Christmas Is About Incarnation and Redemption
Once again it is Christmas; once again a leading newspaper asks Christian leaders to tell us about the meaning of Christmas; and once again they seem to come up short. I have been writing articles like this for some years now, and things seem to remain the same.
I keep hoping someone will rise to the challenge and really tell us what Christmas is about, but each time I am disappointed. Instead, we seem to keep getting a very watered-down, lukewarm and trendy message about Christmas – almost anything except what the Bible in fact tells us about it.
I would have thought that this is not too difficult – especially for highflying Christian leaders. What is the Christmas story all about? How hard is it to answer that question? Sure, we must allow for the usual caveats: this is a secular newspaper; we must be relevant and trendy; we must communicate to 21st century Australians; we must not be too theological; etc.
But still…. Why can’t we get a clear and unequivocal message on what Christmas is all about? Here we have yet another golden opportunity handed to us on a silver platter, and yet our Christian leaders seem to want to hum and haw, and go everywhere except to Scripture.
This time we had four major Christian leaders in the pages of the Herald Sun discuss the meaning of Christmas. All do their bit, but hardly any of them come close to telling us what exactly is the Christmas message. So before I discuss their articles, let me do what I ask of them: What is Christmas all about?
Christmas is of course the story of the birth of Jesus. That much most people know. But the real question is, why did Jesus come? What was his reason for coming? Why did he have to come to planet earth in the first place? What, in theological terms, is the significance of the Incarnation?
Very simply, Jesus came to save us from our sins. That is why he came. That is why he was born. That was his mission, and that is what the Christmas story is all about. The Bible makes this abundantly clear. Plenty of passages tell us why he came. Here are just a few:
-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. (John 3:16)
-I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. (John 12:46)
-‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’ (John 18:37)
-Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (1 Tim. 1:15)
The Incarnation has to do with our sin problem, and how God has dealt with it. That is why Jesus came. Sure, there are all sorts of positive spinoffs from this, but his main reason in coming was to die for our sins so that we might be reconciled to God. That is the heart of the Christian message and that is the heart of the Christmas message.
So did any of this come out in the remarks by our four Christian leaders? Not really, unfortunately. Instead of using this terrific opportunity to present a clear presentation of the Gospel, we seem to get everything but. The first leader, the Moderator of the Uniting Church, at least mentions the name of Jesus a few times.
Much of the rest of her piece was about climate change, aboriginal issues, asylum seekers, and so on. While these might be notable issues, they are not in fact the reason for the season. The biblical message was not found here. Indeed, there was not one word mentioned about sin, the cross, heaven, and hell.
The next writer, the head of a major evangelical social action group, did not even mention Jesus – not even once! Instead he took the opportunity to ask for funds. While helping the poor and needy around the world is of course an important work, and part of Christian mission, to not even mention Jesus or the reason why he came would likely have the founder of this evangelical organisation rolling in his grave.
The third leader, the Catholic Archbishop, at least came close in his piece with the actual reason for Christmas. At least he talked about Jesus, and he at least gave us some semblance of the gospel message. That is far more than the other three Protestants have done:
“The birth of Jesus our Saviour as a baby reminds us that God’s love is light in darkness, constancy of love and faithfulness, which invites us to live by the love that he has first shown us. The blessings of Christmas are precious but fragile. A child is born into poverty. Kings worship at his crib, but another king threatens his life. This child becomes the world’s greatest teacher, who offers us new hope and the means to be saved.”
So why does it take a Catholic to actually give us some real gospel here, while evangelicals won’t even mention it? Good on this leader. One out of four is not bad I suppose. The final writer is the Anglican Archbishop. He does mention Jesus, but ties the whole thing into the Occupy Movement! Trendy, yes – biblical, no.
Thus we have four Christian leaders who were asked to discuss Christmas, yet sadly only the Catholic leader can get close to it. That says a lot about the church today, at least big hunks of the Protestant church. No wonder the church is in such strife.
