It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. I daresay every one of you can sing along with me on any of those tunes, and many more besides. They have become synonymous with the American Christmas experience. They help, some say, “get you in the Christmas spirit.” Along with eggnog and stockings and George Bailey and Charlie Brown.
I love those American Christmas traditions. And they can have a place in our celebrations, I think. But like the cattle in the Bethlehem stable, they simply become window dressing or background scenes to the real story. Because Christmas is not Christmas without Christ. This is the season in which the whole world, even many who do not believe, celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. You can try to bury the truth in a mountain of gift wrap and candy canes, but facts are stubborn things.
Imagine at your next birthday party, all of your friends gather to celebrate. But instead of bringing you gifts and singing Happy Birthday to you, instead of eating cake and ice cream, the celebration is wildly different. One stands and sings a happy little song about the stork that “brings presents to all.” Another gives a thirty-minute lecture about cabbage, complete with pictures and props. Then everybody eats and drinks until they cannot move. There is not a single word about you and your birth. Not a single story about how your life has impacted another. No gifts, no cards, nothing about you at all. It was your birthday, but you were not even mentioned the whole evening. Could that really be called your “birthday party?”
If I told you I knew Buddy Greene, and he came here once to do a concert, that would not mean much to most of you. But if I started singing, “Mary, Did You Know?” you would probably be able to sing along with me. Mark Lowry wrote the words and gave them to Buddy, who is a Christian singer and songwriter living in Nashville, and Buddy wrote the music the next day. The song has been recorded by dozens of artists. I think this song captures better than “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” what we celebrate as followers of the Lord Jesus.
Mary did you know that your baby boy would some day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.
Mary did you know that your baby boy would give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when your kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.
Oh Mary did you know—
The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb—.
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great–I— AM—.
Ahhh. Now that is a song that celebrates the real deal. So, without apologies at all to the ACLU, I wish you all a very merry, Christ-centered, Christmas.
That is the meaning of Christmas. God sent his son to redeem us and to adopt us. Have you figured up how much you will spend on Christmas gifts this year? There’s an amount, right? You add it up and it may come to the estimated national average per household this year of $830 for Christmas gifts, still climbing out of the hole of 2008 when it dropped to $616. No matter what we spend, we all have to set spending limits, right? I remember our first Christmas when Cindy and I each took a ten-dollar bill, split up at the mall, and went off to find that ‘perfect’ gift for $10 or less for each other. That Christmas was just as happy, just as blessed as all the rest.
God did not have a spending limit for the first Christmas. He spared no expense in creating the star that would be in place above Bethlehem at just the right time. He went all out in having Caesar Augustus plan a census for the whole Roman world to go to the city of their heritage so they could be registered. God did not skimp on birth announcements, either. He sent Gabriel, his best messenger angel to earth more than once. But all of that pales in comparison to what God actually gave the world. God sent forth his Son. His one and only son. Forget Hallmark. God sent the very best.
Read the rest of Galatians 4 for the incredible news that you can use. You and I were born slaves. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, we are invited into a new relationship as a child of God and a joint heir with Jesus. But there’s a problem, for many who become sons continue to live as slaves, even though they know God and better still, are known BY God. Two weeks ago I sat with my family in the second row at a concert by Steven Curtis Chapman. There were a lot of people there who know Steven, but not personally. We know his music, know his face, and know his testimony. I have met him once because I have the same friend named Larry that Steven wrote about in one of his songs. As I sat there that night I thought, how cool would it be if Steven recognized me and said, “Hey, is that you, Mark?” But he didn’t. He didn’t acknowledge me because he doesn’t know me. Shocker. But here’s the biggest shocker of all: GOD does know me. And He knows you, too.
I love the story of the wee little man named Zaccheus who climbed up a tree because he had heard of Jesus and wanted to get a glimpse of him. Imagine his surprise when Jesus called up to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” Jesus knew him by name, and more than that, Jesus asked Zaccheus to be a family member and a friend.
That is the meaning of Christmas. It is why we celebrate, and put manger scenes in our homes and churches. It is why we sing Silent Night and Joy to the World, and give gifts and get together with family and friends. It is because God sent His Son to redeem us, to adopt us, and to give us the greatest gift of all: himself.