Have you finished sending out your Christmas cards for this year? Maybe you are still in the midst of writing them. Or perhaps you are procrastinating, still waiting until the last minute to begin.
Have you ever been exasperated by the custom of sending and receiving cards? The pressure is on. People are sending us cards and a failure to reciprocate might hurt their feelings. I imagine someone thinking, I sent the Brickner family a Christmas card last year and never heard from them.” Can you relate?
Sir Henry Cole, founder of the Victorian and Albert Museum in London, first introduced printed Christmas cards in 1843. He needed to greet so many people at Christmas time that he commissioned John Calcott Horsley to paint a scene on a pre-printed card in order to ease the burden of writing to so many. Cole’s innovation caught on and today millions of people send Christmas cards. Businesses often send such meaningless cards that I have to cringe over the waste of paper.
Then again, I have received beautiful cards that make me stop and reflect on the real reason for the season. Sending and receiving these holiday cards can be a joy, a burden or a combination thereof.
In a sense, the first ever Christmas cards were all sent to Jewish people. The One to undertake the burden of sending these “cards” was God Himself. God designed His cards to convey His commitment to deep and abiding relationships with us, and to create a sense of hope and expectation for the fulfillment of His promised plan of redemption. He sent them over a period of several thousand years, all in anticipation of the most pivotal event in human history.
That Messianic hope is at the heart of each “card.” It is this hope that has preserved and sustained the people of Israel throughout history, even in the darkest of times. Each was written in Hebrew, often in the form of poetry. Though there were no watercolor or line drawings, each card painted a picture, a sacred portrait of the One who was to come.
For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Raphael and Rembrandt never came close to portraying the picture of this Child, first painted by Isaiah. How could anyone convey the pure and precious innocence of a newborn baby who yet possessed the strength to govern the world—and the wisdom and power of almighty God? Yet this is the picture God chose to send us in the timeless beauty and power of His Isaiah 9:6 “Christmas card.”
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.
Neither Martin Luther nor Phillip Brooks ever composed a carol that could capture the awe and wonder of the manger scene so beautifully as this song of Micah. How could it be that this One from the little town of Bethlehem is in fact the Ruler of Israel from everlasting? Yet through this and many other Scriptures, God let us know that He alone “cares enough to send the very best.”
It can be fun to receive cards at Christmas because many come to us as reminders of relationships that matter a great deal. People often include pictures and family updates, personal notes that remind us of significant friendships. Christmas card lists can be pretty important. In fact, in the very beginning, all of the friends of the Jews for Jesus ministry were people from Moishe and Ceil Rosen’s family Christmas card list. Maybe some of you are still on that list. But aren’t you glad that God put all of us on His Christmas card list?
God has been faithfully sending us His expressions of love and care through these precious words of hope. Each one is a tribute to His love. Though first sent to the Jewish people, the list now includes the entire world. But it is still a very personal list. Each verse is a most intimate and personal expression of God’s love for you and for me.
In our family we place the Christmas (and Hanukkah) cards we receive on the mantel over our fireplace. As the number of cards grows, so does our anticipation of the special day on which we remember Yeshua’s (Jesus’) birth. This also was God’s intention in sending His prophetic “cards.” All the hope, all the expectation of what the Father intended to do for us in sending His Son was sown into these precious promises. Those who first received them could only dream and wonder at what God’s gift of salvation would really be like. Even the angels longed to look into what we have now welcomed into our hearts on this blessed day.
God still intends for us to long for a deeper look, to yearn with eager anticipation for a greater sense of the reality of the hope now fixed in our hearts. Just as He gave promises of the Messiah’s first Advent, so He has sent us messages that foretell the Savior’s return. When we remind ourselves and others about Christ’s birth, we are not only commemorating a past event, but we are building our anticipation of the day when we will see Him face to face.
Some Christians feel truly trapped by all the Christmas “trappings” and the commercialization of the season. Yet there is an undeniable joy that contrasts with all the holiday hype. Maybe reflecting on God’s Christmas cards will renew our perspective, not only on His gift to us, but on giving and receiving cards this season. What may at times seem like a burden or insignificant social ritual can take on fresh meaning as we see it as an opportunity to spread a little hope in the hearts of others.
In a way, sending a meaningful Christmas card is a bit like handing out a Jews for Jesus broadside. In fact, you’ll find enclosed one of the broadside tracts that we are using this month to greet holiday shoppers in many of our Jews for Jesus branch cities. If you feel it is an appropriate addition to your family newsletter or Christmas card, please feel free to make copies. But whether or not you use one of our tracts, sending a meaningful Christmas greeting is a real chance to greet someone with the good news that points back to those original cards God sent to us, and forward to the promises yet to be fulfilled.
Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!