As all Christians know, Christmas is the annual celebration of the birth of Christ. This is a tradition that began in the fourth century, AD, and has now grown to encompass a great deal that is foreign, if not, antithetical to the Person whose birth we celebrate. The problem is that the advent of Jesus, the Messiah, is such an overwhelmingly important event for the human race that one day in the year to celebrate it is far too small a response. Indeed, the whole Christian life is nothing but the enjoyment of the fruit of that first coming of Christ. All that we have in Christ comes, in the first place, from His incarnation in the womb of the virgin, Mary and birth into the world. Without this, He could not have lived a perfect life, gathered and taught His disciples, performed His miracles and suffered, died and rose again to save us from our sins. Without His outward coming into the world, His coming inwardly to our hearts would never have happened.

There is truly an inward coming of Christ to dwell in each individual who is willing to receive Him (John 14:21, 23; Revelation 3:20). As the Christmas carol says, "To meek souls who receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in." Christ also comes, at death, for each of those who believe in Him, to receive them into eternal "dwelling places" (John 14:1-3). And then there was Christ's coming in judgment upon the nation of Israel at the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD (Matthew 24:1-34) and His warning of coming in judgment to the Church of Ephesus (Revelation 2:5). The one thing all of these "comings" of Christ have in common is that they are invisible or metaphorical. There are only two visible, outward comings of Christ - the first one, when He was born of Mary and the second one when He shall come again in glory to raise the dead and judge the world. It is the first of these two visible comings of Christ that we celebrate at Christmas. Let us spend a few moments comparing and contrasting these two visible advents of Christ.

At His first advent, Jesus was miraculously begotten in the womb of the Virgin, but born as any human being is born. He was born with a human body and soul and was mortal, that is, capable of dying. How does this compare with His second advent? I remember as a young boy being asked by Mrs. Meyers, the teacher of the weekly "Good News Club" on our street, "When Jesus comes again, what will He look like?" I thought it over and replied, "Well, he won't be wearing a robe and sandals like He did the first time; he'll probably be wearing a suit!" Mrs. Meyers didn't much care for that answer. Jesus will come again as a human being, to be sure, but a glorified human being, as when Peter, James and John saw Him on the Mount of Transfiguration, when His "face shone like the sun and his garments became as white as light." (Matthew 17:2) Thus were the disciples given a glimpse of His inherent glory, even while He dwelt in a mortal body. In how much greater glory will He appear when He comes in an immortal body?!

His first coming was visible, to be sure, but only a small portion of the people of this planet saw Him then. His natal day was heralded by angels but seen only by Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and some of the inhabitants of Bethlehem. A little later, some wise men from the east came to worship Him but soon after, His parents had to take Him secretly into Egypt to escape Herod. When He grew to manhood, He began a public ministry to Israel. Still, though great multitudes saw Him perform miracles, heard Him speak and saw His execution on a cross, the vast bulk of the world had not even heard of Him. But it will not be so when comes the second time, for He is "the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead." (Acts 10:42; 2 Timothy 4:1). Therefore, God has "fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead." (Acts 17:31) "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." (2 Corinthians 5:10) In that day "God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus" (Romans 2:16) and "each one of us will give an account of himself to God." (Romans 14:12) So we see that everyone, those living at the time Christ returns and those who have died, will appear before Him and be judged.

The purpose of Christ's first coming was to prepare us for His second coming. That is why the Bible says, "God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him." (John 3:17) Jesus Himself says, "I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness. If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him;the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day." (John 12:46-48) If Christ's first coming had been to judge the world, no one would have been saved; all would have been condemned. But because Christ's first coming was in humility and suffering and sacrifice, we have the opportunity to be cleansed of our sins by His blood and prepared by His Spirit for heavenly life. Have you been cleansed? Are you prepared? Do not celebrate Christ's first coming and miss the whole point of it! Today, this moment if possible, confess your complete moral bankruptcy to Christ, receive His death as the atonement for your sins and then welcome Him without reservation to fit you for life in heaven and for His service on earth. Then the Day of Judgment will not be fearful but wonderful and welcome, for then you will look forward to hearing, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Your were faithful in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your Master!" (Matthew 25:21, 23)