The path of life is marked out with various milestones that are worthy of celebration. Be it public, personal or corporate affair, these junctures are either vested with significance or augur a new beginning or perhaps astrologically auspicious and maybe just timely occasion of remembrance and thanksgiving. Whatever they may be, they all are grounded on a meaningful reason for celebration.
I’m always mesmerized by the season of Christmas. The social atmosphere takes a turn in its aura in this season of the year. Almost mysteriously, the world seemingly soothed by the spell of Christmas carols eases and softens into a mood of benevolence. People are generally more relaxed and cheerful during this time of the year. I supposed the imminent distribution of year-end bonus may have given impetus to this change of mood.
The Christmas season is shrouded with a sense of joy, hope, peace and love. This sanguine mood is bolstered by the charity of giving which has become a key feature of Christmas celebration. Exchanging of gifts has become a Christmas tradition widely practiced by both Christians and non-Christians. Businesses have capitalized on this universal tradition of Christmas. So much so that Christmas, otherwise a religious festival, has been secularized into a commercial bonanza.
So entrenched and prevalent is this tradition of gift-giving that gift-exchange has become the predominant reason for the Christmas celebration. When it comes to Christmas, topped in everyone’s concern is not about reflecting on the love of God and the wonderful gift of His Son. Everyone is preoccupied with what gifts to give and what gifts they wish to receive. Paradoxically and sadly, the Gift for the season has been marginalized and overshadowed by the giving and receiving of material gifts. In fact, in many of the secular Christmas celebrations, Christ – the Gift – the very reason for the celebration, is blatantly displaced and ignored. The celebrations are purely a self-indulged affair of frolicking and reveling.
As mentioned earlier, every occasion of celebration is packed with significance and meaning. Celebration is only meaningful when we understand the reason and significance for the joyous occasion. In the case of Christmas, though it is not the actual birth date of Christ, but it is a day to commemorate the birth of the Savior. Jesus Christ is no ordinary person. He is the Son of God who shares in the same divine nature as God the Father. He is the second person of the triune Godhead. In His obedience, Jesus has volunteered to do the will of the Father. Setting aside His glory and divinity, He came to become like one of us. On the day of His birth, Jesus Christ – the Son of God, became a helpless babe born of the Holy Spirit to virgin Mary. It was something inconceivable – God became man. Mortal man, can never fully comprehend what it is like for God, in His supremacy, in His greatness, in His power, in His holiness, in His majesty, to become a mortal man.
But, why ? For what has the Son of God become man? The answer is : for us.
Jesus has come to be offered as a ransom for man’s sin so that the world may be redeemed from eternal damnation and be reconciled with God – the Creator. As a result of the Fall (disobedience of Adam and Eve), man’s nature has been corrupted and there is no one who is righteous. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). And the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:23).
Christ has been made flesh so that he could be offered as a holy sacrifice for the atonement of our sin. He came to die so that we might live. Of course, if one does not believe that man is sinful, there would not be a need of atonement. But, it would require absolute ignorance to deny man’s sinful nature.
By our own effort in our wretched self, there is no amount of good work we can do to merit holiness acceptable to God. The only way to be reconciled back to the Creator God is to, by faith, accept the grace extended by God in the provision of a sinless sacrifice for the atonement of our sin. The Bible tells us that for God so love the world that He gave His begotten Son that whoever shall believe in him would not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Eternal salvation is purely a matter of God’s grace that He dispensed to us out of His unconditional love (Ephesians 2:8-9).
So amazing is such a grace that some find it hard to believe. Ironically, many prefer to slot out their labor of good works to cumulate their karma for salvation. In pagan worship of the mythical deities, in their attempt to reach out to their gods, worshippers piously demonstrate their devotion in the offering of all kinds of sacrifice to appease their idol-gods.
But, in the case of Christianity, instead of us – the worshippers, God prepared the Holy Sacrifice for us in the person of His Son – Jesus Christ, the Holy Lamb of God. Perhaps, this is what makes Christmas such a special and awesome festive occasion. For there is nothing man could do, has to do or need do to atone for his own sins and obtain merit for salvation, except to receive God’s grace and believe that Jesus is the Son of God – the promised Messiah.
