Suppose I should say to you, “Jesus is not the reason for the season.” Seems almost sacrilegious, doesn’t it? It sounds more like something an atheist protester would carry on a picket sign outside a church during the Christmas season—and surely not something a Christian pastor would write about! But, in fact, I preached it as a sermon in my church during the Christmas season a year ago.
My statement that “Jesus is not the reason for the season” comes as a response to the common Christian slogan, popularized on bumper stickers and Christmas cards, that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Let me explain.
A couple of years ago, a day or so after Christmas, I stood in the return line that tangled around Walmart as gift recipients brought back those unwanted presents. While it’s the thought that counts, we wanted to keep the thought and at the same time cash in on the merchandise. As we waited in line, the man ahead of us, frustrated with the commercialism of Christmas, complained, “Wow, more now than ever, we need to be reminded that ‘Jesus is the reason for the season.’ ” I would agree that in our materialistic age we need to be reminded that this season means more than exchanging gifts.
We need to find a deeper spiritual understanding of the season we celebrate. Currently, many school districts prohibit displaying a manger scene at Christmas. Department store employees wish patrons “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Hollywood attempts to define Christmas with a skeleton figure sharing his pre-Christmas nightmare. “Silent Night” rests unused as “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” dominates the radio waves.
The anticipation of the gifts from Santa’s sleigh gets much more attention than the offerings brought by the Magi. Rudolph’s shining nose replaces the star of Bethlehem. The mall receives the greatest offerings, and the church, desperate to compete, employs Santa to bring attention to the offering basket. School Christmas programs dress the children in Nutcracker costumes instead of angelic wings and halos, since the angels no longer have a message to harken in a secular public setting. Yes, we all need a reminder of why we have Christmas.
The world intentionally rips Christ out of the center of Christmas. I heard an atheist rant “I don’t need Christ to celebrate Christmas. And I don’t need Christians telling me I’m celebrating it wrong.” Though I said nothing, my mind screamed a response to his witless comment: If you leave Christ and worship out of “Christ mass,” you need to rename the holiday you keep.
The enemy steals the season like a devious grinch attempting to keep the message of Christ’s birth and death from the people. Sometimes the exclusion is blatant. The Holiday Fantasy of Lights bans religious light exhibits from being displayed during their annual Christmas event in Broward County, Florida. Other times Satan creates a diversion of commercialism to sidetrack us. And it isn’t just the atheists who get drawn in. I find myself swept up in the buying frenzy.
“Jesus is the reason for the season” has gained popularity among Christians as a reminder to ourselves as much as a statement to the world that Jesus should be the center of the holiday. Though the phrase may be recent, since early childhood I’ve believed that Jesus was the reason for there being a Christmas to celebrate. But until the Bible corrected me, I also thought Sunday was the correct day of worship. So I’ve learned that I can’t get my theology from the marketplace. I must draw it from the Bible.
Most theologians dispute December 25 as being the actual day of Christ’s birth. Yet the fact that we have a specific day in the year that Christians have elected to honor Christ’s coming to Earth shows the intent to make Christ the center of Christmas. Humanly speaking, the season honors the reality that Jesus became a Man and dwelt with us. But when I look at the Bible, I find a different presentation of the reason for the season.
The real reason for the season
We talk of Jesus coming as if the coming itself is the reason. But Jesus’ first coming to the earth was the method, not the reason. Jesus’ birth came as the first step in a full rescue plan to unite human beings back to God. The angels announced the reason for God’s coming to the shepherds in Luke 2:10, 11: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”* “There has been born for you.” You and I are the reason Christ was born. “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us” (Isaiah 9:6, italics added). We are the ones who prompted Jesus to come.
God declares that the Son came to us because He, the Father, “so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This verse puts the Father forward as the prime mover for the season. At the outset we should at least rewrite our slogan and say, “The Father is the reason for the season.” But when I look closely, the Father sent the Son for the people of the world. God’s love for us brought the gift. Jesus truly did come to Earth, but He was God’s answer. We are God’s reason. Love would not let Him stay away. You and I are the reason for the season, because our heavenly Father couldn’t stand to be without us.
My need, your need, the need of humanity, prompted God’s response. God came for the helpless addict to set him free. His heart went out to the grief-stricken mother with empty arms, whose child she would otherwise lose forever. God stepped in to answer the prayers of a broken-hearted sinner, to grant him forgiveness and hope in a new life apart from his sin. God intervened, because our promises crumbled like ropes of sand, and He needed something that would hold us together with Him. God became a human Being with flesh and bones like us because He couldn’t stand to go through eternity separated from the children He had formed and knows by name.
The Creator responded to the desperation of the earth’s inhabitants crying out under the pain of sin. Just as He brought deliverance to Israel as they cried out under Egyptian captivity by sending the deliverer Moses, so He hears the heart cry of His people who are captive to Satan, and He sent Jesus to be our Deliverer.
I am the reason for the season, because God visited Earth to break Satan’s hold on me (1 John 4:8). You are the reason for the season because you had a desperate need.
One of my children, just starting out on her own, received about twice as much during the Christmas season because she needed so much. I used the season as an excuse to meet her need.
Jesus came in response to our desperate need. Not only did I need a righteous Person to lay down His life as my Substitute; I needed someone to give me a fresh and accurate picture of God that would lead me to want to choose Him as my Savior.
a new picture of God
Just prior to Jesus’ coming, the world’s picture of God had been reduced to a Being whose chief attribute was stern justice. The people had come to view the Almighty ruling more like a gestapo officer than a loving Father. Fear of punishment served as the main motivation to serve and obey Him. John 1:9, 18 tells us that “there was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. . . . No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” Jesus came not only to be the Lamb to substitute for us but also to shine as the Light to enlighten us. God came because He wanted us to know Him and understand Him so that we could honestly love Him.
As I write this article, I have a date set to go visit my oldest daughter and her husband, who live hundreds of miles from me. I know them. They will greet me at the airport with pageantry. My daughter will buy the special foods I love and prepare elegant meals on fine china in celebration of my visit. She and her husband will organize trips to museums and shops and plan an agenda of things I’ll enjoy doing while I’m there. She’ll make sure my every need is taken care of. The date is marked on her calendar. It says, “Dad Visiting.” But I’m the one who initiated this trip. This is not about me, not about taking care of me, and not about celebrating my coming. She and her husband are the reason for the occasion. I’m going there to spend time with them. My trip is motivated by my love for them, my desire to be a part of their lives, and my passion to keep close to them.
The desire to be with me forever motivated Jesus to come as a Babe in that manger 2,000 years ago. God the Father is the prime mover. Jesus is the answer, the method, and the gift of the season. But . . . we are the reason for the season.