The True Meaning of Christmas

Warning – this is a long post!

This Narration of the Christmas story and it’s meaning was delivered on December 24, 2005 with Christmas Carols sung at various points. If you’d like the entire manuscript, contact John Rallison (john@journeyoflife.org). Permission is granted to repring and store this for personal use. All other rights reserved. Contact the author for permission for any other use.

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Welcome to the Journey of Life Christmas Eve Service. Tonight we gather in celebration of the birth of a baby born over 2,000 years ago. A baby born to poor parents far from home in a city so crowded that this baby slept with the animals. This is what we gather to celebrate, but this is not where the story begins.

This story begins at the beginning. The Bible says, “In the beginning,” and there is no way to go further back. Scientist or poet, philosopher or simple laborer, every person comes to a point of faith. Strict evolutionist or young earth creationist, every person must still consider and come to a belief about how and why our universe exists in the first place. What meaning might or might not be found in this life that we live? Do we simply vanish when we die or do we go on to some other mode of existence? Through science we learn a great deal, but science does not address the metaphysical questions of life. And the metaphysical questions of life are what draw us to the story we celebrate this evening.

We begin at the beginning. God made everything. And he made it good. The scriptures tell us that there was no sin in the world, no missing the mark of our created purpose and meaning. Life was healthy, happy and whole. The Biblical story tells us that God put Adam and Eve in a beautiful garden with just one rule: Don’t eat of the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil.

Ah, a rule. Where there are no rules, rules cannot be broken. But now there was a rule that could be broken.

Adam and Eve were not the only intelligent beings the garden. Satan was there also. Formerly an archangel – his name was, “Lucifer,” which means “Light-bearer” – Satan had been cast out of heaven and sought to overthrow the good creation of God.

The rule was the perfect opportunity for Satan. He spun a web of half-truths and led Adam and Eve into eating the fruit that had been forbidden by God. The moment they disobeyed God they died spiritually. Their relationship with God was profoundly altered. Suddenly they knew they were naked. More tragically, they were, for the very first time, afraid of God. In their fear and desperation, they tried to hide from God when he came looking for them.

As a result of disobedience, life got harder. Death became part of life. Man’s ability to trust and love God was shattered. The word had been spoken that if man eats of the tree, he will surely die. A king, even the king of the universe, cannot arbitrarily change his mind and remain just. The word had been spoken and the consequences must come. Mankind’s peaceful relationship with God had been ruined and death was now upon them. Man’s life had been acutely changed.
But God’s love for mankind did not change. He set in motion a plan to not only undo what Satan had done, but to resurrect the trust and love between God and man in a new, more wonderful form. God would send a Savior. Rather than be separated from his beloved creation, God himself would bear the punishment mankind had earned.

Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah in these words:

Isaiah 53:1-6 (NKJV):

Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

A baby would be born who, in some mysterious way would bear all our sins, restoring our relationship to God. That baby would literally be the incarnation – the enfleshment – of God himself. The prophet said it in this way:

Isaiah 9:6 (NKJV)

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Emmanuel. God with us. That is the prophecy. That is our hope of redemption.
Isaiah was not the only prophet who spoke of Jesus hundreds of years before his birth. Micah foretold the city in which the Messiah would be born.

Micah 5:2 (NKJV)

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me
The One to be Ruler in Israel,
From everlasting.”

The one to rule Israel will come from Bethlehem. And not just a ruler, but a ruler who is, “from everlasting.” A ruler who comes from before time.
The one through whom the universe was created, the ruler of all was coming into the world to bear the consequences of sin for those he loves. And mystery among mysteries, he will come as a baby.

The baby would come – did come – but not in the way a king would expect to come. God planned to turn this broken world on its head through the Messiah and he began at Jesus’ birth. The arrival of a new king, even an infant prince, is a time of great fanfare. The babe would be born into deep luxury. Scented rooms. Warm baths. Soft bedding. Servants at the ready for mother and child.

Not so with this king. As Jesus would later do on the cross, so he now turns the world’s value system upside down. He comes into this life through a woman unmarried at the time. He comes into this world while his parents are traveling rather than in their home. He comes into this world and rests in an animal’s feed trough.

And who is told about this coming king? One might expect that the local governor would be informed. Perhaps other town officials. The religious leaders. The world’s values would indicate that all the people of high importance in the community should be told so that they can properly welcome the newborn king.

