The message of Christmas is not, “Behave and you’ll get a gift.” In fact, God and Santa could not have more opposite messages. (It’s no surprise at all that the world comes up with this stuff.) “He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty or nice…"
The true message of Christmas couldn’t be more opposite than that of an imaginary jolly fella delivering gifts to “good boys and girls.” While yes, the true message of Christmas centers on the delivery of a gift, the recipients of that gift are precisely the bad and naughty – and that’s all of us!
And the purpose of the gift is so that we can avoid the terrible punishment we deserve. Christmas is an announcement to the naughty and rebellious human race that says “The Good Gift – the only truly good person – has been delivered, and his mission is to suffer and die so that you can be made clean, and not get what you deserve.” Christmas is about God's goodness, not ours. His goodness despite our badness. Christmas is about the cross.
The gift is exoneration. It’s freedom from death row and eternal punishment, complete with an invitation to true and eternal JOY. It’s a message to all of us sheep who have gone astray, who have turned everyone to his own way. This gift, this Perfect One, God in flesh and blood, will carry our iniquities on his back, and pay our penalty. Therefore, as Paul says, salvation is by God’s grace alone, because it has been accomplished by Christ alone!
Do we understand the magnitude of Christmas? Then let's not trivialize it with make-believe stories and empty "magic of the season". If we are clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ, we don’t have to ever worry that God’s wrath will be put on us! He was stricken by God for you, making it impossible for your sins to stand against you. If you don’t get that, then you still don’t understand what Jesus suffered for you - and you still don't understand Christmas. This was the mission for which we celebrate the baby in a manger. Receive the true gift of Christmas, and you will never be separated from God's love.
Remember Isaiah’s words: “the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.” On the cross, he had our sins, our crimes, charged to him. He was judged for murder, adultery, sexual immorality, jealousy, lying, idolatry, impurity, gossip... every sin we ever committed in word, thought or action... and accepted the verdict “guilty as charged”. He was then sentenced to the death penalty by means of torture and crucifixion.
He had our sins charged to him so that we might have his righteousness charged to us. He even became a guilty in His Father’s sight, so that we might be made acceptable and perfect in his sight. Yes, he was even abandoned by the favor and presence of his Father as he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
That is the Christmas gift of Jesus. The star, the Magi, the baby in a manger, God incarnate, born of a virgin on a silent night in Bethlehem... was the beginning of His mission, sent by the Father, to pay the penalty of your sin by suffering in your place. Receive that Gift, and receive true joy, true peace, true hope, and eternal salvation!
That we would settle for an infinitely lesser celebration - that isn't even true - is tragic.