Christmas 101

Jesus, Love

It has been a trying year. We have suffered through what seems like an incredible number of losses and everywhere I turn people are hurting. And as I thought and prayed about this I wondered what this Christmas message should be. I felt somehow I needed to speak to the real needs of our congregation. And as I studied and thought and prayed I sensed God saying, “Forget the fancy stuff . . . just proclaim the message.”

How profound, I thought. How easy it is to miss the magnificence of the story of Christmas. We know the facts.  We have heard about the Shepherds, the Magi, Mary and Joseph. And because we “know” the story it is easy to miss it. We move on to other things.  There was a sense in which in the midst of trying times I was missing the message too.  You see, in difficult times as well as in good times,  this is precisely the message we need to hear . . . it is our basis of hope, it is our source of strength, it is our reason for joy.

So, let’s take a step back.  Let’s look at the story with fresh eyes and address the basic questions once more.   If you were hearing the Christmas story for the very first time you would ask three important questions:

  • Who was this man Jesus . . . what makes His birth so significant?
  • What was the purpose of His coming?
  • What difference does this make in my life?

What is the Big Deal about Jesus?

I know this may seem like a stupid question. But in reality it is the most basic question. Was Jesus just another man or was He someone unique? Was Jesus, as some say, A Son of God or was He one-of-a-kind? The prevailing notion among world religions . . . and even those who call themselves Christians, is that Jesus was a great man . . . even the greatest who ever lived. But he was just a man.

Some tell us that Jesus is man at his best. He is the standard. He is what we should all be striving to be.  But the Bible affirms that the birth of Jesus was unique from the birth of Lincoln, Washington and others. His birth was not just significant because of who He turned out to be . . . it was significant because of what was taking place in Bethlehem.

At the beginning of His biography of Jesus, the apostle John writes,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (John 1:1-5)

If you are like me, these words are lyrical and nice but they don’t affect me because they are too mystical and philosophical for me. In other words, I don’t know what John is talking about. At least, not until he gets down to verse 14. There he writes, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”.

What John tells us is this . . . the “Word” he talked about at the beginning of his book is Jesus. The “Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This is an incredible verse. It’s incredible because of what he told us in those opening words. Let me read them again, substituting “Jesus” for “Word”.

In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God. Jesus was with God in the beginning. Through Jesus all things were made; without Jesus nothing was made that has been made. In Jesus was life, and that life was the light of men. The light of Jesus shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (John 1:1-5)

Do you hear what John is saying?  He says:

  • Christ was preexistent . . . He was there when time began
  • Jesus was and is God!
  • He was the agent of creation . . . He was the Creator
  • He is the source of life

Last week I received a note from someone I don’t know on the Internet. They said they had been reading some of my sermons available there and from what they were reading they concluded that I was implying that Jesus was God rather than just a “son of God”. I know that most people think that Jesus was the son of God in the same sense as we are “sons of God”. So, I wrote back and apologized. I said that I hadn’t meant to imply any such thing . . . I intended to state it unequivocally!

In some mind-boggling way, God took human habitation. He was fully human (in that He experienced the hurts, temptations, struggles that we face). But He was also fully God. He was not ALL of God. There was still part of God that was ruling the world . . . and that part of God is called the Father. But He was really and truly God in a human body.

The idea of God becoming man sounds crazy.  But look at the evidence.

  • He claimed to be God (He claimed divine authority, He claimed divine power, He even applied divine names “I Am” and “Son of Man” to himself.)
  • He lived a life that was free from skeletons and mistakes. When it came time to arrest Him (not for a crime but because He was getting too popular) they couldn’t find anything (nothing!) valid to charge Him with.
  • He was born to a woman who had never been with a man.
  • His birth was celebrated and announced by angels
  • He taught with a wisdom and authority that is unmatched by any other individual
  • He performed miracles that changed people, circumstances, and even the weather
  • He fulfilled prophecies uttered hundreds of years before His birth
  • He transformed the lives of everyone who came in contact with Him
  • He rose from the dead (the most compelling evidence of all) after His death on trumped up charges.

Jesus was either God or the greatest con artist of them all.  There are no other options. Jesus was God in human form!

But, this leads us to our second question . . . if He was God why would He bother with us since we are barely specks in comparison to the giant universe we live in?

Why Would God Come to Earth?

