As we approach Christmas Day, people talk about the “spirit of Christmas” and “good cheer”. Most of these sentiments have little to do with the true meaning of Christmas. The day is one of the “high holy days” on the Christian calendar, and it commemorates the birth of Jesus. Of course we don’t know the exact date of his birth, but that is relatively unimportant.
Calling Christmas the “birthday of Jesus” is good for kids to grasp the basic meaning of the holiday, but it sort of trivializes the day for adults. That’s because Christmas goes much deeper and is more significant than simply a birthday.
To Christians, Jesus is not only the Jewish Messiah (the “Christ” from the Greek), but he is also God in a man. God came to earth in the form of a man, born of a woman (John 1:14):
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (NIV)
This coming to earth of God in a human body is called The Incarnation (from the Latin) or the enfleshment of God (from the German). God had, from time to time in the past, been a physical presence among his people Israel, such as in the cloud and pillar of fire to guide them in the wilderness (Exodus 13:21-22):
The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. (NRSV)
But God never came to earth as a human being and lived as one of us for a period of time. So the Incarnation is unique in human history. God, in the form of Jesus, came for a specific purpose, which is outlined in Philippians 2:5-11:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (NIV)
So as we celebrate Christmas, let us remember the true meaning of the day – not gifts, but the greatest Gift.