The Meaning of Christmas

      Christmas—for the Christian—is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Savior, into a needy world (Luke 1:26-38). For me, the birth of Jesus evokes wonderful emotions. This is because I see His birth as the beginning of something larger, which included His whole life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. If we look only at the birth of Christ, we miss the larger theological message of the Gospels. We should keep in mind that only two chapters mention the birth of Christ, whereas thirty eight chapters mention His death.

     Christmas is about the gift of God to a fallen world. Nearly 2000 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 (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).

     Christmas is about all that is marvelous in Christ, from birth onward, who provides blessing and hope to those who cast themselves upon Him. May we all find joy in the Savior, who loved us and gave Himself for us. Amen

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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When was Jesus Born?

     On what day was Jesus born? No one knows exactly. The Bible does not say. Most people who lived during the first century did not celebrate birthdays. The early Church Fathers were confronted with several dates for our Lord’s birth. For example, “Clement of Alexandria says that some place it on April 20, others on May 20.”[1] It was not until the fourth century A.D. that the church was seriously divided over the matter. The Western Church in Rome celebrated December 25th, while the Eastern Church in Alexandria celebrated January 6th. Myers writes:

In the Western church, the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord was first celebrated on December 25 ca. A.D. 336, the date apparently chosen to counter the Roman feast Natalis Solis Invicti (“birth of the unconquered sun”), the birthday of Emperor Aurelius. In Alexandria and the Eastern churches the event was originally celebrated on January 6 in connection with the Feast of the Epiphany honoring Jesus’ baptism; some branches of the Eastern church still hold to this date.[2]

1054792       We are not sure of the day, or even the year of Jesus’ birth. Scripture does mention historical events, people, and places associated with the birth of Jesus, and this helps narrow the time the Savior came into the world. The Gospel of Luke states, “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria” (Luke 2:1-2). Matthew, in his Gospel account, records the historical event concerning Herod’s effort to kill the baby Jesus. Herod died in 4 B.C., and since Jesus was less than two years of age when Herod ordered the killing of the infants (Matt 2:16), then Jesus’ birth would fall sometime between 6 and 4 B.C. Though the matter of an exact year and day of Jesus’ birth is uncertain, the Bible plainly states that Jesus is a real historical Person who was born in time and space (read Matthew chapters 1-2 and Luke chapters 1-2). Concerning the season of His birth, Jesus could have been in the late winter, but that’s unlikely. It was probably spring or summer because the shepherds where in the field with their flocks (Luke 2:8). I know a lot of Christians who are very dogmatic about December 25th being the day Jesus was born, and there’s simply no biblical or historical evidence to make the case. What’s important is THAT He was born. 

       Biblically, Christians are not commanded to celebrate Christmas or any other holiday. This is unlike the Israelites in the OT who were required to keep the Passover (Lev 23:5), Feast of Unleavened Bread (Lev 23:6), Feast of First Fruits (Lev 23:9-14), Feast of Weeks (Deut 16:10), Feast of Trumpets (Num 29:1), Feast of Booths (Lev 23:34), and the Day of Atonement (Lev 16). The Jewish feasts were a part of the Mosaic Law, and since that law code is no longer in effect (Rom 6:14; Heb 8:13), the feasts are not obligatory for God’s people. For Christians, it’s really a matter of Christian liberty to celebrate Christmas or not. Personally, I do not celebrate Christmas, but that’s because I have no children. However, if I had children, I suspect I would do something for the kiddos. I would not lie and tell them about Santa Claus, or that it was the day Jesus was born, when in fact no one really knows.  

       There are two chapters of the Bible that mention Jesus’ birth, whereas thirty eight chapters mention His death. Both His birth and death are important, but the Scripture emphasizes the latter. Jesus was born into the world to be our substitute on the cross. John the Baptist called Him the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). And Jesus went willingly to the cross to die in our place. Jesus said “I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:15), and “no one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative” (John 10:18). Jesus willingly died in our place, for our benefit (Gal 2:20; Eph 5:25; Heb 7:27; 9:14), and through His death we have forgiveness of sins and the gifts of eternal life and righteousness (John 3:16; 10:27-28; 2 Cor 5:21; Eph 1:7; 2:8-9; Phil 3:9; 1 Pet 3:18).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Merrill Frederick Unger, R. K. Harrison, Howard Frederic Vos et al., “Christmas” The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Rev. and updated ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 227.

[2] Allen C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 210-11.