‘Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.’ – Isaiah 60:1-3 (ESV)
‘But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.’
– Galatians 4:4-7 (ESV)
Christmas is a unique time of the year. On one hand, as Christians we feel the joy that comes from knowing that God sent his one and only Son to redeem us from our sins (John 3:15-17), but on the other hand, we feel the pressure of the spirit of covetousness that so often comes from this holiday season. Our society uses the Christmas season as an excuse to overspend and to buy things that we either don’t need or even want. We have created a holiday that is full of stuff but largely misses the point.
I have friends in fact who do not practice Christmas. One friend of mine simply doesn’t like to get caught up in the gift buying and giving. Another friend of mine has embraced a Jewish lifestyle and refrains from any holidays not found in the Old Testament. She rejects Christmas as a pagan holiday that the Roman Catholic Church changed to celebrate the birth of Christ. An obvious reading of the New Testament accounts of the birth of Jesus reveals several things. First, only two gospels mention the birth of Jesus (Matthew and Luke). The reason for this is not to gloss over the historical and theological birth of Jesus to the virgin Mary, but the focus of the entire New Testament is not the birth of Jesus but his death. This Baby was born to die (Isaiah 53:11-12; Matthew 1:21). The second point is that the focus of the Apostles was on Jesus’ death and resurrection (Acts 2:22-24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Little is made about the early Church celebrating Jesus’ birth but the focus was always on his death for our redemption (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
I tend to agree that much of what we see about Christmas in the Western nations has become so materialistic and full of greed. My three year old already knows that Christmas means “presents” and he has more knowledge (sad to say) about Santa than about Jesus. While my wife and I are not teaching him about Santa Claus and we are trying to focus the holiday on Jesus Christ, the world bombards his little mind with toy commercials, ads, and others around us with the idea that Christmas means “free toys.” Sadly, there are too many others that believe much the same as my three year old. Who doesn’t enjoy free gifts? But do we really need them?
When I consider Christmas, I tend to view it in terms of missions. World evangelism is the heart of God. Evangelism is not an Arminian or Calvinist doctrine but it is a biblical doctrine that is story of Christmas from the Old Testament prophets declaring that God would send His Messiah (Genesis 3:15; Deuteronomy 18:15; Isaiah 7:14) to the stories of Jesus’ birth in Matthew 2 and Luke 1-2. The narratives cry out “evangelism” as I read them. Consider the very name of Jesus which is from the Hebrew name Joshua, which means, “the Lord saves” (Matthew 1:21). Consider the prophesy of Zechariah through the Holy Spirit in Luke 1:68-79 where Zechariah declares again and again that God’s salvation had come. Consider the words of the angel to the shepherds in Luke 2:8-12 when he declared that the newborn Baby was “a Savior” (Luke 2:11). Consider Simeon’s words in Luke 2:29-32 when he quotes essentially from Isaiah 42:6 concerning the saving work of the Messiah. Truly, the Christmas narrative speaks volumes to the heart of God for lost humanity.
The situation that lies before us is this: we can either give in to the spirit of this age and allow Christmas to remain about the gifts, lights, trees, etc. Or we can view Christmas as an opportunity to celebrate our mission minded God who gave his Son for our sins, and we likewise should invest in God’s heart which is missions. As you and I go about buying gifts for people who probably don’t know them, want them, deserve them, or even will appreciate them, I want to ask you to join with me in giving to world missions. There are literally millions of people who have yet to hear the gospel. While we in the Western nations celebrate Christmas either for the wrong or right reasons, millions more throughout the world have yet to hear the gospel. While we celebrate the birth of God’s Son, millions more don’t even know that Jesus has come. And how can they unless the Church of Jesus Christ invests in world missions (Romans 10:14-17). Christmas is not about what we in the West have made it into, but Christmas can become a holiday to truly glorify God by giving to world evangelism.
[Link to original post and comments on Roy Ingle’s blog, Arminian Today]