During a visit to the dry cleaners one early December, a festive banner caught my eye. Displayed prominently in the front window, it proclaimed in bright red and green letters: "Jesus is the Reason for the Season!"
While I understand the motive behind such a statement and commend the shop owner’s desire to challenge the commercialization of the season, if we apply a bit of biblical theology, we'll see that Jesus isn’t the reason for the season.
Yes, Jesus is the focus of the season. But he isn’t the reason for the season.
You see, if we had not been unfaithful sinners in need of rescue, Jesus would not have had to be born.
Unexpectedly, we discover that we are the reason for the season.
O Come, All Ye Unfaithful
This is why Christmas is good news for the unfaithful.
Yet, one of the most celebrated hymns during Advent tempts us to assume Christmas is for the faithful.
You know the lyrics.
O come, all ye faithful, Joyful and triumphant, O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold Him Born the King of Angels: O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
What do you think of when you hear the word faithful? One definition that comes to mind is "full of integrity, moral virtue, and unwavering loyalty."
If that is what we mean by "O come all ye faithful," there is none qualified to draw near to the manger of the Christ child in Bethlehem.
The Scriptures are clear, "There is no one righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10, NIV).
At this point, we'd be left to despair were it not for the purpose for which Jesus was born.
Just as the Scriptures reveal the bad news, they also broadcast the greatest news a sinner could receive.
- Matthew 1:21 (NIV) - She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
- 1 Timothy 1:15 (NIV) - Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.
- 1 John 4:10 (NIV) - This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
- Romans 6:23 (NIV) - For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Matthew 9:12 (NIV) - On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
To put it simply, the invitation of the gospel, the song of the angels, and the welcome of God is extended not to those who think of themselves as faithful but to those who confess their unfaithfulness.
The cross tells us that the reason for Christmas is to reconcile sinners with God as fully forgiven, perfectly accepted, and dearly loved sons and daughters not because of our own faithfulness, but through faith in the perfect faithfulness of Jesus on our behalf.
This means when we sing hymns like O Come All Ye Faithful, we're not talking about those who boast in their own integrity, moral virtue, and unwavering loyalty.
In the New Testament, the Greek word for faithfulness is pistos, which comes from the verb pisteuō,
meaning "to be persuaded." At its core, pistos implies being persuaded to believe something is true.
That of which we are persuaded is that the gospel is true. Jesus died as a propitiation for the ungodly, satisfying the demands of justice by serving the sentence of death sinners deserved.
This is not something to accept on merely an intellectual level. This is a reality to embrace personally and existentially, where I freely proclaim, “I’m the sinner for whom Jesus was born. His blood has cleansed me from all unrighteousness!”
This reality enables us to rethink what it means to be faithful. Rather than viewing faithfulness as an affirmation of our own integrity, moral virtue, and unwavering loyalty, we should understand faithfulness as being full of faith—having complete trust in God's gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. To be faithful is to fully rely on and believe in Jesus as the Savior-King who frees us from fear, ushering us into the realm of the Father's perfect love.
Then Something Unexpected Happens
When this staggering gospel reality comes home to the heart, something happens.
We begin to crave the kind of faithfulness to Jesus that eluded us in the flesh.
The motivation for faithfulness is not guilt or fear. It is Jesus’ faithfulness to us.
And the power for faithfulness to Jesus is not personal resolve but the indwelling enabling grace of the Holy Spirit.
This is the dynamic of spiritual change. As we abide by faith in the gift-righteousness of Jesus, the Spirit fills us like sap in a branch. Eventually, like buds in spring, we begin to see integrity, moral virtue, and unwavering loyalty begin to grow. Amazingly—supernaturally—Jesus makes the unfaithful, faithful.
Yes, our need for grace is the reason for the season. But Jesus is the unrivaled focus!
Therefore, with our eyes fixed on him this advent, let's respond to the invitation for the unfaithful to behold, embrace, and savor the faithfulness of the King who forgives, restores, and transforms.
- How does this perspective shift from Jesus as the reason for the season to us as the reason impact your understanding of the meaning and significance of Christmas?
- The article emphasizes that Christmas is good news for the unfaithful, challenging the notion that it's a celebration only for the "faithful." How does this align with or challenge your own beliefs about who is welcome at the manger—and the cross—of Christ?
- The article redefines faithfulness, not as a testament to personal virtue, but as full trust in God's salvation through Jesus. How does this definition change the way we view what it means to be faithful?
- How does the faithfulness of Jesus motivate and empower actual faithfulness in our lives? Or, how does Jesus make the unfaithful, faithful?