The Christmas season can be incredibly hectic. There are presents to buy, people to see, food to prepare, and events to attend. If we are not careful, we can forget the main reason to celebrate. The following is a brief theological and confessional reflection upon the true meaning of Christmas.
The Heidelberg Catechism (1563) asks, “What do you confess [in the Apostles’ Creed] when you say: He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary?’” Answer: “The eternal Son of God, who is and remains true and eternal God, took upon himself true human nature from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary, through the working of the Holy Spirit. Thus he is also the true seed of David, and like his brothers in every respect, yet without sin.”
The catechism then goes on to ask, “What benefit do you receive from the holy conception and birth of Christ?” Answer: “He is our Mediator, and with his innocence and perfect holiness covers, in the sight of God, my sin, in which I was conceived and born” (HC Q. 35-36).
Christmas, in its essence, is the celebration of the historical fact that two-thousand years ago God sent from heaven His only begotten Son to be born of a virgin. The eternal Son of God, born in Bethlehem, became a man without ceasing to be God to save us from what our sins deserve. He was, and still remains, one person with two distinct natures—fully God and fully man.
Jesus is, therefore, the perfect representation of God to man. The writer to the Hebrews states: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3a). Moreover, he is the perfect representative of man to God, having fulfilled the requirements of the law by his perfect obedience (1 Pet. 2:22). Jesus is the perfect Mediator: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:5-6a).
Christ came from heaven to earth so that we would, by grace through faith, go from earth to heaven. He came to fulfill God’s sovereign plan to redeem us from both the power and penalty of our sins. He left the throne of glory to be laid in a manger. The apostle Paul put it this way: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).
Christmas, rightly understood, is more than just a sentimental feeling. Christmas is not something that happens inside of us, but very much outside of us. Christmas is the time of year when we, as Christians, focus upon an objective historical event— the miraculous incarnation of the Son of God. The Maker and Sustainer of the universe was “wrapped in swaddling cloths” (Luke 2:12).
When we reflect upon this magnificent reality at Christmas (and all year long), we cannot help but experience true, inner joy, the kind of joy that does not vanish in January, but steadily increases throughout the year, throughout our lives, and throughout eternity.
It must also be emphasized that Jesus was not born merely to give the world a good example to follow. He was born to die, and he died “because God’s justice and truth [demanded] it; only the death of God’s Son could pay for our sin” (HC Q.40).
Therefore, this Christmas may we focus our hearts upon the incarnation and birth of our blessed Savior, Jesus Christ. Indeed, may our hearts and imaginations be captured afresh with the “good news of great joy,” that born in the city of David was Jesus Christ, the Lord.
Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a king,
born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.
— Charles Wesley, 1744