Let me close with a few quotes from Christian leaders who really did know what Christmas means, and why the Incarnation had to take place. Let me start with snippets from three sermons by Augustine:
“Maker of the sun, He is made under the sun. In the Father He remains, from His mother He goes forth. Creator of heaven and earth, He was born on earth under heaven. Unspeakably wise, He is wisely speechless. Filling the world, He lies in a manger. Ruler of the stars, He nurses at His mother’s bosom. He is both great in the nature of God, and small in the form of a servant.” -Augustine, Sermon 187
“He so loved us that for our sake He was made man in time, through Whom all times were made; was in the world less in years than His servants, though older than the world itself in His eternity; was made man, Who made man; was created of a mother, whom He created; was carried by hands which He formed; nursed at the breasts which He had filled; cried in the manger in wordless infancy, He the Word without Whom all human eloquence is mute.” -Augustine, Sermon 188
“He lies in a manger, but contains the world. He feeds at the breast, but also feeds the angels. He is wrapped in swaddling clothes, but vests us with immortality. He found no place in the inn, but makes for Himself a temple in the hearts of believers. In order that weakness might become strong, strength became weak.” – Augustine, Sermon 190
And a few contemporary Christian voices:
“Christmas is based on an exchange of gifts, the gift of God to man – His unspeakable gift of His Son, and the gift of man to God – when we present our bodies a living sacrifice.” -Vance Havner
“The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. . . . If the thing happened, it was the central event in the history of the earth.” -C.S. Lewis
“The greatest and most momentous fact which the history of the world records is the fact of Christ’s birth.” -Charles Spurgeon
“The Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the Incarnation.” -J.I. Packer
“Who can add to Christmas? The perfect motive is that God so loved the world. The perfect gift is that He gave His only Son. The only requirement is to believe in Him. The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life.” -Corrie Ten Boom
19 Replies to “Christmas Is About Incarnation and Redemption”
It is a shame that so many Christians are unwilling to stand up for the truth.
Whilst the book of John is a wonderful book, as the gospel written primarily to mature believers (he says that he wrote it that we might “go on believing” – continuous present) I’m not sure I’d be extensively quoting it to the unbeliever.
Then there’s that wonderful statement of John’s in John 3:16, an exhortation to the believer to go on believing, warning that salvation can be lost.
It is important to note that both “loved” and “gave” are in the aorist tense. They are talking about one off actions, and the word loosely translated as “love” is agape (a decision of the will to help someone in need).
It’s a deep verse, but nowhere does it explicitly talk about repentance or baptism (essential parts of the gospel), however the “believe in” (i.e. trust and obey) should imply this to the believer.
Then the “so” in the sentence could be better translated as “thus”, “therefore”, “indeed” or something like that. It’s the first word of the sentence. One cannot consider the verse on its own and get a proper appreciation for what it says and yet most Christians know the verse and have little clue as to the context.
When you talk to an unbeliever about God’s love and talk to them about judgment at the same time, a typical reaction is “how can a God of love do this?”. It is important to remember that Jesus never talked about God’s love to unbelievers.
The message of the Incarnation is a wonderful message about a righteous God who cannot tolerate sin and yet is a merciful God.
He gave 613 laws to Moses, the laws were perfect but the people were unable to keep them. We have all fallen short of what God expects of us. We are all deserving of judgment, but as well as being a righteous and just God, he is also a God of mercy. God had a problem, needing to punish sin, but at the same time desiring to provide mercy.
God the father’s solution was to send his Son to die on the cross and rise again, paying the penalty for the sins of all who go on believing in him (the Son).
Now going on believing in is more than simply going on believing that he exists, it is going on trusting and obeying him. We need to repent (not simply apologise for our sin and ask for forgiveness, but turn away from it), take up our cross and follow him.
Now Jesus chose to be born at the bottom end of society. He did not come to satisfy his own ego, or to be served. He came to serve.
He did not come for those who believed they were doing fine in their own strength. He came for those who recognised that they were not perfect, who knew they could not live right and needed his help. He came for the common people. He came for those who realised they were not good enough.
Once again they are preaching a message of good works rather than God’s works.
I have asked Bob Carner if he was invited to write.
I doubt that he would have been wishy-washy!
The SA President of Australian Christian churches wrote in The Advertiser (in part): “…God is above all and He is engaging in a relationship with humanity…. The goodwill from God for all who will hear and receive it was to send His Son Jesus to reconnect people back to himself…. As we live in a society of shifting values and beliefs, the true meaning of the Christmas story continues to resonate its truth as supernaturally today as when it was first declared to the shepherds in the region of Bethlehem.”
