Advent Devotional: Accept No Substitutes

Christmastime has always been a time of baking in our house.  At the moment, while I’m writing this, my two youngest sons are making gingerbread men with my wife. I’m sure they’ll be delicious, but my favorite cookies this time of year are sugar cookies. My mother’s recipe for sugar cookies are the best I’ve ever tasted. But even when I follow the recipe to the letter, mine never seem to taste as good. The first time I tried to make them didn’t turn out so well. I was about twenty years old, living on my own and was feeling homesick, so I decided that a good sugar cookie would make me feel better. Unfortunately, one of the main ingredients in her recipe is butter – lots and lots of butter, and all I had in my refrigerator was a tub of “I Can’t Believe it’s not Butter.” I figured that should work and went about making my cookies with the butter substitute that claimed to do a great impersonation of real butter. I let the dough sit in the fridge for a day just like the recipe told me to do. I put them in the oven for the correct time at the correct temperature. But what came out of the oven looked nothing like what I was looking forward to seeing. Instead of the moist and delicious cookies I had been raised on, they were dry, flat clumps of dough that crumbled to pieces when I tried to use a spatula to take them off the cookie sheet. Instead of comfort for my homesickness and the taste of my Mom’s famous cookies, I was met with complete and utter disappointment.

What I learned from this experience was that substitutions don’t always work. Just because it looks like butter and claims to act just like butter, when the recipe calls for butter, nothing else will do. A few years later, after the creation of Google, I was able to look up the reasons that my experiment failed. Butter along with eggs are the catalysts that hold everything else in the recipe together. Margarine doesn’t have the needed ingredients to cause the chemical reaction that occurs in the oven that produces the perfect cookie.

Colossians 1:15-20 tells us how Christ is the exact image of the God who has always been and always will be. He is literally Immanuel (“God with us”). If you want to see God, look to Jesus; if you want to know God, look to Jesus. But verse 17 reveals another facet of who Christ is for us, “In him all things hold together.” All creation relies on Christ whether they know it or not. He is the catalyst that holds everything in all creation, the whole universe, together. Without him everything crumbles apart.

During the Christmas season, it’s easy to be disappointed when things don’t go the way we plan. We spend all day looking forward to this time of year and it usually doesn’t live up to our expectations. This often occurs because we forget the “reason for the season” (I know that has become a cliché, but it fits here). I believe this happens because we try to use substitutes in our recipe for the perfect Christmas. Our family, which is certainly an important ingredient in the holiday celebrations, can crumble when we do not remember Christ. Our church family, also an important ingredient cannot do what Christ alone does for us. The perfect gift, either given or received, pales in comparison to the gift that God gave us in Christ. Christ is the ingredient that holds it all together. Without him, all the hopes that we have in the perfect Christmas crumble into disappointment.

During your time with your friends and family, if you find that they are not meeting your expectations, double check your recipe. Make sure you haven’t tried to use a substitute for Christ. He is the only one that can hold it all together. He is the only one that will not disappoint or let you down. Today, enjoy some Christmas cookies (with lots of real butter) and remember that Christ is the ingredient in your life that makes everything else possible because he is the perfect image of the God we long to know and see. Accept no substitutes!

You are loved!

David