What Do Christians Celebrate at Christmas?



Many of us are familiar with Christmas carols. Every year, we hear them on our radios, on our smart speakers, on our TVs, or while we’re out shopping. Perhaps we even grew up singing them with family and could speak to some of the story those songs tell. But familiarity with Christmas is a far cry from understanding its significance. It’s one thing to sing about Christmas; it’s quite another to consider where each of us stands in relation to the event it celebrates.

Truth be told, Jesus’ birth has always evoked different responses, both in His day and our own. As it was with Herod (Matt. 2:1–4), the prospect of another king arriving on the scene is unsettling to some. Others, like the shepherds, feel a sense of awe and amazement when they consider Christ’s nativity (Luke 2:8–20). Still others, following the wise men’s course, have determined to offer their most precious gifts as an offering to the Savior (Matt. 2:10–12). And then there are those who, frankly, just don’t know what to make of these events at all.

If we wish to make sense of Christmas, we must answer two questions. First: Who is the child born in Bethlehem? And second: Why has He appeared? Matthew 1:18–25 gives the Son of God two names that, when properly understood, provide the answers to both pressing questions.

The identity of Jesus, the Son of God, is revealed in the name Emmanuel, which means “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). Understanding this name requires a bit of Old Testament background knowledge. That is, the appearing of the Son of God was in fulfillment of prophecies of old. As early as Genesis—the very first book of the Bible’s Old Testament—the promise of God being with His people is present in seed form. Immediately after the account of man’s fall into sin, we read this precious promise: “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). Of whom does this verse speak? Who is involved in it? None other than the Son of God Himself—the one who would crush the head of the serpent, Satan. Like the conclusion of a good mystery novel, where the apparently disparate notes and themes come together to solve the case, so the clues and details in our Old Testaments reach their climax in the arrival of God’s Son.

It’s one thing to sing about Christmas; it’s quite another to consider where each of us stands in relation to the event it celebrates.

The story line of the Bible is not one of man seeking for God but of God seeking for man. Contrary to the notion that history is a kind of haphazard sequence of events, bearing no ultimate significance from ancient times to today, the Bible views history as the unfolding of God’s plan. History is God’s story. We must reckon with the fact that if it were left to us to try and discover God or make sense of history, we never could. There is no intellectual road to God, strictly speaking. The only way that a person can ever know God and make sense of the world and our place in it is for God to put Himself in the realm whereby we might meet Him. And God in fact did this by sending His Son—Emmanuel, “God with us.”

The reason God’s Son came is given in His other name: “You shall call his name Jesus,” the angel instructed Joseph, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). The name Jesus is equivalent to the Hebrew name Yeshua (or Joshua), which means “Yahweh is salvation.” The child’s destiny is expressed in His name: He came to save sinners.

Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people searched earnestly for a deliverer. When the boy in Bethlehem was born, He was born a Savior into a world in crisis and to a people in despair. And while it’s been a long time since Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, little has changed. Like the people of old, we, too, live in a world marked by crisis and calamity. Our world is in a horrible mess. After all this time and despite all our advances, we still cannot live at peace with one another. We can communicate with someone on the other side of the planet instantaneously, yet husbands and wives cannot communicate with each other across the breakfast table. Children are at war with their parents; relationships are strained. Why? Scripture gets to the heart of the matter: at the bottom of every crisis and calamity is ultimately the reality that our sins have separated us from God. Whatever man may appear to be is not what God has intended him to be.

Jesus was born a Savior into a world in crisis and to a people in despair.

In a word, what’s wrong with the world today is sin—not just sins, but sin. There is a difference! When we think in terms of sins, plural, we’re often tempted to think of the things we have done or have left undone. But the Bible speaks also in terms of sin, singular. We sin because we are sinful by nature—and because we are sinful, we need a Savior. We cannot save ourselves. Our condition demands that someone come from outside and take on our predicament, dying in our place.

Have you found any other contenders out there? Have you found another savior? There is salvation in no one else. The only name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved is Jesus (Acts 4:12).

Christ’s birth as Emmanuel and Savior is a historical matter—but it’s also a matter of faith.

This faith is not a commodity, nor is it something that anyone, aside from God Himself, can give you. Faith, or believing God’s Word, involves the mind, heart, and will. There’s clearly an intellectual component—even though some suggest that there is a kind of wall between reason and faith. But nowhere in the Bible are we encouraged to disengage our thought processes so that we might have faith. The Bible deals in the realms of history and fact. Faith is basically intellectual, in perfect harmony with reason.

Yet faith also has an emotional dimension. Believing involves trusting God’s promises, agreeing with what He has said, and admitting our need before Him. Finally, faith includes a volitional element. In other words, there must be the move from intellectual assent to actual commitment. It is one thing to think true thoughts about God or enjoy the idea of God. But true faith leads to action, stepping out in trust that God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do.

Here is the heart of the matter: faith is not simply knowing that there was a Jesus or even believing that Jesus is the person that He claimed to be; it is knowing and experiencing His presence and His power in our lives. And the only way we will know that is when we plunge ourselves into the immensity of His love, grace, and forgiveness.

True faith leads to action, stepping out in trust that God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do.

Have you committed yourself to the Lord? Have you ever plunged into the sea of God’s forgiveness through faith? As the apostle Paul, writing all those centuries ago, declared, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). So if you’ve never trusted in Christ as your Lord and Savior, perhaps you would make the words of this simple prayer your own:

Lord Jesus Christ, I admit that I am weaker and more sinful than I ever before believed, but through You I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope. I thank You for paying my debt, bearing my punishment, and offering me forgiveness. I turn now from my sin and receive You as my Savior. Your Word says that whoever comes to God through You He will never turn away. Hear my prayer, Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

This article was adapted from the sermon “She Will Bear a Son” by Alistair Begg. Subscribe to get weekly blog updates.

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