I remember the hope I felt each Christmas morning when I was younger. I would wake up and sit at the top of the stairs in my house, waiting for my parents to tell me and my siblings that we could come down and see what gifts they had gotten us. The anticipation killed me. Was it a hockey jersey? Was it a bike? Was it that video game I wanted? Even last year, my junior year of college, I was a little more excited than I perhaps should have been on Christmas morning.
The anticipation of receiving a gift brings about happiness, excitement and hope for great things to come. Christmas is one of the times that we experience that the greatest.
For the Christian, however, the anticipation and joy is in a gift far more expensive, yet far more available, than anything our parents can get us.
Christmas is hope fulfilled. Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites were waiting for the fulfillment of the old covenant and the institution of a new one. Jeremiah 31:31-34 fills us in (emphasis added):
31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
The hope is sin forgiven, God known, adoption. Before Christ’s descent, there was no full forgiveness of sins, there was no truly knowing God. The only one who had any idea of “knowing God” was the high priest, who once a year went into the high places and made sacrifices before the presence of God.
Christ replaced that high priest and became a better one, as Hebrews 7:26-28 makes clear:
26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.
Because of this, we have a hope (that was once set up) FULFILLED. We no longer have to wait for salvation like we waited on Christmas morning for those gifts from our parents. It’s here for us. And Christ opened it up to not just the Jews, but also to the Gentiles, as Paul said the gospel is good news for both the Jew and the Greek. Hebrews 9:11-15 says (emphasis added again):
11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. 15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.
This is the meaning of Christmas: Christ fulfilling the hope begun so long ago. This hope leads to so many things that would take days to write about, but most importantly, it leads to the hope of salvation, forgiveness of sins, absolution of guilt before God. That is the most important need of mankind, and Christ offers it freely. The payment was His death, but we get it for free, simply turning our lives to Him. No works, no magic words, no special circumstances. Just a heartfelt confession of our sin and our need of grace and Jesus, and a dependence on Him.
Christmas is so drenched in the gospel that we should not be able to contain how much we celebrate it.