Many years ago on the cover of one of the most renowned newspapers in the world, an ad appeared which said, “The meaning of Christmas is that love will triumph and that we will be able to put together a world of unity and peace.” In other words, the light is within us, and that light can dispel the darkness. We can overcome poverty, injustice, violence, and evil. If we work together, we can create a “world of unity and peace.”
But the question is, “Can we?” Vaclav Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic, understood the challenge. He saw how both communism and capitalism worked as his nation transitioned. He was not optimistic about either philosophy as he believed neither was guided by moral principles. His conclusion was, “The pursuit of the good life will not humanity save itself, nor is democracy alone enough… a turning to and a seeking of God is needed.” He added that humanity constantly forgets that “he is not God.”
We understand that the message of Christmas is not “we will be able to put together a world of unity and peace.” Actually, the message is quite the opposite. Humanity cannot save itself. In fact, they have been trying through history using political systems and various ideologies. Yes, some human problems can be addressed, but this has led to more darkness. Philosopher Bertrand Russell said not believing in something greater than humanity, looking to science will only lead you to a darker place.
This confirms what Isaiah 8 says, that if we look only to the earth and human resources, the darkness only gets worse. This means how most people see Christmas is both unrealistic and impossible to achieve. In essence, how the world sees Christmas ignores not only the solution to the world’s ills, it does not see the cause as itself. The Bible is clear, there is no solution apart from God’s intervention. The message of Christianity is, “Yes, things really are this dark – nevertheless, there is hope.” Notice that the Bible, in Isaiah 9, declares that the light doesn’t come from the earth, rather it comes upon the earth. It has dawned. It has come from outside. As John 8:12 declares, there is light outside of the world and Jesus brought it to save us.
When Isaiah speaks of God’s light “dawning” on a dark world, he is using the sun as a symbol. Sunlight brings life, truth, and beauty. If the sun disappeared, all life on earth would end. It is scientifically the source of life. It provides heat, light for photosynthesis and even vitamins. Paul declared that it is only in God do we “live and move and have our being.” We exist because He is upholding everything, keeping us together every moment. In a sense, we are borrowing our being from Him.
Sunlight also shows us the truth. If you drive a car at night without the headlights on, you will probably crash. Why? Light reveals the truth of things, how they really are and without that truth, it makes maneuvering around difficult. In 1 John 1:5-6 we read, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.” John 14:6 declares that Jesus Himself is the truth.
The sun is also beautiful. How many of you have stayed up all night just to see the sunrise? Think about when the sun comes out after a storm. When the light passes through the moisture in the air, we see a rainbow. God is the source of all beauty and joy. St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” He believed when you seem to be enjoying something else, God is the actual source of your joy. The thing you love is from Him and is lovely because it bears His signature. As one author put it, “All joy is really found in God and anything you do enjoy is a derivative because what you are really looking for is Him, whether you know it or not.”
God alone, then has the life, truth, and joy that we lack and cannot generate ourselves. How can this divine “dawn” or as Isaiah 9 literally says, “flash” on us? Verses 6-7 are the most well-known verses answer this question. The text says the light has come “for to us a child is born.” This child brings it. He is “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” It is remarkable that the four titles here applied to this child were used exclusively for God. He is the Mighty God, Everlasting Father, which means He is the Creator, and yet He was born.
It’s almost too limiting to say we are “celebrating” this at Christmas. In a sense, we should be dumbstruck and awestruck in wonder and love. In essence, how we celebrate Christmas is shameful considering who Jesus is.
If Jesus really is Mighty God and Everlasting Father, you just can’t like Him. In the Bible, the people who actually saw and heard Jesus never reacted indifferently or even mildly. Once they realized what He was claiming about Himself, either they were scared of Him or furious with Him or they knelt down and worshipped Him. But nobody simply liked Him. Nobody said, “He is so inspiring. He makes me want to live a better life.” If Jesus is who He claimed to be, we must respond to Him wholeheartedly.
If Jesus is Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace, you should want to serve Him. When you are going something very difficult, it is good to talk to someone who has walked the same path, who knows personally what you are going through. If God really has been born in a manger, then we have something that no other religion even claims to have. It is a God who truly understands you, from the inside of your experience. There’s no other religion that says God has suffered, that God had to be courageous, that He knows what it is like to be abandoned by friends, to suffer injustice and to be tortured and die. Christmas shows us He knows what we are going through. When you talk to Him, He understands. As the Prince of Peace, His presence means there is nothing to fear. He has it all under His control.
In short, Jesus is the divine Light of the world because He brings a new life to replace our spiritual deadness, because He not only shows us the truth of our blindness, He is the truth that heals it. He walks with us even through the valley of the shadow of the death where no other companion can go. He is the Light where no other light can go and because He is eternal, His Light will never go out!
So the question then becomes, “How can this light be ours?” Notice, it doesn’t say, “For to us a child is born.” It also says, “to us a son is given.” It’s a gift. It can be yours only if you are willing to receive it as a gift of grace. This great salvation, this light that flashes on you with all its new life, truth and beauty comes as a gift. The only way to receive it is to admit you need the Light of grace.
Christmas is often focused on receiving gifts. Some gifts are hard to receive because when we accept them, we have to admit our need, our flaws, and weaknesses… we need to admit our need for help. There has never been a gift offered that makes you swallow your pride to the depths that the gift of Jesus Christ requires us to do. Christmas means we are lost, so unable to save ourselves, that nothing less than the death of the Son of God Himself could save us. That means you are not somebody who can pull yourself together and live a moral and good life to merit heaven.
To accept the true gift of Christmas, you have to admit you are a sinner. You need to be saved by grace. You need to give up control of your life. That means we need to admit we are far less than we ever thought of ourselves before, going deeper than we probably feel comfortable going. Yet, Jesus Christ’s greatness is seen how far down He came to love us. Your spiritual regeneration and eventually, your greatness, can only be achieved if we humble ourselves as Jesus did. The Bible says it is only through repentance that we can come into His light.
When Jesus died on the cross, darkness fell over the land. The Light of the world descended into darkness in order to bring us into God’s beautiful light. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” The promises of Christmas cannot be discerned unless you first admit you can’t save yourself or even know yourself without the light of God’s grace in our lives. That is the foundational truth from which we can proceed to learn the hidden meaning of Christmas.
Christmas is the celebration of God coming into the world and shining His light into a lifeless situation. In this light, we find hope, peace, love, joy, and salvation. My hope and prayer are that each of us would experience them in our lives, whether afresh or anew, that in our experience it would give us boldness to go into the world and shine this light to others that they too may know.