Christmas is supposed to be a time of mirth.
And this needs to be said for two reasons:
First, our non-Christian friends think we're the most mirthless people on earth. We're so serious and worried about breaking the rules and coloring within the lines that there's little room for mirth. By our demeanor, we've take the "Merry" out of "Merry Christmas."
Second, Christians themselves have a hard time embracing the merriness of Christmas. We feel guilty and like we have to apologize for it, as if the fun of Christmas gets in the way of the meaning of Christmas. But the reality is that Christmas without fun is what distorts the meaning of Christmas.
Did you know that the heavenly father feels compelled to celebrate? But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found (Luke 15:32).
Is this how you see God - as a father compelled to celebrate? This verse from Jesus' Parable of the Prodigal Son demonstrates that our father has a Christmas feeling about us. He's a father full of mirth toward his children.
But the irony is you only get to experience it when you see what a sinner you are - when you see your sin for what it is and return to your heavenly father.
Jesus helps us to see ourselves by depicting three kinds of sinners in this parable:
1. The younger brother before he leaves his father: "Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me." And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and...squandered his estate with loose living (Luke 15:12-13).
This is the sinner that's most familiar: the kind who breaks all the rules in defiance of his father.
2. The older brother: For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends (Luke 15:29-30).
This depicts our struggle with sin in a way that isn't so familiar: keeping all the rules to get leverage over God. It's the sin of obedience - of obeying God not because you love God, but because you want God to give you whatever goodies you value more than him and think he owes you.
3. The younger brother before he returns to his father: But when he came to his senses, he said, "I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men' (Luke 15:17-19).
Amazing! The younger brother has come to his senses, realizes where his rule-breaking has led him, and no longer wants to live this way, but instead of running back to his father as his son, he resolves to live as his father's slave! In essence, he's saying, "I'll make up for what I've done. I'll do more and be better and try harder." The problem here is that the younger brother is not yet convinced that his father is full of mercy and mirth. He still has a wrong view of his father. He feels the need to earn a place at the father's table...which is the opposite of the truth.
For even as the younger brother returns, his father shamelessly runs to embrace him and to cut off his son in the middle of his speech about being the father's slave rather than his father's son: But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son." But the father said to his slaves, "Give this boy some work to do! He can come home, but only as one of you!" Is that what his father says? Absolutely not! He says to his slaves, "Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found." And they began to celebrate (Luke 15:20-24).
So knowing you're a sinner is essential to your repentance, but it's not enough. You also need to know the mirth of your heavenly father - that he's not at all reluctant to receive you as a son, but is eager to do it! He feels compelled to celebrate your return, even your many, many returns.
What will convince you that this really is your heavenly father's disposition toward you? Look to the son who's conspicuously missing from the parable - the one who is telling it! It's only when you see that the heavenly father gave his only son for older and younger brothers like you that you'll be convinced that he loves you. God's lavish grace revealed at the cross proves that he is the father of mirth.
So this Christmas, I plead with you to repent and return to the father of mirth. Then celebrate. Enjoy every minute of your Christmas as an echo of the true party that your heavenly father is throwing in heaven every time you repent.