The Purpose of Christmas: Celebration from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.
What do you do for an encore on the Day After Tomorrow? As a follow-up to Doomsday, Armageddon or Independence Day? If your name is Roland Emmerich then it had to be producing the apotheosis of all disaster movies, 2012. To be more precise, the 21st December 2012, i.e, tomorrow, in two years time. Because that’s the day the Mayan “Long Count” calendar ends. On that day, in the film at least, a solar storm results in changes in the Earth’s core, triggering gigantic earthquakes, super-volcanoes, and truly apocalyptic disasters. I confess – I enjoyed the film – if you can ever ‘enjoy’ a portrayal of the end of the world. The wide screen set pieces are literally jaw-dropping. The heroes race through a disintegrating landscape, literally riding a rolling cataclysm consuming the earth directly under their wheels. Crumbling skyscrapers, tumbling vehicles and heaving shelves of rock, slide whole cities into the abyss or beneath the waves. The other memorable scene occurs when a crack runs the length of the Sistine Chapel ceiling—directly between the adjacent fingers of God and Adam. Outside, a crowd of thousands keep vigil in St. Peter’s Square. They hold candles, while the pope looks down from his balcony and a group of cardinals pray within the basilica. But St. Peter’s, along with the giant statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio, go the way of all landmarks in an Roland Emmerich film.
Is he making a religious statement? Well, probably, for, without giving too much away, the concluding scene resembles another well known story from Genesis. My worry is that the film typifies the “apocalyptic subculture” fuelled by books, websites, YouTube videos and movies at a time of heightened fear—about terrorism, al Qaeda, Iran, nuclear weapons and religious fundamentalism. Add to that climate change, global warming, natural disasters, disease pandemics, AIDS, the economic meltdown, the debt burden, diminishing fuel reserves and food shortages, and we are at the mercy of ‘chick-little’ gloom and doom prophets who predict the end of the world. Sadly some popular Christian writers seem just as determined to stir the pot and bring on death and destruction to our world. One day God will indeed wrap up history as we know. But that shouldn’t paralyze us. It should energise us. God doesn’t want to destroy this world. He wants to deliver us.
“God is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” (Ezekiel 33:11)
God is not mad with you. He is mad about you! That is the message of Christmas. You may have good reason for feeling uneasy or lonely or even depressed at Christmas. Maybe relationships are strained or uncomfortable. Maybe you will be alone this Christmas. Maybe you’re just exhausted, worn out from all that’s happened in your life this year. This Christmas, please know that God cares deeply about you. His purpose for Christmas really is the best news on earth. Beneath all the trappings of the Festive season there are some simple truths that will transform your life for the better now, and forever in eternity. Right now there’s nothing more important for you to understand than the purpose of Christmas. It is no accident that you are here. God planned your birth, and before you were even born, he knew this moment was coming. It may well be that all your life up to this moment has been preparing you to receive God’s Christmas gift. On the first Christmas night, the angels announced three purposes behind the birth of Jesus.
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” (Luke 2:8-14)
Christmas is a time for celebration, a time for salvation and a time for reconciliation. Tonight we will dwell on the first. On Christmas Eve we will consider the other two. We have here an indication of the importance of this message in the number of angels who brought the announcement.
“A great company of the heavenly host appeared”. The words used to describe the number of angels indicates that there were thousands upon thousands of angels. For all we know there may have been millions. What does this tell us? It tells us of a God who is excited beyond our wildest imagination about coming to be with us, to be one of us, to rescue us, to save us, to restore us to a right relationship with him. The first purpose of Christmas therefore is celebration! That is why we say “Merry Christmas” Christmas is a celebration. Why? Because God had wonderful news to share: We learn this from the angel’s opening statement. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10). Observe first that it is personal: “I bring you.” Not only that but it is positive: “good news of great joy.” Good news. Positive, personal. And notice also it is universal: “for all the people.” For all the people, not just some people, not just good people, not just young people, beautiful people, articulate people, intelligent people, or religious people, but all people. So it doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve done, where you’ve been, or where you’re headed — this news is for you. Its personal, its positive and its profligate. The angel brought the best news in the whole wide world for the whole wide world. The message of the angels is worth celebrating because it is greatest news ever told.
And what specifically is that good news? The good news of Christmas is three things. When God sent Jesus Christ to earth, He was saying three things. One, God loves us. Two, God is with us. Three, God is for us. Reason enough for mulled wine and mince pies tonight.
1. God loves us
The angels said “Do not be afraid”. Many people are afraid of God because of what they have done or because of what they have been taught. But that is not the message of Christmas. The most famous verse in the whole Bible is Jesus’ explanation of Christmas – why God sent him to earth.”God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) We are celebrating Christmas because of the love of God. God loves you so much that he came to earth that first Christmas as a human so you could get to know him and love him back.
God created us in his image, which includes the ability to enjoy a personal relationship with him. He took the initiative to send Jesus so we could experience his love. So that we could be restored to a right relationship with him. Of course, we know a little about God by simply observing his creation. For instance, by looking at nature we know that our Creator loves variety:
He created an incredibly diverse universe. Think of the limitless array of plants, animals, rock formations, snowflakes, and people. No two human beings, even twins, are exactly alike. God doesn’t make clones or copies. Every one of us is an original. After you were born, God broke the mold. By surveying nature, we also know that God is powerful and organized, and that he loves beauty. God must enjoy watching us enjoy what he’s created. Otherwise, why would he give us so many ways to enjoy it? He gave us taste buds, then filled the world with incredible flavours like chocolate and cinnamon and all the other spices. He gave us eyes to perceive colour and then filled the world with a rainbow of shades. He gave us sensitive ears and then filled the world with rhythms and music. Your capacity for enjoyment is evidence of God’s love for you. He could have made the world tasteless, colorless, and silent. The Bible says that God “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” He didn’t have to do it, but he did, because he loves us. But until Jesus came, our understanding of God’s love was limited. So God invaded planet earth to save us. God could have chosen many other ways to communicate with us, but since he designed us, he knew the best way would be face-to-face. The Bible tells us that God is love. It doesn’t say God has love, but “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Love is the essence of God’s character. It is his very nature.