You may be able to answer this yourself. The most famous verse of the Bible is John 3:16 when Jesus says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever would believe in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.” Jesus came to earth in order to make it possible for you and I to live forever in God’s presence. In fact, in the letter John wrote he said virtually the same thing in chapter 4 verse 9:

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

To Declare His Love to Us

God became man so that He could communicate His love to us. Most people (who aren’t wrapped up in themselves) feel they have disappointed God. They say is: “I sure hope God grades on a curve.” They know they have made mistakes.

  • They have lied
  • They have done things they knew were wrong
  • They have hurt people by what they have done and what they have said, and what they should have done and didn’t.
  • They have had times when they knew God wanted them to do something and they delayed until it was too late.
  • They have hated when they were supposed to love.
  • They have panicked when they should have trusted.
  • They have rationalized their sin and have sought to replace God’s standards with their preferences
  • They have enjoyed the sinful and the sordid

Consequently we feel God could not possibly really love us.  But Jesus came to earth to tell us in person that God does love us. Notice verse 10 in the 1 John passage: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

God didn’t declare His love because we were deserving. He did it because He was loving. We make a mistake in our preaching and teaching much of the time. We tell people that God loves them as they are, and then we give them a list of things they have to do in order to receive (deserve) that love.

  • they must walk an aisle
  • they must be baptized
  • they must make the right choice
  • they have to live faithfully

All these things are responses to love . . . not pre-requisites to love.  God loves us not because of who we are . . . but because of who He is.

I don’t know where the story came from, but it’s a good one.

Karen was expecting another child and so she worked to prepare little 3 year old Michael for the birth of his baby sister. Every night Michael sang to his sister in Mommy’s tummy.During the delivery of the baby serious complications developed. After many hours of struggle, Michael’s little sister was born. But she was in very serious condition. She was rushed to a neonatal intensive care unit in another hospital in Knoxville Tennessee.Instead of getting better, the little girl continued to decline. The pediatric specialist told Karen and her husband that “There is very little hope. Be prepared for the worst.” The parents contacted a local cemetery about a burial plot.

Meanwhile Michael continued to beg his parents to let him see his sister. “I want to sing to her,” he said. But kids were never allowed in intensive care.

The second week of his sister’s intensive care stay, Michael’s sister looked like she wouldn’t make it through the week. So, Karen made up her mind that she would take Michael to see his sister whether the hospital liked it or not. If Michael didn’t see her right away . . . he might never get to see her at all.

She dressed him in an oversized scrub suit and marched him into ICU. The head nursed demanded that leave. The mother instinct rose up strong in Karen, and she looked at the head nurse with steel-eyed determination: “He’s not leaving until he sings to his sister.” She took Michael to his sister’s bedside. After a few moments of looking at his sister all connected to tubes three year old Michael began to sing.

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray —“

And instantly the baby seemed to respond. Her pulse slowed and became steady. “Keep singing, Michael” said Karen.

“You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.”

The strained breathing of his sister became as smooth as a kitten’s purr. “Keep on sing, Sweetheart!” coaxed Karen. The head nurse now stood transfixed with tears in her eyes.

He sand the chorus again and again. And the next day — the very next day — Michael’s little sister was well enough to go home. Women’s Day magazine called it “The Miracle of the Brother’s Song”. The medical staff just called it a miracle. Karen called it a miracle of God’s love.

Jesus came as God’s love song to you. Christmas is God saying, “You matter to me.” Jesus came to tell us that “we are His sunshine.”

He came to demonstrate His love

God became man not only to declare His love . . . but also to demonstrate it.  In each of the verses we looked at earlier there was another part of the verse. John 3 talks about God “giving” His Son. In 1 John we read about Christ making “an atoning sacrifice” for sin.

Jesus came to demonstrate His love by dying in our place. The cross and the cradle go hand in hand. He was born so He could die. God’s standards are unflinching. Wrong is dealt with. Sin is punished. The truth is, our account was so in debt that we were morally and spiritually bankrupt. We deserved Hell. And most of us know it.

What Jesus did was pay our debt. He took our place. On the cross He paid the price for

  • our wrong behavior
  • our stubborn rebellion
  • our past foolishness
  • our hidden hurts
  • our most shameful memories

Christ came to set us free from the past so we could walk with Him. Christmas is significant because it shows us the depth of God’s love and it points us to the reason we can have hope for the future.

So What? What are We to DO with this Information?

