Why Christmas Can Always Be Good News
If there is something that I am certain of, it is that Christmas means different things to different people.
In my own reflection about Christmas, I have discerned that my beliefs about Christmas have been evolving each year. Yet, within this process of evolving beliefs, I have been able to discern 3 stages to my beliefs about Christmas.
Stage One is how I viewed Christmas as a child. As children, most of us only had a faint understanding of the meaning of Christmas. The bottom line for us was that there was a good chance we were going to get a lot of neat stuff. Whoever this Jesus was, I was thankful that someone decided it was a good idea that kids get presents.
During this stage, I attended church, and I attended Christmas Eve services, but I was in "Stage One" of understanding Christmas. And, in "Stage One", Christmas is all about getting presents.
Stage Two of understanding Christmas, from what I have observed, is where most adults are at in their understanding of Christmas. In "Stage Two", Christmas is not as much about presents as it is about people. In "Stage Two", family is of paramount importance at Christmas.
In "Stage Two", our joy during Christmas often corresponds to the number of meaningful connections we make with family members. Conversely, in "Stage Two", stress usually manifests itself when family expectations are broken. If a loved relative doesn't visit us, or if a family member says something insensitive at the dinner table, it can ruin Christmas for someone in "Stage Two".
And, of course, where many of us feel the most stress in "Stage Two" is in our attempt to celebrate Christmas while still grieving the death of someone close to us. For those who are in "Stage Two" of their understanding of Christmas, this time of year is especially sad.
Now, before I introduce "Stage Three", I want to share with you a few personal things including the sermon titles that almost made tonight's order of service.
The first sermon title I thought about using was: "Why Do I Dread Christmas?"
The second sermon title I considered was: "Why Do Some People Stay Home On Christmas Eve?"
The third sermon title: "If Christmas Is Supposed To Be Joyful, Why Do I Cry Every Year?"
I understand that Christmas is a sad time of year for many people. I learned this first hand as a 12-year-old trying to celebrate Christmas 4 months after my father's death. The effect my father's death had on our Christmas was substantial and severe. Christmas was never the same after that. The boy who used to anxiously count the days to Christmas began to dread Christmas. Eventually the tears give way to sheer depression.
Christmas time was a dreadful time of year for me, not simply because I had lost my father, but because I was in "Stage Two" of my understanding of Christmas. I had thought Christmas was all about family. Maybe you believe that. Maybe you believe Christmas is, first and foremost, about family. If you do believe this, I make no promises that you will enjoy this Christmas.
If our emphasis at Christmas is on our human relationships, the chances are, Christmas will be a time of sadness and disappointment.
I am glad to report that I enjoy Christmas again, and that I have you, in part, to thank for this. In having to prepare Christmas sermons 4 years in a row, I have learned what should have been obvious to me: Christmas is about Christ. This is "Stage Three".
Yes, Christmas involves the exchange of presents, but the presents are not the point. And yes, Christmas involves the gathering of families, but family is not the point. If Christmas is to be a truly joyful time, we must guard the precious truth that Christmas is about Christ.
I return your attention to Luke 2, where the angels appear to the shepherds and proclaim, "I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord"(Lk.2:10,11).
Christmas begins with an announcement of "good news of a great joy". The announcement that a Saviour is born is the best news possible. What I fear, however, is that many people have failed to comprehend how good the "good news" really is. I suspect the reason for this is that we have ignored the bad news.
Feeling the pressure to ease people's pain, many preachers rush ahead to proclaim how amazing grace is. But the trouble is, we cannot properly appreciate how amazing grace is until we have first appreciated the fact that we were once wretches. And as wretches we are deserving of the wrath of God.
The apostle Paul tells us, very plainly, that "the wages of sin is death"(Rom.6:23). If we die and go to heaven it is not because we deserve to. For we "all have sinned"(Rom.3:23) and the wages of our sin is eternal condemnation. Pretty bad news, don't you think? This is the worst of news I could think of.
But then something happens . . . an angel announces to some shepherds in a field that "a Saviour" has been born. A Saviour from what? A Saviour from poverty? No; better. A Saviour from an oppressive government? No; better. The Saviour who is born has come to "save His people from their sins"(Mt.1:21).
Our sins deserve eternal death. But Jesus has been born. He has lived a perfect life on our behalf. And He has died in our place. Christ was born to save us from our sins. He came so that "whoever believes in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life"(Jn.3:16).
Many of us here tonight are grieving. Many of us are grieving because someone we loved dearly will not be coming for Christmas dinner.
For those who have lost loved ones, I admit, Christmas will never be the same.
This does not mean, however, that every Christmas must be devoid of all joy. The angels have delivered the best possible news, "today in the city of David there has been born for you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord".
For those who have died in the Lord, and for those of you who trust in Jesus Christ as your Saviour from sin, there is a reunion day that awaits.
Christmas can always be good news because Christmas is meant to remind us that a heavenly feast awaits those who love Jesus Christ.
Christmas, rather than being a time of pain and sorrow, should remind us that the Lord is preparing a place for us where pain and sorrow are no more.
Christmas presents are great. Dinner with family is truly special. But the best part about Christmas is that there has been born for us a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. Amen.