When fall has given way to winter and snow covers the ground while lights twinkle from house to house, you know Christmas is coming. Decorated Christmas trees are everywhere you look. Presents crowd for space under the tree and families come together for a turkey feast. Christmas is one of the most important Christian and cultural holidays of the year, but what is the true meaning of Christmas? Is it the gifts? Is it the annual economic boost?
The Christmas season, especially in the West, is a mix of pre-Christian, Christian, and secular traditions. What's interesting is the etymology of the word Christmas. It literally means Christian Mass. It's a shortened form of Christ's Mass.
Christmas is a time of spiritual reflection on the important foundations of the Christian faith. It's also a celebration. It's when Christians celebrate God's love for the world through the birth of the Christ child: Jesus. The Bible tells of his birth hundreds of years before, fulfilling prophecies.
The Christmas Story in the Bible
The Christmas story is recorded in Luke 2:4-19.
"So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'
"Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.'
"When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.' So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:4-19)
True Meaning of Christmas: Celebrating the Savior
Jesus was born in order to pay the price for the things we have done wrong: sin. God sent his only son to be the atonement for all our sins so that we would not be separated from God. Without Jesus, we would all die for our sins. We inherited our sin nature from the first human beings God created, Adam and Eve. While being fully God and yet fully man, Jesus came into the world as an infant to save us all.
Most Christmas traditions vary in significance and symbolic meaning. For example, we exchange gifts because God sent us the most precious gift: his only Son. Also, three wisemen visited Jesus and brought gifts as well. A poem titled A Visit from St. Nicholas penned in 1822 popularized the tradition of exchanging gifts too.
Although people worldwide celebrate Christ's birth on December 25th, it was likely that he was born on in a different month and date. The church in the 4th century chose December 25th as it coordinated with the Solstice on the Roman Calendar. (See: When Was Jesus Born?)
For Christians, the true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of the Savior, Jesus Christ. We know that through belief in the Christ we are daughters and sons of God. Heaven will one day be our home. Perhaps this will help you look at the Christmas season differently this year. A chance to truly take in the wonder and awe of the season.