By Ian Hodge
What is the real meaning of Christmas? Many answers are proposed, and Christmas is big enough and important enough that most of the commonly proposed answers at least touch upon the truth. Christmas does indeed include family, and service, and gifts, and love and kindness and all of the warm fuzzies. But these things, important and lovely as they are, are not at the heart of Christmas.
Christmas is part of a big story, and we have to go back to the very beginning to understand it. We start with the promise made when humanity lost the Garden that the great enemy of God and His people would one day be defeated through a child born of Eve’s descendants; “And I will put enmity between you (the serpent) and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gen. 3:15)
All throughout the Old Testament people watch for the special child who would be born, having their hopes constantly raised and dashed. But then, God acts! He speaks to a virgin and tells her that she will have a son. You only have to look at Mary’s reaction to see what she thinks of this, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever.” (Lk. 1:46-47, 54-55) Mary was convinced that the special child, the Savior, was finally about to be born!
Christmas tells us that the Savior is finally here, but it doesn’t actually explain what that salvation will look like.
All we see on Christmas morning is a baby, just like any other. He cried when He was hungry, he had dirty diapers that needed to be changed. He looked and sounded just like any other person. Because a key part of the story is that he was just like you and me! But he was also more.
We have the advantage of seeing Christmas after the fact, and thus we are able to understand a bit better who, or perhaps what, that baby actually is. John said it best, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). The baby is completely human, but also completely God. So God has sent the rescuer to us. He does make good on His promises. And He does it by coming Himself, in the person of the Son of God as Jesus the Christ.
You might look around and say that Christmas has failed, that it works better as a warm fuzzy than as a cure for the world’s disease. But that’s because the story isn’t over yet. Christmas is only the down payment, and we celebrate both literally and figuratively in the dead of winter, when the world is at its bleakest. The plot now has its twist; God hasn’t abandoned us, just the opposite, He walks among us to rescue His people!