I heard a story a number of years ago that I think is very applicable to us all during the Christmas season. One version of the account is as follows:
A customs officer observes a truck pulling up at the border. Suspicious, he orders the driver out and searches the vehicle. He pulls off the panels, bumpers, and wheel cases but finds not a single scrap of contraband, whereupon, still suspicious but at a loss to know where else to search, he waves the driver through. The next week, the same driver arrives. Again, the official searches, and again finds nothing illicit. Over the years, the official tries full-body searches, X rays, and sonar, anything he can think of, and each week the same man drives up, but no mysterious cargo ever appears, and each time, reluctantly, the customs man waves the driver on. Finally, after many years, the officer is about to retire. The driver pulls up. “I know you’re a smuggler,” the customs officer says. “Don’t bother denying it. But I can’t figure out what you’ve been smuggling all these years. I’m leaving now. I swear to you I can do you no harm. Won’t you please tell me what you’ve been smuggling?” The driver responded: “Trucks.”
I think this story illustrates how we can easily miss the obvious in life, especially the obvious before our eyes amid the pressures, problems, presents-shopping, and preparations of the Christmas season. The obvious that we miss, you ask? Well, none other than the true meaning of Christmas, of course.
What is the often overlooked, true meaning of Christmas? I believe it is summarized in a single verse found in Luke 2:10. The Christmas narrative in Luke 2:8-11 provides the context: “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 that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
From Luke 2:10 there are three things that define the true meaning of Christmas:
1. Christmas means we need not live with constant fear (‘Do not be afraid”). We do not have to fear the past, the present, or the future because God is near, and He loves us. 1 John 4:8 says that God is love itself, and John 3:16-17 informs us that God loves us so much that He sent the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to become a human being, not to condemn us but to save us, not to isolate us but to protect us. 1 John 4:18 says: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” By accepting through believing faith the free gift of God’s love, Jesus Christ, fear need no longer be a factor for us as Christians.
2. Christmas means we need not live with ongoing guilt (“I bring you good news”). The good news is that we needed a Savior from our sin’s consequences temporally and eternally. God provided a way—the only Way—for us to be free of the guilt of sin and spend eternity with Him. He gave His only Son, the virgin-born Messiah, as a free gift to take the punishment for our sins. Rom. 5:8 says: “But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” Jesus paid the price, not in part, but in full, by being born of a virgin, living a perfect, righteous life, ultimately dying in our place on the cross, rising from the dead, and ascending back to Heaven. We are free from eternal condemnation and unnecessary, experiential guilt when we accept that free gift of love.
3. Christmas means we can live daily with joyful confidence & hope (“. . .that will cause great joy for all the people”). Joy and happiness are not the same. Joy involves happiness but they are not synonymous. Happiness is circumstantial. Joy is relational. If we are in relationship with Jesus, we can have joy regardless of circumstances. Biblical joy is a confidence in God that He is in control and loves us no matter what. Because of the baby Jesus in the manger who is also the risen Savior, Christmas means that we have confidence in Christ for daily living and a confident expectation, i.e., hope, for the future. The Eng. word for hope often conveys doubt, as in the expression “I hope so.” Biblical hope is closely akin to faith. Biblical hope is a reality, not a feeling. Heb. 11:1 says: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Because of Christmas we can have joyful confidence in God regardless of what we encounter in life and a certain hope of eternal life beyond the grave in Heaven.
So, don’t miss the obvious this Yuletide season. Remember Christian: Christmas means fear is not a factor for you, guilt is gone, and confidence and hope, like generous Christmas gifts, are yours in abundance in Christ.