Most people I talk to accept that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and made an impact on the world by his teaching, but that’s about it; and others have done the same sort of thing — so Christmas is a nice story for children, but has nothing to do with them as adults.
But the Bible takes a very different view of things. It teaches us that Jesus was a unique person — God who became a man through his marvellous birth by Mary at the first Christmas. This Jesus came into the world to make a profound difference to the lives of men and women.
He said of himself that he came to bring a new life. We need a new life because life without Christ is a life that cannot please God, since we are all sinners. By his coming, Jesus enables women and men to become members of God’s eternal family.
As we are, we are cut off from God. The Bible actually says we are at war with God because of our evil deeds and motivations. Yet Jesus is categorical that, through his life and death, he provides an eternal home for those who trust in him. Those who do not have Christ as their Saviour face the terrible doom of eternal judgement and hell.
Christians know these things are true and have felt the impact of them in their lives. It is all about a relationship with God.
This is exactly what Harry found. I met Harry back in the 1960s. He was what was called a hippie. He lived rough, dossing down in squats and wherever he could find a dry and reasonable place.
His life was all about drink, drugs, sex, music and being ‘free’ to go wherever his fancy took him. Actually, he followed a regular route, but called that ‘freedom’. He was like that because in his late teens everything had gone wrong at home, so, though highly intelligent with real prospects for a career, he went on the road and had been like that for 10 years.
We met in the centre of Bristol and, with a load of other people, he came to our church. We gave them all food and talked to them about Jesus. Harry was polite and listened, but not really interested. He admitted his life was empty and he had never lived up to his expectations, but he was hooked on drugs and trapped in his lifestyle.
He started to come to some Sunday evening services and listen to the message of Jesus. One Sunday he was really moved by the sermon. It was on the Bible verse that says, ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst’.
The following day Harry left Bristol. No one knew where he had gone and none of his friends were very bothered.
Harry had gone to Cornwall. It was the middle of the year and the scene down there was always good (so he said). He was going to St Ives and decided to get on a bus.
He usually didn’t bother with public transport, but lifts had been slow and he felt unusually tired. He went to sit down, when he noticed on the seat there was a leaflet. It was a gospel tract with the title ‘Why did Jesus come?’.
He picked it up and read it. It was about the very same verse in the Bible, ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst’! Once again, he felt very impressed by the message.
Then he noticed a postal address on the back. It was the church in Bristol where we had taken him so many times. How the tract got there no one knows.
Harry felt a bit scared, but forgot about it and concentrated on trying to enjoy the rest of the summer. His life continued as it had done for the previous ten years. And then, in December, he was up in Manchester. It was Christmas time and again he did something unusual. With several other people he decided to go to a carol service.
It was the usual stuff and he found the carols a bit uninspiring. But the candles and the décor of the church was impressive and he enjoyed that.
Then the vicar began to speak. He said he was going to explain what Christmas was all about and he announced his text: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst’.
Harry was overwhelmed. He knew God was speaking to him. He spoke to the vicar after the service and they prayed together. Something happened as Harry trusted in Christ. A weight was removed from his mind. He no longer felt dirty inside; he felt he was loved.
He hadn’t known that feeling for so long. But this was different. It was something deeper and more solid than anything he had ever known. He knew he was a different person.
Harry had a lot of things to change. But the church in Manchester embraced and helped him. He came back to Bristol just once and spoke to someone in the church there, telling them, ‘I have found Jesus and what is more I have found a new life, a new family and a new home’.
That was literally true for him. But, wonderfully, it also described his new relationship with God. It was no surprise to hear, for this is why Jesus came!