The Gift at Christmas
The days are swiftly winding their way towards the one festival of the year up ahead, Christmas, that so many, particularly the young, look forward to. There is much preparation and frantic fuss, and even confusion for some is mixed in with mince pies, jam tarts, fruit cake and delightful delicacies that will adorn the lavishly decorated tables of many households. Licking tasty spoons, preparation bowls and sweet ingredient-covered fingers is all part of the fun, as is buying and covering presents, and counting the sleeps till the day arrives.
Colour and beauty fill the streets, malls and homes with the attractive tinsel, glitter-covered balls, familiar objects, figures and shapes that mark the festival’s distinct ambience. Indeed, the bright colours that penetrate the eyes wherever they wonder brings a warmth and life to the usually dull presentation throughout the year. The music is different; there is a cheer and jingle in the air; and an excitement tingles through the bones of those who wonder what they will receive, while a holiday feeling encompasses snow-covered towns and villages – and also those that do not experience snow – with its anticipated time of joy.
Smiles prevail, laughter is heard, cheerfulness abounds, and an encompassing impression of goodwill seals it all in. For some, this is true and real, but is it reality? It is a nicely painted picture, isn’t it, and it’s the imprint that adorns beautifully crafted Christmas cards. Yet, what is the truth for most? What are issues that we should be looking at?
There are those who say that Christmas should be celebrated as it brings Christ to the fore over this period of time and exposes people to God. There are others who have often said that we need to get Christ back into Christmas. Then there are still others who say that Christmas should not be celebrated at all, as it is based upon a pagan celebration and pagan practise. Then there are those who say that we should not judge and let every man’s conscience be before God, based on Paul’s statement in Colossians1. Then there are the secularists who want their poker in the fire by campaigning for ‘Christ’ and all association to Him to be completely removed from everything related to the Christmas festival for it still resembles or infers Christianity, and there are those who say this should be opposed.
I do not want to debate the veracity of Christmas or scrounge in the coffer of any man’s justification thereof. Yet, there are many pertinent questions that can be asked in challenge to our presentation on this hailed day. What I would like to do is highlight the impact that I feel this celebration is currently having in the lives of people today, what it is that God points to, and what it is that Jesus Himself has called us to take note of, so as to give a clearer perspective of God’s viewpoint. I would also like to challenge Christians, and give a message to unbelievers, many of whom I hope and pray will get to read the message written herein.
Is there a definitive characteristic that comes to the fore? Bear with me, and let us focus our spiritual binoculars on this aspect a little more.
The call at Christmas
The life and warmth that the colour provides in the dead of the Northern Hemisphere’s winter cold is something that many enjoy, and I personally don’t mind it at all – I like colour too, but I have to admit that it is a fleshly appeal, not a spiritual one. In itself, it creates a stark contrast from the grey, cold and bleak tree branches that stand naked and shivering in the throes of winter snow storms. God is full of warmth and life, but He is also of pure bright white light. His colour is not that of worldly attraction, but comes from an immeasurable spectrum of holiness, for He is holy. This is a perspective that should be kept in place with all observances. Sadly, there are many people who feel that Christmas Eve is the one, or at least one of the few occasions in the year, when they should attend church, and it should be used by the preachers as an opportunity to share what the real issues are.
A person might well ask how a Christian could treat Christmas with little relevancy. Is the day not relevant? Was the birth of Christ not significant? Is it not a time for celebration? Yes, it was a time of great joy as an angel appeared and told the shepherds not to be afraid as he was bringing good news of great joy; even a great company of heavenly hosts appeared before the shepherds praising God.2 Yes, it was the provision of the Saviour of the world, and without this first wonder, the rest of Christ’s work would not have been completed. However, what does the Bible point to in all of this? What have we been given in Scripture and what do the gospels – the life and times of Jesus – reveal to us?
Interestingly, all four gospels have the same trend and the same emphasis. The birth of Jesus does not play a significant role in the story that they had to tell, not with any of them. Both Mark and John do not mention Christ’s birth at all and only 7% and 8% respectively of Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels cover the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. This means that less than 4% of the accumulative writings in the four gospels are devoted to this. By contrast, 25% of Matthew, 31% of Mark, 17% of Luke and 38% of John cover the crucifixion week. This means that just under 28% of the total writings of the gospels are devoted to Christ’s death, with another 6% devoted to his resurrection and ascension – Matthew and John being the only ones to write about His resurrection.
