The Essence of Christmas

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People make a lot of assumptions in life. Especially when dealing with a familiar subject. A young lady was in her first year of teaching first graders. On the last day of school before Christmas the kids all lined up to give her presents. The first student gave her a small box, she shook it and heard small things rattling inside it, knowing that the child’s father owned a candy store she said, “I know what this is, it’s a box of chocolate.” “Yes, teacher it’s candy.” She took the box from the next student, it was thin and long, his father owned a flower shop, so she said, “I know what this is, you gave me flower.” “Yes teacher, it’s a bunch of flowers.” The next student handed her a tall box, his father owned the local liquor store and it was leaking.” She tasted it and said, ‘I know what this is, it’s Champagne.” “No.” She tasted it again, “Is it wine?” “No, it’s a puppy.”

The Christmas story is one that everyone assumes they know. People think they know all about Christmas. Yet if you asked the average person on the street the reality is that you’d get something about a virgin, a babe in a manger and something about shepherds or wise men or kings. More often, they would say Christmas is about family, gifts, and/or something about corporate America making money. There is so much more to the Christmas story than that. When we are able to see things from God’s point of view the story becomes so much more amazing. The essence of Christmas is that the God of the universe came to earth to be a man; before the virgin birth, the manger, the shepherds visit, and magi’s visit Jesus is.

The true story of Christmas is not linked to one day, or week, or even a season. The Christmas story in essence did not end even with the death of the babe whose story is still told; because the impact of that day will echoes throughout all eternity. It is the impact of God becoming man and dwelling with us. The only one who can properly put that into perspective for us is God Himself, and perhaps the best summary of what it means from a God point of view is found in the gospel of John.

John 1:1-5 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.  In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”

John didn’t write about shepherds and wise men because he was overwhelmed by the impact of what the incarnation of Christ meant for all people for all time. The story of Christmas is not about a few shepherds, or even Mary and Joseph, but the true story is about “the good news of glad tiding for all men.” We celebrate Christmas today still because what happened that day was the defining event of so many of our lives today. That God came to save mankind and we have found Him. In his book “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” C.S. Lewis wrote repeatedly about finding the “deeper magic.” There is a hidden story in Christmas; people have heard about the babe in a manger so much that they missed the God who came to be one of us. As we look for the deeper magic within the story of Christmas there are three concepts that can be seen in John 1; Jesus is The Word, Jesus is The Creator, and Jesus is The Light.

John refers to Jesus as “the Word” in verse 1; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” In the Greek, the Word is Logos; it is God’s sovereign declaration of what will happen.  God’s Word is His plan. The coming of Jesus Christ has been God’s plan from the beginning.  In the Old Testament, God tells us our past relationship with God. God spent a long time (1,500 years), working through many people to reveal the meaning of Christmas; of His coming to us. The most important lesson we take from our past is our need for God. Think of the people of the Old Testament; all of them had flaws. Noah was considered righteous only after God gives him grace. Abraham, the father of the Nation of Israel had a disturbing lack of faith and he lied to protect himself. Moses, the Prince of Egypt was a murderer. Joseph, the son of Jacob, had had some pride issues as a young man. All of us when we are honest know that we have flaws.

That is part of our story; we have a need for God, He is the only one who can give us the strength to be the people we want to be.  That is the prayer that Paul prayed in Ephesians 3:16, “I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being.” The strength to become the person that each of us wants to be does not come from ourselves. It comes from God changing us from the inside out. We need His strength. That is why the most important promise from the past was that Christ would come. There are over 300 prophecies in the O.T. that foretold Jesus’ coming.

Isaiah 11:1 says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” David is the original son of Jesse. He made a mess of his life. His life was marked by everything from lust, to fear to greed it’s all in the story of his life. If that sounds bad, his family tree got even worse. So was the nation; in Isiah’s time it was broken. The family of the great king fell from its lofty heights, out of power and out of the public eye, as Isaiah said, it was a stump. But out of that stump would come hope for all mankind, out of that stump our Savior would rise.

