By Ptr. Robbie Casas

Indeed, what is the big deal about Christmas? Now more than ever, I believe this question needs to be both asked and answered. In fact, here in the Philippines, Christmas season begins in early September – at least that's what the major malls want us to think. It's really quite ridiculous to hear Christmas carols over the sound system and to see the beginnings of Christmas decors in malls – with summer not even barely over! Now why would they do that? Is it because they would want people to prepare their souls for the celebration of the first advent of the Savior of the world? Hardly. I think we all know that it is really to entice people to prepare their wallets for the most lucrative season of the year for the shopping industry. No wonder for many people today, the sound of Christmas carols is like a signal – for some, really a warning – that the season for hectic spending has now come upon them.

Besides the increasing prevalence of Christmas carols (many of which say nothing about the real meaning of the season) as we draw nearer and nearer to Christmas Day, most who celebrate the season begin by being preoccupied with the external trimmings that come with this time of the year. Synthetic Christmas trees of all kinds begin to take a prominent place in department stores and homes. The ubiquitous “parol” in all its multitude of versions and colors quickly appear in almost every home and neighborhood. And don't forget the lights! Christmas just doesn't feel like Christmas without the lights – blinking or not. Chestnuts begin roasting on an open fire (actually in huge “kalans” at stalls in the malls). And being a largely Catholic nation, the ringing of church bells at five in the morning nine days before Christmas beckons the “faithful” (devout or nominal notwithstanding) to their Misa de Gallo, usually incomplete without the matching “puto bumbong” for breakfast after the mass. Carolers going from home to home appear in numbers at this time filling the air with the season's songs that heighten the mood of sentimentality. And the gifts (this is what Christmas is all about anyway, right?) – abound in different sizes and packaging (exciting for some, depressing for others depending on what side of the economic fence you stand)! Of course, the traditional “belen” is there for those who want to add a touch of the spiritual to an already predominantly commercial and material holiday season. Come Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, what caps it all are the reunions of family and friends over the traditional “Noche Buena” and Christmas lunch.

Do forgive me if you detect a bit of cynicism in my tone as I write this. I am not against all these “traditional trimmings” of the season. They do add to the “specialness” of this time of the year. It's just that every year it is all the same thing over and over again, with more and more people losing sight of what Christendom is really celebrating. Add to this tragic mix the increasingly open and deliberate effort to remove God and Christ from the celebration (it's no longer “Merry Christmas” but rather “Happy Holidays” for many today), then you end up with a season that is abundant in excitement and stress but more and more devoid of true, life-changing meaning.

This is almost forgivable – and actually understandable – if all I am describing here is how the world out there celebrates Christmas. But sadly, if we are going to be honest, this is also the situation with many in the church of Jesus Christ today. I mean, how many of us Bible-reading, Bible-believing Christians experience spiritual renewal and deepening as a result of deliberately meditating upon and internalizing the true meaning of Christmas, resulting in more devoted and heartfelt worship of our Lord during this period of the year every year?

If there is one verse that I believe succinctly captures the essence of the season it is Titus 2:11: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men.” What a life-changing verse! “The grace of God” is God's undeserved love showed us in Christ while we were still sinners and His enemies (Rom 5:6-10). It is by this same grace that we are saved (“bringing salvation to all men”) apart from any moral achievements or religious acts on our part. That is why Paul here uses the word “grace” – the undeserved favor of God, the favor we can never earn or pay for, appearing in the person of Jesus Christ. In Titus 3:4-5b Paul repeats the same truth but with a slight variation: “4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness….” Here Paul uses a different Greek word translated “kindness” in the NASB , “goodness and loving kindness” in the ESV, “kindness and love” in the NIV. Indeed, it is kindness and goodness and love from God to save us and spare us from an eternity in hell by paying for the penalty of our sins Himself through the cross of Jesus on Calvary. That truth should be more than enough to humble us and transform us every time we ponder it.

So if you really want to make a big deal about Christmas, then make a big deal about the gospel.

See to it that all the trimmings point to the main thing about Christmas: that unto us a Child is born whose name is Jesus, for He will save us from our sins, and who is called IMMANUEL, which means, “GOD WITH US.” So the Christmas tree (though many point out its pagan origins) should remind us of what Jesus did on the cross which is called a tree in Scripture (see Gal 3:13). The “parol” should bring to our minds the star that pointed the magi and guided them to the baby Jesus to worship Him and offer Him gifts. The lights must bring to our remembrance how Christ as the Light of the world shines in the darkness as the Light of life (Jn 8:12;1:5). The carols that we love to hear and sing must tell us of the coming of our Savior to live the perfect life and pay the perfect price by dying on the cross so that we might live. The gifts that we give and receive should be symbols to remind us how our God is such a giving God “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). The traditional “belen” should point us to the original nativity scene when Jesus Christ was born in the lowest of circumstances to live among men. Our reunions with family and friends should teach us that because we have been reconciled to God, it is now possible to be reconciled to and live in harmony with not only our families and friends but even the people around us.

Not that we need any of these symbolic trimmings of Christmas to make the season more meaningful to us believers, because the true meaning of the season alone, once worshipfully pondered, should be more than enough to draw our hearts in deeper devotion to and loving appreciation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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