What Day Is It?

When we last left Scrooge, he was trying to recover from his three visitors. There was the Ghost of Christmas Past, who came at 1:00. She showed him some wonderful Christmas memories and others that weren’t so great. There was the Ghost of Christmas Present, who came at 2:00. He showed him both the poverty that existed in his world, and the fun he was missing. There was the ghost of Christmases yet to come, or the Ghost of Christmas Future, who came without warning. He reminded Scrooge of his mortality. No one likes to hear that they are terminal from birth.

Our scene for this evening begins with sunshine. It is a new day. You remember the scene. Scrooge has endured his three visitors and promises to change. The transformation is complete! With newly discovered energy, he jumps out of bed and begins to dance around. The church bells begin to chime when Scrooge has a horrible thought. Maybe the work of the ghosts took longer than one day? Maybe he missed Christmas? He runs to his window and opens it. He looks down and discovers a small boy. He yells at him and asks the question for this evening, “What day is it?” The boy repeats the question, then he answers it. “What day is it? Why, it is Christmas day!” Scrooge is thrilled with the boy’s response. He hasn’t missed it. He begins to make plans to get the most out of that Christmas, and I hope you have done the same. Can I ask you a question?

What plans have you made for Christmas? What are you going to do to get the most out of this Christmas? Has anyone here decorated their home for Christmas? Your tree came out of the woods and makes the whole house smell like pine. Or your tree came out of the attic, but it won’t shed a single needle. Is anyone here planning on spending the day with loved ones? Some have traveled a long way to spend the day with you, others have walked down the street. The distance doesn’t matter, their attendance does. Is anyone here planning on exchanging gifts for Christmas? You bought just the right present for just the right person, and you cannot wait for them to open it. Maybe you have spotted an extra-large gift under the tree with your name on it. You can’t wait to open it. I don’t have to go on. You know it is true. You are just like Scrooge! You know that the great day of Christmas is here, and you are trying to get the most out of this Christmas. Did you know the National Retail Federation expected the average American to spend $998 on Christmas this year? The average American will spend $850 on presents alone. However, those of us who comprise the church know that Christmas is more than a giant birthday party.

Christmas is deeper and more profound. Christmas is more than a massive birthday party. Christmas is about the incarnation of God. The Gospel of John says, “And the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (1:14) In other words, God left the perfection of heaven and took a human form to become one of us. We say we love our dogs, but would we trade places with them. Would we get on our knees and hands and eat of their food bowl? Would we get on our knees and hands and lap water from the bowl? That is what God did. That is what makes Christmas so special. The church celebrates Christmas annually for three reasons. Ponder them with me.

Christmas is a day to celebrate the heart of God! The God of the universe is in love with us! The God of the universe is in love with you. He could have ordered us to love him. He could have impressed us with his power. However, those ways have limitations. Instead, God entered this world to share our interests and concerns, and to win our hearts.

Did you know the disease we call leprosy is still active in our world today? According to the World Health Organization, approximately 1,000 people die each year from leprosy in the Western Hemisphere. However, in most cases, it is treatable. That was not the case during the time of Father Damien (1840-1889). He was a Roman Catholic priest, who was born in Belgium. He spent most of his adult life in the mission fields. He spent the last sixteen years of his life on Hawaiian island, serving a leper colony. He learned to speak their language.  He bandaged their wounds, embraced the bodies no one else would touch, preached to hearts that would otherwise have been left alone.  He organized schools, bands, and choirs.  He built homes so that the lepers could have shelter.  He built two thousand coffins by hand so that when they died, they could be buried with dignity.  Slowly, it was said, the leper colony became a place to live rather than a place to die, for Father Damien offered hope. He got close.  For this the people loved him. Then one day he stood up and began his sermon with two words: “We lepers.” Now he was not just helping them.  Now he was one of them.  From this day forward he was not just on their island; he was in their skin.  First, he had chosen to live as they lived; now he would die as they died.

That is the story of Christmas! The incarnation reveals the heart of God. Jesus did not just come into the world to help us. Jesus, God came into the world to be one of us. He came into the world to die with us.The incarnation reveals God’s heart. The incarnation reveals our great human need.

In 1963, Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) was charged with trying to sabotage his nation’s government. He went against his nation’s apartheid government, which treated each race differently. He wanted South Africa to have a democratic government, which treated all races the same. He was found guilty and was sent to prison. He sat in that prison for the next twenty-seven years. When he was released in 1990, he only spoke of one thing, forgiveness. In time, he would become president of his country and had an international audience. He spoke of forgiveness time and time again. Mandela said, “Forgiveness is part of God’s plan.” Nelson Mandela knew it. Mankind’s greatest need is for forgiveness.

Christmas is a day to admit mankind’s greatest need, forgiveness. In the life of the church there is nothing, there is no one, more important than Jesus. He is the key to happiness both in this world and in heaven itself. It is impossible to separate the baby in the nativity from the Savior on the cross thirty-three years later. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for our sins. He died so we could live. The Incarnation reveals our greatest human need, forgiveness. The incarnation reveals God’s heart and our greatest human need. The incarnation also reveals the mystery of God’s ways.

The Hebrew world waited for generations for the coming of the Messiah. They knew he was going to be something special! They dreamed of his greatness, but they almost missed him because he was quite common. The story of the nativity is filled with common people. The shepherds were the first to hear about the birth of Jesus. Who were they? They were nobodies. In fact, they were rejected by the orthodox leaders for not keeping the law. Mary and Joseph were really nothing special. They were just another poor couple having a baby. Aren’t the poor always having another baby? Two years later, when the Magi finally arrive, they go to the palace because they are looking for something special. Who looks for something special in the barn? Think about this for a moment. God trusted common people with his divine plan, and He still does.

This is my question for you. What are you going to do for God with the rest of your life?  I know that is an intimidating question. I know it raises your insecurities. You feel like you are nothing special, which makes you perfect for God’s service. Christmas is a day to ponder God’s mysterious ways. Never forget, God has a purpose for your life.I end with this story. I have told it in the past because it is one of my favorites.

One of the great places in the world is the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. It is the site of the papal conclave, the process how a new pope is elected. The fame of the Sistine Chapel lies mainly in the frescoes which decorate the interior, and more particularly the Sistine Chapel Ceiling painted by Michelangelo. He began the project in 1508 and completed it four years later. Five hundred years later everyone agrees, it is a masterpiece. Years ago, Kathryn and I were fortunate to visit the Sistine Chapel. We were not alone. We were just two in a large group of tourists. The crowd made it impossible to study all the details. It was frustrating. The tour guide led us through quickly. If you ever get a chance to visit the Sistine Chapel, do it.

