A Christian’s Christmas
SHIRLEY MURPHY on the true meaning of Christmas
It’s that time of year again. December has come and with it all the joys of Christmas. But what is the real meaning of Christmas? Is it the gifts under the tree, the lights in the windows, the cards in the mail, turkey dinners with family and friends, shouts of “Merry Christmas” to those who pass us in the streets? Is this really Christmas?
For many people, Christmas is a time of sorrow. They don’t have the extra money to buy presents for their children, family and friends. Many are saddened when they think of their loved ones who will not be able to come home for various reasons. Turkey dinners may be only a wish for some.
Yet, Christmas can be a season of great joy. It is a time of God showing His great love for us. It can be a time of healing and renewed strength. For Christians, Christmas is when we celebrate the birth of the Christ child. God sent His Son, Jesus, into the world to be born. His birth brought great joy to the world. Shepherds, wise men and angels all shared in the excitement of knowing about this great event. They knew this was no ordinary baby. The prophets had told of His coming hundreds of years before. The star stopped over Bethlehem just to mark the way for those who were looking for this special child.
The Christmas season, especially in the West, is a mix of pre-Christian, Christian and secular traditions. What’s interesting is the etymology of the word Christmas. It literally means Christian Mass. It’s a shortened form of Christ’s Mass.
Christmas is a time of spiritual reflection on the important foundations of the Christian faith. It’s when Christians celebrate God’s love for the world through the birth of the Christ child: Jesus. The Bible tells of his birth hundreds of years before, fulfilling prophecies. The Christmas story is recorded in the Bible, in Luke 2:4-19.
Jesus was born in order to pay the price for the things we have done wrong: sin. God sent his only Son to be the atonement for all our sins so that we would not be separated from God. Without Jesus, we would all die for our sins. We inherited our sin nature from the first human beings God created, Adam and Eve. While being fully God and yet fully man, Jesus came into the world as an infant to save us all.
Most Christmas traditions vary in significance and symbolic meaning. For example, we exchange gifts because God sent us the most precious gift: his only Son. Also, the three wise men visited Jesus and brought gifts as well. A poem titled A Visit from St Nicholas penned in 1822 popularised the tradition of exchanging gifts too.
Although people worldwide celebrate Christ’s birth on 25 December, it was likely that he was born in a different month. The church in the 4th century chose 25 December as it coordinated with the solstice on the Roman calendar.
For Christians, the true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of the Saviour, Jesus Christ. We know that through belief in the Christ we are daughters and sons of God. Heaven will one day be our home. Perhaps this will help you look at Christmas differently this year. A chance to truly take in the wonder and awe of the season.
The most important thing about Christmas is that it invites us to reflect on the most important things in our life – our faith, our family and our freedom. Our faith gives us hope, our family gives us love, and our freedom gives us the opportunity to practise our faith and to love each other and of course the Holy Family.
Likely echoing many other Christians, I think I can say that Christmas has become less about Jesus and more about materialism, which is saddening. But as a mother, I have the opportunity to present to my son the most important part of Christmas, which is the birth of our Saviour. As a vicar I find that it also has significant meaning for me to teach my son that Jesus started out as a little baby in the womb and that his life was recognised from the moment of conception. It’s a beautiful occasion to acknowledge the great love God has shown for all of us by giving us his own son in the unassuming form of a tiny little baby.
The Rev Shirley Murphy is the first Indian woman vicar to be ordained into the Church of Wales. You can read her story here in Pembrokeshire.Online.