Christmas is here again.
It seems every year some are just trying to find out what the real meaning of Christmas is about. They get tired of the commercialism, the pressure to give the right gift and when it's all over there is an emotional let down. Something is not quite right. Something is missing.
If you find yourself still asking "what's all this about?" then stay with us on Beyond Today . You're going to be surprised. Christ's birth is not about trees and tinsel and lights and gifts. It's about something far more important. Let's look at "The Real Meaning of Christ's Birth."
Let me get a disclaimer out of way right now. I do not celebrate Christmas. In fact, my last Christmas was when I was 12 years old. My mother made a decision to stop the custom in our home. One year we had a Christmas tree all decorated in the house and next, there was none. That last tree was a live one and we planted it in the front yard and I watched it grow for several years before I left home.
Now, don't worry. My life was not somehow warped beyond repair because I had Christmas taken away. I suffered no emotional scarring. My mother was wise enough to substitute something far better and more enjoyable. I'll talk more about that later.
I have been asked, didn't you miss the gifts? Well the answer is no. Gifts and giving did not disappear from my life. They just came in different forms and at different times throughout the entire year, but never in celebration of December 25 as Christ's birthday.
One time, I had a friend who challenged me about whether I believed in Jesus Christ. He thought I didn't. Since I didn't celebrate Christ's birth, he thought I must not be a Christian, or not a very good Christian. So I told him, yes, I did believe in Christ as the Son of God.
If I remember correctly, I gave my friend several facts that he should know about Christmas:
One being that Jesus was not born on or near December 25. That this date was when the Romans celebrated a multi-day period of drunken partying. No one, I said, knows the exact date of Christ's birth. It's lost in history.
I also probably said that the customs surrounding Christmas are rooted in ancient pagan rituals that pre-date Christ's birth by hundreds of years.
I made the point that the early Christian church did not celebrate Christ's birth, rather they commemorated His death and His resurrection.
And I think I remember telling him that in early America, the Puritans in New England refused to celebrate the custom and in some areas Christmas celebrations were actually outlawed.
I told him that it was not until the 1820s, 1822 to be exact, when a man named Clement Clark Moore wrote a poem called "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Now we know it today as the poem "The Night Before Christmas." It's when that poem came out that the modern commercialization of Christmas became an entrenched part of the English-speaking culture.
I also told my young friend that Christ was never in Christmas, it had nothing to do with His birth and that Christmas was rooted in pagan origins.
But guess what? My friend did not care. And you know, I find today most people today, they don't care about, one bit, about all the pagan customs of Christmas. They don't care where it came from. Many people don't care that it is supposed to be a religious custom—they just want to have a good time.
Now what about you? What is the real meaning of Christmas for you?
Here's something I learned recently: Most people who celebrate Christmas really are searching for some dimly remembered Christmas past. They have nostalgia for a time when Christmas was more pious or peaceful. They imagine a time when it was less commercial. And they're looking for something else.
They're looking for a relationship, a relationship with something or someone that has eluded them. I see this every year in some of my favorite television programs. When they do their Christmas show, the shows always usually deal with some lost relationship with a loved one, a family member or a friend. It's around the time of the Christmas theme when this most basic need seems to be addressed.
I also see it in the anger expressed by those who defend the Christmas custom against the secular efforts to remove Christmas from the public square. Recently a popular host of a cable news show promised to quote, "use all the power that I have on radio and television to bring horror into the world of people" who "diminish and denigrate the [Christmas] holiday."
You know why he made this threat? Because his Christmas memories as a child were "magical." They formed the happiest memories of his childhood. Most people who get wrapped up in Christmas feel this way.
You see Christmas just evokes powerful emotions for a deep relationship with people. And by itself that's not bad. It's just that Christmas as a holiday does not really supply in the fullest the deepest of human needs. Relationships with people are very important, and it's very important for religion to fill the need of that vital relationship. For it to do so, that religion must be founded and rooted in truth. Christ said "you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." Commercialism and misguided religion does not fill the vast voids in our life.
That's what God is supposed to do. And that's why God sent His Son, in the flesh, born in a manger in Bethlehem. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is He who fills the deepest of human needs. That's why the real meaning of Christ's birth is so important to understand. Christmas does not teach the deepest truths of why He was born.
The story told in the Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke are a wonderful part of the story of God and His love for mankind. When you focus on the story alone, it opens up a new world of understanding.
I'm going to take you to the story of Christ's birth and I'm going to read through it to bring out what the Bible really says and what we should learn. But first, I want to offer you a booklet that shows you God's alternative to man's religious holidays. It shows you what my own mother began to understand and substituted all those years ago for me when she took Christmas out of our home. It's a free booklet that we have entitled: Holidays or Holy Days: Does it Matter Which Days We Observe? This booklet reviews the origins of man's holidays and it shows a better set of Holy Days that God gave to man and revealed in the Bible.
