As another Christmas has come and gone, it came to my thoughts today that it is really impossible for an unbeliever to legitimately celebrate Christmas. Unbelievers may celebrate the idol of family during Christmas or the joy of giving (mostly receiving) gifts. But it seems that all unbelievers in reality treat and believe in God just like they sing about and speak of Santa Claus whether they realize it or are willing to admit it. With respect to receiving God's mercy, unbelievers approach Him as they would Santa Claus. Santa Claus only gives gifts to those who have been good for goodness sake. If you are bad he will give you coal and switches. If we have a God like that, then we are beyond hope. Why? Because we are all sinners and we sin every single day - we can't tell God we have been good for we are not. And if God is like Santa Claus, then we will never receive any good gifts from Him with respect to salvation from His holy wrath. That is not good news.
But Christian believers can have true hope and truly celebrate Christmas. They know they are sinners and deserve the wrath of a Holy and Righteous God who gives the greatest gift to those who are wretched to the core of their being. That is what Christmas is - God sent a substitute who would live a perfect life and die in place of all those who would put their trust in Him. Jesus came to save His people from their sins. He did not come to give salvation to the well, but to those who are sick. That is good news.
Each year I enjoy to watching the many versions of Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. Deep down I hope that Scrooge was truly converted, but most adaptations of this story present his change and hope as rooted in his own ability. If he would change his ways, then his future would be different. The Bible is clear that we really can't change ourselves. Our hope is only in the God who can regenerate our hearts to see the reality of our need and then effectually bring us to Himself in faith and repentance.
So while unbelievers will continue to "celebrate" Christmas each year, it is mere sentimentality and illegitimate. Their hearts are apart from the reason and purpose for Christmas. They are still selfish and seeking to gain a salvation by their own merits and goodness so that the Santa Claus god will give them good things based on their performance. Thank God - Christians have a God who in Christmas gave us our only hope - the God-Man - as our substitute. Our hope is not in our righteousness, but the righteousness and atonement of Jesus Christ alone. There is indeed no hope without it.