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Real celebration

December 2017 | by Timothy Cross

The story is told of a fellow who decided he’d throw a retirement party for his colleagues, friends and family, having worked in the same company for over 40 years.

He hired a hall, booked a jazz band, contacted some outside caterers and sent out the invitations. Then, in due course, a great crowd descended on the hall and, as the evening wore on, began to really whoop it up.

Strangely though, the host himself didn’t turn up! He couldn’t face it. Sadly, the nearer he got to retirement, the more depressed he got. It was something to do with thoughts of growing old, and being of no more economic use.

But this didn’t stop the party-goers from really enjoying themselves! They ate and drank. They laughed. They enjoyed great camaraderie. So much was this so, that they completely missed the original purpose of the party.

The above can be the same with Christmas. We can get so carried away with the festivities, that we miss the main reason for it all. Many don’t even give the real reason for Christmas a thought, yet this doesn’t prevent them celebrating. They too whoop it up, but they’re really just ‘celebrating a celebration’.

On the first Christmas night, a message from heaven to earth was given. It is contained in Luke 2:11 and it captures the real ‘reason for the season’ of Christmas in a nutshell. The verse reads: ‘To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord’. Keeping this verse in mind will surely enable us to celebrate Christmas and not just celebrate a celebration. Please take note of:

The place

‘To you is born this day in the city of David’. The ‘city of David’ refers to the ‘little town of Bethlehem’, where Christ was born. Bethlehem sets Christmas in time and space. Here we are dealing with history, not mythology.

If you had the means, you could fly to Tel Aviv. From there you could take a coach to Jerusalem. From Jerusalem, you could take a bus five miles to the south west, and you would arrive in Bethlehem.

Christ was born in this exact location, as the prophet Micah foretold (see Micah 5:2). His birth was so significant that it has divided our calendar into the eras of BC and AD. Christmas concerns an event that really happened, in time and space.

The person

Our verse from Luke’s Gospel tells us that none less than ‘Christ the Lord’ was born in Bethlehem. He is the one at the heart of Christmas.

‘Christ’ is a title, not a name. It means ‘the anointed one’ or ‘Messiah’. In Jesus, the longed-for Messiah, promised by God, arrived. In Old Testament times, prophets, priests and kings were all anointed with oil at the outset of their ministries. It symbolised their being set apart by God and endowed with his Holy Spirit. As the anointed one, Jesus combined the three-fold role of prophet, priest and king in his one person.

Notice too that he is also described as ‘Lord’. This is a title for God himself. The uniqueness of the Christian faith stems from the uniqueness of the Christ of the Christian faith. He is God! Christians affirm the absolute deity of the Christ revealed in the Bible.

Jesus is ‘Emmanuel, God with us’. He is God in the flesh, for, ‘in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily’ (Colossians 2:9).

The purpose

Luke 2:11 takes us to the very heart of Christmas. It does so as it says, ‘To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour’. Christ’s coming into the world to be our Saviour is the divine purpose behind Christmas.

This encapsulates the essence of the Christian gospel. ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15). ‘You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21). The word ‘Saviour’ means a rescuer or deliverer. This in turn begs the question, ‘From what does Christ save?’

The answer of the Bible is that Christ saves sinners from the divine condemnation they deserve for their sins. He saves us from the wrath of God. He saves us from the very flames of hell. Our greatest need is for a Saviour, for by nature we are all sinners and liable to the wrath of God.

The gospel proclaims that in Christ alone we find the only Saviour for our need. This takes us from Christ’s cradle to his cross, for Christ was born to die. Salvation was procured, not so much by the birth of Christ as by his death, when 33 years later he offered up his sinless life as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of others, ‘that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16).

The purpose of Christmas? It is salvation. Jesus came to execute God’s eternal plan of salvation. He came to be our Saviour.

The point

‘To you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour’. God’s salvation reaches real people. The ‘you’ here refers to some shepherds who were going about their business in the fields surrounding Bethlehem. On the first Christmas, almighty God graciously intervened in their lives.

But this truth has a wider application. God’s offer of salvation still extends to sinners today. The gospel invitation is made ‘to you’. Jesus is a Saviour for us to receive. ‘The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 6:23). Have you received him? You certainly need him. And you may still receive him, for he never turns anyone away when they confess that they are a lost sinner and cast themselves on him for salvation.

‘To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2:11). Here is the greatest Christmas present you can or ever will receive. The salvation of God in Christ is a gift to enjoy in life, to enjoy in death, and to enjoy for all eternity.

O holy child of Bethlehem,

Descend to us we pray,

Cast out our sin and enter in,

Be born in us today.

We hear the Christmas angels

The great glad tidings tell.

O come to us, abide with us,

Our Lord Immanuel.

Timothy Cross has written many Christian books and articles and has an honorary doctorate from Christian Bible College, Rocky Mount, NC