What Is The True Meaning Of Christmas?

[This post was first published in December of 2009]

Tree_Christmas_Winter_268136_lI have a European friend I met back  in High School when he was an exchange student. When we first became friends, we would sometimes attend church together and we had more than a few discussions about the Lord and religion in general. He considered himself a Christian. Over the years we fell out of touch but, through the wonders of Social Networking, we now correspond via E-mail. Upon first getting back in contact, he informed me that he is no longer a “believer”, but that he feels that his life “lines up” with the teachings of Jesus Christ nonetheless. As he went into detail, I must admit that it would be hard to argue that his lifestyle is in sharp contrast to what Jesus taught at the Sermon on the Mount. He even seems to follow the “Golden Rule”; treating others the way that he would want to be treated. He hasn’t killed anyone, he doesn’t normally take things that don’t belong to him, he’s faithful to his wife. Although he no longer calls himself a Christian, his opinion is that, for all intents and purposes, his behavior could be categorically labeled as Christian.

I was reminded of what my friend had told me a few nights ago as I watched a T.V. special about “The Meaning of Christmas.” The host of the program talked to various people engaged in charity work; family members of military personnel serving abroad; and others who gave of themselves, often at great sacrifice, in order to help those less fortunate. During these interviews, the host commented repeatedly how these people were demonstrating the true meaning of Christmas.

Now, please don’t think that I am in any way criticizing those who give to others or those who bravely defend our freedom, on the contrary. These selfless acts of compassion are highly commendable. But it seems that the phrase The True Meaning of Christmas gets tossed around a lot and has become a tired, old cliché. People might give a different answer to what the true meaning really is, but it usually involves some sort of act of kindness, or giving to others, or even just “spreading Christmas cheer.” Some consider the true significance of Christmas is spending time with friends and family. All of these things can be good, but is this what Christmas is really all about?

The “correct” answer to what the True Meaning of Christmas is all about is that it is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. But why is the birth of Jesus Christ significant at all? Well, if you were to ask my European friend or the host of the program I watched about the Meaning of Christmas, they would probably tell you about how He grew up to become a great Teacher of morality, or a wise religious/spiritual Leader. They would point to His teachings about how we all ought to get along with one another and look out for the poor and helpless. As the lyrics to the Christmas carol “O Holy Night” say: Truly He taught us to love one another, His law is love and His gospel is peace. My friend and the T.V. host seem to summarize the mission and purpose of Jesus Christ as spreading peace, love, joy, and a spirit of giving among all the people of the world. In fact, they might even agree that the notions of peace, love, joy, and the spirit of giving ARE The True Meaning of Christmas.

But the True Meaning of Christmas would not be fully realized in the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, but in His death and resurrection. What Jesus taught is of great importance, and certainly no man has ever taught as He did. But the purpose for which Jesus came and the reason that He was born was not simply to teach us all a better way to live. He came that He might give us life (John 10:10). The teachings of Jesus Christ are important, but we cannot separate His teachings from His actions. Nor can we pick and choose which of His sayings we like and accept and which ones we do not. The same One Who said “Therefore all things ye would men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12, the “Golden Rule”), also said “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). He Who said, “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16), said in the very next breath “But he that believeth not [on Jesus] is condemned already” (John 3:18).

The teachings of Jesus Christ are only as noble as the One Who spoke them. He did not leave us with the prerogative to lift out the “feel good” sayings from His Message and ignore everything else. He did not give us the option to declare that we are following His teachings or behaving in a Christian way and yet disregard His clear call to repent and put our faith in Him. He did not allow us the choice of lauding His teachings as morally admirable while rejecting His claims of Who He is. As C.S. Lewis observed,

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” (From “Mere Christianity”)

Neither can we continue the “patronizing nonsense” of defining the True Meaning of Christmas as whatever subjective notion that we personally feel defines what the Message of Jesus Christ was all about. Jesus did teach that we should be giving, that we should express love to one another, and even that family is important. But He came to give His life for you and me (Matthew 20:28). The cup that His Father gave Him to drink was to take upon Himself the sins of the world (John 18:11). He was born to bear witness to the Truth of God to those who would put their faith and trust in Him (John 18:37). The purpose of the life of Jesus Christ, and thus His birth, was to pay a debt that we all owe, yet none of us can pay. He came not to teach us how to be nice to one another, but that we might be forgiven of our sins by the laying down of His life on our behalf. Quite plainly, Jesus came to this Earth that He might die for our offenses and be raised for our justification (Romans 4:25). This is the True Meaning of Christmas. Merry Christmas.