And who is told? Shepherds. People right around the bottom of the social scale. Listen to the account of the angels appearing to the shepherds:

Luke 2:1-12 (NKJV)

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

For a brief moment, things lit up. The sky filled with heavenly messengers proclaiming not just that the promised Messiah had been born but that, in this Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, we find peace from God. In and through this baby, we will have a guarantee of God’s goodwill toward all mankind. Hear the account of the angels and shepherds as it continues in the 2nd Chapter of Luke:

Luke 2:13-20 (NKJV)

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!”

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

Except for that brief moment in the fields, all was quiet that night. No trumpets. No fanfare. No town crier announcing the birth of the baby king. Just the peaceful stillness of a country town intermittently broken by the cry of a baby hungry for the nourishment and nurturing of his mother.

A silent night. Yet perhaps one of the most important nights in the history of our broken world. For on that night, our Savior was born.

Nobody needs convincing that this world is broken. We all have an innate sense that things could be, should be different. We just feel that we weren’t meant to live with the uncertainty, the pain, the brokenness of this life. Something inside our soul cries out, “It’s not supposed to be this way!”

And our spirits are correct. We weren’t created to live in fear, pain, disease and death. These are the result of our broken relationship with our creator. We are ultimately designed for fellowship with God, and without that fellowship everything else is colored gray or worse.

The scriptures say that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. In our heart of hearts, we know that’s true even though we console ourselves by thinking that we are not as bad as someone else. We know that if there is a God, we are not worthy to stand in his presence.
The scriptures say that we are born into this predicament, that death has an unbreakable grip on every life. Those of us who have experienced the death of a close loved one know that it feels like your insides have been ripped out. They have been ripped out. We were not intended to feel the sting of death.

This baby born in Bethlehem, this baby whose birth we celebrate tonight, came into the world because we need him. We break the grip of death on our life and we cannot overcome the brokenness and evil within ourselves. We need a Savior and tonight we celebrate that the Savior has come.

The baby in the manger will grow up and die on a cross, taking with him the penalty of our sin and going through death on our behalf. Jesus will turn death upside down. Because he died on this earth for us, we will live forever with him. Those who trust in Jesus are in this world but no longer of this world. We are free from the power of death because Jesus has changed it from a darkened door to the gateway to eternal life.

When we humbly accept his sacrifice on our behalf and turn control of our lives over to him, he gives us the peace that passes all understanding and the certain hope of everlasting life. This is the Good News of Christmas.

As we celebrate this Christmas, let’s not just think about what God has done for us. Let’s also take a moment to think about what God’s loving action for us means for our lives today.

Each of us needs a power to live on, people to live with, principles to live by, a profession to live out and a purpose to live for. God has provided each of these things through this baby whose birth we celebrate.

God gives us power to live on through the Holy Spirit who lives inside of all who trust in the Savior whose birth we celebrate. Power comes through the word of God’s promise that he is always with us.

We all need people to live with. No man is an island unto himself. God has provided authentic loving community for us in the church. Sure, it’s not perfect because it’s filled with people. But the core values of the church are what every person needs: love, acceptance, forgiveness, support, and encouragement. God brings these to us through new family that Jesus started: the Church.

There are principles that lead to the best life, and they are found in God’s Word. God does not leave us high and dry to figure out this mysterious thing called life all by ourselves. Oh, much of the mystery remains. But the creator has given us his principles to live by.

We all want to know the answer to the question, “What should I be doing?” God gives us that answer: what he created you to do! Look around the world and you can see that God loves variety. Far from seeking cookie cutter clones, God more than anyone else wants us to discover who he made us to be and to fully express that in our lives.

And purpose: What on earth are we here for? When you get that answer straight, you find a whole new sense of alignment in your life. You are here because God loves you! Why is a painting there? Because a painter wants to paint! You are God’s magnificent creation and your primary purpose is to be in a loving relationship with God. When you live that and share it, you have found your core purpose.

Power, people, profession, principles and purpose are available to everyone, simply by coming to God with the recognition that your life is out of whack without God at the center. God welcomes all who turn to him. Seek and you shall find.

The question for each of us is what to do with the Christmas story. Are we going to celebrate it once per year or live it every day? Does Jesus belong with Cupid and the Easter bunny? Or, in some mysterious but profoundly real way, did the creator of the universe care about us so much that, rather than leave us in darkness and death, he himself intervened on this little planet on an outer arm of the Milky Way? Your answer to that question will have a profound effect on your life either way. I urge you not to leave it unanswered.

God loves us so much that he sent his only Son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life. God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. That is the true meaning of Christmas.