A couple of weeks ago, Marion and I watched the 1984 production of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, in which Ebenezer Scrooge is set free from his addiction to greed, and discovers again the joy of celebrating Christmas.
Lots of people have tackled the topic of what Christmas is really all about. Dickens addressed this topic in an uncommonly memorable way. I’m no Charles Dickens, but at the risk of repeating the obvious, here are my thoughts on why Christmas is still worth celebrating.
When you get right down to it, Christmas is about hope. Lately I have been re-reading the words that the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary and to Joseph in the months leading up to Jesus’ birth. Something unprecedented was beginning! A new age of hope and salvation was about to dawn with the birth of this child.
Earlier this year, my friend Ken Hall lost his son Rob to an untimely death. Rob had been serving as a missionary in Zambia, teaching Bible and sustainable agriculture, when he was killed in a freakish construction accident just shy of his 39th birthday. He left a wife and three children as well as many grieving loved ones and friends.
Were it not for their hope in Jesus, Ken and Lois could easily have given way to despair in the face of such tragedy. Instead, because of their hope in the resurrection, they have been afflicted … but not crushed by these events. In his Christmas letter, Ken writes that he and Lois have found strength in their season of need through meditating on the words of Paul in Colossians 1, where he speaks of the hope that is stored up for us in heaven.
Ken goes on to explain,
The hope Paul was talking about is what comes from the resurrection of Jesus from death. He proclaimed it as an observable time and space fact, not a subjective religious experience or psychologically induced wish. He says over 500 people in different places and at different times encountered the risen Jesus […] He said Jesus’ resurrection was the basis of our hope that those who die in faith in Him are not “lost”; that our hope for an age of peace and justice is founded on the resurrection; that an end of the obscenity of sickness, aging and death was assured because of it. He said that from this hope, faith and love would spring […] This year we have been in need of it and no other religion or world-view gives any [emphasis added].
I couldn’t have said it better. If Jesus has truly been raised from the dead, then He is the only Saviour of the world. If not, he is a fraud. There is no middle position. Ever since I yielded my life to Jesus over twenty-five years ago, I have carefully examined his character and the fruit He produces in the lives of those who genuinely love and serve Him, and I am fully convinced that Jesus is no fraud. In the face of sickness and death, personal loss, economic uncertainty, and the rising tide of brutal oppression in many lands, Jesus gives hope that is real, not counterfeit.
No other man has ever had such insight into the human heart. No other man has ever been so truthful and yet kind, so gentle and yet tough and uncompromising, so consistently faithful, so willing to pay the price of his proclamation with his life. No other man’s character has ever qualified him to pay with his life for the sins of the world. No other man has ever been raised from the dead never to die again. The only conclusion open to me is that Jesus is exactly who His first followers proclaimed him to be – the Messiah of Israel and the hope of all the earth, who is coming again in glory to restore all things.
This is the Jesus of Christmas. This is the one whose birth the angels heralded with their songs of praise. This is the one whose coming we celebrate. All other powers will eventually be dethroned by him. I am fully convinced that Jesus is the only credible hope we have, and there is nothing intolerant about saying so openly. On the contrary, it would be a great injustice to those in need of hope to give them any other message.
So, I will celebrate Christmas. And it will be Jesus, not Santa, that I am celebrating. Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against reindeer and fat men in red suits, I like cold snowy winter days and Christmas lights, I enjoy giving and receiving gifts, I love roast turkey, and I appreciate the other seasonal treats and goodies as much as the next person. But when the angels appeared to the shepherds on the first Christmas Eve, they did not announce a new season of snowflakes, Christmas trees, reindeer, fat men in red suits, cookies and turkey. They announced that the Messiah had been born. So, the focus of my celebrations will be the One who came to earth to bring the hope of forgiveness, restoration and resurrection to a lost race. He, and none other, is our hope.
Jesus has conquered sin and death, and he is alive today! He is present with his people in this age by the Holy Spirit, and he is coming again on the clouds of heaven to bring in a new age when all things will be made new. That’s a hope worth celebrating. That’s why I celebrate his birth.