What is the reason for the Christmas season? Christmas began with a gift that was given two thousand years ago, in the little town of Bethlehem, through a young virgin girl named Mary. In my home we do not celebrate a holiday but we are careful to acknowledge Christmas, and the first part of Christmas is Christ.
On the first Christmas day the reason for giving gifts was taken to a whole new level. Great gifts had been given throughout the centuries by kings and men of prominence and wealth. However, with the advent of Jesus Christ self-sacrifice reached an all time high. The gift that Jesus came to give is the gift of forgiveness. In the modern, updated, and seeker friendly churches of America I sometimes wonder if there is any meaning to the word forgiveness at all. Felt needs have been elevated to such a prominent place that the forgiveness of sin has all but vanished, that is with any meaningful relevance.
Every person that thinks himself a Christian and who obediently attends church should take a long hard look at the message preached from Sunday to Sunday and the overall attitude of the people toward, sin, judgment, and forgiveness. Are people readily eager to forgive or would they rather harbor hard feelings and bitterness. No one should make such observations in order to sit in judgment as if he were God. The purpose is to discern whether or not one is in an environment that is generally consistent with the Gospel message of grace and forgiveness or in one that is generally hypocritical. Perfection is not what we hope to find, but clear evidence that forgiveness exists in the ranks.
Mathew’s Gospel makes it very clear that Jesus judged nothing harder than hypocrisy, and in the 23rd chapter His judgment comes to a crescendo.
“Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.” Matthew 23:1, 2
The reason for the season is not love through a gift given from one person to another; it is the love of God expressed through the gift of forgiveness given by His Son, who offered Himself upon the cross of suffering, to justify sinful men. Any other reason misses the true meaning for the Christmas season. There is certainly nothing wrong with giving gifts to loved ones, but that is not the primary reason that anyone should celebrate Christmas.
It is important to understand that each and every person is controlled by motives, it is the motive behind what we do that determines why we do it. The person that has come under conviction of sin through the work of the Holy Spirit of God, has repented of sin, and placed his or her faith in Jesus Christ as the only means of salvation from the wrath of God has the proper motivation to celebrate the birth of Christ. Christ becomes prominent. Christ gave the ultimate gift and He is the only one that matters at Christmas and the year round. Only then can the Christian find his proper identity in Him.
I have noticed through my experience with evangelical churches during the past 40 years that there are certain sins that people are less likely to forgive. As an example, especially in years past, divorce has been regarded as the unforgivable sin. The Scriptures make it clear that the pastor should be the husband of one wife and in the minds of some that means that a divorced man should not be allowed to serve as pastor. However, what is forgiveness if it does not mean the restoration of a man to fellowship with God and usefulness in His kingdom. Certainly men should rule their own house well, but if a man gets saved after he has been divorced and remarried, should there not be forgiveness for such a man? Would the world view a church as forgiving that would choose to reject a man as disqualified for ministry because of a past sin, if such a man was gifted as a teacher, preacher, and pastor?
Many examples of unforgiveness could be sited and wherever unforgiveness exists the Gospel of forgiveness cannot be clearly observed. The best way to celebrate Christmas as a Christian is to live consistent with the reason for the season according to the Gospel of forgiveness as witnessed through Jesus Christ. Forgiveness must first be received in order to pass it on to others. In the kingdom of God forgiveness is a gift of grace; it is not earned or deserved but given freely at the cost of Christ’s suffering. The reason forgiveness is sometimes scarce in churches is because the Gospel is not preached with the clarity that it should. Other matters become more important than heaven, hell, and God’s infinite love in connection with His justice.
When was the last time you heard a sermon on hell? Could you feel the flames and hear the cries of those abiding therein? In the context of hell, how rich and free is God’s love and grace? Now we’re getting closer to the reason for the Christmas season. May God grant America a rich Christmas season with a clarity that can only find its source in the pulpits of her churches. Amen!