The Meaning of Christmas
What is Christmas all about? If you didn’t grow up in a Christian home, come to this Church, or have parents who read you the Christmas story each year, would you know what Christmas was about all? Think about that for a moment. Would you be able to figure out what Christmas is about from what our society says during this festive season?
A while ago I had a discussion with a person who told me they grew up with no religion in their home. They never went to church, never were baptized, and in fact, really never talked about anything religious in their home. This person wasn’t angry at God, or didn’t reject God or His Church because they had some negative experience with religious people. The simple fact was that their family never felt any need to be involved in a religious community, and now in their adult age, they were totally indifferent to Christianity or any other religion.
This describes a growing number of people in our country. Statistics now say that almost 40% of millennials, people between 18-30, don’t identify with any religious community. And this number is growing at a rapid pace.
So for such people, what do they think about Christmas? Would they even know what Christmas is truly all about?
Well, let’s think about what they would see all around them? In my neighborhood, almost all the homes have lights up, lots of lights, beautiful lights along with reindeer, santas, candy canes, snowmen, and some snow dogs. Even a dear Hindu family has lights shining up around their home. The lights are beautiful, but would a non-religious or a non-Christian person have any reason to understand why there are lights? What do they signify or mean?
Then there’s the Christmas music on the radio or in every shop or store we enter. Some stations even have 24/7 Christmas music. Yet, what does this music tell us about Christmas? That chestnuts are roasting on an open fire. That Rudolph has a red, shiny nose. Lots of music about families gathering together to celebrate the most joyous time of the year amidst a winter wonderland. Once again beautiful, nostalgic music that may warm our hearts. But what is its significance. Maybe one out of every 20 or 30 songs may sing about the Christ child, but these few songs can easily get lost in the host of other catchy tunes.
Of course, there are the Christmas cards we send to one another which show beautiful pictures of families. I love getting these cards and seeing how families change year after year. They are beautiful, and they remind us of family and friends. But do they tell us anything about Christmas?
How many of us go to different Christmas or holiday parties which gather co-workers, friends and families together. Great fellowship. Good food. But once again, what does it tell us about the meaning of Christmas?
And of course there’s all the stress and rush of the season – shopping for more and more presents up until the day before Christmas. Feeling overwhelmed, ragged and tired. Does this get across what Christmas is all about?
What a non-religious person probably comes away with from American Christmas is that it is a time for family and friends, a time of celebration and cheer, a time of beauty and fun. Yet they can miss the entire religious message, the main point of Christmas! Seriously, it’s easy to celebrate Christmas and leave Jesus Christ entirely out of the picture!
One friend told me about a foreign exchange student from China who was living with them. Although this student had heard about the Western holiday of Christmas in China, they actually knew nothing of its actual meaning. And after living through the American celebration of Christmas, they still didn’t know what it was all about until they asked their host family, “Why do you celebrate Christmas? What is it all about? Do you really believe in flying reindeer?”
The “good news of great joy” this season celebrates is about God the Creator of the universe becoming a human being. It’s about Jesus the long-awaited Messiah coming to earth to save the world from darkness and evil, sin and death itself. This radical and life-giving message is now lost for many people in all the hustle and bustle of our secular Christmas. Therefore, we Christians need to understand that this season of Christmas is a great opportunity to let other people know about what Christmas is truly about! We have a great opportunity, and a great responsibility to share the good news of great joy with others – to let people know the reason for the season!
What does your Christian faith mean to you? How has your relationship with Jesus Christ impacted your life? What meaning and significance have you found in life because of your faith in God? As I see my parents and other dear elderly friends age and come closer to the end of their lives, I think about their death and I’m not afraid or saddened. Death is not some dreaded and fearful end precisely because of what Christmas ushered into the world!
Christmas is the beginning of the greatest revolution in human history – a revolution which brings true freedom to humanity. Freedom to overcome our sinful temptations and passions and fulfill our God-given potential by uniting to God Himself. As St. Athanasios the Great succinctly put it, “God became man so that man could become god.” This is the great promise of Christmas, to reach our greatest potential as human beings! And this is good news everyone needs to know about!
So I want to throw out a challenge for everyone in this church. Over the next three weeks, can each of us make it a point to try and share the Good News of Christmas, the real message of Christmas, with at least one person each week. Think of someone you know who isn’t a Christian – maybe someone who is among the non-religious, or maybe someone with another religious background. Whoever it is, ask them how they celebrate Christmas, and what Christmas means to them. Then, share how you will celebrate Christmas and what Christmas (and Jesus Christ) means to you.
Even think about inviting them to come to Church with you one of these Sundays before or on Christmas. Bring them to our Dec 18 service where we will have our youth Christmas pageant. Or bring them on Dec 25 when we will joyously celebrate Christmas and sing all the beautiful Christmas carols.
Please remember that there are many people in our society who really don’t know what Christmas is all about. And more and more people are joining their ranks. Let us be like the angels who brought “good news of great joy” to the shepherds. Let us be like the shepherds who shared their great discovery with the villagers of Bethlehem. Let us be like the wise men who after traveling far to see the newborn Jesus, surely went back to their homeland telling their people about the newborn king.
Christmas is a time for family and friends. Christmas is a time of beautiful lights and wonderful music. Christmas is a time celebration and good cheer. But above all else, Christmas is the time that we remember how God entered the world and changed it! Jesus Christ came to conquer Satan and sin and even death itself, and because of that gave each one of us a new life! May we let everyone know about this good news of great joy!
Macarius the Great of Egypt; Mark, Bishop of Ephesus; Arsenius of Corfu; Makarios of Alexandria; Makarios, Hierodeacon of Kalogera, Patmos; Removal of the Honorable Relics of Saint Gregory the Theologian; Branwallader, Bishop of Jersey
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