“We’re in danger of losing Christmas…A subtle but sure erosion is eating away the season’s true significance.” – John F. MacArthur, The Miracle of Christmas
I intended to write a little something this week about the true meaning of Christmas, but I came across a book I have by John MacArthur called The Miracle of Christmas in which he expresses so well the thoughts I would like to share, that I figured I would just borrow from the book, and let MacArthur speak on my behalf.
In his Introduction, MacArthur explains that his book is an attempt to counteract the two most common responses toward Christmas that are essentially corrupting the truth and erasing the message behind it: 1) the mythologizing of the Christmas story, and 2) the secularization of it. He goes on to explain:“When I speak of the effort to mythologize Christmas, I’m referring to the way the world has reduced it to little more than an elaborate fable. Over the years, singers and storytellers have embellished the legend so much that most people don’t know which details are biblical and which are fabricated. Tradition has turned the unnumbered visitors from the East into three kings and has even given them names. Popular songs place animals in the stable and personify them like characters out of Aesop. We usually imagine the manger scene with snow, singing angels, many worshipers, and a little drummer boy. None of that is found in the biblical account…
“The other hazard, coming from a different direction, is the growing tendency to secularize Christmas. I’m not referring entirely to the ubiquitous Santas, reindeer, and talking snowmen that dominate our Christmas decorations, although that is part of it. What concerns me most is that the spiritual values of Christmas are giving way to crass consumerism. Christmas has become the ultimate holiday for committed hedonists. Drunken parties, self-indulgence, mad-cap spending, and obscene gluttony all characterize the way much of the world celebrates Christmas…
“Please understand, I’m not suggesting that our Christmas celebrations should be solemn, somber, grim religious observances utterly devoid of cheer. On the contrary, Christmas should be a time of real joy and gladness, as opposed to the manufactured sentiment and wild revelry that characterizes the way the world observes Christmas. That true joy comes from a realization of what Christmas is really all about and from knowing the One whose birth we celebrate.
“We can’t know Him if we don’t understand He is real. The story of His birth is no allegory. We dare not romanticize it or settle for a fanciful legend that renders the whole story meaningless. Mary and Joseph were real people. Their dilemma on finding no room at the inn surely was as frightening for them as it would be for you or me. The manger in which Mary laid Jesus must have reeked of animal smells. So did the shepherds, in all probability. That first Christmas was anything but the picturesque scene we often envision.
“But that makes it all the more wondrous. That baby in the manger is God. That’s the heart and soul of the Christmas message. Christmas is a celebration of the incarnation of God. If you see what Christmas really means, your immediate response will be worship.
“Worship is the missing element in the monstrosity that Christmas has become. I’m not suggesting that there is anything wrong with putting up decorations, spending time with our families, getting together with friends, exchanging gifts, or many of the other things we do to celebrate the holiday. Those things add to the joy of the season, and they’re all legitimate. But apart from worship, they are utterly inadequate responses to the reality of the Savior’s birth. The first priority in all our celebrating should be worship, and everything else we do should flow out of adoring hearts.
“When I speak of worship, by the way, I’m not referring to religious activity. I’m not talking about something that must happen in church, or before an altar, or kneeling in a closet. I don’t mean performing a ritual, saying a memorized prayer, or any of the things most people tend to associate with worship. Worship is more than activity. It is first a state of the heart.
“Worship can be expressed in many ways…Worship as Scripture portrays it is always intensely practical, involving sacrifice (Romans 12:12), giving (Philippians 4:18), service to others (Hebrews 13:16), proclaiming the good news of salvation (Romans 15:16), and otherwise living one’s life as a testimony of God’s truth. A heart of praise and adoration weaves all such activity into the fabric of worship…We need to begin with worship, and let our worship rule how we celebrate the holiday.
“To put it in practical terms, I’m saying we should worship like the shepherds did. They dropped everything they were doing to attend His birth. There is a sense of urgency and godly determination in the way they came to Him: “It came about that when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, ‘Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they came in haste and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the Baby as He lay in the manger” (Luke 2:15-16, emphasis added).
“That isn’t all. They also shared the news with everyone around: “When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child” (v. 17). Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to speak to others about the Savior. That’s one way we can express our adoration of Christ.
“We can also worship as the magi did. “They fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11). They brought Him gifts. We give gifts to others at Christmas. Have you ever thought of giving Christ a gift on His birthday? It is one more way you can worship.
“Mary worshiped through quiet reflection. She “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). In the busyness and chaos of the holiday season, have you ever taken time to meditate on Christ? That is another practical way you can worship Him.
“The apostle Paul wrote, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”(2 Corinthians 9:15). That should be our response to Christmas. If your heart is not overwhelmed with gratitude and adoration, then you’re missing the whole point of Christmas.
“God has given the greatest Christmas gift of all time: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
“And Christ gave His all for us: “Although He existed in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6-7).
“How else can we respond, but by giving ourselves to Him completely in return?”
From The Miracle of Christmas: God With Us by John F. MacArthur, Jr. Published by Zondervan.
May you have a blessed Christmas as you reflect on the miracle of that first Christmas and the significance of the fact that the eternal, immortal, almighty God became a helpless human infant, so that mortal, sinful man may live in eternity with Him. As J. I. Packer said, “Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the Incarnation.”
What do you do to keep Christ in your Christmas?
- What do you give a King? (thefrontwindow.wordpress.com)