Date: 13 Dec 2015
Text: Isaiah 9:2-7 and Isaiah 53:1-12
What does Christmas really mean in the 21st century? Is it all about people, presents and parties? Perhaps it’s about families, food and fun. It is certainly a time when many people spend too much, eat too much and drink too much. Sadly of course in amongst all that very few people find time for Jesus amidst the tinsel and turkey. In fact, there was a report in the December issue of Christianity magazine concerning a small survey by the Christmas Starts With Christ campaign that showed 51% of people say the birth of Jesus is irrelevant to their Christmas. How very sad. Why is that do you suppose? As I said last week, Jesus is the free gift Who keeps on giving and yet no one seems to want to get to know Him anymore. Another report published this week apparently suggested that we scale back on Christianity in the public square and ban faith schools altogether. This report also makes it very clear that the authors believe that the UK is no longer a Christian country. That is what we, as Christians, face at Christmas 2015
Let me give you another example of Christmas 2015 style. I’ve no doubt that at some stage you will have had an Advent Calendar. Some of these dispense chocolate whilst others show verses related to the Christmas story. In these ‘modern’ times though we have to take a different approach and so those wonderful people at the EU Commission have published their own version of an Advent Calendar on the Internet. In connection with that I read this item in The Times recently which I think sums up a lot of the modern day and bureaucratic thinking about Christmas. The Times Diary columnist reported that:
The EU Commission is marking the countdown to Christmas with an online Advent calendar. What fun! Each day, a different reason will be given for why Europe is great. December 1 brought glad tidings and great joy about toys and perfume having to meet strict EU regulations. Nothing says Christmas like a bit of health and safety compliance.
So, with that thought in mind, I want to explore a bit about Christmas by thinking about four Cs that relate to the real Christmas story. Those Four Cs being: cradle, cross, crown and choice! I don’t normally do alliterative section headings but on this occasion I’ll change the habits of a lifetime. Just as an aside, if I had been trained at Spurgeon’s College then I would probably only ever do 3 point sermons with alliterative headings!
The first point to consider is the cradle. These days the vast majority of births happen in warm and comfortable hospitals with all the modern help that is available to hand. The process itself is still just as painful as it ever was but at least help is at hand in the form of gas and air or an epidural injection. When the baby is born there is generally a Nurse or a Midwife ready and waiting to take the baby, weigh it and clean it and then give it back to the exhausted mother. It is only in certain parts of the Third World and the Asian continent where such facilities are not always available. Compared to years gone by the 21st century facilities are sheer luxury.
Now cast your minds over to the Christmas story, the story of the birth of Jesus. He was born in a cold, damp and smelly stable on a chilly night surrounded by various farm animals and with no heating and no modern medical help, in fact no medical help at all. I suspect that most people would expect someone born to be King to be born in relatively luxurious surroundings rather than the circumstances in which Mary found herself when she gave birth to Jesus.
The Nativity scenes that we see on display and in pictures are always beautifully sanitised and present a slightly false impression of how things were at the time of Jesus’ birth. This was God’s Son and yet He received no special treatment as such, just a welcome from some cows mooing, donkeys baying and sheep going baa! Eventually, of course, He was visited by a bunch of random shepherds who had come in from the fields surrounding Bethlehem to see what the angels’ fuss was all about. These shepherds would have been cold and tired and probably in need of a good wash or shower. Later the Wise Men arrived and they too would have been a bit smelly after travelling such a long way either by camel or donkey. Not quite in keeping with modern ways or the cleaned up version with which we are presented at Christmas is it?
After His birth there was no cradle as such for the Son of God and so He was laid in a manger, a rough wooden feeding trough used by the animals. Again, not the most auspicious of starts for a baby born to be the Saviour of the world.
Despite His slightly out of the ordinary birth, Jesus was born with a purpose, He was to be the Saviour that the world so badly needed; He was born to pay the price for the sins of all those in the world who would accept Him.
We know very little about Jesus’ childhood, in fact after His return to Nazareth when He was about 2 years old, we don’t hear of Him again until He was 12 and was found questioning and debating with the scholars in the Temple. Following that, the next time we hear of Him comes when He was probably about 30 years old and at the start of His public ministry.
When He started that ministry, Jesus moved around His local region preaching the good news of the coming kingdom of God, healing people, driving out demons and only ever doing good things. The only time we read of Him losing His temper is when He overturned the money lenders’ tables in the Temple courtyard in Jerusalem, and that anger was justified; as He said at the time, “My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a ‘den of robbers’” (Luke 19:46); I think under those circumstances He was entitled to get angry! Apart from that incident He displayed nothing but love, care and compassion for all whom He met.
