The very first Christmas card was designed and printed in 1843 in England. Two outer panels showed people caring for the poor, while an inner center panel pictured a family enjoying Christmas dinner. Though their popularity is decreasing among younger generations today, as recently as 2010 an estimated 1.5 billion Christmas cards were sent in the United States. That accounted for 45 percent of all cards sent throughout the year!
Especially among friends and family, Christmas is a season of fellowship and joy. In today’s reading, Paul wasn’t necessarily thinking of Christmas, but the four themes of Advent appear nonetheless. First, joy. He exhorted the Philippians to rejoice always (v. 4). “In the Lord” meant this wasn’t part of the ebb and flow of our normal emotions, but rather an essential connection to the truth of the gospel. Does “always” mean we never feel sad? No. Paradoxically, Christians are capable of lamenting and rejoicing at the same time.
Second, hope. “The Lord is near” reminds believers of the hope of Christ’s Second Coming (v. 5). With reference to the present, when we have anxieties and worries, hope means we can turn them over to the Lord in prayer, with thanksgiving (v. 6). Why carry such a heavy burden ourselves?
Third, peace. When we turn our anxieties over to the Lord in prayer, the result is the peace of Christ guarding our hearts and minds (v. 7). Christ’s peace stands sentry at the door of our hearts, making sure life’s troubles do not trouble us. This kind of peace comes from knowing God is in control. Fourth, love. This is the way to put the gospel into practice (v. 9).
>> Another traditional part of family and church Christmas celebrations is a Nativity or manger scene. They can be as small as an ornament or a life-size outdoor display. In what ways do you think this special holiday decoration helps us celebrate the joy of Christmas?