Most pastors have favorite sermons, which were special to deliver and blessed with the special unction of the Holy Spirit. Certainly, that is true of my twenty-seven pastoral ministry.
I want to share a Christmas message first delivered on December 24, 1961, when I was twenty-six years old. Actually, the points are most relevant to contemporary believers as never before due to the increased secularization of society at the Christmas season.
You might remember that I customarily spoke from extensive notes, which means that I have several hundred messages on file. I recorded where the sermon was delivered, the date, and any visible fruit. My notations indicate that I preached the message thirteen times between 1961 and 1982. During the invitation at the end of the services, three were saved including two mothers. One was Wilma Marcum (Mrs. Bud), who was saved December 13, 1964 at Kerby Knob Baptist Church, my Kentucky mountain pastorate of seven years. Wilma is an accomplished pianist who faithfully serves the Lord at Kerby Knob. Several members of her family were saved, including one son who went home to be with the Lord through an automobile accident.
It was there at Kerby Knob that the Lord impressed upon me to close a service by reminding those present, "It's your move!" Those in a prayer seminar will recall the last overhead used reminds us of that fact based on Rabe Clemon's comment when he was sitting at a checkerboard with a game in progress, just waiting. When asked why, he said, "Pastor, I'm playing with Jack. Jack had to get up and wait on a customer. It's Jack's move. I'm waiting for Jack to make his move." As I drove on to the meeting house for the "meeting" that night, the Holy Spirit reminded me to close services with invitations. I'm glad I have done that faithfully down through the years. Only Heaven will reveal the impact of the preaching of His Word. We need to remember that any single service could be the difference in Heaven or Hell for some listener. We need to pray and preach with that truth in mind.
Subject: A Right Christmas
Text: Matthew 1:21; Luke 2:11
"And she shall bring a son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins."
"Unto you is born this day . . . a Saviour which is Christ the Lord."
It is an interesting experience to observe the reaction of people to the Christian season. To children, Christmas means presents, trees, toys, lights, Santa Claus and stories about Jesus, the Babe of Bethlehem. To youth it means special parties, social events and entertainment. To adults it means shopping, writing cards, wrapping presents, decorating homes, paying bills, and working extra hours. To the business man, it represents increased sales to bring the highest profit possible. Christmas means many things to many people according to their background, age and interest.
What does Christmas mean to you? To some it means a visit home. To some it means a sad memory as they look over the past year and think of the loved ones who have been called home since last Christmas. To others it means revelry. They talk about Christmas liquor and connect whiskey with the Name of the Saviour. To millions of people it means nothing. They do not know Jesus. December 25th is just another day.
But Christmas and what it represents means everything to the real Christian. It means that God loves him with all His heart. It means that God has regarded his lost condition and has done something about it. It means God has given the best gift the world has ever known and that the Saviour is born: to set an example with His life, to die for our sins, to be raised for our justification, to ascend on high and make intercession for him, to give him the hope of His coming again to gather all believers unto Himself.
Christmas means to the Christian that he has a Companion for life--a Friend in the hour of death--a loving Brother for eternity.
Now--if we are to have a RIGHT CHRISTMAS, certain ingredients must be placed into that Christmas. By following the Gospel story, which never grows old, we can identify the essentials and include them in our celebration.
A right Christmas includes three symbols which encompass the real meaning of Christmas
A. The first symbol is that of a cradle. The Bible says that God was manifest in the flesh: "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" (1 Timothy 3:16).
God in a cradle! God in human flesh! In the person of a tiny infant! The words are so familiar to us all, "And Mary brought forth her first-born son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger" (Matthew 1:21). This marked the greatest event the world has ever known. His name "Immanuel" means "God with us.'
There have been rumors that men from outer space have visited our earth; but a recent government report says there is no evidence that anyone from outer space has ever set foot upon the earth. That government report overlooked the one exception: "But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Galatians 4:4-5). Yes, the world has had a visitor from outer space. He is God of very God. The mighty God of creation once came and walked in human flesh on this earth.
Cradled in the manger in Bethlehem were the hopes and dreams of a dying world. Those chubby little hands which clasped the straw in His manger crib were soon to open blinded eyes, unstop deaf ears, and still the troubled seas. That cooing voice was soon to be lifted to command demons to depart, to teach men of the Way, and to raise the dead. Those tiny feet were to take Him to the sick and needy and were finally to be pierced on Calvary's cross.
This manger crib in remote Bethlehem became the link that bound a lost world to a loving God. "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). Christmas means God is interested in the affairs of man. Christmas indicates He loves us, so much He was willing to give His Son.
