Questions and Answers About Christmas 1

Title: Questions and Answers About Christmas 1

Text: Luke 1:30-31, 34-35, 37, 2:11, Matthew 1:20-21

Time: January 6th, 2013

 

For the Eastern Orthodox church today is Christmas Eve; tomorrow they celebrate Christmas day in their Christian tradition, because they follow the so-called Julian calendar, whereas we in the West do not.  It’s kind of nice to have a couple of extra weeks to hang on to the Christmas season, although I’m not sure many people in America even know about the Eastern Orthodox tradition of Christmas. Many people now turn the page on Christmas a few days after December 25th, and by the end of the first week in January most people have already deposited their Christmas tree outside. But many Christian churches in the West, for example Lutheran churches, continue to participate in the so-called Twelve Days of Christmas, so they are still singing Christmas hymns and preaching Christmas sermons even after Christmas is over in what is called by the historical church, the Epiphany season – which represents the “appearing” of Christ,” as the Greek word epiphania means. I like the custom of carrying Christmas beyond December 25th, although most churches in the evangelical world turn the page rather quickly once Christmas day arrives. It’s a sad thing, I believe, because we may as well dwell on important themes as long as possible. I’ve always done that in my teaching and preaching in the churches I’ve pastored over the years. I very rarely stopped talking about the Nativity until after the New Year; and even so, I’ve often carried Christmas as far as the middle of January, if that seemed appropriate at the time. We’ve a long, cold winter here in the northern states, may as well carry the Christmas warmth well into the season. But today, after examining and reviewing the biblical quotations in Handel’s Messiah, I’d like to finish up on the Christmas theme with a couple of messages on Questions and Answers concerning Christmas. As the Christian faith fades gradually from the forefront of most people’s minds in Western culture, we find that different questions are generated in respect to Christmas. Whereas in times past most people learned Christian theology in Sunday school or church; today, this cannot be assumed. In fact, presently, most people do not attend church, and an even smaller percentage attends Sunday school. Even children today are rarely in Sunday school; their parents usually don’t bother to see that they participate, nor do they worry very much about educating their children in the teachings of Christianity. So we find ourselves in a cultural situation where there’s a lot of ignorance and misunderstanding concerning Christianity in general, and Christmas in particular. So today, I’d like to take a few minutes and address a few issues that come up once in a while.

 

First, some people ask, “Did the Christmas story really happen?” Luke 2:11, “Today in the city of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Now almost everyone knows the Christmas account found in Matthew and Luke of the New Testament in the Bible, but more and more people doubt its historicity. Every once in a while news reports reveal leading scholars gathering to discuss the accuracy of the New Testament. One such meeting is the so-called Jesus Seminar, consisting of leading biblical scholars who talk about such things as which parts of the Bible can be trusted, which parts can’t. Which words of Christ are accurate, which ones aren’t. What events really took place, which ones didn’t. And so forth. This kind of reporting generates doubts in the average persons mind concerning the Bible – “If the educated experts are questioning the Bible’s reliability, why shouldn’t we?” This raises the question around Christmastime, “Is the Nativity account found in the New Testament true? Was Jesus born the way the Bible says he was? Can we trust the story to be accurate?” Another thing that creates more doubts is the fact we have other Christmas traditions floating around during the holiday season. For example, there’s the Santa Claus story, there’s “The Night Before Christmas” story, there’s the Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman stories, and so forth. The Baby Jesus is one of many stories told around Christmas. Now, if Santa Claus and “The Night Before Christmas” aren’t factual, and if Rudolph the Red-Noised Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman stories aren’t true either, then where does that leave the Christmas story? In the minds of young children it’s all mixed together, and they believe them all, but adults don’t believe most of the stories told at Christmastime, why should they believe the Nativity account either? Well, there are very good reasons for believing the biblical account of the birth of Jesus, because it’s grounded in the facts of history. Those other stories are the products of legends and storytelling and fiction, and nobody except children takes them seriously; adults never did take them seriously as fact. But the biblical accounts of the Nativity are different. They are grounded in history, from start to finish. Read through the accounts and you’ll see real, historical references – persons, places and things that can be proven by research and investigation. Consider the census taken by Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus; this is an historical reference. Or consider Herod the Great who interacted with the Wise Men; this is historical. It all happened in the land of Israel, in Bethlehem, near Jerusalem in Judea – a real place. No, the Christmas story is historical fact. We can be confident as we celebrate Christmas we are celebrating a real event.

 

