Summary: We need Christmas because the incarnation provided what we needed in order to be saved from our sins.
Every year, much of the world celebrates Christmas without really understanding why. We’ve done a great job of perpetuating the “what” and the “how” of Christmas. Even though we lament the fact that Christmas has lost a lot of its meaning, at least in this country, almost everyone, regardless of their faith or religion, knows at least the basic facts about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago.
But when we celebrate the birth of a Messiah to a poor, unmarried young couple in a stall in the midst of a bustling Middle East city with fruitcake, pine trees, shopping sprees and inflatable lawn creatures made in China by laborers who aren’t even permitted to celebrate Christmas that’s a pretty good indication that we’ve missed out on the “why” of Christmas.
If you were to ask people why we need Christmas, you would get all kinds of different answers:
• Retailers need Christmas because how much they sell at Christmas basically makes or breaks their year. Last year Americans spent over $154 billion on everything from candy canes to Christmas cards and even though projections are that we will spend slightly less per person this year, the numbers are still staggering.
• Ask kids why they need Christmas and they’ll tell you that they need a break from school and a time to get some really great stuff.
• Some people will claim that we need Christmas because it’s a time of peace and goodwill. And then they head to the mall to fight with someone else over the last of this year’s hottest toy or they curse the traffic that they find themselves in.
• Even churches say they need Christmas because it is a time when people are more willing to focus on spiritual matters.
But, as we might expect, Jesus very clearly told us why we need Christmas in just one sentence:
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:20 (NIV)
My guess is that most of you are pretty surprised that I would use that verse as the main passage for my Christmas message this morning. Where’s the trek to Bethlehem? Where’s the manger? How about the angels and the shepherds? What about the wise men? Those are all important but in that one sentence, Jesus very clearly establishes for us something even more essential - why we need Christmas.
But we’re not going to totally ignore tradition this morning. In fact, we find a hint about these words that Jesus would speak in the Sermon on the Mount 30 years later as part of the Christmas narrative in Matthew Chapter 1. After Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant, he was ready to divorce her in order to protect Mary from public disgrace, but an angel appeared to Joseph and spoke these words:
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
Matthew 1:21 (NIV)
Today, when we name our children, we use many different methods of picking out names. For instance, when our daughter was born, we chose the name Pamela for several reasons. We had a very good friend with that name, but we also liked the meaning of the name as well. The name means “honey” or “sweetness” and we had high hopes that she would turn out to live up to that name. We also picked the middle name “Renee”, which means reborn, to reflect our hope that she would one day experience the new birth through faith in Jesus Christ.
Our son, Peter James, was named after two Biblical figures, but Peter was also my grandfather’s name. The name Peter, as most of us know from our knowledge of the Scriptures, means “rock” and it was our desire that Pete would become a spiritual rock. It also became a prophetic description of his head, which turned out to be a very good thing considering how many times he landed on it during his childhood.
In Jesus’ day, names were even more important than they are today. Throughout the Bible we find that names often reflected the character of the person. Although the name Jesus is very popular among the Latino culture, it is not very common in our Anglo culture today. However, it was actually a very common name at the time when Jesus was born. The name is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name “Joshua”, which means “God saves.” And God made it very clear that was the name which was to be given to Mary’s child because it reflected His life purpose. In order for us to understand that purpose better, let’s go back to our passage for this morning and read it out loud together: