Reasons to Celebrate Christmas
Reasons to Celebrate Christmas
I know why folks, those who do not yet believe that such a thing as an incarnation occurred, celebrate Christmas. These same reasons crowd in and often overshadow why believers celebrate Christmas. In fact, sometimes believers just give a nod instead of focusing on the reasons why one day there will be peace on earth and goodwill among all. This morning let’s review the reasons disciples of Jesus celebrate Christmas.
Historians report that December 25th 336AD appears to be the first time a date was set to celebrate the incarnation. The incarnation is the mystery of the Creator become one of His creations, God who is spirit, undergoes a transformation, and becomes human. That’s why over my paygrade to try to explain. For those first three hundred years, the birth of the Incarnate One was not celebrated. In our country, we didn’t start celebrating Christmas really until around 1840. Did you know that it wasn’t until 1870 that Christmas became a Federal Holiday in these United States? Now when I say celebrating I am talking about all the traditions that come from pagan winter solstice celebrations. The winter solstice is the day with the least amount of daylight, next day things get brighter and brighter until summer solstice, the day of the year with the most daylight. Holly and Mistletoe, wreaths, candles, group singing, evergreen trees in the house, gift-giving and best of all wassailing, even Christmas cards all come to us from winter solstice celebrations. What’s wassailing you might ask, well half of a wassailing is forbidden by the Church of the Nazarene, wassailing is drinking plentiful amounts of alcohol and going from house to house singing Christmas songs in a noisy and lively way—“here we go a-wassailing on a Christmas day” I will leave it up to you to determine which part of wassailing Nazarenes frown upon. Like most of these traditions, they were Christianized over the years. The lady who wrote “A Wrinkle in Time: Madeline L’Engle said: “There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation.” So now we sing “here we go a caroling among the leaves so green!” So the only traditionally originally Christian tradition we celebrate is the birth of Christ, we observe a special gathering of the believer’s, a church service, our more liturgical brothers and sisters call it a mass, hence Christ’s Mass, or simply Christmas.
In a conversation with a group of my colleges that occurred in 2016, it was bemoaned that Christmas day fell on a Sunday. It was bemoaned because each of the 6 pastors had experienced very poor church attendance when Christmas fell on a Sunday. Rather ironic don’t you think. If you would like to attend a Christmas Eve service right around the corner on Magnolia at Beachpoint church will be celebrating on December 23 and 24 at both 4 and 6 PM. Then right here at HBCC, there will be a Christmas Eve service at noon conducted by our ministry partners Jesus House.
Today we need to know the real reasons disciples celebrate Christmas. If you have been following the teachings here at HBCC this month you know the root reason—it’s the incarnation. With the incarnation comes blessings past, present, and future, and it’s the event itself and these blessings that are a cause to celebrate.
We begin with the incarnation itself. You’ve heard the name Emmanuel. It comes to us from the Hebrew Bible in Isaiah 7:14.
Isaiah 7:14 (MSG)
So the Master is going to give you a sign anyway. Watch for this: A girl who is presently a virgin will get pregnant. She'll bear a son and name him Immanuel.
Emmanuel means “God is with US.”
In the New Testament, the gospel writers reveal to us that Jesus of Nazareth is Immanuel. Certainly, you have heard the story?
Luke 1:30-33 (NIV)
"Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."
Now if that is not amazing enough to be skeptical about in the gospel according to John we read
John 1:1-2 & 14 (NCV)
In the beginning there was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. … The Word became a human and lived among us.
Jesus is the Word, therefore the name Emmanuel, God with us. God becoming human is the incarnation. God takes responsibility for a broken creation, devises this plan to make things right and draws near to us that we might draw near to Him and take part in His plan of restoring all things to their original intent. This is the first reason disciples of Jesus celebrate Christmas—God has intervened on our behalf demonstrating His great love to humanity, drawing near to us as one of us so that we can know Him.
The second reason disciples of Jesus celebrate Christmas is because it is through the incarnation that God’s work of reconciliation can occur. One of Jesus’ followers named Paul wrote this:
Col 1:15-20 (NIV)
[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
We teach that humanity is estranged from God, separated, alienated and isolated from God. This estrangement keeps us from knowing God, knowing others, knowing ourselves, and knowing the earth. Ignorance caused chaos in our lives. Not knowing God and ignorance is the result of sin. It is because God himself atones for the sin of His creatures that created this estrangement, that you and I can be reconciled to God. In that reconciliation, those who believe become spiritually alive.
God in Jesus has reconciled you to Himself and this incredible gift is available to you right now by simply believing that it is so. This is reason enough to celebrate Christmas: reconciliation with God.
A third reason disciples of Jesus celebrate Christmas is because since God became one of us, Jesus knows all about the human condition. The scripture reveals that after His atoning death for our sins, he was raised from the dead, and now prays for each and every one of us that we can first know God and second live in obedience to God’s will and way. Jesus knows that in this world we will have trouble, that we will encounter suffering. Jesus knows that we will be tempted to do what we want, when we want, to who we want, regardless of the consequences. Jesus knows we are not as strong as we think we are. Therefore He intercedes for us, He is rooting for us, wanting us to overcome every obstacle and win life eternal. It is through His prayers that you are empowered to live your life to the full.
Living your life to the full is another reason disciples celebrate Christmas. Before reconciliation, with God, we all went looking for what would make us happy. But every road chosen leads to a dead end.
Romans 6:20-23 (MSG)
As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn't have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. 21 But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you're proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end.
22 But now that you've found you don't have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! 23 Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God's gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.
Because of the incarnation, you can live your life to the full. A life lived in this fashion can be described in general as knowing love, which included experiencing being loved and the empowerment to love others. There is peace and contentment because you know God is for you which brings serenity to your heart, the power to maintain a cool head in the midst of the chaos. There is a place for you, you belong, you are accepted in a community of believers and given gifts to make contributions to the welfare of your community and to bring these very gifts you are experiencing to others. You live meaningfully, significantly, you live a life that matters.
The fifth reason disciples of Jesus celebrate Christmas is because of the promise of the incarnation. The promise of the incarnation is that God will set all things right. At the second coming of Christ, believers who have died will be raised from the dead and believers who are still walking the Earth will be transformed.
1 Corinthians 15:42-44 (NIV) & 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 (NCV)
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body... We will not all sleep in death, but we will all be changed. It will take only a second—as quickly as an eye blinks—when the last trumpet sounds. The trumpet will sound, and those who have died will be raised to live forever, and we will all be changed. This body that can be destroyed must clothe itself with something that can never be destroyed. And this body that dies must clothe itself with something that can never die. So this body that can be destroyed will clothe itself with that which can never be destroyed, and this body that dies will clothe itself with that which can never die.
The incarnation is about God setting everything right. So implicit in the event is God setting the earth right.
Revelation 21:5 (NCV)
The One who was sitting on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new!“
We’re talking about the restoration of the planet. Everything in creation is the way God originally intended in the beginning.
Because God became like one of us, in His plan we are reconciled, empowered to live well and free, promised a resurrection to live on a planet made right.
Disciples of Jesus celebrate His coming near to us in the past, empowering us in the present and coming again to set all things right, and these blessings of past, present, and future are all wrapped up in Christmas.
Now you know the real reason those who follow Jesus celebrate Christmas. Without an acknowledgment of this reason, you are just doing what the pagans do. Oh, its good fun, but somehow it misses the mark when it comes to what you really are looking for on December 25th. I don’t want the day to roll by and end up with another empty Christmas. I want it to be full of Jesus, His incarnation and the promises the incarnation brings.
This is how I plan to make that happen. I am purposefully going to cultivate an awareness of the presence of God. I will cultivate this awareness on Christmas Eve by acknowledging my great need for His gift. I will choose to interpret the lights and decorations as anticipation for the arrival of His gift. I will thank God as I retire in a safe home, in my own bed, being materially blessed to have these many, many things that make my life one of luxury. In the morning I will wake and thank Him for the gift of the incarnation. Then all those traditions I will acknowledge my enjoyment of his blessings. The gift-giving and receiving, I will think about the great gift of himself. The feasting that will happen, will remind me of His provision because of the incarnation. The friends and family gathered will remind me of the fellowship we have and the love that is ours, because of the incarnation. The laughter and the delight will remind me of the joy that is ours in Christ. Then as evening comes just before the last ember in the fireplace dies, I will remind will look to the future with the certain knowledge that no matter what happens, eventually, all will be made right in Christ.
That’s my plan to celebrate the birth of Christ. What’s yours?