On the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, serious shoppers report early-some several hours before the stores open-- in the morning for line up at the doors of retailers. Decorative lights, Christmas music filling the air, Nativity scenes, public lighting of the trees, people busily shopping, traveling, overeating, etc. Yes, Christmas is an exciting time of the year in America.
At the same time Christmas for some can be among the loneliest times of the year. Many people cannot be with the one or ones they love, or they have no loved ones to be with. Christmas can also be a depressing time of the year. For as those with money go about shopping, traveling, and feasting, they reinforce the impoverishment of those who have not.
Not only does the world get carried away with celebrating Christmas in the aforesaid errant way, but also the people of God do the same, and they know this has little to do with the true meaning of Christmas. One of the things I love doing during each Yuletide is that of reading the biblical accounts of the birth of Christ to help me properly focus on the real meaning of Christmas for Christians. In this article my purpose is to bring our conscience to bear on that reality.
To find the true meaning of Christmas we need look no further than the account of Joseph's dream recorded in the book of Matthew, chapter 1. Having found out that Mary was pregnant, and being convinced she had been unfaithful to him, Joseph considered putting her away privately. The angel of the Lord intervened and spoke to him in a dream about this special child Mary would have.
"She shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins," the angel explained (Matthew 1:21). Names were significant in biblical times. For instance, when Abram was ninety-nine years old and God promised to multiply the old man's seed, God changed Abram's name to Abraham, because this new name referred to a father of a great multitude (see Genesis 17:5). Similarly, the baby that Mary would bring forth was assigned a name from heaven because he would be the Savior of the world. The name Jesus literally means "Jehovah is salvation."
Jesus came to a sin-sick world. Men were helpless against the power of sin. He came to rescue men from their sins. Had this intervention from heaven not occurred, sin would have brought humanity to its demise! To people of faith, this is what Christmas is all about.
Secondly, the angel explained that this child-born of a virgin-- would be called "Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us" (verse 23). The message conveyed here is that this baby would be deity. "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form" (Col. 2:9, NIV). Christ was born a baby like any other child, and he had to be cared for by His earthly parents, yet He embodied the fullness of deity! So literally, when Christ was born among us God was with us.
I believe we have not even begun to tap the vastness of the meaning of "God with us." Yes, it is true that because Jesus was fully God, when Christ was born among us God was with us, but it goes farther-much farther than physical presence:
The angel revealed that Jesus' birth to a virgin and the fact that He would be called Emmanuel were fulfillments of the words of the prophet (Matthew 1:22). This is a reference to the prophet Isaiah. During his days King Ahaz, king of Judah sought God's help against the kings of Syria and of Israel who had joined forces against him (see Isaiah 7:1). God promised He would be with Ahaz. One sign God promised, though it would be over 700 years later, was that a child would be born of a virgin and that His name would be called Immanuel (verse 14).
As I stated above, names were significant in biblical times. Accordingly, Jesus would be called Emmanuel because 1) His being among us constituted God being physically with us, and 2) Jesus' birth was the sign God promised Ahaz to signal that He was with him.
The latter is the awesome good news about the birth of Jesus. Though He has returned to heaven, we are still living in the era that God is with us. That means we don't have to face the battles of life alone!
Think about it. Before the angel spoke to Joseph, the people of God had not heard from Him in several hundred years. The last recorded word from God came from the prophet Malachi, a fourth century B.C. prophet. The Jews knew of the many Messianic prophecies that were mentioned in the Old Testament. They read them in the synagogues on the Sabbath day. But after hundreds of years of silence from heaven the Jews must have wondered if ever the prophecies would be fulfilled. Then the angel of the Lord spoke to Joseph, and said that Jesus would be called Emmanuel because His birth would be a sign that God was with His people. Even heaven was excited about announcing the birth of Christ: "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, good will toward men" (Luke 2:13-14). A star from heaven guided wise men of the east to the location where Jesus was located (Matthew 2:9).
Vital point: Though Christmas day is the one day we have set aside to commemorate the birth of our Lord, God's will is that we experience the spirit of Christmas not just yearly but daily. That means that every day our life should be enriched by the fact that we have been saved from our sins and that no matter what we face in life God is with us.
The world comes on strong during the Yuletide. If we are not diligent, we will find ourselves sucked in. We will spend all our monies at the mall and have nothing to bring to the house of God the following Sunday. We will become so worn out from shopping and cleaning, etc. that we are too tired to worship the Lord of Christmas. We will get in so much debt that come February the following year, we will be overwhelmed once the credit card bills come in.
By contrast, what the angel revealed to Joseph about the birth of Christ is the message on which we must remain focused.
It is great that we buy gifts for others and gather to be with our loved ones. Many charities and organizations come together to aid the less fortunate during this time of the year that they too might experience some Christmas cheers. For some family members, Christmas is the only time they come together for whatever reasons there are. A holiday that inspires such good can't be all bad. Many of the people these noble acts bring us into contact with during Christmas, however, don't know Christ. The question is, how much of an effort do we make for them to come to know Him that they might know the real meaning of Christmas?
We will spend billions of dollars this year buying gifts for Christmas. Christ came to save us from our sins and that God might be with us. This awesome gift from God to us is priceless and perfect for all. Regardless to what other circumstances you might be experiencing during this Yuletide, may your Christmas be filled with the spirit of this truth.