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December 2014

Have you noticed that Christmas is no longer just a day but a season? And each year it begins earlier. I have actually seen Christmas displays in stores in August. Even if you don’t start your shopping that early, you must admit that a lot of preparation goes into our holiday celebrations. There are cards to send, gifts to buy and wrap, cookies to bake, parties to attend, and trees to decorate. And you could probably add to that list, depending on your own family traditions.

Whether you enjoy all the activities of the Christmas season or find them excessive and exhausting, there are some spiritual insights we can learn from them. First of all, we must realize that the first Christmas almost 2,000 years ago was preceded by much preparation and was not a one-day event (1 Pet. 1:20). Christ’s birth was planned before the creation of the world and proceeded with amazing precision to the exact moment of God’s choosing: “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). Our redemption was the Lord’s ultimate goal that night.

Christmas is the solution to mankind’s biggest problem—sin. Ever since Adam and Eve disobeyed the Lord, the disease of sin has plagued our world, infecting every person born into it—everyone except Jesus Christ. He is the only perfect human being, and that’s because He is the only one who is both God and man.

I’ll never forget the sign I saw in front of a church many years ago. It was publicizing the sermon title for Christmas Sunday: “Just Another Baby.” I couldn’t imagine how anyone could believe that. If Jesus had been just another baby, we’d all be lost in our sins with no hope of heaven. The baby lying in the manger did not come into being nine months earlier. “He existed in the form of God” long before that night (Phil. 2:6). As the eternal Son of God, He was sent to earth by His heavenly Father to be born of a virgin, grow into manhood, and die on the cross for our salvation. He never ceased being fully God, yet He was also completely human.

This was the only way to rescue the human race from eternal condemnation. A sinless and perfectly obedient person had to suffer the death penalty for mankind’s sin, but no human being was qualified. Only God is perfect, but He cannot die. That’s why the Son of God had to become a man who could die in our place and reunite us with the Father.

A second similarity between the first Christmas and our current holiday is the mystery that surrounds it. Everyone is busy keeping secrets so no one will guess what’s in those colorfully wrapped packages underneath our trees. For children especially, there’s excitement and anticipation as they wait for the day when the wrapping paper is finally removed and they see what’s hidden inside the boxes. In the same way, the tiny baby wrapped in cloths and lying in the manger was a mystery. When the shepherds told people about Him, they all wondered at the things they heard. Even His mother didn’t fully grasp the events surrounding her baby’s birth but pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:15-19).

The Old Testament prophets who wrote about the Messiah sought to understand what the Spirit was telling them, but it was hidden from them (1 Pet. 1:10-12). The apostle Paul called the revelation of Christ and the gospel “the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested” (Rom. 16:25-26). Today we have the completed Scriptures, which fully explain why Christ came and how we can be reconciled to God by believing in Him and accepting His sacrifice on our behalf.

One final common denominator between Jesus’ birth and our Christmas celebrations is joy. The familiar carols, holiday parties, family gatherings, festive meals—all these are ways we rejoice in this special day. When my kids were young, I took such pleasure in seeing the happiness on their faces as they opened their gifts and threw their arms around me in gratitude. But as wonderful as our celebrations are today, can you imagine the joy Mary felt as she looked into Jesus’ face? We also get a glimpse of the rejoicing in heaven when the angels appeared to a group of shepherds announcing the birth of the long awaited Messiah (Luke 2:8-14).

It is my prayer that instead of being distracted with all the activities of Christmas, you will let your preparations and traditions remind you that Jesus’ birth is the greatest evidence of God’s love for you. May the wonder and joy of Christmas fill your heart as you contemplate that moment in time when God’s Son came to earth as a baby to bring us new life.

Prayerfully yours,

Charles F. Stanley

P.S. I’d like to wish you a Merry Christmas as you celebrate our Lord’s birth. Since many people are open to talking about Jesus at this time of the year, it’s a great opportunity to explain why He came to earth. They need to know the true meaning of Christmas—that it reaches beyond the stable to the cross, to provide forgiveness and salvation for all who will believe in Christ.