Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Root of Christmas

Preachers talk about it; cards proclaim it; we all want to know it – the “Real Meaning of Christmas.” For 25 years, I have tried to introduce people to the truths behind our often silly celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

In my last entry, I explained to you what I believe are three levels of the celebration of Christmas. In this blog and those that follow, I want to explore the Root Level of Christmas, the real reasons God sent His Son into the world.

What bothers me is that it took me so long to understand what I now believe is the tap root of Christmas. I preached a hundred sermons on the stories of Christmas, some several times. I talked about the “roots” of Christmas, but it took me until a couple of years ago to finally understand what it really means.

It was my first Christmas after moving to Sioux City. I had 14 years worth of Christmas sermons to fall back on, none of which my new congregation had heard. I was thinking about some of the issues and problems that faced this church, when it came to me. The problem that my congregation was going through is exactly the reason that Jesus came. It was the real root, te tap root of Christmas.

The World was darkened with sin and the light of God had been rejected. God sent Jesus, his only son, into this world as the light of the World. Jesus lived a perfect life, died on the cross for your sins and rose as king of kings and Lord of Lords. That Lord will radically change the lives of everyone who will come to him, repenting of sin and trusting their lives to him.

Jesus came to bring one gift, the greatest gift any sinners could ever receive. He came to give us forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the “real meaning of Christmas.”

God did not leave the world in its sin, but sent Jesus to invade the realm of darkness and bring redemption and forgiveness. “My sin, O the bliss of this glorious tho’t, my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O, my soul.” That is the ultimate Christmas carol.

Christmas is the first step in a chain of events that led to the forgiveness of mankind. The process began at the manger, moved through the perfect life of Christ, reached its nadir (and apex) at the Cross, then exploded in glory at the Empty Tomb. Christmas is the beginning point of the greatest, most extravagant, most costly gift ever given – the remission of sins.

Humanity had fallen into sin and darkness. We broke the law of God, turned our backs on him and his ways and embraced sin and selfishness. God had every right to leave us to our own ways and let us experience what we deserved – death and hell. His judgment would have been absolutely righteous on each of us. But God took another course. He didn’t send an emissary, an angel, or some spirit to the world, He sent his only son. He gave his Son. Jesus did the one thing none of us could do – he obeyed the law of God perfectly. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – all except Jesus. He never sinned and he fulfilled the glory of God, earning eternal life. So, he said to the Father, “I will pay the price for the sins of the World.”
God punished Jesus for our sins and now we can receive his love and forgiveness.

If that is true, that the central purpose of Christmas is the beginning of the process of salvation, then how do we truly celebrate Christmas? Singing carols is great and it is appropriate to give gifts in honor of the gift given us by Christ. But if Christmas is about forgiveness, then isn’t there a better way, a more appropriate way to celebrate the season?

The best way to celebrate Christmas is to experience, enjoy and extend the forgiveness of sins that was at the heart of the activity of God.

Perhaps there is someone reading this who has never received the gift that God gave. All the eggnog in the world cannot match the glory of receiving the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. That will open up a whole new experience of Christmas joy that you have never before known.

But there are many Christians who have received God’s forgiveness, yet never enjoy their release from the horrors of sin. Either we ignore the grace of God by living in the bondage of legalism, or we insult that same grace by living in self-condemnation and guilt.

Romans 8:1 tells us that there is now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Too many Christians live under the slavery of guilt because they do not understand the amazing forgiveness given to us in Christ. “When we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” He separates us from our sins “as far as the east is from the west” (an infinite distance), He buries our sins in the deepest ocean, and He remembers them no more.

What right do I have to live in guilt and self-condemnation when my sins have been put under the blood of Christ and washed as white as snow? We need to not only experience Christmas Forgiveness, we need to enjoy it.

But there is one more thing we need to do. The Bible is very clear about this. Those who experience and enjoy Christmas Love and Forgiveness take to themselves the obligation to extend that forgiveness to others.

Has someone hurt you, angered you, or annoyed you? Are you a victim of abuse or betrayal? These are bitter pills that we live with. But a true Christmas celebration requires that you extend the forgiveness you have received to those who have sinned against you.

It is one of the ultimate in Christian fantasies – the idea that I can receive forgiveness but not extend it to someone else, that I can experience forgiveness while holding a grudge against another.

There is no more appropriate way to celebrate the Christmas season than to pass along the forgiveness that is at the heart of the season to those who are in need of ours.

We cannot experience God’s forgiveness without it. Look at Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” The message of that well-known verse is clear. We need to look at and understand the way that Christ forgave us. Then, we must forgive others “just as in Christ God forgave you.” I am to give to others the forgiveness God gave me.

There is no option here, folks. Matthew 6:14-15 makes it clear. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” You do not need a preacher to explain that, just read it. You must be willing to extend forgiveness to receive it. If you are unwilling to forgive another person, any other person, you are eliminated from experiencing the grace that God has given you.

Jesus explained this in the story of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18. A servant appeared before the king, in debt a huge amount (let’s call it a million dollars). He could not pay and faced debtor’s prison. But the kind king forgave the million dollar debt. On the way home, the forgiven man encountered someone who owed him a small amount (call it $1.67). He refused to forgive the $1.67 debt and sent that man to prison. The king heard about it and reinstated the man’s million dollar debt. The parable was told for a reason, which Jesus explains. “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

James 2:13 says, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy.” You want the mercy of God, you must extend it to others.

In our next reflection, we will look at the Christmas story and see several insights into how God in Christ forgave us, and learn how we can forgive others in the same way. If we understand the taproot of Christmas, we can celebrate the season in a way that honors God and brings joy to us.


sjbarnes said...

Amen Dave; So often our Christmas focus is on us. I need to continually remind myself that this was God's "A" plan, His only plan and His name is I AM, my name is I am not.

Dee Ann said...

Dave, your messages on forgiveness were right on target. I only have trouble with trying to put our Messiah in a pagan holiday. I see Him so fully manifested in the feasts of YHWH of Lev 23 both in his first and second comings. Jesus taught from the vantage point of the feasts and used them as the backdrop to much of his teaching. So I would never desire to go back to the contrived holidays that really do not have any biblical basis. These were put on Christians by force to keep them from learning what God wanted to teach them. And some of the practices fly in the face of scripture. I do not want to be the cause of a Jew not recognizing his Messiah, because they know their Messiah would not do these abominations. If I break their oral law I am following Jesus example, but if I break the written scripture I am a hypocrite of the worst kind. The children learn so much in the feasts and I never saw such spiritual growth in children taught to celebrate Christmas and Easter. But your basic message on forgiveness is right on.