You don't need to give up something and leave a void in your life. My mother understood that when she stopped observing Christmas in our house when I was a kid. She had learned that there was a better alternative, and a far superior understanding of God and Jesus Christ through the observance of the annual Holy Days, God's Holy Days.
This free booklet guides you through a study of this vital subject. Make no mistake, it does matter which days we observe. These days must be of God's design—not man's tradition.
We offer you this booklet. It's free, there's no charge. We give it as an educational service in the public interest. And you can read this booklet online at BeyondToday.tv . Or you can go to your phone and you can call: 1-888-886-8632 and request a free copy. That number again is 1-888-886-8632 for a free copy of this booklet.
Now I also want to mention that the United Church of God is holding free Bible seminars in the cities across the United States and around the world. You're not going to want to miss these seminars where you will learn more about the Kingdom of God. You can go to BeyondToday.tv and you can look for the "Kingdom of God Bible Seminars" link to register to attend. These live events are absolutely free.
The message of Jesus Christ, the hope of the Kingdom of God is what you need to hear. In the midst of today's bad news, you need to hear the positive, focused message of the Kingdom of God.
Now space may be limited, so sign up for the seminars now. Go to BeyondToday.tv and click on the "Kingdom of God Bible Seminars" link.
Now we're going to show you the real meaning of Christ's birth, by reading in Luke's account, Luke 2. You may be familiar with this, but I want you to listen very, very carefully as I read through part of the story. There is more to the story than you realize, more than the Christmas tradition of today actually reveals.
Let's begin in Luke 2:1: "...it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
"Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in [a] swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."
Now let's pause. Let's note a few things about this part of the account.
First, Christ's birth was in the fullness of times. It was right on God's time-table is what that means. It was at the height of the Roman Empire. It was a divine convergence at the perfect time in history. It was not random. The Greek language was widespread, the Romans maintained a vast system of roads and highways, and the scattered Jewish people allowed the gospel of the Kingdom to take firm root in the world. God's timing is always right and Christ was born of a human mother at the best time in human history.
Second, we see that Christ as a baby was born in a simple animal stall, a crib, that was used in a shelter to house animals. This was the only room available because there was no other room or space available for the family. God made His entry into this world among humble surroundings, without much attention, in a manger.
Can we grasp the real lesson from this story?
You see, possessing a "Manger Mentality" allows us to know where and how God is working. Understand that Herod and the political and religious advisers in power at that time misread the events of Christ's birth. When a woman is to give birth, she seeks ideal conditions. A couple does this not because of a sense of confidence, but from a sense of concern and weakness. When Christ was born, He was born at best in some form of stable in a smelly, unsanitary setting, an unsettling atmosphere. This occurred not because God was poor, but because God was confident in carrying out His purpose for us.
The leaders, the political and religious leaders, they did misread the signs. Christ's birth was not a sign of a weak and ineffectual king. Rather it was a sign of God's confidence and knowledge of who He is. It was an act of love. The leaders of that time weren't acquainted with this form of thought—so they missed it and didn't know where to find Him.
It should lead us to ask, where we are looking for our answers. Do you look for answers to the idols of life or do we look above, to God?
Possessing a "Manger Mentality" allows us to comprehend how, where and when Christ chooses to enter our lives. It reminds us that the timing and place He enters our lives does not look like fancy hotels like the Ritz or the Hilton, but the stable! It's neither cozy nor comfortable, but dark, and smelly—what I'm talking about is the realm of our hearts and the stench of our sins. This is where Christ enters, and the rest can be history. That is, if we make room for Him.
Now let's continue in Luke's account. Verse 8, "Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone [round about] around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.'
"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
'Glory to God in the highest,
'And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!
"So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.' And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them."
He appeared to shepherds. Now, think about this. Shepherds at this time were considered a, considered a pretty rough bunch. Shepherds lived in the open fields among the sheep—not in palaces with kings. The shepherds supplied the sacrificial animal supply to the temple in nearby Jerusalem. But now they were given the news of the Son of God born in Bethlehem and they were among the first to see Him, the Lamb of God.
We're all like these shepherds. We get caught up in our own self, and our own self-made spiritual routine, our long held spiritual view of God and life, and don't realize God is prompting us to move towards something better, truer and infinitely more rewarding.
What you're hearing today, in this program, is new understanding for many of you about Jesus Christ the Son of God. You are like those shepherds who first heard the announcement about the birth of Christ.
