I love the Christmas season, and I love Christmas music too. I’m one of those annoying people who starts listening to Christmas music way too early. One of my favorite slightly frivolous Christmas ditty’s is It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas. Penned in 1951 by Meredith Wilson, it’s been a holiday staple since its first iconic release. You’ve most likely heard it played many times. Admittedly, at first glance, at least, it isn’t the most Christ-centered Christmas tune. But its catchy melody is fun and family-friendly.
I recently heard It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, and it lodged in my brain and would not let go. We had a few snow dribbles that same day so that imagery combined with the song created a memorable Christmassy scene, which is a rarity in Atlanta. The song paints vivid word pictures of how stores, streets, hotels, landscapes, and people begin to show the not-so-subtle signs of transforming in preparation and anticipation of Christmas. Stores glisten, and streets glow, and kids hope. People’s visages visibly change, and winter snow dominates the scenery. The atmosphere described is beautiful, happy, transcendent, expectant, and surrounded by death.
It’s A Wonderful Death
Epiphany blindsided me on that wintery day as It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas jangled around in my brain. While we’re beginning to look a lot like Christ, we are inevitably surrounded by the transformative beauty of death. Winter is the season of the completion of death. Throughout the fall season, leaves struggle to stay alive, and vegetation does its best to hold on, but winter finally wins, and old things pass away in preparation for new life. Philosophically, there’s a strange perceptual dichotomy at play in wintertime.
On the one hand, we can view winter as stark, harsh, and bleak. But, on the other hand, glowing lanes, candy canes, church bells, and carolers out in the snow can change our wintery perspective. All the joy mingled with the austerity of winter might seem enigmatic. However, it isn’t because we know the cold will give way to warmth, and new life will bloom in springtime. The inevitability of death precedes the miracle of life in the natural order of the universe.
The Visible Image of the Invisible Maker
The universe’s ability to produce new life from death isn’t by accident. The Maker of the universe designed it that way (Psalm 104:19), and He mirrored that same spiritual law in the lives of human beings. The invisible Maker visibly manifested Himself in the form of man and became the ultimate sacrifice for our sins (Colossians 1:15-23). Because our sins deserved physical and spiritual death, He willingly died in our place (Romans 6:21-23).
The cross displays a more remarkable perceptual dichotomy than anything else imaginable. Calvary was a gruesome, bloody, agonizing, humiliating scene ending in the unjust execution of a guiltless man. Yet, it was the most beautiful sight the world has ever seen because it symbolizes God’s profound personal love for us (Romans 5:8). In return, all Jesus requires of us is our death, burial, and resurrection (Philippians 3:10, Romans 6:3-8, Acts 3:19). Thankfully, we don’t have to die or be resurrected from a grave physically. Our death, burial, and resurrection are spiritual events made possible by the work of Jesus on our behalf (Acts 2:38).
The Very Beginning of Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christ
The Bible repeatedly teaches us that before we can have new life in Christ, we must die. Old things – ways, habits, lifestyles, mindsets, ideas – need to pass away (2 Corinthians 5:17). Those old things don’t die naturally, so we crucify them with repentance (Romans 6:6). We brutally nail our sinfully embedded affections and lusts to a cross and allow them to perish (Galatians 5:24). God doesn’t force us to do this either. Furthermore, our carnal flesh hates the idea of dying to self.
Repentance is the only part of salvation that we must do completely alone. At baptism, someone else baptizes us in the saving name of Jesus (Acts 4:12). We consent to be baptized, and we participate in baptism, but we don’t perform it. Dead people don’t bury themselves because they are dead. Likewise, when we are filled with the Holy Ghost, which is our spiritual resurrection, we can’t fill ourselves (Acts 11:15). God pours out His Spirit on us and dwells within us (Acts 2:1-4, Ezekiel 36:27). Once again, we are merely participating and consenting to a Divine process. Repentance is the gateway that leads to baptism and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Without repentance, a person just gets wet at baptism, and without repentance, God will not give us His Spirit.
Hidden with Christ (From Life to Death to Life)
When we repent of our sins, we are willingly offering our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). And that isn’t a one-time thing. Authentic repentance is a commitment to pick up our cross and regularly die to sin (Luke 9:23, Romans 6:1-23, Matthew 10:28, Colossians 2:20). When Jesus commanded us to carry our cross daily (Matthew 16:24-26), it was a reminder to take the burden of repentance with us at all times. Why? Because continual death to sin releases joy, abundant life, power, self-control, and authority in Christ (John 10:10, 2 Timothy 1:7, Acts 1:8, John 14:12). Consider what Paul said to the church in Colossae:
“For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.“Colossians 3:3
Just as Christ became literally dead in the tomb, so we, by virtue of our connection with Christ, have become dead to sin, to worldly influences, pleasures, and ambition. Or, in other words, we are to be to them as if we were dead, and they had no more influence over us than the things of earth had over Him in the grave.[i]
But what does it mean to be “hidden” with Christ in God? Certainly, Paul was alluding to the idea of secrecy and safety in God. Our life and salvation are secure in God when we are dead to sin. But we are not literally hidden from the view of the world. No. The meaning here goes deeper than merely being out of sight. The term hidden (kekruptai) can also mean “concealed.” The implication here is that our life is unknown or not understood by the watching world. But these unseen realities will be revealed to the world by God in due time (1 John 3:1-2).[ii] The spiritual death of a sinner produces a saint that is continuously misunderstood by sinners.
The Prettiest Sight to See
Therefore, as we begin to look a lot like Christ, which is what we are called to do (1 John 2:6, Galatians 3:27, Philippians 2:5), the dead weights of sin begin to fall off the branches of our lives (Hebrews 12:1, John 15:5, Romans 13:12, Ephesians 4:22-25). When the leaves of sin are falling one by one, we know that a joyous death is about to take place, and winter is coming. Old habits take their last gulps of air, fear and condemnation lie on their death beds, carnal thinking is being transformed, sinful dysfunctional relationships are severing, as the joy of salvation and holiness begin to take root amidst the chill. The death is harsh, tear-soaked, unrelenting, yet it’s one of the prettiest sights to see because Christ’s image is being made manifest in human life.
[i] Albert Barnes, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, Accordance electronic ed. (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2006), paragraph 24986.
[ii] Max Anders, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians & Colossians, ed. Max Anders, vol. 8 of Holman New Testament Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 1999), 327.