Christmas is a word which literally means the celebration of Christ. Santa Claus was once real, a good Christian chap remembered for his charity of gifts to the poor. Santa, pine trees, reindeer and snow are common associations with Christmas where most of the world lives.
Down under the equator such associations only have currency through saturation in movies, media and songs we enjoy about Christmas. For us though, things associated with Christmas are sunscreen, beaches, backyard cricket and barbecues. We’re just as likely to have cold meats and salad as roast turkey and other hot food.
There are always those ultra-religious folks though who, while well intended, get more than a little obsessive about the long forgotten associations of Christmas trees with ancient pagan rituals. In trying to refocus society on the real meaning of Christmas they somehow manage to achieve the opposite, and the celebration of Christ gets a little more lost in the clutter of confusing messages and what the Apostle Paul describes as trivial disputes. Those possible roots of modern symbols are best long forgotten, not dredged up.
The very purpose of the birth of Christ was Missio Dei, God’s mission to redeem – to buy back what was originally created by Him from subsequent corruption and curse.
There was a definite plan in Christ’s first coming, one that had been prophesied by many over millennia with virtually impossible coordination. Mankind had rebelled against his Creator and rejected His offer of a loving relationship. Justice itself demanded that such a crime required eternal separation from God, a damned eternity if there ever was one.
There is no justice if there is no accountability for our sin. Current social discontent with ‘soft sentencing’ confirms we all know this, just as we all know that nobody’s perfect. Yet to be invited into the Presence of a Holy God, perfection is the minimum standard – not ‘good’. A life of faith isn’t enough. A price also has to be paid, yet it’s one which no one can afford.
So Jesus set aside His deity, clothed Himself in humanity and set about to become one of us. The necessity of the Virgin birth was that His blood not be contaminated with the inherited nature of sin, because only in the willing sacrifice of His sinless life as one of us could justice be truly, eternally satisfied. The only way for us back to restored relationship with God was going to be this Way. This was His purpose. Of all the world religions, Christianity is unique in offering certainty of salvation through the efforts of God alone and the complete futility of our efforts to earn or even contribute to our salvation in any way. It’s His gift, received only through faith in His Son.
The Kings from the East brought Him gifts of gold, which acknowledged His royalty. They brought Him frankincense, a fragrance used in incense which acknowledged His priesthood. They brought Him myrrh, acknowledging the ritual He would be buried with just 33 years later and the solemn purpose of His birth and life on Earth. They worshipped Him, acknowledging God incarnate.
Perhaps most extraordinary was the appearance of angels to the shepherds, which understandably terrified them. The word angel means messenger of God, so what they said was incredibly important, emphasised even more so by the fact that God saw fit to convey their message with a whole host of angels. They appeared praising God and announcing peace on earth among men in whom God is pleased. This is the Good News of Christmas.
These angels knew that at long last, after millennia of mankind’s separation from God (if not actual war with Him) there was finally a path to peace. All Satan’s plans and schemes in history to stop the Messiah’s birth and purpose had failed and come to nothing.
Now anyone and everyone, no matter their distance from God, who chooses to accept the Christmas gift of God’s friendship and forgiveness, can turn around and be the beneficiary of that peace.
We might be a post-Christian society with an unhealthy an increasing affection for radical secularism, but every Christian holiday stubbornly defies that belief system which authoritarians wish to impose on everyone else. Holiday originally meant holy day. It’s not just a day off. It’s not just about family. It’s a day publicly consecrated to remind us of a divine reality.
Christmas is to remind us of God’s ‘mission impossible’, accepted in the manger and finished on the cross by Jesus. It’s the celebration of Jesus Christ. It’s Christmas.
Dave Pellowe is a writer and speaker and blogs at PelloweTalk.com.
Illustration: The Adoration of the Shepherds, Bartolomé Esteban Marillo, Museo Nacional Del Prado, Madrid.
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