Before you start, I encourage you to read the Christmas Story from Luke 2:1-20.
A Special Time of Year
Last week I invited you last week to take one of these books, called “The Purpose of Christmas” by Rick Warren. The reason that I did this was so that we could spend time together, here at church and at home during the week, thinking about the reason that we celebrate the season of Advent and Christmas.
The whole premise of this little book is to ask the question: Why do we spend so much time, money, energy and effort on this one day of the year? Why is this the big one? What makes Christmas so special?
That being said, over the past 40 years or so, Christmas has been losing some of its specialness. It’s still the biggest holiday, but it is now being challenged by Halloween as the biggest day of the year. Where even 50 years ago people would have felt an obligation to come into a church for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day – if only out of tradition – now less and less people bother. At one point the “Story of Christmas” was about baby Jesus in the manger, the shepherds and the angels, and now there are many, many more Christmas stories – Santa Clause is obviously the big one, but there’s also The Night Before Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, The Little Match Girl, A Christmas Carol, The Nutcracker, It’s A Wonderful Life – and they are given equal, if not more, significance in people’s lives than the story of Jesus. (This DVD is titled “The Original Christmas Classics” — I’m pretty sure Jesus pre-dates Frosty as the “Original” Christmas story.) Many families would much rather sit down and read The Grinch who Stole Christmas than the Nativity Story.
And so, this year, I wanted us to ask ourselves the question, “What is the purpose of Christmas?” We are Christians, this is a church, and we know the Christmas Story. We talk about Jesus all year long, so what makes Christmas so special? Or perhaps, the better question I want us to be able to answer is this: “How can we make sure we have a purposeful Christmas and make it special?”
The Meaning of Christmas
Doing that – having a purposeful, meaningful, special Christmas – is sometimes harder than we think. And I believe the reason that it’s hard is because there are so many different ideas about the “True Meaning of Christmas”.
Rick Warren’s first chapter is entitled “A Time for Celebration”. His point is that one of the main purposes for Christmas is that it is an annual time that we have set aside to concentrate on celebrating — something. For hundreds of years people knew what we were celebrating, that the “true meaning of Christmas” was the incarnation of Jesus. But that’s just not the case anymore.
It’s not that people aren’t thinking about it. We’ve heard and read the phrase a million times in every movie, TV show and newspaper article at this time of year. Everyone is looking for the “true meaning of Christmas.” What is the “true meaning of Christmas”? But it’s almost as though they believe the there is no answer. Like so many other things now, there’s no “right answer” to the question because everyone gets to answer it for themselves. Truth is relative, meaning is relative. It’s like looking at an impressionist painting intended to allow each person can ascribe whatever meaning they want.
For some, the “True meaning of Christmas” is getting presents… not the noblest of causes, but at least their honest. For some it’s simply time off work and an excuse to spend money. For others, it’s all about getting together with family. Some believe the “true meaning of Christmas” is found in the rituals and traditions: baking cookies, turkey dinner, skating on the canal, decorating the tree, and remembering Christmases as a kid.
It’s easy to get caught up in that because they are all really good things! Christians are supposed to say that the “True meaning of Christmas” is the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. If we are asked on the street corner, or in a mall whether we say “happy holidays” or “merry Christmas”, we will unabashedly – almost militantly – say, “Merry Christmas” because Christmas is all about Christ.
But in our hearts, in our homes, in our private times, and in our celebrations, it is so easy to get caught up in all the other things that come with Christmas – and push Jesus off to the side. I know I’m guilty of it.
And so, during this short Advent season, my hope and prayer is that each of us will be able to be purposeful about this Christmas season – that we will imbue it with special meaning – not in the secular sense, but in the sacred sense. That we would enjoy all of the rest of the good things in the season, but not allow them to dominate our thoughts – that we would keep Jesus at the centre of all that we are doing.
