The Demands of Christmas
Well, there you have it: Ask anyone if they love Christmas, and they’ll probably say yes. I googled something like “The top ten reasons I love Christmas” and these were some typical responses. One person gave 8 reasons they liked it.
Number 8 was because “things smell so good. Christmas trees, cinnamon and spices, cold groung after rain or snow, baking yams, the decorations are amazing,
Number 7: The food is awesome and so special. Besides fruitcakes, there are dozens of holiday treats that make my mouth water
6. The decorations are amazing.
Face it. Nothing can beat the loaded window displays, the ribbons and garlands around every lamp post, the glittering lights of various colours and doilies and nativity scenes and the trees and everything!
5. ...Presents. Need I say more?
3. It's celebrated all over the world. While there are world issues that separate nations and peoples, Christmas is something that everyone on Earth can share.
2. Family comes together. Christmas is about the only time of year I see people outside my immediate family. They come to the house and we get to regroup for the first time in 364 days.
1. Everything is so happy.
Did you notice that I left one out? Yes, it’s number 4. I saved it till last because I think its where so many people are. His number 4 reason was, “It’s not necessarily just for Christians. It’s gotten so commercialized that agnostics like myself can still enjoy it.”
Now you might be a little put off by that if you’re a Christ-follower, but whether you think its good or bad you can’t deny that it is true. The typical attitude in our country is that Christmas is a great excuse to spend money and party, and, quite frankly, that’s about where it stops.
This attitude gets mirrored in the church. When it comes right down to it, many of us are planning the typical holiday celebration. Yes, we will say “Merry Christmas,” with our lips, but our lives are simply saying “Happy Holidays.” What I mean is, we have divorced the holiday from the person of Christ, at least in practical ways.
But, when you read the story, and you really listen to it, you are struck by something, well, awesome . . . something you must respond to. If you hear it and you really believe it, you can’t walk away and just celebrate another holiday. There must be response. Will you just listen to it again and try to hear it like you’ve never heard it before - READ LUKE 2:1-12.
This really is an amazing story but we can read the words but never think about what they mean. Listen to how Max Lucado gives us the implications of this birth:
It all happened in a moment . . . a remarkable moment.
As moments go, that one appeared no different than any other. If you could somehow pick it up off the timeline and examine it, it would look exactly like the ones that have passed while you have read these words. It came and it went. It was preceded and succeeded by others just like it. It was one of the countless moments that have marked time since eternity became measurable.
But in reality, that particular moment was like none other. For through that segment of time a spectacular thing occurred. God became a man. While the creatures of earth walked unaware, Divinity arrived. Heaven opened herself and placed her most precious one in a human womb.
The omnipotent, in one instant, made himself breakable. He who had been spirit became pierceable. He who was larger than the universe became an embryo. And he who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent upon the nourishment of a young girl.
God as a fetus. Holiness sleeping in a womb. The creator of life being created.
God was given eyebrows, elbows, two kidneys, and a spleen. He stretched against the walls and floated in the amniotic fluids of his mother.
God had come near.
He came, not as a flash of light or as an unapproachable conqueror, but as one whose first cries were heard by a peasant girl and a sleepy carpenter. The hands that first held him were unmanicured, calloused, and dirty.
No silk. No ivory. No hype. No party. No hoopla.
Were it not for the shepherds, there would have been no reception. And were it not for a group of star-gazers, there would have been no gifts. Angels watched as Mary changed God’s diaper.
To think of Jesus in such a light is—well, it seems almost irreverent, doesn’t it? It’s not something we like to do; it’s uncomfortable. It is much easier to keep the humanity out of the incarnation. Clean the manure from around the manger. Wipe the sweat out of his eyes. Pretend he never snored or blew his nose or hit his thumb with a hammer.
He’s easier to stomach that way. There is something about keeping him divine that keeps him distant, packaged, predictable.
But don’t do it. For heaven’s sake, don’t. Let him be as human as he intended to be. Let him into the mire and muck of our world. For only if we let him in can he pull us out.
This remarkable birth demands a response from us. From this story, let me give you three particular responses that it demands. The first one is this.
