I hope that your holidays were "merry and bright" as the song goes, and that you begin the new year with more than exhaustion and debt. For me, the best gifts aren't those I found under the tree, but the gifts God has given me through the baby in Bethlehem.
Most of us are hoping to either survive or thrive in the new year (and through Trump's presidency). Hope is that desire in our hearts that everything will be OK. When we place our hope in Jesus Christ rather than in ourself, other people or things, we are assured that this greatest yearning of our heart will be fulfilled. Jesus transforms hope from wishful thinking to the deep-seated assurance that all is well and all will be well. Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor who guides me through each day. By keeping my eyes focused on Him and where He is working, He gives my life meaning and purpose, helps me be the best person I can be in the here and now, and prepares me for eternity.
Chaos abounds in our world and conflicts erupt between nations and within families, but often our greatest struggles are inside us. Why is there no peace in our souls? Why do fear and anxiety often overwhelm us? One of my seminary professors said that the opposite of faith isn't doubt, it's loneliness. When I know I am not alone, that the Prince of Peace is with me, my fear and anxiety disappear. Peace fills my soul, and when I am at peace within myself I can strive to be a peacemaker in the world.
Happiness is wonderful but often depends upon our circumstances - the good job, the great meal or the perfect present. Joy on the other hand transcends our circumstances. "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them." (Romans 8:28) I am filled with joy no matter what is happening in my life and the lives of those around me because I am grateful Almighty God is in control.
Wanting to be loved is among the greatest of human desires. The message of Christmas is that you are loved! Jesus taught us that God's love for each of us is like that of a perfect Father. Like the parents we all want, God loves us just as we are and always wants the best for us. Our Heavenly Father is for us, not against us. God's love, shown through Jesus' perfect life, sacrificial death and life-restoring resurrection, destroyed the control sin and death have over our lives and draws us into the loving embrace of our Everlasting Father. I have no doubt that I am loved, not because of anything I do, but simply because I am a Child of God.
How different would your life be if you were filled with God's gifts of hope, peace, joy and love? It's possible, I'm living proof. These are the best Christmas gifts, and if you accept them they will stay with you all year long - and beyond.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
(Isaiah 9:6-7, NRSV)