One of the chairs will be empty around the table for many this Christmas season. A wife will celebrate the holidays without her husband for the first time. A son will read Luke 2 without mom sitting there alongside him. There will be those not-so-distant memories of a friend’s voice we still cherish, whose quietness now speaks louder than his conversations used to. Those who were near to our hearts will be conspicuously absent. And when the cold, empty seat takes the place of that person we love, we feel the weight of their absence profoundly.
How can you sing songs of “tidings of comfort and joy” when there is such an aching in your heart? Can Christmas really be holly and jolly when you are grieving? Solomon would ponder a similar question as he wrote: “Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness” (Proverbs 14:23).
When we stare across the table at that empty chair, we are reminded of how death and pain have gripped our world. The Genesis history tells of the creation of a once good world in which death and suffering were not natural at all, but were unwelcome intruders. They invaded the scene unwanted and uninvited. They occurred because of man’s rebelling against his maker. And so this pain we feel, and any pain we may feel, finds its ultimate root in the fall of man (Romans 8:22). We live in a groaning planet. When sin entered, it had a cosmic effect and sent the entire creation out of balance (Genesis 3:17). No longer could God say as He did at the very beginning that it was very good.
This Christmas, however, I remind you that there is another empty seat. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, stepped down from His throne in heaven to come to earth. He took his seat with tax collectors, prostitutes, and Pharisees. He broke bread around the table with friends who would forsake him. He cared for the weak, the poor, the blind, and the dumb. Without casting off or diminishing any of His divinity, Jesus Christ entered history so that all may be found welcome at the Lord’s Table.
Christmas is the story of how Jesus became the “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3), so that we might receive the “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10). In truth, Christmas is the story about an empty seat. Creation’s King willingly left His throne in heaven and traded it for a manger bed. This manger perfectly sets the stage for the cross, as the judge of this universe left his bench to sit as condemned in the place of the condemned. On that cross Jesus absorbed the penalty of sin and swallowed the grave up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:53-54). Jesus surrendered His very self and His very seat to reconcile God and man.
This Christmas season, there will be those who grieve as they look across the table and see an empty chair. It is right for our hearts to ache in these moments (see John 11:35). But those who are in Christ do not grieve without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Even as you sorrow this holiday season, you can still rejoice because you have the bedrock of confidence to claim, “Death doesn’t get the last word!” When that empty chair seems to be screaming at you from across the room you can cry right back to your Father in Heaven and cling to the hope of heaven’s table (Revelation 19:7).
Caleb Phelps was born and raised in New Hampshire and is an avid fan of all things New England sports. He grew up in a pastors home and was saved at the age of 12. As a young junior higher he sensed God's call on his life to go into full time Christian service. Caleb graduated from BJU with a BA in Bible and an MA in Theology. After graduating from seminary Caleb traveled in evangelism which took him across the country to many different churches and camps. While he was traveling Caleb met the love of his life, Rachel. They got married and moved to Indianapolis, IN where Caleb served as the youth pastor at Crosspointe Baptist Church. In September 2018 the Lord moved Caleb and his family to Palm Bay, FL where he now serves as senior pastor at Faith Baptist Church.
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