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“Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., & Harrison, R. K., Thomas Nelson Publishers (Eds.). (1995). In Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc. And yet, we still go for physical force, as Christians have down through the ages. And physical isn’t always wi…”
Why does Christmas matter? Is it the shopping, so we can give gifts? Maybe the shopping, because it’s important for companies to make money? Or maybe you’re part of that seemingly ever decreasing number of people who remember something about a little baby being born? How about this – it’s a time to put up decorations outside your house, so all your neighbors know how much holiday spirit you have? Better yet, because it’s a chance to force people to say “Merry Christmas!” Wait – I almost forgot about the chance to feel good about telling fake stories to little kids about some jolly old guy who like to give presents at this time of year.
All of those things resonate with someone. Of course, there are other possible thoughts as well. Things like a chance to sell walnuts, candles, snow globes, gingerbread, Etc. If I left yours out, sorry. It wasn’t intentional.
But let’s get back to the question. Notice, I didn’t ask what Christmas is about. I asked, why does Christmas matter?
Why Christmas matters – Is it the shopping?
If you own / run pretty much any kind of business, this may be at or near the top of your list. It’s a chance to get people to buy stuff they don’t need. Or to give stuff that nobody wants. Get rid of excess inventory. And if you get really lucky, you’ve got a smash hit flying off your shelves. Money, money, money!
For some, Christmas sales are the difference between staying in business and going under. It’s important to them. For others, it’s a chance to make even more money. After all, if someone has money – you want it! And at this time of year, people are all to willing to give it to you. So why not take the opportunity to get as much as you can. In some twisted way – maybe we can even convince ourselves it’s a God-given opportunity.
Why Christmas matters – Is it the gifts?
It’s the end of the year. We haven’t really said much to people we care about to confirm that we maybe actually do care. Some of them, truth be told, we don’t care. But we don’t want them to know that. So we give them a Christmas gift. Instant caring. Because nothing says, “I don’t care about you”, quite the way leaving someone off the gift list does.
And these days, we don’t even have to leave the house. It’s awesome! Just go to Amazon and have the thing, whatever it is, gift wrapped and delivered right to their front door. And what can be more “caring” than sending an e-card with an e-gift card included? That way we don’t even have to think about what to get for the people we care so much about.
Why Christmas matters – so all your neighbors know how much holiday spirit you have?
Ah yes. Decorating the house. With Snoopy, Mickey, Sponge-Bob, and other cartoon characters. I can feel the Christmas Spirit already. And if you happen to remember that little North Star thing, maybe that motivates you to really put up some lights. I’m talking Major Lights. The kind that tells the neighbors – I’ve got more spirit than you do. Next thing you know, there’s a spirit war going on – and the whole block is trying to have most spirit. More lights. More cartoon characters. Bigger Santa and reindeer displays. Maybe some music – better yet set up to listen to on the car radio as people drive past.
If you really have a lot of spirit – maybe other blocks will compete with yours. Then you’ll be a Christmas Spirit destination, with hundreds (more?) cars driving by every night to gawk at your incredible Christmas Spirit. It’s amazing isn’t it?
Oh. About that North Star thing? It’s not in the north at all.
The Visit of the Magi
Mt 2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
Oops. It was in the east. No big deal. Most people, thanks to the magic of Christmas music, also believe the unstated number of Magi were three kings. About that “king” thing:
Origin and Symbolism of the Magi
Various traditions connect the magi with Arabia, Babylon, or Persia. They represent humans of all ages, from all continents, giving gifts appropriate to royalty, divinity, and death.
“Magi” originally referred to priests in Persia (fifth century BC), who were traditionally associated with secret wisdom, magic, and astrology. In time, people of any ethnicity or location were called magi if they were involved in similar practices. <fn>Morrison, M. D. (2016). Melchior. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.</fn>
Oh well. Another one bites the dust. It wasn’t kings – it was more like what we’d call magicians or astrologers today, depending on what they really did. And it wasn’t the North Star. It was a star in the east. So all that decoration stuff, including the nativity scenes with the three kings is all based on something. But it’s not the Bible. Shocking, isn’t it?
Why Christmas matters – so little kids can get gifts from a stranger that doesn’t exist?
I’m not a parent, I’ll say that right away. But I don’t get the Santa Claus. Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Etc. Is it really too much to just have parents give gifts? Is it really necessary to make up some big guy, who’s way over the medical definition of a healthy weight, giving presents to little kids? Especially these days, something like “Stranger Danger” seems more appropriate for some unknown person trying to give something to a little kid.
