When you think about Christmas, what comes to your mind? Most, if not all, of us have celebrated Christmas in the traditional fashion since we were born. From my earliest memories, Christmas was presents, presents, and more presents. I can remember my brother and I staying up all night waiting for the appointed hour when we could rush to the living room and open our presents. One year my brother and I figured up the dollar amount of all of our gifts to see if our parents had spent the same amount on both of us. Laurie was very young then and we didn't care what she got. In my memory, Christmas is opening a lot of gifts and spending the day playing with them. Thoughts of Christmas bring different things to the minds of different people. Many things are associated with Christmas: lights, trees, presents, food, Santa Clause, family gatherings, and sometimes even the birth of Christ.
How much of Christmas is Christian? We associate it with the birth of Christ, and in some way see it as a celebration of His birth, but does it honor His birth? Is there really anything Christian about Christmas?
What about the name, Christmas? The word "Christmas" means "Mass of Christ," or, as it came to be shortened, "Christ-mass." The Christ-mass was a Roman Catholic Mass which grew out of a feast day established in 1038A.D. The Christ-mass has nothing to do with Scripture or the birth of Christ! The Encyclopedia Britannica, 1946 edition, says this, "Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the church. It was not instituted by Christ or the Apostles, or by Bible authority. It was picked up afterward from paganism."
If the name of this holiday isn't particularly Christian, what about the date? Is the date important? Was Jesus born on December 25? It is highly unlikely. The Bible says in Luke 2:7-8 (NKJV):
"And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night."
Shepherds did not live in the fields in Palestine during December. The shepherds always brought their flocks from the mountainsides and fields to corral them no later than October 15 to protect them from the cold, rainy season that followed.
The date came from a pagan holiday called Saturnalia. This was a Roman observance of the birthday of the "Invincible Sun" on December 25. The celebration consisted of feasts, parades, gift giving, lighted candles, and green trees. Many of our Christmas customs have their origins in Saturnalia. This pagan holiday was Christianized in 336A.D. by Emperor Constantine when he declared Christ's birthday an official Roman holiday. Chrysostom, the early church father, rebuked Christians for adopting this pagan holiday but the custom persisted. December 25 is not the birthday of Jesus Christ. The apostles and early Church never celebrated Christ's birthday at any time. There is no command or instruction to celebrate it in the Bible. As a matter of fact, celebrating birthdays is a pagan custom rather than a Christian custom. The Scriptures tell us that we are to celebrate Christ's death in the observance of the Lord's Supper, but we are never told to celebrate His birth. Neither the name nor the date of the suppos ed celebration of Christ's birth are Christian.
What about the exchanging of gifts? This is a major part of the Christmas celebration. Many claim it is patterned after the wise men who gave gifts to Jesus:
Matthew 2:1-2 (NKJV) "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him."
Why is the notion that gift giving is patterned after the wise men incorrect? First of all, there is no doubt that some time had passed between the actual birth of Christ in Matthew 1 and the arrival of the wise men in Matthew 2:
Matthew 2:11 (NKJV) "And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh."
The Wise men were not bringing Jesus belated birthday presents. These gifts were the expression of worship to the King. The people of the East never approach a king without a present in their hands. The wise men's gift giving was an act of worship.
How much of Christmas is Christian? None of it! None of it is biblical; none of it is commanded by the Lord; none of it was apostolic; none of it was ever observed by the early church! Yet to many Christians, this is a religious holiday! The Puritans in America called Christmas, "Romish rags," and deliberately worked on December 25, to show disdain for the pagan holiday. In 1644 the English Puritans passed a law making Christmas day a working day and it became illegal to cook plum pudding and mince pie.
Christians today work hard to try to keep Christ in Christmas, but why? There is a Christian song that says, "He's the reason for the season/ He's the purpose of it all," but what does that mean? Is He the purpose for the gifts, lights, and Santa? What does Jesus have to do with that? Christ and Christmas have nothing in common from a biblical point of view. The only way that Christ is connected to Christmas is through tradition. There is nothing Christian about Christmas. People may call Christmas Christ's birthday but it is not. People can also call a mouse a lion but it is still a mouse.
It is not wrong for Christians to celebrate Christmas; I enjoy the holiday and all that goes along with it. We should just enjoy Christmas for what it is: a holiday of no religious significance, like the Fourth of July or Valentine's Day.
