Normally my wife and I complete our Christmas shopping around September. More often than not we purchase our gifts while traveling, giving our family and friends a small piece of the world we have encountered beyond the rat race of Southern California. The last few years, however, we have not had the opportunity to travel far and wide as we were once able to. So, as a result, in preparation for Christmas, we have been splitting our time between the mall and Wal-mart, and a handful of specialty stores.
While we were out and about I often heard from folks, as I engaged them in conversation, that they were not real fond of this time of year. The hustle and bustle and stress of the Christmas season was too much for them. They’d rather the New Year hurry up and arrive so that their lives could return to the routine they are used to having.
Stress? What stress? It is Christmas!
They worry about the family get-togethers, the interaction of the different personalities at the reunion, the gifts they will be buying and whether or not they are going to be able to procure this year’s “hot item” – after all, it won’t be “hot” next year (which, I suppose, would mean that it could not possibly be that hot, after all). The kids are arguing, the spouse isn’t cooperating, the in-laws are being demanding, and for some reason the idea of a Christmas present has lost its value of “giving,” and has become more of a competition for who can conjure up the biggest, best, latest and greatest gift of all. So, for many, it is a very stressful time of year.
Even for those not caught up in the stresses mentioned above, just getting home from work can be a stressful endeavor. Traffic is more difficult to navigate through, there are more cars on the road because everyone is heading off to the next big sale. Then, trying to beat everyone to the sales, or whatever it is they are trying to get to, people drive more erratic around the Holidays. Drunk drivers get mixed into the mess, and so driving in its own right can make this a very stressful time of year.
For many years I was not real thrilled about the Holiday Season, either. For many years I was frustrated during the approach of Christmas. This stress that I held was largely due to the attitude of people, the fact that they really didn’t care about what Christmas is truly all about. They care more about getting the biggest Christmas Tree, decorating their house so that it is the most elaborate on the block, buying the biggest gifts, receiving even bigger and more expensive gifts, partying until they puke . . . but, it is not for me to worry about all of that.
The way people are during Christmas cannot be my primary concern. That is not the point of Christmas. The whole reason for the season is something much bigger.
The Christmas Season is not about us giving to each other, although that is a large part of it. Believe me, I appreciate being able to see people giving to each other, even if in some cases the motive behind it may not be honorable. But Christmas is more about our failure as a species. How we fall short of the Glory of God.
We are a flawed species. We are unable, on our own power, to earn God’s love. We are just not capable of it. We are riddled with sin. But God, in His infinite love for us, overlooks our inability to be righteous enough for him. He loves us so much that He wanted to give us the opportunity, despite our failures, to still commune with Him – to still have a relationship with Him – and to have the promise of eternity with Him.
God is not expecting us to get our lives straightened out. He is not expecting us to get it right, to improve ourselves through our own power. Ultimately, we can’t. But that isn’t the point, after all, as I said earlier, we are a flawed species. We foul up. It is in our nature to sin. And because of our sinful nature, our spirits are unable to commune with God. And when it comes to sin, since God is a just God, the sin must be paid for. A price must be paid for sin so that it may be cleared away. And a payment to God for sin has always been with blood.
In the Old Testament the atonement for sin was was the sacrifice of an innocent animal – a lamb, normally. Blood had to be shed to atone for sin. The ultimate lamb, Christ, was offered for all of humanity roughly two thousand years ago. The blood of Christ blankets our sin so that once someone accepts Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they are able to commune with God again. Their spirit is enlivened, hence, the term “born again.”
This gift was originally offered to the Israelites, God’s chosen people. The first Christians were Jews. But the leadership, the Jewish elite, rejected Christ as the Messiah. The first Christians, those Messianic Jews, were instructed to also provide the message of Christ’s sacrifice to the Gentiles (the non-Jew). And from there, Christianity grew.
The Christian faith met many challenges, and it struggled in its infancy. It met with persecution by the Romans against the faith, and against the worshipers of Diana, which are very similar to the modern day New Age movement and Secular Humanists. Organizations and groups falsely claiming to be Christian even emerged, though their writings and teachings did not hold to Biblical principles, and in the case of the gnostic gospels, were written hundreds of years after the events they claim to convey.
