The Christmas season has always been an especially busy time of the year for Annie and I. That’s because as Christians, Christmas is one of the greatest seasons of gospel opportunity. Usually by December 24th we’re both saying to one another: “Next year, we really need to try harder not to take as much on.”
And like most resolutions around that time of the year, it’s long forgotten by mid-March. But as far as resolutions go, it’s one worth failing to keep. God doesn’t short-change those who are spent for His purposes. Reminding people of the real reason for the season is always a joyful occupation – even if it is sometimes demanding!
This Christmas, the circumstances of life dictates a much slower and for the same reason, more difficult pace for us. It leaves us more time to reflect. Sometimes I reflect that it might be our last Christmas together. I went into town yesterday evening, alone. Watching all those people shopping and smiling made me feel sad to not be out with Annie. It wasn’t just that I missed her ability to strategically navigate the High Street swiftly and efficiently but rather that I just missed her. I missed being with her, hand in hand, hot chocolate to hot chocolate.
Since getting married, Annie and I have never been frantic Christmas shoppers. And this year in particular, Christmas shopping seems even more futile to us but for reasons no less selfish or more virtuous than being absorbed and obsessed by a commercial Christmas. The Christmas season is able to bring out the worst in human beings – certainly in the West it is. Each Christmas we seem to find new ways of over indulging in ourselves and one another. Christians often protest that ‘Xmas’ takes the ‘Christ’ our of Christmas. But we all make a pretty decent job of emphasising the ‘I’ in it.
If you are one of those people frantically running around, like another headless turkey, crossing things off your endlessly growing shopping list…then you need to just stop for a moment…grab a mince pie if it helps…
You need to stop and consider something that you wouldn’t forget if you truly understood it.
2,000 years ago, God came to this earth to save sinners like you and I because He loves us.
When you’re singing or listening to those carols and you sing the name ‘Emmanuel’ that’s what you’re singing: ‘God with us’. That is God’s response to the agnostics among you; to those of you who think that the existence of God is simply unknown or unknowable: the eternal creator of time and space has humbled Himself to enter it. It is a fact of history. He has lowered Himself to a feeding-trough-cradle in the little town of Bethlehem to prove that He not only exists but that He was prepared to do whatever it takes to save us from a wretched life without Him.
Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel
Jesus, the Son of God, did not come to save people by teaching them to live better lives in order to get on the right side of God so that He would have no other choice but to stamp their passport to heaven.
He came to tell people – rich people, poor people, healthy people, sick people, men, women, boys, girls, benevolent people, malevolent people, religious people, demonically possessed people, you and me… – that they all had one thing in common: by nature, they were not right with God.
One of the important things Jesus had to tell people was that God was not actually pleased with them; that God considered even the collective offering of their ‘righteous acts’ as nothing more than an offering of filthy rags.
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. – Isaiah 64:6
Don’t write Jesus off this Christmas as simply another religious leader promoting religious practice and behaviour as a means of getting right with God. Nothing Jesus taught could ever be filed under ‘World Religion’. A point often emphasised by the many times He had run-ins with the religious leaders of His day.
Ultimately Jesus neither came to be the bearer of bad news nor the founder of a religion. Gospel means ‘Good News’. And quite simply, no other group of people on the face of this planet have the authority or the reason to call what they believe in ‘The Gospel’. They can call it whatever they like, but they cannot call it ‘Gospel’. That’s because world religion is not good news. It’s old news; the same old news: re-branded, re-wrapped, re-peddled, re-ligion.
The good news is that 2,000 years ago, God didn’t simply send a wise sage, an angel, a prophet or a gifted teacher: He sent His Son as a gift. A gift to undeserving sinners like you and I.
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8
2,000 years ago, God came to this earth to deal with our sins and right here, on the face of this planet and in public Jesus proved it by defeating death. His divine power and authority in this area began with the public miracles He performed, among which He raised lifeless corpses back to life – one of which had festered in a tomb for three days. This was something which even His fiercest opposers couldn’t deny. When the religious leaders finally found a way of snuffing Jesus out by having Him crucified, among the jeering and mocking came these words:
“He saved others…but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.” – Matthew 27:42
Even the curses of His enemies would testify that while Jesus walked this earth He demonstrated power to save others; to save others from disease, from sickness, from death. They doubted He could save Himself. In fact, they were certain that death would have the last say.
But Jesus’ death was no ordinary death. At the moment He breathed His pain-filled last breath, the miracles continued:
The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. – Matthew 27:51-53
And before these supernatural signs and wonders that pointed to something more than a martyr’s death, something uniquely phenomenal happened.
Jesus said,“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34
Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. – John 19:30
Jesus the Son of God was able to say to God the Father: “Forgive them.”. This is the good news. God is willing and able to forgive sins. He is able to deal with the punishment and consequences of our sin. He is able to change our attitude to sin. He is able to restore our relationship with Him. He is able to to give us eternal hope beyond the grave.
And three days later, ‘The Gospel’ got its exclamation mark.
“Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” – Matthew 28:5-7
If you understood ‘The Gospel!’ then you would celebrate a radically different and wonderfully better Christmas this year; a truly joyful, peaceful, hopeful and happy Christmas. Not even terminal cancer can ruin it.
It’s because I genuinely want to wish you a happy, joyful, hopeful, peaceful Christmas that I have to say: a Christmas without having received God’s Gospel Gift, is eternally meaningless.
Without having received God’s gift for yourself, three weeks from now, all you will have is a fatter waistline and a skinnier wallet. You might resolve to do better but by mid-March your resolutions will most likely require renegotiation – if they haven’t by then been forgotten by February. And by next November you’ll be prepared to believe the myth of festive cheer all over again only to be short-changed like a festive chump!
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16
Don’t let this Christmas pass you by without having explored this wonderful gift which God is offering you. There are plenty of opportunities to begin that exploration and here’s just one of many invitations to my fellow citizens of Worcester! Click here!
Praying that you will have The Truly Wonderful Christmas,
Will remember your church as we also remember ours and others up and down the country holding a carol service tomorrow, that His holy spirit will move in peoples hearts, keep us posted how your Sunday goes! Love Pete and Jo