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The Agora

Why Christmas? The Day God Showed Up On Earth

The Day God Landed On Earth

 Text: 1 John 1:1–4

 

This is what Scripture says: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.”

 

Introduction:

Good morning, church and friends! Christmas is just 3 days away. Are you feeling the holiday mood yet?

 

I know for many people, this is the season to be jolly. It's a time to celebrate, sing carols, throw parties, receive presents and lots of merry making. As we wrap up the year 2008, it’s also a time to relax, go on a holiday with family and have some well-deserved fun. And yes, sales promotions are everywhere. It’s a mad rush to shop till we drop.

 

Or if you are in the retail business or have sales target to achieve, Christmas is the season to be busy. It’s a crazy time to close deals, meet datelines and lots of profit making. For Christians, we may be just so stressed up with many church programs and activities, endless rehearsals and singing practices.

 

But for others, Christmas is the season to be depressed. Psychologists have found that many people experience a sad and anxious mood during and after Christmas. Statistics for suicide also increase. The reason goes something like this: “Everyone is supposed to be happy and be with their family during the holidays - since I am not, there must be something wrong with me”. This ‘holiday blues’ is most keenly felt if we are separated from loved ones. The loneliness, tiredness and isolation become more intense when there is pressure to look happy at parties or gatherings. The contrast can be very depressing.

 

But if we are not feeling Christmassy yet, that's ok. Because Christmas is not about Christmas. It’s not about sales promotion, Santa Claus or all that jazz. Christmas is all about Christ. That God has not left us alone. He showed up on planet earth to rescue us. The baby born on that first Christmas night two thousand years ago was called Immanuel, God with us. His presence is with us even now whether we feel Him or not.

And the scripture passage today taken from 1st Letter of John tells us what Christmas is all about. It says something radical about God and how Christmas can transform our lives whether we feel happy, busy or sad today.

 

 

Firstly, Christmas tells us something radical about God.

 

If you understand the word incarnation, you'll understand what Christmas is about. And the meaning of incarnation is nicely captured in the song we sang just now “Hark the Herald angels sing!” The second stanza goes like this:

 

Christ by highest heaven adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel (meaning, God with us)
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

 

Incarnation simply means that God took on flesh and blood and showed up on planet earth as a human being. Amazingly, He decided to come as a helpless baby born of a virgin girl. He did not come as some sort of violent, conquering warrior.

In the Bible passage we read just now, the apostle John tells us that Jesus the Son of God has appeared to us. He is the Word of life who was “from the beginning”. That means: He existed long before the heavens and the earth were even created.

People have always wondered about the universe that we live in. Sue May told me a story about her friend who never had much interest in God and one day she went scuba diving and so amazed to see a whole new world  underwater so beautiful that by the time, she came up from the water, she believed in God.

I wonder if you too have ever looked up to a starry sky and feel a sense of cosmic wonder: “How come we exist in this universe? Why is there something rather than nothing? Where do we come from?” Suppose that in the beginning there was nothing. If there was absolutely nothing at the start, there won’t be anything now. Because out of nothing, nothing comes. No cause, no effect.

 

But something does exist today and not only that, if we look around us, everything that we observe has a beginning and was caused to exist by something else. For example, I have a beginning and my existence was caused by my parents, and my parents came to exist because of my grandparents, and if you rewind all the way back, even the universe has a beginning. Scientists called it the big bang. But what caused the big bang? Who is the big banger?

 

There must be something or someone that has always existed from the very beginning. In ancient times, the Greeks called that eternal force that holds the universe together Logos. The Logos (translated as the word) gives life to human beings. The Chinese also have a similar idea in the Tao that brings harmony to opposite forces of ‘yin’ and ‘yang’.

So when the apostle John spoke of the “Word of life”, the people understood what he was talking about. He’s talking about the Logos that made all things to exist, brings order to chaos. The Logos has always existed, it is eternal, uncreated since the very beginning of time…

But then John went on to say something radical that they never thought of: “Guess what? This Logos is not something abstract or a philosophical system. It’s not even an impersonal force that you can manipulate by hiring a fengshui master.”

The Logos is a person. He is someone who knows, makes choices and can communicate with us. He is relational. From the Gospel of John, we read: “In the beginning was the Logos, the Logos was with God and the Logos was God. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.… The Logos became flesh and dwell among us.”

That’s what Christmas is about. The God who is from eternity stepped into time. He took on flesh and blood and moved into our neighborhood. The invisible has become visible, the spiritual has become physical. The ideal has become reality. In other words, God has become human without losing His divine nature. It’s a profound mystery -Jesus is not just fully man, He is fully God.

