Most of us recognize the opening to the famous Christmas poem: “T’was the Night Before Christmas,” by Clement Clark Moore, first published in 1823. Its real name is “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.” Many of our Christmas traditions comes from this poem.
We are familiar with stockings hung by the chimney with care and visions of dancing sugarplums. We know about mother in her ‘kerchief. We relate to Saint Nicholas coming down the chimney and then dashing away from a snow-covered roof in a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Each year it gives us a warm, fuzzy feeling like the fur he wore from head to foot.
This is what many of us relate to at Christmas. Nothing in this poem has anything to do with the biblical concept of Christmas. It is perhaps a story about generosity and gift giving, but none of this relates to the birth of Christ at all.
Others would say that the concept of giving gifts come from the three magi opening their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Think about the last nativity scene you saw. Usually it takes place in a stable. There you see shepherds and sheep and wise men and camels. What’s wrong with this picture? If the wise men came from the East, i.e. Babylon, they could not have arrived at the same time as the shepherds. It would take months to make that journey. Nor is the number accurate. No mention is made of their number or their names. That is tradition, not Scripture.
Another tradition we often take for granted, if not for gospel truth, is the “angelic choir.” This concept comes from the line in the carol, “Angels we have heard on high, Sweetly singing o’er the plains.” Luke’s account mentions nothing of a choir. The heavenly host of Luke 2:13 means a heavenly army, not choir boys. No wonder the shepherds were sore afraid. When an army gathered around a city in those days, it meant that you were about to be destroyed. They would send an envoy to ask if you wanted to surrender peacefully or die in a siege. This army came in peace. They did not say that there would forever be peace on earth. They were saying that they did not come to destroy the earth, which they very well could have done.
So much of what we celebrate as Christmas tradition in our culture is mere sentimentality spread through Hallmark movies and Christmas cards. The danger of sentimentality is that it obscures reality. Why do we need Christmas? Retailers would say we need it to boost the economy, but there is a deeper, more valuable reason.
The angel summed it up: “Unto you is born this day…a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). We need Christmas because we need a Savior. Christ came because we could not save ourselves. We need someone to save us from sin and death. Romans 8:2 says that we are subject to the law of sin and death, but the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus sets us free from that law. Judaism could not do it. All Judaism could do was point them to Christ and the need of a Savior.
For centuries, the Israelites had looked forward in faith to the coming of their Messiah. The angel announced that the Messiah (the Christ) had been born. Today we look back in faith to Christ as the promised fulfillment of those Messianic prophecies. Many Jews did not look at Christ in faith, and they missed the significance of their Messiah.
Today we risk missing the Messiah because we are too wrapped up in the babe lying in a manger and not a Savior hanging on a cross. We feel that there is some good in us. Like Scrooge, all we need is a large dose of sentimentality that will turn us from a miser into a benefactor. Maybe we just need to do a few good deeds so we can earn our angel wings like Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Never forget that Christ came to save you from your sins. He came to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. At Christmas, God gave us the greatest gift he ever could. He gave his Son to be the sacrifice for our sins. Have you received his gift yet? If not, you can do so today. If you have, don’t forget to thank him for it.
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