But I guess it’s an excuse to go overboard, without having to take responsibility for it. Except that the bills do have to be paid.
Or maybe it’s a way to instill some discipline. You know – like telling the kid they’re only going to get a lump of coal if they don’t behave. But the kid knows better. Like I said – I don’t get it.
Why Christmas matters – because it’s a chance to force people to say “Merry Christmas!”
This must be it! The ever popular and controversial war on Christmas. You know – the time when some people with lots of Christmas Spirit get upset when they go shopping, for all those wonderful reasons above, and the person in the store doesn’t say. “Merry Christmas”. Forget about the fact that maybe they’ll be fired for saying it. And don’t even consider something like, maybe they are Muslim, and don’t believe in Christmas. Or maybe they’re having a bad day and don’t feel as jolly and Christmasy as we do. They just better darned well say, “Merry Christmas”.
Because it matters. Saying “Merry Christmas” is what Christmas is all about, isn’t it?
But honestly, what have we done by forcing people to say something they don’t believe? They get mad at us. They get turned off to this “Christian” obsession with saying those two words. And if we get the employer to force their staff to say it? Then we’ve succeeded in having them force their staff to say it, instead of us. So – we’re innocent, right? Wrong. The Muslim who’s forced to say “Merry Christmas” is still mad at us.
Why Christmas matters – something about a little baby being born?
Well, yes. Sort of. In a small way. No pun intended. The little baby, of course – is Jesus. And as we say, that little baby Jesus “is the reason for the season”.
However, is the birth of little baby Jesus the reason Christmas matters? The answer to that really is, sort of.
If you didn’t pay attention to the image at the top – please check it out now.
Those are called Advent candles. Now, look at the image below – also a set of Advent candles.
It’s different. This one has five candles, not four. And they’re different colors. The one in the middle is white, and the others are purple. As opposed to the first one, where there are four red candles in a row.
Why? There are a different number of Advent candles, and they have different colors, because different denominations do things differently from each other. There’s isn’t one “standard” way of celebrating Advent.
Why Christmas matters – is it Advent?
Actually, I guess we need to first find out – what is Advent?
ADVENT Word with Latin roots, meaning “coming.” Christians of earlier generations spoke of “the advent of our Lord” and of “His second advent.” The first phrase refers to God’s becoming incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. The latter phrase speaks of Jesus’ second coming. In a second sense “advent” designates a period before Christmas when Christians prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. This practice may have begun in some churches as early as the late fourth century. Advent began as a time of fasting. Sermons focused on the wonder of the Incarnation. By the Middle Ages four Sundays had become the standard length of the Advent season. Since then, Advent has been considered to be the beginning of the church year. See Church Year; Parousia; Second Coming. <fn>Grissom, F. A., & Bond, S. (2003). Advent. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 31). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.</fn>
It’s important to notice the reference to “two” advents. The first one, the one we think of and celebrate today, is the coming of the little baby. Jesus. Emmanuel – God with us. You know – that little holiday we call Christmas, where we do all those things above. And then get so busy that we forget about Advent – the message of the coming of Messiah. For many, all that other stuff is a way to even pretend that God has nothing to do with Christmas at all.
The first Advent
I don’t know if you noticed, but there isn’t really a “standard” way to do Advent. It’s not like Jesus gave us any instructions on how to do it. He didn’t. What He left us was instructions on how to celebrate His death – not His birth.
The Lord’s Supper
14:12-26 pp — Mt 26:17-30; Lk 22:7-23
14:22-25 pp — 1Co 11:23-25
Mk 14:12 On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”
Mk 14:13 So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14 Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.”
Mk 14:16 The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.
Mk 14:17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”
Mk 14:19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely not I?”
Mk 14:20 “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
Mk 14:22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
Mk 14:23 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.
Mk 14:24 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.”
Mk 14:26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
That’s not a nice sweet Christmas type of message, is it? We’d rather remember the little baby. But let’s get real. The little baby coming to earth was a prerequisite for His death. And Jesus’ death was necessary to pay the price for what Adam and Eve started – and what we’ve kept going all these long years. That’s why Christmas had to happen. And that’s why there was a first Advent.
