The Meaning of Christmas by Rev. Dr. Vahan H. Tootikian

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

In Jesus Christ, God came to us and revealed Himself. He revealed Himself as a loving and giving God. Out of His love, God gave Himself in Jesus Christ. But this loving and giving God has a message to us: learning to give and learning to receive God’s gift in Jesus Christ.

At Christmas time, we most often emphasize the giving of gifts. Undoubtedly, this is a very important dimension of Christmas. Certainly, the spirit of Christmas is the spirit of giving. Gift giving at Christmas has become a beautiful tradition. Christian folk give because they believe God has first given to them. Christmas is a reminder of God’s greatest Gift to mankind, and people’s response to God’s Gift. In the person of Jesus Christ, God gave Himself to humankind. That is what Christians celebrate at Christmas.

Following God’s example of giving, St. Luke relates in his Nativity account that Virgin Mary gave herself by submitting herself to God’s will and becoming the Mother of the incarnate Son of God.

Likewise, the Wise Men from the East, when they found the Babe of Bethlehem, gave Him their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh as well as themselves in homage. So the concept of giving lies right at the very heart of Christmas. That is the reason behind the tradition of exchanging gifts at this season of the year. God has given to us, and now we celebrate by giving to each other. But the Christmas concept of giving does not necessarily need to be anything bought in any store. The kind of gift that Mary gave was something of herself. We can give not only material gifts but also intangible gifts that people need: some faith, courage, hope, and love. All of these things entail giving ourselves, and that is the best and most difficult thing to give. It is so much easier to hand a beggar a little money than it is to get to know him and give him a little of yourself.

Another important dimension of Christmas, however, is the joy and privilege of receiving. On the surface, receiving may seem fairly simple as compared to giving, but not so. One of the most blessed things in life is to receive those things that God is trying to give us. Remember how Apostle John described it: “He came unto his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11).

That is the problem that many people still have with Christ. He is God’s gift. They cannot, as it were, earn him; they cannot pay him with money, with good deeds, with anything. All they do is to receive him or refuse him. Those are the only two choices they have. Receiving God’s gift in Christ is not some simple and easy formality. It is not a mere lip service. It involves an acceptance of the principle and the love by which he lived and for which he died.

This is the central theme of Christmas and the Christian gospel. Christ has loved us with a love that will not stop loving even when nailed to a cross. To be loved like that and then to be died for, must surely be the most searching experience that any human being can face. That kind of love can never be earned, bought and repaid. It can only be accepted. Let a person do that, and something prefound happens on the inside. That person can never be the same again. That person becomes a new creation in Christ.

Yes, Christmas is a time of giving. We Christians give and remember that God, out of His abundant love, has given, and continues to give us. Christmas also is a time to receive. Receiving God’s greatest Gift in the Person of Jesus Christ would be the greatest blessing to one’s life. In receiving God’s Gift our giving will get a new and most profound meaning. When we receive God’s Gift we, in turn, would wish to give something out of gratitude. Then the cycle will be complete – giving, receiving and giving.

When we think of the wonder of Christmas and what God did for us, it makes us want to do something in return. The poet wrote: “What can I give him poor as I am, if I were a shepherd, I’d give him a lamb; If I were a wise man, I’d do my part; what can I give him, I’ll give him my heart.”

That’s what Christ really wants – our hearts. When we receive God’s gift and respond properly, only then will we fully understand the meaning of Christmas, and rightfully proclaim:

“Kristos dzenav yév hydnétzav,Tzézi, mézi médz avédis.”

Christ is born and is revealed; good tidings to you and to us!

Rev. Dr. Vahan H. Tootikian
Executive Director,
Armenian Evangelical World Council