The real happiness of Christmas is not pagan joy generated by the exchanging of gifts but the fact of the Incarnation, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.
"And all things are of God, Who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).
B. The second symbol that throws real light on the meaning of Christmas is the Cross.
It is impossible to celebrate the birth of Christ without thinking of the Cross. There was both light and shadows that first Christmas. There was joy with overtones of sadness, for Jesus was born to die. Jesus, approaching the cross, said, "Unto this end was I born and for this cause came I into the world" (John 18:37).
All that Christ did on earth was incidental to His crowning act of redemption on Golgotha's brow.
To Christians the joy of Christmas is not limited to His birth, gloriously supernatural as that was, because He was virgin born. It is built even more on the triumph of His death and resurrection. It was His death and resurrection that gave meaning to His birth.
One of the ideals of Christmas is that of sacrificial love. The real reason for exchanging gifts at Christmas, whether we realize it or not, is because the Spirit of sacrificial love permeates this holy day. He gave Himself; we thus give of ourselves. He died for all; we thus give sacrificially to those we love. The mysterious spirit of generosity which possesses us all at Christmas is the afterglow of Calvary. As we exchange our gifts on Christmas morning let us remember they are symbolic of the unspeakable gift of God's love.
Another ideal of Christmas is good will. The good will the angels spoke of did not come immediately after His birth. Herod hated Him, and sought His life. The Pharisees gnashed upon Him, and tried to kill Him. Men went on hating, marauding and murdering, but after His death, strange things began to happen in the lives of His followers. Peter no more took up a sword in anger. Saul no longer persecuted the followers of Christ, but himself was persecuted, beaten and imprisoned for the Lord.
C. The third symbol that helps us to understand the meaning of Christmas is a Crown.
Some years ago it was announced a $5,000 crib was made for a baby prince born into one of Europe's royal families. A jeweled crib for a human child, but a manger of straw for the Prince of heaven.
"Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder" (Isaiah 9:6). He was born in a manger, He lived in the fields, He slept in an olive grove, He was crowned with a crown of thorns and enthroned upon a cruel cross. Little did those who mocked Him with the superscription realize in a few short hours He would indeed be King over hell and the grave.
A right Christmas includes making room for Jesus
Someone said that the Christmas story is the story of God seeking a room. The inn-keeper is a symbol of those today who have no room for Jesus. The room He seeks today is in our hearts. If our hearts and lives are filled with sin--then Christ cannot come in. This means not only sins of the flesh but sins of the disposition. Envy, hate, unforgiveness.
What a wonderful thing if on Christmas morning we could cast every evil thing out of our hearts and in repentance and confession receive His forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:9).
The story is told of a captain of a whaling boat going to church one Sunday morning. The preacher talked to him later and learned that the sermon had made absolutely no impression upon him. "To tell you the truth, sir," replied the captain, "I was thinking about where I could likely find my next whale. I have no room in my heart for anything else but whales."
Is it true of you? Is your heart so full of other things there is no room for Jesus?
As we travel along the highway, we see signs at motels bellowing out "No Vacancy." As far as Jesus is concerned, many have hung out the same sign. He has no place in government circles or in halls of learning. He has been ruled out by decrees from our courts, beginning with the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court. Sadly enough, he has no part of the affairs in the average households in America.
John declares, "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, He gave them power to become sons of God, even to those that believe in His name which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:11-13).
A right Christmas includes worship
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a wonderful miracle of nature took place. The Heavens opened and an angel came down and announced to a group of shepherds on a Judean hillside, "Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" (Luke 2:11-12) . Immediately a multitude of the heavenly host joined with the angel praising God. The shepherds in haste went to town, found the baby, knelt before Him, and worshipped Him.
If you and I are to have a Right Christmas, we must make time to worship Him in spirit and in truth. We, too, need to come with haste and bow down before Him in love. Adoration is simply looking at Him and loving Him. He is worthy.
It is said that Longfellow could take a worthless sheet of paper and write a poem on it worth $6,000. Rockefeller could sign his name to a check and it was worth millions. A mechanical engineer can take $5 worth of materials and make it worth $105. An artist can take an inexpensive piece of canvas and paint a picture on it which, in future years, will be worth thousands of dollars. And God can take a worthless, sinful life, wash it clean in the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, put His Spirit into it, and make that life a blessing to the world.
But even God cannot accomplish this miracle unless He is given a chance. If we come, as did the shepherds, to Him, kneel before, surrender, and let Him have His way in us, He will make our lives beautiful indeed. He is ready to receive our worship now.
