This Christmas Is Forever!
I read for you the Christmas story, according to John. From the first chapter of his gospel, the first fourteen verses. “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him. Without Him, was not anything made that was made. In Him, was life. And that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came for a testimony to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light but came to bear witness to the light. The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world and the world was made through Him, and yet the world knew Him not. He came to His own home. His own people received Him not. But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave the power to become the children of God, who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. We have beheld His glory, glory as of the only son of the Father.”
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.
Let us pray. Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, oh God, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
When William O’Dwyer was serving as the mayor of New York City, it was his responsibility on occasion to welcome visiting dignitaries to that city. On one particular occasion, he was welcoming two such dignitaries from South America. He asked the two men how long they would be in New York. The first man replied that he would be in New York about two weeks. “Ah, that’s good,” the mayor said. “You will probably see a lot.” The second man then stated that he would be in New York for a year. The mayor frowned and he said, “Well, you probably won’t see very much at all.” You see, the mayor was simply trying to make the point that familiarity tends to blunt our perceptions. And we need to remember that, especially at Christmastime. For we know the Christmas story so well that we may miss its real meaning. We are so familiar with every trifling detail of the story, that we may not see the real essence of the story.
But today, today, I want us to confront the real meaning of Christmas. Understand, please, I don’t want to argue about it. This is not the time or the place for an argument. This is the time and the place for an announcement. I do not wish to debate the manner. I simply wish to declare it. The real meaning of Christmas is not only the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, but the birth of Jesus in your heart and in mine. Come along with me now for just a few moments, as we draw together some implications from that statement.
First this: When Christ is born in our hearts, we come to know that the love of God is the most powerful thing in all the world.
Now, I know it seems rather absurd to be talking about love in a world like this, in a world where blood is being spilled in the Middle East, where terrorist’s bombs wreak havoc in the city of London, and where wars and rumors of wars rage in other parts of the planet. I know it seems absurd to speak of love in the midst of that rather obvious evil in the world. And it seems even more absurd to speak of love in the light of the fact that there is so much hidden evil in the world as well. I’m referring to that vice which still parades as a virtue. To those insinuations which have not yet become indictments. To that gossip which has not yet begun to crush and to burn. There is a lot of rather obvious evil in the world, and there’s even more hidden evil in the world. But let’s take the matter a step farther. Let’s talk about the evil that is in you and in me.
I came across a letter the other day, written by a little boy to Santa Claus. The letter read like this. “Dear Santa, There are three little boys in our house. Jeffrey is two, and he is good part of the time. Phillip is four, and he is good some of the time. Norman is six, and he is good all of the time. I am Norman.” Well, we’d all like to be able to write a letter like that, but we know we can’t. You know, it was said of Groucho Marx that one occasion, he was asked to join a very exclusive club, and he replied, “I would never join a club that would have a member like me.” Well, you see, we are all a part of the club. If we are honest with ourselves, if we shine the light down into the deepest corners of our hearts and of our lives, we know that we are going to find there those things of which we are frightfully ashamed.
And so in light in the evil that exists in our world, the evil that is quite obvious to all, the evil that is hidden, even the evil that is tucked away in the darkness of your life and of mine, in light of the evil in the world, we are moved to say, “What could possibly be more powerful than all of this world’s wrongness?” The answer: Love. The love of God in Jesus Christ.
John writes, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” When Kagawa, the great saint of Japan, was still a pagan, at one point he was stricken ill. He was in his room, alone, trying to recover. There came a knock at the door. He called out from his bed, “Don’t come in. I have a contagious disease.” The answer came immediately from the other side of the door. “I’m coming in anyway for I’m bringing to you the love of Jesus Christ, and that is far more contagious than any disease.” And do you know that single sentence changed Kagawa, and Kagawa ultimately changed Japan. And, my friends, the contagion of the love of Jesus Christ has moved out of Bethlehem and has spread throughout the world, and it is greater, more powerful, than all of the wrongness the world has ever known.
The Englishman Bertrand Russell was an atheist. And yet on one occasion, he was moved to say that what the world needs more than anything else is the love of Jesus Christ. Tragically, for him, he did not believe in the source, but he clearly saw the result. He understood what I’m trying to get you to understand right now, that the love of God which comes down to us in Jesus Christ, is, in fact, the most powerful thing in all the world.
Ah, but then consider this: When Jesus Christ is born in our hearts, we come to know that the love of God is the most personal thing in all the world.
I read of an elderly woman who was living in a retirement home. And every Sunday afternoon, her daughter would come to visit her there. And every Sunday afternoon, her daughter would find the mother waiting on the front porch of the home for her to arrive. And one day, it dawned upon the daughter that their mother did not have a calendar and that her mother’s mind had become sufficiently confused with age so that she could no longer keep up with the days. And so the daughter asked the mother, “How is it that you know to be waiting on the porch on just that day each week?” And the mother replied, “I wait for you on the porch every day.” My friends, that’s a group picture and we’re all in it. We go out onto the porch of our experience, longing to have someone to love, someone who will love us and someone whom we can love in return. We long to have an experience of God. Oh, I know we are not always quick to admit it, but deep down inside, we know it’s true. We are longing to have some experience with God that is so deeply personal that we shall know him in our hearts and be known by Him in His. We long to be loved by God.
