What is Christmas all about?
Ross Anderson, GWC lecturer, Biblical Studies
B.Th (Unisa); Dip Th (BISA); M.Th (UWC).
As I write this, it is only 5 weeks to Christmas Day! Already the shops are playing their Christmas and or holiday music, shopping malls have erected their huge Christmas trees and there are specials galore to tempt us, the shoppers, into buying more presents for family and friends. In all the festivity it is important to step back and ask, “What is Christmas all about”? What is, or should be, the focus at this time of the year, and especially on Christmas Day?
We all know that Christmas is about Jesus. It’s a time to remember that he “was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and born of the virgin Mary”. But why? Why did he come and live among us as one of us?
The Lord Jesus himself tells us in Mark’s Gospel. Three reasons:
- Mark 1:36-38, Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else–to the nearby villages–so that I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
Jesus came to preach! What exactly did he preach? He preached, “The time has come, the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Christmas reminds us that Christ, the King of God’s Kingdom, has come. We had better get ready to meet him! How? By repenting and believing in Him. And that is how we receive the greatest of all Christmas presents, viz. the Lord Jesus himself, who is eternal life. To receive Him is to receive the Kingdom of God. No wonder the angels sang “Joy to the world”!
- Mark 2:17, On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
In this story, the Pharisees were horrified that Jesus would enjoy a meal with “sinners”! A Rabbi should not be hanging out with unclean sinners; he should watch the company he keeps and move in “righteous” circles. But Jesus makes it clear to them then and to us now, he came to save sinners. Save them (us) from what? From the power of sin and from God’s judgment on us because we are sinners.
The irony in this story is that the “sick” thought they were “healthy”. It is often like that with religious folk. They think their religion makes them “healthy”. No. the first step in receiving God’s salvation from our sin is to acknowledge that we are indeed “sick”, that is, to acknowledge and confess our sin. Christmas is the perfect time for you to do just that. And here is the Christmas gift: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”. No wonder Mary could say, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”.
- Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
For the third time in Mark’s Gospel Jesus tells us why he came, he came to die on the cross for us. Here is the focus of Christmas. It is what we as Christians celebrate in December. But perhaps you are thinking to yourself, that’s odd! Why celebrate someone’s death? Especially a death on a Roman cross with such shame and suffering.
We celebrate Christmas because we keep the incarnation and the crucifixion together. Jesus was born of Mary precisely so that as a human being he could ransom human beings, you and me. And the ransom price was his death. How so? Because he took our sin upon himself and died in our place. He paid the penalty for our sin so that we might be pardoned and set free.
The truth we all have to face this Christmas is that sin is desperately serious with horrific consequences. The Apostle Paul is to the point when he writes, “the wages of sin is death”. So Jesus died for you. He gave his life for you. He suffered God’s judgment for your sin. He was born to die for the sins of the world. He died that we may live, eternally!
Many of the Christmas carols we sing at this time of the year underscore this truth: for example What Child Is This? In the second verse, we find these lyrics: “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the Cross be borne for me [and] for you.” When Christ died on the Cross, He paid the penalty for sin for all those who would believe in Him. Have you believed in him? The last verse of The First Noel reiterates this point: “Then let us all with one accord, sing praises to our heavenly Lord, [who] hath made heaven and earth of nought, And with His blood mankind hath bought.”
What is Christmas all about? It really is all about Jesus. Jesus came to tell us how to inherit the Kingdom of God; Jesus came for sinners, for you and me; Jesus came to pay our ransom. “Oh the wonders of his love”! Make this the Christmas that you receive Him by repentance and faith!
The John Stott Chair
George Whitefield College