To God goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

Would You Have Gone To The Manger? (Repost)

"When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him." (Matthew 2:3)

[ First, I just want to apologize that it took me so long to respond to all of the excellent comments I received on the last post. I really value the feedback that people take the time to share and always do my best to promptly acknowledge their comments. I know that everyone is really busy this week and things have certainly been hectic here 🙂 rather than posting anything new in our studies in Exodus and Romans, I would like to re-post the following Christmas article I wrote last year around this time. May the Lord bless you all during this Christmas season and I look forward to what God has in store in the coming year!]

Anyone who has ever seen a Christmas pageant, or read the Book of Luke, or maybe even just seen “Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special”, with the memorable recitation of  Luke 2:8-14 by the character Linus, is familiar with the angelic announcement of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Glory to God in the highest!”, the angel proclaims.

But to whose ears did this monumental announcement come? A handful of shepherds who were tending their flocks in the countryside around Bethlehem. God could have commissioned His angel to carry this Message to the courts of the mightiest kings and rulers in all the Earth, even to the court of Caesar Augustus himself. But He did not. Instead, He sent the news to those who would welcome it, to those whose hearts were ready to receive their Savior.

Some time after Jesus was born, the wise men from the East entered Jerusalem. They followed the customary practice and, being that they were searching for a King, went straight to the local palace. They did not inquire of the local shepherds, they did not search the stables and feeding troughs of the city. For it was the King of the Jews Who had been born, would not the local king in Jerusalem have known where He was? Wouldn’t he have welcomed the birth of the Messiah?

“When Herod heard these things he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3)

Does it not seem that the verse should read, “When Herod heard these things he was delighted?” How is it that anyone, upon hearing news that the long-awaited Savior of mankind has been born, would be troubled by this? But he was. Not only that, all of Jerusalem was troubled with him (which makes it implausible that there were only three magi who had arrived in Jerusalem. The whole city was in a commotion, suggesting that there were most likely anywhere from several dozen to a couple of hundred “wise men” riding into town). The shepherds rejoiced and praised God when they had visited the Lord Jesus (Luke 2:20), they went with haste to see what the angel had told them of (Luke 2:16). But Herod first became concerned, then irritated, then angry over the whole matter. The wise men who came seeking the Child rejoiced with exceeding joy upon seeing the guiding star again (Matthew 2:10), while Herod interrogated the priests and scribes about the place where the Messiah was to be born (Matthew 2:4). The wise men worshiped Him when they found Him (2:11), but Herod sought to have the Baby killed (2:16).

What remarkably different reactions to the news of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ we see between the wise men and Herod, and between the shepherds around Bethlehem and the citizenry of Jerusalem. How is it that the very same news, the exact same proclamation of the Savior’s birth, could elicit two completely opposite responses? The birth of Jesus should have been heralded by the entire world, His coming should have been proclaimed with great joy from the mightiest palaces to the lowliest hovels throughout the entire land. Herod’s ruse was that he, too, desired to worship the newborn King (Matthew 2:8), but that should have been exactly what he did. Even Caesar should have come to see the Lord at His birth, but instead he busied himself making sure that all the people of his empire were accounted for. While he occupied himself with assuring that no resident of Rome would slip through the cracks and fail to pay what was deemed their share of taxes, the One Who could have given him eternal life was born within his borders, and he did not even notice.

Herod’s problem was that he saw himself as the “king of the Jews.” A wicked man, hungry for power, he had no interest in sharing his kingdom with anyone, even if it was God in the flesh. Without a doubt, Caesar would have responded in kind at the notion that there was One Whose Kingdom would overshadow his own. We may not have earthly kingdoms of our own over which we rule, but each one of us also sits upon a throne before we learn of Jesus Christ. That throne is the throne of our own lives, the throne of doing things our own way, the throne of seeking after our own interests. Herod would have had to concede that he was not the one in ultimate control of his own kingdom had he bowed his knee to Jesus, something he was entirely unwilling to do. For many people, the thought of abdicating their own throne to make room for Jesus is just as troubling.

This Christmas, many people will “celebrate” the birth of Jesus Christ by spending money on loved ones, eating huge dinners, or attending Christmas parties. They will be busying themselves with enlarging their own kingdoms and sitting steadfast on their own thrones. They will tell others, “Merry Christmas”, but will give no thought at all to the One Who was born in the manger, the One Whose birth the angel announced on that night long ago. Oh, they might sing a song or two about Him, or give away a few greeting cards with a nativity scene on it, but their gesture will be as hollow as Herod’s: Let me sing this Christmas carol, that I may worship Him, too. And all the while they are greatly troubled by the notion that there is a rightful Ruler Who wishes to reign in their own heart.

We must all ask ourselves if we are like the shepherds and the magi, or if we are like Herod and the people of Jerusalem. Do we welcome the news of His coming, or are we troubled by it? Would we have gone to the manger to see the newborn King, or would we have simply gone about our daily lives, as if He had not come? When the announcement that the Lord Jesus Christ has come and that He is the rightful King and Ruler of our hearts falls upon our own ears, we must decide if we will make room for Him to reign on the throne, or if we are more interested in clinging to our own place there.

