When you ask the average person what they think of when they hear the word Christmas, you will hear such answers as: Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer, Jingle Bells, Frosty the Snowman, the Grinch who stole Christmas, looking at homes that are brightly decorated with lights, Christmas trees, attending Christmas parties, mistletoe, watching Christmas parades and football games, eating lots of good food, singing carols, spending time together as a family or friends, getting or giving presents, or a time to do kind deeds for others,
Christmas is about a lot of things but it is not about any of the things just mentioned.
God, our Father, gave us the greatest of all gifts when He sent His only Begotten Son into the world, but Christmas is not about giving gifts. The angels who appeared to the shepherds in the field as they were watching their flocks by night sung a joyful song when Jesus was born, but Christmas is not about singing carols. The word gospel means "good news" and the gospel has been referred to as the plan of happiness, but Christmas is not about having joy or finding happiness. The heart of the gospel is the message of salvation, not only for us as individuals but as family units being sealed together for all eternity, but Christmas is not about families. Jesus is the light of the world, but Christmas is not about decorating our homes with lights. Jesus declared himself to be the bread of life and taught that whosoever drank from the water He gave would never thirst again, but Christmas is not about eating and drinking.
First, last, and foremost, Christmas is about Jesus Christ Himself.
The word Christmas is a combination of two words - Christ and mass. In earlier times the Catholic Church celebrated the birth of Jesus by holding a special mass in His honor which was known as Christ's mass, but over the years it was shortened to Christmas. The stated reason for the holiday is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, and while that is certainly something to be joyous about, the holiday isn't about being joyous, no more than celebrating a child's birthday is simply about the family getting together and having fun. Having a birthday is meant to honor the person who was born on that date.
Even though nearly all biblical scholars agree that Jesus was not born on December 25, it is nonetheless the day which Christians have set aside to commemorate the birth of Jesus. This is no different than Americans setting aside the fourth Thursday in November as the day we officially give thanks to God for His bounteous goodness to us. Therefore, it's not the specific date that is so important as the event that we are commemorating. Therefore, the entire reason for celebrating Christmas is to remember and give honor to Jesus Christ.
[Jesus taught that we should love our enemies. In His parable of the good Samaritan, He taught us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. He showed by example how to care for the sick, the needy, and the poor. But Christmas is not about loving our enemies, or doing good unto others, or striving to become more like Christ. Christmas is not about US. It is first, foremost, and lastly, all about Christ. It is a time to honor Him.] When a child has a birthday, there is usually a lot of fun and merry making involved, but the focus of all the attention is on the child whose birthday it is. People who come to a birthday party may enjoy being there, but the whole purpose of the gathering isn't so much to have a good time as it is to honor the birthday child. Those who come to a birthday party bring gifts, not for each other but for the birthday person. And the specific purpose of giving those gifts is to give something that will please and make the birthday child happy.
When a child's birthday is coming up parents often put a lot of thought and spend a lot of time preparing to make their child's special day one that will bring them as much joy and happiness as possible. They send out invitations for friends of the child to come, they get decorations to make the event look festive, and they think of things for everyone to do that will be enjoyable and fun.
If Christmas is a time for us to celebrate the birth of Christ, then it only seems reasonable that we should do it the same way we celebrate other people's birthday. That means, the focus of all we do during the Christmas season, from all the preparation to the actual birthday celebration, should not be on us but on Him whose birthday we are commemorating. However, unfortunately, that is not what we do.
Instead of focusing on Jesus, the Christ, we spend our time thinking about how we can make others happy with the things we buy for them. We spend our time decorating up our homes with lights and other ornaments to make them look festive and beautiful for others and ourselves to look at. We plan a large dinner to share with our family members, and we go around wishing people a merry Christmas, but in all of our activities during this holiday season we rarely, if ever, take the time to remember why we are doing all of these things.
It's like we're having a party to celebrate someone's birthday but we never invite the birthday person to our festivity. We get so involved in planning for the celebration that the party itself becomes the main, if not the sole reason, for all we do at Christmas time. Rather than honor the Christ child, our goal becomes to eat, drink, and be as merry as we can.
Then how should we properly celebrate the birth of Jesus?
At a birthday party, the friends of the birthday child take the time to come visit them along with bringing them gifts. If Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus, then it seems only reasonable that we too spend time visiting with Jesus and giving Him gifts. Originally, Jesus was given, gold, frankincense and myrrh, which were all valuable and costly items. But what kind of gifts can we give Jesus, seeing how all things are His anyhow?
Jesus explained that the greatest commandment was to love God with all our heart (Matthew 22:37). The apostle John further taught, "By this we know thatů we love God [because] we keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments" (1 John 5:2,3).
We say that God is all powerful and He is. With just a command from his voice, Jesus was able to still a storm and cause a fig tree to wither and die. He was able to walk on water and call the dead to come forth from the grave. He was able to instantly cause the blind to see and the lame to walk. He not only knew what people were thinking but he also knew what was in their heart. Yet, for all of His power, there is one thing He cannot do and that is make us obey Him.
Obedience in keeping God's commandments is something that has to come from our heart. Rather than God demanding our obedience, He leaves it entirely up to us as to whether or not we want to give Him our obedience. God will ask us, plead with us, reason with us, seek to persuade us, but if we lack the desire to obey Him, God will not force us to do what He wants.
