The excitement is almost palpable. One can’t help but notice the jolly faces and the height of expectation as Christmas approaches. Christmas lights went up as early as mid-November where I live. Streets are sparkling when you go out at night. Christmas music everywhere. The line-up of entertainment activities is endless—from festive foods, to customised Christmas jumpers, circus carols, you name them! In a sense we can say that the whole world is excited about Christmas. That surely must be good for the Church, says someone. After all, nearly everyone (or so it seems) is celebrating a Christian festival. Everyone is excited about the commemoration of our Lord’s birth—at least for a few weeks. Isn’t that something to be glad about?
But alas, it seems to me that Christmas has been hijacked; and here perhaps, Satan has won one of his greatest Satan’s victories. Christmas has never been about wining and dining or decorations. These external depictions that are commonly associated with the season are meaningless if the true meaning of Christmas is relegated to the side-lines.
Not the wine
Nor the opportunity to dine
Not the gifts
Nor the lights
Not the veneer
Of seasonal wishes, no matter how dear
But a proclamation of the greatest act of love!
God come in flesh–mystery divine
The Judge become Saviour
The righteous for the vain
Humble and in a manger
Rejected and slain
My sins and yours upon His shoulder
Atoning sacrifice–that you and I should gain
True Life came at Christmas!
Bursting the bonds
Up He rose, hail!
Free from Satan’s grips and hell
Free from condemnation
Adopted into His family
Spreading the message of reconciliation
Free grace in Jesus through faith in Him only.
This is the message of Christmas!
Christmas is a time when we are reminded of our need for a saviour. The true Christmas spirit, is one that glories over the gift of God’s Son to a world that is steeply plunging into perversion and perdition. Christmas reminds us of our great sin, and God’s great sacrifice to turn rebel mankind back to Himself. On the contrary, the Christmas spirit of the age is one which says you’re a good person as long as you’re nice and kind for a few weeks (during Christmas).
Suddenly during Christmas, everyone is generous and giving away presents. Enemies are encouraged to make peace—even if it’s just for a few weeks. Friends and families get together for meals, and for a few weeks it’s all cheer and jolly. We are easily misled to think that man is not so evil after all. We can be good if we want to. Certainly, Christmas proves we are naturally kind at heart. Occasional church-goers pride themselves that they at least attend the Christmas and end-of-year services. One of such occasional ‘worshippers’ told me once, “I like the positive feeling I get each time I attend the mass at Easter and Christmas. You really get a true sense of God’s presence. I like that sort of feeling.” This I believe is where we have fallen prey to Satan’s sly tactics. Attending a service or two throughout the year, and an occasional show of kindness do not automatically make us good in God’s sight.
Scripture labours the point that we are not good by nature (Jer. 17:9; Romans 3:10-13). Not that we can’t do any good at all, the question at stake is not to be able to do good for a season or most of the time, but to meet God’s standard of holiness. Truth is, we fall short miserably (Rom. 3:23; Isa. 53:6, 11). That’s why Christ came. The one from whom we were estranged, and the one who will judge all our actions on the last day, became like us to save us. He identified with us at Christmas, and took our place and died for our sins. Jesus became our substitute at Christmas. Through His sacrifice—by believing in what He did on our behalf–we can be reconciled to God (John 3:16, 2Cor. 5:19).
The modern spirit of Christmas is a deception. Our superficial and temporal acts of goodness can’t make things right between us and God. J. I. Packer captures this deceptive spirit of the age aptly in his writing¹ thus:
Modern men and women …naturally incline to a high opinion of themselves…in the moral realm they are absolutely kind to themselves, treating small virtues as compensating for great vices and refusing to take seriously the idea that, morally speaking, there is anything much wrong with them. They tend to dismiss a bad conscience, in themselves and in others, as an unhealthy psychological freak, a sign of disease and mental aberration rather than an index of moral reality. For modern men and women are convinced that despite their little peccadilloes – drinking, gambling, reckless driving, sexual laxity, black and white lies, sharp practice in trading, dirty reading, and what have you—they are at heart thoroughly good folks. Then, as pagans do (and the modern heart is pagan – make no mistake about that), they imagine God as a magnified image of themselves, and assume that God shares their own complacency about themselves. The thought of themselves as creatures fallen from God’s image, rebels against God’s rule, guilty and unclean in God’s sight, fit only for God’s condemnation, never enters their heads.
More and more the focus of the season has shifted from Christ—even the songs that are passed off these days as Christmas carols have little or nothing to do with Christ. The irony is, people are happy to chat about Santa, elves, travel plans and socials, but hate the mention of Christ at Christmas. But there can be no Christmas without Christ. Christmas is a proclamation of the glad tidings that whilst we fail to meet God’s mark, God has Himself provided a way by which we can approach His presence. The Son of God came down at Christmas that we might become sons of God. Thomas Binney² articulates this beautifully:
Eternal Light! Eternal Light!
How pure the soul must be,
When, placed within thy searching sight,
It shrinks not, but with calm delight
Can live and look on thee.
The spirits that surround thy throne
May bear the burning bliss;
But surely that is theirs alone
Who, undefiled, have never known
A fallen world like this.
O how shall I, whose native sphere
Is dark, whose mind is dim,
Before the Ineffable appear,
And on my naked spirit bear
The uncreated beam?
There is a way for man to rise
To that sublime abode:
An offering and a sacrifice,
A Holy Spirit’s energies,
An Advocate with God:
These, these prepare us for the sight
Of holiness above:
The sons of ignorance and night
May dwell in the eternal Light,
Through the eternal Love!
Let’s tell everyone about it!
1. J. I. Packer, Knowing God; pp. 146-147.
2. Thomas Binney, 1798-1874.