Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Real Meaning of Christmas?

As Christmas day nears each Advent, I find myself growing more reflective about this holy day, and what it all really means that God sent his Son to be born in a stable in Bethlehem.  Often, I find myself pondering the humble, and poor conditions of this birth, and what this signifies about God's great love for us, and his huge and undeserved condescension towards his creatures.  I think about the secret and quiet beginnings of Christ's life, and what messages we are to take from it all.

This year, though, I find my Christmas ponderings going in some different directions.  None of this is new, of course, and I'm sure many others have spoken on these things much more eloquently.  But here's what's been on my mind and in my heart.

Sacrificial Victim
 I've been so struck this Advent with the idea of Christ coming to Earth as our Savior.  We're not excited at Christmas simply because it's "Jesus' birthday", and Jesus someone whom we love very much.  We celebrate because God has finally sent the One who can save us from sin and death.  We are joyous because Christ has come to sacrifice Himself.  Because He will die.

 I think going through the Jesse tree for the second year now has really helped this point to hit home for me, as we've reviewed some of the important events and figures in salvation history.  Jesus was born so that he could die.

We recently attended a lovely little folk concert where the women performed the song I Wonder As I Wander.  I had heard the title of the song before, and the tune sounded somewhat familiar.  But until that night, I had never really paid attention to the lyrics.  I'm sure the singer's beautiful rendition and the perfect acoustics in the old stone church helped to add to the haunting mood of the song.  But even without those factors, I still would have been crying...

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor orn'ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

When Mary birthed Jesus 'twas in a cow's stall
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all
But high from God's heaven, a star's light did fall
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing
A star in the sky or a bird on the wing
Or all of God's Angels in heaven to sing
He surely could have it, 'cause he was the King

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor orn'ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

It's somewhat sobering to think that the "real meaning of Christmas" is that this infant child was born so that He could die.  "When God sent his Son into the world, it was not to reject the world, but so that the world might find salvation through him." (John 3:17, Knox Bible)

As I've been reflecting on the "weary world" that Christ was born into, and the people's longing for a Savior, I became aware of how glorious must have been the exultation when at last He was born.

If you read the Gospel accounts, it's clear that even if Christ did have a peaceful and quiet entrance into the world, His birth was accompanied by many amazing and mystical events.  Think of all the visits from Heavenly beings that surround the birth of Christ - Gabriel's visit to Zechariah and to Mary, the various dreams that advised Joseph and the wise men of the proper course of action, the Holy Spirit coming down on Elizabeth (and, of course, on Mary at Christ's conception).  And at Jesus' birth, the angels came down to earth to sing their songs of joy!

Botticelli - Mystic Nativity
Hearing Christmas carols these past few days, certain passages have stuck out to me:

"...Join the triumph of the skies;
With th' angelic host proclaim,
"Christ is born in Bethlehem..." 

"...While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy."

"...From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold!....
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing.
And ever o'er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing."

"...A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees
O hear the angel voices..."

"Ding dong merrily on high,
In heav'n the bells are ringing:
Ding dong! verily the sky
Is riv'n with angel singing.
Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!"

And there are similar passages in most every Christmas hymn.

Giotto - Nativity
Somehow, until this year I didn't fully see how strange and wonderful and unusual all this was - that Heaven touched Earth on this night.  It's just been filling me with such awe.  I'm even considering creating some sort of hanging "ring of angels" (made with printed out images from fine art) to suspend over our nativity set, to help remind us all of this in future years - the rejoicing of the Heavenly host!

This also teaches a fundamental theological truth:  Christ is both God and Man.  And this is made manifest at His birth, when the natural and the supernatural come together to rejoice.


I hope these little musings made sense.  I'll probably be back next time with fluffier stuff, like pictures of my kids and our Christmas decorations :-)

I'll leave you with a sweet poem that was sent to us in the mail, written by G.K. Chesterton:
The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire.)

The Christ-child stood on Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down


  1. I love that poem so much. And I love the idea of the ring of angels. We've been putting our nativity on the mantle, I bet there's some way I could hang angels on the wall above it.

    Beautiful reflections, thank you for sharing them!

  2. I really like those musings... :) When this hits home, it really is astounding that Jesus's main purpose was to die for us. The sacrificial love that this required is amazing!

    I've never read that G.K. Chesterton poem, but I like it. Thanks for sharing.