I sat in the congregation listening to the Christmas sermon. Something was missing and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
The minister had selected one aspect of the Christmas story and read a text supporting it, then brought his sermon on that subject. His points were properly related to the text and no doubt most people left the worship center satisfied they had been spiritually fed. It was only later that something occurred to me, what was the missing ingredient in that morning’s service.
The worship leader and musicians and the pastor all drew our attention back to that night in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago, and they did a fair job of opening the text, explaining its message, and praising the Lord. But they omitted one major element as far as I could tell.
They forgot to give us the “so what” of the Christmas message.
They failed to drive home the continuing aspect of this most wonderful of all events in the history of our world.
He’s still alive. He is with us. He is Lord of the here and now.
They told us He was God and the Son of God. They reminded us of the prophecies and told how they were fulfilled. They gloried in the appearance of the angels and we sang the same song they did, although presumably not as well or as big. We praised and loved and enjoyed and worshiped. But then…
We left with the understanding that that’s all there is, that it was a history event and “wasn’t that wonderful!”.
They failed to tell us the “So What” of Christmas. They omitted the lasting and eternal difference that this earth and its inhabitants have lived under ever since the Incarnation.
1) Jesus was born in Bethlehem, yes–but He is still alive and among us.
Even though this is historical and fixed to a date and time and place, it’s far more than that. The church is not a Jesus Memorial Society. Jesus Christ is alive and He is in this place and we are His children forever.
Immanuel translates to “God with us.” Present tense!
2) There was great joy to all people that night, yes indeed–and that joy is still widespread, soul-deep, and available.
The joy continues. The angel called it “great joy to all the people” and that it is!
The joy in my heart at this moment is rooted in what occurred that night in Bethlehem and later on a hill outside Jerusalem. It’s the same, ongoing joy. “In thy presence there is fullness of joy,” says Psalm 16:11.
3) A Savior was born that night, yes–and by His death/burial/resurrection, He is still saving people today.
“Unto you is born…a Savior.” Jesus Saves. Write it down in big letters, plaster it on billboards, and shape it in neon to hang from your church’s front steps, if you like. That is the heart of the Christmas message and it still rings true today.
He came not simply as a role model, although He is that. He came, not just to teach us and inspire us and affirm us, although He does these things and a thousand more. He came “to seek and to save that which was lost.”
He saved “a wretch like me.”
4) People worshiped Jesus that night, yes–but He is still worthy of all worship and still being adored across this earth.
Some years back, as we returned from visiting the Holy Land, the memories and feelings still fresh, I was struck by a billboard in our town: Jesus Christ is Lord over Columbus, Mississippi. The irony of One being born some 2,000 years earlier on the other side of the globe and us honoring Him and exalting Him as though He hailed from our hometown is wonderful. Jesus Christ is Lord of all. He was then, He is now, He ever shall be!
5) The angels sang that night to celebrate the coming of the Lord Jesus and they still celebrate every time He comes into one more life.
Our Lord said they throw a party every time a sinner comes to the Father (Luke 15:7,10). And He would know.
6) Outsiders found their way to Jesus at that time, completely surprising everyone. To this day, outsiders look to us for information and direction concerning this One born King of the Jews.
We must not be as Herod’s chief priests and scribes who knew all the prophecies of the Christ’s coming, but without the slightest desire to see Him for themselves and to worship Him personally (Matthew 2:4-6).
7) Some were threatened by the arrival of the Christ and sought to shut Him down forever. Their descendants are still at work.
Herod went into action that night (Matthew 2:16) and later the same religious leaders (or their successors) organized their own lynch mobs (see Mark 3:6). Their descendants are still on the job, opposing with all the resources at their command the work of Jesus’ people out of a diabolical hatred of this Prince of Peace.
It’s not just history, although it is historical.
It’s not simply that Jesus was born and lived and died and resurrected and then returned to Heaven. It’s all that, but more: He is alive and here and at work.
The story of Jesus Christ is ongoing.
Let us speak of Him in the present tense.