Would You Have Gone To The Manger?

"When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him." (Matthew 2:3)

Anyone who has ever seen a Christmas pageant, or read the Book of Luke, or maybe even just seen “Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special”, with the memorable recitation of  Luke 2:8-14 by the character Linus, is familiar with the angelic announcement of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Glory to God in the highest!”, the angel proclaims.

But to whose ears did this monumental announcement come? A handful of shepherds who were tending their flocks in the countryside around Bethlehem. God could have commissioned His angel to carry this Message to the courts of the mightiest kings and rulers in all the Earth, even to the court of Augustus Caesar himself. But He did not. Instead, He sent the news to those who would welcome it, to those whose hearts were ready to receive their Savior.

Some time after Jesus was born, the wise men from the East entered Jerusalem. They followed the customary practice and, being that they were searching for a King, went straight to the local palace. They did not inquire of the local shepherds, they did not search the stables and feeding troughs of the city. For it was the King of the Jews Who had been born, would not the local king in Jerusalem have known where He was? Wouldn’t he have welcomed the birth of the Messiah?

“When Herod heard these things he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3)

Does it not seem that the verse should read, “When Herod heard these things he was delighted?” How is it that anyone, upon hearing news that the long-awaited Savior of mankind has been born, would be troubled by this? But he was. Not only that, all of Jerusalem was troubled with him (which makes it implausible that there were only three magi who had arrived in Jerusalem. The whole city was in a commotion, suggesting that there were most likely anywhere from several dozen to a couple of hundred “wise men” riding into town). The shepherds rejoiced and praised God when they had visited the Lord Jesus (Luke 2:20), they went with haste to see what the angel had told them of (Luke 2:16). But Herod first became concerned, then irritated, then angry over the whole matter. The wise men who came seeking the Child rejoiced with exceeding joy upon seeing the guiding star again (Matthew 2:10), while Herod interrogated the priests and scribes about the place where the Messiah was to be born (Matthew 2:4). The wise men worshiped Him when they found Him (2:11), but Herod sought to have the Baby killed (2:16).

What remarkably different reactions to the news of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ we see between the wise men and Herod, and between the shepherds around Bethlehem and the citizenry of Jerusalem. How is it that the very same news, the exact same proclamation of the Savior’s birth, could elicit two completely opposite responses? The birth of Jesus should have been heralded by the entire world, His coming should have been proclaimed with great joy from the mightiest palaces to the lowliest hovels throughout the entire land. Herod’s ruse was that he, too, desired to worship the newborn King (Matthew 2:8), but that should have been exactly what he did. Even Caesar should have come to see the Lord at His birth, but instead he busied himself making sure that all the peoples of his empire were accounted for. While he occupied himself with assuring that no resident of Rome would slip through the cracks and fail to pay what was deemed their share of taxes, the One Who could have given him eternal life was born within his borders, and he did not even notice.

Herod’s problem was that he saw himself as the “king of the Jews.” A wicked man, hungry for power, he had no interest in sharing his kingdom with anyone, even if it was God in the flesh. Without a doubt, Caesar would have responded in kind at the notion that there was One Whose Kingdom would overshadow his own. We may not have earthly kingdoms of our own over which we rule, but each one of us also sits upon a throne before we learn of Jesus Christ. That throne is the throne of our own lives, the throne of doing things our own way, the throne of seeking after our own interests. Herod would have had to concede that he was not the one in ultimate control of his own kingdom had he bowed his knee to Jesus, something he was entirely unwilling to do. For many people, the thought of abdicating their own throne to make room for Jesus is just as troubling.

This Christmas, many people will “celebrate” the birth of Jesus Christ by spending money on loved ones, eating huge dinners, or attending Christmas parties. They will be busying themselves with enlarging their own kingdoms and sitting steadfast on their own thrones. They will tell others, “Merry Christmas”, but will give no thought at all to the One Who was born in the manger, the One Whose birth the angel announced on that night long ago. Oh, they might sing a song or two about Him, or give away a few greeting cards with a nativity scene on it, but their gesture will be as hollow as Herod’s: Let me sing this Christmas carol, that I may worship Him, too. And all the while they are greatly troubled by the notion that there is a rightful Ruler Who wishes to reign in their own heart.

We must all ask ourselves if we are like the shepherds and the magi, or if we are like Herod and the people of Jerusalem. Do we welcome the news of His coming, or are we troubled by it? Would we have gone to the manger to see the newborn King, or would we have simply gone about our daily lives, as if He had not come? When the announcement that the Lord Jesus Christ has come and that He is the rightful King and Ruler of our hearts falls upon our own ears, we must decide if we will make room for Him to reign on the throne, or if we are more interested in clinging to our own place there.