Christmas was never a thing in my childhood. Growing up in a small town in Jilin Province, Northeast China, Christmas was not part of our yearly celebration. I was only introduced to Christmas through vague references in Western movies. From these movies, I learnt that Christmas was all about Santa, gifts and Christmas melodies. When I was in high school, I noticed that some shopping centres had started to set up Christmas decorations. An interesting tradition that was developed over the years was to give each other apples during Christmas – a single wrapped, aesthetically pleasing apple. The root of this tradition stems from the first character of ‘apple’ in Mandarin being homophonous to the Mandarin word for ‘safe and sound’, which represents the wishes we had for each other. However, I doubt how many people in my town actually knew the true meaning of Christmas, and whether any of us had ever explored it. Even on the off-chance that I had heard Christmas had something to do with Jesus, it didn’t mean much to me.
When I came to Australia for my tertiary studies, some friendly people invited me to their Bible study group during the week, and then gradually I came to church. From those groups and gatherings, I learnt who Jesus is and what he did for me. So, what did I learn about Jesus – the one who makes Christmas a truly special time of the year?
Jesus is Saviour
Jesus came to earth in order to fulfil all of the promises that God made to His people throughout the Old Testament. As Peter puts it, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). That is, Jesus died in our place so that we could be right with God, and saved us from the punishment we deserved. That is a moment in history worth celebrating! Jesus, the one who would take our punishment on himself, came into the world, and this coming is what we celebrate at Christmas.
Jesus is the risen King
Jesus’ death and resurrection bring the hope of eternal life. As Peter points out: “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3b). This means Jesus has the ultimate authority and power over creation and death. He is our risen King whom we can rejoice in. Because he conquered death and is the ruler over all, he raises us up spiritually with him into a living hope of our bodily resurrection on the last day. Christmas is significant because it celebrates the birth of Jesus, who after his resurrection would raise us to be with him.
Jesus brings us into God’s family
Through Jesus Christ, those who have accepted him as their Saviour are God’s children and can call him ‘Abba Father’. We can have complete confidence in him. As Paul says in Romans, “nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). As a part of his family, we have the privilege of sharing the gospel with others. We are now God’s people with the honour of being part of God’s mission to build his church. It was God who adopted us into his family through Jesus Christ, which provides the eternal assurance that is an imperishable inheritance kept in heaven for us (1 Peter 1). We ought to celebrate the birth of Jesus, therefore, as he is the one who brings us assurance and an eternal security.
For me, Christmas now means something very different to what it meant back then as a child. It is not about material presents but a celebration of the greatest gift of all – the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, who came to save us from our sins. Matthew says as much in his Gospel account:
‘She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ (Matthew 1:21)
Now, if someone asks me why I celebrate Christmas, I have an answer that I am willing to confidently share.