Now suppose you receive a letter from the credit card company telling you that someone else has paid your debt in full? The charges were not theirs, but they paid the price for you. The debt was not in their name, but they took it upon themselves. You do not have to pay them, and in fact, you cannot pay them back. All they wanted to do was make life better for you by taking that burden of debt away. What a wonderful gift and what a generous gesture that would be.
That is exactly what happened when Christ came into our world. We had built up a mountain of sin and debt. Every day the interest accrued making the debt even bigger. The debt consisted of promises we made to God but did not keep. The debt consisted of deeds of service we should have done but never got around to. The debt consisted of immoral actions and unjust actions. The debt consisted of our prejudices, our jealousies, our greed and our selfishness. But rather than continuing to hold that debt over our heads, God placed all of that sin on the shoulders of one man; Jesus Christ. God agreed that by the death of that one man all of our sins would be forgiven if we would only put our faith in him and agree to live in accordance with his teachings and example.
That is what God did for us at Christmas; he set in motion the plan for our salvation. It started in Bethlehem, but it ended in Jerusalem. It started in a cradle, but it ended on a cross. It started with the birth of a baby, but it ended with the death of a man. It started when angels sang "glory to God in the highest", but it ended when a Roman centurion cried out "truly this man was the Son of God." It started with Isaiah 7 where we were told that a virgin would conceive and bear a child, but it ended with Isaiah 53 where we were told that "he was wounded for our transgressions and he was bruised for or iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed."
What God did for us he did for people who were not obedient to his will. What God did for us he did even though we were not walking in his ways. What God did was not reserved for those who were already living "nice" lives." Instead, while we were yet in our sins Christ died for the ungodly. Here is the difference between Santa Claus and Jesus Christ. Santa reserves his toys and gifts for people who have been good all year long. Christ offers his gifts to us even though he knows that we have chosen the darkness over the light, and even though we have chosen to disobey and disregard his teachings. What a wonderful gift God has given and what a wonderful blessing we can receive if we only open our hearts and accept it by faith.
There is one more difference between Jesus Christ and Santa Claus that bears mentioning. Santa Claus only comes once a year, and once he goes back to the North Pole he will not be coming back to see about us, no matter what our needs may be. Thank God, that is not the case with Jesus. His promise in Matthew 28:20 is what we can count on every day: "Lo, I will be with you always even to the end of time." Jesus Christ is on duty twenty-four hours a day. God's power is available to us every day of the week. The Lord has promised to walk and stand and stay by our side every moment of every day. What a mighty God we serve!
Earlier this year I went through surgery for prostate cancer. I was in the hospital for five days and recuperating at home for six weeks. I never got a card or a call from Santa Claus, because he is only on call for one day, and only for those who have been nice. On the other hand, there was never a moment when I was lying on my back during surgery, or sitting in my hospital room in the days thereafter, or regaining my strength while confined to my home that I did not have the blessed assurance of the presence of the Lord. My soul cried out both night and day; "I need thee every hour most gracious Lord." The voice of my savior cried back with this answer; "I will never fail you or forsake you."
No matter what else you may receive for Christmas this year, God has already offered the greatest gift that has ever been given. Accept the gift of salvation in the name of Jesus Christ and in so doing you are reclaiming the true meaning of Christmas.
Marvin A. McMickle is Pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Cleveland, OH.