After 2000 years we’re still celebrating Jesus’ birthday. Why on earth do we do it? Why are we still doing it?
Lots of people celebrate because, well, Christmas is fun and – let’s be honest – we all need a bit of cheering up at this time of year. I’m never too keen when people bash other people for having a good time at Christmas – I want to have a good time myself! Nevertheless, as the family of Jesus, we reckon you have a Better Christmas if you get what Jesus is all about. We hold a mid-winter birthday party for Him because His birth means so very much to us.
And I’m going to have a go at unpacking that in nine words:
God is Light. God is Love. God is Life.
God is Light. It’s dark at Christmas time and we hang lights everywhere; there is something very wonderful about lights twinkling in darkness and candles flickering in windows. The Bible pictures the birth of Jesus with exactly this imagery – “The light shines in the darkness”. The world is dark and Jesus has come to light it up.
But it’s the kind of light we find uncomfortable because it shows up the darkness in the uninspected corners of our lives: our selfish sins and our God-less emptiness – “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil”. In fact, the thing about light is that it consumes darkness; it banishes and gets rid of it, which is exactly what Jesus means to do with all the darkness in our lives. And we don’t like that very much, because we really like our darkness, we like it too much – until, that is, we begin to see that Jesus offers us something better. Jesus introduces us to the deep, deep truth that…
God is Love. “God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son…” Love is so central to who God is that the Bible simply says ‘God is Love’. This is the only reason Christmas exists! Christmas exists because God sent His Son to the world. And God sent His Son to the world because He loves us.
It’s hard to know where to begin when you want to explain what it means to be loved by God. We could talk about how God lavishes love on us by making us His children; or how Christ’s laying down His life for us – for me! – was an unfathomable demonstration of costly love; or how Christ’s love is so soul-satisfying that we will be able to spend forever enjoying it without a trace of boredom and with ever-deepening joy. You have to taste it to see what I mean. Taste it. Because that’s what we get to do now, although that’s nothing compared to what we will experience one day. Which brings us to the fact that…
God is Life. The focus of Christmas isn’t really the baby in the manger. That’s not really the point. The point of Christmas is who-the-baby-grew-up-to-be-and-why-the-baby-came-and-what-the-baby-came-to-do. There’s a good reason why most carol services end with the cheerful (but not always so tuneful!) belting out of ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’; it says it so clearly – “Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die”. Or as Jesus Himself said “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me will live even though he dies.”
So at the deepest, darkest moment of the year we turn on the lights and celebrate. That’s enough to cheer anyone up. But once the light-shedding, love-lavishing, life-giving message of Jesus gets under your skin, you’ve got to admit it, you’re going to have an Even Better Christmas.