So, God became man to tell us that He loves us and wants to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. So, now what? What is the next step?

Entrust Our Lives to Him

You might remember the account in Acts chapter 16. Paul was in jail and suddenly an earthquake shook the prison and the doors all opened. The guard on duty was sure that Paul had escaped . . . and that his life was going to be taken in exchange for the escaped prisoners. When he saw that Paul and his group were still there, he was overcome by grace and convicted by his own sense of need. He said to Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul’s response was simple and to the point: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

We see something very similar in that first chapter of John. In verse 12 we are told,

to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The same word is used in both places. We are told that we are to believe. But that word believe can mean different things. Alister McGrath uses an analogy which may be helpful in understanding what it means to receive and believe.

Suppose you had a bottle of penicillin on your bedside and you are suffering from a deadly infection in your blood.  What are my options?

A. I may accept that this bottle of penicillin exists. B. I may trust that it is capable of curing my illness, which otherwise will probably kill me. But I shall never cure my blood poisoning, unless– C. I act upon that trust and take the penicillin. I may accept that the bottle exists, and I may trust in its ability to cure infections– but unless I take the drug which it contains, I have not benefited from my faith in it. I shall die, accepting and trusting, but having failed to benefit at all from the resource which could have saved me. [As quoted in WHAT ANGELS WISH THEY KNEW by Allistair Begg p. 169]

You see it is one thing to say that God became man so that we could be forgiven and live forever as His children.  It’s another thing to believe it. But it is still another to act on it. God calls us to act on it. It involves admitting our need, believing He meets that need and then trusting Him with our lives.

  • This means we stop trying to earn salvation and begin living as a child of God
  • it means we stop following our own way and start walking in His
  • it means we let go of the past and focus on the present and future

If you understand what Christmas is about then you are faced with a decision. Will you take what God offers or will you simply discuss the offer? Will you receive His forgiveness or just think about it? Will you respond to His love or will you put it off “for another day?” These are the questions Jesus provokes. These are the questions of Christmas.

So where are you in this journey?

  • Do you wish you could escape the weight of your past?
  • Do you wish you could find some reason for hope for life beyond tragedy?
  • Do you wish you could believe that God wasn’t “mad” at you and really loves you?

The message of Christmas is the message you need to hear. God became man to declare His love, to pay your debt, to set you free. All you have to do is take His hand and follow His lead. Have you done that? Have you responded to that great Christmas gift? If not, why? What are you waiting for? Who are you doubting? Why do you linger?

Tonight listen. Here his voice singing, “You are my sunshine” and then run to His open arms. Leave the past behind and discover true life.

Love One Another

There is one more response that God wants from us. He wants us to rest in Him . . . but he also wants us to love each other. (1 John 4:11)

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:9-4:12)

I know these can be trite words but I hope they aren’t tonight. It is true that what the world needs now is “love sweet love” but it is also true that you cannot love until you have been loved. When we receive Christ we also experience love for perhaps the first time in our lives.  When we have experienced God’s love it is our turn to share that love with others. Christmas is a great time to do just that. This Christmas I encourage you to show love to each other,

  • give a hug to the one who is hurting
  • invite an estranged family member or friend to Christmas dinner
  • give sacrificially to help someone else
  • take time to tell your children and your spouse how much they really mean to you.
  • make it a point to express appreciation to those who serve you (in the restaurant, at the gas station, at the post office, the grocery store, the flower shop, the beauty parlor and so on down the line.)
  • show kindness to someone you don’t know by holding a door open, picking up something they dropped, letting them go before you in line.
  • make time to listen to someone who hurts

Christmas is our chance to tell others and to show others the love of Jesus.

CONCLUSIONS

So, do you see why this is such a significant celebration. Do you see why this is the message you need to hear? Christmas reminds us that we are not alone. God notices you, and your struggle . . . and He loves you. Sometimes the burdens of life seem more than we can carry . . . but we do not have to carry the burden alone. Christmas reminds us that there is a reason for hope. Sometimes what happens here is hard and painful. . . .but this is not all there is. . . Jesus points us to a life beyond the horizon, to joy after the sorrow, to comfort in the midst of pain.

So Christmas is not about gifts, programs or family gatherings. Those things are part of the celebration but not the reason for the celebration. The reason for the celebration is Jesus . . . God become man to tell us that there is a reason to celebrate . . . . even when life is hard.

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Scripture:

John 1:1-14