Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is your favorite Christmas story?
From, the many who have asked me that question over the years.
Dear the many who have asked me that question over the years,
“What gives Christmas its meaning?” asked John MacArthur in a Christmas sermon I listened to more than three decades ago. I sat in rapt attention, not just because it was so interesting, but because I learned so much. Fortunately, I had my note book and jotted down some of his introduction.
I want to summarize his answer as best as I can and then share my favorite Christmas story that portrays for me the real meaning of Christmas.
“What is the meaning of Christmas,” MacArthur began?
It is not the date.
The idea that Jesus was born on December 25 is rather unlikely. According to the Bible, shepherds “were
abiding in the field.” They didn’t do that in the winter. Scholars tend to agree that Jesus was most likely born
in March or April.
December 25 came from pagan observance of the rebirth of the sun at the winter solstice. This was an old
Roman holiday celebrated with two weeks of green trees, lighted candles, and gifts. Christians throughout the Roman Empire wanted to celebrate the birth of Christ so in 336 the Christian Emperor Constantine declared by fiat that December 25 would be Jesus’ day
It is not the Bible.
There is nothing in the Bible about December 25.
It’s not the Name.
“Christmas” is the shortened form of “Christ-Mass” established in 1038. Over time this mass evolved into celebrating the birth of Christ.
In 1224 St. Francis of Assisi began to popularize the worship of baby Jesus in the manger as background for the worship of Mother Mary.
It’s not Santa Claus.
Santa Claus was a 4th century bishop named St. Nicolas who gave all of his possessions to the poor. He is said to have brought back to life two children who had been cut to pieces. People soon began to associate St. Nicolas as a giver of gifts and love who is particularly important to children.
St. Nicolas came to the United States by way of Holland. Dutch children expected Santa to visit on December 5. Their custom was to place wooden shoes by the fireplace and Santa would fill them with goodies. I love how at this point MacArthur editorialized by saying, “Of course, we fast-thinking Americans know that you can get a lot more in a sock than in a wooden shoe!
It’s not the Christmas cards.
Christmas cards have only been used for the last 100 years.
What he said next really took me off guard.
“Christmas is not even the spirit of giving anymore.”
Christmas is the spirit of indulgence. Have you been to the mall recently?
The real meaning of Christmas is Jesus.
The name “Jesus” means “Savior”. The real meaning of Christmas is that Jesus came to save people from their sins.
He only comes to those who make room for Him in their lives—to those who will receive Him as their personal Savior and Lord.
Personally, I’ve always thought of Luke 2:7 as the anti-Christmas: “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”
The Son of God came into world and Mary and Joseph couldn’t even find a room for Him.
I saved a copy of Guideposts magazine because it has my favorite Christmas story. The magazine is tattered and torn and over 35 years old. But, the story and the lesson are timeless.
A nine-year-old boy named Wallace Purling was in the second grade. He should have been in fourth. He was big for his age, and a little slow and clumsy. He had trouble keeping up with the rest of the students. He was also delightfully good natured. Everyone enjoyed it when Wally was around.
He wanted to be a shepherd in the Christmas pageant. However he fit in much better as the innkeeper. His large size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph much more forceful.
The night of the pageant, no one more was more excited than Wallace Purling. He was enraptured as he peeked out from behind the curtain watching the performance. Finally, the time came for his scene.
Joseph arrived, gently guiding Mary. Joseph knocked on the wooden door. Wally was there, waiting.
Wally said in a brash voice, “What do you want?”
“We seek lodging,” said Joseph.
“Seek it elsewhere. The inn is filled.”
“Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary.”
“There is no room in this inn for you!” Wally looked stern.
“Please, good innkeeper. My wife is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired.”
For the first time the innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. A long pause followed. Surely, Wally had forgotten his next line. The audience was tense and embarrassed for Wally.
“Begone!” the prompter whispered Wally’s next line twice.
Wally spoke automatically. “Begone!”
Joseph sadly placed arm around Mary and began to move slowly away. However, the Innkeeper failed to reenter his inn. He stood in the doorway watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, his eyes filling with tears.
Suddenly the pageant became different from all others.
“Don’t go, Joseph. Bring Mary Back!” Wallace Purling’s face grew into a bright smile. “You can have my room.”
Making room for Jesus is what Christmas is about.
Merry Christmas, Roger
P. S. For more of John MacArthur’s sermons go to www.gty.org
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.