The Meaning of Christmas
December 1, 2001 - What does Christmas mean to you? In answering that question, we might first consider what Christmas meant to some of the people who were involved in the Christmas story.
by Billy Graham
First, there was Joseph. He was contracted to marry Mary, and in that time, being engaged was about the same as being married. I think that we give too little attention to Joseph. He is called "a just man,"(1) which means that he obeyed the will of God, and it includes the meaning of sympathy and kindness, and it indicated his devotion to God and to Mary.
When Joseph found that his wife-to-be was with child, he could have called her ugly names. He could have exposed her to the public. She might have been stoned. But he didn't because the angel had come to him in a dream, telling him, "Fear not! This Child that Mary will have is to be the Son of the Most High."(2) What faith it took on Joseph's part to believe and to trust!
Second, there was Mary. She was a young woman probably no older than age 16, and she had tremendous faith. Gabriel, the herald of God, announced to her, "Blessed art thou among women. … Thou hast found favor with God."(3)
What kind of favor did she find? What were the results of it?
Many of us today would be reluctant to claim it. Mary would go on a long and wearing journey to a small town. The pains of childbirth would come upon her in a stable. There would be the long trip to Egypt and the return to Nazareth, there would be the long years of obscurity and poverty. And her Son would be crucified on a Roman cross. That was the favor of God upon Mary.
And Mary bore a cross too because she followed the Savior, her Son.
And to follow Him we too must carry a cross. Maybe you are suffering the loss of a loved one, or the ending of a courtship that broke your heart, or financial reverses, or something in school. Whatever it is, it might be the favor of God on your life, because God is sovereign, and nothing happens to believers by accident.
When disappointments and heartbreaks come, they could be the favor of God—a stepping-stone to a greater involvement with Christ and a greater surrender to Him. God's favor for a person may be bestowed not by affluence but by a great challenge when faith is put to a costly test.
Mary's first great test was the Baby in her womb. She was not yet fully married. What would people say? What would they think?
The same Holy Spirit that overshadowed Mary overshadows you when you repent of your sins and receive Christ as your Savior. Jesus said, "You must be born again if you are to see the Kingdom of God."(4) The Bible says, "The wind bloweth where it listeth."(5) You can't see the wind blow, and that's the same in the new birth. You can't see it happen—it happens by the Holy Spirit.
Third, there were the angels and their gladness. The Bible says that the angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents.(6) And today, at this Christmas season, one person coming to Christ will cause the angels to rejoice.
Fourth, there were the shepherds. They were not ordinary shepherds. They were the lowest of the low of the shepherds. They were the ones who were assigned to watch over the sheep that were to be sacrificed in the Temple. And Old Testament sacrifices looked forward to the coming of the Lamb of God who was to be slain, and that had been planned from the foundation of the world.
When the shepherds saw a big light and heard the angels, the shepherds were afraid. But the angel said, "Fear not."(7) Four times in the Christmas story we read, "Fear not."(8)
And today our world is trembling with fear. All around the world people are fearful of terrorist attacks. The entire free world is under attack by both a physical enemy and a spiritual enemy. And if ever there was a time for us to get right with God, it is now. If ever there was a time to say, "Fear not! God reigns! God is sovereign! God has a plan!" it is now. In the book of Isaiah God says, "I made you. I redeemed you. Fear not. I'll be with you through the waters. I'll be with you in the times of trouble."(9) If we are faithful to God, He will be with us.
Fifth, there were the people in the world. This Christmas we cannot help but think of the people who are suffering horrific catastrophes and those who are living under oppression. We cannot help but think of people who are starving and those who are overwhelmed by poverty.
I remember, as a child, that when I would leave food on my plate—especially spinach—my mother would say, "Eat it all! Remember the starving in China." And I always wondered how I could get that spinach over to China!
But there is something to that notion. We need to share the blessings that God has given us. And that's what Christmas carries with it—the idea of sharing with others.
And one of the greatest needs that people in the world have is to be loved. One man said, "We cannot practice in our country the gifts of the Holy Spirit, like preaching, but we can bear the fruit of the Spirit."(10) The Bible says, "Against such there is no law."(11) There is no law anywhere in the world that says we can't love the person we work with, or live near, or the person of another race. Many people today are looking for love—true love.
What does Christmas mean to you this year?
I pray that it will mean the Person of Jesus Christ and what He did for us. Jesus didn't come to be born; He came to die on the cross for us. His death was planned before the foundation of the world.
And when He was dying on the cross, God laid on Him your sins and mine. Because of that, God can say to us, "I forgive you. I forgive you." If you ask God to forgive your sin, you can know that you are ready to meet God.
But there's another part of the Christmas story that speaks to us—and it speaks to us of death. Those sheep were destined for death, and they symbolize the death of Jesus Christ. He died for us. And we will die too. We are going to die in Christ, or out of Christ. When we die, we are going to heaven, or to hell.
God has given us the marvelous ability to choose to die in Christ and go to heaven, or to choose to die out of Christ and go to hell. It's up to us to make that choice.
May God help you to choose Christ today.