Once again the world celebrates Christmas in the midst of crisis. Millions are not certain they will survive to see another Christmas. In many parts of the world, Christmas carolers will stand outside their neighbors’ doors and sing “Silent Night! Holy Night!” Everyone is busily preparing for the holiday season.
Yet, in the midst of this preparation, millions have missed the real meaning of Christmas.
In the midst of the Christmas rush, Christ is often left out as we forget that it is actually His birthday we are celebrating. The precise meaning of that first Christmas is clear: God came to earth in human form.
Some 2,000 years ago, the angel revealed to the wondering and trembling shepherds the glorious news that there was born that day “in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). The angel had already announced to Joseph the character of Christ’s Saviorhood: “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
Israel had looked for One who would deliver them from the bondage of Rome and restore the nation to an even greater glory and prosperity than was enjoyed in the days of King David. They never dreamed that this little Babe in Bethlehem’s manger was the anointed One, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Only a few devout people living in close communion with God, such as the aged Simeon, saw the spiritual significance of Christ’s birth. Looking into the face of the holy Babe, Simeon saw One who had come to be “a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of [God’s] people Israel” (Luke 2:32).
There is a story that comes to us out of the World War II years in England. A good mother tried daily to keep the memory of her young son’s father fresh in the boy’s mind. Often this mother would take the lad into the library of their home, and there they would stand and gaze at the beautiful portrait of his father. One day the young boy looked long and wistfully at his father’s picture and said to his mother, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Father could just step down out of the frame?”
For long centuries the children of God had walked in the light of the lawgiver and of the prophets, but all the while they had looked up to Heaven and longed to have God step down “out of the frame.” In Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, that is just what God did. He became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh and “dwelt among us.” The Christmas message is this: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
But because people were blind to their sins, they saw no beauty in Christ that they should desire Him. They crucified the Christ who yearned to save them from their sins and from the tragic consequences that inevitably followed their rejection of God’s anointed.
Human nature has not changed. We like the excitement and thrill of Christmas, but we reject the true meaning of Christ’s birthday.
The world’s primary need today is the Savior—salvation from sin. Failure to recognize this fact and receive God’s remedy for sin is the reason mankind has failed to prevent recurring wars and revolutions in the world. The best schemes and endeavors of people come to naught because within their hearts is lust for position, power and possessions.
Jesus Christ said, “Out of the heart … proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22). Until these things are rooted out, the world in a moral and a spiritual sense will go backward rather than forward.
Many have preached about the Sermon on the Mount as though that in itself is a sufficient dynamic to bring a new world order of peace and goodwill among men. All the religions of the world say, “Do good; do good,” but they do not give us the power to do good. One of the failures of many church leaders is their refusal to believe that our deepest problem is sin. We have joined hands with the idealists of the world in trying to bring about social reform without first dealing with the root of the problem, which is sin.
Many people have failed to see that the human will is sin-bound, egotistical and in rebellion against the will of God. We think that in some particular “ism” we hold the secret to universal peace and prosperity. All religions and ideologies outside God’s special revelation in the Bible have this in common: They are disguised forms of self-redemption and Christ rejection.
Without God we cannot put the world right because we cannot put ourselves right. It is beyond us to put away the sin in our own hearts. We cannot save ourselves, let alone the whole world. Sin permeates all that we think, feel and do; like a shadow, sin pursues us wherever we go. It is part and parcel of our being; we cannot eradicate it.
The evils that curse the world are the consequences of hearts deceived by the devil and separated from God. Thousands of human schemes for social and political improvement will ultimately fail because they do not deal with a person’s basic disease. They change the circumstances, but they leave the person untouched. They alter the surroundings, but they have no power to transform the character. If mankind is to be saved in this terrible hour of history, if the world is to be transformed, then salvation must come from a source outside ourselves.
Christmas emphasizes the glorious truth that salvation is provided apart from us, that into this sin-cursed world came One whose supreme mission is to save sinners.
We cannot save ourselves because we cannot deliver ourselves from the guilt, the power and the consequences of sin. Those in rebellion against God have no terms of peace to offer that are acceptable to God. Only God Himself can make peace, and this He has done through the atoning sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. Through the merits of Christ’s life and death, we are offered full and free forgiveness.
Christmas tells us what it cost God to save the world: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). Christ is God’s great Christmas Gift to the world: “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15). Christ does for us what no other has been able to do: He removes our guilt and reconciles us to God. He raises us from the death of sin to the life of righteousness. He reconciles us to life and to our fellow man. He implants within us new hopes, new aims, new enthusiasms. He regenerates our affections, our desires and our energies, and strengthens our wills.
Beautiful, ethical precepts cannot save us, but Christ can. When Christ comes into a life, He revolutionizes it so that the person becomes a “new creation.” This, and this alone, is our hope.
This hope that was given to those shepherds on that first Christmas morning is available only to those who believe. To know the pardon, joy, peace and power that come through Christ, we must personally receive Christ by faith. Faith must be real if our hearts are to be changed. Mere intellectual assent is not enough. Where faith is genuine, its influence is powerful and revolutionary. This Christmas many people believe that Jesus is the Son of God, without any change happening in their lives. They have never repented and believed. What an astounding change would take place if the millions who profess to be Christians possessed genuine faith.
When we have genuine faith in Christ, a change takes place. We will have a new kind of relationship with our families, our employers, our employees and even our enemies.
Many people ask, “Why doesn’t this revolution happen to more people?” It is because millions of professing Christians are strangers to the genuine, saving faith that means coming to the end of ourselves, to the end of our self-reliance and self-righteousness, and then trusting absolutely in Christ for forgiveness, for moral and spiritual renewal.
The Christmas angels praised God and proclaimed peace on earth. It was by and through Jesus Christ that peace was to come to the earth. Scripture says, “He Himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). All else is confusion, discord and disorder. Jesus Christ is life’s integrator. He is humanity’s harmonizer, the race’s reconciler, the world’s peace-giver: “For there is born to you this day … a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Many of you long for peace in your own hearts this Christmas. You can meet God at the foot of the cross and find the peace that you have sought for so long. You ask, “What do I have to do?” Repent of your sins. By faith receive Christ as your Savior and Lord and Master. Commit your life to Him. He will come into your heart, and this Christmas you can know the Christ of Christmas.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.