This is the message that I am sharing tonight at Carol on the Common – a picnic Carols service and one of the traditions that have helped me feel Christmassy in South Africa, despite the heat:
What do you associate Christmas with? What triggers a Christmassy feeling in you? Is it the smell of minced pies? The Christmas songs playing as you shop? I was standing in a long queue with my daughter the other day when Jingle Bells came on – she shouted out ‘Great music’ and started dancing much to the laughter of the queue.
I had not realized until I moved away from Ireland that so much of my Christmassy feeling as wrapped up in the weather – literally wrapped up – in scarves and hats. I used to think that I could only sing Christmas Carols if I could see my breath in front of me and would joke my husband that I would go to the walk in freezers at Makro to go caroling.
Yet that Christmassy feeling is illusive – it is based upon on feelings, on our traditions, on memories of the past. For some this year it won’t feel like Christmas because they is an empty space at the table – a loved one passed away, moved away or even through a broken relationships yet for others they are excited because a loved one who moved overseas is coming home or their family has grown through birth, adoption, a new friendship. So I have been thinking this year what is that illusive Christmassy feeling.
We have heard some bible readings about that first Christmas when God came as a baby to live among us but for a purpose. Not just so we could have a fun time of year with giving gifts and singing catchy songs. I think the real Christmas feeling can be discovered when we look at what motivated God that first Christmas.
- The ultimate Christmassy feeling is God’s love for you
Matthew 1.18-24 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us.” 24When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
This baby we celebrate this season was born with a purpose – a huge purpose. I had a little boy this year – he is nearly 9 months now – and while I hope that he might grow to be a happy boy (maybe some kind of super genius brain surgeon etc) but this baby Jesus was born to save the world. Why?
John 3.16 “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.
God’s motive for Christmas – love. His love for me and for you – for everyone no matter their age, race, bank balance. Why did Jesus have to come to save us – because sin (doing things our own way, instead of God’s way) had messed up the world – realtionships between each other and with God. Jesus was the only way to repair that relationship – He had to die as a sacrifice for our sins.
As I watch my boy sleep I often wonder what Mary felt as she watched Her boy Jesus – did she know what lay ahead for Him, the cross and the horrible death? But every step that Jesus took – to become a helpless baby, to walk towards the cross was motivated by love.
Yes, we have all messed up, yes, we have bad sin habits, but that real Christmassy feeling is knowing that God loves you enough not to abandon you to your sin and messups.
You see at that first Christmas God took a massive step towards us.
- The ultimate Christmassy feeling is God reaching out to you
Sin damaged the relationship between us a God so badly that there was no way that we could repair it. Have you ever hurt someone so badly that you couldn’t even face them, yet they still came to you and put their arms around you and said let’s work it out. That for me is a picture of what God does through Christmas. We could not behave our way back into a good relationship with Him, we could not pay the debt that sin have built up. But instead of abandoning us and walking away God took a giant step towards us in the form of that little baby.
Romans 8. 38-39 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
When I was growing up there was always an ad on TV at Christmas for Milk Tray chocolates. It had a masked man perform daring stunts – like a James Bond film and at the end it turns out his objective was to deliver a boy of chocolates – all because a lady loves Milk Tray. We’ll Christmas for me is the ultimate and original version of that ad – the lengths that God has gone to rescue us and step towards us even though we are the one who messed up.
That ultimate Christmassy feeling is knowing that God loves you, even though you messed up. He has a rescue plan, a solution. Christmas is His big step towards you – will you take a step towards Him this year.