WHY IS CHRISTMAS SO IMPORTANT?
I was walking through the mall a few days before Christmas. The hustle and bustle of last-minute shoppers filled the air like bees buzzing around their hive. I had joined the swarm of consumers on the hunt for the final few gifts to complete my shopping list when suddenly I heard something; a familiar melody floating through the air carrying the most pristine doctrine.
The song broadcasted a message of ultimate truth at odds with the mall’s busy consumerism. For most people, the message went completely unnoticed – just more noise droning in the background. But for me, it cut through the clamour, arrested my attention and struck me in an unexpected way.
Recently there had been another shooting where a young African-American man was killed by a police officer. Racial tension was high, debates fumed, and riots broke out across the country. The incident was just the latest of ongoing conflicts in our nation. But it really was just one recent example of a scandal raging since the Garden of Eden.
What can be done about the problems in our world: fear, hatred, racism, violence, pain, suffering, death and evil? There seems to be no solution. Our amazing advances in technology, medicine, philosophy and science have cured many symptoms, but have not touched the underlying disease. The protests and riots I had seen on the news earlier that day seemed like an overflowing frustration to a problem no one knows how to solve.
And then there it was – the answer to the problem playing over a sound system in a crowded shopping mall. It rang out like an anthem in the last place you would expect. I stood still in the middle of the aisle, between the radio-controlled cars and Barbie dolls, and listened. I wondered why no one else was getting it. Tears welled up in my eyes as I was awed by the power of the words:
“Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord, oh,
Praise His name forever
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!”
(“O Holy Night” Adolphe Adam, 1847)
Given the level of darkness descending on our world, one might think that any redemptive Christmas message would have been lost long ago: silenced by secular culture, emasculated by political correctness, ridiculed by humanism and drowned out by materialism (especially this time of year). Yet there it was – the Gospel – the remedy for the human condition, disguised as a harmless Christmas carol in a shopping mall.
This is one reason that Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I love the lights and tinsel, the comfort of a steaming cup of hot chocolate and the way a cozy fire calls everyone around the hearth. I love the way we all become more aware of what is really important in life: family, kindness, peace, love and joy.
Even in the secular world, there seems to be a consciousness of something transcendent and divine during this time of year. But most of all, I love the fact that at Christmas, the Gospel rings out across the world as angels announce the birth of a Savior and shepherds worship a newborn King.
On Christmas day – even among the most secular, the most heathen, the most godless in our society – almost everyone will pause. Even the biggest retail chains will close for one day. Parking lots will be empty and people will be home with whatever family they have. The world will stand still for 24 hours as a strange moment of silence settles over the earth. It is absolutely remarkable and profound.
An astonishing example of this happened in 1914. The world was in the midst of one of the bloodiest and most horrific wars in history. During World War I, powerful new weapons were introduced to old-fashioned battlefields and the carnage was unimaginable. Trenches, where the soldiers fought, were hell on earth. At times the dead were piled six feet high. But on Christmas Eve of the war’s first year, something amazing happened.
German and British troops began singing Christmas carols to one another from their trenches. The next day, as the light of dawn broke across the horizon, these mortal enemies shouted, “Merry Christmas!” in each other’s native languages.
Then a surreal event took place. The soldiers emerged from their protective trenches and began to shake hands and exchange gifts. They played friendly games of soccer, ate meals and sang together. The war had not ended, but somehow, in the midst of human hell, there was a moment of peace on earth, goodwill to men.
One could be tempted to dismiss a story like this as sappy Christmas sentimentalism. But it is not obvious that such stories should exist. Does mere nostalgia have the power to turn enemies into friends and one of humanity’s worst moments into something so beautiful? There are many holidays that celebrate countless lives.
But one life stands above all the rest. Only His day could affect the globe so dramatically even among unbelievers. The apostle John said that this life – the life of Jesus – was the light of men (John 1:4). In John’s day, no one could have imagined how accurate that statement would be.
The life of Jesus is truly the light of humanity. He stands like a sparkling diamond among the dark coals of human history. His life has brought light to an otherwise bleak and hopeless world. If you could view the timeline of human existence all at once there would be one mark that shines as bright as the star of Bethlehem. It would be the life of that humble carpenter from Nazareth. WHY IS CHRISTMAS SO IMPORTANT?
His life split time in two. Those before Him looked ahead in anticipation of His coming, and those after Him look back in reverent awe. We even talk about history in terms of Before Christ (B.C.) and Anno Domini (A.D.), “The year of our Lord.” He marked the end of one era and the beginning of another – both literally and figuratively. Because of Jesus, humanity has been blessed immeasurably.
For example, care for the sick and mentally ill spread across the world as a result of Christianity. The teachings of Jesus led to the concept of women’s rights, democracy, the abolition of slavery and care for the poor. He is the light of the society, literature, philosophy history, spirituality and all of human existence.
American Evangelist Billy Sunday said, “When the bright cloud hid Him from the gaze of those who loved Him with a devotion that took them to martyrdom, the only record of His sayings was graven upon their hearts, but now libraries are devoted to the consideration of them. No words were ever so weighty or so weighed as those of Him who was so poor that He had nowhere to lay His head.
The scholarship of the world has sat at His feet with bared head, and has been compelled to say again and again, ‘Never man spake as He spake.’ His utterances have been translated into every known tongue, and have carried healing on their wings wherever they have gone. No other book has ever had a tithe of the circulation of that which contains His words, and not only that, but His thoughts and the story of His life are so interwoven in all literature that if a man should never read a line in the Bible, and yet be a reader at all he could not remain ignorant of the Christ.”
No wonder the world stands still on the day we remember His birth. His life is like the sun in the Milky Way. Its influence is so massive the whole world revolves around it, even when we are not aware of it. But at Christmas, His influence seems more vivid than usual. The Gospel rings out from every carol and cantata, from every card and nativity scene. How I want the world to understand the power of what these things convey!