A MERRY BC CHRISTMAS
Dear friends in Christ,
There are a lot of Christmas traditions that have fascinating backgrounds. As a child I used to get upset when people said that December 25th is not Christ’s birthday. The fact is we don’t know when the birthday of Jesus really was. Why do we use December 25th? Many say it was a reaction to the heathen festival of Saturnalia. The ancients had a calendar that had twelve thirty day months. By observing the sun they came to know that the sun did not come to exactly the same place in the sky in 360 days. They knew it needed five more days, so they declared a year end party called Saturnalia when all kinds of debauchery took place. The story goes that Christians tried to counteracting that sin by establishing the Christian holiday of Christmas.
Others say that it came about because Christians wanted to counteract that Jewish observance of Hanukkah which occurs around the same time.
In my younger days in the ministry, I wrote out my sermons by hand. I used to try to abbreviate certain words. Christmas was one of them. I would write Xmas. It used to be more common but the secular world often wrote Christmas like that – Xmas. Now people just try to avoid the word and say Happy Holidays.
A member at a different church at a different time was looking at how I wrote my sermons out and saw how I abbreviated Christmas with an “X.” And I got an earful. You are taking Christ out of Christmas and replacing him with an X. It’s a gross insult. It is sacrilege. Actually that’s overzealous. If someone includes an ‘X’ at the end of a letter, they are giving you a kiss. An ‘X’ in Christmas is also a reference to the letter Chi, the first letter of Christ. So it isn’t bad after all. It points us to Christ.
Even though there was no official Christmas at the time the Old Testament prophet Malachi wrote, he was sure speaking about him. In fact, he is kind of making a reference to having a “Merry BC Christmas.”
Malachi lived around 400 years before Jesus did, but he certainly tells us why there was a need for Christmas. The retailer of today would say “Why Christmas?” We need Christmas because that’s when we make our profit. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when Christmas shopping begins with mobs of shoppers, was changed this year to Thanksgiving. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is when the retailer finds out whether they will have a good year or not. Many retailers have a business plan that if they can break even the rest of the year, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is profit making time. Why Christmas? To some, the difference between bankruptcy or staying in business, the difference between being in the red or getting into the black.
Why Christmas? For the child it might mean the opportunity to replenish the toys that got broken that day after Christmas last year. 364 days is a long time to wait. Why Christmas? The toys we got last year are kind of boring and there are new things that need trying out.
Why Christmas? I don’t know about you but I have ties that need replacing from the marinara sauce that got slobbered on them. I need socks that have gotten kind of thin in the heels. My Duck Dynasty collection needs to be expanded.
Malachi tells us the reason for Christmas. One day we either meet our Creator when we die, or we meet him when he comes back in judgment. “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.” A year ago three good men were summoned to heaven within a few weeks of each other. Ed and Frank and Ray were gathered to the Church Triumphant around Christmas last year.
The year has gone so quickly. Lots of things have occurred in your lives. Each family, each individual gathered here tonight has stories of triumphs and struggles through the year of 2013. But we have one thing in common no matter how old or young we are; we can check another day off the calendar that God has allotted us to live.
Malachi lived 400 years before Jesus. For better than a century the people of Judah returned to their lad after having been taken into exile into Babylon. The Lord had allowed the exile to occur because those generations who had lived a century before had really deserted the Lord and rebelled against him. Apparently the contemporaries of Malachi didn’t learn much. They were doing it again. God spoke through the prophet that Judah “had wearied the LORD with their words.
They were blaming a lot on God for their situation. They worshipped half-heartedly. They were selfish. The LORD even accused them of robbing the Lord with offerings that were not their best nor were they generous. Their clergy were not any better. They were less than zealous and complained they were underpaid.
Does all that sound familiar? We look at life as half empty instead of half full. We ought to be looking at life with our cup running over like the great Psalm 23 does.
Listen again to Malachi. “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.” We ask the question, Why Christmas? Because the day is coming when all will be burned up and all will be stubble. Those pessimistic and lukewarm attitudes deserve the wrath of God. Whether Adam or Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Edith or Archie, Larry or Judy, or if your name is Rumpelstilskin we all need Christmas. We all need a Savior. We need to hear the message, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”
Admittedly Malachi doesn’t say anything in these words about a baby in a manger and angels singing in the heavens, but he does say, “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.” Malachi calls Jesus the SUN of righteousness. That’s S-U-N and not S-O-N.
I was traveling home from church to home and found out just how much Atlanta empties out over Christmas. I used my high beams on the way home. That never happens in this city. While high beams are better than low beams in seeing ahead of you, Jesus the light of the world, the Sun of Righteousness reaches into eternity and guides us there. In fact, he is the only way there. The sun of Righteousness also warms the soul and warms a cold and calculating heart. When the air is cold outside, it is nice to sit next to a sun drenched window because it keeps us warm. Courtney said that when she was in recuperation from her car accident ten years ago, they did infrared therapy on her hip and was so effective. It healed.
Jesus heals. He gives purpose to lives. He warms us to reflect warm to others.
“And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.” I would imagine that not too many people can identify with that picture. Maybe it even sounds insulting to be compared to a frolicking calf. You city folks need to try to get this picture in your mind.
When a calf is born, it is a mess. Its mother will start to lick it and clean it up. It stays close to the mother especially if that calf is born in the cold of winter. A farmer will keep it penned with the mother and over a period of time that stall gets pretty rancid and awful. As the spring gets on, the calf and mother are released into a field. It is allowed to roam free and soon experiences sights and sounds and smells that it had never experienced before. Before long it cannot help but run and leap and frolic. It enjoys its new-found freedom from captivity.
When you, a sinner, are released from your sin and guilt before God, released from your proud arrogance, released from death itself, you cannot help but enjoy the healing, the freedom, the new life. That is the way it is. The Sun of Righteousness freed you – the baby of Bethlehem.
You can enjoy life because it is life. You celebrate the Savior’s birth with gusto this night and always. You have been freed from any and all eternal consequences of sin. Even the day that will bring all things to stubble is not something to fear but to befriend.
How? Why? Because the Sun of Righteousness has risen with healing in his wings. That really was what Christmas was to the Old Testament believer. That’s what Christmas is to the New Testament believer.