“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.”
— Philippians 3:1–2
This probably seems like a strange Bible passage to be used in an Advent devotional. It’s not exactly warm and fuzzy. Yet Paul’s words are at the very center of the message of Christmas.
Paul wanted the Philippian church to rejoice because Christmas was the beginning of God’s new covenant with his people. Jesus was coming to save them from their sins and they would have a personal relationship with him, and this would allow them to have eternal life in heaven. He also wanted them to “look out” for the people who were teaching a different message.
Paul knew that there were some leaders who still wanted the Gentile Christians to follow certain Jewish laws. Paul called those teachers “dogs and evildoers” because they were teaching something that wasn’t right.
Most people have a good feeling when you mention dogs, but not in Paul’s time. The dogs he speaks of were wild dogs usually traveling in packs, roaming the streets looking for food in the trash, and snapping and attacking the people who approached them. Paul didn’t want God’s perfect word to be changed by the opinions of man, so he said that people who changed the gospel were like these wild and dangerous dogs.
Jesus came to us born as a human so we could know God and have forgiveness for our sins. One day, if we accept Jesus, we can spend forever in heaven. We don’t receive this free gift because we deserve it or by doing anything. We simply accept the free gift.
Paul didn’t like different messages some people were trying to spread. He told the church in Philippi to stick with the “gospel truth.” The real message of Christmas is the truth for all of us: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Any other message is worthless.
By this time in the season, you have probably heard “other messages” about Christmas and the day that carries Jesus’ name. Our world likes to make Christmas about lots of things, some of which have nothing to do with Jesus, like celebrating Christmas as a holiday that’s just about Santa Claus and presents instead of celebrating Jesus’ birth.
Let’s remember: as Christians, we are celebrating Jesus’ birth. We may give gifts to each other as a part of that celebration, but we know we are celebrating the most important birth in the history in the world.
If you have not accepted Jesus’ free gift of eternal life, we pray you will do that right now.
No one knows the actual date of Jesus’ birth, although most believe it was sometime in the spring. That was the time of year when the lambs were born and the shepherds would have been “in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8). We may not know the exact date of Jesus’ birth, or some of the smaller historical details, but we do know the very best news of his birth: he came so we could be children of God. That’s the reason we celebrate Christmas.
Lord, may our Christmas message be the real truth: Jesus, our Savior, is born.