Today the world celebrates, either knowingly or unknowingly, the birth of Jesus Christ.
It must be said that he is the most significant and central figure in all of human history. There are other significant figures, but no man has had more influence on the world than Jesus Christ. By casual observance we know this to be true because the world keeps track of its time based off the year he was born.
Whether one uses the currently preferred secular delineation of B.C.E (Before Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era), or the old delineation of B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini, which means “the year of our Lord”), the line of demarcation is still the same, the birth of Jesus Christ.
Another way that we know that he is the most significant figure in all of human history is that people use his name as a swear word. Why is it that people swear in his name and not the name of their mother or father, or some other religious figure? It is because, for better or worse, he has had the most pervasive effect of any man in all of human history.
None the less, because Jesus is the most important man to ever walk the face of the earth, we have to deal with him, and this time of year reminds us of that fact.
Who is Jesus Christ? In the gospels Jesus asks a most profound question of his disciples. “Who do people say I am?” They answer, “Some say you are John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others one of the prophets.” Then Jesus says, “What about you? Who do you say that I am?” Peter then answered, “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:27-29)
From this exchange we learn that not much has changed since then. First, everyone must still face and give a direct answer to the question, as Peter did; and then second, the opinions still vary today, just as they did then, as to who he is. The occasion of Christmas reminds us of this fact once again in 2020.
I am a Christian and so I obviously believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God and Savior of the World. I believe this because there are good historical and intellectual reasons for believing that the gospel writers got it right when they recorded the claims Jesus made about himself. And then secondly, I believe it because I do not believe that Jesus was deranged, or lying about himself, when he made those claims. That is my way of saying I believe he is the Christ, which means the “Anointed One” or “Messiah.”
This is not a matter of this is “my truth” and that is “your truth.” Jesus either is the eternal Son of God who came down to the world as God incarnated in human flesh in order to save us from the mess we are in, or he didn’t. Both ideas can’t be simultaneously true, and I am letting you know from the outset where I stand on this question.
Now let us consider a few details about the facts of Christmas.
The facts of Christmas
It is true... Christ was born on Christmas day, as the great Christmas hymn so joyously proclaims! It is also true that we celebrate that day on December 25, but we do not know if that is exactly when Jesus was born.
Some scholars think he was born in the winter and some believe he was born in the fall, but the fact of the matter is that we do not know. The New Testament writings do not tell us what month and day he was born, and neither do other historical references to the life of Jesus.
So why do we celebrate his birth on Dec. 25? Some would say because he was born on that day and still others would say we do so because the Catholic Church began to celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25, since that day was a pagan holiday where people worshipped the sun. Consequently, the Church came along and said we do not worship the sun, a red-hot ball of fire, but rather we worship the Son who made the sun, and who is the embodiment of God in human flesh through the birth of the Christ child!
In the northern hemisphere, this date also became important to Christians because of the winter solstice, the shortest and darkest day of the year. Jesus Christ is “the light of the world” (John 8:12) and his light “shines in the darkness,” (John 1:5) even in the darkness of our hearts. “For the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
Some sects of Christianity make a fuss about these things, saying that we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas because it has these pagan underpinnings, but that is most unfortunate. The church did this not to capitulate to paganism but rather to provide an alternative that would declare to the world that Jesus Christ is Lord and Light, not the created energies of life found in creation itself. Therefore, at Christmas we celebrate and worship Christ, “the one through whom all things were made” (the Nicene Creed), and not creation itself.
This is how Christmas came to be, but as we think about the birth of Jesus Christ on this day, it is more important for us to think about the meaning, purpose, and significance of his birth for our lives than it is when he was born, or on what day we should celebrate his birth. In light of that fact, I would like to offer three windows by which we can see Jesus Christ for he truly is.
The Incarnation and Revelation of God
The two great questions of life are does God exist? And if God exists, can I actually know him?
Many of the Founding Fathers of this great nation were Christian and all were Theists, meaning that they at least believed in the existence of God; but not all of them believed that God had personally revealed himself in the world, so that He could be known. This belief we know as Deism, which teaches that God exists but the only evidence that we have for him is creation and natural law. The consequence of such a belief is that God is way off in “never-never land,” while we human beings grope around, trying to figure out who is He is.
