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The Heart of Christmas
Last week we talked about the Spirit of Christmas, and I thought this week I’d share with you about what I’d like to call “The Heart of Christmas.”
But before I do, I’d like to share with you a story.
A couple of days before Christmas two men decided to go sailing while their wives went Christmas shopping. While sailing a violent storm came and tossed them about. As they headed toward a small inlet to ride out the storm, the boat hit a submerged rock and capsized. Clinging to the overturned boat, one man said to the other, “Today hasn’t gone exactly as we planned,” to which the other replied, “No, but it sure beats Christmas shopping.”
I cannot tell you how many stories I’ve heard about the horror of going Christmas shopping especially on Black Friday. They talk about how rude and inconsiderate the people are, and how they push and shove to get bargains with people actually falling to the ground.
One person I know was trying to get a special Play Station game on Black Friday. There was a single store employee passing them out one at a time, and there was a huge crowd surrounding him. Knowing that if he waited to move forward he never get one of the games, so he got on his hands and knees and crawled through the crowd of people until he was at the front, stood up, and the employee handed him one of the last ones still available.
It kind of reminds me of the 1996 movie, “Jingle All The Way,” as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad battle and fight trying to get the hot new action figure, “Turbo Man.” I think this show was taken from the real life scenario played out when everyone was going nuts trying to buy the very first Cabbage Patch doll
Now, I don’t know what the new hot toy is this year, but if past experience is any indicator, Amazon will probably have plenty of them, that along with it probably being substantially marked up.
All this to point out that somewhere along the way we’ve lost touch with the heart of Christmas.
In the past Christmas use to be a time of great joy and celebration at the birth of Jesus Christ, but now it is more of an excuse to eat more than we should, and to spend more than we have, and all of these excuses are centered around self-gratification.
Christmas is also a time that stirs intense and complex emotions remembering Christmases past with family and friends. But now loved ones have passed away, divorce has removed others from our lives, and some of friends are no longer friends given the politically charged atmosphere we find ourselves in. And so, we miss those who, in times past, made this day so special.
But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Christmas is also a time when some of our most cherished thoughts come from.
• I love listening to the wonderful Christmas music. I love songs like, “What Child is this,” “Silent Night,” “Mary Did You Know,” and even some of the secular songs like “Winter Wonderland,” and Nat King Coles’ “Chestnuts Roasting on an open fire.” But I have to admit I sometimes get the wording a little mixed up, singing, “Jack Frost roasting on an open fire, chestnuts nipping at your nose.” Try singing that and go to bed, can we say “nightmares?”
• I also enjoy the Christmas tree and ornaments that remind me of people and places that I’ve been.
• I also enjoy seeing all the Christmas lights on the houses, and believe it or not, it makes me feel better that they did it and not me.
• And I also enjoy the nativity sets. Even as I child I would play for hours with the wise men, shepherds, and the animals. But I was never allowed to play with the baby Jesus.
But over the years people have become too familiar with the Christmas holiday with all the business of buying and selling, giving and receiving. This familiarity has caused many people to overlook and even miss the vital meaning of Christmas for this crazy mixed-up world we live in.
We sing the hymns, but no longer know or understand the meaning behind them. We read the Christmas story but mistake it’s meaning because of all the “made-for-TV” specials. I think that people have mistaken Charles Dickens’, “A Christmas Carol,” or the TV special “A Christmas Story” with Ralphie, for the real story of Christmas, and that’s because these stories get a whole lot more airtime than the story of Jesus coming down to be born in a manger.
And so, the story of Christmas is quickly losing its meaning, if not the very heart of why it is even celebrated, if it hasn’t already. Today Christmas has become one long commercial holiday filled with fake joy and the wrong holiday spirits.
A pastor in California put a sign in front of his church that read, “Jesus is the reason for the season. Merry Christmas.” One passerby took offense at this sign and called the church in protest saying, “I don’t think that church should try to drag religion into every holiday.” (By the way, ‘holiday’ is the shortened version of ‘holy day.’)
The heart and meaning of Christmas I believe may best be found in the following two verses. And from both of these verses from the prophet Isaiah we’ll see three aspects of God’s heart, and therefore, the heart of Christmas.