Also, the SA Anglican and UCA contributions were reasonable.
Hi Bill. How sad that so many Christian leaders feel they have to lead their flocks after non or even anti-Christian social ‘saviours.’ They have clearly lost the plot. Lewis says somewhere that if the flock bleats long enough then perhaps its wandering shepherds will return to it. It looks as if the volume needs to be turned up as they don’t seem able to hear, assuming of course that we are all still speaking the same language!
“Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made man”
Thanks for the thoughts Bill – and yes it is tragic that so many who should be able to comprehend at least something of the basic truth are still able to miss it somehow !
“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles,
believed on in the world, received up into glory”
What more can be said?
Thank you Bill for your masterly exposure of the insolvency of our christian leaders. And for the stirring account of the King of Kings born and laid in a manger- later pinioned to a cross.
Distressed that our 11 weekly papers for South Australia had no mention of His precious name, I inserted the following 3 cms by 2
CHRISTIAN FAMILY BIBLE STUDIES
MP3 studies by CPA, medicos. engineer, educationalist.
HIS NAME-WONDERFUL, COUNSELLOR, MIGHTY GOD. EVERLASTING FATHER, PRINCE OF PEACE. I cheered.
800 extra hits, 550 bible studies, 500 pages copied.
Will an accountant offer to collect a gift from many readers for Bill to insert a statement in the press?
I’m grateful HE left heaven to rescue me from sin’s tyranny.
Presbyterian Church of Victoria Moderator, Bob Carner says, no invitation to write for the Herald-Sun was received.
Hi Bill! Just heard the Queen’s speech – Is this the most evangelical she has been? I do not recall her previous speeches as being as bold and forthright with respect to Christ His birth and role as Saviour?
Her speech was what I would call – leadership. More please from our appointed figureheads and elected politicians.
Just heard the Queen’s Christmas message – more explicitly Christian than any previous message I have ëver heard her give – may she be blessed for her courage in this PC world. In the last 3-4 minutes she stated that Christmas was a Christian festival based aroung the events of the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. She went on to quote the hymn with the words: “May the dear Lord enter in and take away our Sin, be born in us today.” Her god-fearing father would have been proud of her.
Yes good on Archbishop Hart but he could have elaborated more going beyond Jesus as great teacher to Jesus as Lord. Perhaps he did and it was edited. As for the “head of a major evangelical social action group,” why am I not surprised? I know he was in a Master Chef segment with the Dalai Lama. He called him His Holiness, whilst a contestant, a Christian, actually refused to say that.
And then the leaders of the UCA and Anglican seeking to be culturally relevant show why their churches are in decline.
Merry Christmas Bill keep up the good work.
I must also give Philip Jenson at St Andrew’s Sydney a mention (ABC Christmas Eve).
http://www.abc.net.au/iview/#/arts (For the next 11 days).
Is there anything more dangerous than clergy that preaches rightness with God without Christ?
Kylie, I agree.
I wonder if Bob’s ever read in Isaiah that all our righteous acts are like menstrual cloths. Our good deeds are not good enough. We need the righteousness of Christ which can be imparted to us.
From that article Bob appears to believe that Christianity is all about us doing good, doing the best we can, which is the reaction one gets if the Sermon on the Mount (or part of it) is considered isolated from the rest of Matthew and the rest of the Bible.
And Fr Bob wonders why he is being replaced by the Capushin Friars – they preach the Gospel.
Shame on those wishy washy Church leaders. They are willing to stand up and be counted for the things that have no eternal value and voice support for “doctrines of devils” – yet cannot stand up for Jesus – King of kings and Lord of lords; Savior of the world; who took the wrath of God for us!
We were disappointed in Tony Abbot’s Christmas message. We were pleasantly surprised at the Queen’s. Maybe not evangelistic but Jesus got a mention.
I take strong exception to Matt Vinay’s statement that “salvation can be lost.” The very (famous) verse he mentioned (John 3:16) clearly states the opposite: the believer in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, has EVERLASTING life. You can lose physical life but, by definition, you can’t lose everlasting life. It’s a gracious gift of God, not a reward for merit. If God’s eternal salvation (see Hebrews 5:9) can be lost it would be virtually worthless.
Yes, people can falsely profess it, but Christ’s salvation itself cannot be lost.