Wasn't the birth of Jesus Christ important? Yes, it is very important, but we are never told to celebrate it. The birth of Jesus Christ is a miraculous event of great significance to mankind, but associating it with Christmas and all of its myths make His birth seem insignificant. In our country, Santa plays a bigger part in Christmas than Jesus. Why mix the birth of Jesus Christ in with all the pagan myths? It seems to belittle the importance of His birth and diminishes His birth to seem like just another one of the fables associated with Christmas. Our celebration of Christmas as Christ's birthday is like a Boston couple's christening party for their child. After the ceremony at the church, the family and friends went to the couple's house to celebrate. In the midst of the party the mother went to get the child off the bed where she had laid him. She discovered that the child had been suffocated by the coats of the guest that had been thrown on the bed. In the same way, Christ is smothered when we try to make Him the reason we celebrate Christmas.
The birth of Jesus Christ is too important to smother it with the trappings of Christmas. We will look at the Biblical account of Christ's birth and see if we can understand its significance to us.
Matthew 1:18 (NKJV) "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.
Mary had been "betrothed"--solemnly promised in marriage--to Joseph. Betrothal among the Jews was not like our engagement. It was far more serious and binding. The bridegroom and bride pledged their troth (faithfulness and loyalty) to each other in the presence of witnesses. According to the Old Testament regulations, unfaithfulness in a betrothed woman was punishable by death (Deut. 22:23-24). A betrothed couple was considered legally married, even though they did not live together or have any physical relationships. This period normally lasted twelve months and served as a period of protection to establish each partner's fidelity.
Our text says, "before they came together:" these events took place during the betrothal period, before they began living together and before there were any sexual relations. "She was found with child of the Holy Spirit." Mary discovered her pregnancy while she was still a virgin; she and Joseph had not yet married in the full sense of the term.
Mary knew immediately the cause of her condition because the angel Gabriel had told her that this would happen.
Luke 1:26-35 (NKJV) "Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!" But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. "And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end." Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God."
Ladies, put yourself in Mary's place: you are engaged and you have never had sexual relations with a man yet you find out you are pregnant with the God's Son. How would you respond? It would have been difficult for Mary to protect her reputation. What would she tell people? "I've never been unfaithful, the child I'm pregnant with is God's Son." How many people would believe that? Would you have believed it? This was no natural pregnancy: it was the miraculous and divinely conceived birth of God in human flesh.
The virgin birth was prophesied in the Old Testament; God had revealed what He was going to do through a supernatural act. The virgin birth had never happened before and would never happen again. Several Old Testament passages speak of this virgin birth.
Genesis 3:15 (NKJV) "And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel."
"Her seed" is an expression used nowhere else in Scripture. Only one time in the history of the world did a woman ever have a seed which normally is ascribed to the man. Jeremiah speaks of this miraculous event is slightly different terms:
Jeremiah 31:22 (NKJV) "How long will you gad about, O you backsliding daughter? For the LORD has created a new thing in the earth; A woman shall encompass a man."
In other words a woman on her own shall develop a man. Isaiah's prophecy is probably the most familiar to us:
Isaiah 7:14 (NKJV) "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel."
The truth of the virgin birth is very important. For Jesus to be God, He must be born of God. Joseph, a man, and Mary, a woman, could not produce God. God could not be born into this world through natural human processes. He could not be God apart from being conceived by God.
Naturally, Joseph became aware of Mary's condition. His reaction is described in Matthew 1:19:
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.
Just imagine how Joseph felt! Men, how would you respond if the girl you loved and were engaged to marry told you she was pregnant and you had never had a sexual relationship with her? Joseph's natural response was that Mary had been unfaithful to him. He was probably deeply hurt; how could Mary do this to him?
Because he was a righteous man, Joseph could not marry Mary who was now thought to be unfaithful. Because such a marriage would have been a tacit admission of his own guilt, and also because he was unwilling to expose Mary to the disgrace of public divorce, Joseph chose a quieter way, permitted by the law itself. The full rigor of the law might have led to Mary's stoning, though that was rarely carried out in the first century. Still, a public divorce was possible, but Joseph was unwilling to expose Mary to such shame. Men, would you be so kind in his situation?
But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:20)
Though Joseph had decided on the action he needed to take, he found it almost impossible to carry it out. While he was mulling these things over, an angel appeared to him in a dream and gave him the information that had already been given to Mary: namely, that it was by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not the natural way, that Mary had conceived. Joseph must have been relieved to know that Mary had not been unfaithful after all! Their faith must have been very strong to believe this incredible message of the virgin birth of God's Son. The angel had more to say to Joseph:
"And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins." So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us."
This is the greatest miracle and the most fantastic truth recorded in the pages of Scripture: God became a man. The Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie, stare, wiggle, and make noises. For a short time, God needed to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis says this: "The Eternal Being who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but before that a baby and before that a fetus inside a woman's body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug."
The more you think about it, the more staggering it is. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as the truth of the incarnation, God becoming a man. The author of Hebrews puts it this way:
Hebrews 2:14-15 (NKJV) "Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage."
