Monday, December 24, 2007

The Spirit of Christmas

Every year as we approach the Christmas season, we hear references to “The Christmas Spirit” and the “real meaning of Christmas.” Christmas movies and television specials teach us that the spirit of Christmas is being joyful and generous. They tell us that the real meaning of Christmas is being together with friends and family for the holidays. Both of these explanations are true to some extent, but fall short of the full meaning of Christmas and the Christmas spirit.

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel (God with Us).
Isaiah 7:14

To find the true meaning of Christmas, we must return to the origin of Christmas. Amongst the gift shopping, Santa Clauses, Frosty the Snowmen, and other distractions of December, we often forget that Christmas is a celebration of the fulfillment of God’s promise.

In spite of efforts to “de-Christ” Christmas, the baby Jesus remains at the center of Christmas. Why is this infant so threatening to the people of the world? Why have men from the days of Herod tried so hard to destroy and hide the good news about His birth?

She (Mary) will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
Matthew 1:21

The Jews of Jesus’ day expected the arrival of a Messiah, an Anointed One of God, to deliver them from their oppressors and to establish the kingdom of God on earth. Israel, at this time, had been a conquered nation for almost six hundred years. The people had been oppressed by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Romans. They looked to a military and political leader who would free them from Roman rule and make the nation of Israel great again.

They did not understand that a greater oppression came from Satan and his demons within their own lives. This is the oppression that comes when sin enslaves a person’s soul. They did not understand that because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and therefore all are under a death sentence (Romans 6:23). If, at that point in time, Jesus had come as a conquering military hero, Satan would have won possession of the majority of the souls of the people throughout the earth because only the Jews had been given the means and opportunity to seek forgiveness through sacrifices at the Temple.

God’s plan defeated Satan’s aims. If the penalty for sin is death, then God would pay the penalty for all who would accept by the sacrificial death of His only son, Jesus Christ (Matthew 26:28). The beautiful baby in the manger was born to be the bloody corpse of the cross. The baby Jesus was born to die.

Christmas celebrates not only the birth of Jesus, but His continuing reign. Jesus death on the cross was not the end of the story. His resurrection and triumph over death provide us with hope to do the same and to live eternally with Him in Heaven. It gives us comfort and joy in the knowledge that our departed loved ones are safe in His arms.

Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
Luke 1:30-31

If you know where to look, many symbols of Christmas remind us of Christ’s purpose in coming to earth and His sacrifice on the cross. The evergreen Christmas tree, which is green all year long, symbolizes hope for mankind. The star reminds us of the star that shined over Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth. Christmas candles symbolize the light of the world, which is Jesus Christ. The Christmas wreath symbolizes God’s eternal and never-ending love. The green holly leaf represents immortality and its red berries represent the blood that the baby Jesus would one day shed. Christmas angels recall the angels that sang to the shepherds near Bethlehem. The candy cane reminds us of the staffs that the shepherds carried. Santa Claus, a representation of an actual Christian saint (St. Nicholas) who was born in Turkey around AD 270, symbolizes generosity and goodwill. Christmas bells, which were used to help lost sheep find their way home, symbolize guidance and returning to the fold. Gifts remind us of the gifts of the magi, as well as Jesus himself, God’s gift to us.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “ Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men of good will!”
Luke 2:13-14

Christmas is a wonderful time of year. It is the one time of year when everyone tries to be a little more like Jesus. People everywhere talk about hope, peace and goodwill, regardless of their behavior for the rest of the year.

Many people choose to focus on the aspects of Jesus message that do not require action on their part. But Jesus also taught that we must change and follow Him (Matthew 4:17, Romans 10:9). The baby in the manger promises hope and peace, but the man on the cross asks for obedience and submission.

Today, there are still people who, like the ancient Jews, look to political, military, or even entertainment figures for salvation and inspiration. All other means of fulfillment are doomed to failure. Submission to Jesus is the only viable option (John 14:6). The baby who came to preach peace and forgiveness will one day return as the conqueror that was expected two thousand years ago.

Merry Christmas to All from CaptainKudzu!

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