As a society, we seem to be puzzled over so many things. For instance, in basketball, who was better: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or Lebron James? In football, is Tom Brady really a better quarterback than Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers? Is it really about global warming, climate change, or is Joe the meteorologist just a bad forecaster?
We have the imponderables, such as who’s right, the Democrats or the Republicans? Is it really all about you – or is it all about me? Is a zebra white with black stripes, or black with white stripes? Then there’s one of the all-time classics: less filling – or tastes great?
But one topic of discussion seems to transcend them all, particularly at this time of year, is: What’s the real meaning of Christmas? If you’ve watched any of the TV specials this year – or any year – we hear this question raised again and again. And the range of answers is astounding.
According to celebrity hosts and pontificators aplenty, Christmas is all about (take your choice): 1) getting together with friends and family; 2) love for our fellow man/woman/person; 3) sharing; 4) peace and joy and good will; 5) Santa Claus; 6) giving; 7) good food and feeling all warm and fuzzy all over. You can probably add to this list, but we have no shortage of perspectives on what Christmas means.
It’s fun spending festive, relaxing time with loved ones. Who among us is opposed to peace, joy and good will? This time of year would seem strange without jolly old Saint Nick. And when it’s cold outside, warm and fuzzy inside feels good. But isn’t it time we get this whole business cleared up? If we go straight to the source, it’s evident the real meaning of Christmas is none of the above.
Turning to where the original Christmas story is found, in the Bible, we see its meaning summed up in four words: “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14). Think about it: If Jesus hadn’t been born, we’d not be singing about wise men at this time of year. Angels would have had no reason for serenading a group of shepherds quietly watching over their sheep. Hardly anyone would have ever heard of a little town named Bethlehem. The little drummer boy would have had to play for someone else.
But it goes far beyond that. If God hadn’t chosen to come to earth in human form, we wouldn’t be dividing human history by B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini). The cross might have been cited in some obscure historic writings about ancient Roman practices, but it certainly wouldn’t have become a revered religious symbol. Most of all, we’d still be thinking about God as distant and unknowable, rather than the God who came near and desired to know us – and be known.
Perhaps Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey said it best in their book, In His Image. Regarding Jesus – “the Word” who became flesh – they state He “became the visible, finite expression of the invisible, infinite, inexpressible God.”
But why did Jesus come? This question is best answered in His own words. For instance, the Lord stated, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). In the very next verse, the One who was proclaimed to the shepherds Himself proclaimed, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep…. I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (John 10:15).
For all of us who desire to know God, but have struggled to discover how that can be possible, Jesus asserted, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The One who taught us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39), and to “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12), came to earth not only to teach, and serve as an example, but also to do for us what we couldn’t possibly do for ourselves.
We were, in the words of Ephesians 2:1, “dead in [our] trespasses and sins.” How can dead people save themselves? For that reason, Jesus gave His life to atone for our sins. As Romans 5:8 declares, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
As a result, while we envision baby Jesus receiving gifts such as gold, frankincense and myrrh from the Magi, we should also consider how from birth, He was preparing to give the greatest gift of all: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
So in a few days, as we revel in the byproducts of this season – fun, frivolity, and festivities – we would do well to consider what the Scriptures themselves tell us about the “real meaning of Christmas.” I hope you enjoy a truly merry Christmas – celebrating the Christ who started it all!