The meaning of Christmas

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:9 NIV)

It’s that time of the year again. Christmas comes but once a year. It is perhaps the most famous birthday in the world. Jesus Christ, Son and Messenger of God, was born in a manger in Bethlehem on this day more than 2,000 years ago.

Jesus Christ was a revelation in more ways than one in a world that was mired in superstition and primitive beliefs. Jesus of Nazareth, as he came to be known, was a beacon of hope to a population seeking spiritual solace. By the time Jesus Christ did the famous Sermon on the Mount, his doctrine was fairly well known and accepted all over the region. Two thousand years hence, His Words are still pristine and true. Jesus and Christianity changed the world to such an extent that some say modern history is His Story. It is a story of truth, love and hope.

The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine who was the first Christian Roman Emperor. A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th December every year, a tradition which has continued since. Christmas has evolved over two millennia into a worldwide religious and secular celebration, incorporating many pre-Christian traditions into the festivities. Although Sri Lanka and all other Asian nations except for the Philippines are not predominantly Christian, Christmas is widely celebrated in Asia, with the active participation of people belonging to all communities and religions, not just Christians.

Today, just like many other religious festivals, Christmas has been inundated by a torrent of commercialism. An international survey conducted last year revealed that many children think Christmas marks the birthday of Santa Claus, one of the most visible figures associated with Christmas. This shows that the true meaning and purpose of Christmas has been submerged. We see Christmas trees, lights, decorations and yes, Santa Claus everywhere, but do we pause to think about what Christmas means to followers of Christ?

This does not mean that Christmas should be a solemn ceremony. Joy is central to the concept of Christmas – after all, it is a birthday celebration of a man who changed the world. But that joy should be shared with those who are less fortunate than we are. Our hearts should be open to the plight of the less fortunate. “Rich people who see a brother or sister in need, yet close their hearts against them, cannot claim that they love God.” (1 John 3:17)

Christmas is also a time for giving and for forgiving. As the popular saying goes, to err is human but to forgive is divine. Christmas is the ideal occasion for Christians to forgive and forget. It is easier to live without enemies and regrets. “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13 NIV)

Christmas is also a time of healing and finding renewed strength individually and collectively. As a nation, we are still going through a process of healing after a devastating war that pitted brother against brother, sister against sister. Christmas delivers the powerful message that we should all get together irrespective of our differences to rebuild our nation and live in harmony. Elements with vested interests are trying their best to inflame ethnic and religious passions to reignite the embers of conflict. This should not be allowed to happen. Peace is a goal we should all cherish after 30 years of conflict. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

This Christmas, we should all resolve to live a life without sin. Christians believe that Jesus died on the Cross for all of our sins. In fact, all the great religious masters have advised us against engaging in sin. A sinful life takes us nowhere. On the other hand, a meritorious life is more rewarding and fulfilling. “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13 NIV)

We have unfortunately lost sight of many moral and religious values and family bonds due to the desire for wealth. This is why there is so much trouble and grief in our lives. The words of Jesus offer solace for those who have fallen to the depths of despair. His words offer them an opportunity to rise anew from the embers of gloom and lead a sin-free life. As ever, Christmas can help us transform our lives and hope for the best. “You will be secure, because there is hope”. (Job 11:18 NIV) 

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