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Among Christian festivals and holidays, Christmas remains the most popular. Much of this popularity is due to the commercial nature of the holiday. For most of us, especially in the West, Christmas is nothing more than an occasion to exchange gifts. Someone said humorously, “People buy gifts for themselves they don’t need, and buy for people they don’t like.” Obviously, not everyone does that. Nevertheless, it seems like if there were no gifts, then, there would be no Christmas! One can experience holiday cheer everywhere. Decorations are aplenty, light bulbs are shining, sales are ringing, and the colors around us are appealing.

However, Christmas is a lot more than a holiday for Christians. For us, Christmas is a time to remember the miraculous event, the very first Christmas that took place 2000 years ago in a tiny town called Bethlehem.

The word “Christmas” is actually a combination of two words “Christ,” a title given to Jesus, and “mass” that means celebration. In essence, Christmas simply is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Christmas is therefore more important than Santa Claus, gifts, light bulbs, and decorations.

What was different about this special baby and His birth? First, the baby born in Bethlehem was God. More precisely, he is the Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born to a virgin named Mary. The gospel of John starts with these verses: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through Him, all things were made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.” These verses extoll this deep meaning. “Jesus had no beginning, He existed from all eternity, and He was never created. Jesus was God and was with God. He had a separate and distinct personality. He was not just an idea, a thought, or some vague kind of example, but a real Person who lived with God. He not only dwelt with God, but He Himself was God. Also, the baby born in Bethlehem was God in human form. The Word had become flesh, but he did not cease to be God. He was no less God than ever before.”

Why did Jesus come to this world? God’s essential attribute is holiness. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and thus brought sin into the world. This resulted in a separation between God and man. God cannot have anything to do with sin and demands a penalty or a sacrifice. There was no one who could claim to be without sin in front of God, because the Bible says, “all our righteousness is like filthy rags in His sight.”

All of us have sinned one time or other, and have fallen short of the glory of God. God in His mercy, sent His Son, Jesus who lived a perfect, sinless life on earth. He came looking for us, the fallen ones. He came to restore the relationship that was lost through the actions of our “first parents,” Adam and Eve. Setting aside His glory, Jesus came to this world, accepted hardship, isolation, misunderstanding, and finally death, a death that involved much suffering and agony.

By paying for our sins through his death, He became the penalty that God’s holiness demands fo all sinners. God did all this because of the unconditional love He has for us. Not only Jesus’ death but also his life is an example for all of us. He gave us knowledge that answered all the basic questions of life such as the purpose of life, and the meaning of life after death.

The Christmas message is that there is hope for all of us – hope of pardon, hope of peace, and hope of eternal life. It is this hope that fills us with joy. This is the reason we celebrate Jesus during Christmas. We are thankful to God for His amazing love. In turn, we spread this joy by giving gifts and observing other traditions. All this would be meaningless, if we do not share the same love with everyone, especially to those who are needy and unfortunate. The angels who appeared before the shepherds the night Jesus was born left them with this promise: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” Let the love of God, revealed to us through Jesus Christ, prevail in our hearts this Christmas season and let His love and peace flow through us to all the people in the world.

Rev. Ranjan Samuels is the pastor at Chirst Church of India, San Jose, and presides over a congregation of over 100 families.