|As Christmas nears, familiar scenes with the Christ child in the |
manger are prominent, but there's a lot more to the story.
Years ago my family and I returned to Houston, Texas, where we lived for three years, to visit with family and old friends. I’ll always remember a former coworker’s answer when I asked how he, his wife and children were doing. “Well,” he said, “we have some wants, but we don’t have any needs.”
That was the first time I’d heard anyone express it that way, but it’s true for many of us. In our society, consumerism reigns, aiming to elevate our “wants” to the level of perceived needs. The more we get the merrier. We want a new smartphone, tablet or HD-TV, but we don’t need them. We go into stores and see the newest clothing styles on display, along with shoes, glitzy appliances and newly released CDs and DVDs. We want them – but don’t need them.
Being an admitted “bookaholic,” I have more books in my possession than I’ll probably ever read, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting more. I always seem to “need” more memorabilia and T-shirts for showing my avid support of the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Millions of people in this world truly need things like food, clothing, a safe place to live, or a job. But anyone reading this is probably affluent enough not to be counted among them. A need is something that can bring disastrous consequences if it’s not met. We might feel we need a new bracelet, watch or pair of earrings, a new coat or shirt, but could it be just a want?
I don’t mean to sound like Scrooge as we approach the magical morning of Christmas, when many of us will exchange gifts with loved ones. It’s a happy tradition, hopefully an opportunity to understand more fully why Jesus said it’s more blessed to give than to receive. At the same time, as we consider the true meaning of Christmas – the commemoration of Christ’s birth – we would be wise to recognize He came not to fulfill our wants, but to meet our most foundational need.
Starting with Adam and Eve, mankind has had a problem: Severed from a right relationship with God because of disobedience and rebellion against His laws and standards for living. The Bible calls it “sin.” Throughout history, people have tried to remedy this through something called “religion” – rituals, traditions, rules, dogma, and institutionalism. It’s what someone has called, “man’s best effort to reach God.”
Unfortunately, feeble attempts by unholy people to earn the favor of a holy God are about as effective as attempting to swim the Pacific Ocean. Even a champion swimmer will cover only a small fraction of the distance before having to give up and fall woefully short of the goal. In the face of this futility, God instead chose to provide the remedy Himself, reaching down to mankind and offering redemption – reconciliation through Jesus.
At sporting events, on highway overpasses, billboards and even drink cups we sometimes see the inscription, John 3:16. It’s become commonplace enough that it might seem like a cliché, but its meaning remains as profound as ever: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This was truly the first Christmas gift.
Another passage underscores this truth: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Think about it – when Jesus willingly went to the cross to serve as our atoning sacrifice, the payment for our sins, how many sins had you and I committed by that time? The answer, of course, is none. We hadn’t been born yet. But if we’re honest, we’ve more than made up for lost time since entering the world. That’s why 1 Peter 3:18 tells us, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”
Unlike Old Testament sacrifices that were carried out daily by the Israelite priests, Jesus Christ’s sacrifice was once for all time – past, present and future.
So as we prepare to celebrate Christmas, visualizing the Nativity scene of a young mother, her betrothed husband and an infant lying in a makeshift cradle, let’s remember Jesus came to meet our deepest need – to become reconciled to God.
In our rebellious moments, we don’t even recognize that need. We want what we want, and if that’s contrary to God’s will, too bad. But Jesus didn’t come to appease our wants, our lust for having our own way. He came to fulfill the need we didn’t even know we had until He graciously revealed it to us. When images of Bethlehem come to your mind’s eye, don’t separate the cradle from the cross.