Dark chocolate is the most frustrating candy ever made. It’s sweet at first, but it leaves a bitter taste that I just don’t care for.
At first glance, Christmas is a holiday that seems all sweet—fun times with loved ones, special music, pretty lights, good food, lots of presents…what’s not to love? Even the biblical story of Christmas seems sweet to us—the new baby, the angels singing, and the star shining all paint a lovely picture. Yet all that sweetness leaves a hint of bitterness. The lights of the first Christmas cast the shadow of a cross.
This shadow appears in one of the “sweet” scenes we associate with the Christmas story—the visit of the wise men. If your family is like mine, opening gifts on Christmas morning is one of the sweetest parts of the holiday. Parents love to see their children’s faces light up when they open that special toy they’ve been wishing for. Children love the fun of finally revealing secrets they’ve been keeping about what Dad bought for Mom or what they picked out for their siblings, and the room is full of excited squeals, thank-yous, and hugs. When the wise men gave their gifts, however, Jesus probably wasn’t showing much excitement. Even though he was the Son of God, he was also human, and most human two-year-olds I’ve known are much more interested in the wrapping paper than the gift!
But what about his parents? Sure, Mary was probably pleased and honored by the first two gifts. Gold was a gift for kings, and frankincense was used in offerings to God, so these gifts affirmed that her child was the Son of God, as the angel had said he would be. But when she saw the myrrh, she must have felt a bitter grief that would have seemed totally out of place for a birthday celebration. You see, myrrh was used to prepare the bodies of the dead for burial. When Mary saw it, it was a reminder that her baby had been born to die. From the moment she laid him in that manger on Christmas night, the shadow of the cross hung over Mary’s baby.
And so we see that from the very first Christmas, the sweetness of the birth of Christ has been accompanied by the bitterness of what he was born to do for us on the cross. Far from making Christmas a sad occasion, however, the knowledge of why Jesus was born and what he would grow up to do makes the sweet parts of Christmas all the sweeter by comparison. If you try to separate the sweet from the bitter of Christmas, all you’re left with is a cotton-candy holiday, one that tastes sweet for a second but has no substance and is unable to satisfy. The dark shadow of the cross makes the star seem brighter. And the final taste left on our tongues by Christmas is sweet, for we know the story doesn’t end with the cross.
Heavenly Father, we acknowledge the bitter parts of Christmas along with the sweet, and we recognize that it was to pay for our sinfulness that your Son was born to die. May the knowledge of the bitterness of Christmas stay with us throughout the season, helping us to appreciate the sweetness and giving meaning to our celebration. Amen.
The above excerpt is from The 25 Days of Christmas by James Merritt.
The 25 Days of Christmas is a unique advent devotional written to help your family rejoice in discovering what the holiday is really about. This full-color, beautifully illustrated book will be a keepsake you’ll look forward to using every year.