Your first thought at this time of the year might be those frenzied crowds in shopping malls and department stores on the days immediately following Christmas. People exchanging and returning gifts they received that were the wrong size, wrong color—or just plain wrong!
But there’s another exchange we need to keep in mind. This great exchange is the reality of the cross of Christ. Jesus Christ took our sin and died for it, paying the debt that we could not pay. In exchange, God, because of his grace, gives us eternal life. Our sin for eternal life! The great spiritual exchange.
Great exchanges characterize the month of December for Christians —as gifts, greeting cards, worship, meals and social visits are exchanged and experienced in celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. And while the cross was a great exchange, so was the manger in Bethlehem.
The miracle, mystery and majesty of Christmas is found in Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). God with us means that God is not distant, detached or disconnected. He didn’t consider himself immune from our suffering and pain. God, in the person of Jesus, came to be one of us that he might save us. The Creator of the cosmos became a creature of his creation in order to set right all that has gone wrong on our tiny little planet.
Not only did God, in the person of Jesus, come to be one of us, he did so in a way that we would never have imagined or planned, had he asked our advice. He didn’t arrive from the glory of eternity and heaven as a full grown adult. Even though the Bible calls him the second Adam, the King of kings started his earthly journey by being born as a baby. And not just any baby—but born to a virgin. And not just any place, but in a barnyard, as opposed to a palace more befitting the King of kings. The circumstances of his entrance on the world stage included a working class family, a young mother (a teenager who was unmarried when she conceived), an enslaved nation under military occupation and a small, out of the way place called Bethlehem.
In the play “Green Pastures,” the angel Gabriel is depicted as approaching God while God is deep in thought. God is concerned that the people on earth do not seem to be listening to the prophets and messengers he sends. Gabriel becomes angry and offers to blow the final trumpet at once, ending human history as we know it. But God takes the trumpet away from Gabriel. Gabriel protests that humans never listen to the messengers God sends. God responds, “I am not going to send anybody this time. I am going myself.” It was a great exchange.
Christmas is designed to worship, celebrate and proclaim this great event—this great exchange. Christmas is a time that should be Christ-centered. You may choose to put up lights, hang stockings, decorate a tree, wear red and green, send Christmas cards, attend a concert, have a party, spend time with your family and observe special family traditions. But all of those events are simply icing on the cake. The reason and the foundation of Christmas is Christ.
Don’t forget what Christmas is all about. Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus, shopping expeditions, wrapping presents, yule logs and sleigh rides can easily take our focus off the sacred and direct it to the secular. Christmas is all about God doing for us what we can never do for ourselves. Christmas is all about God’s love for us. Don’t get so caught up in physically oriented exchanges that you miss the great spiritual exchange.