What is the True Meaning of Christmas?

by Roger Barrier

Dear Roger,

From your perspective, what is the real meaning of Christmas?

Sincerely, Esther


Dear Esther,

When I think of the real meaning of Christmas, I always think of John MacArthur’s introduction to a Christmas sermon that he preached almost 40 years ago. He declared several things that Christmas is not. Then, he described from his perspective the real meaning of Christmas.


What gives Christmas its meaning?

# Maybe it’s the date, December 25, that gives it meaning.

However, nothing stands out about Dec. 25. If there is anything that we know for sure it’s that Christ wasn’t born on December 25. Shepherds were abiding in field keeping watch over the flocks by night. Shepherds didn’t do that in December. They came out in the springtime. He was probably born in March or April.

December 25 was an old Roman holiday that celebrated the pagan observance of the birthday of the “sun”.

Christians wanted to Christianize the date so in 336 Constantine declared December 25 to be an official Roman-Christian holiday.

# Maybe it’s the Name that gives it meaning.

“Christmas” is the shortened form of “Christ-Mass”. This old Roman Catholic mass was established in 1038. It has s nothing to do with Scripture.

In fact, it wasn’t until 1224 that St. Francis of Assisi began to popularize the worship of baby Jesus in a manger as background for the worship of Mary as a new cult.

# If it isn’t the date or the name, maybe it’s Santa Claus. No, that’s not the real meaning of Christmas. The concept of Santa Claus came into existence through a 4th century bishop named St. Nicolas. St. Nicolas gave all of his possessions to poor people.

Supposedly, St. Nicholas brought back to life two children who had been cut to pieces. It was natural for people to look at St. Nicolas as a giver of gifts and who is particularly important to children.

St. Nicolas is very popular in Holland. In fact, he came to the United States by way of Holland. Dutch children expected Santa to visit on December 5. It was customary to place wooden shoes by the fireplace and Santa would fill the shoes with goodies. Of course we fast-thinking and very capable Americans know that you can get a lot more in a sock than in a wooden shoe!

Christmas isn’t Santa Claus or the date or the name.

# Maybe it’s the spirit of giving which gives meaning to Christmas.

However, in American culture Christmas is no longer the spirit of giving. It’s the spirit of indulgence. Have you been to “Toys By Roy” lately?

This year $40 billion dollars will be spent on 6 billion presents. Incidentally, the presents will be wrapped in $8 million worth of wrapping paper.

Seven-year-old Linda was given the honor of distributing the family gifts from around the tree on Christmas day. After all the gifts were delivered, Linda kept looking all around the branches under the tree. Her father asked, “What are you looking for?” Laura replied, “I thought Christmas was Jesus’ birthday and I was just wondering where His presents were. I guess everyone forgot Him this year.”

My wife, Julie, decided to spend the holidays this year on a Christian-movie binge. She is now approaching her 30th movie. I had no idea there were so many. She asked me, “Do you realize what’s missing in most all of these movies?”

“No, I responded.”

“There are princes and princesses, elves and Christmas trees, Christmas lights and fruitcakes, reindeer and Santa Claus. But there is scarcely a manger in sight.”


The summation of the meaning of Christmas is found in two verses in Matthew chapter one. Both verses were instructions for Joseph from the angel Gabriel about what to name the son of God.

“Take Mary home as your wife because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 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).

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means God with us”) (Matthew 1:22-23).

In these two names we find the real meaning of Christmas.

First, Jesus Is Our Savior.

He died a substitutionary death on the cross to save us from our sin. We are the ones who should have hung on the cross because of our sins. But Jesus saves us by dying in our place.

“The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

An Old Christian Legend Describes How Jesus Became Our Savior.

God the Father called together the hosts of Heaven to listen as he described man’s lost condition. Someone had to go to earth in order to save lost humanity and redeem mankind.

Abraham, the friend of God and the father of faithful said, “I’ll go. I’ll give myself for them.” God said, “No, you sinned when you lived on earth. You may not go.”

Moses the greatest man of Old Testament, and the leader during Exodus said, “I’ll go and shed my blood for the sin of the world.”

God said, “No”, Moses, your sin at Meribah kept you out of the promised land. You can’t go”.

David, the  Sweet singer of Israel, the man after God’s own heart said,  “I’ll go.”

“ No,” said God. “You sinned with Bathsheba. You can’t go.

Jesus came before the throne and said, ”Father, I love them. I’ll take the punishment that they deserve for the wickedness of their sins and die in their places on the cross.

The legend says that all heaven burst out in protest, “No” they all cried, you can’t go!’”

