The Purpose of Christmas
One of the first indications of the Christmas season is the appearance of lights. Lights on trees, candles in windows, radiance everywhere. Everything seems to be wrapped in millions and millions of stars. This is appropriate, because December 25 follows the darkest time of the year in the Mediterranean world and Europe, where Christmas celebrations took shape. But the lights are not just decorative; they are symbolic.
Christmas contains many spiritual truths, but it will be hard to grasp the others unless we first grasp a foundational truth. That is, that the world is a dark place, and we will never find our way or see reality unless Jesus is our Light. Matthew, quoting Isaiah 9:1-2, tells us “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Matt. 4:16). John says about Jesus: “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” (1:9).
How is the world ‘dark’? In the Bible the word ‘darkness’ refers to both evil and ignorance. It means first that the world is filled with evil and untold suffering. Look at what was happening at the time of the birth of Jesus – violence, injustice, abuse of power, homelessness, families ripped apart, and bottomless grief.
The other way our world is ‘in the dark’ is that no one knows enough to cure the evil and suffering in it. Isaiah 9:2, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light,” is a famous Christian text, enshrined in Handel’s Messiah as one of the prophecies of the birth of Jesus. It is the end of Isaiah 8, however, that explains why we need the light from God. In verses 19-20 we see people consulting mediums and magicians instead of God. Then the chapter ends: “Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land…. They will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom” (vv21-22).
What is going on here? They are looking toward human resources to fix the world. They are looking to their experts, to the mystics, to the scholars, for solutions. Yes, they say, we are in darkness, but we can overcome it ourselves. People make the same claim today. Some look to the state, others to the market, and all look to technology. Yet they share the identical assumption. Things are dark but we believe we can end that darkness ourselves.
Years ago, an ad in a local newspaper read: “The meaning of Christmas is that love will triumph and that we will be able to put together a world of unity and peace.” In other words, we have the light within us, and so we are the ones who can dispel the darkness of the world. We can overcome poverty, injustice, violence, and evil. If we work together, we can create a “world of unity and peace.”
Can we? One of the most thoughtful leaders of the late 20th century was Václav Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic. He knew that science unguided by moral principles had given us the Holocaust. He concluded that neither technology nor the state nor the market alone could save us from nuclear conflict, ethnic violence, or environmental degradation. “’Pursuit of the good life will not help humanity save itself, nor is democracy alone enough,’ Havel said, ‘A turning to and seeking of… God, is needed.’” The human constantly forgets, he added, that “he is not God.” He concluded in his speech that ‘humanity cannot save itself.’
As Isaiah 8 noted, if we look only to the earth and human resources, the darkness only gets worse. As Havel concluded: ‘Humanity cannot save itself.’ Thus, Keller writes:
“Christmas, therefore, is the most unsentimental, realistic way of looking at life. It does not say, ‘Cheer up! If we all pull together we can make the world a better place.” The Bible never counsels indifference to the forces of darkness, only resistance, but it supports no illusions that we can defeat them ourselves. Christianity does not agree with the optimistic thinkers who say, ‘We can fix things if we try hard enough.’ Nor does it agree with the pessimists who see only a dystopian future. The message of Christianity is, instead, ‘Things really are this bad, and we can’t heal or save ourselves. Things really are this dark – nevertheless, there is hope.’ The Christmas message is that ‘on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.’ Notice that it doesn’t say from the world a light has sprung, but upon the world a light has dawned. It has come from outside. There is light outside of this world, and Jesus has brought that light to save us; indeed, he is the Light (John 8:12).”
Merry Christmas! Yes, there is hope – Jesus, the light of the world, has come! And the Bible tells us plainly why he came. I look forward to celebrating Christmas with you this Sunday morning as we join together to worship the One who has come to __________. I hope you can join us as we learn the purpose of Christmas. Bring your family and celebrate Christmas by worshiping Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Our worship service will begin at 10:00 am.
Joy to the World,
P.S. Remember that on Sunday afternoon January 8 at 4:00 we will have a special service celebrating a milestone of becoming a regular church, ordaining our officers, and installing me as your pastor. It promises to be an historic moment in our church’s life.