The reason that everything in the universe exists is because God wanted to love it. “The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.” (Psalm 145:9). Think about this. Everything you see, and the trillions of things you can’t, were made by God for his enjoyment. He loves it all, even when we mess it up by our sin. Every star, every planet, every plant, every animal, every cell, and, most of all, every human being was created out of God’s compassion. You were created as an object of God’s love. He made you in order to love you! His love is the reason you’re alive and breathing and here tonight. Every time your heart beats and every time you take a breath, God is saying, “I love you.” You would not exist if God had not wanted you. Your parents may not have planned you, but God did. Did you know that God was thinking of you even before he made the world? (Psalm 139:16). In fact, it is why he created it. He designed this planet’s environment with just the right characteristics so human beings could live on it. “God decided to give us life through the word of truth so we might be the most important of all the things he made.” (James 1:18). We matter to God more than anything else he has made. Because God’s love for you is unconditional, he loves you on your bad days as much as on your good days. He loves you when you don’t feel his love as much as when you do.
He loves you regardless of your performance, your moods, your actions, or your thoughts. His love for you is unchanging. Everything else will change during your lifetime, but God’s love for you is constant, steady, and continuous. It’s the foundation for unshakable confidence. There is nothing you can do that will make God stop loving you. You could try, but you’d fail — because God’s love for you is based on his character, not your conduct. It’s based on who he is, not what you’ve done. The Bible says, “Christ’s love is greater than anyone can ever know, but I pray that you will be able to know that love.” (Ephesians 3:19). Christ’s love was supremely expressed when he paid for every sin we commit by dying on a cross in our place. This is the Good News. When the Romans nailed Jesus to a cross, they stretched his arms as wide as they could. With his arms wide open, Jesus was physically demonstrating, “I love you this much! I’d rather die than live without you!” The next time you see a picture or statue of Jesus on the cross, remember, he is saying, “I love you this much” This is the 1st reason to celebrate at Christmas – God loves us. Here’s the 2nd reason to celebrate Christmas:
2. God is with us
Sometimes we give babies names to honour their relatives. God gave Jesus several names to explain his purpose for coming to earth. Matthew’s gospel, quotes one of those names,
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” which means “God with us”. (Matt 1:23; Isa 7:14)
In Jesus Christ, God has made himself known fully and finally. He is now with us. God came to earth at Christmas in Jesus Christ to be with you. To be with you, not just for Christmas but forever. God’s presence in your life has nothing to do with your feelings. Your emotional state can be the result of memories, hormones, medicines, food, lack of sleep, tension or fears. The Bible says “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7). Space and time are irrelevant to God. God is always everywhere at the same time. No wonder the angels told the shepherds “Do not be afraid”.
C.S. Lewis put it, “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with him.” That’s a fact whether you feel it or not. You may have been abandoned in life – by a spouse, by your parents, by your children, or by people you thought were your friends. We have all experienced the pain and heartache of rejection in some way or another. You may have experienced the sting of racial or ethnic prejudice, gender bigotry, or religious intolerance. But God will not abandon you if you trust in Him. He never will. In the Bible, God says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5). Whatever difficulty you are facing or where the heat is on in your life, God knows about it, cares about it, understands it and is with you. You are not alone. God loves us. God is with us.
3. God is for us
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10). He’s not only loving you, and He’s not only with you, but the Bible says God is for you. He’s on your side. He wants you to win. He wants you to succeed. He wants you to live. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). Not just with us but for us. So many people are afraid of God. They feel that God is just waiting to catch them in something bad, so he can pounce on them and punish them. Maybe you get nervous when people start talking about God. You know why? It’s called guilt. Guilt separates us from God. You may think, “If I get close to God, He’s going to scold me. He’s going to remind me of all the things I’ve done wrong. He’s going to tell me the bad stuff.”
But the Bible says Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world. He came to save it. The Bible says – “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.” (John 3:17).
He didn’t come to scold you. He came to save you. That’s the good news. And if God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31). No wonder the angel said “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10). Good news of great joy that God loves you, God is with you. God is for you. These are the reasons Christmas is meant to be a celebration. On Christmas Eve we will consider the other two purposes, salvation and reconciliation. For now, remember, Jesus came to save you, not to scare you. That’s why the very first words of the angel were, “Don’t be afraid.” There are actually 365 “fear not’s” in the Bible. That’s one for every day of the year. God is saying, “Get the message” You don’t need to be afraid. Because, “I love you, I’m with you, and I’m for you.” That’s good news. And that’s what we are celebrating tonight. Lets pray.
Dear God, thank you for sending your Son, Jesus, so I could get to know you. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for being with me all my life even when I didn’t know it. I realize I need a saviour to set me free from sin, from myself, and from all the habits, hurts, and hang-ups that mess up my life. I ask you to forgive me for my sins. I want to repent and live the way you created me to live. Be the Lord of my life, and save me by your grace. Save me from my sins, and save me for your purpose. I want to learn to love you, trust you, and become what you made me to be. Thank you for creating me and choosing me to be part of your family. Right now, by faith, I accept the Christmas gift of your Son. Fill me with your Holy Spirit to give me your peace and assurance so I can be a peacemaker, and help me share this message of peace with others. In your name I pray, Amen.
This sermon and prayer is adapted with sincere thanks from Rick Warren’s The Purpose of Christmas (Howard Books, 2008)