As Christians, we say that we love Jesus and we worship Him as our Savior and redeemer and our stated desire is to live with Him forever. We accept as fact that He died to pay the penalty for our sins and willingly gave His life so that we can have eternal life. Each Sunday we go to church and sing hymns of praise to His holy name and seek to learn more about Him so we can become more like Him.
Yet, despite our professed devotion to Jesus, none of us keep God's commandments as well as we are capable of doing because each of us holds back loving God with all of our heart. There are things in the life of each and every Christian that they don't want to give up. It could be pride, or anger, or paying tithing, or time to read the scripture, or any number of things that they know they should give up or should be doing that they're not.
There are some commandments a Christian will embrace wholeheartedly and faithfully keep, but there are always other commandments where a person lacks the total commitment to keep them with all of their heart, and this is true even for the most faithful. There are some commandments we know we could do better at keeping but for some reason we just don't want to fully keep them.
We make excuses for why it's okay not to keep particular commandments. We may try to reason that God doesn't expect us to be perfect, or that He understands our weaknesses and will still save us despite them. We may try to convince ourselves that certain commandments are not that important to keep, or that we just don't have the strength of character to keep them. But what every one of these excuses demonstrates is that a person lacks the commitment to keep the commandments that God has given us.
Since God will not force us to obey Him, what better gift can we give the creator of the universe than a little more of our heart? What greater gift can we give Him who created us, and who continues to bless us despite our lack of faithfulness to Him, than our willingness to serve Him a little more fully?
In America, we have a tradition of making resolutions on New Year's day of things we intend to accomplish for the coming year. It may be to lose weight, or to get in better shape, or learn to play a particular musical instrument, or save up a certain amount of money, or anything else a person wants to do that they've been putting off. The first day of the year is seen as a way to get a fresh start on doing those things that we've been procrastinating doing.
Perhaps, instead of waiting for January 1st we can make a resolution to Christ on December 25 to love Him by more fully keeping a particular commandment that we've procrastinated doing. And just like a parent will spend time before a birthday party preparing for that event, perhaps we can take the time during the Christmas season to prepare ourselves to make our resolution to Christ on Christmas day. This would involve us taking a critical look at ourselves to determine what areas of our spiritual life needs improving and giving careful thought to what exactly we want to resolve to do. This way, when we make our resolution, we are better prepared to carry through on it rather than simply making a wishful pledge that will be broken before the month of January is over.
But Jesus also linked another commandment to loving God by telling us that we should love our neighbor as our self. Jesus told His disciples that when He comes again He will separate the wicked from the righteous in the same way a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Those who belong to the fold of God will be those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick, and cared for the stranger. Jesus explained, saying, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matthew 25:40).
God loves everyone, so much so that He sent His only begotten Son to die for every single person, no matter how bad they are or whether they accept Jesus as their Savior or not. The atonement of Christ is universal in its application because it leaves no one out. That doesn't mean that the unrepentant sinner will receive the same reward as the believing saint, but it does means that Christ didn't die on the cross just for those who believe in
Him. He took upon Himself the sins of all people everywhere and paid their penalty in full. If God loves everyone that much, what greater way can we show our love to Christ than to love those whom He loves and love them as He does?
It's been said that since God couldn't be everywhere He created mothers. The sentiment behind this saying is that a mother's love for her children comes the closest to emulating God's love for His children. This is the same sentiment Jesus expressed when He said, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
When we care about others to the point where we are willing to help relieve their burdens we are doing God's work on earth because we are assisting Him in helping those whom He loves. Most of the time, the way God answers people prayers is by sending someone to help them. Thus, when we do good for others in helping to alleviate their suffering, whether that suffering is physical, emotional, financial, spiritual, we become Christ's arms, legs, hands, feet, heart, and voice, doing what He would do if He were here.
When Isaiah was caught up to heaven and saw the Lord sitting on His throne, he heard God ask, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said [Isaiah], Here am I; send me" (Isaiah 6:8). After His resurrection, Jesus told His disciples, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19,20). Jesus had spent three years preaching the gospel, but now that He was about to ascend back to heaven, He needed others to take His place, doing what He would do if He was still on earth.
God needs workers in His kingdom, to do the work that needs to be done. Whether it is caring for the sick, sharing the gospel with others, or helping clean the church to make it comfortable for people to worship there, God needs people who are willing to do whatever He asks of them.
Jesus illustrated this in the parable of the talents where a man of great wealth took a trip to a far country but before he left he gave each of his servants a certain amount of money to use wisely. When the man returned he took account of what his servants had done with the money each of them had been given, and richly rewarded those who had increased their money but severely rebuke the servant who had not used his money wisely.
To love God with our whole heart means to serve Him with our whole heart, doing whatever He asks of us with a willing and cheerful spirit. Since God will not force anyone to serve Him, our gift to God can be to offer Him a heart that is more eager to do good unto others and to help Christ build His kingdom here on earth.
Does this mean that we should give up doing the traditional things we normally do during the Christmas season, such as getting together with our family to enjoy one another's company, or that we should not give presents to one another on Christmas day, or that we should no longer attend any Christmas parties? In today's culture it is not realistic to think that we can avoid doing these kinds of things, but what we should do is not allow ourselves to become so focused on the earthly aspects of Christmas that we lose sight of the spiritual fact that it is Christ who is the reason for the season.