And what happened at the first Advent? It’s not the message of a cuddly little baby. And it’s not a message of trees, lights, presents from Santa, gingerbread cookies – or anything like that. No – it was this:
John the Baptist Prepares the Way
3:1-12 pp — Mk 1:3-8; Lk 3:2-17
Mt 3:1 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the desert,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’ ”
Mt 3:4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
Mt 3:7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Mt 3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
One more time – here’s what John the Baptist said about our cuddly little baby that we like to celebrate:
But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
Yes, Jesus coming to earth is cause for hope, peace, love and joy. Depending on how we respond to His coming. While it could have been good news for all, as the shepherds were told:
Lk 2:8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Ah – there’s our cuddly little baby. There’s our friend – Jesus. And notice – good news of great joy that will be for all the people. And yet, remember what Jesus said –
This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.
Not for all. Not even for most. But for many.
Think about it. Many of us will take up God on His offer of salvation, by way of the death of that little baby after He grew up. But most of us won’t. We’ll come back to that. I promise.
But first –
Why Christmas matters – how do we celebrate Advent?
That is, how do we celebrate Advent today?
It would be really nice to give you “the” way we do it. But there isn’t one way. The way we celebrate Advent depends. Depends on what church we go to. Maybe it depends on what denomination the church is part of. And it depends on how far back your church goes to get its traditions. It depends on a lot of things.
So – here’s a table with some of the various methods I’ve found in a quick – and far from exhaustive – search.
|Source / Week #||www.catholiccompany.com||whychristmas.com||thoughtco.com||projectbritain.com||www.lfmchurch.org|
|Week 1||purple candle||purple candle||purple candle||red candle||purple candle|
- with the “Prophet’s Candle” reminding us that Jesus is coming
|represents Isaiah and other prophets|
- in the Bible that predicted the coming of Jesus
|the "Prophecy Candle"|
- in remembrance of the prophets, primarily Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Christ
|God's people |
- the candle of Hope.
|The Prophet’s Candle|
|Week 2||purple candle||purple candle||purple candle||red candle||purple candle|
- the “Bethlehem Candle” reminding us of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem
|represents the Bible||Love |
- Some traditions call this the "Bethlehem Candle," symbolizing Christ's manger
|The old testament prophets |
- the candle of peace
|The Bethlehem Candle|
|Week 3||rose pink candle||pink candle||rose colored candle||red candle||rose or pink candle|
- the “Shepherd’s Candle” reminding us of the Joy the world experienced at the coming birth of Jesus
- the mother of Jesus
- customarily called the "Shepherds Candle,"
|John The Baptist |
- the candle of love
|The Shepherds’ Candle|
|Week 4||purple candle||purple candle||purple candle||red candle||purple candle|
the “Angel’s Candle” reminding us of the message of the angels: “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.”
|John the Baptist|
- Jesus' cousin, who told the people in Israel to get ready for Jesus' teaching
- often called the "Angels Candle,"
|Mary the mother of Jesus |
- the candle of joy
|The Angels’ Candle|
|Christmas / Christmas Eve||May have white candle||white candle||white candle||white candle||white candle|
|Jesus||Jesus||represents the life of Christ that has come into the world||the birth of Christ||The Christ Candle|
One thing that’s really interesting, and not reflected in the table we just looked at, is this from the Catholic News Agency:
But what does it actually mean to “observe Advent?” The observation of other liturgical seasons may be more readily apparent – Lent is clearly a time for prayer, sacrifice and almsgiving, while Christmas and Easter are clearly times for celebration.
Search Pinterest for “how to celebrate Advent” and everything from ideas for a do-it-yourself Jesse Tree, to instructions for a handmade Advent calendar bunting, to a tutorial on “how to make your own wreath from foraged materials” appears.
The penitential time of preparation before Christmas seems to have taken on a crafty life of its own over the last few years, thanks to websites such as Pinterest and Instructables. Add in a few glowing shots of your friend’s handcrafted nativity set on her Instagram feed and you’ve got a recipe for some serious Advent-envy.
While all of these crafts and activities can help one better celebrate Christmas, it’s important not to let them distract from the true purpose of the season: preparation for the Incarnation, said Fr. Mike Schmitz, chaplain for the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Fr. Schmitz told CNA that one of the things that gets easily overlooked about Advent is “that it’s actually a season of penance” and as such, the Church asks us to practice prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
“That’s kind of like the buzzkill of Advent because it’s like, ‘OK, don’t have too much fun because, remember, this is a penitential season’,” he said.
Did you get that? Easter and Christmas are clearly times for celebration. Lent is the time for prayer. And while Christmas is also a time for penance (read repenting) – that’s too much of a buzz kill. Apparently the answer to this buzz kill problem is to just ignore it.