A good friend of mine visited the Sistine Chapel years ago too. Bill Johnson was young and in the navy. You remember Bill. He worked with me for five years. No one has a bigger heart than Bill. He was on leave in Italy, so he and a group of friends went to the Sistine Chapel. Like my experience, he was in a large group when they were herded into the chapel. Bill was uncomfortable in the crowd and was unsure of his location. He did not want to step on anyone, so he kept his head down. When they exited the chapel, everyone began to talk about the beautiful ceiling. It was only then that Bill discovered his mistake. He was standing in the middle of the Sistine Chapel and never looked up to see the famous ceiling. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and he missed it. I hope you do not miss it.

I hope that is not your story. Scrooge feared he missed Christmas. I hope you do not miss Christmas. It has been a wonderful scene. There has been the colored lights and the holiday decorations. There have been the cards and gifts. There is one at home waiting for you. There has been special music and parties. It has been fantastic, but do not miss the real meaning of Christmas. Those of us who comprise the church know the true meaning of Christmas. It is about the Incarnation. David Jeremiah (born 1941) once said, “All the presents in the world are worth nothing without the presence of Christ.” What day is it? It is Christmas day!

The Ghost of Christmas Present

When we last left Scrooge, he was trying to recover from his time with the Ghost of Christmas Past. She reminded him of both the good and the bad. There was the Christmas he spent partying with old Fezziwig and the Christmas he was summoned home by his sister, Fanny. There was also the Christmas he spent at school alone. Like us, Scrooge’s Christmases were a mixed bag, filled with both the good and the bad. Sometimes Christmas is not merry.

It was now time for his next visitor, the Ghost of Christmas Present. Like past Christmases, there is both the good and the sad. Scrooge sees the dinner at his nephew’s Fred’s house. They are playing games and laughing at Uncle Ebenezer. There are the poor struggling to survive. For the first time, Scrooge saw the home of his office clerk, Bob Cratchit.  His home was simple at best, with a surplus of both love and hardship. Everyone is doing their best to survive and support one another. The apple of Bob’s eye is his crippled son, Tiny Tim. The boy has no future, but he does one thing no one else can. He pierces Scrooge’s heart. For the first time in a long time, Scrooge shows compassion. The problem is, Scrooge is not ready to act on that compassion. Is that why we find Scrooge so intriguing. We hate to admit it, but there is a little Scrooge inside of each one of us. We have compassion on the poor and the struggling, but we do next to nothing to relieve their suffering. That is why we marvel at the scripture lesson for today.

We are in the first chapter of Luke, verses 26-38. The angel Gabriel goes to Mary to tell her she has been selected by God for a special job. She is going to be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah. There is only one problem. She is unmarried, so pregnancy seems impossible. In other words, she is sexually innocent. You must admit, God is always thinking outside of the box. This child will not be conceived in the old-fashioned way. This child will be conceived in a miraculous way. The Holy Spirit himself will come upon her, and her child will be the son of God. She will name that child Jesus. The name Jesus means “God is salvation.” That is a good church story, but in the real world it is hard to believe. All you must do is walk in Mary’s shoes and the story gets very complex. We covered some of this material last week.

The scriptures tell us Mary lived in a town called Nazareth. It was a small town. In Mary’s day, it had a population of between one hundred and four hundred people. Have you ever lived in a small town? Have you ever worshipped in a small membership church? You do not just know everyone. Everyone knows everyone else’s business. Unlike our world, Mary’s world had high moral standards. We live in low moral times. She was a single pregnant woman. In our low morals time, we are supposed to be open minded about such matters. After all, these are modern times. In Mary’s time, she was shunned. That means her personal dreams and desires were gone. Her pregnancy did not just bring shame to her, it brought shame to her entire family. On the one hand, God’s selection of Mary was a wonderful thing. She would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah. She will be praised by the generations to come. On the other hand, this unwanted pregnancy meant the death of her personal dreams and desires. She would be a joke to the people who knew her. All she really wanted was respect by this world. That is what makes this morning’s scripture lesson so incredible. Mary surrenders her personal dreams and desires to do God’s will. Luke 1:38 is significant. Mary is addressing the angel, Gabriel. She says, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”  That leads us to an interesting question.

How open are you to God’s will for your life? C. S. Lewis said it for us all. He said, We’re not necessarily doubting that God’s will is the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” Are you more like Ebenezer Scrooge, who was only concerned about himself? Are you more like the virgin Mary, who was open to God’s leading? If that makes you think, say, “Amen!” That leads us to three questions.

This is question number one: does your worldview reflect God’s will? Many consider David O. Selznick’s Gone with the Wind the greatest movie ever made. It is based on Margaret Mitchell’s book of the same name. It was the only book she ever wrote. You know the story because the movie is on television periodically. The movie premiered in Atlanta in 1939. Hattie McDaniel (1893-1952), who played Mammy in the movie, became the first black actor to receive an Academy Award for best supporting actor in 1940. However, she wasn’t invited to the world premiere because of the segregation laws in the Jim Crow south. Racism has been a big part of our country for a long time. I am afraid we haven’t made much progress.

Racism dominates the news. Do these names sound familiar?

          George Floyd

          Travon Martin

          Michael Brown

          Eric Garner

You know those names. Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis by Derek Chauvin. Martin was fatally shot in Sanford, Florida by George Zimmerman. Brown was fatally shot in Ferguson, Missouri by Darren Wilson. Garner was strangled to death in Staten Island, New York. They are just four names in a sea of names that revolve around racism. I hate to say it, but you know it is true. Racial tension in America is high. The views that white America holds about those men and the views black America hold about those men are extremely different. This is the question.

Does your worldview reflect God’s will? 1 John 2:9 says, “Whoever says he is living in the light but hates his brother is still living in darkness.” Mankind sees how people are different, God sees what we have in common. You are a disciple of Jesus Christ! What do you see when you look at a stranger? Do you see how they are different from you? Do you look for what you have in common? In other words, are you more like Scrooge, who saw the problem and did nothing? Are you more like Mary, who surrendered to God’s will?

This is question number two: does your community spirit reflect God’s will? One of the great things this church does annually is the “giving tree”. You know the routine. You take a tag off the tree, which contains a gift suggestion. You are to return that gift with the tag and wrapping paper on a designated date, unwrapped! Last week, the tree was full of tags, but by next week all the tags will be gone. The tree will stand empty because this church will buy Christmas gifts for a stranger. Can I be honest with you? I like looking at all the gifts once they are all purchased. It is fun to see the generosity of this congregation. I am proud of your generosity! This is the question.