The angel told them Christ was born to you "this day"! This was a direct challenge to the shepherds to move toward Christ. The way Luke was inspired to write the story makes it a present reality and a challenge for you and I. Will you move toward the real Jesus and admit that you've never understand the fullness of the gospel message?
Will you admit your traditional Christmas routine tells you very little about the Son of God, born of a virgin in a barn stall, who came to die for your sins? We fail to focus on the fact that He lives today at the right hand of the Father, preparing to return to this earth as a King! This Jesus, whom the heavens announced and the shepherds saw as a babe, stands in the midst of the throne of God and says listen! "I come quickly; and my reward is with Me"! (Revelation 22:12).
It is this Christ that you need to understand on this day and every day of your life. He came in the human form to learn all that can be learned in the flesh. There's a story of a king who used to worry those in his court because he would occasionally disappear for days at a time and no one knew where he was. But the king knew where he was and what he was doing. He was spending time among his people, watching, observing and learning. When he would return to court he would say, "I must know how my people live if I am to rule over them."
This is exactly how Jesus Christ became the "Immanuel," the "God with us" long foretold by the ancient prophets.
Are you seeing that there is more to the story than you think or that you've been told? I could go on and talk about other lessons. There is the fact that the wise men brought gifts to Jesus. They did not exchange them among themselves. The Christmas tradition focuses our mind on ourselves. Have you ever been disappointed that you didn't get what you wanted on Christmas morning? Did your gifts to friends or to family not result in proper appreciation or what you thought you were wanting to get or should get in return? Admit it, there's a lot of frustration that results from the merry-go-round of Christmas celebration. I hear it every year.
Now I don't know what has been said this year. But, I can imagine it has been pretty much like other years. People have said, they're tired of the commercialism. They're tired of the fuss. They're tired of the bother of the season. Maybe you've heard more calls to put Christ back into Christmas. A few years ago one headline said this, it was just the opposite. It read, "Let's Get Christ Out of Christmas."
I like that headline—let's get Christ out of Christmas and let's seek Him like the shepherds and the wise men did at His first coming. Let's worship Him in the way He tells us to worship Him from the living truth, from the living Word of God—the Bible.
You have a choice. Continue keeping Christmas as a hollow substitute for the true way to worship God—and keep on missing the mark in a world that is stumbling in spiritual error. Or you can accept this challenge to your long-held belief and ask God to open you mind, your heart and your eyes to see Him in truth.
Christmas, I have to tell you, does not give you the truth about Jesus Christ the Son of God and why He came to this earth as a human. Will you take the challenge? Will you study the subject and will you be honest with yourself because it does matter? The real truth, the truth of God and His purpose can make you free.
Our free offer today, the free booklet that we are offering to you, makes this subject clear. And so does our free monthly magazine, The Good News . When you call and request today's booklet offer we're going to send you a free subscription to this unique magazine, published six times a year. Each issue contains many subjects on Bible prophecy, Christian living and Bible teaching. Your knowledge of the Bible and of God and of His great plan for your life will grow with each issue of The Good News .
You can receive this free magazine by calling: 1-888-886-8632 and there request your free copy and a subscription. That's 1-888-886-8632. Or if you have access to the internet, go online: BeyondToday.tv and you can order a subscription there.
Now I'm joined by the Beyond Today panel, Steve Myers and Gary Petty. You know guys, any time we take on a subject like Christmas, we're going to have a mixed reaction, step on a lot of toes but I think we all are honest. We know that Christmas has a great hold in our society today. How do you understand that? How do you explain that?
First of all, it's fun!
It is. It's fun.
How do you argue with eggnog?
It's warm and fuzzy.
That's right. Eggnog and getting together with family, and exchanging gifts and parties, and...plus there's the need to connect with something spiritual. And for many people, Christmas is an attempt to connect to God—something greater. And, so you have a physical reason and of course a lot of it's driven by the economy too. We have to admit there's just a lot of...
Well that's the commercial aspect...
That's the commercial aspect...But on the personal level, it's because it's fun.
But people want to connect to God. I mean you say to God, but don't they want to connect to one another?
Well of course that's, I mean, we all think of the Currier and Ives sitting around the…
...table with the turkey and eating Christmas dinner together...
Over the River and Through the Woods.
Part of that though I think also fits in with the fact that you don't have to be that religious to celebrate Christmas.
That's exactly right.
And it draws in everybody. So if you believe in God, that's okay. But you don't have to, to celebrate, to have the party, to go to the after, end of the year office party or all those kinds of things. But you can still feel a part of those things.
There's agnostics that keep Christmas. There's Jewish people don't believe that Jesus is the Messiah, who keep Christmas.
