Christmas is here with us again. It is a period of excitement and celebrations filled with decorations, lights, merry making, lots of food and drinks. Families are getting ready, setting up trees, decorating their homes and buying gifts just in time for the celebrations. There are those, who though, will not describe themselves as Christians are equally engaged in a feverish preparation towards the season.
In the midst of all these preparations and excitement, the obvious question any curious observer cannot avoid asking is what is the excitement all about? In our materialistic and consumption-driven society, it is possible to see Christmas as an end of year party; a time to indulge and be merry. It is therefore important to pause and reflect on the significance of Christmas.
Rather than taking our idea of Christmas from the “retail outlets”, “Hollywood” and “merry making”, we must as a matter of necessity turn to the Bible in search of understanding what Christmas is about. Paul, one of the prominent authors in the Bible gives us a clue on what Christmas is about. In his letter to the Galatians, he writes:
But when the fullness of time had come God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5).
These two verses point us to three important truths about Christmas.
(I) The birth of Christ
(II) The Mission of Christ
(III) The implications for Man.
The Birth of Christ
Christmas is the day Christians celebrate the birth of Christ. This does not mean Jesus was born on the 25th of December. In fact, the Bible doesn’t tell us the exact date Jesus was born, however early Christians adopted this date to celebrate the birth of Christ. Regardless of whether it is the exact date or not; what matters is that Jesus was a historic figure. He was born and once lived here on earth. The birth of Jesus was a long awaited event; the entire universe was in anticipation of His coming! The phrase “when the fullness of time had come” used by Paul in v 4 alludes to this fact. Prophet after prophet had prophesied about his coming long before his arrival, seven centuries before his arrival, the prophet Isaiah had this to say:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this (Isaiah 9:2-7).
The same anticipation and longing is reflected in some of the most popular advent songs like these two:
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel
Come, Thou long-expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee
Israel’s strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth Thou art
Dear Desire of every nation
Joy of every longing hear
The question is; why was the birth of Christ such an anticipated event? To be able to answer this question rightly, one must go back in time to the creation of the world. The Bible tells us that God created the entire universe with all its beauty. Then He said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Gen. 1:26). With authority and dominion, also came responsibility and obedience towards God. “the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:16-17). The penalty of death spoken of wasn’t just a physical death, it was a separation from God the source of life for all eternity.
We read that the devil came to man questioning the intentions of God for instructing him not to eat from that particular tree. He rebutted, “For God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God”. The thought of becoming like God appealed to man, and sadly sided with the devil and disobeyed God’s command. That’s how sin entered the world. Sin is a rebellion against a holy God, it is treason and a rejection of God’s rightful rule. Ever since then, all of us who have descended from Adam and Eve have inherited an innate predisposition to reject God’s rightful rule over us. From the one day old baby to the 120 year old adult, we have all gone astray and chosen a position that is against God.
God’s words were very clear, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die”. From that time onward Adam and Eve were separated from God both physically and spiritually. Justice demanded that man be condemned. If God didn’t punish sin, he would not be God. Just as all who have descended from Adam inherited his sin, so have we all earned that condemnation from God. God put up Christ as a propitiation for our sins to reconcile humankind to Himself (1 John 2:2).
In the fullness of time, God through the Holy Spirit over-shadowed a virgin who was betrothed to be married to Joseph. When the circumstances were right, God sent his Son to be born of woman, born under the law. He took on the form of a man to identify with humanity, and was born under the same law that condemned man. He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17)
The Mission of Christ
The second thing we note about Christmas relates to the mission of Christ. Paul writes in Galatians 4:5, the reason Jesus was born was “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Jesus was born with a mission and that is why we can never talk about his birth without mentioning his mission. It wasn’t the case that Jesus was born and later discovered that he was the Messiah. No! Right from the beginning he was born to redeem his people from the judgement of God, which we had justly incurred upon ourselves.
Our predicament was twofold. We were supposed to live a perfect life, which we couldn’t. As a result, there was a death penalty hanging around our necks. Just like our twofold predicament, our need is also twofold. We need someone who could live our perfect life and someone who would die our death. There was no way we could make amends by ourselves. As Christians we are realistic about this; our problem rrequires an external intervention. Jesus the Son of God was able to fulfill both of these needs. He was the only one born of a woman who never sinned, and unlike Adam he obeyed the Father perfectly. And not only that, he was crucified for the punishment that he never deserved. God approved of his sacrifice by raising him from the dead on the third day and has given him a name above every other name (Philippians 2:9-11).
By these two acts, Jesus fulfilled the just demands of the Law and God has said “… if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:9-10). Peter, echoing the same point says “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteousness, that he might bring us to God.” (1 Peter 3:18).
The Implications for Man
Is this the hope fueling your excitement about Christmas? If it is, then you can go on and set up your Christmas tree, buy your gifts and have yourself a merry Christmas. Get together with families and friends and recount the wonders of His love as you celebrate in excitement. If not, there is no reason to be excited because you are still in your sins and the judgement of God still hangs over your head. And just as in the fullness of time God was true to his promise in sending his only Son to come into the world, he has also appointed a time when Jesus will come back as a judge to execute judgement on all who have continued in their rebellion and not turned to Christ (Acts 17:31).
The message of Christmas is not just a story; it’s a message that demands a response! As you read about this news of great joy, what is your decision? Today is the day of salvation, repent and trust in Jesus for the redemption of your soul.
The eternal Son of God became man that we might become children of God. Merry Christmas!