by Larry Lilly 12/02/2006 / Holidays
“But while he thought on these things…” Matthew 1:20
Over the course of my life I have struggled with Christmas. Oh, not in the way so many do as to whether it should be celebrated or if it is some pagan winter solstice humbug, but I struggle for words to convey the wonder of the Great Creator taking upon Himself mere infant flesh as the beginning of His earthly revelation of His plan to redeem His willfully fallen creatures. How do you break down The Great Creator becoming my Savior?
I know the story and how it progresses from the manger to the awful cross and on to the mystery of the empty tomb. But how to tell it again and again, I fail to find the words to precisely define my thoughts and my heart.
A little comfort is found in the words of Gabriel to Mary when he said, “And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:35. I suppose ‘Holy Thing’ encapsulates all the men, angels or even the morning stars singing together can find in their tongues to express the wonder of Christ. To call Him, “That Holy Thing’ or ‘The Son of God’ makes no difference to me as I cannot adequately fathom the mystery, though I feel certain I will receive a load of mail from some brilliant professors explaining the mystery of the Incarnation to me, an ignorant member of the unwashed peasant class. I settle for the plain Bible statement by Paul, who really did not understand the wonder of it all, yet the Holy Spirit tied Christmas and Easter together when He gave the following to Paul:
“And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:” Romans 1:4. So this season we are confronted with wonder after wonder after wonder.
The bulk of Western Civilization, formerly called ‘Christendom’ celebrates the wonder of Jesus by giving gifts, a little of the redeemer, and the receiving of gifts, the needy sinner receiving the grandest gift of all, the Savior personally.
A young friend told me that he planned to make clear many aspects of the Christmas story over the course of his ministry. I wish him well!! I know the terms, but to say that I or anyone I know or have read after clearly understands the full meaning would be silly. I simply know enough about Jesus to know that no one fully understands Him, the Infinite one. A rule of philosophy states, “The finite cannot grasp the infinite.” But then, I confess my ignorance concerning the black cow eating green grass and giving white milk. I do drink white milk even though I do not grasp the full wonder of said milk. I take comfort in knowing the Christ understands me and continues to work on me even though He full knows that I am but dust.
For many years I worried that my folks did not understand me, and then I worried because I did not understand me, I quit worrying about this when I grasped the truth, the wonder, that He really understands my hopes and dreams, and also my proneness to act like mere dust.
When I am told in the scripture that “He shall save his people from their sins,” Matthew 1:21, I can agree with the Deity, that, yes, I am a sinner and a well known one at that! And in the course of His working on me through the preaching of the gospel, I agree that Christ is a Savior, that He is The Savior and also He is MY Savior.
As I write (11-07-06) the Irish Tenors are singing ‘Joy to The World’ and I confess this carol helps me to get in the proper frame of mind to write my thoughts about Christ for the Journal. That’s one of the benefits of the Journal, I am free to ramble. And I know the Irish Tenors are sinners, but they sing well. And there is nothing wrong with the song. And when we Christians can ever get it right and really demonstrate the truth underlying the Christmas story, there will be Joy in the world. In a world ruled by dark, sinister forces, the power and the beauty of Christ brings more than a tad of Joy to the heart of anyone who pauses to ponder the immense gift of grace to undeserving sinners.
A few years ago around Christmas time, I was preaching in a chapel service in a large prison. One of the men asked me if I thought Christ would save a sinner like him. He then proceeded to tell my why he was there, which is rare, as the why are you in here of a prisoner is never asked by a person who wants to reach them, and they in turn seldom volunteer the information. When he finished his story of unutterable sin, I looked him in the eye and said: “Yes, Christ can and will save you, for that is why He came. And that is not all, He will and wants to save the officers also.” As I told him the last part of the above he smiled, for it was dawning in his heart that while the clothes the prisoners and the officers wear are different, their heart is the same in that both prisoner and officer need saving by the one of whom the Christmas story tells.
In this bitter, often cruel world, I think of Joseph who when he thought Mary had betrayed him, still did not want revenge, or even vindication, but was willing to spare her reputation and feelings and to as the Bible says, “Put her away privately.” It is a good thing at Christmas to give the gift of forgiveness to someone whom you think has done you wrong. When Joseph made the choice to spare Mary, the angel of the Lord brought the miraculous truth to him. I have longed wondered what would have happened to Joseph if he had not believed? Certainly the plan of God would have moved right along for the rest of us, but what about Joseph? I suggest that even at Christmas time, an unforgiving, bitter spirit can result in God moving on without you and you are left sitting along a road going nowhere, contemplating your plate of bitterness. Thankfully this was not the case for Joseph. It was the case for Herod and for all who refuse the truth of Christ.
The wicked tenors are now singing, “It Came Upon The Midnight Clear,” and in my mind I can smell the night air, and watch as the humble shepherds gather to hear the angels announce the wonder, just a walk down the path to a stable in David’s city, Bethlehem. Someday, when God’s master plan has run its course, the whole world will, as sure as the sun rises in the East, give back the song which the angels sing. I join with John in the Revelation and cry from the depths of my spirit, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
While we wait for our King to come, may we apply the lessons of the First Advent, and learn to dwell with at the least the concept of ‘Peace on earth and goodwill to men.’ As in the First Advent, He will come the Second time, in the fullness of time, perhaps today. LML.
Last year Dave Caswell, author and publisher from Indy sent me a letter and I want to share a clip with you:
When I was in second grade (in public school), we were taught a Christmas song which contained the lyrics:
“He’s a baby, an infant,
He’s just hours old.
What does He care for rich gifts
Of Silver and gold?
The best gift you can bring
Is a song you can sing
And a smile for the baby
Today’s children couldn’t be taught such words in second grade in our public schools. Forty five years from now they won’t have these words to remember.”******
God bless and Merry Christmas. LML
Pastor, 45 years experience, writer and speaker. Married 42 years, four children, several honorary degrees. Currently pastor Berean Baptist Church, Terre Haute, IN 47805