What's that saying about the real needs in our human society in terms of this matter of relationships?
Boy there's a need to make connections. There's a need to relate. I think there's a need that at least at some sense, there is a greater power. You know, but how are we responsible to that greater power? That's where Christmas seems to leave things out altogether.
I fully understand why people want to connect and what they want to connect to. They may use the vehicle of Christmas to do it, it may be the religious aspect of it, and people are utterly sincere in that. I just think it's, in our modern world it's speaking to some very deep-seated need we have in our modern, secularized society, and yet it just doesn't seem to fill the bill completely for people, so...
Well one of the problems is, it's a day.
It's one day.
It's one day. So you live in the moment and everybody can feel good. I can see my family once a year and fill that need, and I can feel a connection to God, and so for that moment, it works. And it's such a unique time because most of us can be pretty good for a moment or two, but when it comes to a life time, you know, where's the real significance? Where is the real meaning? What about carrying on in the middle of January after the bills come in? What do we do from there? How do we deal with things? It's, boy it's lacking when it comes to that.
Is Jesus Christ still center in your life the day after?
Well that's the ultimate important matter about the relationships, if God and Christ are not at the center of any of our relationships, then we've got it turned around backwards.
So, let's go back to that headline that I had, I had quoted in the program. How is it, how do you take Christ out of Christmas?
Well the real question is, is, was Christ ever really part of Christmas? You know when you look at the history of Christmas you go back in the second and third centuries, when there was an attempt to take pagan customs and convert people to Christianity by adopting those customs. Bringing them together and so the idea seemed good—we can make these people part of Christianity by simply adopting their customs. The real question is, does God need pagan customs coming from satanic religions? Does somehow He need those customs, does He need those customs to bring people to Him? Because when you stop and think about that, that doesn't even make sense. And there's a core problem that Christians have to deal with in terms of Christmas.
Yeah. It's a big problem because by taking things that really are outside of the Bible, outside of God's instructions, we feel much like you said: that doesn't really matter because, because I love Jesus and I'm doing it to honor Him. But does that logic really hold up? If it doesn't mesh with what the teachings of the Bible really say, can we make that claim? And I think if you really are honest, you've got to come to the conclusion that doesn't match with the Word of God.
Which comes down to, does it matter to God? The real question...
And that's a big question...
Does it matter to God? That's right.
Well, I hope and we all do, that you will take this seriously. That you will begin to care and begin to ask the right questions and get the right answers. The offers we're giving you today, the booklet, Holidays or Holy Days: Does it Matter Which Days We Observe? begin to give you the answers. It will open your mind to help you grasp the life-changing consequences of Christ's central message.
Get this booklet. It's free. You can read it online. You can download a copy there or get your own free copy of it by calling our toll free number, which is on the screen there in front of you: 1-888-886-8632. Get your free copy now and we'll mail it to you free of charge. It's going to give you some answers and it's going to challenge you beyond the traditions of this very day, but I hope that you'll get to the point where you want to find those answers and get them resolved one way or the other.
And don't forget our subscription to The Good News magazine is important, unique magazine. It's going to help you to understand God's purpose in your life with all kinds of articles that are relevant to you.
Remember, all of our publications are provided free of charge. The magazine that you're going to want to read and share with friends is The Good News magazine. 1-888-886-8632 or write us at the address on your screen. Request your free subscription, we'll send it to you.
Now, one more thing. Let me remind you that the United Church of God is holding free Bible seminars in cities across the United States and around the world. In fact some will be coming up quite soon. If you're interested in learning more about the Kingdom of God and this topic is what we're really talking about today, which is God's Kingdom, go to BeyondToday.tv and look for the link "Kingdom of God Bible Seminars " to register to attend. These live events are absolutely free.
See why Jesus Christ's original message of the Kingdom of God is largely unrecognized by Christianity today. Now space may be limited in these, so go sign up for the seminars now. Go to BeyondToday.tv , click on the "Kingdom of God Bible Seminars".
So what does Christ's birth as a human really mean? It means that God does love this world and every human in it. It means that God did not create a world with human life and just walk away like an absentee landlord.
He came and He lived as a man—walking the roads of life and experiencing it just like you and I. He announced the coming of the Kingdom of God. He commanded everyone He met everywhere to change and to adapt to the way of life portrayed by that coming Kingdom. In the true story of His birth, there is the foundation for you to understand how you can be a part of that Kingdom. It's time to clear out the myths and the fables about His birth and His life and get to the truth.
The real meaning of Christ's birth is that you can live forever and be a part of the Kingdom of God. That's the good news. May we all pray "thy kingdom come."
For Beyond Today , I'm Darris McNeely, thanks for watching.