The Christmas holiday is full of fun family traditions: putting up the Christmas tree, listening to our favorite Christmas music, baking treats for neighbors, and purchasing presents for friends and loved ones.
I have a few nativities I set out. The nativities are my favorite Christmas decorations because they represent the true meaning of Christmas.
As my family and I place all the nativity figures on display (Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the sheep, the donkeys, and the Magi), there is one figure that takes precedence: the baby Jesus. He lies in a manger, center stage, and all the other figures turn towards Him. He is the rightful focal point.
When I think about Jesus lying in the manger, I can’t help but think about what is ahead for this baby. I think about the crown of thorns that will one day pierce His brow and the nails that will puncture His hands and His feet, and I am reminded why the Son of God came to lie in a manger in a humble stable.
Jesus didn’t just come, He came for a purpose, and we cannot begin to understand the significance of the baby in the manger until we understand the significance of the purpose for which He came. To fully appreciate Christmas, we must first fully appreciate Easter.
At Christmas, we are given Easter’s gift of hope
Humanity has a great need and one that we are helpless and hopeless to address. This world and every one of us in it is marred by sin and suffering and death. Try as we might to improve our situation, ever since our first parents sinned against God (Genesis 3), the story of the world has been the same. Even our Christmas celebrations can be empty attempts to bring meaning and hope and magic to our lives. The futility of our efforts can often lead us to greater despair.
This is the bleak situation Jesus enters into when He takes on human flesh and is conceived of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin, Mary, (Matthew 1:20).
If you had been in Bethlehem when He was born, the event probably would have seemed inconsequential. An everyday woman and an everyday man bringing a child into the world in an everyday stable, but in that lowly setting over 2000 years ago, the everyday collided with the miraculous. God the Son had entered our world as one of us, fully God and fully man.
If the story had ended there, and if all God had done was to send His Son, maybe as an example of what we should be and how we should live, it would have been an extraordinary event, but it would not have been a transforming one. If all Jesus had done was to come, Christmas would be special, but not hopeful.
Praise God, the birth of Jesus isn’t all there is to the story! Jesus didn’t just come to us, He came for us. The small baby held in the manger would grow up to be the man the grave could not hold.
Jesus would live the perfect life you and I cannot and He would die the death you and I deserve, in our place, taking on our sin, and then He would rise from the grave three days later defeating death for those who place their faith in Him (Romans 4:23-25).
Angels heralded Jesus’ birth to shepherds watching their flocks with these words, “You will find Him there…in the city of David…lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12)
Angels heralded Jesus’ resurrection to the women come to anoint His dead body with these words, “you will not find Him here.” (Luke 24:5-7)
It’s the news that He cannot be found here, in the tomb, that makes the news that He can be found there, in the stable, good news. In a stable in Bethlehem, hope was born; in an empty tomb outside of Jerusalem, that hope was fulfilled.
It is easy to get caught up in the Christmas trappings: the tree, the lights, the gifts, the music, the parties, etc, but nothing else at Christmas can compare to the truth that God came for us. No gift under the tree can hold a candle to the gift of Jesus Christ, our very hope.
This is how God showed His love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 1 John 4:9
At Christmas, we are given Easter’s gift of victory
Jesus didn’t leave the glory of heaven for the lowly manger and the shame of the cross in order to make our lives better, the world a happier place, or give us a holiday.
Jesus came to claim the victory! Everything about Jesus (His birth, His death, and His resurrection) draws a line in the sand. Jesus’ coming was an act of war against Satan and Satan’s power in this realm (Hebrews 2:14-15).
In Matthew 2:16, we are told King Herod saw Jesus as a threat to his throne. In an effort to protect his power and reign, Herod had all the male children in Bethlehem under the age of two killed. It’s a horrible and gruesome story occurring at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life, but it depicts the controversy that would surround Jesus’ entire earthly ministry and would continue after His ascension and until His second coming.
Although Jesus did not come to usurp Herod’s earthly throne, He did come to establish His throne and kingdom, but the kingdom Jesus came to establish would be far greater than Herod’s. The kingdom of God would be made up of people from every nation, every tongue, every tribe, and every generation (Revelation 7:9-10). God’s kingdom does not have physical borders but is established in the hearts of men. Herod’s reign was limited and it came and went. Jesus’ reign is limitless and for eternity.
Herod was right in one regard, no one can be neutral concerning the baby lying in the manger. He is either our Lord or He is our enemy. We wholly accept Him, or we accept Him not at all, for we cannot have Him in part.
At Christmas, we not only celebrate that we were given a baby, but that we were given a sufficient Savior and risen King.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:6-7
Jesus was born to make a way for us to be reconciled to our Creator and to restore the relationship we were created for. He didn’t come to make us feel warm and fuzzy about our own attempts to reach God; He came to be the only way to God.
His birth marks the beginning of the end of our own futile efforts. His death and resurrection victoriously bridge the gap separating us from God.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me, John 14:6.
We cannot truly celebrate the baby Jesus born in a manger in Bethlehem until we first bend our knee to King Jesus, crucified, dead, buried, risen, and seated at the right hand of God, victorious (Luke 22:69; Ephesians 1:16-21).
At Christmas, we are given Easter’s gift of opportunity
The question for you this Christmas is, “Who do you say Jesus is?” Jesus asked this very question to His disciples in Matthew 16:13-15,
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
In verse 16, we hear the answer,
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
How would you answer that question?
This Christmas enjoy your Christmas tree, sing the Christmas carols, take pleasure in the giving and receiving of gifts, but don’t leave Jesus in the manger. He didn’t come to be a baby in a manger. He came to be your Savior and Lord (Romans 14:7-9). Today is your opportunity to receive salvation through Him (2 Corinthians 6:2).
And for those who are in Christ, take the opportunity to meditate on the gifts won for you by Jesus’ death and resurrection: forgiveness of sin (Acts 13:38), reconciliation with God (2 Corinthians 5:18), power over temptation (Romans 6:11-14), victory over death (1 Corinthians 15:20-25), and abundant, eternal life (Romans 6:23).
Don’t skim over the birth of our Savior, spend time there in that stable and in the events leading up to His birth, but let the hope of Easter infuse your celebrations with peace and joy. He didn’t just come, He came with a purpose, and it is finished (John 19:30).
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, Luke 2:11.