Second, some people ask, “What about the supernatural miracles in the Christmas account; shouldn’t that cause us to doubt its reliability?” Luke 1:30-31, 34-35, 37, “But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.’ . . . ‘How can this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the most high shall overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called Son of the God. . . . For nothing is impossible with God.’”  The angel who spoke to Mary basically answers our question – “For nothing is impossible for God.” But let’s go deeper into the question. The question deals with the problem of miracles – it’s a problem for modern times, not times past. In other words, in the past most people believed in the openness of reality to act in ways that run contrary to our everyday experience. They believed that the natural world was only one reality, but that the supernatural world, or spiritual world, was another reality; both realities worked in harmony with each other, both had their own sphere of operation. But in the modern era more and more people question the reality of the supernatural or spiritual dimension. Because of the rise of modern science many people today take the viewpoint that the natural reality is all there is, and that anything outside of nature is nonsense. Thus, in discussing miracles, a lot of people today will dismiss them all as nonsense because they contradict the so-called laws of nature. For example, in the Christmas Nativity account, Jesus is born of the Virgin Mary. But we know that biologically speaking a virgin birth, a real, live virgin birth is impossible – if, natural law cannot be broken. Most scientists assume that natural law is unviable, or unbreakable. Therefore, the Virgin Birth most be a myth, so says a growing skeptical population. Well, if the first verse of the first chapter of the first book of the first section of the Bible is true, then miracles are possible – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” Genesis 1:1. If that’s true, then supernatural miracles are possible, because there exists a supernatural being who can make them happen, who can intervene into the natural world and disrupt it at will. The Virgin Birth of Jesus is a case where God as a supernatural being disrupted the normal workings of nature. God over-ruled normal biological fact and produced a supernatural fact – a virgin birth. So just because the Christmas account includes miracles doesn’t mean it isn’t true. We need to open our minds to the way God works, not close our minds off because of statistical probability. Nature operates in a normal course, but God can and does intervene on occasion to do something special. Christmas is an example of something special happening.

 

Third, some people ask, “What’s the greatest benefit of celebrating Christmas for us today?” Matthew 1:20-21, “But after he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home to be your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’” The key theme of the Christmas Nativity is that Jesus will save us from our sins. Now this salvation didn’t happen immediately upon Christ’s arrival as a baby; it came many years later on the cross of Calvary. But when Jesus was born it was the start of a sequence of events that would eventually lead to his atoning death for our sins. He died that we might live. His death served as punishment for our sins, and his righteous life served as our righteousness. So through Christ we are saved. The most important thing to come out of the Nativity was the beginning of our salvation. Now the important benefit in celebrating Christmas is that it calls us all back to a deeper appreciation of our salvation. In our modern, secular world that tends to see everything from a materialistic standpoint, most people have their mind so much on earthly things that they neglect thinking deeper about a greater vision than mere temporary satisfaction and comfort. Money and material possessions seem to dominate our world. Power and position, riches and fame seem to be the be-all and end-all of life. But what good are these things after we die? They will all be worthless. But what will become all-important? Our relationship to the one and only God Almighty. Nothing else will matter. The birth of Jesus signals the beginning stage of the plan of salvation for everyone who believes. Handel’s Messiah outlines all the biblical prophecies leading up to the birth of Christ, so the Nativity didn’t come out of nowhere. But what we celebrate at Christmastime is the tangible breakthrough of God into our world to begin the salvation sequence on earth. Now in terms of our salvation history, the birth of Christ is very important. So is the crucifixion of Christ on the cross. So is the resurrection of Christ from the grave. There are a few key events in history that mark major milestones, and the birth of the Savior Jesus is one of them. That’s why it’s totally appropriate, yes, very important, that we celebrate Christmas, the true Christmas. It’s not very important that we read “The Night Before Christmas,” although that is a popular Christmas tradition. It’s not very important that we watch Rudolph and Frosty on TV, although again, that’s a popular thing to do. Or any other extra-biblical Christmas tradition. But it is important to celebrate the biblical Christmas.

 

How does Christmas benefit society in general? That’s a big topic and I can only touch on a few key points. Like I said before, it points us all – everyone, believers and unbelievers, to the Savior Jesus, and reminds us all about salvation. Then, Christmas points us to the supernatural God who rules the universe, whether we recognize it or not. It’s good and healthy to have a seasonal holiday that includes the supernatural because it does us all good to hear something other than the secular naturalistic party-line that “nature is all that there was, is, and ever will be.” School children are taught that starting from an unexplainable big bang fifteen million years ago, matter and energy began to collide and coalesce together to form stars and planets and moon and asteroids that eventually produced a planet called earth. Then these same children are taught that somehow, and purely by chance, the right chemical stew cooked up on earth to produce the first living thing billions of years ago. Then, that first living thing kept reproducing and changing until eventually fish, reptiles, mammals and finally man came about. The present scientific consensus is that all of this supposedly happened without any intelligent design or intent or purpose; it just all happened on its own by itself. In other words, nature is all there is, and there is nothing else outside of nature. But Christmas is a great time of the year because it reminds us all that the basic scientific and intellectual assumption of our age is wrong. Nature is not all there is; there is a spiritual reality, it’s supernatural, and it over-rules nature. God is the ultimate supernatural reality, and his actions to intervene into our natural world are supernatural miracles. Christmas is a great reminder to our modern age that there is more to life than material energy. There is meaning and purpose behind the creation of mankind on earth. There is a plan behind all historical development. History is going someplace, because God has a goal in mind for us as humans, collectively and as individuals. We are more than accidents of nature; we are deliberately planned and loved individuals. Christmas is a great reminder that we are not alone in the universe, that God watches over us. He sent Jesus as the Savior to take care of our problem of sin and death. He calls us to salvation by faith. He hasn’t left us alone to work out our own problems; we couldn’t solve them by ourselves anyway. But he’s provided for us the solution in the Savior Jesus Christ. Do you fully appreciate the blessing of Christ’s birth each Christmas season? Why not make sure you take the time to recognize what a blessing it is that there even is a Christmas holiday every year. Let’s pray.

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