Even for those who believe, many fail to appreciate the suffering sacrifice of God and the significance of the atonement it brings to us, much less awed by it. Not only did Jesus have to experience the fragility of the flesh in his manhood and subjected to all kinds of temptation as we do, but also, the persecution, betrayal and humiliation perpetrated by the very people whom He came to save. Though He is the King of kings and Lord of lords, He was trampled under feet, slapped, spit upon, ridiculed, mercilessly flogged and ghastly nailed unto the cross. Jesus was mindful that it was for such a purpose that He has come to be offered as a sacrificial lamb for the redemption of man. His journey of sacrifice began on Christmas day.
The privilege to enter into communion with God comes with a great price. The blood shed was not of animal but of the perfect body of our Lord Jesus Christ. With its redemptive and reconciliatory significance, Christmas is indeed worth celebrating. For a Savior is born, his name shall be called Emmanuel – God with us. Once we were dead, but now we have been given new life. Once we were separated from God. But, now God has reached out to us to reconcile us back to Himself. The One who was betrayed and rebelled against took the initiative to extend grace to the offender.
Bearing in mind God’s purpose of Christ’s birth and the significance of His incarnation, how then could we meaningfully celebrate Christmas ?
1. Offering Ourselves As A Living Sacrifice To God
Overwhelmed by God’s immense grace and love, Apostle Paul urges us to give of ourselves as a gift to God in the form of a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1) as an appropriate response to God’s Gift.
Rom 12:1 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God
—this is your true and proper worship”.
As God has given, so shall we also, in return, give unto the Lord. If there is anyone who deserve a gift from us, God would be most deserving of it. In any case, having been redeemed by God’s Gift, our lives belong to Christ.
2. Drawing Near To God
In his epistle to the Ephesian Church, Paul reminded the believers that once they were separated from God, but they have been brought near to Him through the blood of Christ (Ephesian 2:11-13).
On the same premise, the author of the Book of Hebrews implores us that : we, having cleansed by the blood of Christ and qualified to enter the Most Holy Place, must draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:19-22). Like many others, I struggle to come to grasp with the immense privilege to be allowed into the Holy of Holies of the presence of God. Yet, it is something that we must not take lightly. On what merit do we deserve to step into the holy presence of God? How could we not be awed by such amazing grace?
This privilege of entering into communion with the Holy God should set us on an exhilarating pursuit of God. Yet, many a time, such privilege goes unappreciated, such honor not cherished and such communion not revered. We have taken our approach to God with contempt. We feel agitated when the church service stretches beyond the normal timing not to mention that we perpetually arrived late for service. We feel it a chore to pray daily except in crisis time. Spending time with God is an optional affair we engage when we have the spare time.
If we are not careful, our ignorance of the significance of the atonement, our callousness to our privilege and our irreverence in approaching God, would amount to slighting the suffering and sacrifice that Christ has made for us.
We could very well take a leaf from the Psalmist’s life. In his joy, the Psalmist proclaims that one day in your court is better than a thousand days elsewhere (Psalms 84:10). King David treasures the moments of his communion with God as captured in his prayer : “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (Psalms 27:4).
3. Allowing The Life Of Christ To Be An Inspiration For Our Living
Christmas is an emblem of humility, obedience and love. For unto us a Child was born – a Child whose life would demonstrate a humility that no other can compare. For the Child was the Son of the Most High God who shares in the very nature of God but took on the nature of a servant, made in human likeness and eventually, out of obedience, died for the love of God and man.
Phil 2:5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Phil 2:6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
Phil 2:7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
Phil 2:8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Phil 2:9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
Phil 2:10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
Phil 2:11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Not only has Christ come to save us. But, He has also come to show us how to be human – according to God’s design. In His manhood, Christ has lived an exemplary life for us to follow. Thus, in celebrating Christmas, besides rejoicing in the redemptive purpose of Christ’s birth, we ought to give adoration to the life and character of Christ and draw inspiration from His life for living a life worthy of God.
To be sure, boisterous festivity and merry-making is not out of order for such a joyous and significant occasion as Christmas. But, the celebration must not stop at festive revelling. Christmas celebration must find expression in the offering of ourselves to God as gift of worship, in our cherishing of communion with God and in our imitation of Christ.
May our reflection and celebration of this Christmas once again spur our resolve to take hold of the privilege afforded to us by our Lord Jesus to draw near to God and like Apostle Paul, consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ.