Rev. Mark H. Creech
When I was a youngster, during Christmastime, my Dad would set a small table in the foyer by the front door of our house. On the table, dressed in greenery, was the large Family Bible, which happened to have a beautifully festive bright red color for its cover, perfect for the occasion. The Bible was opened to the following account in St. Luke’s Gospel:
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an Angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Lk. 2:8-14)
Among the texts available which give an account of Christ’s birth, this one, in my estimation, captures best the reason why Christmas is so important, especially in a year like 2020.
The account tells us that God, in Christ, robed himself in human flesh to personally dispel fear from our hearts. Of course, the angels were speaking to the fear the shepherds had at their extraterrestrial appearance. Nevertheless, I think it’s legitimate to say the passage has a word for each of us. That word is, no matter the circumstances: Don’t be afraid.
This is a time of many fears. There are national fears of government corruption, foreign enemies hacking sensitive government information, the pandemic, rioting and looting in our streets, and the list goes on. Plus, there are personal fears, unemployment, a failed business, domestic violence, our children’s safety and future, and even death. To us, the message of the angel comes down from heaven through the centuries, saying, “Fear not.”
Someone once said, “To be free from all fear; we must have but one fear – the fear of God.” And if we claim the promises of God in the incarnation fully, I suggest that we don’t have anyone or anything to fear.
The account also speaks of joy to all people. Christmas is about joy because a Savior has come into the world to save us from our sins.
Back in the early 1970s, psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote a book titled Whatever Became of Sin? Menninger said, “Some behavior once regarded as sinful has certainly undergone reappraisal…. Lots of sins have disappeared; nevertheless, I believe there is a general sentiment that sin is still with us, by us, and in us…. We are made vaguely uneasy by this consciousness, this persistent sense of guilt, and we try to relieve it in various ways. We project the blame on others; we ascribe responsibility to a group; we offer up scapegoat sacrifices; we perform or partake in dumb-show rituals of penitence and atonement. There is rarely a peccavi [an acknowledgment of sin], but there’s a feeling.”
Deep in our hearts, in our consciences, we know sin is real. We know that we’ve transgressed the law of God. We know that we’ve neglected the divine will. We’ve failed numerous times in conduct and character to live up to what is right by God and our fellowman. We know that we are broken inside. The Scriptures teach that sin is what separates us from God and each other.
The joyous news of Christmas, however, is that Christ has come as the divine solution to our sin problem. From birth until death, he satisfied every righteous demand that God has of us. In our stead, he lived the sinless life God requires of each of us. At the Cross, Christ took upon himself the punishment for our sins, atoning for them by his own blood and reconciling us with a just and Holy God. In Christ, God’s desire to be merciful towards us and the justice he requires for our rebellion is met. It is now a question of what we will do with this Christmas gift – will we receive it or reject it? Will we turn to Christ and believe or not?
If we receive God’s gift of grace in Christ by faith, our hearts are regenerated, changed, and transformed. Sin loses its power over our lives, and we can also be assured of eternal life. This promise is for all peoples – the rich, the poor, the uneducated, black and white, Asian, and Latin American.
The account also speaks of peace and goodwill toward men.
Is there anything more coveted today than peace and unity? Still, both always seem to allude us.
In his book Be Born in Us Today, Billy Simmons eloquently states the way we can have real peace:
The Christ of Christmas will bring peace to the hearts of those who trust him. When we become properly related to him through faith, our hostility toward God ceases. Beyond that, the hostilities with our fellowman are also eliminated. Our trust in Christ takes care of our vertical relationships as well as our horizontal relationships. This is the kind of total well-being which a simple trust in the Christ of Christmas will bring.
There is no automatic peace on earth and goodwill toward men because of the coming of Christ. This never has been, nor can it ever be. However, through the coming of Christ, God has made a situation of peace obtainable. When people respond properly to the Christ of Christmas, there will be a genuine peace in their hearts, and they, in turn, can impart this peace to others. To the extent that we allow it to happen, God will give us peace.
There is no message of hope more needed right now than the one on the pages of that Family Bible my Dad used to prominently display in the foyer of the old home place at Christmas. It tells us why Christmas is so important, especially in a year like 2020.© Rev. Mark H. Creech
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