Another trend between the four writers of the gospels is the way their information is constructed. Their writings first covers years, then months, then weeks, then days, then hours – which is the information about Christ’s crucifixion. It then spreads out to days again and then weeks. The entire emphasis, the detail, the climax, the importance, and the significance of Christ’s life all point to His crucifixion. And we know that this is so, because Paul writes to the Corinthians and tells them that while he was with them he resolved to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.3 He also says to the Corinthians, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”4
Note: information bars = volume to time ratio; approximates, for illustration only.
It is interesting to note that on most people’s deathbeds, the things that are most important to them, and that which is close to their heart, are the topics of discussion. The final breaths of life are not wasted on trivial concerns, but on the things that the heart and conscience are concerned about.
Moses too can be used as an example, for when he was about to depart, he sat down and wrote and preached to the people, warning them about the Promised Land and cautioning them about the consequences of being wayward. He gave them what was important. As Moses’ death approached, he gave them what would be life to them. Paul did this in his last letters, and Jesus did this too with the disciples at the Last Supper, although He would be raised from the dead and give them further instruction.
So what did Jesus say? Luke 22:19 tells us that Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them – being the disciples – saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Paul confirmed to the Corinthians this aspect of Christ’s remembrance. In 1 Corinthians 11:23–25 he says the following, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”
Nothing is mentioned about celebrating the birth of Christ, only about remembering His death. We also know the exact day and time that He was crucified as it was on the Passover day and at the very hour that the Israelites would have been slaughtering their sacrificial lambs, but we don’t know the exact day or even week that He was born! What the people did not realise at the time was that the one about whom John the Baptist had said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”5 had just been crucified to make atonement for them – once for all! He is the one referred to in the book of Revelation as “the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world”.6
God has not asked us to remember the birth of the Saviour, He has asked us to remember His death; for in His death, He has given us life – eternal life to those who have accepted Him as their Lord and Saviour and continue to walk in His ways in humbleness and obedience.
What then should I do? Should I please men or God? Should I follow the traditions of men or the commands of God? Should I overlook the Advent completely? Is this then a condemnation of those who celebrate Christmas? Not at all! Am I sitting on the fence? Not at all! Christ’s first coming was a profound event and an integral part in God’s plan for man’s redemption, but we need to come to a sober understanding of what the reality of Christmas is for many, and it is herewith presented.
The current Christmas legacy
Charles Spurgeon, who was not a great advocate of Christmas, has been quoted as saying that he wished there were twenty Christmas days in the year. He said this not because of the celebration itself, but more so because of what it meant to the family in their being gathered together. This is fair reasoning, but it does need to be noted that Spurgeon preached during the nineteen century, where England can be viewed through the eyes of Charles Dickens. It was a time of great toil and hardship for the working class (60 to 80-hour weeks, even for children under 12-years), with the few holidays afforded to young and old alike being gold.
So, in today’s society, what has Christmas left us with? We have people getting into inappropriate debt, we have alcohol abuse and a number of other vices along with it. We have “tis the season to be folly, tra-la-la-la-la, la-la, la, la.” I may have written this last sentence humorously, but in reality it is actually no laughing matter. What is happening?
Although Christmas is not a day that I personally hold strongly to, I love the beautiful coloured lights and the pictures you see of the homes covered in snow, all decorated with beautiful lights, homes looking cosy and warm, colourfully wrapped presents just waiting to be opened. But it is a farce; for underneath the wrappings is not a world of warmth, love, togetherness, joy, peace, happiness and security. For many there is impending turmoil, trouble, heartbreak and heartache, faction and a ripping apart for many who are not deserving of it.
Why is this? Where is the “silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright, sleeping heavenly peace” in the homes? Why within a fortnight are lawyers’ offices brimming with divorce filings? – January being ominously known as “Divorce Month”7. Some say it is because there is no time in the holidays; some say it is because they are giving the kids a last hurrah. I would like to add another reason or possibility – the foundation is missing. The true foundation is not in the revelling at the hearth in the “Christmas spirit”, but in the repentance from the heart in supplication before the Saviour. It is in the remembrance of what Christ has done for us and the partaking in His life – the acceptance of Him as our Lord and Saviour and the walking in His ways and the commands of God.