Does your community spirit reflect God’s will? Galatians 2:10 says, “They asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”  I am glad you are generous because there is so much need. Did you know that 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day? (World Bank Development) Did you know 22,000 children a day die due to poverty? (UNICEF) God expects us to help them. Are you more like Scrooge, who saw the problem and did nothing? Are you more like Mary, who surrendered to God’s will?

This is question number three: does your self-image reflect God’s will? Psychologists tell us that by age five, children have developed a definite self-image. Economics and social standing influence that self-image very little. The greatest influence on a child are the child’s parents. That makes parenting even more overwhelming. How good of a job did your parents do? Do you have a good self-image or a poor one? I am always amazed at how tough people are on themselves. This is the question.

Does your self-image reflect God’s will? 1 John 3:1 says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so, we are.” Every day get up and look in the mirror and remind yourself that you are a child of God!

Are you more like Scrooge, who saw the problem did nothing? Are you more like Mary, who surrendered to God’s will?

Several years ago, Kathryn and I were in the state of Texas to visit relatives. One of the family members lives in San Antonio. We took that opportunity to visit the Alamo. I came away with a new appreciation for the events of April 6, 1836. For it was on that day the thirteen-day siege ended. Approximately 200 Texans were confronted by approximately 6,000 Mexican soldiers led by Santa Anna (1794-1876) during their war of independence. Some of the greatest names in American history were involved in the battle: Jim Bowie (1796-1836), Davy Crockett (1786-1836), and William Travis (1809-1836). The outcome at the Alamo was obvious, but they refused to surrender.

In one of the great scenes in North American history, William Travis lined up his soldiers and told them of their impending defeat. He drew a line in the sand and said any man wishing to leave the Alamo could do so without recourse. Only one man left. The others stepped over that line to stand with him, hence accepting their fate. History tells us each one died with honor and for a cause that was bigger than themselves. Santa Anna’s cruel treatment of their corpses changed the future of Texas. He wanted to shock his world with his might. Instead, he inspired many Texans to defeat the Mexicans because of his cruelty. About six weeks later, on April 21, 1836, Sam Houston (1793-1863) defeated Santa Anna at San Jacinto and their independence was won. This is my question for you.

What in the world does the Virgin Mary have to do with the Alamo? The answer is everything. The Virgin Mary stepped over the line in the sand and stood with God. However, she also challenges us to step over the line in the sand and stand with God too. When you step over the line you are surrendering your world view for God’s world view. When you step over the line you adopt a new community spirit. You have true compassion for your struggling neighbor. The needy in our world need our help. When you step over the line you rebuild your self-image. Never forget you are a child of God! Saint Ignatius once said, “It is not hard to obey when we love the one whom we obey.”

The Ghost of Christmas Past

You know the story. Everybody knows the story.Miserable old businessman Ebenezer Scrooge lived for nothing but money. The problem was, his money was not making him happy, it was making him miserable. Everyone in his life knew it. His office clerk, Bob Cratchit knew it. His nephew, Fred knew it. The two nameless chaps collecting for the poor knew it. His deceased business partner, Jacob Marley knew it. However, Marley also knew change was still possible, so he came to visit Scrooge. He told him that three more ghosts would come to visit him. The first would be the Ghost of Christmas Past. The second would be the Ghost of Christmas Present. The third would be the ghost of Christmases yet to come, or the Ghost of Christmas Future. They were coming for one reason, transformation!

When we last left Scrooge, he was waiting. When the clock struck one, the waiting ended. The Ghost of Christmas Past came in the form of a young woman. Her presence is so bright that he can hardly see her. In accordance with her name, she shows him his past Christmases. His memories are a mixed bag. Some of his Christmas memories were wonderful memories. There was the Christmas that he partied with old Fezziwig. There was the Christmas his sister Fanny escorted him home. Some of his Christmas memories were not so great. There was the Christmas he spent in school alone. How many wonderful Christmas memories do you have? How many Christmases do you wish you could forget? In many ways, we are no different than Scrooge. You know the truth.

Everyone is expected to be merry at Christmas. Does anyone here have a problem with that last statement? For many, Christmas is not merry. For some, Christmas is not merry because of the death of a loved one. It may be a spouse. It may be a parent. It may be the death of a good friend or the death of a child. For some, Christmas is not merry because there is a lack of money. They are unemployed or underemployed. They have mismanaged their money in the past, and that has tainted their present. For some, Christmas is not merry because of reality. In their youth they had such dreams. They were going to see the world and make a million along the way. They have seen nothing but their leaky wet basement in their rented home. For others, Christmas is not merry because of failing health. Does anyone here feel like they have let the youngest generation down? Do I have to go on, or do you get the picture? Christmas has a way of magnifying our disappointments. Christmas is not always merry.

Our scripture lesson for today comes from the first chapter of Luke, verses 26-45. You know the scripture. Perhaps, we have grown too comfortable with it. It is not really our fault. It has been told and retold over the past 2,000 years. It has been promoted by both the secular and the sacred worlds. Countless sermons have been written about it. Some of the greatest pieces of music have been inspired by it, and the masters of the art world have tried to capture it. In every home a Nativity set sits proudly on display to remind us of the story of the birth of Jesus. Do you know of anyone who does not know the story of the birth of Jesus? This morning I challenge you to look at this story from a different perspective. In your mind’s eye, strip away the traditions. I just want you to listen to the words. What does the Bible say? The Bible says it all began with an unwanted pregnancy. That unwanted pregnancy placed a young woman in a difficult situation. Once you walk in Mary’s shoes, the scripture suddenly comes to life.

Mary models for us how to survive in our world. She illustrates three things about life. They are the outline for my message today. First, she illustrates for us that life is hard. There is nothing easy about life. Second, she illustrates for us that sometimes we need others. She went to her cousin, Elizabeth. Third and finally, she illustrates for us that we always need God. I promise I will be brief.

