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This year I’ve been asking people what they’re favorite Christmas movie or TV special is. The answers have varied by people’s generation. The titles I’ve heard include:

“It’s a Wonderful Life”

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas”


“Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, and

“The Polar Express”.

I could add several shows to this list. But the one that’s been especially on my mind lately is “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” You may remember that Charlie Brown finds himself depressed by the commercialization of Christmas. He visits Lucy’s Psychiatry Booth for help. She advises him to direct the Peanuts group’s Christmas play to improve his attitude.

The group’s rehearsals only deepen his dark mood. The cast and the play itself have succumbed to the crass commercialism of the season. So, to refocus the spirit of things, Charlie decides to get a tree. He selects the only real tree on the lot: a tiny, shabby sapling already shedding its few remaining needles. When the other kids see it, they ridicule Charlie and walk away laughing at him.

Let’s read a portion of the script:

“I guess you were right, Linus. I shouldn’t have picked this little tree,” said Charlie Brown. “Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I don’t really know what Christmas is all about. Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

“Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about,” said Linus….

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (KJV)

And there you have it. The true meaning of Christmas. Our Savior has been born. So let’s look more closely at what it means for us that our Savior has been born by thinking about three questions:

Why do we need a Savior?

How does Jesus save us?

What difference does salvation make in our lives right now?

Why do we need a Savior?

We are born with—actually we are created with—what the spiritual writer Ronald Rolheiser calls a holy longing. We long for something that will make our lives infinitely and eternally significant, that will give us an unshakable sense of security, and that will fill our days with a life-giving sense of purpose.

It’s human all too human to try to satisfy this yearning with career success, power, or fame, by finding our perfect human soulmate or by accumulating enormous wealth.

C. S. Lewis, Timothy Keller, and Richard Rohr—theologians of very different stripes—all agree that there’s not the first thing wrong with any of these things as such. Our problem comes in making any of them our ultimate object of desire.

You see, none of these things is ultimate. Success, power, fame, and wealth mean nothing from the grave. And even our most trustworthy friend or devoted spouse can never meet all of our needs. We’ll destroy any relationship by expecting anybody to do such a thing for us.

An intimate relationship with God—not just a belief in an idea of God—is our holy longing. St. Augustine put it this way: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” (Confessions)

How does Jesus save us?

In Jesus, God becomes a human being. And by becoming a human being, God is giving himself to us. God is entering into our lives in a way that our minds can hardly fathom. Jesus has not only his own private, personal experiences. He enters into all of our most ordinary, ecstatic, and horrifying moments. The writer Dorothy Sayers put it this way:

“The incarnation means that for whatever reason God chose to let us fall into a condition of being limited, to suffer, to be subject to sorrows and death—he has nonetheless had the honesty and the courage to take his own medicine… He himself has gone through the whole of human experience—from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death… He was born in poverty and… suffered infinite pain—all for us—and thought it well worth his while.”

God is our heart’s fondest, deepest, life-anchoring desire. And in Jesus God is giving himself to us. That’s what true love looks like. And in Jesus we meet the very love of God. An inexhaustible, relentless, unwavering love. The love that brought all things into existence. The love that is mending all that is broken. Our work on this earth is to open ourselves to that love more and more and more as our life goes on.

What difference does salvation make in our lives right now?

To be saved is to know—with your heart as well as your mind—that you are God’s beloved. Whether you’re up or down, on a roll or flat on your face, God loves you. We are not on our own in this world. Moreover, our worth is not dependent upon what we’ve done lately, how much applause we get, or how good looking we are.

We are not perfect. We are beloved. And this sets us free to love. To love with abandon. Because we are already loved no matter what.

The true meaning of Christmas is that God’s own love has been unleashed on this earth in the form of a tiny, vulnerable, fragile baby. And our lives, this whole universe, will never be the same.

Featured Image: Clementine Hunter, “Baby Jesus and Three Wise Men” (1980)

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