By Mark H. Plumpton www.SeacoastOnline.com (Maine)
See also his original article The True Message of Christmas that was posted on this website on Christmas Day, 2009.
Today is Christmas, for most, a joyous event of family and friends, decorated trees, lights, presents, Santa Claus, and lots of wonderful food!
Oh yes, also something about a baby named Jesus lying in a manger in Bethlehem.
What is a manger? It is a feeding trough for barnyard animals; it was filled with hay and used as baby Jesus’ first cradle.
Where is Bethlehem? It is a small town about four miles south of Jerusalem.
Why is it significant that Jesus was born there? About 700 years before Jesus’ birth, the Jewish prophet Micah foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
What is a Messiah? It means the Anointed One. He would come “to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel,” but also to be “a light for the nations … to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). His arrival that day was both for Jews and for all the peoples of the world.
Was his coming important? Yes, vitally important, even for people living today.
Why did he come? There is a great and awesome God who brought this world into existence and who rules over it. This God is utterly holy, set apart from sin. At the same time, it is a fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Most people believe that God “grades us on the curve” and so will admit anyone to Heaven who has led a fairly respectable life. This idea is the biggest and saddest fallacy of all, for those who stake their eternal lives on the belief that God will overlook all their sins will be eternally disappointed. God cannot do that, for then He would cease to be just. All who die in their sins will be permanently separated from the merciful presence of God and will be subject to His wrath. It is not popular to speak of the wrath of God, but He hates sin because it is cosmic treason against His rule and will, and because it produces horrible results, which are sadly evident in our world.
However, as Jesus stated, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). Jesus, of God’s very nature but at the same time a human like us, came to live a perfect life (the life we must but cannot live) and to die to pay the penalty for the sins of all who believe in Him. Jesus demonstrated that He was and is who He claimed to be by rising from death and showing Himself, alive and well, to hundreds of witnesses. Now, we are all faced with a decision. As He explained, “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:18).
The message of Christmas, the celebration of Jesus’ birth, is that all who receive Him by faith and rest on Him alone, not on their own so-called “good life,” will be saved and given—as a free gift—a blessed eternal life. As the hymn says, “O holy Child of Bethlehem! Descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.”
Mark H. Plumpton is a resident of Exeter, Maine, and a member of the Exeter Presbyterian Church.