Christmas is a family holiday. People travel long distances to be with one another. Important family traditions are established, and children provide a lot of excitement as they find their way into the traditions that live on.
Let me tell you about one family. They had two sons: Bob and Tom. As a family, they lived in a personal relationship with Christ and were faithful to their church. But soon the children grew up and moved away. Bob went to college, found employment in another city hundreds of miles from home, married Jane, and began to raise his own family. They seldom came home for Christmas. However, they made an exception one year and decided to go to Bob’s family and share the traditions once again.
While they were with the family, it became evident that their lifestyle was different from what Bob once had, for he had walked away from the Christian faith. This was no surprise to the family, but they had never discussed the matter and certainly Christmas was not the time to cause any heated discussions. However, on Christmas Day, Bob’s brother Tom asked a very loaded question: “Bob, what did you think of our pastor’s sermon last night?”
Bob answered his brother kindly, “You know, Tom, while I was in college I rebelled against the Christian faith. When Jane and I were married, we joined her church, and it was much more liberal than the church in which we had been raised. The pastor’s sermon last night was quite different from those we hear in our church when we attend, which is not more than once a month. So to answer your question, I appreciated the sermon when he talked about Jesus as a man more than when he stressed that Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, and that Jesus was both God and man. But I have to admit that your pastor presented the text very well. I’m struggling with the mystical part of faith. I ask that you pray for both Jane and me, that our faith may be strengthened. We know that if we take the mystery out of the Christian faith there is not very much left.” And so the discussion went on.
I think of that story when I see the masses of people who go to our churches on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It is good that they come. Perhaps now we can see where they stand as far as the message of the birth of Christ is concerned.
We find information on his birth in the second chapter of Luke, and it can be read with great joy by both believers and unbelievers. It depicts the crude circumstances of life in those days. Jesus was born in the days of Herold the king; Quirinius was governor of Syria. When his parents arrived in Bethlehem, they could not get a room, but were invited to stay in the stable. That is where Jesus was born. Consequently, we have all kinds of pictures at Christmastime of the babe being born in the manger with Mary and Joseph and others standing around. As far as Jesus’ life is concerned, a person could say this was the story of a great religious leader who started his life in a very humble way.
Now when we turn to John, we find a different type of narrative. I believe that John wrote his Gospel in order to stress the divinity of Jesus Christ Ð the other part of the story. Jesus is God. He was the Word and came to live with us. “Through him, all things were made.”
The difference here is that he was not just a babe born in Bethlehem’s manger in very difficult circumstances, he is also the God Man. Looking at that babe in retrospect, Christians realize that he is God incarnate. In other portions of the Christmas gospel, we learn that he was born of the Virgin Mary, conceived of the Holy Spirit.
A lot of people today who believe they are Christian Ð like Bob in our introductory story Ð can grasp hold of the story of Jesus’ birth. Yet, that does not make them Christian in the biblical sense of the word.
Jesus’ family had to flee to Egypt for a little while, because Herod wanted to kill him. Then they returned to Nazareth where Joseph and Mary and Jesus lived. Jesus worked in Joseph’s carpenter shop, and on every Lord’s day they found their way into the synagogue.
During part of the synagogue’s service, people were permitted to stand up, read a prophecy, and then expound on it. On the day when the prophecy was read that the Messiah was coming and he would be the Savior of the world, the people listened as Jesus expounded until finally he said, “Today this has been fulfilled in your presence.” In other words, he was saying, “I am the Messiah.” I am the one who has come. I am not only the babe of Bethlehem’s manger, I am the God Man. The people became very angry and tried to kill him. They chased him out and were going to throw him down the cliff. Then Jesus left.
There is a picture of Jesus’ divinity, and it shows our rebellion that is also found in our world today. The true message of Christmas is not just the story of the birth of a baby. It is also the story of the God Man. How many of the millions of people around the world have heard the true message of Christmas and believe it in their heart? I’m afraid that the percentage is very small.
Large crowds fill our churches on Christmas Eve, and many of these people go to church every Sunday. They receive the message and can concretely see what the Lord Jesus has done. They hear what a great prophet he was and learn of his great moral teachings that we enjoy in the Christian faith today. It is a refreshing time to learn that there was one who walked among us as a great example. Bob had not in any way tried to discard that. He could understand the message, and it enlivened his whole understanding of the Christian faith. However, when it came to wrestling with what the scriptures said regarding Christmas, it was another thing.
There are those, then, who know about him, but do not really know him. They wrestle with the biblical message. He does not yet live in their heart as he would like to live. So Christmas is something far less. But oh that day when people begin to understand who Jesus really is. Then Christmas will become a time to sing about adoring him, for the God Man has come to be with us. I pray that you are among that group of people.
There are also those who go to Christmas services, but are not wrestling with the message. Perhaps they go just because of tradition and to make their relatives happy. We pray for those people, that they might know the real meaning of Christmas.
But then there are those who have come to the place, like Bob in the story, where they would love to return to the faith of their childhood. Before doubts began to creep into their soul. Listen once again: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” That is a specific reference to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Skip down to the portion of scripture where it says, “He came to his own.” He came to them with the message: “I am the Christ.” Some threw him out, some led him to a cross, and some did an about-face, thinking it foolishness.
So it is today. People are still wrestling. What a blessed Christmas it could be in your family if one who had been led off, or perhaps has no understanding of the Christmas message, could see that the Lord Jesus wants us and loves us. It would be a Christmas you would never forget, when you could really say, “My great Christmas; my first Christmas. How thankful I am be for you, Lord!”
So our prayer today is that whether you are just again reliving the Savior or are completely out of the faith and want nothing to do with it, think about it again. Man needs a Savior, and that Savior alone is the Christ of Bethlehem’s manger and the Christ of the cross at Calvary.