When I think of Christmas I am reminded of the many childhood memories of family get-togethers, Christmas decorations and church programs. Having been raised in the home of a Baptist minister, the religious traditions upon which our celebration of Christmas are based have been the most significant. My wife and I continued most of those traditions in our home. And of course many of our traditions center around activities with our church family. While the memories of Christmas for me are many, the meaning is very simple.
If I were to sum up the meaning of Christmas in one word, it would simply be “Christ.” But it is much more than a manger scene with a sentimental story of a young mother and her baby. To really understand the meaning of Christmas you must get beyond the manger. For beyond the manger there looms a cross, and beyond the cross an empty tomb, and beyond the empty tomb there is an occupied throne from which the Christ of Christmas rules as “King of kings, and Lord of lords.”
The baby in the manger is the incarnate Word. The one, according to John 1, who existed before the beginning and who stood face to face with God and was, in essence, God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among men (John 1:14). The baby in the manger was born to die for the sins of the world. But He arose and is victorious over sin and death and hell. Today He rules and reigns and receives all who come to him in simple repentance and faith.
There are two other words that become very important to me at Christmas. One is giving and the other is missions. God loved us so much that He gave His only begotten Son. This giving is based on a selfless love that seeks only good for the object of that love. As God loved and gave, we also are to love and give. The tradition of gift giving is based on God’s love for us. As He gave, we also give. But for me the giving must be for more than just friends and family. It must be a giving that goes beyond those who give back to me. It is a giving that expects nothing in return. One example is that every year our church participates in Operation Christmas Child. We pack shoeboxes with gifts for children in other countries. Operation Christmas Child allows us to help make Christmas possible for children who have very little or nothing. We have the opportunity to give outside of our circle of friends. We give, expecting nothing in return.
Another way we give is through our mission gifts. We have an annual emphasis on International Missions. It is named after one of our missionaries who literally gave her life to reach the people of China. Her name was Lottie Moon and she died on board a ship in Tokyo harbor on Christmas Eve. She had starved herself to death because she would give what she had to help the Chinese. Her example of selfless love has inspired many to give and participate in reaching the world with the wonderful message of Christmas. Someone has said it well: “God had only one Son and He was a missionary.”
The message of Christmas is a message of hope through Jesus Christ, God’s Son and our Savior. One of our most treasured gifts we give each Christmas is our offering to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. Every penny of that offering goes to other countries to help our missionaries reach people with the Gospel.
As I enjoy the many blessings of Christmas, I am reminded that someone in a faraway place is hearing about Jesus because I was willing to give. After all, shouldn’t Christmas be sharing Christ?