Christmas is one of those holidays that is often misunderstood. Perhaps it's because of the way that we have trivialized what the holiday represents. We hang stockings, decorate trees, arrange manger scenes, and give gifts. Of course no one is fooled, it's the gift giving and receiving that has become the real focus of Christmas. We love to get stuff. And we get joy, happiness, and a lot of squishy good feelings when our loved ones rip off the wrapping to expose our expressions of love. That's a form of "getting" too. Nothing wrong with that, in and of itself; but we are fooling ourselves if we think that benign gift giving and receiving is really representative of what God gave man in Jesus Christ. God's great gift to man, in point of fact, didn't happen on that first Christmas. It happened on Good Friday when Jesus was violently crucified for our sins. Had the crucifixion never happened, and the resurrection, then Christmas would be meaningless.
The incarnation of Jesus Christ – God becoming a man – was an event so powerful and significant that for 2,000 years man has counted his days and marked his history by the birth of the babe in the manger. While ancient kings the world over were positioning themselves to be worshiped like living deities to their populations and remembered like gods, the real Son of God busied himself with becoming an everyday man. And yet that humble event, regarded as a sweet treasured moment that gives hope to mankind was in fact sending a precious and only Son sentenced to die for the sins of the world. Christmas TV specials, and even church services willingly remember. We focus our Christmas remembrances on the coming of "Immanuel," the God with us from Isaiah 7:14 and the "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace," of Isaiah 9:6. But the Christmas tradition, that is, the belief that God would send a Savior, appears in the Bible long before Isaiah's hopeful promises. And in these foundational promises of God, from which even Isaiah's prophesies spring, the seed of Adam, Abraham, and David was planted in blood.
The first prophecy about the coming of Jesus was given, not to man, but to the Evil One, Satan. After persuading Adam and Eve to break God's law and eat the forbidden fruit, "The Lord God said to the serpent, 'Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle…I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heal" (Genesis 3:14-15).
That first promise of a coming Messiah to crush Satan marked the beginning of Satan's attempt to do to Christ, and to man, what God declared would happen to him. At each stage of biblical history, when God's promise to send a "seed" unfolded, the Enemy made moves to trample that seed underfoot. At each stage when God gave a promise of the seed of the Savior, separation and death soon followed.
Following God's first promise to Abram of a seed to come after him (Genesis 12:1-3,7), Sari his wife was separated from him by Pharaoh of Egypt, immediately threatening the fulfillment of God's promise.
Immediately after receiving the second promise of a coming seed (Genesis 15:1-5), Hagar the Egyptian was introduced to become Abram's concubine. She, along with her son Ishmael were a cause of division in the family and Sarah recognized the potential threat to Abraham's son Isaac – who was to carry the promise of the seed.
In Genesis 17:1-8 God made his third promise to Abraham of a coming seed. Shortly thereafter Abraham traveled to Gerar where its king, Abimelech, took Sarah as a concubine. The urgency of the text indicates Sarah was in imminent jeopardy, but God spoke to Abimelech and saved her and his promise, from danger.
Just as Abraham his father had a wife that could bare no children, so too Isaac, the child of promise, was given a barren wife. God's promise of a coming seed seemed in danger again – until He intervened and Rebekah was able to conceive (Genesis 25:21).
Immediately after receiving the promise from God about the coming seed, Isaac was driven from his land and his family's welfare put in jeopardy (Genesis 26).
After receiving his father's blessing in the line of succession, Jacob's life is threatened by his brother Esau (Genesis 27:41), causing him to flee. When Jacob returned years later with his family, Esau rode out with 400 men to slaughter him. But Jacob's godly wisdom intervened to change Esau's heart, and he spared Jacob and his family (Genesis 33:1-16).
In II Samuel 7:12-13 God promised to make David a great man and give him a seed to rule on his throne forever. After securing his kingdom and reputation (chapters 8-10), David became lax, took Bathsheba in adultery, and from that point his kingdom and his family endured in chaos, with his sons and servants murdering one another. If not for God's promise for his lineage to endure, David would have lost all.
THE PROMISE OF REDEMPTION HAD A HIGH PRICE
Even from these few examples of God's promises concerning the coming Messiah we can see a pattern. From Adam until Isaac there was a focus on destroying a single family or to separate a single family that possessed the promise of the seed – the coming Savior. The objective was to prevent the birth of a promise-holder, or destroy the lineage. Immediately after each promise was given there was either separation or the threat of death.
Beginning with Jacob, Satan attempted to destroy whole families or a nation of people. Inferred in the text is that when multiple children were born to the possessor of the promise, Satan could not learn which particular person was to carry the seed, so he targeted the entire group. We can see an example of this even during the Exodus period. God promised to Abraham that his seed would be oppressed in Egypt for 400 years before being freed (Genesis 15:13-16). 400 years later as the time of God's promise was at hand, Pharaoh ordered all baby boys killed in hopes of killing the one child that would lead Israel to freedom. This event was mimicked in Palestine when Herod ordered all boys less than two years of age to die in hopes of killing the promised Messiah (Matthew 2:16).
