The Real Meaning of Christmas

Title: The Real Meaning of Christmas

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Text: Luke 2:8-20

Date: December 14thth, 2008

Every Christmas season at some point I try to watch at least a few of the classic Christmas specials on TV that I grew up on. You know the ones – Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, Frosty the Snow Man, etc. This year I’ve already watched the classic Christmas special A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s been around for decades and decades but it’s still fun to see over and over again. But one scene particularly caught my attention. During the rehearsal for a Christmas play with the whole cast of characters Charlie Brown gets frustrated and shouts out, “Doesn’t anybody know the real meaning of Christmas?” Linus casually walks up to Charlie Brown and says, “I know the real meaning of Christmas.” The lights dim and Linus walks to the center of the stage and proceeds to give a clear presentation of Christmas, quoting the Bible account: “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were so afraid. But the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.’ Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manager.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth to men on whom his favor rests.’” Now this cartoon Christmas special is probably 30 or more years old, created before political correctness became popular, produced before the emphasis on cultural diversity, and broadcasted before religious relativism became the dominant cultural trend. If it were created today, it would be called, “A Charlie Brown Holiday,” not “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” so as not to offend all the other religions and philosophies of the world. It’s getting to the point of ridiculous that Christmas can’t even be celebrated in the very culture that helped spread and establish it around the world. But that’s where we are at today. What’s so good about A Charlie Brown Christmas is that it’s achieved the status of classic so it’s aired for broadcast by networks even though it isn’t exactly politically correct. And so every year at this time millions of people around the world are reminded of the true meaning of Christmas by a Charlie Brown cartoon, people who may never go to church or only go occasionally, people who may never read their Bibles or sing Christmas Carols. Because anyone and everyone who watches A Charlie Brown Christmas hears a little sermon by Linus on the true meaning of Christmas, complete with a Bible verse! The only thing missing is prayer because the show even includes the singing of classic Christmas Carols! It’s the next best thing to going to church! Well, fortunately, we don’t have to substitute a TV program for church, but let me use the same theme as the show used for today’s message – the real meaning of Christmas. I’ll say three things.

First, there are many challenges to the real meaning of Christmas today. Luke 2:10-11, “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’” In A Charlie Brown Christmas, Linus explains the true and real meaning of Christmas by quoting from the Gospel of Luke. The key phrase in this Bible passage is, “A Savior has been born to you, and he is Christ the Lord.” The real meaning of Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord. But today, you wouldn’t know it from the many other meanings that are placed on Christmas by our culture. These other rivals to the true meaning of Christmas confuse us and rob Christmas of its real meaning; and the problem is getting worse and worse each year. Today, for example, it’s hard to buy a calendar for the New Year without being reminded of all the other religious holidays that are observed around this time – some of which are recent inventions. For example, Kwanzaa was invented by a college professor to celebrate African heritage. Ok, but why celebrate it during the Christmas season? Why is Kwanzaa day December 26th? Clearly, it’s an attempt to celebrate something other than the true reason for the season, which is the birth of Christ the Savior. But that’s not all. There is also Hanukkah on December 22nd. There are plenty of other Jewish holy days that are more meaningful and important, such as the Jewish New Year or Rosh Hashanah; or the Jewish Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. So why is it so necessary to celebrate Hanukkah? Because, again, it is an alternative to the real reason for the season Christmas, Christ the Savior is born. Did you know December 29th is now on calendars as the Islamic New Year’s Day? Again, in our politically correct world it seems that we can’t celebrate Christ’s birth unless everything else is thrown into the mix as well. It’s a shame that the real reason for the season has to be so watered-down more and more each year. And then of course there is the commercialization of Christmas that’s been going on for many years now. It’s funny but the cartoon TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas actually addresses the whole issue of the commercialization of Christmas. Merchandising, buying and selling, advertising, flashy lights and decorations, etc. Just as the many alternative religious observances all attempt to steal away attention from the Christ Child, so too the many commercial distractions steal away the true glory of Christmas. It’s easy to get caught up in the celebrating and gift giving that we lose sight of the reason for the season. The old rival, the Santa Claus story, now almost seems tame in comparison to modern rivals of Christmas. This year we need to be aware of the many things that are competing for our time and attention, and not let them steal away the meaning and purpose of the real Christmas message – Christ the Savior is born.