First, Mary illustrates for us: life is hard. Life has always been hard. If you do not believe me, then look at the Nativity itself. Do not glamorize the story. Do not get sucked into the tradition; just read the words. Every person in the story was in a difficult situation. Mary was in a difficult situation. In a time that valued morals, Mary was an unwed pregnant woman. Joseph was in a difficult situation. There was no right answer. On the one hand, he has every right to divorce Mary and walk away. The problem is, Mary would have been found guilty of adultery. That means she could be stoned to death. How could he live with her death on his hands? On the other hand, if he takes Mary as his own, then he brings shame on himself. He is saying he has broken the abstinence law during the engagement. Zachariah and Elizabeth were in a difficult situation. They have no children and their society demanded children. If you turn to the second chapter of Matthew, then you find the story of the Magi. All they wanted to do was worship the new-born king. Do you remember what happened? Their sincere actions led to the death of two-year-old baby boys and younger. Do I have to go on? Each one of the characters reminds us that life is hard. Do you know of anyone who has a hard life? Could it be that you have a hard life? Do you know of anyone who has ever said, “Life is much easier than I ever expected!” No! Life is hard! If you agree that life is hard, say, “Amen!” Scrooge was rich, but he had a hard life!

Second, Mary illustrates for us: sometimes we need others. Look at the story one more time with me. Mary was from the town of Nazareth. In her time, Nazareth had a population of between 100 and 400 people. Have you ever lived in a small town?

Have you ever worshipped in a small membership church? Everyone knows everyone else. Everyone knows everyone’s business. Mary is single and pregnant in a small town. Everyone in her life is talking about her pregnancy. She is the hot topic at the well. The story says she went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth. Biblical scholars believe she went for two reasons. First, she goes to Elizabeth to escape the people in her life. Second, she goes to Elizabeth to receive some unconditional love. Has there ever been a time in your life when you needed the counsel of someone else? Have you ever been the counsel for someone else?

Sometimes we need people. Mary went to Elizabeth. Where do you go? Have you ever gone to visit a relative? Have you ever gone to visit a friend? Have you ever traveled to a counselor or a support group? Don’t feel guilty! Sometimes we need people. And all of God’s people said, “Amen!” Scrooge was rich, but he had no unconditional love.

Third and finally, Mary illustrates for us: we always need God. Beyond our reading for today comes one of the great pieces of scripture in the Bible. It is called the Magnificat; it means “glorifies”. In that song, Mary completely surrenders to God’s will. Just think about that for a moment. She sacrificed her dreams and desires for her life for God’s will. Generations later, she reminds us that we always need God.

One of the things that makes Christmas so difficult is all the images of the season. Christmas is the most visual holiday of the year. The season is filled with Christmas trees and Christmas lights. It is filled with Christmas cards and Christmas gifts. It is filled with Santa Claus and the Nativity. There are Christmas movies and Christmas cookies. There is both sacred and secular Christmas music. No matter where you turn, you are reminded of Christmas. You are expected to be merry. What happens when Christmas isn’t merry? For many, those images are painful. Do you know anyone who can’t wait to get Christmas over? Maybe we need a new image?

Years ago, Kathryn and I had the great fortune to travel to Israel. It was a great trip and we saw amazing things. The highlight for me was traveling to Bethlehem. It is not far from Jerusalem, about 5.5 miles. You can feel the spiritual tension. It is a sacred spot for three major world religions: Christianity, Judaism, and the Muslim faith. Every Christmas Eve I think about being in the Church of the Nativity. It is the spot where they say Jesus was born. The exact spot is under the center altar. We stood in line to get to that spot. The spot is marked by a brass star on the floor. To feel the spot where Christ was born, you had to get on your knees. I did it and I felt a spiritual rush. All the problems of this world seemed to disappear, and I viewed the world with eyes fixed on eternity. I was not the only one. Others felt that spiritual rush. There was a woman on the other side of the center altar who was overwhelmed with emotion. She was crying because she touched the spot where Jesus was born. I will never forget that experience. It was like touching the fingertips of God. How would your life change if you could touch the fingertips of God?

You know it is true. There is nothing easy about life. It is so hard that sometimes we reach out to others. It may be in the form of a support group or a professional counselor. That supporting person may be a relative or a friend. Sometimes we need others. However, we always need God. David Jeremiah once said, All the Christmas presents in the world are worth nothing without the presence of Christ.”

Let There Be Light!

We find ourselves in the the spiritual gospel, John. It was written about the year AD 60 by the apostle that carries its name. John’s purpose for writing this gospel was to introduce the Christian message to the Greek thinking world. The other three gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, were written to the Hebrew world. For that reason, this gospel stands alone. The Greek world clearly understood our Gospel lesson. They understood that the light of which John spoke was God. In other words, God, literally, came into the world to illuminate her dark places. That is the Good News of Christmas!

This is no shortage of darkness in our world. There seems to be a surplus of darkness in our world. I do not remember a time in my life when there seems to be so many complex problems. Maybe the reason is I am a pastor and I talk about other people’s problems regularly or maybe the reason is our world has drifted off course. Our country seems to be groping in the dark when it comes to the Coronavirus. Approximately 19 million have gotten the Coronavirus. Approximately 322,000 have died from the virus. Our country is groping in the dark racially. After all the talk of unity, we are still a divided people. Our country is groping in the dark sexually. Everyone has a firm opinion. It appears the United Methodist Church will divide over his topic in the next few months. Our country is groping in the dark economically. On the one hand, Wall Street is near an all-time high. On the other hand, many are struggling to obtain the basics. Did you know the unemployment rate in Ohio is 5.2%? Did you know the unemployment rate in Mahoning County and Trumbull County is 6.6%? has an unemployment rate of 6.6%? That figure is the highest in the state of Ohio. Help from Washington has stalled. Did you know our national debt is $27.5 trillion? Our country is groping in the dark when it comes to dealing with our national health care crisis. I do not know anyone who does not want everyone to have hospitalization. The problems are what will it cost and what will be covered? Our country seems to be groping in the dark internationally. Does anyone trust Iran or North Korea? I could go on, but I will not. It is all so depressing. We are groping in the dark at so many levels. Are you tired of all the darkness in our world?

This is the problem. God do not launch a program designed for international reform on Christmas. God seems to be more interested in eternity, than our temporary problems. God decided to reform the world one soul at a time. How reformed are you? How has Jesus, the light of the world, reformed you. American televangelist John Hagee (Born 1940) once said, “The fundamental principle of Christianity is to be what God is, and he is light.” It happened in three different ways.

Jesus came to illuminate our dark past. Without Jesus there is no forgiveness. One of the great misdemeanors in America today is that you can earn your salvation. That is why volunteerism and caring for your community has become the rage. I have nothing against volunteerism or community spirit, but they will not get you into heaven. We are saved by grace and by grace alone. Never belittle the death of Jesus on the cross. His blood washed away your sins. His death made it possible for you to live. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing. When you forgive others, you are telling God you are thankful that you are forgiven.