How to have a Purposeful Christmas
How can we do that? I believe, first and foremost, it comes through an understanding of what Christmas is really about. It comes from allowing the story of the incarnation of Jesus Christ to fill up our hearts so that there is much less room for other things to take it over. I believe that if we can remind ourselves consistently about the love Jesus showed for us, the grace given to us, the story of what Jesus did for us, that our Christmas will have more meaning.
What I’ve appreciated about this little book we are going through is how Rick Warren simplifies the message of Christmas for us so that we can not only understand it, but appreciate it. The whole of the book revolves around in on what the angels say to the shepherds, and the first chapter pulls out that first phrase: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
The big idea is that with all that comes with this season, we must remember the very core message of what we are celebrating: That “God loves you”, that “God is with you”, and that “God is for you”. If we are able to purposefully keep those things in mind: that celebrating Christmas reminds us that God loves us — that celebrating Christmas reminds us that God is with us — that celebrating Christmas reminds us that God is on our side — then we will be able to celebrate a Christmas full of meaning.
Little cost, little love. Big cost, big love.
John 3:16 says,
“For God so loved the world that he gave us his one and only son…”
The reason that we celebrate Christmas, and the coming of Jesus Christ, is because it is a demonstration of His love for us.
One of the ways you can tell how much you love someone, or are loved by someone, is what they are willing to give up for you. One might call this Sacrificial Love. It’s not always a fair equation, but I think it’s at least one of the ways we can tell. People who love you will show it by giving up their time for you, their energy, their reputations, their comfort, and even their money, because they value you more than whatever it is they are giving up.
If you want to show someone you love them, or wonder how much you really do care about them, just ask yourself how much you would be willing to give up. These could be good things: A mother sacrificing her career for her children. A soldier sacrificing his life for his country. A father sacrificing his health for his family. Or they could be not so good thing. A mother sacrificing time with her children so she can go out and party. A businessperson sacrificing their family so they can stay at work more. A gambler sacrificing his money so he can play the game. That’s a form of sacrificial love too.
Are you willing to put aside yourself and your wants for the sake of the other person, or do they always come after you? This is something that happens around Christmas all the time. We are constantly caught weighing out how much we really care about someone. Do I get them a gift, or a card, a phone call or a letter, a hug or a handshake? How long do I shop for this person’s gift? Are they someone I shop for at the dollar store, or someone I spend hours worrying about as I search online or walk malls looking for the perfect gift? And how much do I spend? (I know this is cruel, but it’s true) Is this a $5 relationship, or a $300 relationship?
And it’s not just about money – it’s also about our time, effort, & energy? Do I take time off of work to attend this person’s Christmas party? Are they close enough for us to spend Christmas dinner with, or are they more of an “I’ll see you after New Year’s” type friend? Do I travel through a snowstorm to make sure I’m at their house, or if the weather’s too bad do I stay home? What am I willing to give up for this person? What a person is willing to give up, whether it be time, money, energy, effort or anything else… I believe… is at least one indicator of how much love that relationship has.
Little cost, little love. Big cost, big love.
For the last part of our time here this morning I want to talk about what coming into the world cost Jesus, and I want to do it using three important theological words which describe those costs.
The first word is “Incarnation”. One continuing heresy that the church has taught against is something called Docetism which is the belief that God would never stoop to becoming a human. But the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus “incarnated” Himself. That word literally means “in flesh”. Jesus is and always has been God. When He came to earth, Jesus took the fullness of His deity, and not putting anything aside, added humanity to His deity, becoming the God-Man.
In many Christmas carols we use the word Immanuel, which means “God with us”. Jesus came to be God with us. John begins his gospel this way describing the incarnation:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.”
And then says in verse 14:
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
It was by Jesus by coming and dying in the flesh, as a human, one of us, that humanity was able to be saved. He had to be one of us.
