There is an apocryphal story of a little boy who, during the Christmas season, had been praying for several days for a new puppy. Not feeling his prayers were being heard, he went into the living room near the Christmas tree and took the baby Jesus from the nativity scene, returned to his room, stuffed the little figurine in a sock and put it under his pillow. Afterward, he knelt down next to his bed and prayed, “Dear God, if you ever want to see your Son again, you’ll give me what I want.” Obviously, the little boy missed the reason for the season.
So, what is Christmas and why is it celebrated? Christmas is a Christian holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, the Jewish Messiah, Who is the Savior of all who trust in Him for salvation (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; Eph 2:8-9). Unlike the Jewish holidays that were mandated under the Mosaic Law (i.e. Passover, Feast of Booths, Yom Kippur, etc.), Christians are not biblically commanded to celebrate Christmas; rather, it has become a longstanding tradition within the church.
When we think about the birth of Jesus, we should see it within the larger theological context of Scripture, which reveals His righteous life, compassion for the lost, substitutionary death on the cross, burial, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. The death of Jesus is really the major focus of the Bible, as only two chapters mention His birth, whereas thirty-eight chapters mention His death. Borrowing from a previous article I wrote on the meaning of Christmas, Christians should see the birth of Jesus in at least three ways:
- Christmas is about the gift of God to a fallen world. Nearly 2,000 years ago, God the Son added true humanity to Himself (hypostatic union; John 1:1, 14), was supernaturally conceived in the virgin Mary (parthenogenesis; see Luke 1:26-38), the mother of His humanity (christotokos – bearer of Christ), and was born a son of Abraham, in the line David (Matt. 1:1). Jesus grew in wisdom (Luke 2:40, 52), and lived a sinless and righteous life before God and man (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 John 3:5).
- Christmas is about love and sacrifice. On April 3, A.D. 33, Jesus willingly laid down His life and died a substitutionary atoning death on a cross (Mark 10:45; John 3:16; 10:11, 17-18). He died a death He did not deserve, “the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). Jesus’ death forever satisfied every righteous demand God had toward our sin (Rom. 3:24-25; Heb. 10:10-14; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), and is the basis for forgiveness and reconciliation to God (Rom. 5:1-2; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14; 20-22). To those who believe the gospel (1 Cor. 15:3-4), God freely offers the gift of eternal life and the imputation of His righteousness (John 3:16; 10:28; Rom. 5:17; Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9; 1 Pet. 3:18).
- Christmas is about a future hope. After His crucifixion, Jesus was buried and resurrected bodily on the third day (Matt. 20:18-19; Acts 10:39-41; 1 Cor. 15:3-4), never to die again (Rom. 5:9), ascending to heaven (Acts 1:9-10), with a promise of a physical return for His own (John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Tit. 2:13). Following His return, the King of kings and Lord of lords will reign in righteousness for a thousand years (Rev. 19:11-16; 20:1-6), and afterward, will create a “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13; cf. Rev. 21:1).
As we think about the reasons for celebrating Christmas, let us also consider how to live a life that models the One we worship. Like Jesus, may we be willing to accept the Father’s will for us to go where He wants and do what He asks, no matter how difficult the task or great the price. And, may our hearts be motivated by love for others as we give sacrificially for their edification. Lastly, may we learn to keep our eyes on heaven and the future hope that is ours in Christ.
Dr. Steven R. Cook