What’s it all about?
It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, and I was beginning to believe that the weather forecasters were right in predicting ‘a barbecue summer’ this year. I stepped into a local shop to buy a card for someone who had just retired, but had difficulty finding the right section, because half a wall was taken up with a huge range of Christmas cards. Nothing strange about that, perhaps – but it was August!
Preparations for Christmas seem to start earlier every year; at this rate the herald angels will soon need sunscreen!
For several months, modern Christmases gather pace like runaway bulldozers, yet behind all the razzmatazz and spending sprees, the countless cards and piles of presents lies a truth to which millions of people will not give a single thought – the message of Christmas is one for every day of the year, and for every person in the world.
Christmas marks the birthday of a baby boy about 2,000 years ago. We know that the boy’s name was Jesus, often called Jesus of Nazareth, but why does Christmas bring half the world to a halt every year?
Was he someone special? Was he born for a reason? The best place to find answers is the Bible, which gives us the clearest information about him. In particular, it gives us three answers to the question ‘Why was he born?’
Firstly, to show what God is like. Before Jesus was born, people knew quite a lot about God, as we know from Old Testament statements. They knew that he was the creator of the universe: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’; ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, the sky above proclaims his handiwork’.
Last year Galloway Forest Park was named the UK’s first Dark Sky Park, with 7,000 stars visible on a clear night. Yet the Milky Way galaxy has 100,000 million stars and is one of 100,000 million galaxies in the known universe – all of them created by God.
They knew that he was the ruler of the universe: ‘The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice’. God did not create the universe, then walk away and leave it to its own devices. He remains in complete control of every atom in it. He makes sure that the earth is tilted at 23.45 degrees, that the sun stays 93,000,000 miles away from the earth, and that all the planets and stars stay in their appointed places. Life on earth would not be possible without God’s universal supervision.
They knew that he was the great provider: ‘He prepares rain for the earth; he makes grass grow on the hills’. Without God there would be no sunshine, no rain, no grass, no fruit, no vegetables, no food – and we would all starve.
They knew that God is the judge of all mankind, ‘the judge of all the earth.’Every one of us will one day give a personal account of our life to our Maker.
Yet people longed to know more about God, to get closer to him, to see him! The Bible tells us the tremendous truth that in the person of Jesus, God ‘became flesh and dwelt among us’. When in Jesus Christ Superstar Mary Magdalene sings ‘He’s a man, he’s just a man’, she was wrong!
Jesus said and showed that he was more than just a man. In his perfect life, unique teaching, stunning wisdom and amazing miracles (he healed the sick, changed the weather and even raised the dead to life) he showed that he was God in human form. The Bible is not exaggerating when it says that ‘He is the true God and eternal life’.
Secondly, he was born to show us what we are like. Christmas these days is marked by a relentless round of feasting and fun, parties and presents, but at the first Christmas there was another, deeply serious note.
Before Jesus was born, an angel told Mary his mother, ‘You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’. The angel was a messenger from God and at the very centre of the first Christmas he put that terrible word ‘sins’!
Nobody likes being called a sinner and most people limit sins to things like murder, robbery, violent assault, adultery, drug-pushing and child abuse. Yet the Bible makes it clear that ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’. Nor are there any ‘little sins’, as every sin is rebellion against God. It goes so far as to say that, ‘Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it’.
If you were stopped for speeding in your car, the fact that you had kept every other part of the road traffic law would not get you off the hook. You would still be a lawbreaker – and we have all broken God’s law more times than we could ever count.
What is more, we have broken what Jesus called ‘the first and great commandment’ – ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’.
On the other hand, although he was tempted in every way, Jesus was ‘without sin’. He was ‘holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners’. We have only to look at Jesus to see that we are exactly the opposite.
So far, we have seen that Christmas brings good news and bad news. But it also brings great news, for another reason he was born was, thirdly, to rescue us.
Many people treat sin trivially and of no ultimate importance, but they could not be more wrong. The Bible says, ‘It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement’, when we will meet our maker face to face.
What is more, it says, ‘No unclean thing will enter the kingdom of heaven’. This puts every one of us in terrible and eternal danger. What hope do we have of escaping God’s terrifying condemnation? None! – unless God himself intervenes to save us.
This is exactly what he did in sending Jesus into the world. The Bible could not be clearer about this: ‘God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him’. No wonder the angel announced that the birth of Jesus was ‘good tidings of great joy’!
Jesus Christ came to rescue us from appalling danger and bring us into a right relationship with God that will last for all eternity. But how did he do this? He not only lived a perfect life, keeping every part of God’s holy law, but then in his death he paid the terrible penalty for human sin as if he had been guilty of all of it: ‘Christ died, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God’.
When Jesus died on the cross on the first Good Friday he was bearing in himself the penalty for the sins of others, and we know that God the Father accepted what he did, because on the third day Jesus rose from the dead, and is eternally alive.
This all raises a massively important question. How can you be rescued, made right with God, be sure that your sins are forgiven and that you will go to heaven when you die?
Jesus once said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’.
For the last two years of her life I took my wife to the Royal Marsden Hospital. Sitting for countless hours in a large waiting room, we were surrounded by many other cancer patients. None of them were there because they believed they were perfectly fit. Every one of them had confessed their sickness and had come for help. In the same way, the first step you need to take is to confess that you are a sinner – guilty, lost and helpless, unless God has mercy on you.
Secondly, you need to turn to Jesus and call upon him to save you, forgive your sin and give you eternal life. Christmas is a great time for giving and receiving gifts. Have you ever refused a costly present, torn up a cheque, thrown an expensive watch in the bin or smashed a Smartphone to pieces?
The Bible says, ‘The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’. Will you accept or reject this wonderful offer?
Why spend another year, another Christmas, another day heading for disaster when Jesus offers to make you right with God here and now?