Saturday, 17 December 2005

celebrating Christmas

[A 10 min talk - in English - given at a Christmas evening for English-speaking international students.]

Why do Christians celebrate Christmas?

For most people in the West, Christmas is a winter festival. It’s an excuse to have a nice family time, with presents and special food. People chop down fir trees, take them inside and hang decorations on them: weird. People tell their children that there’s a fat man dragged round the sky by reindeer who goes down chimneys to give them presents: very weird.

But for Christians, Christmas is the day we choose to especially remember how Jesus came into the world, born as a baby, and we celebrate this. The 25th December isn’t a special day – the date isn’t important. But what we celebrate on that day is very special and important. And it has nothing to do with trees indoors, a generous fat man in a red suit, or the food we eat. It’s all about Jesus.

I’ll read to you some of what the Bible says about what we celebrate. I'll read from what Matthew wrote; he knew Jesus, and wrote an account of his life.

[Matt.1:18-25, NLT]
Now this is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiancé, being a just man, decided to break the engagement quietly, so as not to disgrace her publicly.

As he considered this, he fell asleep, and an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. "Joseph, son of David," the angel said, "do not be afraid to go ahead with your marriage to Mary. For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All of this happened to fulfil the Lord's message through his prophet:

"Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and he will be called Immanuel
(meaning, God is with us)."

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded. He brought Mary home to be his wife, but she remained a virgin until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
That is what Christians celebrate at Christmas.

Matthew introduces the history by saying, "This is how Jesus the Messiah was born." He calls him the ‘Messiah’ – that’s not part of his name, but his role, his job description. Long before Jesus was born, God had promised that he would send the ‘Messiah’ – someone to save his people. In Matthew’s introduction, he claims that Jesus is that person. And that’s not just Matthew’s point of view. When he tells us how Jesus was born, he describes how God’s messenger, the angel, tells Joseph: "she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus [that means 'God saves'], for he will save his people from their sins." The angel says that Jesus is that person who will save people from their sins.

Why do people need to be saved from their sins? What does that mean?
Well our sin is everything we do, or say, or even our attitudes, which aren’t what God likes – which aren’t good. It is that we do what we want, to please ourselves, not what God wants, to please him. In that way we rebel against him, and he is angry. God would punish us for our sins. He is holy – he is perfect and must punish sin. We think like this a bit. We see in the news that in many countries people are starving to death because other people are corrupt, and are keeping money for themselves: so we are angry at that and we want to see the corruption punished! If you work long hours in a job to get money so you can keep studying and then your boss refuses to pay you, it’s wrong and you are angry! Even though you are not perfect yourself, when you see something wrong it makes you angry and you want it to be punished. God is so much greater: he IS perfect, so when he sees how we do wrong: how we please ourselves and don’t do what is good; he is angry and must punish sin. That is why we need to be saved from our sins. And that is why we celebrate that God sent Jesus to save his people from their sins!

So what was so special about Jesus that he could be the one to save us from our sins? He was a man, born as a baby 2000 years ago, Matthew tells us! But Matthew’s history of Jesus’ birth also tells us how he was more than an ordinary man. He was also God, come among his people. So he could save his people from their sins. What things help us to see that, in how he was born? Well Matthew records how the angel tells Joseph that Jesus was conceived by a miracle – his mother was a virgin. And Matthew helps us to understand that this is true by reminding us that God had promised that hundreds of years earlier: Matthew quotes,
"Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and he will be called Immanuel
(meaning, God is with us)."
This promise tells us that Jesus was more than a man. He was more than a special man. He was at the same time, a man, born as a baby, and God. Jesus was God, come to be with us, come to save his people from their sins.

To know more about what Jesus did to save people from their sins, do ask questions – of me and the team members here. Because Christmas isn’t the end of the story.

So I encourage you, when you find out about Christmas, about Christian traditions and so on – concentrate on finding out about Jesus! It’s all about him. Traditions are fun and interesting, but Jesus was God, come to save his people from their sins. That’s what Christians celebrate at Christmas.


mama said...

Like the bit about our indignation at injustice being a reflection of God's. Reminds me of... CSL? The Tao, the natural sense of justice, is in our hearts.

Think you might have mentioned that He was born to die. Telling ppl to ask questions doesn't cover the ones who are too shy/rushed/etc. They might get run over by a bus before they get a chance to ask. :(

Still, good talk. :)

étrangère said...

I didn't think of CSL but indubitably he had something to do with such thoughts being in my head.

Thanks for that point; I could've been more explicit on pointing to his death. I found it frustrating to prepare, having to make it <10 minutes and to internationals (with no background about Christmas but movies) - and I do like to leave nothing unexplained! But with those limitations, I thought if they go away having seen that Jesus is God come among us to save us from our sins it would be hugely enough for the moment! His active obedience was awfully important too, so 'he was born to die' doesn't cover things a lot more than what I said - I mean, why didn't he die for our sins before doing years of ministry? I could have perhaps said, "Because Christmas isn’t the end of the story. In fact later on, as soon as Jesus' followers understood that he was the Messiah, he started telling them about how he would die and come back to life: that was how he saved his people from their sins. So I encourage you, when..." What do you think?

Thankfully anyway in answer to prayer the Iranians immediately started talking with Tim about the cross, and the Chinese have talked about it before.

étrangère said...

PS shy people can avoid talking about it in a room full of people sitting in rows etc, but not in an 'open house' atmosphere chatting with team members :) I'll certainly remember that for when I'm doing a talk where the Christian : non-Christian ratio is smaller though.

mama said...

When I said 'born to die' I was using shorthand for the entire doctrine of substitutionary atonement... ok, that wasn't really clear! I like your amended version, except I wd still go further and introduce idea of substitution.