A man was brought to a great clinic for an operation to remove his cancerous tongue in order to save his life. As a large group of professors and students looked on, the surgeon said, "This will be the last opportunity for you to form words with your tongue. Would you like to say anything before the operation?" The man, looking up into the faces of those around him, cried out: "Praise be to Jesus Christ throughout all eternity." Oh, that we might feel that way about Him and give Him proper recognition from our hearts.
A right Christmas includes the grace of giving
More than anything else, Christmas is about the greatest Gift which has even been given to anyoneâ€”God gave His Son (John 3:16). One of the stories associated with the early childhood of Jesus was the coming of the wise men from Persia. "And when they came into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him, they presented unto Him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh" (Matthew 2:11).
In Persia, the Magi were honored as royalty, and their gifts were appropriate for another King. The gold indicated Christ's future reign, a gift fit for a king. Frankincense portrayed Christ's priestly intercession for them. Myrrh pictured Christ's coming death for them.
Each gift was a gift of value. We know more about the Lord Jesus Christ than they did. He has done more for us than He did for them. Are we bringing gifts to Him? In talking about Macedonian believers who gave abundantly out of their poverty and dire need, Paul observed, "And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God" (2 Corinthians 8:5). Are we giving ourselves to Him? Are we giving Him our time, our talents, and our money?
Jesus is giving all that He has for you and me. You and I would be on the road to hell if He had not given Himself and His own blood for our redemption. Yet we look at church attendance and find hundreds of believers who have not given one hour to Jesus during the past year. We look at the financial records, and find that hundreds have not given a penny in the past twelve months.
A right Christmas includes the matter of telling others about Jesus
The shepherds are our models. "And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this Child ... the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for the things they had heard and seen" (Luke 2:17-20) .
When John introduced his Gospel, he pointed out that men were in darkness and Jesus came as the Light. Men are still in darkness. You and I know what they need because we have found the remedy ourselves. Each person needs Jesus who can do far more for them than they can imagine. If we take the message of Christ to them, many of them will believe and will never be the same again.
When Syria besieged Samaria long ago, conditions were so desperate that those inside the city walls were starving. There were four lepers outside the city walls because of their physical condition. At one point, "they said to one another, Why sit here until we die? If we say, We will enter into the city, then the famine is in the city, and we shall die there: and if we sit still here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us fall unto the host of the Syrians: if they save us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die" (2 Kings 7:3-4) . When they rose up in the twilight and went to they camp, they were amazed at what they found. God had intervened. The soldiers had fled their tents leaving behind their bounties--including abundant food supplies.
The lepers ate and drank. "Then they said one to another, we do not well: this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace: " (v 9). You can imagine what good news it was for those dying in the city to learn that provisions were now available for their deliverance.
There is a plan for the spread of the Gospel and that is for us to be witnesses. Success in witnessing is sharing the story of the Lord Jesus Christ and then leaving the results up to Him.
The story is told of a Senator in Washington who hosted a dinner for the Ambassador from Belgium. His elderly father, who was a devoted Christian, lived with him and often spoke to those around him about Jesus. Prior to the occasion, the son warned his father not to offend the special guest by mentioning Jesus. When he came downstairs and was introduced, however, he spoke to the Ambassador about his salvation. Quickly, he apologized to his son and retreated to his room quite ashamed at what he had done. Sometime later, the old man died. One wreath stood out with a message from the Ambassador to Belgium: "In Memory of the only man in America who spoke to me about my soul."
One day, life will be over for us or Jesus will come and take us home. After hearing one of her chaplains preach at Windsor on the second coming of Christ, Queen Victoria exclaimed: "O how I wish the Lord would come during my lifetime." When some inquired why, she responded: "Because I should so love to lay the Crown of England at His feet."
Two small children, with their mother, were looking into a department store show window at a Christmas scene. Shepherds were kneeling about a rustic cradle. Mary was sitting beside the cradle with a smile of contentment on her face as she rocked the cradle.
As the mother moved her children away, in dismay, the little girl said to her younger brother, "They forgot to put the baby Jesus in the Cradle!"
There is no true Christmas without Jesus. Christmas is His birthday. Let us all acknowledge the meaning of Christmas is His birth, His death and resurrection, and His coming again--a cradle, a cross, and a crown. Let us make room in our hearts for Him. Let us come before Him with worship and with our gifts. Let's leave determined to tell others the Gospel story. Only then will we have a Right Christmas.