By Kenneth D. MacHarg
It’s the Christmas season again, the time for pop-theologians to take to their computers and churn out articles that at best distort the biblical meaning of Christmas. These good-hearted but often uninformed people latch on to a spurious interpretation of the meaning of the holiday and purport to know the theological significance whether they have ever studied it or not.
Take the recent column in an out-of-town newspaper. After skewering those who wish her a “Merry Christmas” or whistle a piece of (secular or not) Christmas music on their way to the water cooler, she offers what she calls “this little…girl’s recommendations on how to really promote the true message of Christmas, ‘Peace on earth, goodwill towards all.’” (The ellipse is the name of her faith, the underlined emphasis is mine.)
Let’s take another look at this from the biblical view—a good starting point. When we do, we can more easily ascertain the “true message of Christmas.”
Yes, the story in Luke 2 does contain the line “Peace on earth, goodwill to those on whom his favor rests.”
But, that phrase provides a deeper understanding of the central point of this passage–that the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, the savior of the world has been born. It means that the focus of the Christmas story is on the birth of the baby Jesus. Peace and goodwill flow out of that act and, as a footnote in the New King James Version Study Bible comments, “the promise of peace and goodwill would come to those who welcome God’s only Son.” (My emphasis)
Here is the complete passage: “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. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Do you see the focus of this narrative and the message of the angels? It is on the Savior “who has been born to you. He is the Messiah, the Lord”
The long-anticipated Messiah, forecast throughout what we Christians call the Old Testament, has, at last, been born. That is what is celebrated by the messengers from God, what is proclaimed in their message, that is what has been celebrated by believers in Him throughout the past two-centuries.
As one statement of faith puts it:
In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Lord,
he has come to us
and shared our common lot,
conquering sin and death
and reconciling the world to himself.
And, as it later confirms
He promises to all who trust him
forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace,
courage in the struggle for justice and peace,
his presence in trial and rejoicing,
and eternal life in his kingdom which has no end.
There it is…the affirmation that for those who trust in Christ, there is peace and goodwill.
Professional theologians and every-day readers of God’s Word, the Bible, will see that all of it is in God’s promise, but the exact message of Christmas is the birth of His son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
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