By Pastor Glenn Pease
One of the biggest attractions in all of history was the smallest man alive-General Tom Thumb. He was only 25 inches tall and weighed only 15 pounds. Over 20 million people paid to see him sing and dance. He charmed his way into the hearts of the greatest people of his day-Queen Victoria of England, Queen Isabella of Spain, the Duke of Wellington, and Abraham Lincoln, just to name a few.
He was born January 4, 1838 as Charles Sherwood Stratton. Oddly enough, he was a big baby weighing 9lbs. 2ozs. at birth, but at 5 months old he weighed 15lbs. 2ozs., and that is where he stayed. In this way he was radically different than Jesus, for Dr. Luke tells us in Luke 2:52, that he grew in wisdom and stature. Jesus grew up as a normal man physically.
Tom Thumb did have some things in common with Jesus, however. Both were born as sons of a carpenter. Jesus was not conceived by Joseph, but he was his earthly father. Both began as little mites who became mighty. Both remained single all their lives. Both drew large crowds. All of these are trivial and incidental. That which they really had in common was their adoration of their heavenly Father. Tom Thumb wrote, "I read the Bible every day, and am fond of reading the New Testament. I adore my Creator and know that He is good to us all. He has given me a small body, but I believe He has not contracted my heart, nor brain, nor soul. I shall praise His name evermore."
The smallest man who ever lived, and the greatest man who ever lived, had in common with each other the spirit of worship. Tom Thumb praised God for his little body with it's big heart and soul. The angels praised God for the little baby of Bethlehem who would grow up and cause people to praise God all over the world. The more you examine the Christmas story, the more you discover that the one thing all of the persons involved had in common, was the spirit of praise.
Mary begins her song, "My soul praises the Lord." Zechariah's song begins, "Praise be to the Lord." The angels suddenly appear, "Praising God and saying glory to God in the highest." The shepherds in verse 20, "returned, glorifying and praising God." One of the major differences between a Christian Christmas and a secular Christmas is the praise to God. The secular soul does not rise above the materialism of the season, but the spiritual soul recognizes that the essence of the celebration is in praising God for the Gift of His Son. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. This is also the chief end of Christmas. The way to have a merry Christmas is to do what all the characters did on that first Christmas-they enjoyed God, and they praised Him..
We are to enjoy God forever, but we do not have to wait until eternity to begin this enjoyment. We start now, and the way we enjoy God is by praising Him. Praise is not only a pleasure for the receiver, but for the giver as well. This is a case where we can see it is more blessed to give than to receive. We are, no doubt, more blest in the giving of praise to God than He is by receiving it. To be a praiser of God is to be in the highest state of joy. All other happiness falls short. The goal of Christmas is to enjoy God.
Martha was a wonderful Christian woman, and Jesus loved her greatly, but she was so busy preparing a meal for Jesus she did not enjoy Jesus. She missed the enjoyment of his presence and His teaching, and the result is she was rebuked for trying to rob Mary of her enjoyment of these things. Jesus said Mary made the right and wise choice. The point Jesus was making was that he wants to be enjoyed. His greatest enjoyment is in being enjoyed. This is God's greatest pleasure as well. More than service even, God wants us to enjoy who He is, and to express that enjoyment in praise. The simplest definition of worship that I have come up with is-the enjoyment of God. If you truly praise God you are enjoying God, and thereby fulfilling the very purpose for your existence.
The angels and the shepherds had this in common on that first Christmas- They were enjoying God, and what He was doing in history. When a Christian says "Merry Christmas," it is to mean a whole lot more than, enjoy your gifts, your food, your family, your friends, your parties, etc.: It is to mean, above all else, enjoy God! In various places in the Bible even the rocks, and the trees, and the mountains break forth in singing the praises of God. The chief end of everything is to praise God. Happiness is expressed in praise. James 5:13 says, "Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise." Singing, praising, worshiping, and being happy are all linked together in what it means to enjoy God.
That is why it is surprising that there ever was a debate about whether angels sing or not. I cannot conceive that God would make intelligent beings who can behold His glory and the wonders of His creation, and withhold from them the gift of music and song. Heaven is always pictured as a place of praise, and it would be cruel to be in this environment of perpetual praise and never be able to join in the joyful expressions of thanksgiving through song. To know God and His love and not be able to sing His praises would be more like hell. This is the state of the fallen angels who have lost the presence of God, and, therefore, have also lost the enjoyment of praising Him in song. The essence of hell is the loss of the enjoyment of God. Satan and his fallen angels lose the essence of heaven, which is, the enjoyment of God.
