As Christmas Day draws nearer and nearer, I’m sure many of you are gathering around with your families to take part in a classic Christmas tradition—watching Christmas movies.
Favorites like Elf, Home Alone, and The Miracle on 34th Street play nonstop on countless different channels and seem to set the mood for this time of year. An interesting observation is the common thread that runs through most of the season’s beloved films. This theme is found in the question Cindy Lou Who famously asked the Grinch in How The Grinch Stole Christmas: “What’s Christmas really about?”
If we think about it, it’s a valid question to ask. What’s all the fuss about? Christmas is a one-day annual occurrence that has become a multi-billion-dollar industry. School and work are paused. Families travel up to thousands of miles to reunite in time. Everyone rushes to get the perfect gifts for their loved ones. But why?
To the world, there is no real reason. Presents? Those are gifted on birthdays and other special days as well. Food? That’s also present on other holidays, especially the one that occurs only a month before. Time with family? That too can be done all year round. None of these answers provide any special meaning to Christmas, nor do they provide a valid reason to celebrate it as a day set apart from all others.
Thus remains the glaring question: What is the true meaning of Christmas?
Here the Bible steps in, providing an answer in the most glorious way possible. Christmas is the celebration of the fact that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
This Word, who “In the beginning … was with God, and … was God,” became a human being like us (John 1:1). Someone divine became a human. Now this is a reason for celebration indeed!
The Glory of the Incarnation
The story of the first Christmas is of common knowledge to most, both Christians and non-Christians. It is silently retold each advent season with the many nativity decorations that are used to adorn homes and churches. But beyond the story of the stable and the shepherds is a glorious reality that we have already noted in the above-mentioned verses. God was incarnate—He took on flesh and became a man.
In his letter to the church at Philippi, the Apostle Paul comments on this magnificent reality while calling the Philippians to be humble and united as a church family. After a few verses of exhortation, he tells them: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (2:5). Then begins one of the most glorious passages in all of Scripture (one of my favorite texts in the whole Bible!), and it’s worth spending at least a brief moment meditating on it this Christmas season.
Truly God, Truly Man
Having identified Jesus as the greatest example of humility the Philippians could follow, Paul traces for them the path of humility Jesus took, and it begins nowhere other than heaven itself.
Jesus, “being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (2:6). Twice in this verse Paul affirms the deity of Christ: first by using the word “form” which means “nature, essence, substance,” and second by stating that He is “equal with God.” Before Jesus was a babe in a manger, He was seated at the right hand of God enjoying all the glories and privileges of being truly God.
However, though He could have remained there relishing in divine bliss, He “made Himself of no reputation” (2:7). The term literally means He emptied Himself—not of divinity, of course, for having the essence of God, He cannot stop being God. But He emptied Himself of all the divine rights and privileges pertaining to God.
Jesus left the glory of heaven for the shame of earth. He left the celestial abode for lowly Bethlehem. He left His throne for a feeding trough in a stable. He left the eternal adoration of the angels for the cries of “Crucify Him” from His own people. When He stepped into our world, Jesus emptied Himself of all the majestic benefits He enjoyed above.
In addition to His deity, Christ took on “the form of a bondservant, and [came] in the likeness of men” (2:7).
Jesus humbled Himself so that He willingly submitted to the will of God the Father as a slave submits to the will of his master. “For I have come down from heaven,” He said, “not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 6:38).
From Bethlehem to Calvary
Paul finishes his theologically rich account of Christ’s humiliation by pointing to the purpose behind the incarnation. “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (2:8).
Christ became a man for one reason: to perish on the cross. He was born to die.
Jesus’ humble obedience to the will of the Father, propelled by their love for the fallen human race, led Him on a thirty-three-year journey from a lowly manger in Bethlehem to a raised cross outside Jerusalem. In that way, Christmas is inseparably linked to Good Friday.
And why? He was born and died in order to pay the penalty for our sins on our behalf. As the author of Hebrews puts it: “as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (2:14). And in the famous words of C.S. Lewis, “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.”
He came to pay the debt we owed, suffer the consequences we earned, die the death we deserved, and out of sheer love, to restore us to Himself and give us the exalted position of children of God the Father.
So, while the world blindly grasps around in spiritual darkness, looking for some real meaning to ascribe to its celebrating Christmas, Christians can rejoice in knowing that “the most wonderful time of the year” is such because “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” like us (1 Tim. 1:15). How glorious is the true meaning of Christmas indeed!