DIV 1: SINCE HIS BIRTH WAS HISTORICAL, WE TRUST
When your first hear that statement, you may wonder where I’m going. How does the fact that Christ’s birth was “historical” create trust. Well, I do have a point to make and I want you to listen carefully. Today Christ is under attack like never before. Many modern scholars attempt to reduce Christ to a “spiritual” person, almost like a legend, and tell us that the real “historical” Jesus, at least in the way the Bible speaks of Him, never existed. They seem to think that they can preserve the truth of Christianity apart from the historical fact of Christ. They cannot! Jesus’ birth had to happen if we are to be saved. If He was only a legend, He might provide us with great story material, but, at the end of the day, He can really do nothing eternal for us.
That’s why I’m so glad that Luke takes great care to place Jesus in a specific time reference. He goes out of his way to let us know that Jesus concretely invaded human history. He begins v1 of chapter two, saying. And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. Notice that Luke names three specific, observable, historical facts that place Jesus right into the lap of history. First, the emperor is named. It was Ceasar Augustus. Then, the governor of Syria is named. It was Quirinius. Then a census is named. That was the mechanism by which people returned to their place of birth, where they most likely owned property, so that they might be assessed for taxes.
Luke wants you to know that he isn’t spouting some legend or speaking of some Apollo-like character in some faniciful legend. He takes the omnipotent God and subjects Him to the rigor of everyday life in a historical grid that requires you to either believe in Him concretely or reject Him completely. You see, if Luke had written of Jesus in “once-upon-a-time” language, we could have accepted Him as a relic of faith while rejecting Him as an object of history. But Luke refuses to leave us with an optional Jesus. He places Him within the fabric of history and forces us to accept Him concretely or reject Him completely. There is not middle ground. Luke blends the supernatural with the natural, in hopes that those who hear it will be given faith to believe.
By the way, this happens constantly throughout the scripture. In fact, the Old Testament is filled up with so many factual references that scholars have often tried to use them to prove the Bible to be wrong. Time and again they’ve been left red-faced with embarrassment as their efforts failed.
For instance, the Bible speaks of the Edomites as being the descendents of Esau. The Bible considered them to be a cohesive society, but many scholars held that they were just a nomadic people who would have been hardly recognizable when the Old Testament was written. The then an international team of archaeologists found evidence that Edom was an advanced society at least 200 years before the Old Testament was penned.
Now that’s significant for two reasons. First it matters because it gives support to the divinity and accuracy of Scripture. Second, it reinforces the idea that the Bible unapologetically places the divine work of God in the reference of history and puts its own reliability to the test. And time after time it is proven true.
That is especially true of Jesus. Quoted in The Case for the Real Jesus, Paul Copan says,
“We have excellent historical data concerning Jesus. He is mentioned in extra-biblical writings, and we have lots of details in the New Testament, which withstands scrutiny very well. The transmission of the NT through time has been remarkable. And we have internal evidence of its reliability. The criterion of embarrassment offers strong support for the godpels and Acts. In other words we have sayings and acts by Jesus—including His ignorance about the time of his return, his cursing of the fig tree, and even his crucifixion itself–that would not have been included if the authors were fabricating the record.
When we look at Acts, we see that Luke’s account can be corroborated through archaeology in numerous ways. So we have to ask the question: ‘If Luke is right about these details that can be verified, can’t we trust him when it comes to events that cant’ be verified, such as miracles and identity claims of Jesus?
See, if you are a Christ rejecter, today, you must stand against historical evidence. Many people who will not commit their lives to Christ reject that commitment claiming that “they just do not have enough faith to believe.” If that is you today, I must tell you that it is not a matter of faith, it’s a matter of fact. When you say, “I don’t believe in Jesus,” you are in effect saying, “In the face of overwhelming evidence, I choose not to believe in Christ because I refuse to submit my life to Him.” Now that may be what you are really saying, and if it is, please don’t tell yourself that you just don’t have the faith. What’s really happening is that you refuse to believe in spite of the facts.
And those of us who are Christians must also deal with the historical nature of Christ’s birth. Many Christians tend to spiritualize Christ, as well. What I mean is we try to compartamentalize our lives. We have Christ simply as a category of our existence. We put Him in a place and refuse to let Him have control of all aspects of our lives. But the birth of Jesus in history teaches us that we cannot cut Him out of the physical world we live in. The merging of the natural and the supernatural destroys our compartments. If I am going to follow Christ, I have got to follow Him in this concrete world in concrete ways! This is the ultimate test of reality. We don’t just believe in Christ on Sunday, we concretely follow Him throughout the week.
In the 19th century Charles Bradlaugh, a prominent atheist, challenged a Christian man to debate the validity of the claims of Christianity. The Christian was Hugh Price Hughes, an active soul-winner who worked among the poor in the slums of London. Hughes told Bradlaugh he would agree to the debate on one condition.
Hughes said, "I propose to you that we each bring some concrete evidences of the validity of our beliefs in the form of men and women who have been redeemed from the lives of sin and shame by the influence of our teaching. I will bring 100 such men and women, and I challenge you to do the same."
Hughes then said that if Bradlaugh couldn't bring 100, then he could bring 20. He finally whittled the number down to one. All Bradlaugh had to do was to find one person whose life was improved by atheism, and Hughes—who would bring 100 people improved by Christ—would agree to debate him. Bradlaugh withdrew!
When we speak of the birth of Christ, we are speaking of a real, historical event. It really happened in time, and that historical fact demands that we trust Him. As we do that, He radically changes our lives. That’s the first response to this miraculous birth. Since His birth was historical, we believe, but second
DIV 2: SINCE HIS BIRTH WAS SIMPLE, WE ARE CHALLENGED
It’s hard to imagine anything more simple than the birth of Christ. I say that, first, because of the surroundings in which He was born. You’re familiar with the story: Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem because of the census. V 7 almost makes a matter-of-fact observation when it notes that she laid Him in a manger because “there was no room for them in the Inn.” Now you have to understand what’s really being said here. I’ve always picture the inn kind of like a multi-room house that had an innkeeper who rented rooms. I don’t think that’s what’s pictured here.
You see, Bethlehem was a small town, so small that they probably didn’t have a lot of out-of-town guests. They probably had no inn. What is pictured here is probably some sort of public shelter, kind of like a picnic you might see today. You know–a large area with a roof over head, but no walls. Under that shelter, out of town guests would pull up a mat and rest. It would kind of be like the Fike High School gym in a hurricane. You know, people go there and bring their blanket and pillow. They are given a cot and they sleep right there in the room surrounded by many other people.
Now you have the picture. Mary, in labor and certainly needing privacy, could not stay in that public shelter. There was not room enough for her to have any privacy to deliver the baby, so they thought they’d do better by going to a near by cave where the animals were kept. At least they’d be safe from prying eyes.
Britisher Geoffrey T. Bull, missionary to Tibet, was cold, exhausted, and hungry. He had been seized by Communists following their takeover of China in 1949, and his future was bleak. His captors drove him day and night across frozen mountains until he despaired of life. Late one afternoon, he staggered into a small village where he was given an upstairs room, swept clean and warmed by a small charcoal brazier.
2. After a meager supper, he was sent downstairs to feed the horses. It was very dark and very cold. He clambered down the notched tree trunk to find himself in pitch blackness. His boots squished in the manure and straw on the floor. The fetid smell of animals was nauseating. The horses sighed wearily, tails drooping, yet the missionary expected to be kicked any moment. Geoffrey, cold, weary, lonely, and ill, began to feel sorry for himself.
“Then as I continued to grope my way in the darkness,” he later wrote, “it suddenly flashed into my mind. What’s today? I thought for a moment. In traveling, the days had become a little muddled in my mind. Suddenly it came to me. ‘It’s Christmas Eve.’ I stood suddenly still in that oriental manger. To think that my Savior was born in a place like this. To think that He came all the way from heaven to some wretched eastern stable, and what is more to think that He came for me. How men beautify the cross and the crib, as if to hide the fact that at birth we resigned Him to the stench of beasts and at death exposed Him to the shame of rogues.
Can you imagine a more simple setting? There in the middle of the animals, Joseph digs the morsels of corn or feed, from the hole dug in the floor of the cave where the animals are fed, and there is where that little baby is placed. His birth was simple in it’s surroundings.
And then it was simple in its announcement. If it would have been me, I’d have told King Herod. I’d have let him know that his days of despotism were numbered and there was nothing he could do to stop it; I’d have told Ceasar Augustus. He called himself the King of Peace, but I’d have introduced him to the real Prince of Peace. I’d have told the High Priest; He thought he was the man of God who had all the answers; I’d have told him of the Child of God who was, Himself, the answer.
But, I’m not God. You know who God told? He went to a bunch of “sheepherders”. Yep, Shepherds. They were considered in that day to be the garbage collectors of their day. They were looked down upon, yet they were the people to whom the angels appeared. His birth was simple in its announcement.
