy Iowa farm boy to preach His Word. I know that there is nothing in me that attracted God's attention. I know that it is by grace alone that I stand before God, clothed in the righteousness of Christ that is mine through faith in Jesus, a faith that God gave to me by His Spirit through His Word, for "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). Perhaps this is why I long for everyone to hear this wonderful, marvelous good news of a Savior. As I watch the crowds prepare for Christmas, I can't help but wonder about the day after Christmas - what people will be thinking and feeling ... what they will be doing.
It has been shown that more people become depressed during this season than at any other time of the year, maybe because everybody is telling them that they should be happy, yet their circumstances have taken away their joy. I think of the families who lost children and loved ones in the shooting in Connecticut, and the many others who are spending their first Christmas without loved ones. But there IS good news! The blessings of Christmas are not found in the gifts or the vacations or in anything else we do this time of year. They are found in the One whose birthday we celebrate - Jesus, the Christ, the eternal Son of God, our Savior! The spiritual blessings of faith, hope, love, joy and peace do not stop as we turn the calendar into a new year.
Many years ago now I wrote a poem entitled, "'Twas the Night After Christmas." I thought I would share it with you with the prayer that it might speak to you and challenge you to spend a little time thinking about your life and your plans and your priorities as we end a year and head into a new year, filled with anticipation and uncertainties. For those who know Jesus, it will be a year filled with blessings of one kind or another, mixed with trials and perhaps even suffering, but it will be a happy new year because God will be with us every step of the way. I pray that not only your Christmas celebration will be joyful, but also, the night AFTER Christmas!!
'Twas the Night After Christmas!
'Twas the night after Christmas and all through the house,
Not a Bible was open, the lights were all out.
Christmas had come, and Christmas had gone.
The presents were unwrapped, the clean-up all done.
When what to my wondering mind should appear,
But a thought, clear and bright, of the end of the year.
The thought, it came quickly, and bothered my mind;
It was a thought about Jesus, so loving and kind.
A thought of God's love, which brought Him to earth;
A thought nearly lost, midst the talk of His birth.
For talk, it comes cheap, so men like to say,
But God's love cost much, on that first Christmas Day.
Yes, Christmas is past, until another long year
Passes by swiftly and we once again hear
Talk of His birth and how amazing it was ...
Yet, I wonder if that's all the meaning it has.
Have we gained from this Christmas, as we end the old year?
Has the love that God showed to us, brought us all near -
To Him who was born so long, long ago,
But who still lives today, and who wants us to know ....
That though years come and go, and the seasons, they change,
His Spirit has power, His love still remains.
"God with us" is not just for Christmas, you see,
It's His gift to us and for all who believe.
The new year will come and the new year will go,
There'll be good times, and bad times, and some just so-so.
Yet this much is certain, if you love the Savior,
He'll be here to guide you and show you His favor.
The night after Christmas need not be a let-down,
If you think of God's Son, if His love you have found.
If you will believe, and will trust in His grace,
You'll always have joy, as you look in His face.
So draw near to Jesus as you start the new year.
Give Him all your worries, and cares, then don't fear.
He loved you enough to come down to earth;
His Spirit has power to give you new birth.
Now let us rejoice, who've received Him as King!
With mouths open wide, His praises let's sing!
And with eyes full of wonder, and hearts full of cheer,
Spread His good news to all, for a Happy New Year!
Have a blessed Christmas and a Christ-filled New Year!!