Every now and then around Christmas, I’ll run into someone particularly cynical who points out that Christmas is really just a dressed-up ancient winter solstice festival and that bringing greenery into the home honors that paganism.
I’ve seen both Christians and non-Christians zealously note this, and they always seem to think they’ve won an important battle against the scourge of misguided joy.
“Yes, yes,” they say, “those ancient Christians maliciously took a holiday from innocent pagans, claimed it as their own, and now stupidly think December 25 is special. Jesus wasn’t even born in winter. He was born in June or October! Christmas is stolen and that tree in your living room is a pagan ritual. Now, having ruined the best time of the year, I’m off to tell some cancer patients hope is the ultimate opiate – and maybe I’ll pop a kid’s balloon while I’m at it. Happy New Year!”
At this point we should ask a pretty important question. What if these supposed defects in Christmas’ origins actually complete it?
It seems to me that Christians taking a pagan holiday, claiming it as their own, and then transforming it from a mystical recognition of the seasons and into a spiritual recognition of the means of redemption is a pretty perfect illustration of us, salvation and Christ.
After all, Christ takes us spiritually dead pagans, claims us as His own and then transforms those of us who will bow the knee into spiritually alive Christians.
In doing so, Christ replaces our own ancient pagan rites of pain, selfishness, superficial happiness and mysticism with the fruits of the Holy Spirit, like peace, generosity, joy and a real relationship with the Creator.
What those Christians did long ago to a pagan celebration, Christ has been doing to us personally for thousands of years.
The cynics are right. Christmas didn’t start the way we often assume it did. But that’s part of the point. And this is a secret I never hear today’s Christians talk about.
Christians of the past took something small and superstitious and transformed it into the biggest, most intentionally loving celebration in the planet’s history.
Our cynical friends might also here point out that Christmas today is rife with commercialism and selfishness. That’s true. But so too are the Christians Christ is transforming.
We don’t have Christmas right yet, because Christ doesn’t have us Christians right yet. We are justified but not fully sanctified. One day, however, He will finish remaking us.
When we see Him, we will finally be like Him. We will be made anew, incorrupt, and at that point, we will be able to finally finish Christmas’ transformation, and it will then be incorrupt as well — a perfect celebration of Christ and His love that will save any who are willing.
If you haven’t begun that transformation yet, may I suggest that Christmas is the perfect time to start?
Christmas celebrates the time 2,000 years ago when God’s Son was born into our world. He went on to live a perfect life, and then He died to pay the price for our sins.
That word “sin” really just means “missing the mark” — like an archer might miss a target with his arrow. And we all miss the mark.
You see, those sins — those times we’ve missed the mark — separate us from a perfect God who, by His own nature, is incapable of enduring imperfection. Romans 3:23 says “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
The result of that sin is our separation from God, or what we might call spiritual death. Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.”
The Bible says the only way to get rid of that sin is by a blood sacrifice. That’s why God had the ancient Israelites sacrifice animals. He was teaching them that only blood — only life — can pay for sin. Hebrews 9:22 says “without the shedding of blood there is no removal [of sin].”
And that’s why Jesus came. Yes, He was a good teacher. And yes, He was a good example. But ultimately He was born to die — to die in our places — to die so we wouldn’t have to. He died so that the justice of God could be fulfilled. His blood was shed — His life was given — to pay the price for our sins.
He satisfied God’s justice when He died on the cross, and now we can come to God and be made spiritually alive through belief in Jesus. And that “belief” just means that we admit we are fallen and flawed, admit that we can’t be good enough to earn God’s love on our own, and accept that our only hope to be in a right relationship with God is through Jesus and His sacrificial death in our place. In John 3:18, Jesus Himself said, “Whoever believes on me is not condemned, but whoever doesn’t believe is condemned already.”
There is no better time to give your life over to Jesus than during the celebration of His birth. What could be more perfect than accepting the gift of life He offers you, and doing that on the day we celebrate His life?
If this is something you want, pray a prayer like this: (You can pray it out loud, or just quietly to Him in your heart.)
“God, I know I have failed. And I know I can’t be good enough to earn my way to you. I understand that Jesus is the only way to you. He died so I wouldn’t have to. And now you offer me life for free if I will just accept what Jesus did, place my faith in Him instead of myself, and make Him the lord of my life. I do that right now. Come into my heart. Save me, Jesus.”
If you prayed that prayer, now pray something like this: “Jesus, thank you for saving me. I don’t ask for a sign or a feeling. You said you would save me if I asked, and I’ve asked. I stand on your Word. Now begin to make me the kind of person you want me to be.”
If you decided to fulfill the promise of Christmas and accept Jesus just now, you can find incredibly helpful information for new believers by going to GotQuestions.org, a Christian question-and-answer website dedicated to helping believers in Jesus grow in their walk with God.
Whether you’re a believer, a doubter, an atheist or somewhere in between, I hope this piece has been a blessing to you on today of all days. May you and your family have the merriest of Christmases!