This is Part 1 of a 3-part series.
Christmas is the most widely celebrated holiday in the world. With all the associated traditions, music, decorations, and food, it should come as no surprise that many children and adults consider it their favorite holiday. Unfortunately, due to our culture’s increasing biblical illiteracy, many people who celebrate Christmas are unaware of its true meaning and origin.
Traditionally, Christmas (“Christ’s mass” or the Feast of the Nativity) is a Christian holiday that was originally a Catholic mass service memorializing the birth of Jesus Christ. The early church did not initially celebrate His birth. However, in the fourth century, Pope Julius I chose December 25 as a dayfor celebrating Christ’s birth and the day was formally established by emperor Constantine when he declared Christianity the formal religion of Rome. The tradition spread to Egypt by the fifth century, England by the sixth, and Scandinavia by the eighth.
Although the Bible does not specify the exact date of Christ’s birth, there are various reasons why December 25 may have been chosen for its observance. First, the Roman Catholic Church traditionally celebrates the annunciation of the Angel to Mary nine months earlier, on March 25, during the spring equinox. Also, December 25 was already a major Roman feast day honoring the sun god, set during the winter solstice. This darkest time of year might have been chosen in order to symbolize God bringing us “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). While most biblical historians now believe that Christ was most likely born in either the spring or fall, the traditional December date has remained the same.
The precise date of Christ’s birth is not the point of Christmas. Neither are evergreen trees, sleigh rides, cookies, and presents. Christmas ultimately celebrates the first coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to save us from our sins. Unfortunately, as the holiday has been popularized and marketed to a consumeristic culture, various secular traditions have taken over, distracting us from the sacred intent behind the holiday. Our culture has slowly forgotten that Christ, not material and earthly things, makes Christmas the joyful celebration that it is.
Our behavior during the Christmas season betrays what we truly believe and value. When we believe and value the first coming of Christ, we cease chasing after earthly goods and worship Him alone. Let us take some time to remember why we celebrate Christmas and the remarkable, humble entrance of our Savior into the world:
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)
Since the fall of mankind, God had promised and foretold of a coming Savior who would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15) and save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Throughout the Old Testament, this is God’s greatest and most emphasized promise to His people Israel. This promise found its fulfillment in a humble manger (Luke 2:11-12). The King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16) miraculously entered the world as a baby born to a virgin (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:18-25), with stable animals as witnesses. Imagine that! Despite God foretelling that Christ would come to them as a lowly, suffering servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12), His coming was nothing like what the Jews imagined or envisioned. Nevertheless, it was exactly how God intended it to be, for His wisdom is foolishness to the world (1 Corinthians 1:25). Jesus, the Son of God and second person of the holy trinity, came to a sin-corrupted and broken world to save a people who would reject Him.
The way that Christmas is celebrated—the traditions, music, decorations, and food—has changed over the years, but the ultimate meaning of Christmas has not changed. The holiday is an opportunity to consider the significance of Christ’s first coming and remember that He will be coming again—this time not as a baby and a suffering servant, but as a conquering King (Psalm 2, Isaiah 9:7, Revelation 19:11-16). Reflection is God’s gift to us, helping us learn from the past so that we can live more faithfully in the present and future. Reflection requires intentionality, honesty, and courage.
The best part about Christmas is not the presents, but the ultimate present of Christ’s presence in the world. When Christ came, the promise of Isaiah was fulfilled: “Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever” (32:16-17). May we all grow in the knowledge of Christ as we remember His incarnation and commit to renewing our minds with a biblical worldview this Christmas season.
Molly Carman is a Policy and Government Affairs Intern at Family Research Council whose research focuses on developing a biblical worldview on issues related to family and current events.