What is the meaning and significance of Christmas for Christians?

It’s the time of year when we explain what Christianity is about.

God exists

Basically, we know from a variety of scientific arguments that the universe was created and fine-tuned for life by an intelligent agent that existed causally prior to the beginning of the universe, because this agent brought the universe into being. Our purpose as humans is to enter into a two-way loving relationship with this Creator/Designer of the universe. This is the only way that we can ultimately be happy and fulfilled.

We avoid God

Now, when you look at human experience, none of us is interested in finding out about the character of this Creator/Designer, because we are afraid that if we find out too much about him then we will have our freedom to do as we please constrained by the demands of a relationship with an all-powerful, all-good being. Just knowing that such a person exists and has a character distinct from our own is enough to cause us to flee from him so that we can stay autonomous from the obligations of the moral law that he expects us to follow.

Christians believe that this universal desire to avoid an all-powerful, all-good God who will judge us is a result of bad behaviors inherited by us from the very first rebellion against God by our ancestors. Ever since that rebellion, the capability for relating to God has been lost, because we no longer have the ability to stop our rebellion against God. Christians call the first rebellion of our ancestors “The Fall of Man”.

What does this rebellion look like for us today? Well, we want to do whatever we want, in order to be happy, and to ignore God’s demands. We want to have happy feelings, including security, community and being morally good, all without a relationship with God. We want to acquire and rearrange matter for our selfish ends without acknowledging and honoring the Creator/Designer of that matter. And, of course, we would like other people to affirm, voluntarily or involuntarily, that our rebellion against God is really the height of moral goodness.

Additionally, some people imagine that God, if he exists at all, must desire our happiness. And of course when their needs are not met by this invented God, then they become even more bitter at God, and eventually decide that God could not really exist since their selfish needs are not being met by him. It never seems to occur to us humans that some pain and suffering may be permitted by God in order to turn our attention away from pleasure and security in this life, and back towards a relationship with him.

This is the mess we find ourselves in. This propensity for turning away from God and trying to pursue selfish happiness and security apart from a relationship with God is what the Bible calls “sin”. Every single one of us deserves severe punishment for refusing to pursue a genuine two-way love relationship with the God who is there. That is the mess we are in before Jesus appears to address this problem.

Jesus saves the day

I cannot say much about how Jesus solves the problem of rebellion against God, because that is really the story of Easter, and today we are dealing with the story of Christmas. But I can say that the solution to the problem requires that God step into history to communicate with his creatures and to perform actions in order to be reconciled with them. That is the message of Christmas: God is stepping into history to do something to end our rebellion. Easter is the story of what he does.

This is talked about in the Bible in John 1, for example.

John 1:1-5:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2He was with God in the beginning.

3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

4In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

You can substitute the word “Word” there for Logos, which really means logic or reason or wisdom. This is a person with a divine nature, identified with the eternal being of God, who exists causally prior to the creation of the universe, who is going to take on an additional human nature, including a human body. (Christians believe that there is one divine “what” being and three divine “who” persons). Software engineers, you can think of Jesus having two natures as multiple inheritance in C++.

And it continues in John 1:10-14:

10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—

13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Here the word grace doesn’t mean like a graceful ballet dancer. It means an instance of mercy received from a superior. A person (a “who”) identified with the divine being (a “what”) has decided to make us a top-down offer of mercy.

The same message of God stepping into history is found in the Christmas carols that people sing at Christmas.

Christmas carols

Here’s the best one, “O, Holy Night“, and it says:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

When we were in rebellion, we had lost our most valuable capacity – the capacity of being in a direct relationship with God. And if the newborn baby Jesus can accomplish his mission (and he did), then we are going to regain that capacity for a direct relationship with God.

Now look at “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing“, which one of my favorites:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”

Basically, as I often say, there are only two kinds of people in the world. There are people who are willing to respond to the offer of a relationship with God, with all the little sacrifices and compromises that a relationship entails, and then there are people who are not willing to respond. For the people who are willing to respond, the appearance of Jesus is the best thing that could possibly happen, because now we are finally going to have a chance to deal directly with God, face-to-face, to find out what he is like, and change ourselves to be more like him, with his help.

And that is why people celebrate Christmas. It’s the anniversary of the birth of Jesus. It is the story of God stepping into history to be reconciled with his rebellious creatures. It’s the story of the divine Logos subjecting himself to the life of a creature in order to rescue us from our sinful, self-destructive rebellion. This love for undeserving creatures is above and beyond the call of duty. We didn’t love him, but instead he loved us first, and he loved us enough to come down here and suffer with us so that we could be reconciled with God.


4 thoughts on “What is the meaning and significance of Christmas for Christians?”

  1. WN, Merry Christmas and thanks for this post. I agree with your point that many try to avoid God for all the reasons that you state, except happiness. What do you do with the Pascal’s quote from PENSES “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” I believe God does desire our happiness, however, I have only found that happiness in relationship with God and following his direction and laws.
    I recently had something sent to me from a facebook auction that was the wrong thing. It including some items of good value that I may have received if I had received the original item, but this was the wrong item. I was tempted to keep it, say nothing and be happy in my good fortune. Then I remembered God’s law that I should do to others as I would want them to do to me. I immediately emailed the seller telling them of the mistake and was willing to return my good fortune. The seller was unaware of what had happened, but was wiling to complete the sale and even sell me the original item at the same price. We were established a friendship, and I have a happiness that I never could have had if I had kept the item and said nothing. Even if I had to return the item or pay more, I still would have increased my happiness.

    1. I’ve been thinking about this very thing recently, and discussing it with my sons. What we came up with is this: many people think the Bible is full of “rules and regulations”. But if you think about it, you see that every rule is for our own good; the rules are created by an amazingly loving God Who only wants the best for us, His creation. So by following them, we can have the happiest life possible.

      Then my sons and I went a little deeper. The universe was created by an amazingly loving God, and every atom obeys His commands and rules, including our own bodies (try breaking the law of gravity!). But He gave us, out of immense love, free will. And so this one aspect of ourselves can be out of sync with the entire universe that God created, but only by our own will. Being out of sync is not comfortable, and we will suffer many natural consequences; not ones imposed randomly by God, but entirely natural consequences because we are rebelling against God and all His creation.

      Then one night, my youngest son would not go to bed. And I said, “If you don’t go to sleep soon, you will be grumpy in the morning.” And I realized that this was not a punishment, but a consequence that he was bringing on himself. And I was merely warning him of this, not imposing it on him.

      And so that made me think that the Bible is actually a book of loving warnings about natural consequences, much along the lines of what I was telling my son about late bedtimes. This is how God made the universe work. This is how He made humans to function best; with great relationships with God and with man. And then: this is what we tend to do to rebel. These are the natural consequences. Do we have to obey? No, we can stay up all night reading under the covers. Will we be terribly sleepy in the morning? Yes, but we were informed of that outcome.

      So true and deep happiness comes from simply listening to God’s voice, hearing and doing and obeying what the Bible tells us, praying for ears to hear and eyes to see and living lives that please Him. Sometimes that can be painful, because other people who are not living according to His Word cause pain, as well as the rebellious and disgusting satan. But life is so very short, and ultimate happiness lies at the end.

      And that is where true happiness lies. It’s not so much that we can choose how we live and find happiness. We must obey God. And why not, He is so very kind and good!

  2. Merry Christmas! Great Post! My parents taught us not to believe in Santa (switch the words around and ‘Santa’ becomes ‘Satan’), but to believe in Jesus!

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