Page last updated



The Meaning of Christmas
a sermon based on Luke 2:1-20
by Rick in VA

The Christmas story. There are so many ways to tell it, so many ways to announce the coming of God to humanity, but I still love to hear the rich words of the King James text as Luke explains the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus. They help put me in the Christmas Spirit. They help me stay in the Christmas Spirit. But what is the Christmas Spirit? How does one describe it?

While preparing for today’s message, I came across the following true story that I believe helps chip away at the definition:

Mrs. Elizabeth English and her husband Herman owned an appliance store that sold just about everything a person could need in their home. They also sold a number of smaller things, including children’s toys. This particular Christmas in 1949, shortly after the end of World War II, they had practically sold out of almost all of their toys. Mrs. English had been uneasy about leaving their store that Christmas Eve because a single package on layaway had not been claimed yet. It might not have been anything important, but on the other hand, it might be some child's only gift. So Mrs. English and her husband Herman stayed at the store, but after waiting as long as they could, they decided to close down and make their way home. The next day, Christmas day, Mrs. English couldn't seem to get into the Christmas spirit. She cleaned a little around the house, and tried but she still felt restless. Strangely enough, she began to get the urge to go to the store that very morning. Now Mr. and Mrs. English never opened the store on Christmas, and the weather outside was a freezing mix of snow and sleet, but still she felt drawn to go to the store. After an hour, she gave up fighting the urge and told her husband she was going down to the store. He wasn't very encouraging, but she had made up her mind. As Mrs. English slid along the snowy sidewalks to the store, she began to question this still strong urge to go to the store, yet she trekked on. As she got to the store, she noticed two small boys, about six and nine years old, standing in front of the store. The little fellows got very excited when they saw Elizabeth coming. They were two small black children, and they were almost frozen. The younger one was crying, but he stopped when he saw Mrs. English. When she fussed at them for being out in the cold, they explained that they had been waiting for her. The older boy explained to her that his younger brother didn't get anything for Christmas, and so they had come there to get the little boy, Jimmy some skates. He pulled out three dollars and placed them in front of her. Sadly, Mrs. English explained to them that she had sold almost all the toys in the store, and they were out of skates. But as she glanced around the store, she noticed the lone package on the lay away shelf. She walked over and ripped off the wrapping to find that it contained a pair of child's skates! Jimmy reached for them and tried them on. They fit perfectly. When the boys tried to pay Mrs. English for the skates, she told them to use their money for a couple of pairs of good gloves instead. The boys grinned in amazement at this gift of free skates. After both children were warm, Mrs. English began to close up the shop again. She remarked to the boys that it was so lucky they had not frozen out there that morning. She asked, “ . . . how did you boys know I would come?" The older boy answered, "I knew you would come. I asked Jesus to send you." Elizabeth English went home to her husband that day, having found a piece of that elusive Christmas spirit.

I can’t help but wonder at how the full meaning of the season is missed. Many people will soon be putting away the decorations, bringing down the Christmas tree, and returning …to a more routine way of life. Many people will soon be paying off those swollen credit cards, returning unwanted or ill-fitting gifts, and returning …to a more routine way of life.

But before you and I get back to the routine, let’s stop for a moment and let’s dwell on the real and impacting meaning of Christmas. A meaning that centers on God becoming human to manifest His love for us, to give us purpose and hope, and to save us from our sins.

So what is the meaning of Christmas? Why did God become man? What are the reasons He chose to reveal Himself in this way? There once was a man who was reflecting on the meaning of Christmas one cold Christmas Eve in front of the fire. He could not understand why God would give up even one minute of bliss, one minute of glory, to come and be one like us. Why would God, who was almighty, omnipotent and sovereign, humble himself and become man? Suddenly, through the window of his lakeside cabin, he saw a gaggle of snow geese frantically honking and wildly flapping their wings amid the deep snow and frigid cold. They seemed dazed, confused and bewildered. Apparently, due to exhaustion, they had dropped out of a much larger flock migrating southward to a warmer climate. Moved with compassion, the man bundled himself up and went outside. He tried to "shoo" the shivering geese into the warm garage, but the more he shooed, the more distressed the geese became. "If they only realized that I'm trying to save them," he thought to himself. "How can I make them understand my concern for their well-being? How can I convince them that I’m trying to help them?" Then a thought came to him: "If for just a moment, I could become one of them, if I could become a snow goose and communicate with them in their own language, then I could tell them what it is I’m trying to do." In an instant, the realization of what he had just said made the meaning of Christmas become a bit easier to understand: God became one like us to tell us - in simple terms that we could understand, as a human being - that He loves us, that He loves us today, even now, and that He is concerned for our well-being. Yours …and mine!

