Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Meaning of Christmas.

A festival of giving

Christmas is fading away, the trees are coming down and the lights are switching off.  Time then to consider, as the last of the Christmassy feel leaves the country, what is Christmas really all about?  Is it about overindulging yourself and overeating or is it about family? Is it all about having a good time, or celebrating some old religious festival that nobody really cares about?  I would say it’s none of these things.  In jest, two of my friends said this to me at Christmas time:

“Hope the Christmas holidays are going well. Remember the real meaning: presents.”

“And remember, Christmas is all about the presents.”

I’ve been considering that and they’re right.  Christmas is all about presents, there’s simply nothing else to it.  Yes there are some stuffy religious types who think it’s all about tradition, or some wishy-washy chaps who think it’s about love and good cheer but really, practically, it’s all about the presents.  Not the paltry gifts we offer to each other, but the glorious gifts God gives.  Let us consider a few of those gifts now, and then how God gives them.

Wonderful present number one

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Ephesians 2:8-9

God gives salvation.  We don’t earn it, we couldn’t – Isaiah says that the best of our righteousness, the very best things we do are like filthy rags to God.  No matter how hard we try, we can never save ourselves.  But God can, and God has, and God will.

Our sin leads to destruction, but God offers salvation.

Wonderful present number two

“And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.
 18Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
Romans 5:16, 18-19

God gives renewal.  He doesn’t just pay off our debts; he gives more and more and more.  That is truly grace.  If we pictured our lives as a car which we’ve wrapped around a lamppost somewhere and completely trashed it, then God doesn’t just shake his head and fix the car for us – he buys us a bigger, better, more expensive one. We don’t just get a reprieve, we get righteousness.

We can’t fix our lives, but God makes us right.

Wonderful present number three

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 6:23

God gives new life, eternally.  Not only are we saved, forgiven, remade, renewed but we get eternity thrown into the bargain!  Now that’s a pretty good present.

Our sinfulness deserves death, but God gives life.

There's no such thing as a free lunch

Everything has a cost somewhere.  Free education is paid for by taxes, free phones by contracts, free television by the license fee.  Everything costs, nothing is really free.  Gifts have to be bought by the giver and the bigger the gift, the bigger the cost.  Contentment, salvation, renewal, eternal life: These things are costly.  What price did God pay, that we might live?

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Galatians 2:20

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:8

In a word: Christ.  Jesus came, and died, he suffered in our place so we could live free.  And so in Christ we have salvation:

“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”
1 Thessalonians 5:9-10

In Christ we have new life:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
2 Corinthians 5:17

In Christ we have eternal life:

“And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.”
1 John 5:11

All because of a death, but surely that’s not Christmas? Christmas is a happy time; it’s all about a baby that never cried and a manger and cattle lowing…

It’s about a birth yes, but a birth with a purpose.  That little baby – who cried just as lustily as any baby despite what the carol says – that child was God.  That little child, born in a dirty stable, grew up to live a perfect sinless life.  That perfect sinless man died an agonising death and rose again.  That death delivered a world of sin from its bondage and opened up the way to God.

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”
1 Timothy 1:15

And it is not so much the birth of Christ we celebrate, but his life.  It is the purpose of that life and its result that we celebrate at Christmas time.  It is the great giving of God that we rejoice in each year.  Remember God at Christmas time, and remember the presents.  It’s all about the presents.

“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”
2 Corinthians 9:15

<<I’m convinced that Christmas doesn’t truly end until you celebrate Hogmanay on the 31st, so another post about Christmas is perfectly acceptable. Thanks to Ben Mildred of Not At The Dinner Table fame, whose jesting quote originally inspired this post.>>

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