Christmas also gives a false hope and false security to people, and it leaves them with a false confidence. What do I mean by this? What I mean is that the tradition leads away from the truth. One of the Christmas Carols says that “man will live for evermore, because of Christmas day”. This is not true; man will not live for evermore, because of Christmas day. Man will live for evermore with God if they repent of their sins, acknowledge the work done on the Cross of Calvary, accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour and walk in His ways. For the Scripture tells us the following in Acts 17, “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the Divine Being is like gold or silver or stone [or a cuddly and plump old man with red cheeks and a long white beard] – an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent. For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead.”8
God does not give us a choice, He gives us a command, and He will judge the world for what they do. Jesus also said the following, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His Father’s glory with the holy angels.”9 It most certainly is not Christmas day that saves men and women! The events of Christ are not separate from our existence; His birth and crucifixion are not “over there” and just a work done for all humanity. God first calls us to repentance, and then He calls us to be renewed. It is a walk with God minute by minute, day by day and year by year. There are those who sing the Carols with angelic voices, beautiful and crystal clear, but their lives are controlled by the devil himself, and in God’s sight their hearts are blacker than the soot-filled chimneys of the English manor houses. They are distant from God, for Christ is not embraced. Paul says the following in the book of Romans, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – which is your spiritual worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”10 Paul also lays a call at our feet, where in 2 Corinthians he says, “let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”11
Relating to Jesus
The Incarnation and Advent is an adult story, and relating it to and focusing it solely in a children’s sphere is incorrect and dangerous. When we celebrate a person’s birthday, how do we relate to that person? It is as they are at the time of the celebration, and it is the fact of celebrating their life and the value of that life – for that person’s life should be a joy to those celebrating it. We do not celebrate an adult’s birthday as if it were their first birthday, do we? Therefore, when we relate to Jesus, we have to relate to Him as He is now, not as if He were a baby. Furthermore, Christ is not someone whose life we remember as an anniversary date – He is alive! He is the Saviour, and He is God!
The angels sang praises and honour to God; the wise men brought gifts to the Saviour and worshiped Him. The “old man” Simeon held Jesus in his arms and gave thanks to God. These angels and men did not honour, praise, worship and give gifts and thanks to a baby; they worshipped God and the Saviour. Should there not be a similitude of reverence and these aspects incorporated into any such observance?
Do you also realise that it is only those who can relate to Jesus through His death, having accepted Him as Lord and Saviour, who can actually celebrate His birth – for what He means to us, and what His life means to us? Those who have not accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour are indirectly, but ultimately, celebrating their own destruction when they celebrate Christmas with the perspective of Christ being born – because the very reason for His birth leads not only to the salvation of sinners through His sacrifice for sin, but also to the judgement of the world, to those who do not repent and turn to Him. No-one would ever celebrate their own destruction or demise, would they? Outside of Jesus, they remain His enemy and under the wrath of God – no matter how nice or decent a person they may be.
To the non-Christian:
If you don’t understand and accept the Cross, don’t sing the Carols. There is no point in celebrating Jesus’ birth if you do not associate with His death. For to such a person as is estranged from true union with Jesus through His death, they remain an enemy of Christ and under God’s judgement.
The Bible says, “Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!”12 It goes on to say, “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”13
Are you going to embrace this Gift? Today Jesus offers you the gift of life, not through His birth, but through His death and His resurrection from the dead – if you will reach out your hand to Him and accept Him as your Lord and Saviour, repent of your sins and follow Him. I implore you; do not spurn His generous offering.
To the compromising and complacent “Christian”:
Would you accept an article from a store that was broken or not working? Would you be happy to receive such a gift, or be pleased to pass one on to a loved one? Christ is not a broken gift, nor a blemished Lamb. If He gave His all for you, His very best, should He be pleased with your broken gifts and blemished offerings that you give Him? Should you not repent then, and be cleansed and value and cherish the Gift of God through your reverence, honour, and the fear of the LORD? The Word says, “Let us perfect holiness out of reverence for God.”11
Additionally, we need to remember that no man by showing hospitality and a form of godliness on one day will ever convict the heart of a sinner. The only thing that will happen is that the conviction of his heart that you are a hypocrite will be firmly established.
