I recently lamented how it has been difficult to find much in the way of truly Christmas-oriented literature and entertainment. For example, just last week I was trying to find a Christmas concert to attend with Alean, and was unable to do so. I found ugly sweater contests, Christmas Bounce-Offs at the local trampoline gym, Christmas beer-fests, and of course, the various retail gimmicks designed to entice me to attend and purchase their store’s wares.
To date, I’ve been unable to find a televised movie depicting the actual birth narrative. I’ve seen every form of “Santa” movie imaginable (most just silly – some downright offensive), feel-good Hallmarkesque movies wherein some jerk has a traumatic wake-up call and becomes a nice guy, and even the Christmas music has fallen into this downward spiral. “Let’s give thanks to the Lord above, ’cause Santa Claus is comin’ tonight,” or “Simply having a marvelous Christmas time.” Give me “O’ Holy Night,” please!
I have no intention of diving into the various debates that swirl around the origins of Christmas, and whether or not much of the ritual was stolen from paganism (I have little doubt that it was, the same way much of our hymnology was set to the tune of pub songs). I can only say that I want to focus on what is, for me, the true meaning behind was I am celebrating at Christmas.
Though I participate in these traditions, Christmas has little to do with gifts under the tree, or even the tree itself, the lights on the house, though our home is well-decorated, or turkey dinner with the family, even though we have a turkey thawing in the garage as I write this. I’m not worried about whether the Walmart checker greets me with “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays.” All of that is nice, but it isn’t what captures my attention.
For the Christ-follower, Christmas is an acknowledgment of that moment God entered the human experience, taking on literal flesh, experiencing a human birth complete with every authentic human emotion and experience common to us all, and going beyond that to the endurance of the most horrific human death available at that time.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. – Luke 2:1-20, ESV
What we just read is the story of the ultimate expression of love. Jesus came with a purpose, and he never lost sight of that purpose. We read in the letter to Hebrews:
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'” – Hebrews 10:5-7
Jesus was born with the purpose of reconciling us, in our sin, to a sinless God. Everything carries a price-tag, and that reality includes our sin. Jesus redeemed us from that price-tag debt, that curse. Jesus made it possible for the sinful and the sinless to be reconciled and to co-exist. Not only that, we are adopted into a royal family, a family of deity. We become sons and daughters of God (1 John 3:2, Isaiah 56:5, Romans 8:14-17, Galatians 3:26).
As cliché as it is, Jesus truly is the reason for the season. Thank God in heaven for taking the initiative and paying the price to reconcile us to himself.