Christmas is more than just the celebration of the birth of Jesus.
We read in Romans 8:3 (The Message): “God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all.”
Although the project of salvation would eventually be completed through Good Friday, Easter and Pentecost, it was at Christmas when it all started. God became a human being so that He could deal with the worst about human nature and hence enable them to enjoy the best that He had for them.
Being the holy God that He is, it was expected that the humans He had created were also to be holy. Instead they turned out to have difficulty being so. The first sin resulted in sinfulness being an integral part of subsequent human nature.
In His ingenious way, God decided to send His Son to become human, experience all that human life entails, and yet remain sinless. Only He could do that, since every other human being was tainted with sin. As that perfect human, He took on the punishment that the penalty for sin required, that is, death.
However, He rose from the dead, declaring that death (and sin) did not have the final say. As the risen Lord of glory, He is able to let us benefit from what He did simply by coming to faith in Him. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9, ESV)
A birthday, however, is just the beginning. There is growing up that must follow. A Christianity that focuses and spends too much resources at Christmas compared to the other festivals misses the opportunity to develop well-rounded followers.
The merriment of Christmas soon gives way to the sober realities of human nature, which are the focus of Good Friday. At that festival we remember the Cross that dealt with our sin. However, the consequences of what happened at Calvary continue to affect us daily, especially in dealing with the challenges of the flesh.
Paul wrote: “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want … those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:17, 24-25, ESV)
The maturing process for followers of Christ involves continually applying the power of what He won at the cross so that we may keep on experiencing its benefits. In order to do that, we draw upon the power of the Holy Spirit.
Hence, when we celebrate Christmas, we are also applying all that we have gained in Christ (which are the themes of the other festivals). Take for example the exchange of gifts. We might be tempted to give a “cheap” item to someone we have drawn lots to exchange with. Here is where we have to overcome our carnal nature (a theme at Lent or Good Friday) and draw upon the fruit of the Spirit love (Pentecost).
Or we may have to exercise self-denial in declining invitations to parties where we know there will be activities unbecoming for a follower of Christ to participate in.
While we make a big deal of the joy of the season, other events surrounding Christ’s birth were hardly reasons for celebration. Mass infanticide followed when Herod could not find the child. The newborn and His parents were forced to flee like refugees to Egypt.
Even as I write these words, news of thousands of deaths in the Philippines brought about by typhoon Haiyan has been reported. Thousands more are made homeless and hungry by the devastation.
The rejoicing at the birth of the Christ-child must be tempered with the harsh realities of suffering that even God had to endure at the Cross.
Finally, the very fact that we celebrate Christmas is an affirmation of what is the focus at Easter. The child born on that day eventually became Man, in the truest sense of the word. His resurrection climaxed the divine conspiracy to restore to human beings their rightful place and privilege as the crown of God’s creation. Christmas would be an empty boast if Christ had remained in the tomb.
|Bishop Dr Wee Boon Hup has been a Methodist pastor for 28 years, during which he was also President of Trinity Annual Conference from 2005 to 2012 before he was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore for the quadrennium till 2016.|