 

To appreciate just how radical this is, we can compare it with what other religions tell us about God. On one hand, in Islam/Judaism, God is so high above the creation, so transcendent that incarnation is impossible. It’s scandalous to think that God could take on human nature. On the other hand, in some Eastern religions like Hinduism/Buddhism, God is so close to the world, so immanent that reincarnation is normal. It happens to everyone. Everybody has a divine spark in us. So not all religions are the same…

 

Listen to these words from Tim Keller: But Christianity is unique. It doesn't say incarnation is normal, but it doesn't say it's impossible. It says God is so immanent (near us) that it is possible, but he is so transcendent (high above us) that the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ is an earth-shaking, history-changing, life-transforming, paradigm-shattering event. Christianity has a unique view on this that sets it apart from everything else.

 

So who is Jesus? He’s a teacher but not just a good teacher. He’s a prophet but not just a human prophet. He’s so much more. He is the transcendent God who became incarnate. He’s not a far away God. He is God with us.

 

Secondly, not only does Christmas tell us something radical about God, it also tells us something historical about Him. The story of Jesus actually happened in space and time. On earth. In Israel. Two thousand years ago.

 

Unlike the wonderful stories we find in the Bhagavad Gita, for example, it is not meant to be read as a myth. They cannot be just wonderful fairy tales that teach us moral lessons.

 

Imagine if I were to say to you that my late Grandmother appeared to me in a dream last night and gave me the recipe for a magic soup that gives eternal youth. And I can sell it to you for a thousand ringgit each. Could you examine this dream to see it’s true or false? You can’t because you have no access to my dream.

 

But imagine again if I were to say to you that she appeared to me at the Sunway Pyramid skating rink at 12 p.m. yesterday in front of more than one hundred shoppers and ice-skaters who can confirm this event… ah ha… now that’s different… that is an open public event … it’s something you can investigate, you can check out the facts, interview the witnesses and so on… it’s something historical you can verify…

 

The apostle John says: We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard. We saw His miracles. We heard His teachings. With our very own eyes. With our own ears. Our hands have touched Him, this person who is Eternal Life. This Jesus of Nazareth.

 

So these records of Jesus were written based on eyewitness accounts, people who have seen and heard Jesus while He was still on earth.

 

If the resurrection of Jesus was made up, it would be easily shot down by hundreds of eyewitnesses in Jerusalem who saw him crucified and buried. His enemies would be just too happy to show off his tomb and the story will die off very quickly. But the eyewitnesses did not contradict the empty tomb. Instead, people were invited to check out the facts with about five hundred witnesses who saw Jesus appeared after His resurrection from the grave.

 

The point of Christmas is that Jesus really lived, and he really died. It happened in space and time. He did these things in public. It is open to public examination and invites us to investigate its claims.

 

But you may wonder: What’s the big deal about something that happened so long ago? I live a good and moral life. That’s most important anyway, right? It doesn’t matter what happened in history. I don’t steal or murder, God will surely accept me.

 

But that’s salvation by good works. Trying to impress God by how good we are and then God owes us a ticket to heaven.

 

The bad news is you and I are both separated from God and God is so holy that there has to be punishment for our sins. In our deepest heart, if we look at ourselves in the mirror honestly, we know that we are simply not good enough judging by our own standard, not to mention God’s holy standards.

 

Suppose you are driving your car to work or school one day and you ran the traffic lights and got caught by the police. You cannot say:  “Tolong-lah Encik, don’t give me the saman. Just now, got nine traffic lights, I also follow the rules. I only ran one out of ten traffic lights lah...”

 

If this excuse can’t help us with the local police, it cannot help us on Judgment Day to say “God, I know I have committed many sins but look at so many good things I have done also.”

 

 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”  (1 John1:8)

 

Why did Jesus the son of God come to earth? The good news is not that He came to tell us: “Try harder, live a good life and then earn a ticket to heaven.”

 

The good news of Christmas is that Jesus Christ came to earth, lived the perfect life we should have lived, and died on the cross to pay for our sins (He took the death that we deserved). So when we turn away from our sin and trust in him and what he has done for us, we are accepted freely by God. We are rescued by grace alone. That’s why He came: To save us from our sins.

 

If these things didn't really happen in history 2000 years ago, then we can't be forgiven by grace. And we are still carrying the crushing burden of condemnation and sin on our shoulders.

 

But the good news is God incarnate did come and lived and died for us. The witnesses heard him, saw him, touched him and proclaimed him. Because it happened in history, we have hope, forgiveness and acceptance from God.

