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A Christmas That Matters part 4
How Christmas Matters In History
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
December 19, 2010

There’s the Grinch [PowerPoint]… that familiar villain of Christmas. That was one of my favourite Christmas shows as a kid. Hey, what am I saying? It’s still one of my favourites! Who here has ever seen “How the Grinch stole Christmas”? Sure, just about everyone! In fact, even this week I’ve seen it three or four times with Nate. So I’m passing the Grinch on to the next generation.

If you know about the Grinch, then you know that he hated Christmas. In fact, he hated it so much that he decided he would ruin it for everyone. He thought if he stole all the toys and all the decorations and all the Christmas goodies from all the Whos in Whoville, Christmas would disappear. He’s a mean one, that Mr. Grinch. Here… sing the song with me…

You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch. You really are a heel.
You're as cuddly as a cactus, You're as charming as an eel.
Mr. Grinch.

You're a bad banana with a greasy black peel.

You're a monster, Mr. Grinch. Your heart's an empty hole.
Your brain is full of spiders, You've got garlic in your soul.
Mr. Grinch.

I wouldn't touch you, with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole.

You're a vile one, Mr. Grinch. You have termites in your smile.
You have all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile.
Mr. Grinch.

Given the choice between the two of you I'd take the seasick crocodile.

You're a foul one, Mr. Grinch. You're a nasty, wasty skunk.
Your heart is full of unwashed socks, Your soul is full of gunk.
Mr. Grinch.

The three words that best describe you, are, and I quote: "Stink. Stank. Stunk."

You're a rotter, Mr. Grinch. You're the king of sinful sots.
Your heart's a dead tomato splot With moldy purple spots,
Mr. Grinch.

Your soul is an appalling dump heap overflowing
with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable,
Mangled up in tangled up knots.

You nauseate me, Mr. Grinch. With a nauseaus super-naus.
You're a crooked jerky jockey And you drive a crooked horse.
Mr. Grinch.

You're a three decker saurkraut and toadstool sandwich With arsenic sauce.

Copyright © 1957, Dr. Seuss.

That Dr. Seuss sure had a way with words, eh? Of course, the Grinch’s plan to steal Christmas didn’t quite work and he didn’t ruin Christmas and Christmas went on despite all his efforts. But what if he had succeeded? What if someone could really steal Christmas?

Over the past few weeks we’ve been working our way through a series called “A Christmas that Matters.” Mostly we’ve been talking about making this Christmas matter. But you know which Christmas really matters? The first one.

“Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about Him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries. If it were possible, with some supermagnet, to pull up out of history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of His name, how much would be left? It is from His birthday that most of the human race dates its calendars, by His name that millions curse and in His name that millions pray.”
~ Theologian Jaroslav Pelikan

So what if such a supermagnet existed? What if you really could erase Christmas? What if Jesus never came to earth as a baby? How would our world… how would human history… be different?

This morning I’m going to give you four ways this world would be different. The first one’s not all that important, the next two are a bit more significant, and the fourth one is crucial for every person everywhere for all of time. Okay? As I said, this first one is not all that important. But it is pretty obvious. Without Christmas…

Without Christmas…

1.    Our Christmas traditions would not exist.

What would that mean for us? Well, think about it…

•    December 25 would just be another day on the calendar. Our winters here in PEI can be loooong, but from my perspective Christmas makes it worth it. Christmas provides a good break.
•    Students would have no December break from school. Okay, maybe you parents would actually enjoy that.
•    There’d be no family gatherings for the holidays, no carols to sing, no gifts to give.
•    There’d be no market for artificial trees or strings of lights.
•    No decorations.
•    Our economy would grind to a halt.
•    There’d be no first-telling, let alone retellings, of Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol”.
•    There’d be no annual airings of “The Sound of Music,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or Charlie Brown Christmas specials. No Handel’s Messiah.
•    There’d be no angels, or mangers, or shepherds, or pastors dressing up in bathrobes for a kids’ Christmas presentation.
•    No Santa Claus… no elves at the North Pole.
•    No Dasher! No, Dancer! No Prancer or Vixen!
•    No, Comet! No Cupid! No Donder nor Blitzen!
•    And there’d certainly be no Rudolph.

Without Christmas, there’d be nothing to look forward to as the days get shorter… nothing to anticipate all year long. There’d be plenty of things we would miss, if there were no Christmas.

But those are all surface things. Traditions are nice, but what do they really matter? If Christmas didn’t exist, there are some much more important things we’d be missing.  Like this…

2.    There would be fewer charities and humanitarian organizations.

If Jesus had not come, then He would not have grown up to teach us how to love our neighbour as ourselves. And let me tell you, judging by the way we were going before He came, there’s a good chance we would have never discovered that on our own. We needed God in the flesh to teach us to be godly.

Think about the world Jesus came into. At that point in history, the world was segregated. You think it’s bad now? It’s nothing like it was then. There were Greeks, Romans, Jews, slaves, free, civilized, barbarians… there were competing philosophies, guilds, tribes, nations, ethnic religions… Yes, some of that still exists. But it’s much better than it was then. And it continues to improve.

