The Biggest, Best, & Most Wonderful Part of Christmas
Here’s a question you’re probably tired of hearing—what is the meaning of Christmas?
Everybody wants to tell us what Christmas is all about. Christmas is about people, presents, time with family, giving, children, shopping, memories, and much more. For many people the Christmas season is about people making the world a better place. Years ago the New York Times ran an ad that said, “The meaning of Christmas is that love will triumph and that we will be able to put together a world of unity and peace.”
We’re all familiar with this sentiment? Right? It says something like, “If we can just pull together as one, hold hands, and try harder, we can make the world a better place.” So let’s all give a little more charity for a few weeks—throw some change in the Salvation Army red bins, give a little extra to your church and favorite charities, buy gifts for people you love—and everything will be alright.
Here’s the problem—this is the exact opposite of what Christmas is really all about. The meaning of Christmas begins with the realization that humanity is at the ends of its rope, the world is broken and we can’t fix it. One of the most familiar Christmas passage is Isaiah 9:6-7. The preceding chapter gives us a very important starting place for understanding Christmas,
"Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. They will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom and they will be thrust into utter darkness." (Isaiah 8:21-22)
Do you see what’s happening? This passage is describing Israelites who are under the thumb of hunger, poverty, famine, and all kinds of social problems. And so they’re running in all directions looking "toward the earth" for solutions. These people are looking to the experts of their day--to the intellectuals, medians, and spiritists for answers. But the more they look to the earth, the more they find themselves in utter darkness.
Then we get to chapter 9, which starts out with one amazing word—Nevertheless. Nevertheless, there is a light coming into this world. It’s not a light that can be manufactured, created, developed or made. It’s not a light that is born out of our acts of charity and good will. This is a light that is sent from heaven to earth. This is a light that God himself must send. And we’re called to simply see this light and embrace it. This comes through in an amazing way in chapter 9:
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan— The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:1-2, 6-7)
Do you see the glory of this light? God brings it about. Here’s the message of Christmas--the world is a very dark place, it’s probably worse then we even realize. Nevertheless, God sent a blazing light, Jesus, into our world 2,000 years ago to overcome the darkness and give all us hope. As the Apostle John says,
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. (John 1:4-5, 9-10)
The reason the world did not (and does not) recognize him is because the world is still looking "toward the earth" for solutions. The world is looking in all directions to overcome the thick darkness. They are looking to new scientific inventions, therapists, drugs, politics, and money to attempt to overcome the darkness. But as we know, the light the world needs is not found in any places.
Look, friends, the reason we are lighting an advent candle every week, singing songs about the coming of Jesus, preaching about reclaiming Christmas, and putting on a Back to the Manger children’s production, is because we have a laser focus on the light that broke into our a couple thousand years ago and changed everything. So as you move through the rest of the Christmas season I want to encourage you to think about a few questions.
During this hectic time are you tempted to deal with the darkness of the world? Are you tempted to deny the reality of the darkness? Do you binge of TV, get drunk, exercise, or buy more stuff? Or do you pull closer to the true light, Jesus of Nazareth? Also, does Christmas fill you with hope? Do you realize that Christmas means God is for us, that there is hope for little peole like you and I?
Finally, are you approaching Christmas like a shepherd or king? Do you feel like God owes you something, that you’re entitled to something you don’t have? Or are you approaching Jesus like the humble shepherds did with open hands and an open heart?
My prayer is that all of us would approach Jesus this month with humble, grateful and teachable hearts becasue "in a land of deep darkness, a great light has dawned...[and] a child has been born...who will reign on David's throne [forever]."
*This article was inspired by a 1990 sermon entitled, "Light Has Dawned," by Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC.