in Work and Play
The true meaning of Christmas
Adoration of the Shepherds by the Dutch painter Gerard van Honthorst, 1622
It's that time of year again. December has come and with it all the joys of Christmas. But what is the real meaning of Christmas? Is it the gifts under the tree, the lights in the windows, the cards in the mail, turkey dinners with family and friends, snow in the yard, stockings hanging in the living room, and shouts of "Merry Christmas" to those who pass us in the streets? Is this really Christmas?
We think that's just a part of it, embodied in a definition of the "the true meaning of Christmas," found in The American magazine, volume 28 from 1889:
"To give up one's very self — to think only of others — how to bring the greatest happiness to others — that is the true meaning of Christmas."
The poem A Visit From St. Nicholas (1822) helped popularize the tradition of exchanging gifts, and seasonal Christmas shopping began to assume economic importance. Sure, the giving of gifts gives us joy, but this should only be a small part of the meaning we find in Christmas.
The true meaning of Christmas is love. John 3:16-17 says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." The true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of this incredible act of love.
The real Christmas story is the story of God's becoming a human being in the Person of Jesus Christ. Why did God do such a thing? Because He loves us! Why was Christmas necessary? Because we needed a Savior! Why does God love us so much? Because He is love itself (1 John 4:8). Why do we celebrate Christmas each year? Out of gratitude for what God did for us, we remember His birth by giving each other gifts, worshipping Him, and being especially conscious of the poor and less fortunate.
God loved His own and provided a way — the only Way — for us to spend eternity with Him. He gave His only Son to take our punishment for our sins. He paid the price in full, and we are free from condemnation when we accept that free gift of love. "But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
With this in mind, Christmas can be a season of great joy. It is a time of God showing His great love for us. It can be a time of healing and renewed strength. Sure, enjoy the season but remember to rejoice as well! After all, the true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of God's ultimate gift: the birth of Jesus, the Christ child.