 

Do you know Jesus as your Lord and as your Savior? Would you trust in what He has done for you today?

 

Thirdly, because Christmas is radical and historical, it invites us to a personal relationship with God.

 

If you see who Jesus is and why He came to earth, God became flesh and lived the life you should have lived, died the death you should have died — then Christmas invites you to know God personally. That means we can have a friendship, fellowship, an intimate communion with God himself. We become truly free and truly ourselves in the context of a love relationship.  

 

The apostle John says, "Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son." This word fellowship, which is koinonia, means that we now have a basis to be reconciled with God.

 

He is no longer vague or far away in heaven. He has shown Himself to us. So we don’t need to guess what God is like and what He wants from us, He has come personally to tell us. Now He has a human face.

 

And if some of us here are spiritually seeking and you want to know what it means to be a Christian: Well, it means you come into a relationship where you acknowledge God as the Father, who loves and cares for you as a father cares for a child. You call God “Father”. And you receive Jesus the ultimate expression of God’s saving love, as your Lord and Savior. And the Holy Spirit lives in you and gives you the power to know and follow Him. Then through baptism you express this immersion into a love relationship with God.

 

So Christmas is an invitation by God to say: “Look how far I've come to be near you. Now draw near to me. I don't want to be a concept; I want to be a friend.”

 

Lastly, Christmas invites you to be passionately incarnational.  

 

If we know Jesus personally as our Lord and Savior, we have the hope of eternal life beyond the grave. God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

 

But when many people think of eternal life, they think of cartoons of people floating around in fluffy clouds, wearing white gowns with a harp in their hand and a halo on their head. So the idea is to escape from this physical world, and treat life on earth here and now as a temporary transit point to heaven. But the danger of that is we can be so heavenly that we are of no earthly good. It creates a mentality where we withdraw from life and focus only on the afterlife.

 

We see the poor oppressed and the environment destroyed and we shrug, “Oh well, this world’s gonna burn anyway so I just wait for my time to go to heaven.” No wonder many people see religion as a drug that makes us insensitive to pain and oppression happening around the world.

 

But the Christian hope of eternal life is not like that. It is not about running away from reality. The future of the gospel is a new heaven and a new earth. This world will be renewed, not abandoned. The hope of Christians is the resurrection, where we will be raised to eternal life in an incorruptible glorified physical body. Because God himself took on physical flesh and blood and invaded this planet, we long to see the presence of God's kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

 

Because the rightful king of the world had entered human history. All unjust rulers are at risk. Dictators like king Herod, Roman Caesar, Satan, Sin, Death, Injustice, Pain, Disease, Hatred - their days are numbered. The worst they can do is give death but even death is conquered by the resurrection.

 

The King had come. The kingdom of God had broken into history, bringing healing and hope, peace and life. Christmas marks the beginning of God's mission to recapture the world for Himself.

 

So as His followers, we are also invited to imitate Christ be living incarnational lives. We also enter into other people’s worlds, as he entered ours. We seek first to understand then be understood. We enter into the world of their thinking as we try to understand how others look at life and how they see the gospel. We come into the world of their feeling as we try to empathise with their pain. And we come into the world of their living as we live, embody and demonstrate the gospel in the orang asli village, at the low cost apartments at Angsana and Mentari. 

 

In conclusion, Christmas tells us something radical and historical about God – he has come to earth and revealed himself supremely in the person of Jesus the Messiah. Because of who Jesus is and what He has done for us, Christmas invites us to love God personally with all our heart, mind and strength. It also frees us to get involved in the lives of other people by embodying God’s kingdom on earth.

 

If the present creation will not be abandoned but transformed, then in the meantime, we are to work here-and-now looking forward to that final vision. So that our community and church could be a foretaste, a glimpse or movie preview of its future glory. Incarnational spirituality is lived out in down to earth realities, where we do business, cook in the kitchen, study, play, love and exercise, infusing everyday life with fresh authentic meaning. The gospel must be embodied and personified in us before it is proclaimed to the world.

 

Final Word:

You and me, we use so very many clumsy words
The noise of what we often say is not worth being heard
When the Father's Wisdom wanted to communicate His love
He spoke it in one final perfect Word.

Chorus...
He spoke the incarnation and then so was born the Son,
His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one
Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way divine,
And so was born the Baby who would die to make it mine.

And so the Father's fondest thought took on flesh and bone,
He spoke the living luminous word, at once His will was done,
And so the transformation that in man had been unheard
Took place as God the Father when He spoke that final word.

Chorus...

And so the Light became alive and manna became man,
Eternity stepped into time so we could understand.

And so was born the Baby who would die to make it mine.

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