Another thing that we do see from the table is this, from the Lawrence Free Methodist Church:
Different church denominations and traditions assign different meanings to each of the five candles.
There are a lot of things the different sources I used have in common. Although, even with those common thoughts, they aren’t always in the same week. One other thing I thought was interesting is that projectbritain.com has the 4th week being for Mary – although the Catholic Church doesn’t assign any week to Mary.
One take-away from all this is that, with the possible exception of Mary, everything in the table is something worth thinking about, praying over, remembering, and seeing how our lives fit in with them.
Where does Advent fit in the topic of Why does Christmas matter?
Good question. Given what I started off with – the things we do to Christmas that really aren’t about “Christ”mas – I’m going to go with the two instances where John the Baptist is mentioned.
Remember this from the Catholic News Agency: Fr. Schmitz told CNA that one of the things that gets easily overlooked about Advent is “that it’s actually a season of penance”.
And remember how John the Baptist started his ministry: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
Remember the thing that many of us would like to forget. And it really is important to remember – because if we don’t, then we’re part of that group of “most” that we talked about. Which means, of course, that we’re not a part of those Jesus was talking about when He said – This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.
That would be a tragedy. When we, even Christians, get to the point where we spend all our heart, soul and mind on the trappings of Christmas – and I do mean “trap”pings – then we’ve also forgotten something else Jesus said:
Mt 22:37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
And if / when that happens, I can’t help but wonder, does that mean we never actually were a true Christian – a follower of Jesus? Does it mean we grew up among the rocks or the thorns – and died?
The Parable of the Sower
13:1-15 pp — Mk 4:1-12; Lk 8:4-10
13:16, 17 pp — Lk 10:23, 24
13:18-23 pp — Mk 4:13-20; Lk 8:11-15
Mt 13:1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.”
Yeah – maybe that’s something a lot of you don’t want to hear right now. Sorry. Well, no not really.
I’m very grateful that I lived long enough to realize that something I always “knew” probably wasn’t true. I thought I was a Christian ever since I was a little kid. Even when I was mad at God – I still believed. But I’ve since come to realize that’s not enough. Should have known it a long time ago. Check this out:
A Tree and Its Fruit
6:43, 44 pp — Mt 7:16, 18, 20
Lk 6:43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”
So whatever our hearts overflows with – it comes out of our mouths, and that’s how we can tell what’s in our heart. But what if we say nothing? What if we’re neither for nor against Jesus?
Rev 3:14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
If you’re still reading – and your anger is burning at what I’m saying – think about this: It’s much better to read this from me right now, while you can do something, than to continue to do / say nothing, and then hear those words from Jesus.
The second Advent – Why Christmas used to matter
The truth is, whether the second coming of Christ comes first – or whether we die first – what follows is equally applicable to each and every one of us. So, since this is about Why Christmas used to matter – let’s just use the Advent word, all the while realizing that Jesus’ second coming brings us to God in the exact same state as if we had died. And not really knowing Him isn’t where we want to be.
So – back on topic –
As we saw, it’s possible to ignore all of this stuff about John the Baptist, repenting, and go on with the merry Xmas life.
But then that second Advent thing comes in. Not into our lives. Not any more. But it used to be there. Christians of earlier generations spoke of “the advent of our Lord” and of “His second advent.” Many don’t like to think about that part. That’s fire and brimstone. Or else it’s a fairy tale – because “everyone” knows we’re all going to Heaven. See Protected from the Bible – Who’s in Hell for more on that.
When the second Advent comes, Jesus isn’t going to be a cuddly little baby. And there aren’t going to be a bunch of Christians around flocking to see Him. Remember – they’re all going to be raptured before that. Here’s just one warning Jesus gave about the time when He returns to earth.
The Day and Hour Unknown
24:37-39 pp — Lk 17:26, 27
24:45-51 pp — Lk 12:42-46
Mt 24:36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
Mt 24:42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Mt 24:45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
So much for the cuddly little baby. So much for the hope, peace, love and joy stuff of the first Advent. The opportunities for that are long gone by the time of the Second Coming. And since the time of the Second Coming isn’t known, then we are actually in the time of the second Advent now. Yes – right now.
How long will it last? We just don’t know. What we do know though – every moment we delay getting our act together and taking advantage of the hope, peace, love and joy of the first Advent brings us closer and closer to the time when it’s too late.