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14 NKJV)
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6 NKJV)
Both of these you can find in today’s bulletin, and we’ll constantly be referencing both of them as we look at these three aspects of the true heart of Christmas.
1. The heart of Christmas is A Gift of Love
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign.” (Isaiah 7:14 NKJV)
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.” (Isaiah 9:6 NKJV)
In His infinite and unconditional love for humanity, God the Father has given to us none other than the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. The extent of this love is seen in Jesus’s declaration concerning Himself
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 NKJV)
Now, this word for love that Jesus uses is the Greek word, “agape,” which literally means a love that is unconditional. That is, it’s an all-giving love, a love without expectation of return, a love undefiled by selfish motives or ambition. This is evident in the wording “that whoever believes.” Notice that there are no demands that anyone believes. The Father sent His Son regardless of how we or the human race responds.
I think this is best on display through what the Apostle Paul said.
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 NKJV)
In His infinite and unconditional love, Jesus came to become that perfect sacrifice for our sins. In His love, Jesus gave His life so that we could have the gift of eternal life. Now that’s a gift! And it’s a gift that has and will continue to keep on giving.
One Christmas morning, at Tampa General Hospital, a woman received the best Christmas present anyone could ever receive. She had been diagnosed with a rare and fatal heart disorder. The only medical cure was a heart transplant. She progressively grew worse and became so weak that she had to stay in the hospital just to make it from day to day.
In the early morning hours, at 2 a.m., on Christmas morning they woke her up saying a new heart was on the way. At 4 a.m. it arrived and by 10 a.m. she was out of surgery. A few days later she remarked, “You know, this was the second time that someone died for me.”
Therefore, the first thing we see about God’s heart for Christmas is that is a gift of His love for us.
2. The heart of Christmas is Found in His Name
We see this again in our two signature verses.
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14 NKJV)
The name, “Immanuel” means “God with us.” The prophecy is saying that the Lord God Himself will come down to this earth and dwell among us as one of us, as a human being. This is seen in what the Apostle John wrote in His gospel saying that in the beginning was the word and the world was with God and the word was God, and that the word, that is, God, became flesh and dwelt among us.
“And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6 NKJV)
What I have found interesting is that all of these names are names that are given to describe God.
The Hebrew word for “Wonderful,” “pele’,” is used within the Bible to describe those things that are not just unusual, but beyond humanity’s capability. It literally means a miracle, wonder, or something that is just too marvelous for words.
Let me give you a couple of examples from God’s word
“Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders (“pele”)? (Exodus 15:11 NKJV) This is part of the song giving praise to God for what He did in the parting of the Red Sea.
To give you a sense, it says, “Your right hand, O Lord, has become glorious in power; Your right hand, O Lord, has dashed the enemy in pieces … And with the blast of Your nostrils the waters were gathered together; the floods stood upright like a heap; the depths congealed in the heart of the sea.” (Exodus 15:6-8 NKJV)
Or then there is the conception and birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah when both were well past their childbearing years; Abraham was 100, and Sarah was 90.
The Angel of the Lord said to Sarah when she chuckled at what the Angel said, that at their age they would be able to have a son, “Is anything too hard (“pele”) for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.” (Genesis 18:14 NKJV)
Now the word for counselor, “Ya’at’s,” is not really as separate as some would like to indicate, although God is our ultimate counselor. But it is tied here in our verse to wonderful, and thus, Wonderful Counselor, talks about how the Messiah is the Lord, and His deeds would be nothing less and miraculous and something only God could do or perform, which may well go to the act of redemption, that is, His death and resurrection. And it is through this act of redemption that God reveals His counsel for all mankind and His ultimate plan and purpose for humanity.
Now, I could go just as deep into the other names, but for our time this morning let me just make these observations of these last three names listed.
First, “Mighty God,” which in the Hebrews is the name, “EL Gobbowr,” which literally means, “God the mighty one.” In other words, the Messiah, Jesus, is given the very name of God Himself.
And then there is “Everlasting Father.” Again, this is the name of the Messiah to come, not only everlasting, which we saw last week can only refer to God, because only God is outside time itself, which is what everlasting means, that is, no beginning and no end.
