"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Thursday, December 21, 2006

What Is Christmas About? (I)

Let's face it, while people in the west may still have some inkling of why Christmas is important to the church, by and large that has been lost in Santa Claus, reindeer, snowmen, and shopping (especially shopping). So they see a nativity scene and recognize that Christmas has something to do with the birth of Jesus (maybe). But why is that birth so significant? After all, He would live thirty years before He would start His earthly ministry.

To help answer that question (Why is this birth so significant?) I want to look at three common terms that are associated with Christmas. That they are associated with Christmas is great. But today, we have lost why they are associated with Christmas and have other ideas about why they are important. These ideas are all linked to the Christmas tradition of exchanging presents. By the time I'm done (Christmas morning, if the Lord wills) you will hopefully understand why Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is the anti-Christmas story.

Christmas is about giving

Children learn this early, though for many Christmas is actually about receiving. Sometime after Thanksgiving, a tree is brought into the house and decorated. Sometime after that, neatly (or not so neatly) wrapped packages begin to show up under the tree. Christmas presents. Gifts bought (or brought, if you use the Santa myth) for those who have been nice (and apparently the naughty too since people get gifts). But why did the idea of giving come to be associated with Christmas?

Because the Father gave the Son. The most famous verse of the Bible (John 3:16) says "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." The greatest gift ever given was the Father's gift to sinful man - His only begotten Son. Wrapped not in brightly colored paper, but in swaddling clothes. Not placed on display under a tree, but in a manger. Not a gift that we asked for, but the only gift that could meet our deepest need, the need for a savior.

This fact so amazed the Apostle John that he not only recorded it in his gospel, but also in his first epistle (1 John 4:9) where he wrote, "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him." Sent is another way of saying gave. We need to tell the world that the baby in a manger is significant because that was not just any baby, it was the incarnate Son of God given by the Father to save His people. The angel tells Joseph (Matthew 1:21) that "(Mary) will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

How would He save His people from their sins? By giving His life for them. Jesus told His disciples (Mark 10:45), "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." That little baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, had a purpose. Jesus came not primarily to show us how we should live, though He did that. He came not primarily to condemn the religious hypocrisy of that day, though He did that too. Jesus came with specific intent of dying, and not an easy death either.

The writers of the New Testament are very clear on this point. The cross was not a surprise to the Father or to Jesus. They did not fall back to plan B when the Jews would not receive Jesus as their Messiah. The cross was plan A and there was not plan B. Peter told the crowd at Pentecost (Acts 2:23) that "this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." Paul says at least three times that Jesus "gave Himself" for us (Galatians 1:4 - who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father; 1 Timothy 2:6 - who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time;
Titus 2:14 - who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.)

Christmas truly is about giving. It is about the Father giving the Son and the Son giving His life. All that we might be reconciled to God. But why would God do this? That has to be a cliff-hanger.


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