When December rolls around there is a lot of talk about holiday cheer, peace on earth, and it being the most wonderful time of the year. People try to find joy in the music, decorations, parties, gifts, or family gatherings that accompany the season. While all those things are great, they are not what make Christmas special. If our holiday celebration is missing its key ingredient, then ultimately it becomes empty and unsatisfying – like having a chocolate wrapper without the chocolate!
To reflect on this “key ingredient,” I would like to quote a parable of Jesus that isn’t usually associated with the holiday. Nevertheless, it perfectly shows us what Christmas is all about. In Mathew 13:45-46 Jesus tells this story: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”(NIV)
We can look at this parable from two points of view. Personally, I think the best interpretation is that the merchant represents God. We are the pearl. From this perspective the story perfectly illustrates the message of Christmas. Let’s look at it more closely.
The merchant went out of his way to find the perfect pearl. God is the one who took the initiative to restore a relationship with us. Then, when the man had the pearl in his sights, he sold everything he had to get it. In the same way, the birth of Jesus points to the incarnation, when God left the majesty of heaven, setting aside the benefits of divinity, and became a man, born to a humble family in Bethlehem. But the story of Jesus doesn’t end with His birth. He ultimately gave everything He had – His very life – for us, by dying on the cross.
The merchant bought the pearl. Likewise, Jesus redeemed us, which means that He paid the ransom to secure our freedom. He took our punishment on Himself to release us from the bondage and penalty of sin. Thanks to Him we can be forgiven and reconciled to God.
There is another way to look at the story. From this perspective the merchant is us. The pearl is salvation – that wonderful reconciliation that God offers through Christ. The actions of the merchant point to what God desires from us. He wants us to give to Him what we have of most valuable: our hearts and our trust.
The story of Christmas is really a love story. God gave what was most precious to Him, His Son, and He wants what’s most precious of us, ourselves. Isn’t that how love works? When you love someone you desire to be loved in return. And you can never fully experience someone’s love until you love them back. God is no different. He loves us and longs for our love. He is thrilled to be able to have a relationship with us. He has done everything to make that possible, but the choice is ours as to whether or not to give Him our lives.
God’s love is what makes Christmas special. May you experience His love in abundance, not only at Christmas, but every day of the year.