To the true Christian celebrating Christmas:
What does Christmas represent in your life? If you were asked to stop celebrating Christmas, what would be your, or your family’s, biggest complaint? Would it be the fact of not receiving presents, or not being like the Jones’, or not following esteemed tradition? Or would it be the loss of celebrating Jesus?14
At this celebration:
– Will your testimony be honourable before God, or will your conduct be that of the world’s?15
– If you bring a sinner into your house to share your celebrations, will they recognise Christ in your home, lives and activities, or will it be just secular celebration akin to the house next door from where they came?16
– Who and what will be the focus of your day?17
– Will there be revelry rather than reverence?18
– Will there be indulgence rather than temperance?
– Will you be walking after the flesh, or after the Spirit?19
– Will you be substituting the eternal for the temporal, or will Jesus always be first?20
– Will you be impressing people rather than imparting the truth?21
– Will you be mixing our pure Christ with the impurity of what the world has made of Christmas?22 We need to remember that when we come to Christ, we leave the ways of the world behind.
– Despite the joyous celebrations, will you remain in a place where you can approach the throne of God?
– Will your conversation adorn the doctrine of God your Saviour?23
– Do you have a father who is unsaved; will he hear the Gospel message, or is it just a party?
– Do you have a sister who is conveniently complacent about the need to embrace the Cross? What message will she hear this Christmas? Do you have a son who is far removed from the joyous fellowship of our Redeemer; will he hear the beckoning of the Saviour?24 Do you have relatives who scorn the need to change and be renewed through the mercy of God and the power of the Holy Spirit; will they see your uncompromising and steadfast stand in the ways of truth through the festivities?25
– What message will your little children be hearing? If you are heading your Christmas celebration, what message will your grandchildren hear? Will they hear the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the true Gift? Will your children be reminded of the message of Christ’s redemptive work, the reason for Him coming to earth, and the sacrifice that He made on man’s behalf – the reason for our true thanksgiving and surrender under His Lordship?26
– Is all this just a lot of bondage? By no means! Do you not condemn sin and compromise, which is destructive to the testimony of God? Furthermore, if your life be centred in Christ every day, then such a day (Christmas day) will follow the same pattern, and it all leads to the final point – will you be Christ’s ambassador?27
In the words of the late Dave Hunt, from The Berean Call:
Christmas offers a rare opportunity to share the true gospel of Jesus Christ and to expose and correct the ecumenical and confused picture it presents annually to the world. Millions are seduced into thinking they are Christians because they have a sentimental feeling for the “baby Jesus.” Let us remember what Christ said to those who believed on Him: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31–32). It is that truth which we are called upon to proclaim in clarity and power.28
In the words of Bodie Hodge, from Answers in Genesis:
What is important is that we understand the implication of the omnipotent Son of God leaving his heavenly throne to empty himself! Why would the Creator of the universe choose to do this, knowing he would be raised by sinful parents in a sinful world to be rejected and to die a horrible death? Unbelievable as it is, it was to pay the penalty for the sin of humankind (Romans 3:23, 6:23) so that we, undeserving, hateful sinners doomed to die could instead live with him in paradise for eternity. Now, that is worth celebrating!29
Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare Him room, and let Heaven and nature sing!
1. Colossians 2:16 – Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days.
2. Luke 2:9,10,13,14
3. 1 Corinthians 2:2
4. 1 Corinthians 1:22–24
5. John 1:29
6. Revelation 13:8
8. Acts 17:29–31
9. Mark 8:38
10. Romans 12:1,2
11. 2 Corinthians 7:1
12. Romans 5:9,10
13. 1 John 5:11,12
14. Matthew 6:21 – For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.
15. Romans 12:2 – And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
16. 1 Peter 2:12 – Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.
17. Colossians 3:2 – Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
18. 1 Corinthians 10:7 – Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
19. Romans 8:5 – For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
20. Matthew 6:33 – seek ye first the Kingdom of God.
21. John 8:32 – And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
22. 1 John 3:3 – And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
23. Colossians 4:6 – Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.
24. 2 Timothy 4:2a – Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season.
25. Matthew 5:16 – Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
26. Titus 2:13,14 – Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
27. 2 Corinthians 5:20a – We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.
28. Hunt, Dave, The Berean Call, Christmas and Christ, December 1, 1989, https://www.thebereancall.org/content/christmas-christ.
29. Hodge, Bodie, Answers in Genesis, Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday, December 15, 2018, https://answersingenesis.org/holidays/christmas/is-christmas-pagan-holiday/