The underground Christians, the ones that refused to join the Roman Government when Rome, in an effort to quell the battles between Pagans and Christians, declared Christianity the official state religion, were the ones persecuted. They were the ones that kept to biblical principles, and did not allow paganism, and other outside influences, to change the Christian message.
But what is that message? What is the core message behind Christmas? What does this message say? What does it mean?
I am sure you have heard the story of Christ dying on a cross for our sins, and then walking out of the tomb three days later. But that is what the message of Easter is all about. . . the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But Christmas is about His birth. Why is that so spectacularly special, and how does it tie in to the promise of grace?
Christmas is about the beginning of the life of the Savior. Immanuel, the given name of Christ, means “God With Us.” Over seven hundred passages in the Bible refer to the Trinity – or that Jesus Christ is God in the Flesh, while The Father and Holy Spirit (the two other personalities of God) remained in Heaven. The Old Testament is filled with prophecies of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection – of which all but a few have been fulfilled (those few prophecies that haven’t been fulfilled yet are believed to be waiting for the second coming before being fulfilled).
He came to us as a child. A baby. He became one of us. He took human form so that he could communicate God’s message to humanity. Our spirits are dead in sin, remember.
I suppose if I wished to communicate with a member of the animal kingdom, I would have to become one of them. Not only to communicate with them, but to gain an understanding of their lives, and enable them to speak back. So it makes since that God would take human form in order to communicate with us, and to deliver the gift of salvation through a payment in blood.
Jesus Christ was born a humble birth. He was not born in a palace, with trumpets blaring the announcement of His arrival. He was born in a manger. A drinking trough for the barn animals. No inn had room in Bethlehem to take him in. Nobody was willing to give a sleeping space to Joseph, and the pregnant Mary.
Mary faced a lot of her own difficulties during the pregnancy. After all, it was a virgin birth. She was pregnant, but not married. The people in her homeland accused her of being unclean. And even Joseph, at one point, was ready to refuse to marry her – to break off their engagement – or at least until an angel visited him and set him straight.
So here was this baby, God in the flesh, yet human, experiencing what being born as a human is all about. I am sure he was capable of knowing all things and bypassing that stage of life if He so desired. I suppose He could have just jumped up and began talking to everyone, slinging a few lightning bolts around, what have you. But He withheld from that. He allowed Himself the full human experience. He was cold. It was dark. He was lonely. And that is how the Savior of Mankind, the sacrificial lamb of humanity, the eventual bearer of all the world’s sin, God in human flesh, came to be with us.
That is what Christmas is about.
The sacrifice that He made, and the gift of Grace He offered.
Christmas is a celebration of a change in history. A change in direction. An opportunity for mankind to leave the ancient ways. To not have to worry about The Law as The Law was presented, and all the rituals that came with it. Christ fulfilled The Law. And He did it for all sinners, and for all sin, and for all people.
Christ was born an innocent baby in a humble environment, and died that horrific death on a cross at Calvary for everyone. Anyone and everyone has the opportunity to eternity through Him. But, that opportunity must be accepted. To not accept that opportunity, since God is a Just God, there is a penalty for the rejection of Christ. That is the only unpardonable sin. Once Christ is accepted, all other sin is forgiven. That doesn’t give a person a license to sin. Because I love my wife, and because I have a relationship with her, I strive to do what is pleasing to her. And I strive to do things that will improve our relationship. Such is the way it is with Christ.
So while you are out there fighting the crowds during Christmas, or trying to recuperate after Christmas from all of the stress of the season, remember that all of that stuff is not what this time of year is really all about. I mean, the Santa Claus stuff, and the gifts, are a fun part of Christmas, and I enjoy all of that. Having a Christmas Tree, and playing Santa for the kids, creates joyful memories that I will always treasure. But, in the end, that is not ultimately what Christmas is all about. Christmas is about the birth of Christ. The season is about the opportunity for a flawed species to receive a gift of eternal life with the Creator.
It is about what Isaiah 9:6 foretells.