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The Spiritual Meaning of Christmas: It’s Bigger Than “God Loves You”

Photo of Daniel McCoyDaniel McCoy | Bio

Daniel McCoy

Daniel is happily married to Susanna, and they have 3 daughters and 2 sons. He is the editorial director for as well as a part-time professor of philosophy for Ozark Christian College. He has a bachelor’s in theology (Ozark Christian College), master of arts in apologetics (Veritas International University), and PhD in theology (North-West University, South Africa). Among his books are the Popular Handbook of World Religions (general editor), Real Life Theology Handbook (with Andrew Jit), Mirage: 5 Things People Want From God That Don't Exist, and The Atheist's Fatal Flaw (co-authored with Norman Geisler).

What is the spiritual meaning of Christmas? The central message which defined the original Christmas and continues to shape spirituality today is that Jesus has come to earth as our rightful King. This places Christmas far beyond feel-good sentimentality, planting in the realm of both history and transformative spirituality. 

For most of us, Christmas wins first prize among the holidays for making us feel most sentimental. It’s a time for connecting with family, looking back over a year, eating our favorite foods and desserts, and giving and receiving gifts.

And the typical Christmas message fits right in: Christmas means that God loves us, and God’s love gives another huge boost to the feel-good nature of the season. And it’s undeniable that Christmas shows us God’s love. Just consider the first half of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” Similarly, the prophetic name given to Jesus, Immanuel (“God with us”), also proves God’s love: God wanted to bridge the divide and come near to us.

The Spiritual Meaning of Christmas: A More Focused Message

The first Christmas was rich with a more focused message. See if you can catch it in the following Scriptures:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

“…Out of [Bethlehem] will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

The spiritual meaning of Christmas: “…One who will be ruler over Israel…” 

“This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Matt. 1:1)

“This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about.” (Matt. 1:18a)

Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matt. 2:1b-2)

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son….The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 2:30-33)

The spiritual meaning of Christmas: “He will reign…his kingdom will never end.” 

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: “Praise be to the Lord….He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.” (Luke 1:67-69)

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

Did you happen to catch a common theme throughout those Scriptures? Maybe something about the arrival of a king?

Of course, this message shouldn’t hit even seasonal Christmas churchgoers as a total surprise. Jesus’ kingship is the theme of many beloved Christmas lyrics, from “Let earth receive her King” (“Joy to the World”) to “Glory to the newborn King” (“Hark the Herald Angels Sing”) to “Born the king of angels” (O Come All Ye Faithful).

The spiritual meaning of Christmas: “We need to get less fuzzy on what Jesus’ kingship means.” 

But if we want our takeaway from the Christmas holiday to be more than just feel-good sentimentality, we need to get less fuzzy on what Jesus’ kingship means. This royal message has real-world implications that go beyond seasonal cheer.

2 Kinds of Christmas Awe

Because Jesus shows up at Christmas as a baby, it’s easy to see Jesus’ kingship as something cute. Aww, look at the cute little king! If we allow our thinking to be fuzzy, Jesus the newborn king becomes something adorable—instead of someone to literally adore. The “little Lord Jesus” becomes something like a baby in a lumberjack onesie or a dachshund in a pirate Halloween costume. No one looks and thinks they’re seeing a real lumberjack or pirate—or king. Cute baby Jesus feeds our sense of Christmas sentimentality. What he doesn’t necessarily do is fuel our worship.

“Cute baby Jesus feeds our sense of Christmas sentimentality. What he doesn’t necessarily do is fuel our worship.” 

That’s why it’s important to distinguish the two kinds of Christmas awe: there’s, “Aww, what a cute baby king!” And there’s actual awe. Recapturing the spiritual meaning of the first Christmas means recalibrating our view of Jesus until we move from aww to awe. This means a shift from feel-good sentimentality to relief and wonder: Amid the Caesar’s and Herod’s fighting and killing for power, the true King has arrived. His salvation has finally arrived, and He is King! And it’s King Jesus’ arrival on our timeline that moves God’s love from feel-good sentimentality to rock-solid conviction based in historical fact. O come let us adore Him!