We are still over a month away from Christmas but already the decorations have shown up in the stores, banquets are being planned, lights are going up and Santa Claus parades have started. It’s clear that we entered into Christmas season.I’ve got confess this morning, that when this time comes around each year, I find it harder and harder to know what it is I should speak about. I mean it’s not as if the “story” of Christmas changes – it’s the same – and really, it’s not like people don’t know about the baby the manger, the shepherds, the wisemen and what not from the traditional manger scenes that show up this time of year. And so, I reread the gospel accounts of the incarnation story, hoping and praying for some fresh insight that will have relevance to where we are today.
It’s remarkable that no matter how many times I read the story of the incarnation – you know, what Christmas is really about…God taking on flesh, the immortal being clothed in mortality, and laying as a baby in a manger – no matter how common the story has become – I can never get over the incredible contrast between the incarnation as we read about in scripture and today’s Christmas which is supposedly a celebration of that event. It is this contrast which is frankly the fuel for many sermons and messages that are preached across North America every year during this time of year. And rightly so! We should be reminded of the most significant event in history, next to the creation of the Earth and the fall of man. Of course, the events of Calvary, and the empty tomb on Easter are important in their own right but neither would exist nor matter if it weren’t for the truth of Jesus Christ – fully God – becoming fully man.
So this year, I am once again motivated to speak out of an awareness of the contrast between the incarnation (which really wasn’t the first Christmas…it is the inspirational event that Christmas is supposed to honour and celebrate) and today’s seasonal frenzy. But, in the course of observing these contrasts there is something common between the events that happened in Judea over 2000 years ago and the events happening today in the 21st century. You see, I believe that Christmas holds incredible potential. Now potential, left alone, is a neutral word. Potential can refer to something that could be good or could be bad. The reality is that the potential outcome of our lives is really something that depends on the choices we make in response to the environment we encounter. The more right choices we make the more positive potential our lives will have, the more wrong choices we make the more negative potential our lives will have. In both case, potential becomes reality, as we act upon the choices we make.
Four the next four weeks, I want to share with you the potential that Christmas holds for every single one of us. Yes, at the heart of it all, Jesus really is the reason for the season. Christmas wouldn’t even be existing if it weren’t for the reality of the miraculous baby laying in a manger. Yet I think we can all agree that in our commercialized society, that sentiment is often an add-on thought rather than the primary motivating factor behind what happens with Christmas today. Still, even in the midst of this commercialization there is incredible positive potential for this seasonal event to be a catalyst for good. That’s what I want to focus on. Hopefully, these series of messages will give you glimpse into a way of doing Christmas that will inspire you to seize the potential!
I want to start today by declaring that what influences the choices we make the most is the perspective we hold in life. What is it that our focus is on? What is it that we dwell on? What is it that we value? What is it that we believe in? It is important that we start here this morning because this will lay the foundation for embracing
the positive potential Christmas has to offer.
Let’s read what Matthew wrote in the first chapter of His gospel (1:18-25)
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us.” 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Matthew 1:18-25 (NIV)
I want to read again verse 23 (reread). God…with…us. I really think, sometimes we miss the significance of those words. The key to discovering and unleashing the positive potential of Christmas is to have the right focus in this season. The angel Gabriel announced to Mary the incredible news that the baby she was going to carry would be like no other baby ever born. His name would be Jesus which means, “God saves us” which is ultimately possible because He is also Immanuel which means “God with us”.
The right focus of Christmas is not presents, it is one person. It is not what we get but on what God gave. It is not the coming of Santa Claus but the coming of God. In order to understand the potential of Christmas we must focus on the person of Jesus Christ – because ultimately He is the source of that potential.
So let’s zero in on the person of Jesus Christ for a moment. The first important observation we need to make is that there is an incredible change of location.
God’s change of location
I want you to understand this morning. That Christmas is a celebration of the first coming of Christ. Whenever I hear the song, “Santa Claus is coming to town” I can’t help but think to myself…”ahh, it’s a cute song – but come on…where is he? He’s been coming for 34 years of my life and he still hasn’t arrived” The thing with Jesus though, is He has come. Max Lucado remarked,
Let’s not lose the majesty of Christmas, somehow the God who created everything, allowed His son to become a baby. -Max Lucado
The one with unlimited power, became powerless in the form of a baby. The One who was wrapped in radiance more piercing that the brightest supernova was wrapped in swaddling cloth. The One who walked the streets of Heaven, would now be born in a cave. The One who had no needs, was now dependant on a young mother.
It’s remarkable to me that God would undergo such an incredible change of location! There are three words that describe the significance of what “God with us” means.
Thinking about the birth of Christ, I can’t help but marvel at the incongruity between who He was and what He chose. No earthly royalty would ever show their humility. That would be too human, too common. Kings have parades & entourages to draw the focus toward them.
Have you ever seen news coverage of Royal Visits (such as Queen Elizabeth II) to a country? They are always characterized by pomp and splendour. There are grand dinners where no expense is spared on dress and entertainment. When the Queen comes to town, everyone knows.
In meek contrast, God’s visit to earth took place in an animal stable, no attendants were present, there was no place for the baby to lay down except in a feeding trough known as a manger. In fact, the event, which divided history and our calendars, went by unnoticed except for a few shepherds who came by for a visit.
Not is that a contrast to the presentation of Earthly royalty in our world but is also a contrast to the circumstances that take place in the celebration of Christmas today. Although sometimes people wish too, you really can’t escape Christmas in today’s society. Yet on the morning of the incarnation, the world had no idea what was happening.
Why did God choose to come to this planet in such a humble way? He did it because He was creating potential.