The angels on that first Christmas gave us a glimpse of angelic enjoyment of God in their song. It is of interest that the very first Christmas sermon that was preserved refers to this. The sermon is by Telesphorus, the Bishop of Rome in 137 A. D., who said in that message, "..that in the holy night of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior, they do celebrate public church services, and in them do solemnly sing the angel's hymn......" All through history Christmas has been a time of songs and praise. This is what men and angels have in common-the ability to enjoy God and express that enjoyment in song. Paul Gerhardt in 1653 wrote,
All my heart this night rejoices
as I hear far and near,
Sweetest angels voices
Christ is born, the choirs all singing,
Till the air Everywhere
Now with joy is ringing
What was the purpose of the angels appearing to the shepherds? It was obviously their goal to get the shepherds to enjoy God and what He was doing, along with them. "Don't be afraid" the angels said for their goal was not to scare the shepherds and make them fearful of the supernatural world. Instead, they invited them to share in the secrets of the supernatural world. They brought good news of great joy for all the people. Angels are not exclusive. They do not want to sing God's praises to the exclusion of man. They want man to join them in their songs of joy. After they told the shepherds where to find the baby Messiah, they returned to heaven, for they expected man to carry on the songs of praise on earth. They would enjoy God in heaven, and they expected man to enjoy God on earth. The message of Christmas is, because God came to earth, we can, even in this fallen world, taste of heaven, and enjoy God now in time.
The two things everyone most desires are happiness and health. Christians who enjoy God can be the world's greatest Santa Claus, for they can help people receive these gifts by sharing the Gospel of God's love in Christ. Ultimate happiness and health are found in the enjoyment of God. Prov. 17:22 says, "A cheerful heart is good medicine." What can make a heart more cheerful than the enjoyment of God? When people receive God's gift of eternal life in Christ, they receive with Him the hope of eternal health and happiness. That is why it is such good news, and that is why joyful praise is at the center of the Christmas celebration. Philipp Nicolai wrote,
Now let every tongue adore thee!
Let men with angels sing before thee!
Let harps and cymbals now unite!
Heaven's gates with pearl are glorious,
Where we partake through faith victorious,
With angels round thy throne of light.
No mortal eye hath seen,
No mortal ear hath heard such wondrous things;
Therefore with joy our song shall soar
In praise to God forevermore.
Singing at Christmas is not a mere trimming, but one of the main purposes of the season. It is not the sweet potato, it is the turkey. It is not the ornament, it is the tree. Whatever helps us to enjoy God is a vital part of the Christmas experience. Music and song have always been a key means to this end. They get the mind and the body stimulated to praise God.
If everyone who enjoyed God, when Jesus was born, expressed that in praise, then we ought to do so also. Praise in song is a natural response to a major event. When a nation is born a national anthem is born too. Major things lead to songs, and the most major event of history was the birth of the Son of God into human flesh. Michael Harbon tells of the cowboy who rode up to the Grand Canyon and said, "Something mighty big sure happened here." The manger scene is to Christianity what the Grand Canyon is to nature. We are to look at it with an awesome awareness that something might big sure happened here.
When Nixon was president, he got overly excited about Americans landing on the moon, and he said, "The planting of human feet on the moon is the greatest moment in human history." If we spent a month out of each year celebrating that event with songs and plays and parties of all kinds, he would have had a case. But the fact is, the greatest event in human history was not when man set foot on the moon, but rather, when God set foot on the earth. That is the event that sent music through the hearts of angels and shepherds, and through all of history. No human being will ever read all the poetry written about the birth of Jesus. No human being will ever sing all the songs sung about this birth. No human being will ever see all the paintings and other works of art created in honor of this birth.
Paul in IICor. 9:15, calls this baby, God's unspeakable gift. Some translate it God's inestimable gift, or God's indescribable gift, or God's incomparable gift, or God's inexpressible gift. Why all these different words? They illustrate the very point of the verse, which is, there are not enough words to communicate the wonder and the worth of this gift. That is why the Living Bible is good here, for it refers to the gift of Jesus as "too wonderful for words."
Harry Ironside had an insight into this word that I treasure. He points out that it literally means, "not yet fully expounded." We have hundreds of thousands of songs, and millions of sermons expounding on Jesus, but the point of Paul is, we can never fully grasp all that we have in Jesus until we see Him face to face. Then we will say, as the Queen of Sheba said after seeing Solomon in person, the half was not told me. We will sing the Praises of God for all eternity for the gift of His Son, for we will be ever learning more and more of all that was given to us in this wondrous gift. Because of this gift we will be able to enjoy God forever. Christmas is a time to enjoy God because He made it possible to enjoy Him forever by His inexpressible gift. He will go on forever expounding to us all that is included in this gift. Jesus is a gift that goes on giving and giving for He is infinite.
If I have a party and go to all the trouble to clean, and cook, and decorate, my greatest pleasure is going to be in the enjoyment of my guests. I will get pleasure out of their enjoyment of all I have done for their pleasure. I will enjoy their enjoyment. The same is true for God. What does God get out of Christmas? He gets the pleasure of our enjoyment of what He has done for us. If we love His gift of the Lord Jesus, and we express that love in songs of praise, we fulfill the purpose of God. The greatest gift we can give God is to enjoy the Gift He has given to us.
Beverly Sills, after one of her performances at the Metropolitan Opera, was being congratulated by those who came back stage. After awhile one of them said they should go and leave her alone for she has to give another performance at eight. Miss Sills heard that and said, "No, I don't have to give another performance. I get to give it! I get to sing!" She so loved to sing that it was pure pleasure and not a duty or obligation. We are really filled with the Christmas spirit when this is our attitude. We don't have to sing Christmas songs, we get to sing them! We get to enjoy the praises of God! We get to enjoy God! The angels made it clear, and the shepherds followed their lead, and wise men and women continue to do so, realizing that the essence of Christmas is in the enjoyment of God.