“Who needs Christ during Christmas?” asks the Times Square digital advertisement sponsored by an atheists group. In the ad, a hand then crosses out the word “Christ” and the word “nobody” is written to answer the raised question. Who does need Jesus Christ during Christmas or at all times, for that matter? In a word: everybody. We all need Jesus because of what He came to bring to people. What are some of these gifts that the Baby in the manger came to bring to even atheists who deny His relevance? For the answer we turn to not only the Bible, but to the carols with which everyone, including atheists, are probably familiar.
One gift from Christ is the gift of reconciliation. “Hark! the herald angels sing, glory to the new born! Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” None of us live the way we should; we all make mistakes, let people down, and we subsequently live with guilt and shame that causes feelings of alienation from others and from God. All of our failures stem from our rebellion towards God and His Word, and this is called sin. And while you and I might try to make up for the wrong things we do by doing good things, we can never clean the dark stain on our souls which is caused by our disobedience to God. At Christmas, we remember that God knew our futility, and showed His love for us by graciously sending our solution in the Person of His Son to heal our alienation and to bring each of us forgiveness and a restored relationship with God. This reconciliation was ultimately accomplished through Christ’s death on the cross, for the Bible says, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). Jesus came not only to be born in a Bethlehem but to shed His blood and die on a cross as a sin offering on our behalf so that we could be forgiven and reconciled to the Father.
Another gift is the gift of salvation. The angel told Joseph, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Sin is a very serious matter and something from which we need to be saved because it is an offense against God and a violation of God’s holy laws. Sin must be punished because God is just and must punish wrongdoing. By God’s plan of sending His Son to bear your sin and mine on the cross, God made a way to be merciful and to be just at the same time. He shows His love, mercy, and grace to us by letting guilty sinners go free while He also justly punishes sin as His Son takes on our sin and stands in our place. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:16-17, English Standard Version). And since “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12, ESV), this is why we sing, “…the King of kings, salvation brings; let loving hearts enthrone Him.”
Then there’s the gift of life. While we are all given the gift of physical life when we are conceived and then born, there’s a spiritual “abundant life” (John 10:10) that is found only in Jesus Christ. Because of sin, all humanity is spiritually dead apart from Jesus, and this is why we sing, “Light and life to all He brings, risen with healing in His wings…born to raise us from the earth, born to give us second birth.” The apostle Paul tells us, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:1-5, ESV). It is by grace through faith, that you and I can have this new life with Christ.
Then there’s also the gift of joy. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her king! Let every heart prepare Him room…” What is this joy that the Lord has come to bring? Whereas happiness is contingent on our circumstances, joy is able to transcend even the worst times because it comes from above to dwell within. Joy is a permanent gift of the Holy Spirit that comes through faith in Jesus Christ and by knowing Him as Lord and Savior. The apostle Peter speaks of this when he says, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9, ESV). As the shepherds heard that first Christmas, the message of God’s grace in sending Jesus for undeserved sinners like you and me is “the good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10).
Finally there’s the gift of Christ Himself. Far surpassing all of the tangible gifts listed above—and this is not by any means a comprehensive list— there’s the gift of having Jesus Christ, the Son of God, forever dwelling within. The reason we sing, “No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin; where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in” is because Jesus promised, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23, ESV). All the blessings of Christ do not match the gift of Christ Himself, the living God, taking residence inside of you and me. The apostle Paul describes this as “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:26-27, ESV). Though it’s hard to comprehend the God of the universe humbling Himself to dwell in a filthy stable, it’s even harder to understand how He could possibly dwell in sinners’ hearts like mine and yours.
While some have been angered by the atheists' Times Square ad, the correct response to it should really be sadness. Rejection of Jesus at Christmas or at anytime is a rejection of God Himself and everything good with which He wants to bless people. May the Holy Spirit move in and through God’s Word and even in our familiar Christmas carols to draw each of us (including atheists) to not only the gifts Jesus came to bring, but even to Himself! Amen and Merry Christmas!