Questions and Answers About Christmas 2

Title: Questions and Answers About Christmas 2

Text: Matthew 1:21, Luke 2:13-14, Romans 1:18-19, 21

Time: January 7th, 2013

 

Today is Christmas day for Easter Orthodox Christians, so instead of winding things down and taking down Christmas decorations as we do in the West, the Eastern church members are ramping up the Christmas celebrations! I’ve been to Orthodox churches before and attended their services, but never around Christmastime. I’m sure it’s not as elaborate as we in the West organize around the holidays, although I’m sure the actual church service itself – if it’s typical of Orthodox holiday church services – is extra long! Some of their special services have been known to last over three hours! And this is done in a church tradition where people stand the whole time! I don’t know for sure whether Christmas services follow the extended-length format, but I’m pretty sure they’re longer than usual.  But anyway, we’re today continuing to answer questions about Christmas that modern, secular culture asks. We can’t automatically assume any more that people know even the most basic answers to questions about the Christian faith. More and more there is ignorance and misunderstanding about all things Christian. This is because more and more people are skipping church, or rejecting all forms of organized Christianity. The category “non-religious” is growing each year, according to the latest census statistics. The trend today is for people to come up with their own personal faith or “make it up as they go along” religion, instead of studying and learning biblical faith. Consequently, Christmas and the true meaning of Christmas is becoming less and less understood in its original form. What is Christmas and why do we even celebrate it? What did the first Christmas, or the Nativity, actually accomplish? What didn’t Christmas accomplish? Why do most people today ignore or neglect the true celebration of Christmas? I’d like to answer these questions this morning. As Christians we need to get into the habit of continually reviewing, examining and learning about our faith. As far as Christmas is concerned, we need to learn a little bit more about the true meaning of Christmas each year. I hope I learn something new each year about Christmas, and I hope you do too as well. We can grow in our understanding and appreciation of Christmas by reflecting on its profound meaning again and again each Christmas holiday season. In fact, that should be one of our major goals in celebrating the Christmas holiday – to appreciate it ever more. We won’t ever get to the point where we can truly say we grasp everything about it. But that’s ok. We shouldn’t worry about that. We’ve got a whole lifetime to explore it, since it comes around each year. So let’s now turn to some more questions about Christmas, and hopefully finding helpful answers.

 

First, some people ask, “What did the very first Christmas accomplish?” Matthew 1:21, “She (Mary) will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” To answer this first question, let me quote from a famous Christmas Hymn, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” – “God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day. To save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray. O Tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy. O tidings of comfort and joy.” Now the answer to the question, “What did the very first Christmas accomplish?” is very simple and straightforward. What was accomplished roughly two thousand years ago in Bethlehem of Judea was that the long-awaited Messiah/Savior arrived on earth. For hundreds and hundreds of years the Jewish prophets had foretold that he would come, but in the birth of Jesus that first Christmas the Savior of the world arrived. So then we might conclude that what was accomplished was the Savior had landed! Of course, I’m playing on the famous words of the astronauts when they radioed back to mission control center, “Houston, this is Tranquility Base, the Eagle (spacecraft) has landed.” Well, if the angels had the assignment of sending back a message to heaven that historic night in Bethlehem two thousand years ago they might have sent this transmission, “Heaven, this is earth, the Savior has landed!” Jesus was born. The Messiah had come. The Savior has made his appearance. Of course, he was just a baby, but even so, the dark forces of evil were already active trying to destroy him and thwart his mission. Herod the king sent a death squad to assassinate the child in an attempt to oppose God’s plan of salvation; but of course, God’s will prevailed and the Savior survived. But the greatest accomplishment of the first and original Christmas was to introduce the Savior to the world. It was God’s plan to come in the form of a baby in an obscure corner of the world, so as not to arise too much suspicion. You might say that it was God’s intent to remain “low profile” at the beginning of his mission to save mankind. And for the first thirty years of Jesus’ life, he did remain in relative obscurity, by design. But then during the last three years of his life, he began his public ministry, which eventually led him to the cross, to death, and ultimately to a glorious resurrection. But it all began, it all started, it all commenced on that first Christmas. Let’s praise God for that first Christmas, because it started the greatest rescue mission ever accomplished in all history – our salvation.

 

