Christmas isn’t just a day for candy canes, gift-giving, and hopes for snowfall. For many people, it has explicitly Christian overtones. We see this in nativity scenes, Christmas pageants, and television specials, and in stories like “The Tale of Three Trees” and the legend of the candy cane (the latter of which seems to be mostly false). Of course, there are always online resources debunking Christmas myths, exploring the “real origins” of the holiday, and productions that question the biblical Gospels. So, what is the big deal about Christmas?
People think of Jesus’ birth regularly at this time of year (for reasons we will explore in subsequent posts) because it has become quite traditional to do so. This has been the case for centuries. But it doesn’t go back to the first century. We have to confess that Scripture doesn’t devote much space to Christ’s birth when compared to other episodes from his life. Various individuals celebrated his birth when it was announced (Luke 1:46-55; see also Luke 1:26-38) and after it occurred (Luke 2:8-21). We know that the prophet Isaiah announced the virgin birth centuries before (Isaiah 7:15; Matthew 1:18-25). But that’s about it. The rest of the Bible contains very little about the event.
The biblical writers devoted a vast amount of space to other events in Jesus’ life. On average, about a fourth of the material in the Gospels describes Jesus’ final week (Matthew 21-28; Mark 11-16; Luke 19-24; John 12-20). Paul spends an entire chapter discussing the resurrection of Christ and his people (1 Corinthians 15), indicating elsewhere that it is part of the basis of our faith (Romans 10:9) and served as an essential aspect of Christ’s saving work (Romans 4:25). Christians observe the Lord’s Supper weekly in remembrance of what he accomplished through his death, burial, and resurrection (Acts 2:42; 20:7).
We can surmise that Christians observed the Lord’s Supper frequently based on statements Paul makes in his correspondence with the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:20, 25). The language Paul uses indicates that believers did this as they gathered for worship. This means that Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and enthronement require regular consideration have always called the church to reflect upon the cost of salvation (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:20).
Even though Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection—and aspects of theology (belief) and worship (practice)—occupy much more space than his birth, it still stands as one of the most uniquely remarkable events in human history. As he had done so many other times before, and in such marvelous ways, God once again broke into human history with a masterstroke loaded with historical and theological significance. It was the beginning of the end of darkness, sealing the fate of the unholy trinity of sin, death, and the devil.
Should we celebrate Christmas? Some people refuse to do so because they disagree with its religious connections—to be consistent on this point, however, we should push to rename all the days of the week, refuse to drive certain automobiles, and probably stop wearing wedding rings because of their pagan associations. We could rightly criticize this time of year for its commercialization (and we wouldn’t be the first!), for the temptation to use money unwisely, for the permissive attitude toward excess, and even for its unscriptural religious connections. But it does create an unparalleled opportunity to talk to others about the gospel.
Perhaps no other time of the year—excepting Easter—are people more receptive to the gospel message. During this holiday season, we have the chance to explain to others why we do good for goodness’ sake, or because Santa keeps a list, or because the creepy little Elf on the Shelf is watching our every move. We take pleasure in goodness because it honors Christ (Matthew 25:35-40), and manifests the same kind of love God first gave us even though we didn’t deserve it (Romans 5:10).
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