Text: Romans 1:1-7
Theme: From Manger to Grave, God’s Love Calls To You
4th Sunday of Advent
Did you know that today is December 22nd? That means Christmas is in only a few days. Are you ready? Are you getting excited? Are you feeling the spirit of Christmas?
I remember back when I was a kid, these were some of the most exciting days of the year. School was out and the countdown to Christmas began. It became hard to sleep, minutes felt like hours, I obsessed with thinking about all of the things that I might find wrapped in pretty paper under the tree with my name on it.
It’s Christmas time. The past weeks (or the next few days, depending on how much you procrastinate) have been a whirlwind of Christmas music, movies, baking, shopping, wrapping, decorating. The Christmas season is in full swing and it is about to culminate, Christmas is almost here!
…but it’s not here yet J. I know it may be a little Scrooge-like of me, but this morning I want to ask you to take a step back from the cloud of tinsel, glitter and sprinkles in which you find yourself engulfed this Christmas season – take a step back from it all with me and ask yourself one very important question: What’s the point? Why do we make such a fuss every year for December 25th?
I mean I know this is when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, but I have to be honest with you: when I look at how this country observes Christmas, when I watch as money and toys, and gifts and gadgets take the place of Jesus in so many homes, I can’t help but ask myself: what’s the point? A part of me wants to protest celebrating Christmas because of how worldly our celebration of Christmas has become.
Shame on me, I know. Scroogly of me, I know.
But I’ll ask it again, what’s the point? I think this is an incredibly important question that we need to ask ourselves if this Christmas season is going to have any lasting value for us beyond a floor full of torn wrapping paper and new toys that will soon follow in the footsteps of every other toy that became outdated, worn and broken. If we are going to make this Christmas matter, not just for the 24 hours that it lasts, but into eternity, then we need to ask ourselves, what’s the point?
Now I know that I am, by no means, alone in this desire to examine the point of Christmas. The slogans are as popular as they are witty: “Keep Christ in Christmas,” “Don’t forget the real reason for the season.” We see and hear these constantly mixed in with all the other ads of Christmas.
But I can’t help but wonder how often even those who promote the “reason for the season” get it wrong. Because the reason for the season is a whole lot more than just a cute baby Jesus, comfortably resting in his mother’s arms under a perfectly clear starry sky with some shepherds watching on.
We do ourselves, and we do Jesus, a great disservice if we think that the perfectly groomed manger scenes we see this time of year accurately reflect the reason for the season.
To really understand the point of Christmas, to give some meaning to that night in Bethlehem, you have to focus on not only the good, but also on the bad and the ugly of that first Christmas.
So at the risk of being Scrooge to your Christmas spirit, let’s talk about the point of Christmas, let’s talk about the bad and the ugly.
The fact is, the manger scene was a bad experience for Jesus, not a peaceful, happy-go-lucky day in his life. The Bible tells us that Jesus’ birth into this world was part of his humiliation. What happened in Bethlehem that night was humiliating for Jesus.
Think about it this way: How would President Obama feel if he came to this church to talk to you, to meet you, and none of you showed up? What if the only people to show up were a couple of migrant workers from a lawn service company?
This is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This is the creator of the world and the best welcoming he received is a handful of shepherds. What happened in Bethlehem was a slap in the face to Jesus.
Today when a baby is born, sanitation is of utmost importance. Jesus was born in the place where animals lived, where animals urinated and defecated. Before Jesus was conceived in Mary, he lived in perfection, and this disgusting, far from sanitary environment is how he was to enter the world he created?
I’m sorry if it flies in the face of how you always imagined that night to be, but there is nothing cute about what took place that night. Add to the horrible reception and circumstance of Jesus’ birth, the fact that when Jesus began his life on earth, he did so knowing that it would be a life cut short some 33 years later on a Friday afternoon, on a hill not far from where he was born, and you are beginning to see with me the bad and the ugly of that first Christmas for Jesus.
But the bad and the ugly of Christmas doesn’t stop there.
What a shame it is when the celebration of the birth of Jesus becomes a reason and excuse for our own sinfulness to multiply this time of the year…Think about what I just said… think about your heart… Am I right, or am I wrong?
The point of celebrating Christmas, the point of taking time off every year is supposed to be so that we can enjoy a prolonged Sabbath rest, so that we can have a prolonged time of quiet reflection on Immanuel, what it means that God came to be with us.
The point of celebrating Christmas is supposed to be so that we have a break from all the stress and distractions of this world to focus on Jesus, our relationship with him and what he has to say to us in his word.
The point of celebrating Christmas is supposed to help remind us that our only true source of joy in this world ought to be Jesus.
So are you less stressed this Christmas season, or more? Are you more focused on Jesus and the importance of praying to Jesus, learning from Jesus, reading about Jesus this Christmas season, or less focused on those things? Are you finding your Christmas joy in Jesus, or is your heart completely wrapped up in food and friends and things?
My heart, which is far from pure, is a big part of the bad and ugly of Christmas. My disgusting heart is the reason Jesus entered this world of suffering and humiliation like he did. The bad and ugly is a big part of the point of Christmas. It’s a part that isn’t all that fun to look at, but it is important to look at it, if we want this Christmas season to be something more than just an opportunity to give and receive gifts that are destined to decay.
It’s good to remember and look at the bad and the ugly behind the reason for the season because it helps us realize and better appreciate the good. Only when we realize and recognize the bad and the ugly of Christmas can we really understand the amazing goodness found in that night in Bethlehem.
You see, the manger of Bethlehem is not only connected with humiliation, and the cross, and broken hearts, it is also intimately connected to an empty grave and a beautiful promise. And that connection – the manger to the grave to the promise – is the connection that Paul focuses on in the reading from Romans. That connection is the real reason for the season. That connection is the real point of Christmas.
What is the point of Christmas? Easter! Easter morning is the point of Christmas. Because without Easter Morning, Christmas would mean nothing! Think about that, if Jesus had not accomplished what he did on Easter Morning, then Christmas would not be a holiday worth celebrating. If Jesus had not finished his task of defeating death on Easter morning, then his birth in Bethlehem would be no different than any other birth.
Do you want to know the real point of Christmas, the real reason that December 25th is worth celebrating? The beauty of Christmas if found in this: When we were trapped in the filth of our own sin, Christmas tells us that there is a God who loves us enough to come and live with us, there is a God who loves us enough to save us from this suffering by his victory over sin which was proven on Easter morning.
The real beauty and meaning of Christmas is found in the fact that the humiliation of that first manger was blown away by the glorious victory of Easter morning. The mission that was begun on Christmas was a success.
I know it may seem weird to talk so much about Easter during Christmas. But you can never divorce one from the other because the reason Jesus came on Christmas was to save you, and you weren’t saved until he rose from the dead on Easter.
This is the real reason for the season. This is the “gospel of God” as Paul put it. This is the good news that Christmas is founded on. The good news that the Son of God “who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David,” born in a humiliating way that first Christmas, that same Son was also the one “who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead.”
This is the gospel of God friends, the good news that calls to you. It calls to your broken heart and it tells you a love story beyond compare. It calls you to see and believe the real reason for the season.
Take a step back this Christmas season and hear the love of your God calling to you, from the manger to the empty grave he proved his love for you. Remember the point of Christmas. The point of Christmas is a celebration of a life that culminated on Easter morning. The point of Christmas is that there is a God out there who was willing to live with you in this sinful world so that he could take you from this world to live with him in his perfect world. Keep your eyes focused on the point of Christmas. From manger to grave, God’s love is calling you.