Through all this Jesus never travelled more than 200 miles from the place of His birth, never had an Office, never owned a house, never wrote a book and never had a University degree. Those are all the things that we today regard as being symbols of power and position and yet Jesus had none of them. Jesus simply had God with Him and God’s presence was all that He needed.
This was the man Who came to die on the cross of Calvary to pay the price for our sins. He started His life by being born in that rough stable and laid in a rough wooden manger. He ended His life by dying on a rough hewn wooden cross in order to carry the burden of our sins on His shoulders that had been torn to ribbons by the flogging that He received at the hands of the Romans.
All of that was why He was born at Christmas, why He came in the first place; He came to die on the cross. When you think about it we will all die eventually although hopefully not just yet! Jesus though came knowing that He would die, knowing that His death was all part of God’s amazing plan for the future of His kingdom. And yet He went through with it knowing what was to come just so He could pay the price for our sins, for all that we had done wrong, despite the fact that He never ever did or said anything wrong.
The important thing in all this though, is that His tomb is empty, He is no longer there; He rose from the grave and in so doing defeated both sin and death once and for all.
As He hung on that cross at Calvary, Jesus wore a crown of thorns. Now, Jesus, this Man Who was born in such humble surroundings, wears the crown of a true King, He is the King of Kings; Lord of Lords; and for me most importantly, the Prince of Peace. There are many of course who neither believe nor accept that. It could be said that many are even at war with God so vehemently do they deny Him. Jesus is known in some places in the Bible as the Lamb of God and in Revelation 17:14 the Apostle John refers to Jesus by that name when he says, “They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings — and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.” That to me leaves little doubt that Jesus, the Lamb of God, is Lord of Lords and King of Kings.
Jesus was born as the Son of God and as such He was amazingly born as God’s equal, One of three members of the Holy Spirit alongside God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. This Trinity is one Being not three and whilst that may be difficult for us to comprehend it is one of those mysteries of faith which we have to accept. Jesus is God and is therefore King of Kings; He is Lord over all of creation.
Now, as God He could have chosen to stay in heaven and communicated with us by shouting very loudly or by using a loudhailer! He chose to do neither of those things but to come to Earth as a human being to share in our daily lives. Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians that “He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7). He did that gladly and lovingly just as He willingly and lovingly submitted to death on the cross at Calvary. He then rose from the tomb and ascended into heaven where He now sits at God’s right hand. Jesus came to Earth for the simple reason that He loves us; that is each one of us, you and me individually, and He came to Earth to be with us so that we could get to know Him and share in His love. He also came to pay the price for our sins by dying in our place. You see, God doesn’t want any of us to perish by not going to heaven to join Him in paradise. God is waiting for us to decide just as the Apostle Peter says in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
Jesus came to Earth at Christmas as a gift from God, the greatest gift that could ever be given. Jesus is the gift Who offers us the type of peace that only He can bring. He offers us the unconditional love of God our Heavenly Father. He offers us a relationship with God and the assurance that He is only a prayer away. He offers us the absolute assurance that we will go to heaven to be with Him. And finally, He offers us life in its fullest and truest sense. That is quite some gift but it is the gift that God sent us at Christmas.
One of my, many, favourite verses comes in 1 John 4:8 where John tells us that “God is love”. It is because He loves us that He sent His Son Jesus to be with us and there is a wonderful song that sums that up which says, “Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, love divine, Love was born at Christmas, Star and angels gave the sign”. Love did indeed come down at Christmas and it came in the form of Jesus.
Where does all that leave us at this wonderful Christmas time? We could of course just sit back and enjoy the glitter, tinsel, food and fun. Or we could sit back and enjoy the beautiful story of a baby born in a stable. Or we could join in and sing all the old carols that even many non-church goers seem to know and enjoy. Or, more importantly we could take in the full and true meaning of the story. We could listen, accept and believe that Jesus Christ was born to save us and to give us life.
The real story of Christmas is about Jesus, His cradle, His cross and His crown and we have to make the choice as to whether or not we want the gift that is on offer from God this Christmas.
Christmas really is a magical time of year. Despite all the evil in the world around us, just for a brief moment in time the world seems to come to a halt and people join together in celebrating with food, drink, gifts and quality family time. Some even find time for Jesus and attend a Christian service of some description as they remember the real reason for our celebrations. At this Christmas time we all have a choice to make; do we carry on with our old lifestyle either ignoring or denying God, or do we think of Jesus and His cradle, cross and crown. The choice is yours.
 Kidd, Patrick, TMS – The Times, London, 2 Dec 2015, p13