Why does Christmas matter? – The coming of the Conclusion
Christmas matters because of the One its named for. Jesus Christ. BTW, just in case you don’t know the meaning behind “Christ” –
5547 Χριστός [Christos /khris·tos/] adj. From 5548; TDNT 9:493; TDNTA 1322; GK 5986; 569 occurrences; AV translates as “Christ” 569 times. 1 Christ was the Messiah, the Son of God. 2 anointed. Additional Information: Christ = “anointed”. <fn>Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.</fn>
And that begs the question, what about the word “Messiah”? I’m not going to give you a short pithy definition here. Instead, we’re going to look at what the Old Testament people thought Messiah was going to be. We’ll also see the expectations of the New Testament people. Also – we’ll see what God’s intention for Messiah really is. Of course, it’s that last one that really matters. So we’ll look at all of them, to try to clear up possible misunderstandings and false expectations.
MESSIAH [meh SIGH uh] (anointed one) — the one anointed by God and empowered by God’s spirit to deliver His people and establish His kingdom. In Jewish thought, the Messiah would be the king of the Jews, a political leader who would defeat their enemies and bring in a golden era of peace and prosperity. In Christian thought, the term Messiah refers to Jesus’ role as a spiritual deliverer, setting His people free from sin and death.
The definition of Christ, above, merely says anointed. And we probably remember Jesus as being the anointed one. But anointed for what? By that, I don’t mean what we think, or what we want – but what God really meant. What is the true purpose of Jesus being Messiah, the anointed one?
The word Messiah comes from a Hebrew term that means “anointed one.” Its Greek counterpart is Christos, from which the word Christ comes. Messiah was one of the titles used by early Christians to describe who Jesus was.
In Old Testament times, part of the ritual of commissioning a person for a special task was to anoint him with oil. The phrase “anointed” one was applied to a person in such cases. In the Old Testament, Messiah is used more than 30 times to describe kings (2 Sam. 1:14, 16), priests (Lev. 4:3, 5, 16), the patriarchs (Ps. 105:15), and even the Persian King Cyrus (Is. 45:1). The word is also used in connection with King David, who became the model of the messianic king who would come at the end of the age (2 Sam. 22:51; Ps. 2:2). But it was not until the time of Daniel (sixth century B.C.) that Messiah was used as an actual title of a king who would come in the future (Dan. 9:25–26). Still later, as the Jewish people struggled against their political enemies, the Messiah came to be thought of as a political, military ruler.
That’s possibly some shocking information there. Even a Persian King is referred to as the Lord’s anointed. But here it is:
Isa 45:1 “This is what the LORD says to his anointed,
to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of
to subdue nations before him
and to strip kings of their armor,
to open doors before him
so that gates will not be shut:
Yes, Cyrus. All The Men Of The Bible says this about Cyrus:
Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire, conquered Babylon and was anointed by God to free the Jews from captivity. The prophets frequently foretold the coming of Cyrus. Isaiah, for example, mentioned him by name two hundred years before he was born (2 Chron. 36:22, 23; Ezra 1:1-8; 3:7; 4:3-5; 5:13-17; 6:3-14; Isa. 44:28; 45; Dan. 1:21; 6:28; 10:1). Classical writers adorn the life and labors of Cyrus with a variety of legendary incidents for which no confirmation can be produced.
Maybe it’s no surprise then, when the Jewish people expect Messiah Jesus to be a political leader. At a time when they had so many problems and should have been turning to God at a higher level, they were still concerned with the immediate issues instead of the larger and eternal ones. As we often still do today.
From the New Testament we learn more about the people’s expectations. They thought the Messiah would come soon to perform signs (John 7:31) and to deliver His people, after which He would live and rule forever (John 12:34). Some even thought that John the Baptist was the Messiah (John 1:20). Others said that the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem (John 7:42). Most expected the Messiah to be a political leader, a king who would defeat the Romans and provide for the physical needs of the Israelites.
According to the Gospel of John, a woman of Samaria said to Jesus, “I know that Messiah is coming.” Jesus replied, “I who speak to you am He” (John 4:25–26). In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, however, Jesus never directly referred to Himself as the Messiah, except privately to His disciples, until the crucifixion (Matt. 26:63–64; Mark 14:61–62; Luke 22:67–70). He did accept the title and function of messiahship privately (Matt. 16:16–17). Yet Jesus constantly avoided being called “Messiah” in public (Mark 8:29–30). This is known as Jesus’ “messianic secret.” He was the Messiah, but He did not want it known publicly.
