“Keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine."
This is a famous line from the beginning of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, said in annoyance by Ebenezer Scrooge to his jovial nephew Fred. While Scrooge barks this reply to justify not celebrating Christmas at all, it nevertheless raises questions: How should Christians keep Christmas? Can we keep it in our own ways? Are they’re ways we shouldn’t keep it?
Keep Christmas by Keeping Advent
When we participate in Advent, we build up anticipation of our celebration of Jesus’ birth to get a feel of what it was like for the people of God in the scriptures to wait on the coming of Jesus. In this way, Advent enriches the way we keep Christmas. In other words, the way we keep Christmas can be deeply impacted by the way we keep Advent, if we keep it.
To that end, consider these four Advent anticipations all in just the first verse of Matthew’s gospel:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Advent celebrates the coming of the Savior
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus…” (Matthew 1:1)
Matthew begins his book like this: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus…”. “Jesus” is the Greek form of the name “Joshua”, or “Yeshua”, which means “The Lord is salvation”, or “Yahweh saves”. Jesus’ name means “Savior”. We relate to that. We try to give our children names that fit them, that they can grow into. So, was the name Jesus meant to serve as a reminder of God’s faithfulness to save? After all, Jesus wasn’t the first Jewish boy to be named Joshua.
But we see later in Matthew 1:21 the reason the angel tells Joseph to give him that name; “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21).
This Jesus would not simply bear a name as a reminder that God is Savior, this Jesus would be the Savior. The people would be His. The saving would be his.
Advent celebrates the coming of the Christ
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ…” (Matthew 1:1)
Where “Jesus” is his name, “Christ” is his title. Christ means “Messiah” or “Anointed One”. Thus, Jesus is “the Messiah”. Jesus is “the Anointed One”, set apart for some purpose. The question is, “For what purpose is he anointed?”
Throughout the history of the Jewish people in the Old Testament, there were promises of a coming anointed one, a Messiah, who would deliver God’s people. In the New Testament, Peter writes, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)
This is how Jesus would be Savior. This is how he would be Messiah. This is how he would deliver his people. Jesus Christ came to earth and lived and died and rose again to save His people from their sins by taking God's full punishment for their sins on himself.
The people of God had been waiting for this. A child, who was God in flesh, who had come to deliver his people. And here, Matthew says “Here he is! The one we’ve waited for!”
Advent celebrates the coming of the Son of David
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David..." (Matthew 1:1)
If you are new to the Bible, the name David may not jump out at you for its significance. But it would for any Jewish reader. David was the great king of Israel, the King that God promised would have a linage that would be established by God for all time.
When Matthew shows us that Jesus is the “son” of David, he is saying that Jesus is this promised “son” who would be David’s own flesh and blood, but would also become the King of an eternal throne.
When we read the scriptures, we cannot help but see that Jesus is not a mere man. He is not just a special baby. He is not just a good example. The testimony of Matthew and the rest of scripture is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of David. He is the saving, delivering, everlasting King of all time and history. Matthew's opening statement shouts, “This is the Advent of the King!”
Advent celebrates the coming of the son of Abraham
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Matthew 1:1)
Abraham was the one through whom God promised to bless not just Jews, but the whole world. The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen 12:1-3)
Jesus is not just the Savior for the Jews. As the son of Abraham, Matthew shows us that Jesus is the Savior of many nations. Jesus’ salvation will be expansive, global, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural, and multi-generational. His kingdom will expand to all people groups, all nations.
Jesus is the center of the story of Advent.
God has written and orchestrated a redemption-securing, history-spanning, hope-restoring narrative with Jesus at the center of it all. We are not the point of this story. Jesus is the point. He is the center.
What better time than the holidays to be reminded that everything isn’t centered around us? Jesus is the king of all history and time. And if that is true, He should be the king of our worship, the king of our songs, the king of our choices, the king of celebrations, the king of our Christmas.
An Advent Exhortation
As we begin this Advent, let this be our question; As a Christian, who lives on this side of the cross of Jesus, how should my celebration of Christmas look? In other words, how should we keep Christmas? Or Advent?
Christian, we have a real reason to celebrate! We do not have to supplement! We must not take our cues from the world around us and celebrate Christmas in ways that show the world around us that Christ really isn’t the point, as if we believe, “Yes, it’s his birthday, but it’s our party.”
If you celebrate Christmas in a way that elevates the worth of traditions, feelings, things, comforts, and nostalgia over the surpassing worth of Christ, that kind of celebrating is at best hypocritical and at worse idolatry.
Christian, you have a saving, delivering King who has come to seek and save you. Hear again this good news: God has not left you in your sins. He has sent a Savior, a Messiah, fully God, fully man, to take your sins upon himself, to redeem you.
If you would keep Christmas at all, keep it in ways that magnify and maximize that good news.