In October 2006, the country was shocked by another school shooting. This time the shooting was extremely cruel. It happened in Nickels Mines, Pennsylvania, in a one room old order Amish schoolhouse. The shooter was a man by the name of Charles Roberts. Before taking his own life, he shot eight of the ten girls, killing five. The only light in this dark story was the reaction of the Amish community. Within hours of the shootings, the Amish showed up at the door of Robert’s widow. They did not show up demanding revenge. They showed up to offer her comfort and support. How can you question the faith of these people? Can anyone question your faith? How easy is it for you to forgive, as you have been forgiven? Jesus came to illuminate our dark past.

Jesus came to illuminate our dark present. In other words, Jesus told us how to live. The world tells the key to a happy life is making yourself the star of your life. You do that by accumulating possessions and getting a surplus of attention. There is a certain amount of logic to that philosophy. The only problem is it does not work. Michael Jackson, Elvis Pressley, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain had more money and fame then they could handle. Do you consider their lives to be happy lives? Jesus said the key to living a happy life is making someone else the star in your life. I know we need a certain amount of money to survive and I know we all need a certain amount of attention. I know that Jesus’ key to a happy life does not make logical sense, but it is true. Research tells us that people who serve others live longer happier lives.

Years ago, the Salvation Army was holding their international convention. They wanted their founder, Gen. William Booth (1829-1912), to be their keynote speaker. The problem was Booth was old and weak. He could not speak because he could not go. So, he wired the convention his speech. It was one word! The one word: “OTHERS.” Do you wish you could hear a one-word sermon? Jesus came to illuminate our dark past. Jesus came to illuminate our dark present.

Jesus came to illuminate our dark future. Without Jesus there is no hope of heaven. During this calendar year, I have officiated at 34 funerals. They have all been different, but they end the same way. I ended each one of those services with these words. Perhaps, you remember them from your sad day. Jesus was born in the normal way, but he lived an extraordinary life. He never committed a single sin, which made him the prefect sacrifice. He was executed Roman style and his body was placed in a tomb. His loved ones grieved for him. That all happened on a Friday. No one knew what would happen later that weekend. Jesus returned from the dead. That resurrection changed everything. Without the resurrection of Jesus, there is no hope of eternal life. However, with the resurrection of Jesus we have hope of eternal life. Who is the first person you want to see when you get to heaven? Jesus came to illuminate our dark past. Jesus came to illuminate our dark present. Jesus came to illuminate your dark future.

For 51 years, Bob Edens was blind. That is a long to be living in the dark, trying to experience our world with just sounds and smells. Then it happened. A skilled surgeon performed a complicated operation, and, for the first time, Bob Edens had sight. Can you imagine? He was overwhelmed. He said, “I never would have dreamed that yellow is so…yellow. Red is so red. Purple is so purple.” he exclaimed. “I can see the shape of the moon and the vapor trail of a jet.” He said, “At night, I love to look at the light of the stars.” How many people do you know are blind?

How many people do you know are spiritually blind? Optometrists tell us that light is required to see. Your eyes can work perfectly, but without light you cannot see a thing! The brightest light that has ever shined is Jesus, God incarnate. How bright is Christ’s light? It is bright enough to illuminate your dark past. There is forgiveness in Christ. It is bright enough to illuminate your dark present. The key to a happier more content life is serving others. It is bright enough to illuminate your dark future. Someday all of us of faith are going to heaven. Do you remember the quote from John Hagee? He once said, “The fundamental principle of Christianity is to be what God is, and he is light.”

The Deeper Side of Christmas

It all began in the year 336. That is the first recorded date of Christmas being on December 25, during the reign Roman Emperor Constantine, who was the first Christian Emperor. There are many different theories or traditions as to why that date was selected. This is the one that I find most interesting. The early church believed Mary conceived Jesus on March 25. (The early church also believed Jesus died on the cross on March 25.) Nine months after March 25 is December 25, Christmas, the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus. That date stuck. It is safe to say the western world has embraced Christmas. Each country has their own traditions to embrace the day. America is no different. I do not know of anyone who does not love Christmas.

 Several weeks ago, I was up late and googled the question, why do we love Christmas? I came up with several thousand websites. The website I chose was called “why Christmas.” It had an article called Twelve Reasons I Love Christmas. This is their list. I cannot disagree with a one.

  1.  Christmas Decorations: I like looking at Christmas decorations. According to the National Retail Association, the average American spent $60 on Christmas decorations this year. That is up $20 from last year.
  •  Hot Chocolate: I like drinking hot chocolate. The problem is the average cup of hot chocolate is 194 calories. The characters in Hallmark movies are always drinking hot chocolate, but they are thin.
  •  Snow: I like snow. I just do not like shoveling it. Did you the chance of a white Christmas in Ohio is less than 25%, according to the Weather Channel? This will not be a white Christmas.
  •  Christmas Movies: I like Christmas movies. My favorite Christmas movie is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. I am not the only one. Did the know that movie, which was made $27 million, has made $73 million worldwide. Do you know anyone like Cousin Eddie?
  •  Receiving Christmas Gifts: I like getting Christmas gifts, but they made me uncomfortable because they make me feel guilty. I have good life, but there are many who live in poverty. Maybe my gift money should go to them? Did you know 700 million people in our world live on less than $1.90 a day?
  •  Spending Time with Loved Ones: I like spending time with loved ones. Life is short. Christmas is a great excuse to get together. There is an excellent chance you will see the people you love the most in the next 24 hours.
  •  The Food: I do not want to shock you, but I like food. Tomorrow afternoon I will eat my fill. I will not be able to eat another bite, and I will announce I will never eat again. A few hours later I will have a piece of pie.
  • Giving Back: I do not mind giving back. It comes in two forms. You can volunteer or you can make a financial donation. Did you know as a rule of thumb 25% of church contributions are given during the month of December?
  • Giving Gifts to Others: I like giving gifts. I cannot wait to see if my loved ones like what was purchased for them. I cannot wait to see my granddaughter open her gift from us.
  • The Christmas Tree: I like Christmas tree. Do you like a live Christmas tree or an artificial tree? Did you know the average American spent $78 on a Christmas tree? I am not proud of this, but I spent $2 more than the national average. It was worth every cent. We have a great tree this year.
  • Opening Gifts: I like opening presents? Do you open your presents on Christmas Eve or do you open your presents on Christmas morning? My family has always gotten up on early on Christmas morning to open gifts. Did you know, according to the National Retail Association, the average American will spend $998 on Christmas presents?
  • The Christmas Spirit:  I try to have the Christmas spirit, because I do not want to look like Scrooge. Have you ever been called a Scrooge?

