Lessons: Matthew 1:18-25, John 6:47-58, Luke 21:25-36, Revelation 22:12-20, Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-20
Hymns: 367, 377, 333, 740, 387, 392, 380, 364, 370, 368, 361, 363, 386
If you think about it, Christmas means different things to different people. So which Christmas do you hear and which Christmas do you mean when you say, “Merry Christmas?” We can divide Christmas into three categories. A “Pop Christmas,” “Folk Christmas,” and “Real Christmas.”
“Pop Christmas” is the plastic Christmas that has little to do with the real thing. It is about holiday cheer, without the Holy in holiday. “Pop Christmas” is secular. It is Christmas without Christ—the commercial Christmas—often the politically correct Christmas.
There’s no baby Jesus in “Pop Christmas,” for it avoids anything religious, anything genuine, anything with eternal benefits. “Pop Christmas” is all about the snowman, Santa movies, sugary treats, and holiday mysticism. It is a huge boon for the entertainment and toy industries. It wants a plasticky cheer, with, of course, plastic cards maxed out.
Songs of an omniscient Santa tell you that those who are naughty get nothing and those who are nice get rewarded.
The notion of rewards for good people and punishments for bad people is contrary to the Christian message we all need. You see, according to our sinful nature, everyone is naughty. No one is nice. All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. We are not saved by our works. Christ is the One who was nice, who was perfect, but “Pop Christmas” knows no Christ. “Pop Christmas” can be entertaining and fun, but ultimately it is an empty shell without the hope of everlasting life.
“Folk Christmas” is much better. It carries the old traditions: Christmas trees, Christmas carols, family gatherings, gift giving, and other fine traditions.
“Folk Christmas” is good, as long as we do not lose sight of the real thing. In “Folk Christmas” there are many great symbols connected with Christianity. The Christmas tree became popular in northern Europe in the 1500s. Its green foliage in the dead of winter can symbolize the everlasting life Christ came to bring. Its lights remind us that Jesus Christ is the Light of the world—the light no darkness can overcome. Stars and angels at the top of the tree remind us of events surrounding our Lord’s birth.
The Santa who does not teach “naughty or nice” can fit under “Folk Christmas” because the real St. Nicholas was a Christian, known for his Christian generosity.
Gift giving reminds us of the gifts brought to the Christ Child from the Magi. It also reminds us of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life Jesus earned for us when He gave up His life for us on the cross. For His life is God’s gift to us.
Despite these good connections to the real Christmas, we often lose sight of the real Christmas in “Folk Christmas.” We often talk about “having Christmas” when we are referring to family parties. And, for many, the real Christmas takes a back seat to the “Folk Christmas.”
“Folk Christmas” can become a lonely time for many. When we think of Christmas as the get-togethers, gifts, and family time, then we can be left feeling melancholy. Perhaps we gave more valuable gifts than we received and then feel cheated. Or perhaps we have fallen on hard times and can’t afford much for others. Perhaps we think about years ago when the house was filled with young ones who have since moved away. Or we think of those who died and no longer sit at the Christmas table with us.
If we find ourselves feeling down during Christmas, it is because we are thinking of Christmas in terms of the “Folk Christmas.”
In contrast to “Pop Christmas” and “Folk Christmas,” the “Real Christmas” probably receives the least amount of attention. Yet, it is the reason for the season. It is the reason to be merry and it is the reason to rejoice, no matter what is getting us down in “Folk Christmas.”
For the “Real Christmas” has everything to do with Christ. Therefore, it has everything to do with you!
In fact, the “Real Christmas” is the Christmas you truly need. Here’s why. The angel put it like this: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
A Savior! Born for you! According to His mercy, Jesus came into the world to release you from captivity and grant you eternal life.
You may ask, “Why do I need a Savior? What do I need saving from?” You need to be saved from your sins, from rebellion, from eternal death.
For God says you must love Him with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.
But do you? Do you love Him so much you desire to dwell in the House of the Lord forever? Do you love Him so much you hear His voice at all times? Do you love Him so much you make widely known the Good News of Jesus Christ? Do you love Him so much you pray to Him without ceasing? Do you love Him so much that you attend every church service available, rather than just this one every year? Do you love Him so much you long to eat Christ’s Body and drink His Blood?
The same is true for your neighbor. You are to love your neighbor as yourself. Do you love your neighbors so much that you would sacrifice everything—even go hungry—so that they will be satisfied? Do you love your neighbors so much that you respect them, help them, never speak poorly of them? Do you love them so that you never hurt them, cheat them, or covet their things?
None of us love God or our neighbor as we ought. These are sins we need saving from.
And so Christ Jesus was born in the City of David. He was born to give you a new birth in Holy Baptism, to elevate you as a saint—a child of God—so that Jesus becomes your Brother.
Jesus was not born so that you could get a free license to continue in these sins, thereby putting yourself back under the yoke of the law and under the slavery of sin and death. Instead, He was born to free you from these sins, so that you can walk in the newness of life.
Jesus was born in lowliness to free us lowly creatures from our sins. The Son of God Himself—Christ the Lord—was born on that first Christmas, the “Real Christmas” so that He could become one of us and die for us on the cross.
Because Jesus rose victoriously from the grave, we have every reason to be filled with joy. Our faith is not in vain. For we now have the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in Him.
This is why we celebrate His birth. The “Real Christmas” is Christ coming in the flesh for us. It is the Gospel—the Good News of Jesus Christ coming to take away our sins.
The “Pop Christmas” does not know the Savior and tries to shut Him out. While the “Folk Christmas” points us to Christ, it still does not have the full Gospel truth.
You don’t have to stop enjoying the movies and music of the “Pop Christmas” and you don’t have to stop the many good things found in the “Folk Christmas.”
But let the “Real Christmas” be the most important to you. For it teaches of your Savior, Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The “Real Christmas” is the birth of Christ, our Immanuel who is God with us. The “Real Christmas” presents to us the greatest Christmas present—Christ the Lord—who grants us forgiveness of sins, access to our Father in Heaven, and everlasting salvation with Him,
We truly have a reason to rejoice in this “Real Christmas!”
Have a most blessed Christmas as you celebrate the birth of our Lord! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen