A Christmas message preached by Revd David Holloway of Jesmond Parish Church, Newcastle upon Tyne, on 13 December 2009.
‘The Truths of Christmas’ is available to read below or listen to as an MP3.
The Truths of Christmas
What is at the heart of Christmas? For three wealthy sons it was giving Christmas presents.
One year the first gave their elderly mother a new house. The second gave a new car. But, when asked, the third said, “you know mother likes reading the Bible, but now can’t see very well. So I’ve found her a parrot that recites Bible passages. He’s been amazingly trained.”
After Christmas the old lady wrote “thank you” letters. To the first son she wrote: “Thank you so much for the house. Sadly it is rather too large. I much prefer my small flat.” To the second she wrote: “Thank you so much for the car. Sadly my failing eyesight means I can no longer drive.” But to the third she wrote as follows: “Dear Donald, You have the good sense to know exactly what your mother likes. The chicken was delicious.”
Presents can disappoint. Of course, at the heart of Christmas is not giving presents but an anniversary. Each time you write the date you acknowledge that 2009 years ago (or as near as makes no difference) Jesus Christ was born. Christmas celebrates his birth because, as the Apostle John said in our first reading, John 1:14:
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Christmas was when God entered our world as fully God but fully man in the person of Jesus Christ. And Jesus said:
“for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” (John 18.37)
Christmas reminds us of the truth – in fact four truths.
God is in control of this world
Over the centuries God had revealed through his prophets, as we heard in our readings, someone who was going to “crush [the] head” of Satan; who was going to bring light to people in darkness; and who would be called: “wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). So the birth of Jesus Christ was not an accident. It was all part of God’s plan.
We have come here tonight for many reasons. Some because it is traditional to sing carols at this time. Others because you have been invited by a friend. But, for whatever reason, because God is in control of history and the whole of life, I do not believe you have come here by accident. God wants you and everyone to know, trust and obey the one born 2009 years ago – Jesus Christ. For he is now risen (with an empty tomb proving his claims) and reigning as Lord of all.
God is in control of the supernatural world
In our last reading we were told: “the shepherds [were] keeping watch over their flocks at night.” Then…
“an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” (Luke 2:9)
Do you treat angels like you treat Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer – as fiction? Rudolph was created for the public just 70 years ago this Christmas in 1939.
Tom Torrance, a world famous, sane and sober Scottish theologian, argues angels are for real. They are created supernatural beings and subject to Christ. True, angels are not a major part of the Bible’s teaching or of normal Christian experience. But they appear at critical times in history such as Christ’s birth. The Bible teaches true angels worship God and guide, protect and serve his people.
Torrance tells of an incident when a Chinese man contacted Torrance’s father – a missionary in China. The man had never heard of Christ or Christmas. But he was desperately seeking “eternal life” through local religions. Then in a dream one night he saw a great stone arch with the words on it “The Way to Eternal life”. And someone by it, in white garments, spoke to him. In his village the next day the man was given, by a stranger, a piece of paper. On the paper were the words, “The Way to Eternal Life”. It was a tract written by Torrance’s father and bearing his name and address. It was about Jesus as “the way, the truth and the life” apart from whom “no one comes to [God] the Father” (John 14.6).
Torrance comments: “God had sent his angel to that Chinese pilgrim to show him the way to the Lord Jesus Christ.” While beyond our full understanding, the Christmas angels should not be seen as mythological but as real messengers from God. So Christ’s birth shows God in control of this world and the supernatural world.
God is a holy God
When the angel appeared to the shepherds, there was a great brightness. This was “the glory of the Lord” and a manifestation (somehow) of God who is a holy God.
God hates all the “woes of sin and strife” through which “the world has suffered long”, as we sang. And the greatest sin is to reject or ignore him. He knows that when people lose the Fatherhood of God, they soon lose the brotherhood of man, do wrong and suffer.
The shepherds (confronted with this glory of a holy God and knowing themselves to be unholy) were terrified. But they soon discovered they need not fear.
God is a God of love
Listen to what the angel next said to the shepherds, Luke 2:11:
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
The Bible not only teaches about God’s holiness and judgment; it also teaches about his love. It says:
“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)
For many, Christmas is the loneliest time of the year. Many face personal crises.
You may be facing one this Christmas in your marriage, with your children, over money or your job. You may have an addiction. It may simply be a sense of the emptiness of life. Well, to you also comes this message, “Do not be afraid”. And why? Because “a Saviour has been born to you”.
He cares for you and loves you and by his Holy Spirit can help you. And this good news and salvation, said the angel, is for “all the people”. No one is too bad to be saved or too good not to need saving. But what is salvation? And how should you respond to the truth that God is in control of this world and the supernatural world, and that he is a holy and loving God?
Men will not face physical-health realities. They can be very seriously at risk without knowing it. “Trying to get men to go to the doctor, reports the Evening Chronicle recently, is like trying to get them to do the washing up. They hate it. An NHS pilot scheme in the North East is encouraging men to get a health check.”
But many men and women will not face spiritual-health realities. This season of Advent is a traditional time for spiritual health checks and facing up to the four last realities – death, judgment, heaven and hell.
So how do you face and prepare for those? Answer: by seeking God’s forgiveness for the past, by praying for his Holy Spirit to help you obey Christ in the present and for the future; and, in the language of our carol, by “giving your heart” to Christ.
The Times newspaper, it is said, once asked G.K.Chesterton and other authors to write articles on the subject, “What’s Wrong with the World?” Chesterton answered in seven words: “Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely yours, G. K. Chesterton.”
We, like Chesterton, all need to take responsibility for our contribution to the sin of the world. We should not just blame others.
So we all must ask God for his forgiveness. And salvation from sin is free through Christ’s death on the Cross. As we sang, he “with his blood mankind hath bought”. Christ died bearing God’s judgment in our place.
The shepherds said:
“Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us. So they hurried off and found … the baby lying in a manager.”
This Christmas may we, like those shepherds, hear God’s word and truth. Then, by faith, may we seek and find Christ, not now as a baby but as the risen Saviour and living Lord. Amen.