Do you ever feel like you’re part of that line? You’re broken, despite your best intentions, despite all the things you desire to be, not just for God, but for yourself you’ve failed? Of course you have, we all feel that way at times. Catch the parallel, the Word tells our story, it tells of our need for God, and then it tells us that there is hope, that out of our need salvation will come. It is the divine declaration; the plan of God and it has been from the beginning. That is the true meaning of Christmas. At Christmas, Christ stepped into our present. In that day, the story made a huge transition from simply telling of our need and the hope for the future that we had to a present reality. God came; the stump was brought back to life.

That is the story for all of us. Jesus Christ is not just a word or a collection of words, Christ is the Word. John uses the word logos in the singular sense. Christ is the final, authoritative Word of God. Christ is God’s plan from the beginning. Before there was sunrise and sunset there is Jesus Christ, the Word of God. He was ordained from the beginning to heal our relationship with God.  Jesus is the Word, yesterday, today and forever, and His story, our story must be told.

John 1:3 tells us that Jesus is “The Creator.” The Bible teaches that all three members of the Trinity were involved in creation. God the Father created everything, but He did it through Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:16-17, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. ). The Holy Spirit participated in creation.  God’s statement (Gen. 1:26), “Let Us make man in Our image” implies the involvement of the trinity in the creation of human beings. If everything that has come into being came into being through Jesus, then clearly Jesus never came into being. He has existed eternally. Only God is eternal; Jesus is God. All things were made by Jesus Christ. Jesus was with God, not as a by-stander, but He was part of the divine operations in the beginning of time. Proverbs 8:30 says, “Then I was beside Him, as a master workman.” God made the world by a word and Christ was the Word.

By Jesus, not as a subordinate, but as an equal agent, God made everything; the heavens, the earth, spiritual beings, animals, and you and me. Without Jesus was not anything made that was made, from the highest angel to the smallest worm.  God the Father did nothing without Him in that work. The man Jesus Christ who is the author and founder of our faith is the same Who is the author and founder of the world. When we worship Jesus Christ, we worship Him to whom the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaiah, and Jacob along with all the Old Testament saints worshiped) gave honor as the Creator of the world, and on whom all creatures depend. This shows how well qualified He was for the work of our redemption and salvation. Help was laid upon One that was mighty indeed; for it was laid upon him that made all things; and He is appointed the author of our bliss who was the author of our being.

Creation also points to the amazing power and intelligence of God. Creation shows us that we are finite, limited creatures and thus we must submit to God and depend on Him.  In other words, if Jesus is the creator, then He is God, which means, I am not God! And that is a fundamental lesson in all of life!

The last third of John’s prelude, says that Jesus is “The Light.” Apart from Christ, people miss the meaning of Christmas. As people miss the true meaning of Christmas apart from Jesus Christ, they still don’t quite understand the nature of light; it is both a particle and a wave. Things are supposed to be either or but not both. It is a great comparison they both refuse to be put in a convenient classification. The phenomenon isn’t new when John was writing about it 2000 years ago. John 1: 5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” The picture of light and darkness is one of contrast and conflict. Where there is light the darkness is driven away. 2 Samuel 22:29 says, “For You are my lamp, O Lord; The Lord shall enlighten my darkness.” The Lord is the light, and sometimes the very source of our personal darkness comes from within from our own fears and failures.

John tells us that “The light shines in the darkness.” That picture of contrast and conflict; as the Sun Rises, the darkness retreats, as the Sun sets the darkness comes in invading and overcoming the land. It is a word picture of striking imagery that John is painting for us the conflict between light and darkness. John moves from speaking of light in general to speak of Light that this is a person; Jesus Christ.  The darkness cannot comprehend the light, it tries but it can’t. Look at that word comprehend. The Greek word is “kat-al-am-ban’-o”.  There were two definitions for the word comprehend that seem to apply to the passage. The first is “understanding.” In fact, some of your translations may say that “The darkness did not understand it.” That’s a good translation, because people who don’t know Christ, cannot understand what His coming meant for all mankind. That’s why you see so many people on T.V. who are paid good money to try and define who Christians are and they do such a bad job of it. They can’t understand what Christmas means, they can’t understand what Christ did, and they can’t understand what He continues to do in His people today. They are looking at a belief in a historical figure and we’re living life in the present in a relationship with God. If you can’t understand that God isn’t the past, but the present and the future, if you can’t get those basics right, then you’re not going to understand the details. Here’s the first basic, the babe in the manger is still on the throne.  He was the plan in the beginning and He is still the plan today. He is the light, particle and wave. Those in darkness, those who are seeking cannot understand Him until they embrace Him.

