The name “Christmas” has its origins in the Roman Catholic tradition of having a special mass to commemorate the birth of the Christ. This mass was know as the “Christ Mass” and over time became broadly applied to the popular holiday “Christmas”.
But why do Catholics call it “mass”? Many Protestants don’t know. At the center of the Catholic worship service is the Euchararist, also know as “Holy Communion”, or the “Lord’s Supper”. Communion commemorates the moment at the end of Jesus’s ministry just before his death when he shared the Passover meal with his disciples. During that meal, Jesus fulfilled the original Jewish meaning of Passover with its links to deliverance from Egyptian slavery. This was something the Jews expected the Messiah to do. The Messiah was to lead a new exodus. This time, however, deliverance wouldn’t be from Egyptian slave masters, rather it would be deliverance from the slavery of sin.
As Jesus fulfilled the symbol of the Passover at the Last Supper, he explained that the bread and wine symbolized his body and blood. He further explained that this would be the symbol of the New Covenant—a covenant that empowered believers to be free from the guilt of sin and the curse of sinning (healing of the sin nature).
But what does all of this have to do with Christmas? As Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, the title of the holiday itself reminds us that from the moment of his birth he is en route to the cross to deliver his people. This means that there is always a bit of bitterness and sadness mixed with the joy and hope of Christmas because the reality is that the Son of God is born unto us as the perfect Lamb of God who has come to take away the sin of the world.
This perspective offers a clearer perspective on why we give gifts on Christmas. We give gifts on Christmas for two reasons. The first is to follow the example of the wise men who brought Jesus gifts at the time of his birth. The second, which results from the my main point here, is because Jesus himself is the greatest gift ever given in human history. But how? Jesus is the one who can do what no one else can do—deliver us from our sin. We’re reminded of this when we celebrate the Christ Mass.
Are you ready to receive the gift?