What has made the difference? The Church that Jesus came to establish. Why? Because it brought a message of love and acceptance, not division and animosity. It taught the value of every person, regardless of tribe or creed. This is what Paul wrote…

Colossians 3:11-12 (NIV)
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

And where did that come from? It came from what Jesus taught…

Luke 10:27b (NLT)
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

And do you remember who Jesus said is your neighbour? Yes, it’s the person who lives in the house next to you. That’s your neighbour. And Mr. Rogers always wanted to be my neighbour. But Jesus taught that our neighbour can be anyone. And to illustrate, He told the story of the Good Samaritan. The Jews despised the Samaritans. If they saw one coming down the street, they’d cross to the other side. But Jesus taught a message about setting aside our differences and expressing love and compassion instead.

And what happened because Jesus came and taught us to love like this? Well, because of the teachings of Jesus in the midst of a violent culture, the early Christians began to care for widows and for orphans… they cared for the sick and the disabled. They cared for the dying. When plagues hit, Christians ran to the center of town to help the victims rather than fleeing to the safety of the countryside. Eventually, the Christians built and staffed hospitals. They took care of the poor and the underprivileged. And right down to today, almost every charitable organization that exists was begun by a Christian… including the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, World Relief, World Hope, World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, Compassion International, the YMCA, soup kitchens and food banks, homeless shelters…

In fact, after the earthquakes in Guatemala and Haiti this year, after Hurricane Katrina, after the Tsnuami of 2004, and after just about every disaster that happens anywhere in the world… Churches and Christians and Christian-rooted organizations have been the first ones in to provide medical aid and relief. All because Jesus loved us enough to come to earth as a child, to grow up, and to teach us to pass that love on to others.

Yes, the Church has warts because it’s populated by fallible people. But on balance, the Church has been the greatest force for good and the greatest influence on society in the history of the planet.

There are three or four high-profile atheists today who are blaming the Christian Church for all the problems in the world. But the truth is, the greatest advances in medicine, humanitarian aid, science, technology, education, and even commerce have come about because of the movement Jesus started.

Which brings us to number three. Without Christmas…

3.    The face of education and science would be very different.

Just like charities and humanitarian organizations, all the top educational institutions were begun by Christians. Oxford, Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, Princeton… all began as Christian schools. Perhaps they were inspired by words like this…

Romans 12:7 (NLT)
If you are a teacher, teach well.

2 Timothy 2:24 (NLT)
A servant of the Lord must… be able to teach…

Colossians 3:16 (NIV)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom…

Or from the words of Jesus…

Luke 10:27a (NLT)
“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.”

Whatever the reason, followers of Jesus were at the forefront of education. Even Sunday Schools, when they began back in 1780, were begun by Christians to provide schooling for children who were working in the factories during the Industrial Revolution.

Plus, the Church has a rich history of supporting and sponsoring scientific progress. This concept that the Church and Science are at odds with each other is a pretty new idea. And when that claim is made, there are generally two examples that are brought up: Galileo and the Scopes Monkey Trial.

But Galileo was himself a Christian who believed his model of the solar system was consistent with Biblical teaching. The Church at the time disagreed, put him on trial for heresy, and Galileo lived out the remainder of his days under house arrest. But it wasn’t Christianity against Science; it was different scientific views held by Christians.

Same thing with the Scopes Monkey Trial. A Tennessee high school biology teacher named John Scopes was put on trial for teaching the theory of evolution. But again, this was not a fight between Christianity and Science. It was a clash between two branches of Christianity—fundamentalists vs. modernists.

So while those two cases have come to epitomize a supposed conflict between science and Christianity, they are the exceptions and are generally misunderstood. Historians generally credit Christianity with the rise of scientific discovery in Western Society.

“Christian theology was necessary for the rise of science… Christianity depicts God as a rational, responsive, dependable, and omnipotent being and the universe as His personal creation, thus having a rational, lawful, stable structure, awaiting human comprehension… Christians developed science because they believed it could be done, and should be done.”
- Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God

“Although popular images of controversy continue to exemplify the supposed hostility of Christianity to new scientific theories, studies have shown that Christianity has often nurtured and encouraged scientific endeavour, while at other times the two have co-existed without either tension or attempts at harmonization.”
– Gary Ferngren, Science & Religion

So education and scientific discovery and invention and technological advancement… they all find themselves rooted in Christianity and the teachings of Jesus. All the way back in the 4th century, Saint Augustine—one of the most influential people in the history of the Christian Church and the person credited with starting Western culture (in Finding Calcutta by Mary Poplin)—taught about the importance of Christians learning from science.

The father of modern Science, Francis Bacon, around the year 1600 AD talked about how scientific discovery would reveal more about the mind of God while allowing us to improve the human condition. It what that perspective that kicked off our current age of science.

