Every year, around the world, people celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day, 25 December. It’s a day – and season – filled with Christmas carols, tree decorating, gift-giving and parties. And, among all the celebrations, you may be wondering: what is the real meaning of Christmas? why do we have these Christmas traditions? What do they have to do with Jesus?
Our lives, country and world are far from perfect. There are always challenges and struggles we face both personally and collectively. The good news of Christmas is that even when the world or our circumstances change – the message of Christmas is timeless. Because Christmas is about the birth of God’s Son – Jesus. It is about how he came to give us love, hope and joy. That message doesn’t change from year to year. When there is so much bad news and devastation in the world, this is good news worth celebrating!
The Christmas story in the Bible
Around Christmas time, angels feature prominently. They adorn treetops and Christmas cards, and have starring roles in Christmas carols and plays. That’s because angels were God’s messengers to share the good news of Jesus’ birth to Mary, Joseph and the shepherds.
In a display of the importance of women, the angel Gabriel first appeared to a young woman called Mary. He told her that she was chosen to be the mother of Jesus – that is, she would give birth to the Son of God.
“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus,” the angel said (Luke chapter 1: verse 30-31, NIV Bible).
Mary had every reason to be afraid. She was unmarried but engaged to Joseph. To be pregnant out of wedlock would have been scandalous. But the angel assured Mary of God’s love for her and his good plans for her. Mary acknowledged this and was grateful for the blessing of being the mother of Jesus. She sang, “all generations will call me blessed” (Luke chapter 1: verse 48, NIV Bible).
It is doubtful all her family and friends believed her story, but thankfully Joseph did, as an angel visited him, too. Even through all the challenges and difficult situations she would have faced from that moment on, Mary held onto the promises of God.
God also assures us that he is always working to bring good out of all that happens in our lives. Life is full of stress, anxiety, worries and struggles but God says he will never leave us or waver from his love for us. And while his love is for everyone, God waits for us to ask him to help us in our troubles.
“This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world … And so we know and rely on the love God has for us” (1 John chapter 4: verses 9 and 16, NIV Bible).
The meaning of Christmas is good news for all people
When the time came for Mary to give birth to Jesus, she had to travel to Bethlehem for a census. The census meant the town was very busy and there were no guest rooms available for Mary and Joseph. So, she gave birth in what was probably a stable or barn, and lay Jesus down in a manger (an animal feeding trough).
There was no royal welcome in a palace for Jesus, the Son of God. Instead, on the night of his birth, he was sleeping rough. He was probably surrounded by animals – not royal attendants. As he grew, Jesus experienced persecution, loneliness, grief, hunger, anger and more. He came into the world to experience life as a human. To live among people and understand their struggles.
Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Matthew chapter 1: verse 23, NIV Bible), is another name for Jesus. His birth and life is a message of good news for us because it means we are never alone. It doesn’t matter how hard or hopeless our situation may appear to be, God is there for us. We don’t have to journey through our challenges and struggles alone. He understands them. He walks them alongside us.
His birth and life is a message of good news for us because it means we are never alone. It doesn’t matter how hard or hopeless our situation may appear to be, God is there for us. We don’t have to journey through our challenges and struggles alone. He understands them. He walks them alongside us.
It is this message that gives us comfort and great joy to celebrate at Christmas. As the angel said to a group of shepherds on the night Jesus was born, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke chapter 2: verse 10, NIV Bible). It is one of the most well-known Bible verses about Christmas because it is such an encouraging message. It is one of joy – because Jesus comforts and encourages us. One of hope – because we are never alone; God is always with us. And one of inclusivity – because it is for all of us.
Why do we celebrate Christmas?
Celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ is more than a Christian holiday or Christian festival. It is more than an occasion to decorate our houses.
It is an opportunity to pause and give thanks for the love, hope and joy found in Jesus – our Saviour and friend. As we exchange gifts with loved ones, it is out of remembrance of the gift God gave us in Jesus. The gift that we are loved, are never alone and can have hope for the future.
After Jesus was born, a small group of wise men visited him. They recognised the kingship of Jesus and they “worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).
You, too, can offer up your worship and thanks to God through prayers this Christmas. Prayers of thanksgiving for the gift of hope, love and joy.
Your Christmas this year might look different to previous years. It may not match up to the commercial images you see or hopes you have. But we want you to know that the true meaning of Christmas doesn’t depend on the number of gifts under a tree or the type of food on your table. The message of Christmas doesn’t change if you are surrounded by family, missing loved ones for the first time or on your own. It is not affected by the house you live in – or don’t live in.
God’s love is for everyone. You are not alone. You are loved, and you can feel hopeful and joyful. That is the true meaning of Christmas.