Time off work, a year-end bonus, receiving gifts on your wish list... none of those things are bad in themselves. But you can get all of those things without Christmas. So, they can't be the ultimate reason you need Christmas, right?
Maybe you're on the opposite side of the spectrum: you don’t think you need Christmas at all. The decorating, awkward family gatherings, shopping, and traveling add so much stress. Or maybe Christmas makes you feel incredibly lonely. You’d love to sleep straight through Christmas and wake up just in time to ring in the New Year.
What both these mindsets have in common is that they each focus on things that are ancillary to the true significance of why Christmas happened and why we celebrate it.
Why do we really need Christmas? What does Christmas do for us, and how should Christmas affect us?
The answer, you may be surprised to know, does not lie first in the Christmas stories of the gospels. The reason we need Christmas goes back to when it was originally announced, in Genesis chapter 3.
Our Need for Christmas in Genesis 3
The third chapter of Genesis is the sad account of how the human race fell into sin. Adam and Eve, having been tempted by the serpent, desired to “be like God” (3:5), and therefore they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It is interesting that, after the sevenfold refrain of “God saw that it was good” in Genesis chapter 1, that here “the woman saw that the tree was good” (3:6). She has taken the prerogative of the Creator and determined what the creation is good for. She, and Adam with her, has attempted to dethrone God and make herself like God.
The results are tragic. Adam and Eve, expecting illumination, immediately experience humiliation, seeing their nakedness. They fear God’s presence, and throw each other under the bus to avoid his wrath. The serpent, Eve, and Adam are cursed. Death enters the world. They are forbidden from reentering God’s paradise.
Despite the darkness that shrouded that day, one beam of hope shone through – and this is where we come back to the topic of Christmas.
God promised that a special child would be born, who would defeat the serpent: “I will put enmity between you [i.e., the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). God promises that someone among Eve’s offspring will win the ultimate victory over the serpent.
The promise of this offspring is fulfilled in Jesus.
Are you a sinner? Then you need Christmas.
This quick exploration into Genesis 3 reveals the real reason we need Christmas. This holiday of holidays doesn’t exist because we need vacations, presents, and extra church services. Christmas exists because we have sinned.
If Genesis chapter 3 didn’t happen we wouldn’t need Christmas. If we had a pure, true relationship with God, we wouldn’t need Christmas. If mankind had trusted God to determine what is good and evil, we wouldn’t need Christmas.
But because Genesis 3 did happen, and because rebellion against God happens in our hearts every day, we need Christmas desperately. Matthew, in his account of Christ’s birth, wrote, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). We needed God to intervene in our lives, and that is exactly what God the Father did by sending God the Son to be born of a virgin by the power of God the Holy Spirit. This is what Christmas is all about.
Why This Changes the Way We Celebrate Christmas
Coming back to the purpose of Christmas makes celebrating the holiday a reminder of why Jesus came, not only that he came. This should change the way we celebrate Christmas. We celebrate being rescued from certain condemnation. We are amazed that God would extend his grace to rebels like us. We are again by mystified at Jesus, Immanuel, God with us.
Focusing primarily on the stuff that comes along with Christmas—lights, songs, shopping, etc.—completely misses the point. Those things can be great when viewed in their proper, secondary place, but when they become our focus, they inappropriately determine our view of the Christmas season, whether that be positive or negative.
Let’s be intentional in remembering why it is we need Christmas in the first place. Then we’ll be truly merry over the fact that Jesus came to save us from our sins.
Eric McKiddie serves as Pastor for Gospel Community at the Chapel Hill Bible Church He helps pastors grow as well-rounded ministers of the gospel at his blog, Pastoralized, and through sermon coaching. Follow him on Twitter: @ericmckiddie.