Why do we celebrate Christmas?
Most everyone knows the Christmas story, or at least parts of it. We’ve seen the holiday specials, sung the carols, and heard the popular Bible verses. We know about the manger and the angels and the wise men. But do those details matter? Are they important, or are they just additional figurines to fill out your nativity set?
Why Jesus’s Parents Matter
“But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” (Matthew 1:20-23)
The baby Jesus had unique parents. His mother, Mary, was a virgin (Luke 1:34); it was a miracle that she was pregnant. God was the baby’s Father (Luke 1:35).
Jesus was the Son of Man and the Son of God (Matthew 16:13-16). Through His mother, He was human; through His Father, He was God. Through Jesus, people could finally see what God was like in human form. They could interact with Him face-to-face, as a friend. He was “God with us.”
Mary seemed like nobody special; she was just a girl. But God can (and usually does) use normal people—people like you—to change the world.
Why Bethlehem Matters
“And assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”’” (Matthew 2:4-6)
Through the prophets, God had long foretold that He would send the Messiah: a King who would save His people and reign forever (Isaiah 9:6-7). This King would come from the line of King David (Jeremiah 23:5-6) and would be born in David’s hometown of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
Although Jesus’s earthly parents were descendants of David (Matthew 1:1-16; Luke 3:23-38), they were not living in Bethlehem at the start of Mary’s pregnancy. However, God is in control, and He knew that the ruling Caesar would call for a census that required Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-5). After arriving in Bethlehem, Jesus was born (Luke 2:6).
The location matters because Jesus was not just a baby. He was the promised King.
Why the Manger Matters
“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but there was no room for his traveling parents at the local inn. Without a crib to put their newborn baby in, His parents used the closest thing they could find: a manger, or a feed trough for animals, which was probably filled with soft hay.
Why was there no room at the inn? God was Jesus’s Father. He could have gotten reservations, so to speak, if He wanted. He could have arranged for the baby King to be born in a royal setting.
However, Jesus’s life wasn’t about having kingly comforts or being served by others. It was about coming to serve others (Matthew 20:28). An all-powerful God choosing to become a tiny, helpless baby is an act of nearly unfathomable humility (Philippians 2:5-8). Choosing to be born without a room or a bed emphasizes that He chose to fully humble Himself. He slept on hay—like a lamb (John 1:29).
Why the Shepherds Matter
“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.’” (Luke 2:8-11)
In Jesus’s day, shepherds didn’t matter. They weren’t important, powerful, well-educated, or well-respected. They lived out in the pastures with their sheep.
Yet, when God had the greatest news ever, He chose to announce it to lowly shepherds. Why?
Jesus came for everyone, regardless of status. In God’s eyes, the poorest shepherd is every bit as valuable and important as the richest ruler (Proverbs 22:2). In fact, that’s part of the reason why Jesus’s ancestor David, a young shepherd ignored by his own family, was chosen by God to be king (1 Samuel 16:10-13). God doesn’t look at appearances—He looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
Jesus, also, identified as a shepherd—the Good Shepherd, who lays down His life for us (John 10:11).
Why the Angels Matter
“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!’” (Luke 2:13-14)
Angels are God’s messengers. One of them told Mary that she was going to bear God’s Son (Luke 1:26-38), and one (maybe the same one) explained the situation to Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25).
Usually, God only sends one angel to deliver a message. But the birth of the Messiah was the biggest and best news ever. So, when announcing His birth, the one angel was joined by “a multitude of the heavenly host” to sing praises. It was probably the most amazing concert in history, and only the lowly shepherds got to see it. (It’s where we get the carol “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”—they are heralding the arrival of the newborn King.)
The presence of the angels proved to the shepherds, without a doubt, that the message was true. The baby Jesus was born to be the Savior, which was “good news of great joy…for all the people” of the world (Luke 2:10).
Why the Wise Men Matter
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’” (Matthew 2:1-2)
To be clear, the wise men did not arrive with the shepherds that Christmas night. The shepherds were nearby, but the wise men had to travel a very long way—and traveling took a long time back then. Based on the dates they told Herod, they might have arrived as long as two years after the star appeared (Matthew 2:7 and 2:16). By the time they arrived, Joseph and Mary were living in a house (Matthew 2:11), so Jesus was no longer in the manger. We can still celebrate them at Christmas, though.
Unlike the shepherds, the wise men were important people. Some think they might have been kings (Isaiah 60:3). At the very least, they could afford kingly gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The wise men matter because they show that Jesus is King of everyone in all the world, even those in power. As the independent “experts” of the time, they confirmed that Jesus was the real deal. God had made it clear, writing it in the stars for all to see.
Why It All Matters
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)
The Christmas story is important because of who Jesus is: the Messiah, the King of Kings, the Lamb of God, the Good Shepherd, and God With Us. However, Christmas is just part of Jesus’s story.
Jesus was with us, fully God in human form, for over 30 years (Luke 3:23). Throughout His life, He showed us what God was like: humble, powerful, caring, and just.
In all that time, Jesus never did wrong—because He was God, and God is perfect. However, He was also human (Hebrews 4:15). We all sin at times (Romans 3:23); Jesus is the only human to have ever lived a sinless life. The punishment for our sin is death (Romans 6:23), an eternal separation from God and everything that is good. But since Jesus never sinned, He did not deserve to die.
The Christmas story matters most because of how it ends, at Easter. Jesus, who had done nothing wrong, was given the death penalty. He received the ultimate punishment that all people deserve for our sins—but He didn’t deserve it (1 Peter 3:18). He chose to take on that punishment in our place, so that we would not have to (Romans 5:6-11). Because of that, because He conquered death and rose from the grave (Acts 26:23), He made it possible for us to join Him in eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:50-57).
As you give or receive gifts this Christmas, don’t miss out on the greatest gift offered: the gift of eternal life through the forgiveness of your sins. Jesus has paid the penalty on your behalf; all you have to do is accept the gift.