I’ll never forget one of the hardest Christmases I’ve had. Though I love all the elements of the season—the colors, the lights, the decorations, the smells, the treats, and the celebration of Christ’s birth—it wasn’t “the most wonderful time of the year.” And the reality is that the holidays are terribly hard for many people. It’s this truth that makes Matt Chandler’s latest book, An Even Better Christmas, a helpful addition to the scores of Christian resources already out there.
Chandler gets to this reality and to a hopeful alternative in his first chapter. He writes, “See, I love Christmas—but it’s not because I’ve been kidded by the commercials that at Christmas everything might be perfect. I love Christmas because it’s the start of the story that means one day . . . everything will really be perfect” (emphasis mine).
He uses this brief book to show readers “how the first Christmas can meet you where you are and provide you with hope where you are.” And he does this in a way that addresses long-time Christians, but more explicitly, those who have less practice with Christianity. In four short chapters, he “leads [readers] through some things that the Christmas story tells us are true about God . . .” in a way that would whet the appetite of the skeptic, the apathetic, the confused, and the faithful.
“God gets involved”
Instead of starting the Christmas story at the stable, Chandler goes back to 1400 B.C. and the captivity of the Israelites. He recounts a time “when the world was clearly in a mess, and when God’s people were truly struggling.” He points out that they must have felt “abandoned” and that God’s promises were “make-believe.” This is powerful because it’s where many of us find ourselves at Christmas, and in all of life.
Yet, the amazing truth, as Chandler points out from Exodus 1:24, is that God hears our groaning. Just as he heard the Israelites and sent Moses to deliver them, he hears those of us who cry out to him in our suffering and pain. Chandler is careful to write to people who are frustrated—who have been crying out to what seems like no answer. His honesty and testimony is what makes this book a perfect gift for those who are strong-arming the Lord in their circumstances. The truth is, God does hear, and he does intervene, and the proof of that was found swaddled in clothes and lying in a manger over 2,000 years ago.
“God brings joy”
This little baby, as Chandler points out, shows that God came and intervenes for the “excluded” and the “outsiders.” The prime example of this is that one of the first birth announcements went to shepherds—mangy, filthy, and unliked. These were the most unlikely people for the God of the universe to come to. So, the message of Christmas in this fascinating fact isn’t that we have to be good for God to come to us and intervene in our lives. Chandler writes, “The message of Christmas is this: ‘God knows you, he knows you need help, he knows you’ve wandered away, and he’s come to you anyway.’”
He points out that when he intervenes in our lives, though, we are exposed for who we are because we come face-to-face with his glory. So, how can the news the angels brought to the shepherds be that “of great joy” (Luke 2:10)? It can be good, joyous news because of the cross. Jesus came to expose our sin and then to cover it, to save us from it. “If you accept Jesus’ offer of rescue and forgiveness,” Chandler explains, “you need no longer fear being exposed by God when one day you stand before his glory. Instead, you can know ‘great joy,’ because you are exposed but you’re also forgiven.”
“God is worth it”
Christmas also tells us, Chandler writes, “that Jesus is worth it.” Just like the “wise men” who pursued the Son of God, we’re to pay attention to this Christmas message and do whatever it takes to move from knowing “about” God to actually knowing him. Chandler essentially asks us in this chaper to evaluate if we are more like those wise men, or if we’re kin to the religious leaders, of whom Jesus said, “you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:40). Chandler’s approach to this chapter contains a challenge regardless of where the reader might find himself. If you don’t believe the Bible’s claims, will you at least take them seriously and search for yourself? And if you are a Christian, will you be intentional to avoid the complacency that sometimes creeps in over time?
“The beginning, not the end”
In the final chapter, Chandler briefly shares his story of a brain tumor. It’s powerful because it lends a gravity to things he’s saying and almost shouts to the reader, “Pay attention! I really believe the things I’m saying, and I’ve been tested on them.” As he writes, “Christmas has gotten even better for me, because I’ve appreciated all the more that Christmas is when God got involved, gave me hope, and showed himself worth of my trust.”
I’d encourage you to recommend this short book to anyone, but especially to your friends or family members who are walking through trials, who have embraced the commercialized version of Christianity, or who are hesitant to believe Jesus’ claims. It might just be that these powerful truths communicated in a simple, disarming way will awaken them and give them a true, lasting, great joy that will lead to an even better Christmas—one that goes with them throughout their lives and into eternity.
You can find Matt Chandler’s latest book here.