Heralding the Gospel at Christmas
Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
Each year and just in time for Christmas, my dear family gathers in the warmth of our cozy living room on a winter’s eve. The wood stove has been freshly stoked and the nostalgic scent of citrus and clove diffuses through the air as a fresh pomander dries on the mantle. Garlands of popcorn and cranberries have been strung and there may be hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows involved. Either way, you have just waltzed in on a tradition that warms my heart as much as the wood crackling in the hearth – the reading of the beloved classic, A Christmas Carol.
You might be familiar with the festive storyline. A cold-hearted miser named Ebenezer Scrooge is transformed from the inside out as he learns to honor Christmas in his heart and keep it throughout the year. Underneath the crimson book cover, I am reminded that even “clutching, covetous, old sinners” like Ebenezer are never outside of hope’s reach. And even though it took three messengers to awaken Scrooge to the miserable trajectory of his life, the overarching truth is that repentance and redemption is for all mankind.
It is my firm belief that no one sets out to be a Scrooge. And while I wish that all of my Decembers depicted scenes out of Currier & Ives like the one I just described, there have been moments when the mixed messages of the culture or a conflicting social calendar have dimmed the significance of the Gospel in my own heart. As a result, Scrooge-like tendencies were born out of a desire to maintain the true spirit of Christmas. It was during one such season that the Lord showed me that the holidays are best enjoyed when the Gospel, in all its fullness, is made much of.
A Message to Receive
Winter slush clung to my shoes as I skated my way across the half-frozen parking lot to the door of the coffee shop. I was late. But at least I didn’t cancel the meeting as I had done twice before! I bolstered myself with a “better late than never” sentiment, ordered a coffee, and slid into a spot at the table.
Festive greenery and white lights added a tinge of Christmas cheer to the local gathering place. I cupped my hands around a piping hot mocha to thaw my frozen fingers, but was too preoccupied with the meeting at hand and unfinished tasks begging for my attention at home to notice the people sitting directly behind me. Don’t mistake me, I saw them – a pair of young women who were cradling their own mugs of something warm and chatting quietly – but my heart failed to reach out in wonder with the unspoken question, “Do they know Jesus?”
Thankfully the church elder who sat across from me did! In fact, the entire outcome of our meeting took a drastic left turn when he asked if I would be willing to share the Gospel with these two young women. My heart lurched. I didn’t feel ready or “spiritual” enough to share anything at that moment. To be honest, I felt under-qualified and overwhelmed.
How do I start?
What verses should I include?
What were their religious beliefs or backgrounds?
My questions were threatening to derail me from an opportunity to be salt and light. As faithfully as ever, a timely reminder from God’s Word stilled my questions: “always be ready to give an answer to anyone about the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15 paraphrased).
The hope that is in me. The hope that is in you. My soul lighted on the fact that the living hope we have in Jesus Christ is not only our central message, but the very anchor to our swirling thoughts when we’re called to give truth – no matter how planned or spontaneous.
As the church elder I was meeting with invited the girls to join us, I asked the Lord for help to articulate my faith in Christ as Lord, Savior, and Friend in a grace-filled way. God knew these girls; I didn’t. Yet His perfect knowledge of the situation was worthy of my trust, and I opened my heart to surrender every word to His leading.
We exchanged greetings and soon an hour passed … and then another. My reservations were replaced with genuine care as I discovered that these two friends were in deep bondage to false beliefs and in need of a Deliverer. The standards they kept appeared like an authentic outflow of the Christian life, but like a faux Christmas wreath that looks genuine at a distance, when compared to the LIFE of Jesus that adorns the mantle of every Christian’s heart, the contrast was stark.
Eventually it began to snow and we parted ways, greeting the winter chill with more of Jesus than when we first started sipping our lattes. As I made my way home, a chorus of truth resounded in my mind – when we share the glad tidings of the Gospel with the help of His promised grace, a greater desire for God will often be kindled in the hearts of those we are trying to reach … in addition to our own!
The Gospel truly does change everything – our attitudes and outlooks, but most importantly our souls! The distraction that tagged along with me at the beginning of the meeting disintegrated. The “problems” that greeted me at home shrank before the magnificent promise of Jesus’ salvation that continues to deliver and empower believers today. Freshly ratifying the old, old story to ourselves serves as a reminder that our purpose is to showcase His salvation. Sowing truth in the lives of others refuels us with a supply of the astounding benefits available to those who have been redeemed. Together they produce the love, joy, and peace that is part of the true Spirit of Christmas!
A Message to Give
As believers in Christ we have been given a story to tell to the nations, and never more than at Christmastime does this weary world have need of truth and light. It almost seems ill-timed that our calendars are also bursting with travel, cookie swaps, semester finals, holiday work deadlines, and a bevy of service opportunities. However you choose to celebrate, each one of us has an invitation to participate in bringing hope to a lost world.
God has had a message to impart since the fall of man – a Deliverer to crush the serpent’s head, a Prince of Peace to right the wrongs of government, a Dayspring to come down from on high, a Wonderful Counselor to catch every tear – but the message needs a messenger to publish the good news of the Gospel in every season of redemptive history.
