Christmas 2002 (Noon Message)
Let us pray.
Lord, nothing in my hands I bring. Simply to Thy cross I cling. Amen.
No one loves Christmas more than I do. And yet, I feel constrained to remind us today that the word Christmas never once appears in the Bible. Nowhere in all of the pages of Scripture is there any encouragement toward the celebration of Christmas. There is no evidence in the Bible or anywhere else, for that matter, that the early Christians annually observed the birth of their Savior. They did not even seem to be much concerned about the date of that birth because nowhere is it mentioned. Only 2 of the 27 books of the New Testament make any reference at all to the actual birth of Jesus. Apart from that, there is silence.
Nobody loves Christmas more than I do. And yet, nowhere in the Bible do you find an encouragement of the celebration of Christmas. However, I do think it is important for us to understand that what the Bible does concentrate upon – and it concentrates upon it with great intensity – is not that Jesus was born, but the reason why Jesus was born and what that birth means to us and to the world. The New Testament is full of encouragement of that kind of thinking. Why was Jesus born, and what was His birth to come to mean to us and to the world? I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this or not.
Birth in and of itself can actually be a mixed blessing. Birth sometimes, in fact, in our world, many times can leave a bitter legacy. Some babies, for example, are born into vicious cycles of poverty from which there seems to be no escape. Some babies are born with black skin in the midst of white societies, and thus may well be condemned to experience the sting of prejudice for all of their lives. Some babies are born into such affluence that they are hopelessly spoiled by the indolent rich without any realization of the cost of such coddling. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that birth – which on its face we think of as being filled with gift and promise – may also, however, be filled with threat and curse. Some people never get over the way they were born. Others spend a lifetime trying to overcome the way they were born.
Does this mean then that Christmas is the celebration of a unique birth, a birth like no other, that this Jesus was the ideal infant, with a sweet little halo around His head, and that that birth was like no other birth? Of course not. That is not the point of Christmas at all. To be sure, incredible though it may seem, the birth of Jesus was in fact God coming into human flesh. Underscore human flesh. That means that the birth of Jesus was like every other birth. Oh, the conception of Jesus was different. Make no mistake about that. Jesus was conceived in a virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit. The conception was different, but the birth, the birth of Jesus Christ was just the same as every other birth.
That’s why John in his gospel says quite pointedly, “The Word became flesh.” Now, John goes on to remind us that as a matter of fact, because of the birth of Jesus, we can experience a spiritual birth which parallels the experience of Jesus’s physical birth. That is to say that just as God came to Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit, so God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, comes to us. He came to Mary giving Jesus His first birth into this life. He comes to us in the Holy Spirit, giving us our second birth in this life. That’s what John meant when he wrote, “We are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” He is speaking there of our second birth. We are reborn, born again, some say. We are experiencing a second birth, which is designed to redeem us from the bitter sinful legacy of our first birth.
It’s so important for us to understand why Jesus came. He came, as the carol puts it, to give us second birth. And how important that is for all of us. You see, we cannot erase, no matter how we may wish it, the poverty in which some people live in this world. And yet in Christ, we all, all may enjoy the spiritual riches of being heirs of God through Jesus Christ. We cannot eradicate, try as we might, the racial prejudice which exists on this planet, but in Christ, we all, we all can be part of a great loving family of faith; a family, where we are made one in Christ Jesus, without regard to culture or color or country.
We cannot remove, in spite of our noblest intentions, the aberrations of life which sometimes deform the body or deform the mind. But in Christ, we all have hope of a house not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens, where the Bible says, “We shall all dwell safe, whole, happy, and complete.” That’s the gift of the second birth. And even those who are favored by their first birth in this life can have the gift of that second birth. And it is the opportunity of our rebirth which may renew jaded marriages, transform tedious jobs, rekindle sagging spirits, and redirect gone-wrong lives into God’s will and God’s way. That, quite simply, is the peace the Christ Child brings. What is so important at Christmas is not that Jesus came, but why He came.
I carry around in my heart – I would encourage you to do the same – I carry around in my heart always a lovely little legend about Jesus as a young boy in Nazareth. And according to the legend, Jesus cultivated a small garden. The garden was filled with roses, and when the roses would bloom, Jesus would take the rose blossoms and plait them into garlands and use them to adorn the hair. According to the legend, one day, Jesus asked some other children in Nazareth to come and play in the garden and to share the garlands. The other children, however, very quickly tore the blooms from the stems and soon left the gardens stripped and bare. Mockingly, they cried to Jesus, “And how will You make Your garlands now?” And Jesus replied, “You left the thorns.”
He came to wear a crown, not a crown of gold, but a crown of thorns. He came to die for you and for me. As one of our Christmas cards put it this year, He paid a debt He did not owe because we owed a debt we could not pay. He bore our sin. He purchased our salvation. He destroyed the power of death and evil. He gave to us the gift of eternal life. That is why He came: to give us second birth. And so at Christmas, we celebrate, yes, the coming of God through Jesus Christ into the world. Yes, we celebrate the birth of Jesus in the stable in the little town of Bethlehem. But we also celebrate our own rebirth, our coming to God, and claiming His promise of Heaven.
There’s a wonderful old hymn that says it so beautifully. “I know not how that Bethlehem’s Babe could in the Godhead be. I only know that Matchless Child has brought God’s love to me. I know not how that Calvary’s Cross a world from sin could free. I only know its matchless grace has brought God’s love to me.” My beloved people, I plead with you to take the Christ Child into your heart and into your life this Christmas. For if you do, then you will discover that at Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ into the world, yes, but also our rebirth into the Kingdom of Heaven. And if you do that, this Christmas will be the best Christmas of them all.
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory. Amen. Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, may the peace of the Christ Child come to us this Christmas so that no matter what our circumstances in life may be, we shall know beyond any shadow of a doubt that we belong to You, that we are Yours, and that we shall be Yours forever. Amen.