Each one of those things are fun, but to those who believe, there is a deeper side of Christmas. There is the incarnation. That takes us to the scripture lesson for today.

 We find ourselves in the second chapter of Luke. Caesar Augustus, who sat on the throne of the Roman Empire from 31 B.C. to A.D. 14, issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. It happened when Quirinius was governor over Syria. That makes the date between A.D. 6 and 9. (Remember, the calendar was adjusted sometime in the past.) It will suffice to say, it was a long time ago. However, some things do not change. The census was taken for two reasons. The first was military serve. The Jews were excluded. The second was taxation. The Jews, like everyone else, were expected to pay. That meant Joseph went to Bethlehem, near Jerusalem, his hometown. He did not travel alone, he traveled with a young pregnant teenager by the name of Mary. This is where the story gets deep. They had never known each other intimately, yet they were legally bound. The child she carried was the son of God and the time was drawing near for her to give birth. Timing is everything. The young couple must have worried the child would come during the journey, but the child waited until they arrived in Bethlehem. Any Sunday school child will tell you were the child was born. The baby, the son of God, the long-awaited Messiah, was born in a manger because there was no room for him in the inn. They named the baby Jesus as directed by God. The name Jesus means “Savior.” I guess names do matter.

 It really is quite a story. It is unique to the Christian faith. Did you know, according to the United Nations, approximately 250 babies are born each minute in the world. That comes out to be 130 million in a year. That is a lot of babies in the history of the world. Each baby is special, but one was utterly unique. The infant Jesus changed everything. The deeper side of Christmas revolves around the incarnation of God. The Almighty came into the world to save us because mankind needed, and needs, saved. It has been written, “If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.” Those words still hold true. May we never forget Christmas is a Christian holiday.

Located in Yorktown, Indiana is the New Life Presbyterian Church. The Senior Pastor of that church is a man by the name of Bob O’Bannon. He is a blogger. He says the incarnation is important for three especially important reasons. I will be brief.

  1.  The incarnation affirms the goodness of the physical existence. Many devalue the physical and glorify the spiritual. The fact that God came into our world and took a physical form tells us our physical forms are important. Our physical state is equally important to the spiritual realm. 1 John 4:2 says, “By this we know the spirit of God: every spirit that confesses Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” That is number one. This is number two.
  •  The incarnation means God is involved. It is easy to sit back and complain about something. It is something completely different to get involved and to help fix the problem. God did not just complain. God came into the world to become the solution. John 1:9 says, The true light, which gives everyone light, was coming into the world. That was number two. This is number three.
  •  The incarnation makes it possible for sins to be covered. May we never forget we are sinners. I quote nearly week Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.” We are saved by grace and by grace alone. If Jesus had never have been born then your final destination would be hell, but Jesus was born, and everything changed. You know the story. Thirty-three later Jesus died on the cross giving us hope of eternal life. The question is do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, or are you going to hell?

It is the deeper side of Christmas, the incarnation of God. How can you question God’s love? He came for us.

 My childhood home had three bedrooms. One for my parents. One for my sisters and one for me. That was fine until company came. Usually, the company was my grandparents from Brooklyn. When they came, I was expelled from my bedroom and relocated to the landing leading up to the house’s attic. It was not so bad. My father set up cot and my mother handed me a sleeping bag. I was young, so I enjoyed it. The best part was the window by my cot. It was high and I could survey the whole neighborhood.

One Christmas Eve, I must have been about six years old, I was laying sleepless on my cot. The excitement of Christmas Eve had overwhelmed me. I thought about everything that had happened that evening and I thought about my presents the next morning. My mother warned me we would not be opening presents super early. We had to wait for my paternal grandparents to come. They were going to spend Christmas morning with us. They lived about an hour away. I think I must have woken up every fifteen minutes. Each time looking out the window. The time just could not go fast enough. It must have been about 5:00 when the exhaustion overtook me. When I woke up at 7:00 the sun was just starting to appear. When I looked out the window this time, I got a wonderful surprise. My grandparents were sitting in our driveway, so there would be no more waiting. They had been there quite some time because I thin layer of snow covered their car. I told my mother they had arrived, and she hustled down the stairs to let them in. When they walked in my mother confessed, she did not expect them so early. I can still hear my grandfather’s response. He said, “We had to come early because we did not want Russell to have to wait to open his presents.” Those words enforced what I already knew. My grandfather loved me. How do you question the love of someone who came just for you?

It is not just true of a small boy and his grandfather. It is also of God and mankind. How can you question God’s love? He came for you. Christmas is not just about presents and trees. It is not about decorations or food. There is a deeper side. There is the true meaning of Christmas, the incarnation.  In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis said, “The Son of God became man to enable men to become sons of God.”

Imperfect Christmas

It was Christmas Eve 1969. I was twelve years old. My family was returning home from the 11:00 Candlelight Christmas Eve service. Our family car was small, so everyone was packed in like sardines. My father was driving. He took us the same route that evening he took every Sunday morning. Everyone was excited about the next day. Without warning, our excitement was replaced with curiosity. We were a block from our home when we noticed something unusual. The air was thick with smoke and the sky was filled with color. There was a yellow haze around the area, only interrupted by the red lights of emergency vehicles. The police routed us around the block as we tried to see what was happening. It was not until the next morning that we got the sad news. A house on the parallel street had caught on fire and had burned to the ground. The loss of property is hard; the loss of lives is unbearable.

The family that died on that Christmas Eve was the Campbell family. The only one who survived was their daughter. She was a friend of my sisters. The investigation revealed Maggie caused the fire. She was the one who lit the candle and left it unguarded. That tiny flame sparked an inferno. Years later, it is still emotional to say. On that Christmas Eve, she lost her entire family, her parents, and a brother. Her brother did not have to die. At first, he had escaped the flames because his bedroom was on the first floor. He returned to the house to save his parents, but he did not return. He was a high school student, who was trying to do the right thing. Memories are such a powerful thing. It has been over fifty years since that tragic night but every Christmas Eve I think about Maggie Campbell. I do not have a clue where she is today but every year on Christmas Eve, I take a second and pray for her. How do you live the rest of your life knowing you caused your family death? The Campbell’s story reminds us that Christmas is not always merry. 

