In the original Christmas story, God comes to this planet in the person of Jesus to rescue us from the mess we’ve made of ourselves (Matthew 1:21), and to help us experience peace (Luke 2:14).
And Christmas today, in a roundabout way, focuses on both those things too. It’s a muddle of Christian and secular traditions, yes, but they allow us to put the messiness of the world aside for a while and enjoy an atmosphere of tranquillity and peace. Witness the billions of people, non-Christians included, who love the peace and goodwill that comes from giving and exchanging gifts, getting together as families, donating to charity, sending sentimental cards to each other, and greeting strangers with a hearty “Merry Christmas!”
But why would non-Christians get involved in all this stuff? It’s a blatantly Christian holiday, for heaven’s sake, with its Christian name, Christian symbols and Christian traditions, like the Christmas tree, the Christmas wreath, and even candy cane. And shopping malls still belt out carols broadcasting the Christian gospel. But non-Christians soak it all up too. It’s the most amazing phenomenon on the planet, that people of all faiths make a Christian holiday the highlight of their year, and don’t anyone dare cancel it either, or suggest we change its name. So how could this have happened?
Well, it happened because of Jesus. If he hadn’t been born we wouldn’t have Christmas. Maybe we’d still be celebrating the birthday of Sol the sun god on December 25th, which started back in the 4th century with its festive atmosphere, lights, decorations, and bloating oneself on food and drink, and with Sol pictured flying across the sky in his chariot pulled by griffins (later changed to stags). Dress him a red suit and change the stags to reindeer, and Sol wouldn’t have any problem being accepted today.
But instead of celebrating Sol’s birthday, the Christian church took Sol’s birth date and said Jesus was born on that day, and rather cleverly, in maintaining the pagan traditions on that date too, the church made December 25th a very acceptable Christian celebration. But again, none of this would have happened if Jesus had not been born.
It’s because Jesus was born that we’ve ended up with an old pagan sun god’s birthday becoming Jesus’ birthday, but few people seem worried by that, and see no need to change it, Christians and non-Christians alike. But why would that be, I wonder?
Well, for Christians it’s the chance to celebrate Jesus’ birthday and all that his birth meant for humanity, and – as a nice bonus – be able to broadcast the Christian message once a year to a receptive audience, minus the hassle and persecution. It even puts Christianity in a good light, with Christians and non-Christians mixing happily together.
For non-Christians it’s been a bonus too, having time off, but with a little magic thrown in too. There’s something about Christmas that’s different, that no other holiday through the year even comes close to. It could hardly be called peaceful, with the mad rush for gifts and setting up family get togethers, but there is still a calm that descends at some point during the Christmas season that is truly magical.
Our behaviour at Christmas-time changes like no other day or season of the year. What a coincidence, then, that Jesus’ birth was accompanied by a promise of peace. We have stories to back it up too, when soldiers stopped killing each other in World War 1 at Christmas time, and exchanged gifts instead of bullets.
Jesus being born, then, has made this world a different place, or at least given us a desire to make the world a different place. Is peace where the world is going, therefore? Well, yes, according to the reason given in the Bible for why Jesus was born. He brought the life that God meant us to live. He lived that life himself as a human being, and then promised that after he ascended back to his Father he would live that life in us too. And here we are every Christmas proving that to be true, because we like living the life of peace and goodwill he lived and promised. Even non-Christians, who have no interest in Christianity or Jesus Christ, do all kinds of peace and goodwill things at Christmas-time.
There’s something definitely fishy going on here, then, because, one has to ask: “Would any of this have happened if Jesus had not been born?”