“Yes, I must go. I am the only one perfect and worthy to die for the past, present and future sins of the entire world. . . . And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll and its seven seals?” And I wept and I wept; but, no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside of it. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the lion of the tribe of Judah has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals” (Revelation 5: 1-5).

Second, He Is Immanuel, “God With Us.”

Jesus is with us all the time. Wherever we might be, he is standing beside us.

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations . . . And surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

While the name “Jesus” gives us grace for our future in heaven, the name “Immanuel” gives us the grace that we need for living now, in our present time on earth.

One of my favorite Christmas passages is found in the opening verses of the book of John. You may never have considered this as a Christmas story; however, it is all about the coming of Christ at Christmas!

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

The term “Word” was a Greek philosophical term describing the unrevealed wisdom of God” (John: 1:1). In verse fourteen John tells us that Jesus, the unrevealed wisdom of God, has put on a body so that he might save us from our sins and that we might be with him forever.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only son, who came from the father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

The Virgin Birth Of Jesus Is The Cornerstone Of Christmas.

“Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

If Jesus was not virgin-born then he is not the Son of God who is able to be with us all the time, and he certainly did nothing for our sin when He died on the cross.

If he is not the son of God, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15, then Jesus may well be the greatest con men of all times. We’ve been seduced by a fraud and ought to pick up our bags and go home.

However, the Bible takes great pains to verify that the virgin birth is true.

Joseph was shocked when Mary turned up pregnant before their marriage. He was in the process of canceling everything when an angel assured him that all was well. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20).

In his record of the genealogy of Jesus, Matthew points out that Joseph was the “husband of Mary, of whom (feminine) was born Jesus.” Matthew is careful to point out that the word “whom” does not refer to Joseph. It is clearly feminine in Greek (Matthew 1:16).

Luke recognized that there were those who doubted the idea that Jesus was virgin born. Nevertheless, Joseph never wavered in his testimony that he was not the father of Jesus. Jesus was the son of God (Luke 3:23).

I was once asked by a man struggling to receive Christ as his Savior. “He asked “Do you have to believe in the virgin birth to be a Christian?”

“Yes” I responded. I don’t see how anyone who really understands the issues involved could ever refuse to believe the Virgin Birth and still claim to be a Christian.

Nevertheless, there are some situations when an individual can become a Christian without believing in the virgin birth. I came to Christ when I was seven-years old. I didn’t even know what a virgin was!

As we consider the real meaning of Christmas, we understand that He only comes to those who will receive Him as their personal Savior and commit their lives to Him. He only comes to those who make room for Him in their lives.

From that perspective, one of the saddest verses in the Bible is Luke 2:7: “She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and placed him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.

What a tragedy! The Son of God came into world and they couldn’t even find Him a room.

“He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to those who were his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet, to all who received him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1: 10-12)

Here’s something more tragic. Jesus comes knocking on the door of our hearts and some today tell Him that they have no room for him in their lives!

Once upon a time I came across a penetrating illustration of this tragedy in action from Guideposts magazine.

Nine- year-old Wallace Purling was in the second grade. He should have been in fourth grade; but, he’d been held back twice. He was large for his age and a little slow and clumsy. He simply had trouble keeping up. He was very good natured, and everyone enjoyed it when Wallace was around.

He wanted to be a shepherd in the Christmas pageant but the director decided to make him the Innkeeper. His large size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.

A large audience gathered the night of the pageant. No one more excited than Wallace Purling. He was enraptured as he watched and waited in the wings for his part.

Finally Joseph arrived, gently guiding Mary. Joseph knocked on the wooden door. Wally was there, waiting.

With a loud brash voice Wally demanded, “What do you want?”

“We seek lodging.”

“Seek it elsewhere. The inn is filled.”

“Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary.”

“There is no room in this inn for you!” Wally looked properly stern.

“Please, good innkeeper. This is my wife. She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired.”

Suddenly, Wally relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. (Long pause). The Audience tensed with embarrassment as they thought that Wally had forgotten his lines.

The prompter whispered Wally’s line. “No, begone!”.

Wally spoke automatically, “No! Begone,”

Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary and began to move slowly away. Wally stood in the doorway watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open and his brow creased with concern, eyes filling with tears.

Suddenly the pageant became different from all others.

“Don’t go, Joseph. Bring Mary Back!” Wallace Purling’s face grew into a bright smile. “You can have my room.”

Dear Esther, that’s what Christmas is all about.

Love Roger

You may also like

Update Required Flash plugin