Here we are, on the doorstep of another Christmas. The preparations are well underway. There is so much to do to be ready, and you’ve got to be ready! Once we pass Thanksgiving the impending Christmas is all that we can handle, it dominates our thoughts, plans and anxieties. All too often once it actually arrives we’re too worn out and burned out to celebrate. Perhaps that’s the way it should be, I mean, since Christmas is the most important holiday of the year…or is it?
It’s seems it’s been that way ever since I can remember, but not forever. As a matter of fact, the birth of Christ, the nativity, Christmas, wasn’t even celebrated until centuries after Jesus had died, was buried, rose again and ascended back to heaven. In an old list of Roman bishops, compiled in 354AD these words appear for 336AD: "25 Dec.: natus Christus in Betleem Judeae." December 25th, Christ born in Bethlehem, Judea. On this day, December 25, 336, is the first recorded celebration of Christmas. For the first three hundred plus years of the Church's existence, birthdays were not given much emphasis--not even the birth of Christ. The day on which a saint died was considered more significant than his or her birth, as it ushered him or her into the kingdom of heaven. From the beginning of the Church, Christ's baptism received more attention than his birthday in the January 6th feast of Epiphany.
The bottom line is that Christmas, the birth of Christ, while an important event and cause to celebrate and praise God, is but the first step of Christ’s earthly journey. As it is with running a marathon, you can’t run the race without taking the first step, but it’s the final step though, the one that crosses the finish line, that completes the course and wins the prize. If Christmas stands as the ultimate event in our relationship with God we are in deep deep trouble. If we leave the baby Jesus in the manger we’re missing out on God’s greatest gift to us, that of the forgiveness of our sins and life eternal with him in his kingdom. Isaiah foretells that to us a child would be born, to us a son will be given, and that child, that son, would be God himself. (Isaiah 9:6) coming to earth in human form. Notice in the verse above that in this child (son) would be the fullness of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit as Isaiah gives him the names “Wonderful Counselor (the Spirit), “Everlasting Father” (God the Father, of course) and “Prince of Peace” (the true Son of the Father). The gift of the Son is Mighty God who invades this dark sinful world to bring light and life to all mankind. Christ the Lord comes to set right all that has gone wrong. He comes on a mission of salvation and peace for us with our God through his obedient life, his sacrificial death, his rest in the tomb, and his glorious resurrection. His birth would be of no lasting significance without the completion of the remainder of that mission.
My good friend and mentor Rev. Virtus Young, I think that most of you know him, has often stated that we humans have got things backward. We rejoice in the birth of a child, while we mourn when death comes. There’s a lot of truth to that, as a child born into this world will be subject to all of life’s suffering and struggles, while in death we are released from all of that into the peace, joy and glory of God’s eternal kingdom of heaven. That is the case if our lives are joined to the life of Christ by faith and in baptism. The day of our death is our heavenly birthday.
Yes, Christmas is a very significant event in our Christian lives, one that certainly should be celebrated, as the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Christ the Son came to us, as one of us, to live with us and to die for us. His resurrection stands as proof that his life and sacrifice have been judged sufficient before the Father to atone for (pay for) the sins of all the world for all time. In the resurrection we are justified, made right with God. That means that Easter is the ultimate moment in our salvation history. It is the event that is the climax of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. All of this comes to us as God’s gift, received by faith.
“Unto us a child is born, unto us a child is given,” and through the Son we are made sons of God. That’s reason to celebrate, not just at Christmas, and not even just at Easter, we can celebrate each and every day of our lives in that “God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)