“Merry Christmas!” I hear this seasonal greeting every year, and for much of my life it evoked happiness in the form of holly and mistletoe, time spent with family, festive food and music, pictures with Santa Claus, presents, and carols about a king born in a barn in Bethlehem. But in my early adult years, I began greeting the Christmas season with mixed emotions. For the first time in my life, I learned about materialism and witnessed how it is openly celebrated in our Western culture. It was also during this time of year that I experienced the pain of watching my mom spend her final moments in a hospital bed.
So for a few years, Christmas was a strange time of year for me – excitement mingled with pain mingled with the personal struggle of avarice. Combined, these competing feelings resulted in a yearly identity crisis. Am I a joyful traditionalist who welcomes the season? Am I a victim of sorrow and loss who hates the season? Or am I a selfish materialist who is excited at the prospect of acquiring more toys?
Then one year, God re-oriented my thoughts and feelings. While reading On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius my wonder, awe, and love for Jesus was rekindled. I was reminded of the absolutely astounding reality of the incarnation. Jesus, the eternally existent God, put on flesh. The child born in a manger whom we sing about is not a mere human king. He is the unique Son of God and the King above all kings who is worthy of worship. As Athanasius wrote, “He [Jesus] has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men.”
That is the greatest news there is! Jesus came to earth and went to the cross so that we would die to the appetites of sin and awaken to the peace, hope, joy, and love of God. That’s the gospel that we Christians celebrate at Christmas and all year long.
If you are like me and need a reminder of who we celebrate at Christmas, read Athanasius’ work. Or if you are looking for a shorter format, check out 10 Things You Should Know About the Incarnation on the Crossway blog. In true Athanasius like fashion, Stephen J. Wellum gives several glorious, worship-inducing truths about Christ’s incarnation.