The Real Meaning of Christmas
The message I gave in "Carols by Candlelight" at Bethany Evangelical Church on 18th December 2022

Talking about “the real meaning of Christmas” is a bit of a stereotype.

People give it lots of meanings, and of course they're free to do so. A shop window near us in Newport seems to have given up. “Merry Everything” - Celebrate whatever you like and we hope it’s merry for you! (I don't know whether that's really the message they intended; it's just what I got from it).
Merry Everything

In church at a carol service I think we know about this. The meaning of Christmas isn’t presents, a big dinner, time off work and TV; it’s Christ coming into our world. God becoming a human being. Setting the scene for Easter, when we think of Him saving us from our sins by dying for us.

Many people know this really, and the Christian meaning is out there in our culture, even if it usually gets overwhelmed by the other stuff. Here’s a nice example on top of a pillar box in Carisbrooke.
Pillar box top 

But has it ever struck you that God’s method for achieving all this is more than a bit strange?

To start with, the Christmas story which we like recounting in readings and carols isn’t all nice. In parts it’s even “gritty”.

And then, the central miracle itself is an awkward one.

So why would God do it this way?

It’s worth noting that if we had a made-up religion, it wouldn’t have been like this! God would have just materialised in human form or “beamed down”. Gods in pagan religions were always doing that kind of thing.

So “Why the Nativity?” as a film asks this year? The birth of Christ is recounted in great detail from two different perspectives in two of the four gospels, and we’ve enjoyed reading extracts in our carol service. Why does God want us to know all this? He surely does many other amazing things which we don’t know about.

Someone once gave me a clue to this by commenting on the nativity scene in our foyer, “It makes Him look like an ordinary human being”. That’s what the Christmas story does! It’s what God intends us to see!

Imagine what our faith would be like if we didn’t have the gospels of Matthew and Luke with the parts we’ve been reading today; just Mark starting with John the Baptist and John diving immediately into theology. Actually, we don’t have to imagine, we know what happened in the first century before all the gospels were written down.

A group called the Docetists claimed that Jesus couldn'y have been a real man. It was inconceivable to them that God could really be like us, having a physical body capable of suffering, getting tired, having limitations. Some said that God descended on Jesus at His baptism and left Him before the crucifixion. But then, how could He really die for us and be our saviour? What difference could He make to us?

The early church turned away from those ideas largely because they had Jesus’ life story from birth, as well as the things He said and did. They had to accept that Jesus Christ really is God Incarnate: God living among people as a real human being; fully human. Therefore, He can be our saviour.

For Christians, that's the “real meaning of Christmas”: God is one of us. He became one of us by His own choice, because He loves us. We’re familiar with this idea, but it’s amazing when you think about it:
Christ Jesus, being in very nature God ... made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
Philippians 2:5-7

He was born into this world the same way we all are. He knows what our lives are like. He’s the only one who has demonstrated a perfect life, without sin, but He died because of sin, so that we don’t have to.

We do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.
Hebrews 4:15

Because of all this we really can trust Him, depend on being saved by Him and we’ll be with Him in eternity, because of who He is and what He’s done for us.

If we haven’t already put our trust in Christ, Christmas is a great time to start. If we need to renew that trust, it’s a good time to do that too.

Having trusted Christ and received His peace in our hearts, Christmas is also a good time to spread that peace around, having a good effect on the lives of others as far as we’re able.

God chose to be one of us; we can fully trust Him and live for Him. That’s the “real meaning of Christmas”.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see 

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