Although I am almost finished with the series that I began when the Beacon Lights was again published last winter, and although it would be possible to finish that series in this issue, I think it may be well to pause, since this is the December issue, and call to mind a few thoughts concerning Christmas and Christian living.
It is true that in this age of commercialism, when the church itself conies under the influence of the world, in its celebration of Christmas, we are very easily led away from the true spiritual significance of Christmas as a Christian holiday. It is often true that with the glitter of gifts and tinsel the greatest miracle of all times is obscured to us. It is true oftentimes, that the excitement of merry-making obliterates from us the wonder of grace: God became flesh. It is true that we are so concerned about presents and eating, that the mystery of Bethlehem is lost sight of.
If that is the case, then there is no reason why we should celebrate Christmas at all at least as a Christian holiday. The question is, Why Christmas in the church? The world answers; to make money; to have fun; to exchange gifts. Last November six there was a Santa Claus parade in downtown Grand Rapids to usher in the Yuletide season. One just barely recuperates, financially, from the past Christmas and the next season is on its way.
Why Christmas in the church? Why does the church have a Christian holiday called Christmas? And do not say that you have heard often, that Christmas is so abused that you have no need of it. Maybe that is true. But it is a danger.
Why do we, as church, set one day aside for Christmas?
Let’s answer that question.
Certainly the church did not set this day aside in order that we might have this day of the year to shout “Merry Christmas” to each other and shower our friends with gifts even though the Magi brought to the Christ, gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold. If that is all Christmas means to us, then we might just as well strike the holiday out of our Christian calendars.
You may say that it is the day that we commemorate the birth of Christ. And in itself that is true enough. But Christmas is not the only time that we talk of the incarnation. We speak of it the year around, for it is of central importance in our life in the midst of this world.
You may answer that this is the day on which one thousand, nine hundred and fifty six years ago Christ was born, and therefore we commemorate his birthday. That is not true, for the exact date of the year is not even known.
Why, then, do we have Christmas as a Christian holiday?
The answer is that once a year the church comes together to commemorate in a special way the great miracle of God: that he sent his Son into the likeness of sinful flesh.
The story itself is very simple. Luke tells us that Christmas story—“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger.” That is really all there is to it. There is more about what happened before Christmas, and what happened after Christmas, but that is the Christmas story. There is nothing so complicated or so strange about that. A child can understand that story. “And she brought forth her firstborn son…” But, at the same time, all the theologians in all the ages of the church, and all the students of holy Writ from the beginning of time have never been able to fathom the depths of that simple story. A child can understand it, oh yes, but the wisest in the church of God cannot comprehend it. For it is the wonder of God, the miracle of miracles, the center of the Christian’s faith.
And on Christmas we go as the church of Christ with the wise men, with the shepherds, to that humble manger outside of Bethlehem, to pause for a moment at the side of the Christ child.
And on this coming December 25th when we are brought there again, what is your reaction? Do you turn away in disbelief, more interested in the things of this world? Do you pity the poor child who came into the world in such abject poverty? That is the same as unbelief. Look at the shepherds. There is no pity in their eyes. Do you try “to make room in your heart” for this child who could find no room in the inn? No, we pause with the shepherds and the wise men and worship. For we have before our eyes, the wonder of God.
And what thoughts go through your mind as you stand there?
As you gaze on that babe this thought enters your mind: this is the eternal Son of God who is coequal with the Father and with the Holy Spirit, who is highly transcendent above all that is of this world and everything in it. This babe is the most blessed one, the only holy one. But he is Immanuel—God with us. God in our flesh come by way of the womb of the virgin Mary, to be like us in all things, sin excepted. And then you can only marvel at this great wonder.
Or you can see in this child that is in the manger before you a human nature like ours perfectly united with the divine nature in the person of the Son of God. And again you marvel. How is that possible? It is a wonder of God.
And certainly to learn of these things you go to Bethlehem on Christmas.
But there is more that is important to you. This thought also passes through your mind. This child is called Jesus—Jehovah Salvation. And then you see that in that child is the most amazing of all wonders, that he is the gift of the love of God whereby he came into your and my flesh in order to take upon himself that flesh and blood, and in order to suffer for our guilt that we might be free from our sin.
And that is important, isn’t it? You are concerned about your sin, aren’t you? And you have come to the conclusion that there is no escape in yourself from the dungeon of your iniquity. Therefore, as you stand beside this manger, let this thought enter your soul also, that here is God’s manifestation of the salvation he has prepared for you.
And then as you leave that manger on December twenty five, the blessedness of that experience lingers with you as you pursue the way to the hill called Calvary, and to the Garden of Joseph, until many Christmases later, you shall again see Christ return to take you to himself in glory. We will not find that truth anywhere else in all this world. We will not find that truth if the world dictates our celebration of Christmas. But if God in his grace leads us this coming Christmas to his manger, and instructs us by his Spirit in these truths, then we are blessed indeed. Then we have a reason for commemorating Christmas as a Christian holiday. Then we see that Christmas is for the church of Christ the most blessed of any day in the year.