The reason for this is that Jesus’ kingdom was not political but spiritual (John 18:36). If Jesus had used the title “Messiah,” people would have thought he was a political king. But Jesus understood that the Messiah, God’s Anointed One, was to be the Suffering Servant (Is. 52:13–53:12). The fact that Jesus was a suffering Messiah—a crucified deliverer—was a “stumbling block” to many of the Jews (1 Cor. 1:23). They saw the cross as a sign of Jesus’ weakness, powerlessness, and failure. They rejected the concept of a crucified Messiah.
Some say the reason for this lack of understanding comes from not correctly interpreting some of the prophecies in Isaiah. Messiah is described initially as the suffering servant. Later, the conquering hero idea comes in. With 20/20 hindsight, we can see that this description is of the first and second comings of Jesus. But to the Jewish people of the time, they wanted the conqueror to save them from Rome – not the suffering servant. And so – they missed it.
But the message of the early church centered around the fact that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Christ (Acts 5:42; 17:3; 18:5). They proclaimed the “scandalous” gospel of a crucified Messiah as the power and wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:23–24). John wrote, “Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ [the Messiah]?” (1 John 2:22).
By the time of the apostle Paul, “Christ” was in the process of changing from a title to a proper name. The name is found mostly in close association with the name “Jesus,” as in “Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24) or “Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:1). When the church moved onto Gentile soil, the converts lacked the Jewish background for understanding the title, and it lost much of its significance. Luke wrote, “The disciples were first called Christians [those who belong to and follow the Messiah in Antioch” (Acts 1).
I can’t help but feel that the loss of significance still exists today. Too many people feel that the Old Testament – or the Old Covenant – isn’t worth reading. And yet, when we fail or refuse to read it, understand it, then we also fail to understand the reasons for and the significance of Jesus as Messiah. It’s too easy to celebrate – but not know why we’re really celebrating.
As the Messiah, Jesus is the divinely appointed king who brought God’s kingdom to earth (Matt. 12:28; Luke 11:20). His way to victory was not by physical force and violence, but through love, humility, and service. <fn>Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., & Harrison, R. K., Thomas Nelson Publishers (Eds.). (1995). In Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
And yet, we still go for physical force, as Christians have down through the ages. And physical isn’t always with a gun or with greater physical strength. Physical is also things like threatening boycotts if store employees don’t say Merry Christmas. To me, things like that are just proof that we don’t get it.
Why does Christmas matter? – The Conclusion
So let’s see where we are.
We celebrate Christmas – the birth of the baby Jesus.
But in the Gospels, we also have the flight to Egypt, because Herod wants to kill Jesus. Then, we don’t read anything of Jesus until He’s twelve years old – left behind and then discovered in His Father’s house. But then we don’t read about Jesus again until His ministry starts. But just before that, we have John the Baptist – Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.
So in our celebration of Christmas – we leave out all those other things. The bad things. You know – the ones we don’t want to think about. And yet – without remembering those things, what exactly are we celebrating?
And let’s not forget – there was a reason Jesus had to come to earth in the first place. That would be our sins.
No to mention the fact that Jesus is going to suffer and die. Because of our sins. But also because God loves us.
Honestly, those are the reasons we celebrate. Not just because a cute cuddly baby was born. But because that cute cuddly baby was God in human form, who came here to suffer and die for us.
And look what we’ve done with that day. That season. We commit even more sins in our attempt to celebrate His birth. We force people to say things. We have need to have bigger and better displays than our neighbors, because of our pride. We give good gifts, because we want people to like us, even if we don’t think twice about them the rest of the year. And on – and on.
So why does Christmas really matter? Because of Advent. Because of the first coming of Jesus – Messiah – savior. It matters because when we don’t get this one right, the next one will be too late. The second Advent will be when Jesus comes back, this will happen:
The Rider on the White Horse
Rev 19:11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
Rev 19:17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great.”
Rev 19:19 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. 20 But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. 21 The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.
So – celebrate Christmas. Celebrate Advent. But know what we’re celebrating. We’re celebrating being part of the wedding feast below – rather than part of the destruction above. However, also remember, only the true followers of Jesus will be there. And remember to live like one. Like a follower of Jesus Messiah.
Rev 19:4 The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried:
Rev 19:5 Then a voice came from the throne, saying:
“Praise our God,
all you his servants,
you who fear him,
both small and great!”
Rev 19:6 Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Rev 19:7 Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
Rev 19:8 Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.”
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)
Rev 19:9 Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ ” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”
So – Merry Christmas, and hope to see you at Rev 19:7.