Now, I know that there are some who would be quick to say, at this point, that the love of God is so great and grand and glorious that it is completely beyond our understanding and therefore equally beyond our experience. I don’t buy that for a minute. When I go out onto the porch of my life, longing for that personal experience with God, I discover, in fact, that the love I experience within my own family teaches me about the love of God. The love that I feel for my children speaks to me of the love of my Father who is in Heaven. That’s why I rejoice when the Scriptures say, “Like as a father loves his children so the Lord loves those who fear Him.” That’s why my heart sings when the Scriptures say, “God loved us and gave Himself for us.” That’s why my spirit is lifted when I read on the pages of Scripture these words, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” That’s what Christmas is all about. That this great, grand, glorious God, this supremely sovereign, all-powerful, transcendent God has become human flesh, flesh just like yours and mine. This great God has become human flesh. He has become personal. He has come to us, to live with us, to be involved with us, to love us, and to let us love Him in return.
Do you see what that means? It means simply this, that the hinge on the stable door in Bethlehem is the hinge on the door to your heart and mine. And it is those men and women and young people who are truly wise, who open that door. They understand what I’m trying to say to you now, that the love of God in Jesus Christ is, in fact, the most personal thing in all the world.
Ah, but then, consider this. When Jesus Christ is born in our hearts, we come to know that the love of God is the most permanent thing in all the world.
You know what they say. “Nothing is permanent in this life. Nothing lasts.” And it’s true. You remember Paul, writing in I Corinthians 13? Paul says that there are prophecies and that in time, those prophecies will either be fulfilled or they will fail. But in either case, he says, ultimately, they will be forgotten. There are tongues, Paul says, but those tongues will cease. And do you know the very Greek language in which he wrote those words is now considered to be a dead language? Knowledge will not last, Paul says, and that is certainly true. For there is not a single person within the sound of my voice this day who does not know more about science than Sir Isaac Newton ever did. And you can buy old encyclopedias very, very cheaply. And yesterday’s newspaper is fit for nothing more than wrapping fish in or throwing on the fire. Knowledge doesn’t last and money doesn’t last. You know, Jesus called only one man a fool, and that was the man who spent his time and his talent and his energy and effort trying to build up his own wealth. Jesus knew that all that wealth would be gone tomorrow.
Not even families last. For some of you, Christmas this year will be touched with a note of sadness. Because one with whom you have shared Christmases past is not here this year to share this Christmas with you. Nothing lasts. Nothing is permanent in life. Nothing, that is, except love. The love of God in Jesus Christ. That’s why we’re here. That’s why you’re here and that’s why I’m here. Not because of the calendar. Not because of some dim sense of obligation. Not because of social pressure. No. We are here because we want to experience something which is eternal, something which will last. We are here because we know that deep down inside of us at the very center of our lives, there is a God-shaped hole, and that hole can be filled only by the love of God in Jesus Christ. We are here because we want God in Christ to come down to us this Christmas and fill us with His joy and transform us into something more wonderful than we ever dreamed we could be.
Now I know some of you may be saying to yourself at this point, “All right, Preacher, that’s why I’m here. But I’ve been through Christmases before, and no permanent transformations have occurred. Nothing has happened that lasts. Oh, yes, I’m lifted and inspired and warm by the thrill of the season itself, but when the season’s over, everything returns to normal. Life goes back into the same old patterns. Nothing lasts. This Christmas is just like all other Christmases.” Ah, but my friends, that is not true. This Christmas is not like any other Christmas. This is a new Christmas. This Christmas is not like Christmases before because you are not now as you were before. You see, it’s been a year since the last Christmas, and in light of that passage of time, you are now a different person. And that means that this is a new Christmas for a new you, and it just may be that this Christmas is the Christmas when Jesus Christ shall be born in your hearts.
That’s the real Christmas. And the real Christmas lasts. It’s permanent. It doesn’t go away. It doesn’t come to an end. It is forever. That’s what John meant when he said, “To all who receive Him, to all who believe on His name, He gives the power to become nothing less than the children of God.” That’s the real Christmas, and the real Christmas changes, transforms your life. And the change is permanent. That’s the way it’s always been. For Peter, Christmas came one night after Peter had denied Christ three times. And the Scriptures note that Jesus then turned and looked at Peter, and Peter went out and wept bitterly. But that was Christmas for Peter because that night, Christ was born in his heart and Peter was changed.
For Paul, Christmas came on the Damascus Road when he was knocked from his horse and got up from the dust saying, “Lord, what would you have me to do?” That was Christmas for Paul. It changed him, transformed him. Christmas came for the Prodigal Son when he stood up in the midst of the pig sty and he said, “I’m going home to my father.” Christmas came to the thief on the cross when, through his pain, he cried, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingly power.” That’s the real Christmas, the Christmas that comes when Jesus Christ is born in a human heart. And a real Christmas is permanent. It lasts. Like the love of God, it is forever.
So just recently, a little boy who is in our weekday school here, he came up to me and he said, “Dr. Edington, what do you want most of all for Christmas?” I didn’t really answer his question. I said to him, “Oh, gosh, you know, I don’t know. I really haven’t thought about it yet.” But his question deserves to be answered. And so I have thought about it. I’ve thought about it long and hard. And I have decided that this is my answer. If I could have but one wish this Christmas, it would be this. That each one of you would experience a real Christmas. A Christmas when Jesus Christ is born in your heart. If that were to happen to you this Christmas, then this Christmas would be forever. Because, you see, when Jesus Christ comes to live in a human heart, He never leaves. Never.
Let us pray. Most gracious Father, yes, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and yes, we rejoice in that fact. But now, oh Lord, we ask, let Him be born in us. Let Him change us, transform us, make us into something we never dreamed we could be. Let Him come to live in us. For then, oh Lord, we know that we shall live forever. Amen.