The dark canopy left behind by the afternoon sun is brought to life by colorful LED lights liberally wrapped around in trees, metal posts, windows and door arcs, and hung on walls and underneath ceilings. Colors of red, green, and gold become predominant motifs in gift wrappers, post cards, web pages, and uniforms, even as restaurants, fast-food chains, gift stores, and almost every commercial outlet begin employing various marketing strategies to convince people that their products are the best gifts to give this season. In the radio, the songs are all about giving and sharing to those who are in need. As Andy Williams sang,
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
With all this year-end business and busyness, many go about enjoying the season without even knowing what makes it wonderful. Why is Christmas wonderful? Is it the gifts, the thirteenth month pays and Christmas bonuses? Is it the food, parties, bargain sales, new clothes, new gadgets, or new toys? But what if all these are taken away? What if there are no bonuses, no parties, and no new items? Will Christmas still be special? Will it still be meaningful? In the Bible, the first Christmas happened without any pomp, splendor, and luxury. There was no gorgeous announcement; no royal proclamation on the streets of Jerusalem. Jesus Christ, who left heaven and came as a man, chose a humble entrance into His own creation. He did not choose to be born in an affluent, upper class family. He chose Mary, a descendant of David yet by virtue of her social and economic status was an ordinary girl – ordinary enough to be married to the carpenter Joseph. Jesus could have orchestrated events so that at the ninth month of Mary’s pregnancy there will be a room available for them in Bethlehem. But with all his regal and heavenly dignity, he was born in a manger while everybody in that small town was busy with the census decreed by Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1-2). Ironically, the first people who knew of his birth were not the people of renown, but the shepherds – men of ordinary careers and livelihood (Luke 2:8-17). Unlike today, the circumstances present during the first Christmas was very simple.
The world, however, has transformed this special event into something that deliberately sets Jesus Christ aside and replaces him with Santa Claus, decorations, drinks, and commercialism. John MacArthur, in his commentary to the book of Luke, laments:
…the world celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ for all the wrong reasons. Christmas has become an excuse for self-indulgence, materialism, and partying; it has degenerated into a secularized social event that misses entirely its true meaning. (MacArthur 140)
Unfortunately, even Christians can get tangled in this web of worldliness. Even in giving and receiving gifts, we unknowingly embrace what the world values and forget the eternal significance of Christ’s incarnation. I am not saying that giving and receiving gifts are wrong. But we should make sure that we are doing it for the right reasons. Take note that in the gospel of Matthew, the Magi did not give gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the sake of giving him a “gift.” These items had nothing to do with helping Mary nurse her child. According to William C. Mills (2005), in his book Prepare O Bethlehem,
these three items had a special significance in the gospel. Myrrh is an expensive perfume frequently used for the burial of the wealthy. Gold and frankincense were also luxurious items traditionally used during worship (see Is. 60:1-7) (Mills 37).
In other words, these gifts were given to worship Jesus. They gave so that they can worship the Messiah, acknowledge his deity and anticipate his coming death as the sacrificial Lamb of God.
Why then is Christmas wonderful? Christmas is wonderful because of Jesus Christ – nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. It is neither the gifts we receive nor the gifts we give that make it a special season, but the greatest gift that God gave to mankind – His Son. It is not the parties and the celebrations, but the worship of the Savior, who came to save men and women from sin regardless of race, age, gender, intellectual capacity, educational attainment, or socio-economic status. May this season be meaningful to us because we know that hope, forgiveness and reconciliation with God was made possible, once and for all, through faith in the Messiah.
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