The second definition of light is to “grasp.”  In this context, literally John is saying of light and darkness that “it cannot be grasped.” Do you ever stop to wonder why Christianity is so threatening, so opposed, and every other religion is fine? It is because that little babe in the manger is so big that He cannot be grasped. No matter how hard men may try He refuses to be put in a box and left alone. Jesus told us His mission in John 10:10, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Jesus being born of Mary wasn’t a simple birth; this was an invasion.  Because people could not understand God or they could not find God; they were trapped on Earth while God was in heaven.   We were separated by our enemy Satan, by our own sin, and the darkness of our lack of understanding. We were trapped behind enemy lines so God invaded that territory to save us.

That star over the manger was the burst of the first artillery shell, on a spiritual level this was God sending in the Marines, but His army had only one person. This invasion force was God Himself. The battle raged for 33 years and in the end His entire army was killed, but He won, and because of that we are free. Jesus came from Heaven to Earth to have a relationship with you and just because you either lack understanding or are stubborn doesn’t mean He’s going to give up on you that easy. He will not fit in your box; He cannot be grasped, but He can be found.

For those of us here who do know Him, there is additional truth for us. He cannot be grasped. When you run into trouble, when the world, or circumstances have you boxed in and your back is against the wall and you’ve been captured by the enemy, He can’t be grasped. He cannot be tied down or stopped and He is coming to deliver you if you will trust in him. The distance of the universe, from heaven to earth couldn’t keep Him from you, death couldn’t either. No matter how dark things may be, He will always be there and He will always be victorious because nothing can hold Him. 1 Samuel 2:9 says, “He will guard the feet of His saints, but the wicked shall be silent in darkness. ‘For by strength no man shall prevail.’’

We lack understanding, but He is the light to show us the way. We lack the strength to live the way we want to, all us do, “No man shall prevail.” When God calls you to do a job you are unsure and have no idea He is leading; He is the light and He will light your way to the destination where He wants you. God is strength beyond understanding.

Jesus Christ has been the plan for our salvation from the beginning; He is the creator in that He made you and me; He is the light of our understanding in the present. All of our greatest needs were met in one moment. The incarnation was the answer to our needs. We need forgiveness for the past, we need strength to live today, and we need hope for the future. All of those needs were met when God came down into that manger.

This was the plan of God while we were still trapped in the darkness, before we asked for help, before we even knew of our need; God already had a plan in place to reach out to us. The Message paraphrase puts it like this, “This is the kind of love we are talking about – not that we once upon a time loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.” 1 John 4:10.

What an amazing love God has for us. That is the kind of love that we should be giving back to Him. Not because it is a commandment, although it is, but because that kind of love, love that reaches out to us through the ages and never leaves, is so overwhelming that when we realize the truth we should want to embrace it with everything that we have and never let it go. Here is a beautiful truth, God reaches out to us not just to meet our needs, He said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Please don’t settle for good enough; for getting by.  Jesus Christ didn’t come that we could have an average life, He didn’t come that we could live on bread and water, He came that we might have an abundant live. Settling for good when you’ve been called to be great is a sin. Don’t settle for good enough, find the abundance that God is calling you to.

Understanding that Jesus Christ invaded our darkness to rescue us and bring us into abundance and relationship. This should unleash a joy in our lives that is obvious; it should show in the way that we live and the way we act. That is the true joy of Christmas; the greatest gift we can give is to share the reality of the incarnation with those who are searching.

Nietzsche once speculated that God is dead. I would hate to have that legacy, because He was wrong. You know why I know he was wrong? It’s not because I’ve read the abundance of evidence that has been collected over the years that prove that the events of the Bible are a historical fact. There is an even greater proof than that. It is because I’ve seen the impact of God working in the lives of people through the years. You want to defend your faith, don’t quote statistics, tell people what God has done for you in your life.

The essence of Christmas is found in John 3:16:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

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