Can anyone here relate to that story? Christmas is not always perfect. How perfect is your Christmas going to be this year? Maybe the perfect Christmas is not possible because the pandemic has forced you to change your traditional Christmas plans? Maybe the perfection Christmas is not impossible because you are grieving? The loss of a loved one is never easy. Maybe the perfect Christmas is not possible because some relationship in your life is broken? People file for divorce twelve months a year. People ignore their siblings twelve months a year. People refuse to forgive twelve months a year. Maybe the perfect Christmas is not possible because you are consumed with worry. How are you going to pay for all those student loans? How are you going to get out of debt? The mole on your back is changing. Maybe the perfect Christmas is not possible because your time is running out? You have not lived out any of your youthful dreams. You feel like you have not done anything! Does anyone here feel like they are letting the next generation down? This is the truth. The world demands we have a perfect Christmas. The problem is none of our lives are perfect. All our lives have imperfections. Perhaps, this is the best piece of pastoral advice I can give you. This Christmas give up on perfect. Let us look at our scripture lesson, Luke 1:26-43.

This morning’s text is about a young woman who was living an imperfect life. Her name was Mary, and she was the one God chose to be the mother of Jesus. I would encourage you to forget everything you think you know about her and simply look at the words of the story. Do not think of her as a saint or some spiritual superhero. Just think of her as a person. The words tell us she is going through an incredibly difficult time. She is more like us then you can imagine. Because of this similarity between us and her, she models for us how to survive in our world. She illustrates three things about life, itself. First, she illustrates for us that life is hard. There is nothing easy about life. Second, she illustrates for us that sometimes we need others. She went to her cousin, Elizabeth. Third and finally, she illustrates for us that we always need God.

First, Mary illustrates for us: life is hard. Life has always been hard. If you do not believe me then look at the Nativity, itself. Do not glamorize the story. Do not get sucked into the tradition. I will say it again. Just read the words. Every single person in the story was in a difficult situation. Mary was in a difficult situation. In a time that valued morals, Mary was an unwed pregnant woman. Joseph was in a difficult situation. There was really was no right answer. On the one hand, he has every right to divorce Mary and walk away. The problem is Mary would have been found guilty of adultery. That means she could be stoned to death. How could he live with her death on his hands? On the other hand, if he takes Mary as his own then he brings shame on himself. He is saying he has broken the abstinence law during the engagement. Zachariah and Elizabeth are in a difficult situation. They had no children, and their society demanded many children. They believed the more the children the greater God’s blessings. The fewer the children the fewer the blessings. They had no children, so they had no blessings. If you turn to the second chapter of Matthew, then you find the story of the Magi. They were in a difficult situation. All they wanted to do was worship the newborn king. Do you remember what happened? Their sincere actions lead to the death of two-year-old baby boys and younger. How many mothers blamed them for their son’s death? Do I have to go on? Each one of the characters reminds us that life is hard. Do you know of anyone who has a hard life? Could it be you have a hard life? Do you know of anyone who has ever said, “Life is much easier than I ever expected!” No! Life is hard!

Second, Mary illustrates for us: sometimes we need others. Look at the story one more time with me. Mary was from the town of Nazareth. In her time, Nazareth had a population of between 100 and 400 people. Have you ever lived in a small town? Have you ever worshipped in a small membership church? Everyone knows everyone else. Everyone knows everyone’s business. Mary is single and pregnant in a small town. Everyone in her life is talking about her pregnancy. She is the hot topic at the well. The story says she went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth. Biblical scholars believe she went for two reasons. First, she goes to Elizabeth to escape the people in her life. Second, she goes to Elizabeth receive some unconditional love. Has there ever been a time in your life when you needed the counsel of someone else? Have you ever been the counsel for someone else? Sometimes we need people. Mary went to Elizabeth. Where do you go? Have you ever gone to visit a relative? Have you ever gone to visit a friend? Have you ever traveled to a counselor or a support group? Do not feel guilty! Sometimes we need people. Life is hard. Sometimes we need people. 

Third and finally, Mary illustrates for us: we always need God. Look at the text with me one final time. The angel goes to Mary and tells her she is going to have a baby. Mary knows it is biologically impossible. She has never been intimate with a man. The angel tells her the Holy Spirit will come upon her and she will conceive. What does that mean? It means that Mary’s personal agenda for her life must be discarded. Her personal will means nothing. God’s will for her means everything. Verse 38 is an incredible verse. It says, “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”  She sacrificed her dreams and desires for her life for God’s will. Generations later, she reminds us that we always need God. How much of your will are you willing to surrender to God?

One of my favorite Christmas movies is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. You must have seen it because it seems like it has been on every night. It stars Chevy Chase who plays the part of Clark Griswold. (However, I love Randy Quaid, who plays the part of Cousin Eddie. He is such a jerk!)  Clark is a good man who wants to bring his family the perfect Christmas. He tries everything but everything seems to go wrong. The Christmas lights do not work. The turkey looks great, but it is dry. The neighbors are annoying. The relatives are weird. How many times have you seen Christmas Vacation? (If you have never watched it then cancel your afternoon plans and watch it. It is on my “A” list, five stars!) Do you know why we love Christmas Vacation so much? The reason is every December we play the part of Clark Griswold. We do our best to give our family the perfect Christmas. The problem is we live in an imperfect world.

In a few days we will celebrate our twenty-sixth Christmas together. I genuinely enjoy spending Christmas Eve with you. Can I be honest with you? There was a time when I ruined Christmas for myself because I was consumed by all the details of the holiday. My attitude about Christmas changed in a single moment. It happened during a 7:00 Christmas Eve service. We were just about to take up the Christmas offering.The ushers came forward and I passed out the offering plate. One of the ushers on that evening was Chic Baber. How many of you remember Chic? I always appreciated Chic because he was such an optimist. I still miss him. On that evening I handed him the offering plates and he dropped one. It hit the prayer rail and it sounded like cymbals crashing. I was frustrated because I was striving for perfection. Chic ruined my perfect service. I was preoccupied by that moment for the rest of the service and was still venting about it the next morning. It was at that moment the person I respect the most I the world saved my Christmas forever. My wife Kathryn said to me, “Russ, it is Christmas. It comes once a year. Enjoy it. Things happen.” And she gave me a kiss and said, “Merry Christmas!”

 I am not going to give you a kiss but maybe those are the words you need to hear? Forget about perfection. It only comes once a year. Enjoy it. Things happen. Why don’t we forget about perfection this Christmas and just remember Jesus? David Jeremiah (born 1941) once said, “All the Christmas presents in the world are worth nothing without the presence of Christ.”

