Tonight we are on the precipice of another Christmas. We have planned, purchased, hoped, and decorated for weeks waiting for the big day. Yet, the sad reality is that in another week some of us will have taken down decorations and will be making plans for a New Year’s Celebration of some sort. Christmas will be in the rearview mirror. The focus will turn to football playoffs, credit card bills, winter storms, and a host of plans for the New Year.
So, before it is too late I want to stop and see if we can catch a glimpse of the true blessing and wonder of Christmas. To do this, I want to zero in on two verses. The first is from John 1:14. John was a disciple of Jesus and he wrote this:
So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. (John 1:14)
The second text is from the second letter that Peter, another disciple of Jesus wrote:
16 For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes 17 when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” 18 We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:16)
John said, “We have seen his glory”. Peter said, “We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes.” We can’t see the majestic splendor of Christ in the same way as Peter and John but here’s the question I pose for you tonight: How can we make sure we witness the majesty of Christ this Christmas? I believe we need to remember three things if we are going to witness His majesty.
Christmas is About Real Events
Someone new to Christianity was watching a rehearsal of the Sunday School Christmas program and they asked a genuine question: “Where do the elves fit in to this story?” They were shocked to find out that elves are not part of the Christmas story.
Almost all of our favorite Holiday movies spotlight Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman, the Little Drummer Boy, Elves (or Elf), White Christmas, as do a large variety of family gatherings. Children, out of a desire to be inclusive are told about winter celebrations of various faiths to the point where it is all just a jumble of words and ideas.
Christmas is actually a celebration of something real. It recalls a historical event.
Peter and John were not present in Bethlehem. They may not even have been born yet. However, they did know Jesus. They worked with Him, ate with Him, listened to Him, and were forever changed by Him.
This One who is God in flesh lived among us. He felt our pain. He knew our sorrow. He felt a rejection more profound than we can imagine. He willingly chose to surrender His life so He could take the punishment that we deserved so we could receive the forgiveness, new beginning, and restored relationship with God that was impossible for us to obtain apart from Him.
We have not understood what Christmas is about unless we see it in the historical context of the life, teaching, miracles, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. He was a REAL person who showed us by these events the way to know and be embraced by God. A true celebration of Christmas is a recognition that something more “real” than we have ever known happened many years ago that alters and impacts our lives even today.
Knowing the Facts is Not the Same as Beholding His Majesty
Author Max Lucado writes,
Few are the people who don’t suffer from some form of blindness. Amazing, isn’t it? We can live next to something for a lifetime, but unless we take time to focus on it, it doesn’t become a part of our life. Unless we somehow have our blindness lifted, our world is but a black cave.
Think about it. Just because one has witnessed a thousand rainbows doesn’t mean he’s seen the grandeur of one. One can live near a garden and fail to focus on the splendor of the flower. A man can spend a lifetime with a woman and never pause to look into her soul.
And a person can be all that goodness calls him to be and still never see the Author of life.
Being honest or moral or even religious doesn’t necessarily mean we will see him. No. We may see what others see in him. Or we may hear what some say he said. But until we see him for ourselves, until our own sight is given, we may think we see him, having in reality seen only a hazy form in the gray semidarkness.
Have you seen him?
This is the question of Christmas: Have you seen Him? Do you recognize Him as the Lord and Master over all Creation? Do you see Him as the finest expression of love that has ever been give? Are you touched in the depth of your soul by the gracious invitation to relationship that has been extended to us?
In 2012 our family took a trip to the Rocky Mountain National Park and visited the Badlands in South Dakota. I found myself overwhelmed with the beauty and staggered by the sights that I saw. I saw a glimpse of the majesty of God’s Creation and yet even as I stood there I found myself rushing to “do” Rocky Mountain National Park. It was something to “see and experience” and in my rush to “see it” I failed to really SEE it. I’m not sure I truly saw its majesty.
How much more wonderful would the park be if you could spend days hiking, observing the animals, the flowers, the waterfalls, the rock formations. How much more majestic if you could observe the sights at dawn, at dusk, in spring, fall, and winter? Jesus is more wonderful still.
Think about the wonder of the birth of your child. Think of the hours you spent just looking at them with wonder. You observed their features and tried to memorize everything you saw. You savored every sound and learned to distinguish between cries of frustration and cries of pain. You were stunned by the reality that you somehow had a part in this little person of such incredible worth.
In order to truly see majesty we have to pause and pay attention. In the case of Jesus we must listen to the eyewitness testimony about Him and ponder the deep truths Jesus spoke as well as the promises He made. We must learn to distinguish His voice from the noise of the world around us. We must study Him so we can understand His heart. We can’t fully behold His majesty in an hour of worship. We may catch a glimpse but it will only be a glimpse and like most glimpses, like my visit to the mountains, as soon as you turn away, what you saw will begin to fade.
Our challenge this Christmas is to SEE. To do this we must shut out the noise around us; we must stop the relentless activity; we must intentionally focus on Him. We cannot see Him in a hurry. We will not grasp His majesty by reading a verse from the Bible now and again. We will not truly grasp His greatness by just reciting perfunctory prayers before our meal. If we want to see His majesty we must look closely.
I encourage you to take some time to slowly and reflectively read the Christmas story from the Bible. Find a quiet place and reflect on the question: “What does all of this really mean? What is the big deal?” If you aren’t sure of your faith, ponder this question: “What if it really is true? What if Jesus really was and is God in human form and has come to rescue us?” If you dare, ask God to open your eyes to the wonder, the majesty, the power, the joy, the peace, and the new dimension of life that can be found in truly seeing Jesus.