But to top it off is how everlasting is attached to the name “Father,” which is actually given to the Messiah, who is God the Father’s Son. Now, most people have difficulty with this one, but what we need to remember is that there is only one God, who is made up of three different and distinct individuals.
But it is Jesus who puts the capper on this when He said, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9 NKJV)
And Prince of Peace, the Hebrew word for “prince,” means one who is chief, head, or an overseer, and thus, the Messiah would be head over peace, which is what Jesus said concerning Himself.
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NKJV)
And the title of Peace is given only to the Lord. The Bible says, “Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and named it The Lord is Peace.” (Judges 6:24).
And so, what we see is that this Child that is born unto us, this Son that is given is none other than the Lord God.
But to Joseph and Mary the Lord gave the Messiah another name
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.” (Luke 1:31 NKJV)
God doesn’t leave the naming of His Son up to Mary and Joseph, but rather names Him Jesus, because by giving Him this name God reveals His heart of love towards humanity. You see, the name Jesus means “God saves.”
This is what the Apostle Peter proclaimed to the Jewish high court.
“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12 NKJV)
The heart of Christmas is not only a gift of love, but it is also found in His name, because the purpose of His birth is wrapped up in His name, that the Lord God Himself came down to this earth and that He will save people from their sins, and that there is no other name by which a person can be saved.
3. The Heart of Christmas is The Heart of the Baby
This reality that the Messiah was the Lord, and that He would not come in His full glory, but rather as the most vulnerable of all creation, a human baby, is again seen in our two signature verses.
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14 NKJV)
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given … And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6 NKJV)
But this reality is especially seen in how the Apostle John begins his gospel. I quoted this above, but now, look at this with me.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1, 14 NKJV)
The Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger is none other than the Lord God Himself, the God of the universe, the Lord in whom all things were created and in whom exists no limitations.
Can I just say that He was born in a messy stable so that He could die upon the cross to clean up our mess, that is, He died for our sins.
Yet He came and was born a human being. The Christmas story is all about the Almighty God becoming the most vulnerable of all creation, a human baby, but a baby more powerful than the whole Roman Empire.
Christmas is all about God becoming human in order to change the course of human history. Therefore, the heart of Christmas is the heart of this Baby born in a stable in the town of Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago, and it truly is a heart of love.
Look at what the Apostle Paul said,
(He) made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:7-8 NKJV)
Jesus left behind His glory and the glory of heaven to be born in a stinky old stable to a poor family. Here, the Lord of the universe looked through human eyes, as He became one of us, in order to be that perfect sacrifice for us.
The heart of this Baby, the heart of Jesus is the heart of Christmas, a heart of total, complete, pure, and perfect love.
It was the kind of love shown by 7-year-old Chris Stevens.
Chris’s mom was a nurse. One day, Chris and his dad went to pick her up at the hospital, but she had to work a little later than planned. Chris’s father left him in the waiting room while he went to find out how much longer she would be.
The only other person in the waiting room was a scruffy, smelly old man. When Chris’s father returned, Chris was sitting right next to this man who was now crying. Thinking that Chris had somehow offended the man he said, “I’m sorry if my son said something unkind to upset you or to make you feel uncomfortable.”
The old man sat there for a moment and looking up said, “Unkind? Unkind! Your son is the only person who has hugged me in the last 20 years.”
Therein lies the heart of Christmas. It is a heart of pure and undefiled love.
Let’s not miss the heart of Christmas this year with all the busyness and business of the holiday.
Let’s not be like those who missed it the first Christmas because they were too busy with their religion and traditions or looking for other things.
Also, let’s not miss the heart of Christmas because of the fear that has gripped so many hearts over this current pandemic and the social upheaval and unrest that is going on around the world.
Instead, let’s be like the shepherds who were out in the field that first Christmas night who heard the Angel say, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12 NKJV)
And so, it was with great joy and faith they went in search for God’s Son, Jesus.
Or let’s be like the wise men, who upon seeing the star, packed up their belongings, along with an expensive gift, and went in search for the one who would be the King.
Can I just say that whatever we end up looking for is generally what we end up finding. So, what are we looking for this Christmas? Let’s look for Jesus.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study