Christmas is one of the most wonderful and most misunderstood holidays of the year. Amidst all the songs, the Santas, the presents, and the lights is a sometimes carefully obscured true reason for the holiday. Most Christians know the real reason we celebrate Christmas: the birth of Jesus Christ.
However, even there, Christmas is misunderstood. Christmas is not a nice story about the birth of a baby who one day became a great social reformer or the humble beginnings of a great prophet. It is a gritty story that, when properly understood, makes us cry out with tears of agony and joy all at once. Let me illustrate the true meaning of Christmas.
This is Greg Butler.
In 2011, he was arrested for beating an elderly woman in Jacksonville, FL. Barbara Lesta, age 80, opened the door to him and gave him a sandwich. He left, came back, beat her, jumped on her head, and stole her car, leaving her for dead. She crawled to a neighbors house and called the police, who found Greg walking down the road with Barbara’s blood on his shoes. He was sentenced to 30 years for attempted murder, robbery, and grand theft motor vehicle.
This is Benjamin.
He was born the last day of November this year.
Let’s say that I am told that in twenty years time, Greg Butler will be killed in a prison fight, and that the only way to save his life is if someone else dies in his place. Would I be willing to send Benjamin to the prison today, to grow up and one day take his place?
Absolutely not, for two reasons.
First, Benjamin is not just a baby boy, but he is my son. In the short three weeks I have known him, he has brought immense joy to my life, and I could not bear the thought of being separated from him, especially in a place where people would not treat him right. Second, Greg Butler is not just any criminal. He has offended me personally, because Barbara Lesta was not just a random woman, she was my mother’s mother. I heard her describe what it felt like for him to jump on her head. Had she not been attacked, she might have been able to undergo surgery to remove the cancer that eventually ended her life. Greg Butler deserves his punishment, and I, more than most, want him to serve it.
Would I send my son to die for an undeserving, guilty man?
But God did.
Though I have personally offended God by my sins, and though I deserve all the justice and wrath God can muster, He loves me, and 2,000 years ago initiated the plan to pardon me. Jesus would grow up among sinners and eventually be rejected by them. He would hang on the cross, not for sins He committed, but as the punishment for the sins of those around him.
As the punishment for my sins.
The gift of the substitution, though available to all, is effective only for those who will personally trust Christ as their own Saviour. The gift, like our own Christmas gifts, is not earned by good works, but is received by faith, as it says in Ephesians 2: “For by grace are ye saved by faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” Christmas is Phase 1 of the infinitely wise plan of God to give Jesus, so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
What is Christmas all about?
“God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.”
That is neither clean, nor inspiring, nor trite. It is agonizing, it is glorious, and it is the best example of love.
So, Merry Christmas.