• The greatest and the highest became the humblest and the simplest.
• The richest became the poorest that the poor might be rich.
• He feasted with sinners that they might not starve in their sin.
• He fasted 40 days that we might feast the Bread of Life.
• He emptied Himself that we might be filled.
• The Lion became the Lamb that sheep might become shepherds.
• His heart was broken that He might heal the broken-hearted.
• - His body was crushed that we might be made whole.
• He was rejected that we might be accepted.
• He was bruised that we may be healed.
• He was condemned that we might be justified.
• He was judged that we would not be judged.
• He was deserted by the Father that we might accepted by the Father.
• He died as the innocent One that the guilty might be declared innocent.
• He is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the World. He is God’s holy, human paradox
And this lamb was revealed to the shepherds. Men who didn’t have a reputation to protect or an ax to grind or a ladder to climb. Men who didn’t know enough to tell God that angels don’t sing to sheep and that messiahs aren’t found wrapped in rags and sleeping in a feed trough.
while the theologians were sleeping
and the elite were dreaming
and the successful were snoring,
the meek were kneeling.
They were kneeling before the One only the meek will see. They were kneeling in front of Jesus.
That’s the challenge of His simple birth. God doesn’t impress you with pomp, He simply presents you with truth. Those who are meek, those who are weak, those who, like the shepherds, are willing submit to that simplicity, see their lives forever changed. Those who are waiting for the show, like Herod, like the High Priest, and like the Pharisees, they doubt and disbelieve.
And that’s the greatest challenge of Christmas. Only the simple; only those willing to submit to Him will come to him. That’s why Jesus later said that if we don’t become like little children, we will never see the kingdom of heaven.
His birth demands a response. Since it is historical, we trust. Since it is simple, we are challenged. But last,
DIV 3 SINCE HIS BIRTH IS SOVEREIGN, WE WORSHIP.
Luke is a subtle writer. He sprinkles hints of the sovereignty of God throughtout these 12 verse of scripture. He shows, first of all, that God’s plan uses Augustus. In fact, Augustus who claimed to be a god and saw himself as the king of Peace is unwittingly compared to the Child of Peace. The real “Emperor of Peace” is Jesus, not Ceasar. God uses the very title Augustus claimed to proclaim the real king.
And God’s plan protected Mary. Though not married, she was, as the Bible diplomatically states it, found to “be with child.” That was a big deal in that culture. Joseph could have publically humiliated her and actually could have put her on trial. While the death penalty was not in play any longer, the humiliation would have been awful. But God protected Mary.
And His plan also prepared Jesus. It is interesting that Luke goes out of his way to tell us that Mary gave birth to her “first born” son. That is significant. Saying that Jesus was the “firstborn” reemphasizes the virginity of Mary. Saying that Jesus was the firstborn gave Him the right to inherit David’s throne. Saying that Jesus was the firstborn gave Him the right to the benefits of His Father’s inheritance. God’s plan prepared Jesus and it protected Mary and it even used Augustus.
But most of all, God’s sovereign plan included you. From the perspective of the Old Testament, the only people who should have really been concerned about the coming of a Jewish Messiah were Jews. And yet, Luke is not writing this gospel to Jews. O no! If you look at chapter one of this gospel, you see precisely to whom Luke wrote. Luke 1:1 says
Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.
“Theophilus” is not a Jewish name. Theophilus is a Greek name. The whole book of Luke is addressed to a Greek audience. Luke writes to Gentiles like you and me. He further emphasizes this when we read what the angels say to the shepherds in 2:10: Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. This is not a minor point, even though it may seem to be. This is huge! God sovereignly reached beyond the Jews with the coming of Jesus to show us that His plan included us.
All along the way, in every detail, God reveals to us His sovereign plan. He was absolutely in control of every detail!
Now, as a follower of Christ, that should reassure you. God’s sovereignty brings you security. How can you be truly endangered if the sovereign God is in control of your circumstances. Nothing can touch us apart from His design. When I am obeying God, I am absolutely secure in His care. Nothing outside of His will can touch me.
And God’s sovereignty should cause you to worship. When I encounter the fact that God is absolutely in control of all things, it causes me to bow before Him, acknowledge Who He is and truly worship Him. And not only do I bow, I also submit. I realize that He’s a lot smarter than me and that I can trust Him in all the situations of my life. I do not have to control everything because he does. That freedom causes me to be fearless and motivated in my service of Him, for, if He is in control, I cannot lose.