Jesus Christ became a man of flesh and blood. This speaks of the frailty, dependancy, and mortality of man. God has become a human being! This is what we call the incarnation which is a Latin word meaning "in flesh." What exactly is the incarnation? God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, who was eternal in the Godhead took unto himself human nature at a point of time. He identified not only with our nature, but also with the conditions in which we live on this earth. The person of Christ always has been, but at a point in time he began to be what he eternally was not, a man, yet he did not cease to be God. The apostle John put it this way:
John 1:1 (NKJV) "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
From all eternity the Word existed, the Word was God.
John 1:14 (NKJV) "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
The Word became flesh. The word "became" is the Greek word ginomai, which signifies entrance into a new condition. Look at the contrast between verse 1 and verse 14. In verse 1, the Word was God and in verse 14 the Word was made flesh. In verse 1, the Word was with God and in verse 14 the Word dwelt among us. The word "flesh" in verse 14 is the Greek word "sarx"; it refers to all which is essential to human nature. John is saying that Jesus became one of us in every respect except for sin. Jesus Christ had the mind, will, and emotions of a man, not just a body. John did not say the Word took a body: God assumed a human nature. Jesus became the God-Man. Jesus Christ is one person with two natures, the God-Man. He is different from God in that he is a man and different from man in that he is God. Jesus Christ is the unique person of the universe. The incarnation can be stated as undiminished Deity and true humanity in one Person forever.
We must accept the doctrine of the unique God-Man in the same way that we accept the Trinity: by faith in God's Word.
Colossians 2:9 (NKJV) "For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;"
All of Deity dwells in bodily form. The word "dwells" is in the present tense so this is an on-going, permanent state. The Incarnation is at this moment a present reality.
Romans 8:3 (NKJV) "For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh,"
The statement that God sent His son in the likeness of sinful flesh has disturbed some people; the Greek word translated likeness is homoioma, which means similar but different. Did Jesus only resemble a man? No! He uses the word likeness because he described flesh as sinful. Jesus was different from other humans in that he was sinless.
Someone might question, "Is it a big deal that we believe that Jesus Christ was the God-Man?" Yes, it is a very big deal!
1 John 4:1-3 (NKJV) "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world."
Anyone who denies the historical event of the incarnation is of the spirit of anti-Christ. Jesus became a man in every respect except for sin. We see his humanity all through the New Testament. He had human experiences and emotions like weeping at Lazarus' tomb. He had human feelings, desires and needs; he hungered, thirsted, was weary, and sorrowed.
God the Son has become a man in every respect except for sin. That is the meaning of the incarnation, but what is its purpose? Why did God become a man? The answer is found in Matthew 1:21 and Hebrews 2:14:
"And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins." Hebrews 2:14 (NKJV) "Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,"
Jesus was born to die! The purpose of the incarnation was specifically that Jesus Christ might die. The pre-incarnate Christ couldn't die for us because God cannot die therefore He became a man to die. The ultimate purpose was that through His death as a sinless man, He could redeem man. The Bible teaches that the wages of sin is death; we have all sinned and therefore all deserve to die and spend eternity in hell. Jesus died for us; he paid our sin debt; he took our penalty. As a sinless substitute he satisfied the just demands of a holy God.
If you trust in what Jesus Christ has done for you, you will receive the forgiveness of your sins and spend eternity in heaven. If you reject what Jesus Christ has done you will spend eternity in hell.
John 3:36 (NKJV) ""He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
The birth of our Lord Jesus Christ is much too important to confuse it with all the myths and traditions of Christmas. The incarnation was God's gift of love to us.
John 3:16 (NKJV) "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
2 Corinthians 9:15 (NKJV) "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!"
Our Lord's birth was a fantastic miracle: it was God becoming man. But our Lord never told us to celebrate it. The purpose for his birth was that he might die for our sins. He did tell believers to celebrate his death in the ordinance of the Lord's Supper. Those who have put their trust in His redemption are to celebrate his death on their behalf.
Charles H. Spurgeon, the great English preacher used to say, "Look, Christmas is here we might as well learn to live with it and take the opportunity to exult Christ." That is good advice because we'll never be able to change the traditions of Christmas and the world will always in some strange way associate it with the birth of Christ. We might as well learn to live with it and take the opportunities to exalt Christ by sharing with all who will listen the reason why Christ was born. He was born to die for the sins of man, and his birth should remind us that we are all sinners and in need of a Savior. That little baby in the manger grew up, lived a sinless life and died a substitutionary death for sinners. And He's coming back some day to judge all those who do not put their trust in Him.
Have you put your trust in Him? Will you trust His work on the cross to pay for your sin debt? By faith in Jesus Christ you can receive the greatest gift of all, eternal life. Christmas is not a religious holiday but you can make it your own religious holiday by putting your trust in Jesus Christ this Christmas.