Second, there is one and only one real and true meaning of Christmas – Jesus’ birth. Luke 2:10-11, “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’” There is so much packed into this one verse. Let me touch on just a few important points. The true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ the Lord. We celebrate a Savior born. Why is that so important? Because a Savior is the solution to our greatest need, the solution to our greatest problem. There is a lot of confusion today over what is our biggest problem. Or in other words, there are many people giving a diagnosis for the problems of the world, but most of these are wrong. For example, many people are saying today that our biggest problem is economic or political. Many people just recently voted for a new president and think that he’s almost a political and economic messiah who will save the world from catastrophe. But the biggest problem of the world, our biggest problem, isn’t economic or political, it’s spiritual. The biggest problem of every man, woman and child isn’t material, it’s spiritual. Since Adam and Eve sinned way back in the Garden of Eden, sin has been our biggest problem. We are all born into a sinful world. We all share a sinful nature. We all in fact do sin. Our sin sets us apart and in opposition to God who is holy and perfectly righteous. We were made for fellowship with God – our very purpose for existing — yet we can’t fulfill our purpose because of our sin. So we need a Savior to save us all from our sins and restore us to fellowship with God. That’s our biggest need, despite what the so-called experts on television and elsewhere tell us to the contrary. And the stakes are high; the clock is ticking for us. If we don’t apply the cure, if we don’t take the solution the Savior Jesus offers us, we perish in our sins and are lost forever in God’s just punishment for sin in hell. The problem of sin is critical and serious; the consequences for neglecting God’s solution are eternal. Jesus is born into the world as the beginning of the solution for our sin problem. What started in Bethlehem was nothing short of the beginning of our salvation, because Christ was born, he lived, he died, and he rose from the dead – all for our eternal salvation. We celebrate the first stage of salvation at Christmas in the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Have you embraced the Savior’s salvation, which was started at the first Christmas? Do you realize how critical your sinful status before a holy God really is, and how important the salvation process is, the process that started with the baby Jesus at the first Christmas? Why only focus on the true meaning of Christmas this year, why not also embrace it by faith for salvation? There is nothing more important that you can do to properly celebrate Christmas this year than to embrace the Savior Jesus Christ the Lord with saving faith.

Third, the best of Christmas is to enjoy many things but never lose sight of the most important thing – Jesus. Luke 2:10-11, “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’” I think the old cartoon television special A Charlie Brown Christmas does a good job in reminding people of the true meaning of Christmas, which is Jesus. Yet at the same time it also affirms enjoying all the other fun and interesting things that are a legitimate part of the entire Christmas season. For example, the cartoon shows Charlie Brown decorating a Christmas tree. There are some Christians who out of zeal for keeping the Christ in Christmas reject nearly everything that isn’t strictly related to the biblical Christmas message. That seems to me an extreme. As long as we don’t get too distracted from the true and real meaning of Christmas, what’s wrong with celebrating the season with many other fun and interesting things. A Christmas tree and decorations are harmless fun around Christmas time. Some people point to a verse in the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament that warns against making an idol out of a tree. They think that prohibits all Christmas trees. Yes, if someone is stupid enough to make a Christmas tree into an idol and worship and pray to it, then, of course that’s wrong. But who does that? A Christmas tree is a tradition that adds to the beauty of the Christmas season; why spoil that by being overly critical of it? The same goes for other kinds of decorations. If these things are kept in their place, they can add to, not subtract from the true meaning of Christmas as a special time. It’s possible to make too much of anything and thus rob Christmas of it’s true meaning. For example, some families are tempted to make too much of family and friends gathering at Christmas, or gift-giving during Christmas. But if kept in moderation these things can add to, not subtract from the real meaning of Christmas. When we give gifts we think of the magi from the East who gave gifts to Jesus that first Christmas, as an example. The key is to keep the main thing the main thing and not get carried away by secondary things. We need to keep the spiritual priority of celebrating the birth of Jesus first and let other things take their lesser place in priority. If we do that, there’s no need to eliminate everything that isn’t directly connected with the Nativity event. In fact, Christmas is the perfect time of the year to bring other people into a saving relationship with Christ because many of the secondary things we use to celebrate Christmas can help draw people into the true celebration. Yes, they can also distract from a true celebration of Christmas, but if we are creative we might also be able to use the holiday season with all its many special things to draw friends and family members who aren’t close to God into a saving relationship with God through Christ.

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