But there’s more that we should understand. God came not as we might expect Him, powerful, and almighty, but as we might least expect Him. In fact, He so surprised us that even today, 2000 years after He became human, many still miss Him, and many still expect Him to reveal Himself to us in grander and more powerful ways. Yet God, in His infinite wisdom, chose to come to us as a baby, as a small and very dependent little infant. And His subtle ways are easy to miss if we allow ourselves to be distracted by the routine of our lives.

But there’s yet one very important aspect to Christmas that we cannot forget, that we must understand gives real meaning to this holiday. This one, I believe, is more important than any other. The birth of Christ leads eventually to the cross. There, on that hard wood, stained by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus took upon Himself every one of our sins. Every disgusting wrong, those we know we’ve committed, those we are not aware that we’ve committed, those we’ve committed in the past, those we will commit today and tomorrow, were laid upon Him. And He willingly paid the price for every wrong. A price you and I should pay. A price, He instead did, to prove His love for us. The Scriptures tell us plainly, that no greater love is there than the love expressed by a man who lays down his life for us. Jesus, who is God, laid down His life as man, so that we, who deserve death, might live forever in His presence. This is the truth that is born in us in this holiday we call Christmas. This is the truth that births hope in all of us.

I want to share as I close a version of a poem that was written by a pastor friend in Pennsylvania named Penney Rahm. This pastor gladly shares her talent with each of us. I believe she more accurately captures the essence of Christmas in her version of a much more secular poem. You’ll recognize the title, it’s called:

TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS Twas the night before Christmas and in Beth'lem down All the inns were so crowded, Mary couldn't lie down. The baby was coming, all willing and able The only safe place to be born was a stable. The shepherds were sleeping on a hillside nearby, While Mary was singing her first lullaby. The lambs in their sheepfold, all wooly and white, Had just settled down on this clear starry night, When an angel appeared right there where they laid, While they rose in fright, he said, "Be not afraid." The Lord's glory shone as the angel did say, "Good news, I bring to you all on this day." A savior in Bethlehem was born for you, Now he lies in a manger, ragged cloths are the clue." When what to their wondering eyes should appear, But a sky full of angels singing loudly and clear. God's glory they sang for all they were worth And peace among all whom he favors on earth. More rapid than eagles they all disappeared. A shepherd then shouted to all who would hear, "Now, Levi! Now, Reuben! Now, Isaac and Jacob! On, Eli! On Matthew! On Simon and Caleb! To the stable in town, to the manger of hay, Let's go quickly and see where Christ Jesus does stay." The shepherds could hardly believe what they saw, Jesus lay in the manger asleep in the straw. So, down to their knees all the shepherds then sank, With their hearts full of wonder, their God they did thank. And then in a twinkling to Josepph and Mary, The words of the angels, the shepherds did carry. As they drew in their breath, their heads spinning around, From the stable the shepherds left without a sound. Mary pondered these words in the depth of her heart. She ne'er would forget how the shepherds took part. A bundle of joy, Mary thought of her child, And he looked like a pure lamb, so gentle and mild. His eyes full of wisdom, even though just a baby. "My Jesus, a Savior?' she wondered. "Well, maybe." His soft, little face seemed to glow with a smile, So their troublesome journey now, too, seemed worthwhile. Soon after came wise men from places afar. Many days had they traveled to follow a star. They looked for a king who would rule over all, After speaking with Herod, the worst choice of all. Herod plotted and planned--a right nasty old king— Who tried to kill Jesus and end this whole thing. The magi came in and they kneeled at Christ's bed And gave him three gifts and then thinking ahead, They took a new road on their long journey home. And Jesus and family to Egypt did roam. And later he laid down his life for our souls, Forgiving our sins, Jesus Christ makes us whole. He rose from the dead, to his friends gave a mission. And we are now given new life with a vision. So let us exclaim on this most holy night, "Merry Christmas to all, …Jesus Christ …is the light."  Merry Christmas.