The next word is tied to the incarnation. The next word is “Condescension”. God condescended, came down, stooped, to our level. 2 Corinthians 8:9 says it like this,
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
When we kneel down to a small child to get eye to eye, and use simple language to explain something so they can understand, we are condescending to them. That’s Jesus Christ did for us. He had the full glory and power and majesty of God, but chose to bring Himself down to our level and spoke in a way we could understand.
Which brings us to the third word, which is what I really want to park on because it makes the point so well. I said before that love can be measured by what a person is willing to give up for another. The third word is “Humiliation”. We don’t use this word very often, and when we do, it’s often given in a negative sense, but when Jesus came at Christmas, He humiliated himself.
To humiliate someone is to literally make them humble, or lower them in dignity. Most of us have been humiliated at some point in many different ways. This happens to me a lot when I try to play sports or board games with people. I walk in thinking highly of myself, confident in my abilities… and generally walk out humbled and lowered in dignity.
But Jesus’ humiliation was different. He wasn’t humbled by anyone. He humiliated himself. He chose to bring himself down in dignity. He chose how He would enter the world, what the circumstances would look like, who His parents would be, what His life would look like, and how it would end. It was His choice to be humiliated.
Philippians 2:5-7 capture this perfectly,
“Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”
Humility was a mega-theme in the life of Jesus. From the very moment He was born to his death on the cross, the life of Jesus was marked with humility. We have to remember where Jesus came from, and where He is now, to at least begin to appreciate the humiliation of His condescension and incarnation.
Remember, Jesus is God. Always has been and always will be. He’s no less than God. He is worshipped by angels, proclaimed in the highest, equal with the Father, all powerful, all knowing, all present, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, God.
And yet, he humbled Himself… humiliated Himself… condescended Himself to our level. There has never been any descent like that of Christ’s.
Just consider the choices that Jesus made when He decided to come into the world. He, the King of All, made Himself a subject of Herod – a cruel, despotic, corrupt ruler who would try to kill him as soon as he found out about Jesus.
Consider the circumstances of his birth. The Creator of the Universe, who spoke everything into being, decided to make himself a helpless baby. He deserved to have a royal welcome, the best medical care, silk sheets, a golden crib, a thousand nurses, on a hill, in the Holy City of Jerusalem. But no, Jesus gave all that up.
The place of His birth was no accident. He didn’t accidentally end up in a feeding trough – He placed Himself there. That’s where He wanted to be born. Why? To show us the depth of his love, and set for us the highest example.
As I said, greater cost equals greater love. He gave it all up for us. He didn’t keep one scrap of His glory. There are not many people one that can claim to have had a more obscure, dirty, humiliating birth as the Son of God. He gave it all up. If one of the ways we can know how much a person loves us is by how much they are willing to give up, then Jesus must love us very, very much. The whole story of Jesus’ birth sets us up for the paradox that is His life. Jesus consistently taught us that the way up is down.
“Blessed are the meek” (Matthew 5:5).
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11).
“Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:4)
He didn’t give himself an attractive body that everyone would immediately love and trust. Instead, Isaiah 53:2 says,
“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”
What would we have done in his place? Set up some advantages, right? Made it a little easier. He didn’t. He humiliated Himself over and over out of love for us.
We would have chosen an easier life with more resources, good friends and a decent house. Isaiah 53:3 says,
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
Throughout his life he was mocked because of how he was born. When people heard that he was from Nazareth they made fun of him. Some scholars even say that the Pharisees even mocked him for being conceived out of wedlock (John 8:19,41).
During His life He could have used His amazing teaching abilities, influence and power to get anything He wanted. He could have been the best salesman, politician, lawyer or celebrity ever known. Instead when someone asked him where he lived he answered them,
“Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”” (Matthew 8:20).
Celebrate the Love of Jesus
Why would Jesus do this? Why humiliate Himself? First, to teach us how to live… but also to prove His love for us. Much cost equals much love.
So my encouragement to you this week is to remember and celebrate that God loves you – He proved it in his Humiliation, God is with you – He came in his Incarnation and remains alive today, and God is for you – He provides for us Salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ.