December 21, 2002
The Meaning of Christmas
by Donald G. Mashburn

In an unrelenting effort to secularize Christmas, openly anti-Christian groups are trying to remove "Christ" from Christmas, public life, and public property. Some schools prohibit "Merry Christmas" displays. Some teachers won't even let students say "Merry Christmas" to their classmates.

Some folks, not wanting to appear politically incorrect or too religious, use "Happy Holidays" or some such expression to avoid using the name of Christ in "Merry Christmas."

This political-correctness gone goofy raises a timely and important question: "What is the meaning of Christmas?"

Christmas started with the birth of Christ, of course, but we don't know His birth date. It has been celebrated in every month, but mostly in late December and early January in modern times. Roman writings of the mid-fourth century suggest December 25 as Christ's birthday.

"Christmas" comes from Old English words meaning Mass of Christ, a term dating back to 1038. By 1644, Christmas was forbidden in England, where an Act of Parliament compelled shops to open, and condemned plum pudding and mince pies as "heathen." Only a parliament of heathens could ban mince pie!

Christmas festivals reportedly started in Egypt around 205 A.D., but the early history is fuzzy. However, we do know, with "many infallible proofs," about the first Christmas. And we know that the meaning of Christmas was communicated to man centuries before the birth of Christ.

The prophet Isaiah wrote of a coming Messiah and Redeemer: "Because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."

The Christ of Christmas came to die, that we might be "justified by ... His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24). Jesus paid our sin debt on the cross, where "He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities" (Isaiah 53:5).

Some of the "celebrants" on that first Christmas were shepherds "keeping watch over their flocks by night," when an angel appeared to them, and said, "I bring you good tidings of great joy. ... For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:8, 11).

This Jesus, born in a manger, was the Son of God -- "Immanuel, which is translated, 'God with us'" (Matthew 1:23).

Christmas reminds us that Jesus came "to save that which was lost" (Matthew 18:11). We are reminded, too, that the deal was sealed when the Christ of Christmas, after dying an agonizing death on the cross, cried out: "It is finished!"

Three days later, when He came out of the tomb, Jesus proved that He was Who He claimed to be, and that His redemptive work on the cross was acceptable to God.

Additional meaning of Christmas is found in the words of the angel at the empty tomb: "He is not here, but is risen!" The transaction was completed for the purchase of our redemption, promised in John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

Christmas without Christ is empty, with little meaning. Against the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the worldly trappings of Christmas fade to nothing.

If Christmas is seen only as a time to acquire "stuff," we rob our children and grandchildren of the meaning of Christmas. Worse, they may never know the joy of being able to say, "I know that my Redeemer lives" (Job 19:25).

When we exit this life, the stuff we acquire at Christmas, and throughout our lives, will mean little. A one-day garage sale can take care of most of it.

The whole meaning of Christmas is that Christ came, that He loved us enough to suffer and die for us, and that He's coming again!