What is the true significance of Christmas?
It is that Christmas signifies two opposite things simultaneously. First, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed the truth that there was an eternal kingdom being prepared for all those who would turn from their self-righteousness and religious hypocrisy. He proclaimed that this kingdom would ultimately be established by One born into the human race Who was the Eternal Father (Isaiah 9:6). And, this is the first significance of Christmas: God became flesh to prepare a people for inheritance in the eternal Kingdom of Righteousness. Thus, "Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness".
But, there is the equally true opposite significance of Christmas. "The destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed". That this is a part of the true significance of Christmas is easily seen by the prophetic picture of the coming of Messiah as given in Isaiah. On the one hand, the coming of Messiah was something to long for because it would set the stage for the establishment of the long-awaited Kingdom. On the other, the coming of Messiah was presented as a time of awesome destruction of the wicked. These two 'comings' were presented without explanation in the prophets so that many could not understand how they could both be true--they were presented as though they were one. But, since Christmas is a celebration of the first coming of Messiah, it is also a foreboding of the second coming. Thus, the true significance of Christmas is both that God gave His Son to redeem 'the converts of Zion', and that God will send His Son to destroy all who oppose the truth.
And, this significance needs to be clarified to our society. When Christmas time rolls around, there are two kinds of reactions. Those who know God's gift of Christmas, rejoice in their possession of eternal life through the redemption which He has accomplished. Those who only know of the trappings of Christmas put forth great effort to worship the god of materialism--baking, and buying, and selling, and scurrying hither and thither, and giving themselves up to 'the holiday spirit' with the subconscious hope that somehow something of real meaning will emerge from all of the vain wheel-spinning. On the one hand, there is enviable joy. On the other is a pathetic waste of vain hope and energy.
John the Baptizer knew of these opposite realities. Thus, he promised his hearers that they would either be baptized with the Holy Spirit, or they would be baptized with fire. Those who turned to God from their idols would have the Spirit given to them as they were identified with God and prepared for His Kingdom. Those who did not would have the fire of judgment poured out upon them as they were rejected by God and prepared for eternal death.
The Father presented these realities by means of the Spirit twice in the New Testament revelation of the impact of the Spirit. In Acts two, the Spirit descends with the sound of a mighty breath (signifying the promise of life through the Spirit) and with the appearance of tongues of fire (signifying judgment upon the rejectors). And, at the baptism of Jesus the Holy Spirit descended in form as a dove (signifying both the promise of forgiveness and the warning of judgment).
Thus, Christmas is at one and the same time a reminder of a great promise of redemption and a warning of inescapable judgment to come.