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