The prophets foretold about a coming Messiah, but when the Word was wrapped in the tiny form of a newborn and laid in a humble feeding trough, a different sort of messenger swept over the skies to announce the miraculous event:
“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon [the shepherds] … and said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.“
Luke 2:9-11 KJV
The beautiful phrases above are like gifts waiting to be unwrapped. Just hear these words ring with deeper meaning for you and I today:
A messenger, a sent one, a bringer of good news
A message of good news – the Gospel
In other words, all those years ago on a velvety Bethlehem night, a messenger of the Lord brought the good news of the Gospel for all people. And just what is the Gospel’s central element? A Savior who is Christ the Lord! Friend, this information is not just for shepherds on a hillside – it is world-altering truth for you and I, for the two girls at the coffee shop, and for the saints as well as the Scrooges of our day! The Gospel brings comfort and joy to ALL people for ALL time. Just as angels heralded one of the first sermons of the New Testament, so are we commissioned as modern-day heralds to carry the message of lasting peace to an aching world.
The word “herald” may seem a bit outdated … okay, a lot outdated. Through the centuries, a herald was a person sent by monarchs to openly proclaim or publish announcements on behalf of the kingdom. Public service announcements of this kind only fade with time, but the message of salvation is everlasting. God’s Word remains, and Jesus fulfilled Scripture perfectly when He declared that He was the Messiah:
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD…
Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Luke 4:18-19, 21
On this side of the Cross, we have been left with a clear commission to point back to Calvary and forward to our soon coming King:
“And [Jesus] said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.“
Mark 16:15 KJV
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
2 Corinthians 5:20 NASB
If we have been reconciled to God, then the fact remains clear – we are His messengers to carry the lamp of truth to those who sit in darkness. And during the month of December we have an automatic inroad to share Christ. Read how Dickens captured this universal truth:
“I have always thought of Christmas … as the only time … in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people … as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
It is interesting that even from a secular perspective, the world seems kinder and gentler during this season, and we as Christians would do well to open wide the window of opportunity with the evergreen message of Jesus, the Lamb of God that took away the sins of the world. Five syllable words are not necessary and it doesn’t have to be complicated. I love the simplicity with which Corrie ten Boom spoke:
“Who can add to Christmas? The perfect motive is that God so loved the world. The perfect gift is that He gave His only Son. The only requirement is to believe in Him. The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life.”
Best of all, when we share the truth of what Christ has done for us personally, the result is that God is magnified, the Word is obeyed, and those we speak with are left in wonder and amazement at the message God has entrusted to us; just as the shepherds were that night in Bethlehem! (See Luke 2:18.)
Come! Now is the perfect moment to join the ranks of those who have gone before us in trumpeting the glad tidings of Jesus Christ loud and clear. May you, with angelic hosts, proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Prepare Him Room
Meditate on the names of Jesus. Dedicate a fresh journal and fill it with your thoughts as you seek to find different names attributed to Christ and how they add depth to your understanding of salvation. You’ll find many in God’s Word, but these will get you started:
- Isaiah 9:6
- Isaiah 53:3
- Luke 1:78
- John 1:14
Gather old Christmas carols. Did you know that many of the sacred hymns we hum during this season beautifully express God’s plan for man’s restoration? Take a handful of carols and create a playlist to meditate on as you travel, go to the gym, etc. Can you think of any Scriptures that support each stanza? Here are a few of my favorites to spark your memory:
- O Come, O Come Emmanuel
- Joy to the World
- O Come All Ye Faithful
- Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
- O Holy Night
Enjoy a silent night. Push pause on the outings and activities and hollow out an evening to spend alone with Jesus. Regain the wonder of the shepherds, fall on your knees in worship like the wise men, or ponder the Word made flesh like Mary as you journey back to Bethlehem. Make it special by creating ambiance and atmosphere, putting your phone on do not disturb, and celebrating God’s gift in all the ways you can!
Repeat the Sounding Joy
Don a cheerful countenance. Our words will either be enhanced or hindered by the spirit with which we deliver them; the testimony of our lives serves as living proof of what we believe. As Christ’s ambassador, we are here on His behalf and in His stead. Represent Him well in the privacy of your home, in the break room at work, and in long department store checkout lines. Christ can be seen even in these silent interactions.
Gift the Gospel. A few years ago I discovered a handy resource to witness in a festive way. The Pocket Testament League is an organization that was founded over a hundred years ago by a teenage girl who had a passion to win her classmates to Christ. Now the ministry prints and distributes small, gift-able versions of the Gospel of John in a myriad of eye-catching covers. Members can receive many of these resources for free! Visit https://www.ptl.org for more information on how to witness creatively this Christmas.
Go a-caroling! One Christmas a group of my friends wrote a simple Gospel message that fit between two meaningful carols and bundled up to spend a very fun (and very cold!) evening knocking on doors and singing truth to our hearts’ content. Many of the homes we visited listened intently and even invited us inside! Tie a hand-written note or tract to a candy cane and leave truth with them as they close their doors. This idea is a family-friendly way to build meaningful memories this Christmas! At the end of the night, gather by a warm fireside with spiced hot chocolate and share highlights from the evening.