By Mark H. Plumpton, www.SeacoastOnline.com
In this time in which we live, is there still room for Christmas? Oh, I don’t mean all the usual festivities that accompany the “holiday” season. Most people dutifully make their way to the stores to buy gifts for their loved ones. They may hang pretty lights up and make their homes come alive with bright colors. And they tell everyone they encounter to “have a nice holiday.”
Is there still room for Christmas, however? Do we even remember what happened 2,000 years ago in the “little town of Bethlehem?” No, no, I mean what really happened, and why that is of paramount importance even today? We know that Christmas is the day that the birth of Jesus is celebrated. It’s a sweet story, of a baby born in a stable of an inn, and laid in a feeding trough, but what practical relevance does it have to our lives in the 21st century?
Who was this Jesus? What does his name mean? It was a common name in the land of Israel at the time; it is the Greek form of the name Joshua, which means “Jehovah saves,” and it was given to this newborn baby because “it is he who will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). The record of history tells that this baby grew up to be a teacher and miracle worker. He taught about the Kingdom of God which He was bringing to Earth, and how possessors of that kingdom should live. He revealed that He Himself was to be the fulfillment of the promises of the Hebrew Scriptures of one who would be the Savior of Israel and the Light to the nations. To a skeptical world, not unlike ours today, He foretold that He would die for the sins of His people, and more astoundingly, that He would rise from death in three days. His death by Roman crucifixion is recorded in the New Testament and in secular history, and three days later, His tomb was empty and hundreds of people were talking excitedly about having seen Him risen, alive and well.
Returning to our question, how is this relevant to us today? We have the same need as those in the first century, whether we are aware of it or not. Like them, we try to find purpose in life, but it is an unavoidable fact that in a short time those purposes will die with us, much as we hate to think about it. If we do wonder about God and life after death, we must know that God is holy and demands that we, as His image bearers, be holy as well. Deep down we know that we are broken, that we are not the people we should be. The bad news is that our best efforts are simply not sufficient to satisfy the righteous standard of a holy God. The good news of Christmas is that God has not left us without hope, but has sent Jesus, the baby in the manager, His Son, to be what is called the “propitiation” for our sin. This means that, in His death on the cross, Jesus paid the sin debt for all would come to Him in faith. Therefore, “he who believes in the Son has eternal life, but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). This life is there for the believing and the asking. This is the message of Christmas.
Mark H. Plumpton is a resident of Exeter and member of the Exeter Presbyterian Church.