Even during the period of Israel's exile, in Esther 3:7-11, Haman tried to wipe out the Jewish nation – which would have destroyed the fulfillment of God's promise of the coming Savior.
In virtually every case when God made a promise about the coming seed (Christ), that promise was followed by separation or the threat of death. And as the promise was accompanied by violence, so too was its fulfillment.
Jesus' birth was preceded by the promises of salvation from sin (Matthew 1:20-23), and the mantle of David's kingdom (Luke 1:26-38). Just as the promises held separation and death, so did they also hold the same during Jesus' birth. His family was forced to separate from the their home and nation, fleeing to Egypt for safety from Herod's murderous intent (Matthew 2:13-15). At news of Jesus' birth, but unable to find him, Herod issued sweeping orders to murder all children around Bethlehem aged two and under (Matthew 2:16-18). Separation and death even accompanied the promised infant Jesus into the world.
THE HIGH COST OF THE PRECIOUS GIFT
At Christmas we give gifts to celebrate the giving of the gift of eternal life in Christ. But when God made promises of a coming Savior, Satan worked separation and death – even at Jesus' birth. But in God's foreknowledge and sovereign plan, all of this foreshadowed the reason for Jesus' coming – redemption from sin reconciling us to God (NON-separation), defeating spiritual death (LIFE in Christ). The birth of Jesus was only the beginning. Jesus' incarnation culminated in the cross where all of the promises of God were fulfilled – including separation from the Father (Matthew 27:46), and Christ's death for us.
* The promises of God in Christ were accompanied by separation. Satan's separation is to separate us from God. But Christ's separation from God at the cross brought us into a right relationship with Him (Romans 6:5-11).
* The promises of God, while bringing life, are sometimes accompanied by death, or fulfilled through death, such as Christ's death on the cross – the reason for Christmas.
* All who will attain or live under the promises of God must share in the conditions of both the promises and the fulfillment: Separation from the world – II Corinthians 6:14-17, and death to sin – Romans 6:5-11, Colossians 3:1-3, II Timothy 2:11-13.
We can enjoy the holidays, family reunions, gift giving, and feasting on Christmas. But our joyful celebrations can never truly represent the incredible sacrifice that accompanied the promises and the first Christmas. Nor can our celebrations contain the real substance of meaning behind the incarnation of Christ. That comes during the other 364 days of the year as we live out what Christ intended – putting to death the deeds of the sinful nature, and separating ourselves from an evil world system in total dedication to the One and Only True Living God.
The words "peace on earth" come from the story of Jesus Christ's birth in Luke 2:14. The problem is that only half the verse is quoted. The full verse actually reads: "Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth among men with whom God is pleased." The first implication, and later what becomes direct statements in the New Testament is that God is not pleased with most men. The second implication is that God came to earth in the form of a man to do something about it.
Let's drive this home more directly. Christmas, that is, the birth of Jesus Christ, is about three things:
1. The Incarnation: God became a man in Jesus Christ
2. The Humiliation: God experienced death as a man
3. The Exaltation: God experienced resurrection as a man
The fact is that there would be no Christmas without Easter. Easter gives Christmas it's meaning. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus, what would his birth matter to us? His claim to incarnation would be nothing more than unproven words. If Jesus really is God in human flesh, if he really did suffer a humiliating death He could have prevented through the exercise of his deity, and if he really did rise from the dead never to die again, then Christmas is a lot more than "Peace on earth," and a year-end boost for the economy. It is about the reason for His incarnation in the first place.
CHRISTMAS IS ABOUT OUR NEED FOR A SAVIOR
Christmas is offensive to some because:
1. The incarnation of Jesus Christ points to man's need for a Savior
2. The humiliation of Jesus Christ proves man is sinful and in need of a Savior
3. The exaltation of Jesus Christ proves the incarnation and requires submission to that Savior.
As long as Christmas was regulated to gift-giving and good feelings, saying "Merry Christmas" wasn't really a big deal. But as Evangelicals have gained greater influence in the last 20 years, so has the more important historical meaning of the Christmas season. That meaning is written clearly in the text of the Bible (which the same crowd wants kept out of schools). As the meaning of Christmas, and its year long relevance has become clearer in American society, so has the need for some to regulate any reference to it. If its meaning can't be obscured, then it must be absconded.
I leave you with a passage from the Bible about Christmas. It is not a traditional passage about the Christmas season, but it is the passage that gives us the meaning of Christmas in what may be the plainest language. This passage not only explains the meaning of Christmas, but what is expected of us when we understand that meaning.
"Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Jesus Christ, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason God also highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:5-11 NASB)
Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year – which is also another celebration of Jesus' birth. ;-)