The wonder of Christmas
It is not uncommon to talk of the wonder of Christmas. Often we have in mind the excited faces of young children opening their presents on Christmas Day, or the transformation of our cities by their bright lights and decorations.
But what is the real wonder of Christmas? And how can it be expressed in just a sentence?
The answer is found in the fourth Gospel – the Gospel of John: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16).
A love beyond the ordinary
Human love is the theme of countless songs and poems, but this statement from John has to do with God’s love, the love of our Creator for his creatures. It is an extraordinary love because is a love for theworld.
It is a love beyond our minds or reason to comprehend. Nothing in us deserves such love. Human love depends so much upon the merits of the people we love. Perhaps they are kind, generous, attractive or related to us. But, as we consider the evidence, there is every reason why God should not love the world. We have rebelled against him.
While it is easy to point the finger of judgement against politicians who have abused the expense system or bankers who have cared more for their own interests than those they were employed to serve, none of us is whiter than white or one hundred per cent unselfish. And not least before God who knows absolutely everything about us and before whom we all one day must stand and answer for our lives.
A gift beyond the ordinary
God’s love displays itself in giving. Those who will benefit most this Christmas from our generosity will be those whom we love most.
God’s remarkable gift to the world was his one and only Son, even though he knew that the world would take him, crucify him and put him to death.
Had God sent his Son to be accepted by the world and rightly acknowledged as King of kings and Lord of lords, we might have understood. But no! He was sent to die.
An offer beyond the ordinary
God offers that we exchange the prospect of perishing for the free gift of everlasting life.
Probably we have all had the experience this year of someone we know dying. We live in a world of cemeteries. None of us has immunity from death. But death itself is not the end, for after death comes judgement.
We deserve to ‘perish’ – a word that means more than just dying, but the sobering truth of the eternal separation from God that our sins deserve – what the Bible calls ‘hell’. As C. S. Lewis put it: ‘We can be left utterly and absolutely outside – repelled, exiled, estranged, finally and unspeakably ignored’. Our need to be in a right relationship with God our creator is urgent!
An explanation beyond the ordinary
Significantly, the predominant symbol of the Christian faith is not a cradle, but a cross. The real wonder is that what happened that first Christmas made Easter possible.
Jesus died to save sinners from perishing by accepting in their place the righteous wrath their sins deserve. This had been foretold and explained hundreds of years beforehand in the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (Isaiah 53:6).
A tragedy beyond the ordinary
Some choices affect us temporarily; others may affect us for a lifetime; but the choice we have to make about God’s offer of eternal life determines our eternal destiny.
We must either accept or reject God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life through his Son. To accept his gift we have to admit our rebellion against him, acknowledging our desire to turn from all that is wrong.
We have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died for sinners like us so that we might be reconciled to God. Repentance and faith alone are what God requires.
It is not a matter of church connection, or the performance of some outward rite like baptism, or of good deeds, but rather simple and honest faith in what God promises.
Anyone can this moment be saved from sin, death, judgement and hell – that is to say, from perishing – if he or she will put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
A prospect beyond the ordinary
Wonderfully, the only picture in the Bible we have of God in a hurry is when he, as the father in the parable of the prodigal son, runs to embrace his wayward son as he returns home.
The eternal life God promises is a gift that begins here and now. The moment we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we are put right with God and receive spiritual life that leads to a growing knowledge of Christ. And then, before us is the glorious prospect of an eternity in heaven.
The true wonder of Christmas is that these extraordinary benefits are offered to ordinary men and women – to ‘whoever’. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’