Why a Muslim Could Not Understand Christmas

It's Christmas time again! People celebrate Christmas in a variety of ways, some of them relevant to Christianity, others entirely irrelevant. As outsiders looking in, Muslims often have a difficult time extracting the Christian meaning of Christmas and why Christians celebrate it. Nativity scenes, bible verses, Christmas trees, and reindeer antlers all get thrown into one indistinguishable mix, and it's no wonder that outsiders might not understand it all.

I titled this post very carefully. Although I believe this article will correctly describe many Muslims, I know for a fact that it describes at least one Muslim: my old self. I did not understand Christmas as a Muslim, and I even hesitated to celebrate it my first year as a Christian. I am quite certain that many other Muslims do not understand it for the same reason I did not.

As a Muslim, I thought Christians were just celebrating Jesus' birthday, as if Jesus were a person just like any other. We celebrate presidents' birthdays, we celebrate our own birthdays, and so we celebrate Jesus' birthday. I could not understand the meaning of Christmas because I did not fully conceptualize that this was not just another baby being born, it was God Himself entering into humanity. Christmas is not the celebration of a human birth (though it was that as well), it is the celebration of deity meeting humanity. On that day, holiness met sinful men, and glory made its place with the destitute.

But why did I not grasp the beauty of the divine incarnation? The reason is simple: it seemed superfluous, even disgraceful. Why would God enter into humanity? To imply that God would intentionally lower His stature, depriving Himself of any observable majesty and supremacy, simply would not compute in my mind. I expected God on earth to function somewhat like a miracle-working dictator, demanding obeisance and performing wonders to extract it. Thus the questions I asked Christians (which I'm sure you hear often enough): "Why did Jesus not say 'I am God, worship me?', Why did Jesus eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, etc. if he was God? And why did he not save himself from the cross - would that not have gotten everyone's attention and worship?" To a Muslim, a humble God is the height of paradox.

And the last of the three questions above really is the key. I understood that Christians believed it was Jesus' death on our behalf that removed our sins, but that seemed like a charade to me. Why could God not just forgive us of our sins? That would circumvent the whole process of having to become a man, would it not?

It is here that the crux of the issue is found: As a Muslim, I could not understand the beauty of Jesus' incarnation because I did not grasp the gravity and depravity of sin.

To the average Muslim, sin is breaking the rules. It makes Allah upset because you've broken His rules, and you've disobeyed His commands. Yes, His rules are there for a reason - to preserve order, to promote His way, to help us grow, etc. But ultimately, sin is something that can simply be overlooked. Like forgiving a friend who may have transgressed against you, Allah can forgive sins out of his benevolence and that's the end of the story.

But in the Christian conception, sin is far worse. Sin shatters the soul and the very nature of man. Contrasted against the holiness of God, even "the slightest" of sin is abysmally bleak, not only deserving eternal separation from God but necessitating it! It permanently mars the soul in such a way that it cannot simply be "overlooked" - it results in death. Period.

So what does this have to do with Christmas? That God would not consign humans to the eternal death that they have earned for themselves; that He would suffer the humiliation of incarnation and crucifixion; that glory would make its place with the destitute; that God loves us beyond all comprehension and reckoning; all this was reified and established once and for all on that night, when God was born into this world.

God of gods, King of kings, Lord of lords, here to save us and show us His love at a tremendous cost! Emmanuel, God with us! How can we not sing His praises, how can we keep from celebrating and exalting our King? He came here, He loves us, and nothing could ever separate us from Him!

Hallelujah! And merry Christmas :-)

7 comments:

  1. And what u say brother if I prove that 25th December was not the date of birth of Jesus(in whatever form one believe)?? :)
    And u raise all questions with logic but end up with a answer u cannot understand it until u become Christian...Whats the logic in it?? Its a general rule that first understand then admit.. U say first pass exams then i will teach u...Isnt it unrealistic??

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  2. @Imran : Almost all Christians know that 25th December is not the real date of Jesus Christ. It's a symbolic date to celebrate this great and holy event.

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  3. Imran,

    1 - Whether December 25th is the date of his birth or not is irrelevant to the fact of the incarnation, which is what Christians are celebrating on that day.

    2 - I did not say, nor intend to imply, that you cannot understand it until you become a Christian. What I'm indicating is that a proper grasp of the celebration requires an understanding of the Christian view of sin, which many Muslims have forgone.

    Thanks for reading and commenting, my friend. I pray God will guide you to a true and deep relationship with Him. Sincerely,

    -Nabeel

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  4. Dear Nabeel, off topic, I was just watching your excellent video about Mark and Peter. It's a great video, and I learned much from it, for which I thank you heartily. That said, I'd add that the constant hand gesturing is distracting and seems somehow out of place in the visual presentation. For some reason it doesn't complement your speech, as hand gestures sometimes do, but upstages your speech. I think in video presentations people usually use hand gestures either not at all, or at any rate more selectively, as an occasional accent to what is being said or to punctuate a point being made. Not continuously with both hands front and center almost as if you were using sign language for the deaf to simultaneously translate what you are speaking.

    I say this not by way of looking a gift horse in the mouth (as your videos have educated me greatly and I'm nothing but thankful). I'm not complaining, but quite the contrary, precisely because I'm thankful for what you've taught me, and want to support the great value of what you are doing, I'm offering some feedback, my two cents, in case it can help make your work still better and more helpful than it already is.

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  5. Hi, Nabeel.

    I have just recently started to read your blog. You may remember my name from other blogs including answeringmuslims.

    I do like your site and have started listening to many of your video presentations. Keep up the good work.

    I do agree with your depiction of how many Muslims look at sin as a simple breaking of the rules and not something far more implicative. Allah's arbitrary forgiveness of sin should have Muslims thinking critically of such a capricious act.

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  6. @nabeel.If jesus came down to earth in the form of a human and died on the cross to take away all the sins of humans then why were we created in the first place.It defeats the purpose of life as a test.On judgement day how are we be going to be tested if jesus has taken along with him all the sins of humanity.

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