I’m not very good at connecting the dots. If I’m watching a movie with some friends, I’m usually the one who will be surprised at the plot twist that everyone else saw coming. So it shouldn’t surprise me that I missed the point of the Christmas story for the longest time.
I’ve grown up in church, complete with Christmas pageants and choir cantatas galore, so I’ve always been familiar with the account of Jesus’s birth found in Luke 2. There, Luke records this event:
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and 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 among those with whom he is pleased!”
I knew that the angels were excited for Jesus to be born, and I knew that we should be excited as well. But for the longest time, I never thought to wonder why this was such a joyful occasion.
Enter John 3. There, Jesus tells Nicodemus that “whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18). The truth is that men were already condemned by sin, facing the wrath of God. Because of sin, we died, as we see in Adam and read in Paul. Left to ourselves, we are guilty and hopeless (Romans 3:19-20). There is no escape from condemnation by our own hands. But Jesus doesn’t just speak of man’s condemnation in John 3. Jesus reveals that he himself is God’s promised salvation. “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). Indeed, Romans 5:8 comes to mind as we remember that God demonstrated his love in Christ’s death for sinners. Through him, sinful man is cleansed. Righteousness, impossible for man to achieve on his own, is attained apart from the law through Christ (Romans 3).
This is why the announcement of the angels is such good news. The Savior is born. The one who will set his people free from sin once and for all has come. God has done just as he promised. Salvation, peace, joy, rest, and hope arrive with this little child. Christ’s birth was so glorious because our need was so desperate.
This year, I’m challenging myself to see the big picture. I can easily get lost in the presents and music, the lights and the trees, and forget the reason why we celebrate. I want to remember Christmas in light of the cross. I can’t truly appreciate Christmas without an understanding of my sin. But, because of Christmas, I can live free from this sin, and this is reason for much rejoicing.