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Behind the Christmas Scene: The True Cost of Peace

*The following is a devotional taken from our upcoming daily devotional book Red Letter Advent, available to order Summer of 2024. For church leaders who are interested in using this for Advent 2024, join the interest list by clicking here.

Busted Bulbs, Busted Hopes

My family had awesome Christmas traditions that I remember growing up, but hanging Christmas lights wasn’t one of them. So, when I had my kids, I was determined that we would hang Christmas lights. The first year my wife and our two sons moved to Florida, I had no excuses. It was time! The only extra cost to my endeavor was $50 for the string lights. That was a small price for a house that would light up the neighborhood.

After hours of blood, sweat, and maybe even a tear or two, six strings of lights stretched across the front of the house. I had done it. When night fell, it was time for the grand reveal. My wife and two kids counted down, Griswold-style, and BANG! All the lights turned on!

It was a modest display of simple string lights on our gutters, but to me, it looked amazing. (We even have documentation, that’s our Florida house all lit up in the picture at the top of this page!)I knew all the hard work that had gone into it, and I was so proud. That’s when everything changed.

Ten seconds into our oohs and aahs, it went pitch black. I was so confused. What happened?! Allison said we probably blew a fuse, so I went to the store, brought home a few fuses, and tried again. Everyone ran back outside for my second reveal. Drumroll, please! I plugged them in, and ten seconds later, the fuse blew. After multiple trips to the store and receipts piling up on the kitchen counter, we still had no shining lights.

A neighbor suggested I needed the correct GFCI box or something like that, so I brought out an electrician. That was another bill to pay. My plan to hang six simple string lights on an afternoon and not spend a ton was backfiring. Plus, I was starting to get jealous. When I compared my lights to other homes on my street with dozens of perfectly hung and lit strings, they made my feeble attempts even more pitiful. I began wondering what was wrong with me. Why was I so bad at this?

We were now out $400 for six little strings of lights that turned on only half the time. And even when they turned on, they wouldn’t last the whole night before blowing a fuse again. What started as a minor expense slowly ate away at our Christmas budget. The cost was too high, and I was mad.

The Grand Display

The Zehnder home never got its grand display that year. My wife and sons took over in the coming years, and now we have a beautifully lit home every year. While I still admire the Christmas lights every evening as I pull into the garage, I can’t help but carry a little grudge about the whole thing. I couldn’t get those lights to work and wasted so much time and money trying to do so.

As you gaze upon Christmas lights this year, remember that you are looking at someone’s final scene. You see the end result but miss the hard work and time it took.

When Christmas lights work correctly, they are a peaceful sight. They bring hope that even in darkness, light can still shine through. In Nebraska, where I now live, the sun sets before 5 p.m. in December, and we don’t get too much sun. The lights can distract us from the otherwise pretty gloomy darkness.

As humans, we like looking at the final scenes. You may plan to drive around with your family this holiday and look at the lights. It’s a fun tradition! But every final scene comes with a cost.

A Fake Christmas Scene

Speaking of scenes, most of us love the nativity scene, where baby Jesus is lying in a manger, all cute and snuggly. We’ll sing about it like this:

The cattle are lowing

The poor baby wakes

But little Lord Jesus

no crying He makes

So, the cows are just gently mooing, and the baby awakes and is not crying? When has a baby ever woken up and not cried? Nothing is cute about how the world’s Savior was brought into this life. The unrealistic Hallmark-like scene might make you feel good, but it’s likely not accurate and it came at a very high cost. There was a far greater rescue story behind this whole thing than a non-crying baby and a mooing cow.

  1. Herod was about to issue a decree to kill every baby boy under the age of two.
  2. The risk of being born to a mother out of wedlock was disastrous for a family’s reputation.
  3. Traveling away from your home in the last month of your pregnancy was dangerous to the mother and was a risk for the baby.
  4. Mary and Joseph were poor, young, and inexperienced parents. Putting the fate of the world in their hands was a massive risk.

The cost of sending Jesus to Bethlehem was incredibly high.

The Real Christmas Cost

Christmas morning was God’s plan to bring everlasting peace to the world. And yet, it too was just a scene amid the grand story. Despite this significant risk and high cost, Jesus would survive this scene. He grew in wisdom, stature, and favor. Jesus opened blind eyes. He caused the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, and the mute to speak. He taught with authority unlike any who had ever gone before him. He was respected and followed by many. Riding in on a donkey, the crowd celebrated him as the king. But then Jesus said, 

“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42).

Jesus could see what the crowd couldn’t that day. He knew that to get to the final scene of ultimate peace, it would require another scene—a scene of complete brutality and the death of his body on the cross. The crowd was so focused on what was before them that they missed out on God’s bigger plan to bring peace to the world.

Jesus went from the scene of lying in a wooden box at his birth to stretching his hands on a wooden cross, dying for sins he never committed. This scene wasn’t pretty either. There weren’t any lights, sparkling snow, or smiling inflatable animals. It was a dirty, bloody mess. People averted their eyes and ran in the opposite direction. The cost of this scene was more incredible than anything you can ever imagine. It was a cost only one could pay, and that was Jesus.

To reach the final scene, where you and I live peacefully with God forever, someone must pay the cost. Jesus paid that cost in full. In the end, when he rose from the dead, there were no false alarms, fuses failing, or burnt bulbs. Instead, there was a light that broke through the darkness.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Jesus, the pure light of the world, was shining bright for all to see again.

Jesus paid for peace in full.

Unbox your peace today.

If you liked today’s devotional and want to join the interest list for Red Letter Advent, available for presale mid July 2024, and ready to be used for Advent 2024, just click here.

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