But that submission stuff is exactly what causes problems for a lot of people. Let’s face it. Few people like to submit. You see, if God is in control that means I can’t be. Not only that, but if God is in control, and I don’t like what’s going on in my life, then I may even be angry with God.
John Feinberg speaks of this in his book, The Many Faces of Evil. There he tells of when his wife, Pat, was diagnosed with Huntington’s Chorea – a genetically-transmitted disease that causes deteriation of the brain which leads to the deterioration of physical and psychological abilities. John and Pat were not just concerned for her health, however. They also were quite concerned for the health of their children. If one parent has the gene, then each child has a 50-50 chance of having the disease too. Since this was true, they wondered why they had received no warning that this disease was a possibility for Pat. They should have been warned.
Wanting answers, they looked at Pat’s mother’s medical chart. It turns out that Pat’s mother had been diagnosed five years before he met Pat, but no one had told the family. John was angry. Knowing this information could have changed everything!
But then he stopped himself. Maybe this ignorance was a gift. He writes,
As I wrestled with that question, I began to see his love and concern for us. God kept it hidden because he wanted me to marry Pat, who is a wonderful wife. My life would be impoverished without her, and I would have missed the blessings of being married to her had I known earlier.
God wanted our three sons to be born. Each is a blessing and a treasure, but we would have missed that had we known earlier. And God knew that we needed to be in a community of brothers and sisters in Christ at church and at the seminary who would love us and care for us at this darkest hour.
And so he withheld that information, not because he accidentally overlooked giving it to us, and not because he is an uncaring God who delights in seeing his children suffer. He withheld it as a sign of his great care for us. There is never a good time to receive such news, but God knew that this was exactly the right time.
For this reason, some people walk away from Christianity. They look for other ways to access the supernatural.
In his book Generation Ex-Christian, about younger Christians leaving Christianity, author Drew Dyck relates one interview with a young man who left Christianity to join the Wicca religion.
Morninghawk Apollo (who renamed himself as is common in Wiccan practice) discussed his rejection of Christianity with candor. "Ultimately why I left is that the Christian God demands that you submit to his will. In Wicca, it's just the other way around. Your will is paramount. We believe in gods and goddesses, but the deities we choose to serve are based on our wills."
And so, if you’re here this morning and you are not a follower of Christ, you really are brought to a cross roads. You have a choice to make. Now I know some of you may be saying. “Well, I thought God was in control of everything. If that is true, how can I have a choice to make. Isn’t everything already predetermined?” That’s a good question, but it seems clear to me in the scripture that the sovereignty of God never denies the free choice of people. It’s very evident in this story: Mary had to choose to allow God to use her; Joseph had to choose not to divorce Mary when she was found to be pregnant. Augustus had to choose to tax the country; The shepherds had to choose to come and worship; the wise men had to choose to follow the star. Even Herod made his choices to try to kill the baby. All of these had to choose.
And that, in the final analysis, is what we are left: A choice. This tiny babe’s birth may be historical; it may be simple; and it may be sovereign, but it cannot be ignored. You and I must respond to it.
If you’re here today and you’ve never really given your life to Christ, that is a very definite choice you need to make. I’m not talking about praying a prayer or just trying to live a better life. I’m talking about making a full, complete commitment to follow Jesus Christ with all of your life. I’m talking about a life-changing decision. I’m talking about a complete change of direction. You see, Jesus came not to leave us the same but to change us way down deep on the inside. The choice you need to make this morning is to turn your whole life over to him.
And if you are a believer, you have a choice as too. I must tell you that, very often, believers look more like “wiccans” than like Christians. We want to serve a God where our own will is paramount. But that humble babe in the manger will have none of that. The surrender He’s looking for completely destroys self-will.
You see, if the story really is true, it cannot be ignored. It will absolutely change your life.
SERMON SPICE, THE CHRISTMAS QUESTION.
So what are the issues of surrender in your heart? Perhaps there’s something very specific that God’s been dealing with in your life. It may be a relationship that’s just not right; it may be purchase you want to make that you know isn’t God’s will for you; it may be a habit that you have that’s just not what a Christian should be doing. I don’t know what it is, but I guarantee you that if you will listen to the Holy Spirit, He’ll tell you what it is