Hello, everyone, from snowbound Chicago! We’ve had a couple of different dumpings the last few days, which means lots of shoveling and staying inside to keep warm. Here is this Sunday’s sermon on the reason for Christmas. I hope you have a blessed – and warm! – week.
SCRIPTURE – I John 4:7-12
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
What’s So Special about Christmas?
#2 – The Reason for Christmas
December 16, 2007
You may have heard the name of Fred Craddock. Dr. Craddock is a preacher and professor in our denomination. He’s written a number of books on preaching, and is generally considered one of the greatest preachers alive today. In fact, Newsweek magazine recently named him one of America’s top preachers.
I’ve read many of Dr. Craddock’s books and sermons. His words are powerful, prophetic, and incredibly insightful. As I was reading, I could just imagine his imposing stature in the pulpit, his deeply sonorous voice, the angelic glow that surrounded him while he commanded the pulpit. But up until a few years ago, I had never heard him preach.
While we were in Kansas City on one of our mission trips, I learned that Dr. Craddock was going to be preaching in the church where we were staying. I was ecstatic! Finally, a chance to see one of the greatest preachers of our time. As worship started, I looked at the people gathered up on the altar, trying to figure out which one was him. I don’t know many women named Fred, so I ruled them out of contention. That left a handful of people, including a short, squat little fella who easily could have been Snow White’s religious dwarf Preachy.
So imagine my surprise when the time came for the sermon and Preachy made his way to the pulpit. I couldn’t see for sure but I imagine there might have been couple phone books back there for him to stand on. And when he spoke, his voice wasn’t deep, sonorous, or mesmerizing. In fact, he sounded a little like Elmer Fudd. But the sermon he preached that day was one of the best I’ve ever heard in my life. Before that day, I thought I knew Fred Craddock, but I didn’t really know him until I was with him.
A few weeks ago we asked the question: What’s the relevance of Christmas? And we answered it by saying that the relevance of Christmas is the fact that God chose to come to earth. That, more than anything else, is what Christmas is all about. That leads us to our second question: Why? Why did God come to earth? What’s the reason for Christmas?
Up until Christ’s birth, God’s people, the Israelites, knew God primarily through stories that were told about him. They heard about Creation and Noah’s Ark and Moses, and they learned about God through those stories: a powerful, majestic, mysterious God who controlled the elements and spoke through burning bushes. As I said a few weeks ago, God was a sacred Other, related to yet separate from the humanity God had created.
God and humans worked to develop their relationship, but because humans were rebellious and sinful, that relationship was tenuous. God sent the Israelites laws for how to live faithful, godly lives, and the Israelites thumbed their noses at God by building golden calves and doing whatever they wanted, not what God wanted.
So God decided to take a different approach. Instead of hoping that we might be able to change our behaviors and attitudes in such a way that we would come up to God’s level, God decided to come down to ours. Being in relationship with us, His creation, was so important to God that he chose to come to earth through Jesus so that we might relate to Him more intimately than ever before. Just as I thought I knew Fred Craddock before I saw him in action, the Israelites thought they knew God. Then they saw him in action.
The reason for Christmas, the reason God came to earth through Jesus, is so that we might know him. In Jesus, we have the embodiment of our Creator. We have God made flesh, God as a human being, who lived among us and showed us what it meant to be fully alive. God, who was once thought of as separate and different and so far above us, is now intimately knowable.
This is important because I think a lot of people are getting the wrong idea about God. They read a book or watch the news and say, “What kind of God would do that? What kind of God would allow that? How can God love me and let this happen?” Or they pick and choose selected parts of scripture and get a distorted view of God as vengeful or capricious or aloof. But that’s not the God I’ve come to know.
There are certain things we can know about God without knowing Jesus. For example, nature tells us a lot about God. When we look around us we can see God’s creativity. When we look at the mountains or hear the waves of the ocean we know God is majestic and powerful. We can look at how the world works or how the system of nature function and know that God is organized. We can look at all the species on earth and know that God likes variety, or look at a child and know God likes beauty. We can the giraffe or the platypus and know God has a sense of humor.
But that kind of knowing has limits. It’s the difference between reading a book by Fred Craddock and hearing him preach. I knew a lot about the man, but I didn’t know the man until I heard his voice and shook his hand and had a conversation with him.
Through Jesus, God has come to earth to speak to us, to embrace us, and to have a conversation. We no longer have to say, “I wonder what God is really like,” because now we know. First, through Jesus, we know God is real. We have evidence of God’s existence through the life of Jesus. We no longer have to wonder if God is up there, because God has come down here.
Through Jesus, we can also learn that God is forgiving. You can’t learn that from nature; you can only know that through what Christ has done for us on the cross. Before Jesus, there was a penalty for disobeying God. God created the law, and said, “If you break this law, there will be consequences.” And the Israelites kept breaking the law and breaking the law until finally God said, “The platypuses never acted like this. There’s got to be a better way.”
So Christ took all the penalty of our sins and took them to the cross with him, where our penalty died along with him. And when he rose three days later, our penalty stayed dead, and in its place was the wonderful grace of forgiveness. God no longer related to us through the do’s and don’ts of the law; he can now relate to us through this gift of forgiveness we have been offered.
Not only can we know God as real and forgiving, but through Jesus we can truly understand what is that the core of God’s nature. John wrote it in his first letter: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Jesus came so that we would know how much God loves us. Why else would he do something so radical, so irrational? Why else would he come to earth in human form and die an innocent man? Because he loves you. He loves you more than you’ll ever understand. You can’t begin to imagine how much God loves you.
Christmas is about that love, and God’s desire to be in relationship with us. But that’s a two-way street. God doesn’t force us to believe in him. What fun would that be? God wants us to choose him, to put him first in our lives over and above all the other competing influences, and Christmas is a reminder of the lengths God will go to let us know that.
I opened my desk drawer the other day so I could get some staples out, which I keep in the way-back of the drawer. When I took the staples out, I saw underneath them a gift certificate to a restaurant that I had been given several Christmases ago. “Merry Christmas, Kory, we hope 1974 is your best year yet!” OK, it wasn’t that old, but it wasn’t brand new, either. I have eaten at that restaurant several times since I was given this gift certificate and could have put it to use. Here was this present, given with love, just sitting in my desk drawer unopened, unused.
Why would anyone receive such a valuable gift, and then not use it or forget about it? That’s the question we can ask each Christmas when we sing about the joy of the Lord coming to us once again. Here comes this great gift, the greatest gift ever given, and yet on Dec. 26 some people will stick him in the back of their desk drawer, underneath the staples, only to be remembered on the occasional Sunday morning and next year around the same time.
If I were to tell you that this year, I know you’re going to get a gift for Christmas that will help with all your problems, heal your deepest hurts, forgive your biggest mistakes, and give you a new sense of purpose and joy, would you open that gift? Or is there something in us that’s afraid of what life would be like if we truly chose God, if we opened ourselves up to God’s love for us?
We can continue living our lives knowing about God. That’s commendable and, more importantly, safe. Or we can choose to know God, to spend time getting to know this baby born in a manger on Christmas. After all, that’s the reason he came in the first place.
1 – What’s your most memorable Christmas gift?
2 – What characteristic of God do you feel you understand best?
3 – What characteristic of God do you wish you understood more?