Peter has one more thing to say to us this Christmas:
If We See His Majesty We Will Be Moved to Service and Worship
19 Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts.. (2 Peter 1:19)
Unless you are completely a lost cause, as soon as your new baby was put into your arms something happened to you. It was like a door opened and waves of love exploded into your heart. All of a sudden you found that you were willing to endure anything to protect that child. The orientation of your life changed; your priorities were re-ordered.
Once you have truly seen and experienced deeply the more majestic sights of creation, your definition of beauty changes. It is deeper and more expansive. You begin to look at things with new eyes and even a new heart.
So it is when you see the glory and majesty of Christ. It changes you.
- It changes your view of yourself. You see that you are truly and deeply loved by God.
- It changes how you define good and evil. Good no longer is that which makes you feel good in the moment. Good now becomes that which draws you closer to the One who loves you and has given His life for you. Evil is no longer that which hinders you from what you want; evil is now seen as that which hinders your relationship with God.
- It changes the way you worship. No longer is worship about “doing things God tells us we should do” (like homework); worship instead becomes an expression of love, gratitude and devotion to the God who has loved us and transformed us.
- It changes your focus in life. Before you may have seen life as “living in the moment” because life is short and the only goal of life is to savor the journey. But now you understand that life is eternal and what we do now will have an impact forever. It is a journey that prepares us for the home that God is preparing for us.
- It changes our point of authority. Instead of drawing our values from the world around us, we turn to God’s Word. We remember that those who saw and celebrated Jesus were empowered by Him to write down His message. We understand that the Bible is not just the opinions of men, it is the Word of God delivered through men. The Bible becomes the reference point from which we weigh everything else in life.
- And it changes the way you celebrate Christmas. Instead of this just being a wonderful celebration of family and an opportunity to express love in tangible ways, Christmas becomes a check point for our lives. It stands as a yearly reminder of the deep love of God in sending a Savior to us. It gives us an opportunity to re-orient our lives and regain perspective on the trials as well as the blessings of life.
This is the real beauty and value of Christmas. This yearly celebration (like Easter) reminds us to stop the running. It calls to us reflect, to worship, and to see truth made clear in the manger in Bethlehem. It also calls us to see not just a baby but also a cross, and an empty tomb. It calls us to ponder the reality of forgiveness and eternal life. Christmas reminds us of what it means to truly be alive.
Max Lucado again reflects on the manger,
This baby had overlooked the universe. These rags keeping him warm were the robes of eternity. His golden throne room had been abandoned in favor of a dirty sheep pen. And worshiping angels had been replaced with kind but bewildered shepherds.
Meanwhile, the city hums. The merchants are unaware that God has visited their planet. The innkeeper would never believe that he had just sent God into the cold. And the people would scoff at anyone who told them the Messiah lay in the arms of a teenager on the outskirts of their village. They were all too busy to consider the possibility.
Those who missed His Majesty’s arrival that night missed it not because of evil acts or malice; no, they missed it because they simply weren’t looking.
Little has changed in the last two thousand years, has it?
This Christmas you can be swallowed up by the mundane or you can stop, look, and listen to what God did for you and for me in Bethlehem. Tonight for just a moment please hear what Christmas announces. It is a message we desperately need to hear no matter where you find yourself tonight.
- Do you feel broken? He has come to mend your brokenness.
- Are you overwhelmed with your failures and inadequacies? He has come to bring you forgiveness and a new beginning.
- Is life chipping away at your health and vitality? Jesus has come to remind us that this life is not all there is. He came to show us that God is indeed preparing a place for us and we need not fear the journey.
- Do you feel desperately alone? In this time when so many gather for parties and families assemble do you feel more alone than ever? Jesus has come to say that He sees you; He loves you; He is with you; He wants you to be part of His family not just this Christmas, but forever.
- Do you feel blessed with material things yet lack satisfaction and any real sense of fulfillment and joy? Friend, the reason you feel empty is because God has created a hole in your soul that only He can fill. Until you connect with Him through Christ, you will never feel whole.
If you have never done so, please consider doing something bold and life-changing tonight. Look at Jesus. See in the story of Bethlehem a moment in history that was meant to change your life. Instead of taking a quick glance at the manger and moving on, stop and ponder not only the message of Christmas, but also the invitation of Christmas.
The Bible tells us that “to all who receive Him, He gives the power to become children of God.” The Bible says if we will “open the door” of our hearts and lives to Him; if we will embrace Him as our Savior and follow Him (in His strength) as our Master and King, we will be made new. The hole in our lives will begin to be filled and our lives will move in a new direction; a better direction.
So stop and take a good look. Don’t hurry. SEE Jesus. Hear the words, listen to His message. Respond to His love. If you are ready to do this tonight you might pray a prayer something like this:
Lord Jesus, I bow before you tonight. For the first time in my life I SEE you. I may not see you clearly or fully, but I do see you and I want to see you better. I understand that Christmas IS about a special gift: a gift that you have given to me. It is the gift of forgiveness, new life, and a brand new start. Thank you for coming into our world. Thank you for dying in my place. Thank you for your offer to remake me into the person you created me to be. I accept your invitation. I humbly receive the gift of your grace. And I do all this in Jesus’ name. Amen
If you prayed that prayer then for the first time you have caught a glimpse the majesty of Christ. Christmas will be richer for you this year than it ever has before.
And if you are one who came to Christ a long time ago I hope that as you sit here tonight you will remember when you first met Him. I pray that God would fill you with that sense of wonder once again that stops you in your tracks, brings a lump to your throat, and reminds you that life is wonderful because HE is full of wonder and grace.
When the celebration has passed may God help us to be able to tell others that we too have “seen His majesty.”