Second, some people ask the question, “What did the first Christmas not accomplish?” Luke 2:13-14, “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly hosts appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’” Or as the old King James Version of the Bible says, “Peace on earth, goodwill towards men.” Now I wish I could report that the angel’s announcement has been literally fulfilled on earth; that is, there is “peace on earth” and “goodwill among men.” But I can’t say that, yet. The peace that Jesus brought, as it turns out, was spiritual peace with God the Father, by dying on the cross and atoning for our sins. Jesus lived a righteous life and gives us his righteousness in exchange for our sins. He took our place in judgment and suffering; what we deserve Jesus suffered, so that we might be saved. By faith we trust in the finished work of Christ, and we are saved. We are brought into a right-standing relationship with God in this world and granted eternal life in the world to come. Jesus accomplished all this while he was on earth. But what wasn’t accomplished yet on earth is “peace” and “good will among all men.” If we look around our world today, we see many of the same problems that have plagued humanity all of recorded history. For example, just before the holiday season we heard news reports of a school shooting here in the United States. A young man killed twenty-seven schoolchildren and teachers before killing himself. Where is the peace on earth and the goodwill that the angels announced on the first Christmas? It hasn’t been accomplished in the literal sense yet. So when will this literal fulfillment come about? At Christ’s second coming at the end time. Christmas two thousand years ago accomplished primarily a deep spiritual work, but it left a lot of physical and material work to be accomplished. The rest of the fulfillment will come when Jesus returns to earth a second time at the end of days to set up his reign. This is called the millennial reign of Christ, or in other words, Christ’s thousand-year reign. Then the angel’s announcement will be completely fulfilled because as ruler Christ will bring about world peace. But in the meantime, he rules secretly and silently in the hearts and souls of believers world-wide. Sometimes skeptics use this against the Christian faith by claiming that nothing has really changed in two thousand years since Christ’s birth. But this is wrong. Much has changed; it’s just that not everything has changed. There are still wars and killing. There is still hate and violence. Bad things still happen. But that just means that what was started on the first Christmas hasn’t all been accomplished yet on earth. But it will. We must wait and pray in patience for Christ’s return, then we’ll see the final fulfillment of all the promises of the Christmas angel.

 

Third, some people ask the question, “Why then do most people reject or ignore the true meaning of Christmas?” Romans 1:18-19, 21, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. . . . For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”  The Apostle Paul supplies us with the answer to the question, “Why do most people ignore the meaning of Christmas?” It’s because most people refuse to surrender their will to God’s will. Most people would rather follow their own sinful, selfish will than bow to the will of God. Christmas is the time of year that the world celebrates the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ, but sinful and selfish people aren’t willing to really celebrate the true meaning of Christmas, because that requires a humble heart. So what happens at Christmastime is that for most people it’s a time of celebration, but not of celebrating Jesus or the beginning of his saving work on their behalf. No. It’s a time of celebrating the celebration. I’ve heard unbelievers, skeptics and those who reject the Christian gospel message say they observe Christmas, but in their own way. What that means is they celebrate the season by ignoring the Christian meaning of Christmas; they pour their own meaning in to the holiday. We see that more and more today, especially as the “non-religious” category grows. And these people can almost pull it off! There’s so much excitement around Christmastime that it’s possible to totally omit any reference to Jesus or any remembrance of his birth – the true meaning of Christmas – and simply enjoy all the other things associated with the winter holiday season. That’s what more and more people do today. They simply neglect the true meaning of Christmas and focus on things that are more in keeping with how they think and feel. We see this especially in respect to the commercialization of Christmas, the materialism associated with gift-buying and gift-giving. We see this in the multiplication of secular traditions that seem to grow every year. For example, the Santa Claus tradition is relatively new, since only around the last hundred or so years have people read “The Night Before Christmas.” But this has grown so big today that probably more people associate this with Christmas than associate Jesus.  That’s sad.

 

But why do people let the reason for the season slip away? Why do people fail to focus on Jesus as the reason for the season? Because of what the Apostle Paul stated earlier – the sinful human heart. It just underscores the reason why Jesus came to save us; we are sinners. Isaiah the prophet puts it this way, “We all like sheep have gone astray, each has turned to his own way.” And we are continually going astray and turning to our own selfish way. So naturally, whenever we are given the opportunity, we’ll turn to our own way instead of following God’s way. The real reason why many people reject the real meaning of Christmas each year is because they think that by acknowledging God and yielding to his authority they’ll lose their own personal freedom. And they are right! If you define personal freedom as doing whatever you want to do and not worrying about the consequences; if you define freedom as being free from all external authority and being unaccountable, then you’ll naturally reject God. Because after all, God is the ultimate authority, he’s the final level of accountability in this world. If you don’t want to feel that you are under authority or accountable, you’ll naturally want to deny or reject God. So then at Christmastime you’ll do your best to keep the celebration secular or non-religious, because you’ll not want to have to be reminded that you owe God your obedience and worship. But if you aren’t prepared to obey or worship God then you’ll want to ignore or neglect any reference to a reality you don’t want to be reminded of. It’s a form of escapism, but with so many other secular or “side” traditions associated with Christmas, it’s possible to go through the whole holiday season and avoid God entirely. That’s what many people do today. Unfortunately, that’s the reality we live in today. But that shouldn’t stop us Christians from celebrating the real Christmas. In fact, we should work hard to not get side-tracked by the rival traditions associated with Christmas. It’s ok to participate a little in the “other stuff” at Christmas, but we should never allow anything to take our focus away from Jesus. He is the reason for the season. I have to continually remind myself of that when I’m tempted to go overboard in some secondary Christmas tradition or activity. It’s a struggle, but if we keep a proper perspective we can stay fixed on Jesus and also share in the fun of other things, without losing the true Christmas vision. I hope that you’ve had a joyful Christmas season this year. And I hope that you’ll have many more to come as well. God bless you all.

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