It seems as if the Christmas holiday season got here quickly. Perhaps I am partly responsible for the rush in days, since I have kidded with colleagues that I'm always ready for Christmas break when school begins in August. I'm pretty sure this is a universal teacher joke, as my elementary school teacher friends often post hilarious memes of classroom exhaustion on social media. They have embraced their holiday vacation with a bear hug. I, too, am grateful for time off and much-needed rest, and as I prepare to celebrate Christmas this year, I am redirecting my focus to the essence of Jesus' ministry, mainly His teachings on how to have a vibrant life through Him. My emphasis on Jesus' life is especially significant to me because 2019 ushered in the milestone age of 50. When you're blessed to see 50, you definitely shift your perspective on a lot of things. Goals become more immediate. Associations become more meaningful. And time becomes more precious. Looking at Jesus' walk on Earth, He began preaching at the tender age of 30 and forever changed the world when He died on the cross at 33 and rose again. Within the majesty of His power during these three years, Jesus brought hope in desolation, strength in weakness, provision in deficiency and healing in affliction. While discussing the works of Jesus in Bible study last week, my pastor asked this stimulating question: What have you done to amaze God as Jesus did? It was definitely one to ponder, since Jesus said in John 14:12 that those who believe on Him would do "greater works."
Many Christmas sermons have focused on the miracle of Jesus' birth, but if you study His ministry further in the Bible, you'll begin to understand how His teachings provide meticulous instruction for living an abundant life. Most people know that Jesus taught using parables to illustrate Godly wisdom, but how many take the time to actually apply these practical lessons? Jesus explained in Matthew 7:24-27 that those who adhere to His words and put them into practice are like a wise man who built his house upon a rock. The rock represents a firm foundation, so when the storms of life come, it can withstand the fury of obstacles and not be destroyed. One passage of Scripture that I am meditating on during this holiday season that also points out the significance of Jesus' words is John 6:63, where Jesus said, "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." This verse is probably not going to be the feature text in most Christmas church messages, but I am accentuating it here as one of the primary reasons Jesus came as God's Son. The "spirit" in this text refers to the Holy Ghost, and the Greek translation of "spirit" is "pneuma," which is the breath of God. To be "quickened" means to be vitalized. So, Jesus was essentially saying, "I am breathing life into you when I speak." This wonderful revelation for me is that I am celebrating Christmas because I am alive in Christ!
I did not fully comprehend this spiritual reality in previous years during Christmas because I was caught up in ceremonial pageantry. There is nothing wrong with this in general, but it is often done to be deliberately flamboyant, and being immersed with an outward show of rituals does not result in genuine joy for God. I can remember when I was solely focused on looking good in church and having enough money to buy gifts. I was ashamed when I came up short on what I thought represented a valuable Christmas, but being older, I know that presents and apparel do not embody the true meaning of the season. I now understand that Christmas is about celebrating the life that Jesus breathed into me. As I graciously reflect upon this beloved truth, I am beginning to realize that this is a gift that is everlasting.
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at Ohio State University's Lima campus. Email her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @JjSmojc. To find out more about Jessica Johnson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.