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.
2 Corinthians 8:9 (NIV)
It’s hard to comprehend, that God would be laying in a manger. But in doing so, He became accessible and approachable in a way that hadn’t been experienced by any human since creation. In the Old Testament God was anything but approachable:
• When Moses came upon the burning bush, he was commanded to remove his shoes for he was on Holy ground.
• Isaiah tells us that when he was brought into the throne room of God he cried “Woe is Me I am undone” fearing that death was at hand
• The Jewish children knew the lessons well, “Touch the Ark of the Covenant and you die”, “Enter the Holy of Holies and won’t come back out alive”.
However, in this amazing scene of the incarnation there is a new born baby? What could be more approachable? Have you ever noticed how people react when a baby is in the room? People have a desire to touch, hold and talk to a baby. The baby becomes the centre of attention.
I wonder what it must have been like for the shepherds when they first saw Jesus? When they arrived at the stable, they find no sentries to guard the entrance, no one to announce their present to the king. All they find is a father, a mother and the baby – waiting to greet the world.
Christmas is the time when the Son of God became man so, that men may become the Sons of God. – CS Lewis
For thousands of years it was understood that sinful man and a Holy God could not exist together, but on this special morning God was teaching us once again He was approachable.
The potential of Christmas is that you can approach the King of the Universe, that He is accessible to anyone who will come to Him.
The third word that describes the significance of what “God with us” means is…
Have you ever noticed the courage that was displayed during the events of the incarnation?
• Mary – she would give birth to the Messiah, as a virgin, having never slept with a man. Her only explanation? An angel told her this would happen. God had not spoken directly to Israel for 400 years and now He was speaking through a young unwed mother… Mary displayed incredible courage in her obedience.
• Joseph – He would take care of Mary – he would make her his wife, and he too would have only the word of an angel for assurance. Joseph demonstrated courage and stood by Mary regardless of public opinion or scandal.
The most courageous person had to be Christ Himself. Listen to how Paul described the life of Jesus…
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:5-8 (NIV)
I wonder what it must have been like when Jesus experienced hunger, pain, or rejection. The Christmas carol “Away in the Manger” gives us the idea that the manger was a safe place for a baby, but in truth, by becoming a baby he exposed Himself to all the frailties of a human, including that of death. Why was Jesus so courageous? Because of His love for you and for me. Because He wanted to create potential.
Christmas is a celebration of God changing His location for this brief time in history (compared to His eternal existence) so that the potential for His greatest desire could be birthed. His change of location created the potential of our change of position. Let me explain
Potential: Our change of Position
In the Garden of Eden at the beginning of History there is perfect harmony. The first man and woman are enjoying fellowship with their creator. Yet in Genesis 3, harmony quickly changes to chaos. Sin, introduced by the serpent brings about changes in the relationship between God and His creation. One word defines the change – separation. This separation brought several consequences:
A. Physical Death
First, Adam and Eve experienced the aging process that would eventually lead to their physical death. In their perfect state, they knew no pain, but because of sin their bodies began to deteriorate. There would be aging and suffering. Soft skin would give way to wrinkles, eyes would dim and eventually death would come.
B. Curse on creation
Secondly, because of sin, all of creation was affected. In the first two chapters of Genesis 1 there is a phrase that God speaks repeatedly, “It is good.” God’s creation was good; God designed a perfect creation for His servant Adam – no shortcuts, no leftovers. Yet when sin was introduced – all of creation was affected. Thorns and weeds started growing next to flowers and fruits. Animals began to hunt each other. It took incredible effort for the ground to bring forth a harvest. Storms and natural disasters wreaked havoc on the planet.
C. Spiritual Death
The third result of sin was the severance of the relationship between God and man. Before sin, Adam and God enjoyed an intimate relationship – even walking in the garden together. Adam and Eve’s spirits were alive to God and they were able to connect and communicate with Him hindrance free. But sin severed that connection. After the introduction of sin, throughout history God appeared in many forms from a burning bush to a small voice whispering in the quiet but sinful man would never walk with God again on this planet.
Finally, the fourth result of sin was one of sacrifice. After God had banished Adam and Eve from the garden, he replaced their leaf clothing with animal skins. God was teaching Adam and Eve that they could not cover, atone or pay for their own sins. It was a debt they could not pay. In replacing their feeble attempts to cover themselves with leaf clothing with animal skins God had to shed the blood of an innocent animal. Thousands of years before Jesus was born, God was giving a lesson on the importance of innocent blood to be shed to atone for the debt of sin. While the shed blood of pure animals was practiced throughout the Old Testament as the way of covering sin it was only a temporary remedy that always pointed to the permanent remedy affected by the Messiah. The one that the angel Gabriel announced to Mary,
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Matthew 1:21 (NIV)
Friends, there are many consequences that resulted in creation because of the introduction of sin. As a result our position when we are born into this world is that of death and separation from God. However, God does not want us to stay there. He wants to more than anything else for every single person in His creation to be repositioned from sinfulness to righteousness, from death to life, from separation to restoration, from brokenness to wholeness.
The corruption of sin in our world compelled Jesus to come to this planet as a baby to grow up into a man and face the cross at which His own blood would be shed in order that the potential for our change in position might be created. You change your eternal position through Jesus Christ. This is the focus we must have in this season, This is the perspective we must embrace. We can let many perspectives shape what potential we’ll embrace this season but I encourage you to focus on the person of Jesus Christ. Celebrate the incredible potential that was created by God choosing to courageously humble Himself, and become approachable in the incarnation that His greatest desire might be possible. That our positions would change from being children of a lost world to citizens of the Kingdom!