Christmas is so close.
That statement ‘Christmas is so close’ can bring feelings of excitement for some and anxiety for others. It may bring up a combination of excitement and anxiousness all in one bright shiny package.
When I was a kid it felt like it took forever to get the whole Advent wreath lit. Yesterday as I sat in church I looked to the front of church and thought..’how in the world can all of those candles be lit already.’
Christmas being so close on this Monday may bring joy or anxiety or maybe a little of both.
We have excitement because of all the good stuff that comes at Christmas. We find joy because of the focus on Jesus and his incarnation. We can have anxiousness for so many reasons. Things may not be wrapped. Food may not be prepared. Relationships may be strained. We may be anxious about spending time with family where relationships are strained. You may be wondering if there is any hope for these people and for your relationship.
Perhaps you are thinking ‘I would rather spend the 24th and 25th of December in the belly of a big fish than with family’.
Jonah may not be a traditional story to read and ponder over Christmas but it has some gospel gems that we may need this time of year. If your family relationships are strained perhaps you feel a little like Jonah and your family is a little like Nineveh. You just do not want to go there and a fish belly sounds just about right.
Jonah is sent to Nineveh by God. Jonah gets on a boat and heads clear the other direction to Tarshish. God causes a great big storm. The men on the boat decide through casting of lots that one of them has made one of their gods pretty upset. Jonah is that man. Jonah tells the men to throw him over board. The men do all they can to avoid throwing him into the sea but they get desperate enough to toss him in.
Jonah find himself sinking to the bottom on the sea. God appoints a huge fish to swallow him up. That fish that God sent saves Jonah’s life.
Jonah is spit out onto the dry ground. He decides he might as well go to Nineveh and give them the message God has asked him to preach.
6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do itJonah 3:6-10
The word went out and the people turned from their ways and toward God. Jonah is not happy about it. Which can be shocking when we read it but it can also help us see people in our lives that maybe we would not want the goodness and love of God extended to. It is not a good quality to have yet it is there at times.
The next few verses give us hope this Christmas season when we are spending time with family, especially if relationships are strained. It gives us hope if we think we have just gone too far for the love of God to reach us. It takes the pressure off of us to be the one who has the power to bring people to Jesus. It does all of those things because it shows us how big the love of God is and that he is the one responsible for bringing people to himself.
“for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”Jonah 4:2
This Christmas season if you are wondering if God could love you the answer is yes. This Christmas season if you are looking for hope in the middle of strained relationships look to our gracious God. This Christmas season if their is more anxiety than joy look to our gracious God who is merciful and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Christmas still may hold strained relationships. Christmas still may bring anxiety. But in the middle of all that is Jesus. In the middle of this Christmas season is our reason for JOY.