Christmas has a weird distinction of being an extremely religious holiday while also being a secular holiday. It's entirely possible to celebrate Christmas wholly isolated from the nativity story while embracing many of the same elements.
But as a follower of Jesus, important things begin to change about Christmas. And traditions take on new meaning and importance. Here are five things about Christmas you see differently in the light of Jesus.
1. The season's meaning becomes clearer
For a lot of non-Christians, Christmas is still a meaningful time. It fills them with nostalgia for their childhood. It's an incredible time to gather with family and friends. They might even consider visiting a church as a crucial part of that Christmas tradition.
But when you make a choice to follow Jesus, the nativity story takes center stage. And while we still appreciate many of the secular traditions that have become so familiar to us, we discover that Christmas is about how far God will go to be reconciled with His creation.
2. Gifts become an expression of faith
In Acts, Paul quotes Jesus as saying, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). Of course, you don't have to be a Christian to believe that to be true, but it does take on new depth and richness in light of Jesus' birth, life, and sacrifice.
In light of the nativity, Christmas becomes even more about bringing joy to others and giving meaningful gifts. God is a great giver of every good and perfect gift, and we become givers, too.
3. Service becomes an integral part of the season
People from all walks of life tend to get more charitable during the holidays. Many organizations that rely on charitable giving report that a lion's share of their donations tend to come in at the end of the year, coinciding with the holidays.
This is especially true for Christians who perceive the value of building God's kingdom. We recognize the local and international needs, and we become moved to meet them physically and financially. And while Christmas is a time that helps engender that desire to give, Christians are service-oriented all year round.
4. Christmas carols become more meaningful
The Christmas season is one of the rare times when it's not weird to hear Christian sentiments playing over the speakers at your local shopping center. Christmas carols are a significant part of the holiday tradition for everyone—but something changes when we align ourselves with the gospel. All of a sudden, they come alive.
A song like "Joy to the World" becomes filled with glorious significance. And we discover the beauty of God's salvation, and a promise that God has begun the process of setting things right in lyrics like "No more let sins and sorrows grow. Nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make His blessings known, far as the curse is found."
When you love Jesus, these traditional songs become rich and deep.
5. The joy of Christmas comes alive
The idea that Christmas is a joyful and peaceful holiday is woven into the cultural fabric. But the truth is that if we're not careful, this season's stresses jeopardize those feelings that we long for. The expectations we place on ourselves to get the holiday right can make it harder for us to be present for what Christmas actually represents.
When our hearts are tuned into Jesus, joy and peace are easier to recognize and grab hold of. The joy isn't found in decorations, presents or even social gatherings. It's found in good gifts of God, which give meaning and delight to everything else. And our peace isn’t endangered by difficult family dynamics or high expectations because it's anchored in the presence of Jesus.
The wonder of the season
There are many wonderful things to love about the Christmas season whether one considers themselves a Christian or not. But everything changes when the nativity story becomes more than a story you tell your children.
If you're interested in a refresher on what the Bible has to say about the birth of Jesus, watch this clip from the "JESUS" film.