The Incarnation…

I love the story of J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972), who ran the FBI for years. No one questioned his authority, so his subordinates were on the lookout for ways to impress him. A young FBI agent was put in charge of office supplies. Trying to cut costs and impress his boss, he reduced the size of the office memo paper. One of the new memo sheets soon ended up on Hoover’s desk. Hoover took one look at it, determined he didn’t like the size of the margins on the paper, and quickly scribbled on the memo, “Watch the borders!” The memo was passed on through the office. For the next six weeks, it became nearly impossible to enter the United States from Mexico or Canada. The FBI was watching the borders. I tell you that story to make one simple point: communicating can be a complex thing.

Have you ever stopped to consider all the ways in which we have to communicate in our time? Like J. Edgar Hoover, you can write a simple note on a scrap piece of paper. You could write a formal letter on a piece of stationary. You can pick up your land line phone and call a loved one or business associate. You pick up your cell phone and call a fringe person in your life as you drive home from work or travel down the interstate. You can email a friend. You can rent a billboard. You can face time someone or communicate with them on Facebook. I could go on, but I won’t. You get the point.

There are more ways to communicate today than any other time in world history. However, this is also true. There are more ways to be misunderstood today than any other time in world. Do you know Brinkley’s Law? It says, “If there is any way it can be misunderstood–by someone, somewhere, sometime–it will be misunderstood.” When was the last time you were misunderstood trying to communicate? Perhaps, that is the reason God came into the world, taking the form of a human. The best kind of communication is still talking face to face.

At Christmas, we ponder the wonder of the incarnation of God. Just ponder that theological point for a moment. God left the perfection of heaven to enter this imperfect world. It is more than the human mind can handle. Augustine said the incarnation of God is beyond all human understanding. But perhaps one of the reasons he came into the world was to communicate with us. He didn’t want there to be any misunderstanding, so he came into the world to communicate with us face to face. This evening I want to talk about tree things that God wants to communicate to us. They are three great revelations that are grounded in basic Christian theology. Each one is important to the spiritual maturity. My goal is to help you have a better understanding of God and a greater appreciation of God’s plan for you in this world.

First, the incarnation reveals the heart of God. The great Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) told the story of a prince who was running an errand for his father one day in the local village. As he did so, he passed through a very poor section of the town. Looking through the window of his carriage, he saw a beautiful young peasant girl walking along the street. He could not get her off his heart. He continued to come to the town, day after day, just to see her and to feel as though he was near her. His heart yearned for her, but there was a problem. How could he develop a relationship with her? He could order her to marry him. It was within his powers to do so. But he wanted this girl to love him from the heart, willingly. He could put on his royal garments and impress her with his regal entourage and drive up to her front door with soldiers and a carriage drawn by six horses. But if he did that, he would never be certain that the girl loved him or was simply overwhelmed with his power, position and wealth. The prince came up with another solution. He moved into the village dressed only as a peasant. He lived among the people, shared their interests and concerns, and talked their language. In time, the young peasant girl grew to know him, and then to love him. That is the story of Christmas!

John 3:16-17 says, “For 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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” God came into the world to tell us that me love you and me! The incarnation reveals to us the very heart of God. The God of the universe is in love with us! He could have impressed us with his power. He could have ordered us to love him. But God entered this world to share our interests and concerns to win our hearts. The incarnation reveals the heart of God.

Second, the incarnation reveals our greatest human need. They tell me sitting majestically atop the highest hill in Toledo, Spain, is the Alcazar, a 16th-century fortress. In the civil war of the 1930’s, the Alcazar became a battleground when the Loyalists tried to oust the Nationalists, who held the fortress. During one dramatic episode of the war, the Nationalist leader received a phone call while in his office at the Alcazar. It was from his son, who had been captured by the Loyalists. They have the son an ultimatum to deliver to his father. If the father didn’t surrender the Alcazar to them, they would kill his son. The father weighed his options. After a long pause and with a heavy heart, he said to his son, “Then die like a man.” Let there be no doubt about it. Jesus died like a man.

Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God understands our greatest need was for a savior. Do you remember these words?

If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.”

It is impossible to separate the baby in the nativity from the Savior on the cross thirty-three years later. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for our sins. He died so we could live. The incarnation reveals our greatest human need, forgiveness.

Third, the incarnation reveals the mystery of God’s plan. The Hebrew world waited for generations for the Messiah. They knew he is going to be something special! They dreamed of his greatest, but they almost missed him because he was quite common. The story of the nativity is filled with common people. The announcement is given to common laborers in the fields, who their orthodox leaders had rejected, the shepherds. When the Messiah is born, he is entrusted to a common couple, Mary and Joseph. Two years later, when the Magi appeared, they go to the palace because the child was a king. They find him in the barn. The mystery of God’s plan is that it is entrusted to common people like you and me.

1 Timothy 3:16 says, “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:
He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.” 
From the very beginning God’s plan to save the world had been a mystery. It is impossible to understand God’s ways. The incarnation reveals the mystery of God’s plan.

Cecil B. DeMille (1881-1959) was making one of his great epic movies. He had six cameras at various points to pick up the overall action and five other cameras set up to film plot developments involving the major characters. The large cast had begun rehearsing their scene at 6 a.m. They went through it four times and now it was late afternoon. The sun was setting and there was just enough light to get the shot done. DeMille looked over the panorama, saw that all was right, and gave the command for action. One hundred extras charged up the hill; another hundred came storming down the same hill to do mock battle. In another location Roman centurions lashed and shouted at two hundred slaves who labored to move a huge stone monument toward its resting place. Meanwhile the principal characters acted out, in close-up, their reactions to the battle on the hill.  It took fifteen minutes to complete the scene. When it was over, DeMille yelled, “Cut!” and turned to his assistant, all smiles. “That was great!” he said. “It was, C.B.,” the assistant yelled back. “It was fantastic! Everything went off perfectly!” Enormously pleased, DeMille turned to face the head of his camera crew to find out if all the cameras had picked up what they had been assigned to film. He waved to the camera crew supervisor. From the top of the hill, the camera supervisor waved back, raised his megaphone, and called out, “Ready when you are, C.B.!” The communication was poor. They hadn’t filmed a single thing!

Don’t let that story be your Christmas. It has been a wonderful scene. There has been the colored lights and the holiday decorations. There has been the cards and gifts. There is one at home waiting for you. There has been special music and parties. It has been fantastic but don’t miss what God is trying to tell you. Christmas is not just about the birth of a baby that came into the world two thousand years ago. It is about God, himself, taking a human form to experience all that we experience. He came to make sure there was no miscommunication. He came to reveal his heart. He came to reveal his plan. He came to reveal our great need. It has been said, “The beauty of Christmas is not in the presents but in His presence.”