If that first Christmas had never happened, the face of education and science would be very different.  And if we had time, we could go on to talk about how Christianity has contributed to Art, to Literature, to Music… How without Christmas there’d be no…

•    Mother Teresa
•    Billy Graham
•    Paul of Tarsus
•    Saint Peter
•    Isaac Newton
•    Francis of Assisi
•    Soren Kierkegaard
•    Martin Luther
•    Martin Luther King
•    Charles Dickens
•    Abraham Lincoln
•    Copernicus
•    Michael Faraday
•    Ernest Rutherford
•    Marco Polo
•    Christopher Columbus
•    William Wilberforce
•    George Washington Carver
•    C.S. Lewis
•    J.R.R. Tolkien
•    Corrie ten Boom
•    Thomas Aquinas
•    Dietrich Bonhoeffer
•    Johann Sebastian Bach
•    Johannes Gutenberg
•    Johannes Kepler
•    John Wesley
•    John Calvin
•    John Wycliffe
•    John Bunyan
•    John the Baptist
•    John Milton

Without that first Christmas, this world would be a much bleaker place.

But there’s one more way in which this world would be different without Christmas. And as I said, it’s the most important way. Without that first Christmas…

4.    We would still be hopelessly lost to our sinfulness.

But that first Christmas did happen, Jesus did come, and He came to rescue us from our sinfulness. Jesus Himself declared…

Luke 19:10 (NLT)
“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

Jesus came at Christmas to seek and save the lost. And who are the lost? Without Jesus, we’re all lost. Jesus came for you and for me. And someday, he will set His people free from all the darkness and all of the turmoil and all of the stress and all of the depression and all of the bleakness of life as it is now.

But let’s look back at the first Christmas. In fact, let’s look back even before it. 700 years before Jesus came, there was a prophecy given to Isaiah…

Isaiah 9:2, 6 (NLT)
The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. …
For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

At the time Isaiah shared this prophecy, the nation of Israel was under an occupation by the Assyrians. The Assyrian army had conquered Israel and had taken many of the citizens away to a foreign land as captives. They were living in a time of darkness for them. But Isaiah wrote about a great light… a child who would be born and would set them free from the darkness!

And then in the New Testament, in the Gospel of John, this is what it says about the coming of Jesus…

John 1:4-5, 9 (NLT)
The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. …
The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

At the time John wrote those words, Israel was occupied by the Romans. The people were once again subject to a foreign power. And they didn’t much like it. It was a time of darkness for them. But here again, we’re told the light that will break through the darkness and overcome it.

Now, at the time of Isaiah’s writing, the people thought that maybe this child who would be born would overthrow the foreign power and set up his own kingdom here on earth. That’s why the circumstances of His birth were so unexpected. They were expecting an actual king born to a powerful, royal family, not some illegitimate kid born to a carpenter and teenaged girl in a barn.

And even during Jesus’ lifetime, there were some who expected Him to overthrow Rome. Including Judas. Many believe that Judas betrayed Jesus in an attempt to force Jesus’ hand.

But what they failed to understand was that Jesus’ Kingdom was already established. They were looking for Him to re-establish the Kingdom of Israel, but Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God… the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus came to defeat spiritual darkness. He came to restore our relationship with God the Father… the relationship that was severed when we as a race rebelled against Him. That’s why He came. That’s why Christmas matters. As the Apostle Paul said…

Acts 13:38-39 (NLT)
“We are here to proclaim that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. Everyone who believes in him is declared right with God—something the law of Moses could never do.”

And Jesus Himself said…

John 10:10 (NLT)
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Jesus came at Christmas to give life, and that’s good news! You see, death is the penalty for our rebellion against God, physically and spiritually. We all eventually die physically, but without Christ we’re already dead spiritually. So Jesus came and died in your place so that you could be offered a new life… eternal life… instead.

So how do you take Jesus up on His offer? How do you accept the life that Jesus came to give you? Well, John chapter one lays it out for you. John tells us how Jesus was in fact God who came to earth as a child. But even though He was the God who created everything that exists, many didn’t recognize Him. But then John wrote…

John 1:12 (NLT)
But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.

So what do you have to do? You have to believe He is who He says He is, and you have to accept Him. Believe and receive.

And if you’ve never done that, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do that this morning. He invites you to do it, no matter who you are or where you’re at. What better time than Christmas time when we celebrate the birth of Jesus for you to begin your new life, too?

Would you bow your heads and close your eyes? No talking, no looking around. We’re going to pray in a moment. But before we do, let me ask you, do you want to receive what Jesus is offering you this morning? Do you want to receive this new life today? If so, then just look up and make eye contact with me.

All right, for those of you who raised your hands, or perhaps for those who wanted to but were a little scared to do that, I want to invite you to pray something like this… you don’t have to pray out loud, just pray in the quietness of your heart… You can pray…

“Jesus, thank you for coming at Christmas. I believe in You, and this morning I want to receive the life you came to give me. I’m sorry for trying to live life my way; I now choose to live it your way. Thank you for loving me enough to come to earth for me.”

If you’ve just prayed that prayer, then you need to let someone know about it. You can talk to me or the person you came with, or even mark it on your Communication Card. For the rest of you, you may want to pray something like this…

“Thank you, Jesus, for coming that first Christmas. Thank you for the difference You have made in this world and in my life. Thank you for the hope and peace and love and joy that is mine because You came. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

[Some material adapted from Hal Seed]



Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2010