Over and against Deism, the Christian faith proclaims to the world that God can be known, because God revealed himself personally to the world in the person of Jesus Christ. That is to say that God has stooped down to our level in order to become man, so that we might know God in a personal way. If we want to know God, if we want to see Him, if we want to relate to God then we go to the Christ Child. For he alone has shown us the very depths of who God is, because he himself is God come down to us.
That was Jesus’ mission in life- to show us the heart of his and Our Heavenly Father! Christ is the one who taught us to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, and to drop our stones and to reach out to the sinner and show the love of God to them and not shun them, as we call them and ourselves to repent of sin and live in the way that God created us to live.
All other revelations of God, be it in creation or in some general religious principle embraced by all the major religions of the world, i.e., “the golden rule,” must be seen in light of Jesus Christ, who is the full and final revelation of God to the world!
In short, if you want to know God personally, go to Christ, for he is “the Word made flesh.” (John 1:14)
The God who comes to be with us in all of our brokenness and sufferings
The second beauty of the Christmas story is that in the person of Jesus Christ God comes down to us in order to wrap his arms around us in all of our suffering. The New Testament speaks of Jesus Christ coming alongside us as our great and merciful High Priest, in order to “sympathize with us in all of our weaknesses.” (Hebrews 4:15)
This is why he was placed in a feeding trough when he was born. It is why he had no place to lay his head, and it is why he was rejected by the masses, including his family and closest friends. Furthermore, it is why he was crucified between two common criminals, so that God could embrace us in our struggles, sufferings, and death. The birth of Christ into the world shows us that God is not immune to, or out of touch with our problems; but rather he has embraced them all in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, because he loves us.
Jesus was born to die so that we might live
But the good news of the gospel is far better than just the news that he has come to identify with us in our sufferings and death. This leads me to my third point. The greatest news of the gospel is that Jesus has come to take way our sins and reconcile us to the Father, so that we may have eternal life, both now in this life and in the life to come.
That is to say that this child was born to die so that we might live! Why must he die in order that we might live? This question takes us to the sobering news that as sinners we are lost and fallen creatures. Why are we lost?
We are lost because of our sin. Unlike Christ, who was born of a virgin, we have a sinful nature that we inherited from our forefather Adam. We do not enter into this world innocent, perfect creatures, but rather as sinners.
It may be hard for us to believe that an innocent little baby is not innocent, but it is true. That sinful, rebellious, selfish nature is there, and it does not take long for it to rear its ugly head, as every parent knows. If you do not believe that man is a sinner then look not only at the current state of the world, but look deeply into your own heart. If that doesn’t do the trick, then read the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and ask yourself, how am I measuring up?
The problem with sin is that it damages our relationships. It damages relationships not just with our fellow human beings, but first and foremost it damages our relationship with our Maker. And because the relationship is damaged it needs repairing, and the good news of the gospel is that in the person and work of Jesus Christ God himself repairs the breach.
This is done by Christ’s work on the cross. It is there that God deals with our sin and gives it its due penalty, which is death. The Bible declares “the wages of sin is death,” (Romans 6:23) but the good news of the gospel is that in Jesus Christ God has stepped into our shoes and bore that penalty for us on his innocent body, (Isaiah 53) so that God’s justice on our sin could be served, and we be given grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
This sacrificial act on the cross is the epitome of not only God’s justice but especially his love! The Bible over and over again talks about the love of God given to the world through the cross of Christ.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. —John 3:16
Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. — John 15:13
This is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. — I John 4:10
But God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were yet still sinners, Christ died for us. — Romans 5:8
This is the good news of the Christmas message, and as you think about the meaning of Christmas this year, I want you to remember that above all else.
In order to do that, I leave you with these powerful words preached by John McArthur in 1971 on the occasion of Christmas.
Those soft baby hands fashioned by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb were made in order that nails might be driven through them. Those chubby feet, pink and unable to walk, were one day to walk a hill and be nailed to a cross. That sweet head with sparkling eyes and eager mouth was formed in order that someday men might crush into it a crown of thorns. That tender body, warm and soft, wrapped in swaddling clothes, would one day be ripped open by a spear to reveal a broken heart; and that’s exactly why God made that body. Jesus was born to die.
Believe the gospel and be reconciled unto the Father, through the Son, in the strength and power of the Holy Spirit.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Merry Christmas!
“And a little child shall lead them…” (Isaiah 11:6)
Provided by Scott Jeffreys, pastor of Forest Park Presbyterian Church.