Back in high school a friend pondered a question aloud that had never occurred to me: Why do Christians celebrate Christmas so big? Her premise was not so much a negative reaction to Christmas, but that as believers, she reasoned, shouldn't our focus be primarily on Easter? "When I have a family I'm going to send Easter cards and Easter presents." As Christians who have been saved only by the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ and His resurrection from the dead, shouldn't our attention be on celebrating that?
I absolutely agree, Easter should be made much of - much more of than it often is, if you ask me - but something gnawed on me about the question. "Why do Christians celebrate Christmas so big?" For 20 years I've been mulling it over, and for 20 years the Holy Spirit has been leading me to an understanding: it's all about redemption. The climax of the story is the cross, but the story of redemption started long before that.
A Thrill of Hope, Part 1
A Thrill of Hope, Part 2
What if I misunderstood? What if He couldn't do what He thought He could do? What if God just lied?
And they knew they needed it. Adam and Eve knew from the very moment they chose sin that they had no hope without this promise. And as the generations came and went they knew more and more that without this One that God promised He would send to redeem them, they were hopeless. And they longed for that promise to be fulfilled. They were desperate to know that what they were believing was true - that they did have a hope because God did actually have a plan to redeem them.
And they waited, and they waited.
And then God was silent. For 400 years He did not remind them of His promise. For 400 years there was no encouragement of "He is coming." And for 400 years they wondered if He would still send the One He had promised in the beginning to redeem, renew, and revive what they broke. It was their only hope.
And they waited, and they waited.
Read this as a weary shepherd in a deeply longing world.
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. And the angel said to them, “Don't be afraid, for I bring you good news. News of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you… is born this day in the city of David a Savior, and he is the Promised One.
He is here. He. is. HERE.
If you have ever been on the receiving end of a promise fulfilled you know how that news affects you. You know what it stirs inside of you. I think back to my engagement, how with each word Nate said my face got a little more flush, my heart pounded harder, and I couldn't even hear the words any more because my ears were muffled and people's faces got blurry. Why? It wasn't because of the restaurant he chose, or the ring he bought, or the words he said (because I didn't hear any of them). It was because I knew what it all meant. I knew what was happening, and I knew what was coming after that. I was THRILLED. He was giving me what I longed for.
Did you see how many promises were fulfilled in that one statement from the angel?
"I bring you good news that will bring joy to all people" as God promised Abraham.
"I bring you good news that a child has been born to you" as God promised Isaiah.
"I bring you good news that He is in Bethlehem, the city of David" exactly as God promised He would be.
There was no more "He is coming, he is coming, he is coming." He is here. God promised and He did it!
They were hearing exactly what they had longed to hear - exactly what their parents had longed to hear. And their grandparents. And their great great great great grandparents. And every generation all the way back to Adam and Eve. "He has come. He is near. Go and see!" And they did. They left immediately to find him and see if it was all true. And when they saw everything exactly as they had been told they would they knew what it all meant. They knew what was happening, and what was coming. They were THRILLED. God was giving them what they longed for. And they spread the news and sang and rejoiced and praised God because He promised, and He did it.
So back to the question of why Christians celebrate Christmas so big when our salvation hinges on the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is true Jesus' death on the cross paid the penalty that we could not pay to give us a righteousness that we could not earn, but redemption did not begin there. And it is true that the resurrection of Jesus defeated death and made a way for us to live forever with the God of creation, but redemption did not begin there. Redemption began when the virgin conceived and gave birth to Emmanuel.
God made a lot of promises about the One he would send to redeem this broken world - about how he would be born, how he would live, how he would die, what would happen after that - and every one of those promises He kept in the person of Jesus. If even one of those prophecies had been unfulfilled or even just a little bit inaccurate His death on the cross would have been insufficient because either Jesus was not the One God had promised or God was a liar about who the Messiah would be. But because Jesus accomplished everything God promised that the Messiah would accomplish, we can be sure that God is true and that what Christ has done is fully sufficient for us. God proved that every promise He makes He keeps. He faithfully did what He said He would do in the past and He can be trusted to do what He has promised for the future. He is completely trustworthy and completely sufficient.
And it all started when the virgin gave birth in Bethlehem to the hope of all mankind, the son of David, the son of Abraham, the son of Adam and Eve, and the son of God. We celebrate Christmas so big because that is when redemption began.
That was their thrill of hope. Jesus Christ came to redeem what was broken. God promised, and He did it.
And friends, that really should still thrill us, too.
O holy night,
the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear savior's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'Til he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees.
O hear the angel voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born.