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Why Christmas Leaves Us Wanting More

The few days between Christmas and the New Year teach us something profound about our souls’ longings. More often than not, Christmas Day’s jubilation and gladness seem to come and go in a flash. After so much anticipation, we feel as if we are left with little more than ribbons and wrapping, clean-up and returns. Why must Christmas come and go so quickly?

Pastor and theologian Sinclair Ferguson has been honest enough to identify the unmet expectations of Christmas in his own young life: “When I was a child, Christmas seemed to die every year by bedtime on December 25th. The anticipation seemed long; the realization all too brief. I even tried wrapping up my presents again and opening them the following morning.”1 But the magic never lasts, because the day itself only points us toward what C. S. Lewis described as the “deeper magic from before the dawn of time.”2

Christmas, this season of celebration and commotion, leaves us wanting because only Jesus, the Christ of Christmas, can truly satisfy our hearts’ deepest hunger.

The Hunger of Our Hearts

When Jesus’ own mother sang praise to God as she anticipated Christ’s birth, she proclaimed, “He has filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:53). This imagery isn’t unique to Mary, however; it’s found throughout the Old Testament. Psalm 107:9, for instance, tells us that God “satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” In the same psalm, the psalmist tells us that “some wandered in desert wastes” and that “hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted with them” (vv. 4–5). This is our condition apart from Christ: wandering aimlessly “in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Ps. 63:1). Without Him, relief is beyond reach, and solace and comfort are nothing more than a distant dream.

Christmas, this season of celebration and commotion, leaves us wanting because only Jesus, the Christ of Christmas, can truly satisfy our hearts’ deepest hunger.

There isn’t a person alive who hasn’t felt the pang of unmet expectation and longing. This is simply how God designed us: to yearn and pine for something greater than ourselves. The problem, of course, is that we attempt to meet those longings with something right in front of us. Some of us count on Christmas to fulfill those desires every time the calendar flips from November to December (or maybe even earlier!). But Christmas won’t cut it. Our longings run deeper than a single merry day or the weeks that accompany it.

Only God Can Satisfy

The reason that not even the joy of the Christmas season can satisfy us is that the very epicenter of our being is made for the God who makes Christmas meaningful. If we attempt to live and celebrate apart from Him—and certainly we know the temptation to get caught up in the consumerism of the season!—no amount of holiday cheer can fill the void that’s left. As Augustine reminded us, God has made us for Himself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Him.3

So if we need God so desperately, why is it that men and women are not turning to God in droves, crying out, “O God, satisfy the longings of my heart”? Well, the short answer to that is that before He makes us new, all of our hearts are actually antagonistic toward God. Our natural thoughts and desires are not for Him and His glory. Instead, like Adam and Eve in the garden, we believe a lie, we go our own way, and we seek satisfaction in everything other than the source of everlasting satisfaction.

Some of us count on Christmas to fulfill those desires every time the calendar flips from November to December (or maybe even earlier!). But Christmas won’t cut it. Our longings run deeper than a single merry day or the weeks that accompany it.

David Wells points out how this spiritual hunger has particular application to young people, who are often baffled by the sense of emptiness that they feel:

Their self-esteem is high but their self is empty. They grew up being told they could be anything they wanted to be, but they do not know what they want to be. They are unhappy, but there seems to be no cause for their unhappiness. They are more connected to more people through the Internet, and yet they have never felt more lonely. They want to be accepted, and yet they often feel alienated. Never have we had so much; never have we had so little.4

Surely such a hunger has only grown in a world that is now bombarded with trend after trend across social media platforms and is able to “connect” with just a few taps on a screen! Of course, every era has expressed its need for God differently. But today, while we may be connected to more people than ever before, we increasingly lack the depth and richness of relationship that we need—especially with the one who designed us for Himself.

New Hearts, New Affections

It doesn’t take too much of a look at human history, let alone at our very own lives, to see that our hearts are diseased and broken, in need of more than anything and everything the world has to offer. And the good news is that God is in the business of heart transplants, offering new life to His people. But how does he do so?

First of all, He illumines our minds by the truth of the Gospel (2 Cor. 4:4–6). We no longer need to try and work our way up to some acceptance with God, because there is in Christ a righteousness that is credited to us through faith in Him (Rom. 3:22). God also sets our hearts free from bondage to sin. He washes clean our inordinate affections, and then He motivates and enables us to live in the light of the truth of His Word, to discover that His law is, in Christ, a pathway to freedom and joy rather than a restriction.

In other words, God works in such a way that we begin to love what He loves. All this comes from divine heart surgery, when the Almighty fulfills His promise to “remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:26).

Holy Hunger

According to Mary’s song, in an act of divine irony, while God has “filled the hungry with good things, … the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:53). Those who have no consciousness of need, who are complacent and insist, “I’m just not hungry,” God sends away. But to all who admit their need, who feel their hunger, Jesus declares, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

The Christmas season offers us a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the incarnation and the “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10) that demonstrates God’s wondrous grace to us. But unless we realize where the longings of our souls must find their terminus—in Jesus Christ our Lord—the ornaments, cookies, and presents will only fill us meagerly and temporarily.

Strangely enough, it’s all too easy to miss the Light of the World among all the lights and décor of the season. Christmas, then, is the perfect time for all of us to say afresh, “Jesus, You’re the only one who can fill my heart. I want You to come and do that for me. Above all else—more than the gifts, more than the trees, more than the food, more than the friends and family, more than the lasting memories—I want Your joy to fill me and strengthen me.” Ask Him in faith, and He will surely do it.


This article was adapted from the sermon “Anybody Hungry?” by Alistair Begg.


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1 Sinclair B. Ferguson, Child in the Manger: The True Meaning of Christmas (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2015), 41.

2 C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), chap. 15.

3 Augustine, Confessions 1.1.1.

4 David F. Wells, God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-Love of God Reorients Our World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 23.


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