My wife and I recently took our four children to see the Festival of Lights in East Peoria. If you’ve never been, it’s said to be one of the Midwest’s “largest lighted holiday events.” Some individual displays (such as the steam train) are comprised of tens of thousands of lights, with the total number of lights running into the millions.
As we drove through the displays, we saw reindeer, toy soldiers, dinosaurs, dragons, spaceships, and more. There’s plenty to dazzle the eye, to be sure.
One thing you won’t see, however, is any reference to the real meaning of Christmas.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against doing things at Christmastime that are just fun family activities. Not everything has to be deeply meaningful. But even so, the absence of Jesus at a massive Christmas event serves as a good reminder of the divide between our secular world and those of us who are believers in Christ.
After all, what does the world really have to celebrate at Christmas besides lights, glitter, gifts, and perhaps vague ideas of peace on earth and goodwill toward men?
We have so much more.
We have Emmanuel—God with us. The very Son of God left the glory of heaven to live with mankind in this cursed world full conflict, hardship, and sin.
He became a man so He could die for man.
He was numbered among the transgressors so we could be numbered among the righteous.
He became the sacrificial lamb that takes away the sin of the world.
And He rose from the grave in victory and now sits at the right hand of God to make intercession for His people.
That’s a lot more to celebrate than lights, glitter, and gifts.
We have the reality of a God who loved us so much (John 3:16) that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8).
Those are wonderful truths.
Sadly, the world around us can’t celebrate these things. And so the whole idea of Christmas, in too many cases, has changed into the commercial enterprise we see on display every year. Or, in some of its better forms, it’s simply a time of family togetherness and maybe some goodwill toward our fellow man.
Even that falls far short of the full, glorious meaning of Christmas.
I’m reminded of another truth as well: the fact that it’s possible for us to lament the social and moral decay all around us, yet still not have Christ ourselves. It’s possible for us to have all the right convictions and still be separated from God.
Yes, we can be politically conservative, hold to traditional family values, and still be dead in our sins with nothing to look forward to beyond eternity in hell.
I was in that place myself at one time, years ago.
I had the right beliefs, but I hadn’t encountered Christ. At best I had a dual trust, split between Christ and myself. How easy it is to fall into the trap of thinking we can contribute something to our own salvation! Then one night, God showed me that Christ had done everything to pay for my sins and that there was nothing I could add to what He had done. And it was at that moment—lying in bed alone as a young man—that I declared my trust in Christ alone.
Our values, beliefs, and worldview may be important, but they don’t save us. Salvation is through Christ alone.
I hope that everyone reading these words is able to celebrate Christmas for the right reason this year. I hope you’ve found new life in Christ and have hope both for today and for eternity. But if not, I pray that you’ll see your need for a Redeemer, turn from your sin, pride, and self-sufficiency, and trust Christ alone as your only hope to escape the just punishment for sin.
That, after all, is what Christmas is all about. Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. And that’s something worth celebrating.
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