I want to consider two questions. First, why do we celebrate Christmas? And second, do we truly celebrate Christmas?
To the first question, no doubt most of us would answer, “because that’s when Jesus was born.” And that’s true. But there is really so much more to Christmas than the birth of Christ. It is wonderful that Jesus was born, and it is fitting that we should celebrate it, but the real reason for celebration is why Jesus was born. In a 2010 devotional entitled “Why Do We Need a Savior?” David Wright wrote the following:
As we draw closer to Christmas, we need to remember we are celebrating more than just the birth of our Savior. Christ came into this world to redeem us and save us. But from what?
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12)
Sin. Our sin, which is inevitably born through our thoughts and intentions (James 1:14–15), comes so naturally due to the sinful nature (Romans 7:14–25) we inherited from our father Adam who disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3). Sin, which has brought separation from God—both physical and spiritual (Genesis 2:17)—to all. Sin, which is deserving of death before a holy and righteous God. Sin, worthy of wrath and punishment, which we cannot overcome on our own no matter how desperately we try.
In the last post I examined the significance of the virgin birth. Mary conceived miraculously, doing something no human had ever done before or has ever done since. Mary, a virgin, gave birth to Jesus, the Messiah. The one and only human who ever lived who fulfilled all of the Old Testament prophecies, the one and only human who ever lived a sinless life, and the one and only human who could pay the penalty for sin demanded by a just and holy God. So let us not lose sight of the virgin birth, because nothing could be more significant.
But let us also not lose sight of the fact that Jesus came to die.
Matthew 1:20-21 says, “’Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’” There are many passages of Scripture we could look to as we consider that Jesus was born to die, that His death was the necessary payment for our sins that none of us could ever pay, but for the sake of time and space, let us consider only one. Romans 4:25, in the New Living Translation, reads this way:
He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.
Jesus was born, and that’s wonderful. It is cause for celebration. But it is not His birth or His life which saves us from our sins. Rather, it was His death, which provided the perfect atoning sacrifice demanded by a just and holy God and that none of us could pay. And then His resurrection, which defeated death, and made possible the gift of eternal life.
The second question I want to consider is this: do we truly celebrate Christmas? If you look in the dictionary, there is more than one component to the definition of “celebrate.” The first part is this: “to observe (a day) or commemorate (an event) with ceremonies or festivities.” We have that part down pretty well, don’t we? We have a day on the calendar set aside specifically to celebrate Christmas and no doubt we all have traditions we observe and festivities we enjoy as part of this celebration. I don’t think we need to linger here because we have this part figured out.
But the second part of the definition of “celebrate” reads like this: “to make known publicly; proclaim.” Sadly, I am not sure we do nearly as well with this part of the definition. Many of us acknowledge the real meaning of Christmas but sometimes we don’t really want to make a big deal about it. And that’s both interesting and odd, because there are so many other things in life we love to make a big deal about. Whether it be a new car, a new pair of shoes, a victory by our favorite sports team, the winning of an election by our candidate or, since it’s Christmas time, getting a present we really had our heart set on. We love to make those things known publicly, don’t we? Most of us don’t shy away from those things.
Recently, RealSimple.com asked readers to share the best gift they had ever given. Interestingly, most of the answers involved something along the lines of, “one year when I had no money…” followed by a recounting of giving a gift that was so well received specifically because it reflected thought, consideration and love. Most of the gifts themselves were not expensive, but each one was cherished because it was so personal, so thoughtful, so deliberate and so heartfelt.
Equally interesting was the fact that all of the stories shared ended with a testimonial to the enduring meaningfulness of the gifts.
• A woman from Jackson, MS described a mother’s ring she and her siblings saved to give their mother. “When we gave it to her, she cried. She still wears it daily.”
• A woman in Austin, TX described a particularly unique and thoughtful gift she gave her husband—a box with slips of paper with each one detailing something she loved about him. “He still displays it in his office,” she concluded.
• A woman in Ada, MI described giving her mother-in-law a piece of the kind of candy that her husband would give her every year for Christmas before he died. “The gift deepened our bond,” she said.
• A woman from Meridian, CT described giving her mother, who suffered from macular degeneration, a cassette tape with 30 of her favorite recipes. She said, “She used it until her death a decade later.”
• A college student from Atlanta described giving homemade burlap Christmas stockings to family members and said, “I love that we’ll use them year after year.”
• And a woman from Washington, DC described giving her husband an outdoor grill to celebrate their purchase of a new home. “Every time he leaps up to use it, I can see the excitement on his face.”
Do you see the point? When we receive thoughtful, deliberate, meaningful gifts, we cherish them. We don’t take them for granted. We don’t think, “oh that’s nice,” and then stick it in a cupboard or a closet somewhere. Far from it. Instead, we put them in places of honor, where we can see them and be reminded of the love and thought behind them. Even more than that, we tell other people about them. We are so touched, so appreciative, so grateful, that we want other people to know about the gift. Really, deep down, what we’re doing in that moment is declaring to others, “someone loves me so much, look what they did for me!”
No one ever loved you, or me, or anyone else, more than God does.
No Christmas gift was ever more expensive than the gift of Jesus Christ, but neither was any gift ever more personal, more thoughtful, more deliberate or more heartfelt. No gift ever has or ever will be more motivated by love than the gift of Jesus Christ. No doubt we will all, at some point, over the next few days be asked by someone what we received for Christmas. Or we will, voluntarily, share with others about one or more of the gifts we received. But how many of us will take the time to tell others, whether over the next few days or throughout the year ahead, about the love of God and the gift of Jesus Christ? The gift of Jesus is unlike any other gift we will tell anyone about. 2 Corinthians 9:15 says, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” It is a gift available to everyone, and we lose nothing by sharing it with others. In fact, we gain by doing so.
David Mathis said this about the real meaning of Christmas: “Few things are more tragic than taking Christmas in stride. Its spirit and magic, that alluring sense of supernatural goodness, are not just for children, but even for the grownups. Especially for the grownups. God forbid that we ever get used to Christmas.”
So let’s not get used to Christmas. Let us never forget how miraculous, how wonderful, how incredible it really is. Today, and for every Christmas we have left, let us remember why we celebrate Christmas, and let us truly celebrate Christmas.