Saturday, December 1, 2007

Would somebody please tell me what Christmas is all about?

The following is a talk that Mindy gave earlier today to a gathering from our church. I thought it was great and I want to share it with you all:

Many, if not all of you have seen, “Merry Christmas Charlie Brown” on TV at some point in your life. I watched it growing up and I’m enjoying it again as a parent (although I’m a little more alarmed at all of the name-calling that goes on throughout the show!) But if you’ve seen it, you’ll remember that amidst all of the Christmas festivities and cheer, Charlie Brown is depressed. Why is he so down?

He just doesn’t understand what Christmas is all about; he is annoyed by all of the commercialism and focus on presents. He senses that there is a deeper meaning to it all, but it is grossly overshadowed and trivialized by all of the modern practices.

We can relate to this, can’t we? It seems as though “Christmas” begins earlier and earlier each year, and the madness persists and bombards us from Black Friday until Christmas Day. And all of the excitement seems to be over who is getting what for Christmas, and the big celebration inevitably reaches its climax under the tree on Christmas morning. Then after all of the presents are opened, everyone feels the big let-down, emptiness and fatigue from all of the shopping, the office parties, school parties, gift wrapping, family gatherings, traveling, etc. Our culture is very effective in bombarding us with every distraction imaginable until we find ourselves grasping for the real reason why we celebrate this Day in the first place.

And so finally when Charlie Brown comes to the end of his rope, Linus, the young theologian, takes center stage and tells Charlie Brown and everyone listening what Christmas is all about:

“There were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, an angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shown round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:8-ff)

Now it warms our heart to hear Linus proclaim these verses of Scripture on national television year after year, but I fear the power and significance of the angel’s proclamation to the shepherds is lost on us because it may be overly familiar.

The angel is essentially saying, “Today in Bethlehem a baby has been born who is your Savior and Messiah…and by the way, this baby is also God Himself!”

God’s people had heard of and had been waiting LONG for the promised Messiah, the One who would save them. So it would have been incredibly exciting to hear that He had finally come! To hear that He came as a baby would have been perplexing, but to then hear that this baby, this Messiah, was God in the flesh, would have blown their minds. It should blow our minds, too.

So instead of glossing over this verse as a nice thing to write on Christmas cards, let’s unpack the punches that are found in this original proclamation of Christ’s arrival.

It should raise questions in our minds like, Why did he come in the first place? Why did he choose to come as a baby? Why did God send Himself, and not another?

The angel says that this baby born is our “Savior.” That, in and of itself, implies that we need saving or rescuing from something. What is it exactly that we need to be saved from? Sin.

When the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph, he tells him that “(Mary) will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

Now, in order to fully appreciate the wonder of Jesus’ birth, we must understand why He came. We cannot and will not grasp the beauty and glory of our salvation if we don’t understand our desperate need for it. We must first understand what we’ve been saved from.

No one can argue over the existence of sin. No one has to teach a child to be selfish or to throw a temper tantrum. My children may learn how to call each other “blockhead!” by watching Charlie Brown, but that’s only because the roots of sin are already in their hearts. If you search every nation, every people group, every economic class, every age, and every heart, you will find sin and its effects. If we as a people know nothing else, we know how to sin. J.C. Ryle once said that he knows of no greater proof of the Genesis account of man’s origin than the power, extent and universality of sin.

So while we may be fully aware of the existence of sin, I think it’s fair to say that we don’t have a clue as to how vile, heinous and offensive it is to God. Sin isn’t just about making bad choices or being a mean person. It has everything to do with offending our perfect, holy and loving Creator and Ruler.

Kris Lundgaard writes in his book, The Enemy Within,
“Few people have come to terms with the law of sin. If more people had, we would hear more complaints of it in prayers, see more struggling against it, and find less of its fruit in the world.” (p.23)

Just as skunks don’t realize how offensive their odor is to others, we are all too content to live amidst the stink of the very thing that separates us from God, who cannot have sin in His holy presence.

So why did Jesus have to come? Couldn’t you just ‘pull yourself up by our bootstraps’ and ‘become a better you’? Why not simply make sure our children get a better education than we did? Can’t we just work harder?

Left to ourselves, we don’t even want to do what pleases the Lord. Sure, we may want to be better people – but it’s usually with the goal of getting people to like us or respect us, getting into a good school, getting a better job, or simply feeling good about ourselves. Left to ourselves, all we think and care about is our self.

Ephesians 2:1 says that we are dead in our sins. We simply cannot save ourselves let alone approach God for salvation.

God knew this. And in His infinite mercy, He moved toward us. There wasn’t a single person in all of human history who could pay the debt we owe to God. So God sent Himself.

How did He do it? Humbly, as a baby. The infinite, eternal and invisible God took on human flesh.

He came down to earth from heaven who is God and Lord of all, and his shelter was a stable, and his cradle was a stall; with the poor and mean, and lowly, lived on earth our Savior holy.
(“Once in Royal David’s City”, C.F. Alexander, 1848)

This is hard to get our minds around. God, who is perfect, holy, righteous, wise, good, and pure…this same God whom we have so grievously offended, took on our flesh. He chose to become like one of us and live among us. He experienced all of the temptations and frailties of human flesh. And yet, He never gave into the temptations. He did not live for himself, as we do. He lived for the perfect will of His Father – God.

So why did He come as a baby? To fulfill every law that we break and obey every command that we ignore…and He did this perfectly from the moment of His birth. Jesus Christ earned God’s favor on our behalf.

But we know that’s not the end of the debt we owed. A price had to be paid – death; the penalty for our sins and offenses against God. Only a perfect person could sufficiently pay for debt that we owe.

How much does God hate sin? Look at the cross. Look at how much our sin cost Him.

How much does God love us? Look at the cross. Look at the manger.

We think of birthdays as a fun, party day on which we get to indulge ourselves with food and presents.

Jesus’ birthday was not a glorious day for Him. Think of how much God the Creator of the universe condescended to take on the flesh of His creatures, to suffer all of the ills of humanity, and then to die for the very people who rebelled against Him.

However, Jesus' birthday, the day that He took on human flesh was a glorious day for us.

God did for us, what we could not do for ourselves. The reason Jesus came in the flesh was to live for us and to die for us. Remember what the angel told the shepherds – “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!”

And the mystery of it all is that He didn’t have to do it. God does not need us. Think of how much easier things would be without us! The incarnation of Christ was an act of self-sacrificing, unconditional love.

So how should we celebrate Christmas? - worship. Remember that without Christmas day, we would still be dead in our sins and without hope in this world. But because of Christmas day…because God moved toward us by taking on human flesh, we have unshakable hope. Therefore, cling to the Savior, who is Christ the Lord! Bask in the love that God has for you in Christ!

How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure; that He would give His only Son, and call a wretch His treasure!
(“How Deep the Father’s love”, Stuart Townend, 1995)

“And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” Linus


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this, John. It was a wonderful read on a Sunday morning before church and during this busy holiday season.

On another note, we miss you guys and hope you're doing well!

Take care,
The Steelmans

Ethan said...

I wish I could have been there. Thanks for the opportunity to read it though.

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed the WIC Christmas Celebration - especially enjoyed this encouraging word from Mindy.

Anonymous said...

Great message, Mindy! Be sure to post the one you do for the kids at the apartment complex, too!