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Christmas – A Time To Keep

Matthew 1:18-25

There is something truly beautiful and inspiring about our annual observance of Christmas. Even those who make no profession of faith or practice of religion get caught up in its joyous mood and are made to feel, at least temporarily, the values of the spiritual life and the claims of God upon us. But the celebration of the Savior’s birth can be for the more thoughtful, a deeply moving and shaping experience in their lives. For if one is just for a while to sit and meditate upon the true meaning of Christmas, one is bound to be struck by the challenges that Christmas presents to our familiar way of life, our traditional point of view, our accustomed ideas. Christmas, if taken seriously, can be both an inspiration and a challenge, both a delight and a discipline. That’s why I believe Christmas is a time to keep.

In the first place, Christmas challenges our popular conception of power.

In King Herod and Bethlehem’s Babe, there are symbolized two kinds of power which are continually at work in our world. One is the physical power of brute force; the other is the spiritual power of gentle love. One is fearful and domineering, the other is winsome and persuasive. One is boisterous, the other is quiet. The story of Bethlehem is the story of power—not the power of force but the power of love—not a power that blasts and kills and destroys but a power that blesses and redeems and heals. It is the story of a power that wins its way rather than forces its will. The story began in the apparent weakness of a stable birth and ended in the apparent weakness of Calvary’s cross, but to millions upon millions of people, it is the power of God unto salvation.

Here is the point. Only a victory forged in love can long endure in this world. Read your history books and you will find that to be true. The empires of Alexander and Caesar and Charlemagne and Napoleon and Hitler—empires built upon force—where are they? They are dust and ashes. Only the kingdom of Jesus Christ, built on love, grows greater with the centuries. Someone has written: “With pierced hands and quiet words, Jesus lifted empires off their hinges and turned the stream of the centuries out of its channel and He governs the ages still.” That is the message of Christmas—a time to keep.

And then Christmas challenges our traditional idea of greatness.

No one who played a part in the drama of the First Christmas could be called great. Joseph and Mary were anything but great. They were ordinary obscure people without social or economic prestige. They were not prominent even in their own community. All that we could say of them is that they loved God and lived good lives and tried to do an honest day’s work in the carpenter shop and at home. Yet we dare not forget that the Savior of the world was Mary and Joseph’s Son.

And the shepherds were not great as the world counts greatness. They were anything but that. No one who really mattered in those days took any special notice of those simple nomads out on Judean hillsides. In fact, their occupation was even held in contempt by the religious leaders of that day. Yet we dare not forget that the first announcement of the Lord’s birth came to “certain poor shepherds.”

Even Jesus was not great as we count greatness. He was not born of nobility or royalty. He had no social standing and little formal education. As someone has noted, “He never wrote a book, He never held an office, He never owned a home, He never went to college, He never traveled more than 200 miles from the place of His birth, He never did any of the things which usually accompany greatness.” Yet we dare not forget that in the considered judgment of many people, Jesus is the most dominant figure in all of history and in just a few minutes from now, the whole world will stop for 24 hours in honor of His birth. That is the message of Christmas—a time to keep.

And finally, Christmas challenges our conventional standard of success.

Nothing connected with the story of Jesus’ birth or life or death speaks of success as we understand that word. Jesus was born of the peasant class. The home He grew up in was a religious home, but it possessed only the barest of necessities. Even as a grown man, Jesus was first a carpenter, then just an itinerant preacher. To the people of Israel looking for an earthly Savior bringing peace and prosperity to all, Jesus was a failure. Of course, that is why there came a day when those people screamed for His death. And needless to say, Jesus does not fit with our modern definitions of success any better.

Yet the Bible tells us that God was well pleased with Jesus and that is all that matters. Our Lord had nothing much in His purse, but He had fabulous riches in His person. So in God’s eyes, He was truly successful. But then what constitutes success anyway? Does it lie in what one has or in what one is? Does a person’s worth rest in what that person accumulates or in what that person gives away? I think we know the answer. God is found not in all the glitter and getting of Christmas, but in the giving of one’s self to Christ and to others.

Fulton Ourslen tells a wonderful story of a man named Pete Richards. He owned an antique jewelry shop. He was about thirty years old, but his hair had already turned gray because he had known great suffering in his life. The beautiful girl he was in love with and intended to marry—she had blond hair and blue eyes—was killed in a tragic automobile accident. Pete Richards was inconsolable, but he managed somehow to keep living his life. There was no joy in it for him, just unending routine. Then one night during the Christmas season, he looked up from the counter in his store. A little blond girl with blue eyes had walked into the store and was looking at the display case. He said to her: “May I help you?” She replied: “I would like to buy that blue necklace for my older sister. Our mother died three months ago, and this is our first Christmas without her. My sister has been so good to me that I want to buy that necklace for her.” Pete Richards asked: “Do you know how much this costs? Do you have any money?” She took out a little purse, unzipped it, and poured out a bunch of coins on the counter. Pete thought to himself: “How can I tell her how much this necklace costs?” Then he looked at that blond hair and those blue eyes. He suddenly picked up the necklace, took it to the back and wrapped it. He then handed it to her and said: “There you are. Don’t lose it on your way home.” Then he smiled for the first time in years.

The day after Christmas, a young woman came to Pete Richards’s store. Without speaking she drew a small scarlet package from her purse and then she asked: “Did this string of blue beads come from your shop?” He said: “Yes it did.” “Are these stones real?” she asked. “Yes they are.” The young woman said: “Do you remember to whom you sold them?” Pete replied: “Yes, to a little girl with blond hair and blue eyes. She bought them for her older sister for Christmas.” The young woman then asked: “How much are they worth?” “The price,” Pete said, “is always a confidential matter between the seller and the customer.” The young woman persisted: “That little girl was my sister and all she had was a handful of coins.” Pete handed the package back to the young woman and said: “She paid the highest price anyone can pay. She gave all she had.”

That’s the message of Christmas—that Jesus Christ paid for us the highest price anyone can ever pay—He gave His all for us, and in response, He asks us to give our lives to Him. So Christmas is not only a time to keep—it’s a time to give—a time to give ourselves in love to each other and a time to give ourselves in love to Jesus Christ.

I wish you and yours a blessed Christmas.

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