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.”