What is the meaning of Christmas, and how should the Christian celebrate?
The celebration of the birth of Jesus is important for Christians because it reminds them of the miracle of the incarnation of God, when God the Son took flesh and became a human person (John 1:14). The gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus was conceived from the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb (Matthew 1:20-21). Mary gave birth to Jesus while she and Joseph were in Bethlehem in obedience to a census ordered by Caesar Augustus. “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them” (Luke 2: 6-7 NIV). The story of Christmas is about the surprising work of God on earth.
Our first response to God for the gift of Jesus is to glorify Him. It was how Mary, the young girl who was now expecting baby Jesus, responded. Mary praised God for his favor and his powerful way of delivering his people, as it says in Luke 1:46-56.
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
Like Mary, Christians celebrate the incarnation of God with hearts and voices that give glory to God and rejoice in Him for coming into our world to conquer evil and to save us from our sins. We glorify “the Mighty One [who] has done great things for me” (Luke 1:49). We exalt Him for “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm” (v. 51), He has scattered the proud and brought down rulers, “but has lifted up the humble” (v. 52b) and “has filled the hungry with good things” (v. 53a). He has helped his people and remembered to be merciful to them (vv. 54-55). Christmas is a special occasion to glorify God and rejoice in Him and His mighty and merciful acts.
Another proper response to God in the celebration of Christmas is to spend time with Him in devotional reading and prayer and meditation on the miracle of the incarnation. “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). In the business of this season, it is easy to get occupied in so many things and distractions; it is necessary that we put our minds in the things of God.
Let us read the story of Jesus’ birth again, as if it were the first time, asking God to speak to us anew. What would God teach us this time about his character and the way He works? What would God tell us through the characters in the story, their backgrounds, their status in life, the way God interrupted their lives and the way they responded to God? What lessons would God reveal to us to apply to our times in our society in our world today? As we open the gospels and read the story, let us ask God to open our eyes to see and ears hear.
Another way to honor God as we celebrate the birth of Jesus is by continuing to trust God and expect great things from Him. God is reminding us that He is still at work and He works in mysterious ways. Luke introduces us to a cast of characters who were the least expected to be the main characters of God’s story. Elizabeth and Zechariah, who were “very old” and childless, became parents of baby John.
Mary was too young to think she was of any importance in God’s plan. A group of shepherds, probably dirty and smelling like sheep were not expecting to hear an angel and a choir of angels in the field that night. God surprised them all. God also surprised Anna, a widow who was eighty-four years old, who had waited for years for the Messiah; she saw the baby Jesus. And God fulfilled his promise to Simeon, a devout man of God, “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah” (2:26). Simeon praised the “Sovereign Lord” and thanked Him “For my eyes have seen your salvation” (2:29-30). This Christmas, God is telling us too to keep alive our expectation of his surprising work, in our lives, in those we love and in our communities and the world in which we live.
Let me finish with a practical application of the meaning of Christmas. As we celebrate God giving of his Son to us, we are also motivated to reach out and touch people with the love of God. Let us start in our homes, serving one another with joy. Christmas has rightly become a time when we are encouraged to take time to serve others. Serving others is or should be the normal Christian way of living, but the Christmas season gives us a special occasion to identify with others, especially those who are hurting, the hungry, the homeless, the widows, the sick, the incarcerated, the homebound, the lonely. We can be the persons God uses to bring comfort and hope where there is despair and need.
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