Is Jesus really the reason for the season?
Many people like to say, "Jesus is the reason for the season." But is this really true for the Christmas season? If we were to look at the origin of the holiday we would find that Christmas comes from a conglomeration of pagan practices. Many of our Christmas traditions seem more properly associated with the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia than they do with any practice of the church. Historical evidence shows that the Christian message was simply grafted into these pagan customs. Even so, today the message of the birth of Christ is generally accepted as the general theme of Christmas. It is a time where the Christian can tell the whole world about the incarnation and it is a time where, in most cases, we can loudly proclaim, "A Savior is born" without being censored. It can also be a wholesome time of family gatherings and a time to show others you care about them.
However, the question remains, "Is Jesus really the reason for the season?" The so-called "hap-happiest time of year" in many cases is a time for depression, grumpy people, commercialism and busyness. The meaninglessness of our indulgent culture bothers many of us and we wonder why we are like this and what we can do about it. I propose that the answer to this dilemma is found in one word, "Savior."
The message, "A Savior has come" that was so fresh and exciting for the shepherds and the Magi causing them to respond in worship has become stale and perfunctory to American culture. Jesus Christ, angels, shepherds, Mary, Joseph have all become cartoonized and commercialized. Retailers make a great deal of money on Jesus this time of year singing, "Oh, what a friend I have in Jesus." Even churches attempt to package and sell Jesus in an ergonomically acceptable form: "Jesus will give you love, joy, peace, healing and everlasting happiness." As churches sing Christmas songs with thick lyrics like, "Peace on earth, and mercy mild; God and sinners reconciled" and "Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns; Let men their songs employ…" they fail to give a reason why a Savior is needed. A minister once asked me, "Saved? Saved from what?"
Perhaps the reason for the artificial nature of Christmas and the demeaning of the story of Christ's birth is that we are a country that has not been given a reason for a Savior. Unless the church first presents the "bad news" there is no need for the "good news" of the gospel. Unless we realize that it is Jesus alone that came to save us from a sure and certain judgment, then the Christmas songs we sing will be meaningless. God's wrath, judgment, condemnation and anger toward sin can only be appeased through a Savior. Thus, celebrating the coming of "Immanuel" (meaning "God with us") is one of the most meaningful times of the year for the Christian who understands his need to be saved. Only by understanding that Jesus came to give eternal salvation from eternal suffering is real meaning is attached to Christmas.
We can only appreciate the coming of the Savior when we understand why He left. The Lord God walked with Adam in the garden until Adam sinned. Then He "sent him out from the garden of Eden." With the birth of Jesus, God once again walks with man. The church must be clear about certain death in Adam if it is to be clear about life in Christ. "For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive." 1 Corinthians 15:21-22.
A gospel that fails to point out the nature of sin and the consequences of it, is not only incomplete and confusing, it is apostasy. Jesus becomes nothing more than a porcelain figurine lying in artificial hay. In fact, this Christmas, if Jesus is nothing more than a gift-giver and not a redeemer then He is a false God, a violation of the first commandment.
Jesus is not only the reason for the season but He's the reason for everything. So then, what's the reason for Christmas? We are! We are the reason that He came. We are the reason He died. Christmas can only be meaningful when we realize our certain demise without Christ is found in Immanuel, God with us.
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Originally published in the Rockdale/Newton Citizen