How God Celebrates Christmas
by Herbert E. Douglass, Th.D.
I recently received an invitation to a buffet. All who know me understand that such events are commandment performances for Norma and me. We even have friends who feel it to be their duty to tell us when the next Home Town Buffet or Old Country Buffet is to be opened! However, I suspect everyone in this room has received this same invitation and I wish you well as you respond to it. Hope to see you there!
The card read like this:
You Are Cordially Invited To A BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION: Guest of Honor: Jesus Christ
Date: Every day. Traditionally December 25, but He's always around, so the date is flexible..
Time: Whenever you're ready, (please don't be too late, though; or you'll miss out on all the fun)...
Place: In your heart ... He'll meet you there (you'll hear Him knock)..
Attire: Come as you are. He'll be washing our clothes anyway. He said something about new white robes and crowns for everyone who stays till the end.
Tickets: Admission is free. He's already paid for everyone. (He says you would not have been able to afford it . . . it's cost Him everything He had!!)
Refreshments: New wine, bread and a far-out drink He calls "living water," followed by a supper that promises to be out of this world!!
Gift Suggestions: Your heart. He's one of those people who already has everything else. (He's very generous in return though, just wait until you see what He has for you)..
Entertainment: Joy, Peace, Truth, Light, Life, Love, Real Happiness, Communion with God, Forgiveness, Miracles, Healing, Power, Eternity in Paradise, and much more! (All rated "G" so bring your family and friends).
R.S.V.P. Very Important! He must know ahead so He can reserve a spot for you at the table. Also, he's keeping a list of His friends for future reference. He calls it the "Lamb's Book of Life".
Party Being Given By His Kids (That's us) Hope To See You There!
"Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear." (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)... 'Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!' .." Revelation 19:7-9 NIV
Note how we shouldnít think of Bethlehem without thinking of Calvary and our Lordís Return to earth, as well as the Great Millennial Supper. Itís one Great Package! But, rarely does any Christian today, on this special day, go beyond the birth of Jesus. That is about all that most people today even know about the historical Jesus. One of the special contributions Adventists can make today is to remind ourselves and everyone else that Bethlehem is meaningless without Calvary and without His Return and His Great Supper. Itís one Great Package!
Between now and the Great Supper, we have todayó Christmas 1999. For weeks, we have been caught up with the ribbons and bows and colorful paper, with jammed parking lots and bright, blinking lights, with the hassle of trying to buy the right gifts for people, some even who havenít been our favorites all year. We hear Christmas carols everywhere, songs that no one sings in July. We often try to make up in one day what we should have been doing all year.
We even find ourselves dressing up for Christmas with the red and green but when God got ready for Christmas, He undressed. He laid aside all that angels had seen for ages and became a vulnerable, naked, breast-sucking, helpless little boy. Thatís how God celebrated Christmas 2000 years ago!
And thatís why we are here todayóto stand back and think about how God celebrated Christmas. For a few minutes this morning, let us contemplate how the angels helped Joseph to believe Mary and to accept the child already in his sweetheartís womb. You can read it in the first chapter of Matthew. Of course, the focus is usually on Mary, that great woman of courage and commitment. But without Joseph, I wonder if it could be pulled off. Joseph could have backed out of the whole deal and left Mary to handle the whole affair by herself. It would have been easier on him. Sure would have avoided a whole lot of explaining that never made sense to anybody. How many people ever did believe Josephís excuse for Maryís pregnancy? Some guy, this Joseph!
But there was something that the angel said that helped to firm up his swimming mind. He was reminded of a verse in Isaiah 7:14--"Behold, a a virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call his name Immanuel." Immanuel means "God with us." That was power talk. The angel was asking him to cooperate in making this incredible prophecy to come true. Him, just old carpenter Joe, making it easier for God to become man and be with us, face to face.
And so today, instead of the meaningless greeting, "Merry Christmas," we can say with Joseph and the angels, "Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us."
"Immanuel" to you, dear friends. To all of you who have joined us today, "Immanuel," the most wonderful welcome we can think of.
Some are here for the first time, "Immanuel." To each child with all their Christmas excitement , "Immanuel." To every teenager with all their frustrations, "Immanuel. Believe it, God is with you!" To each hassled father and mother, "Immanuel. You can hang on a little longer!" To each person who will be lonelier this year than last, "Immanuel." To anyone who is still wondering about what is really left life, to think about, to give oneís mind and feelings to, who feels simply passed by, I can only say, "Immanuel."
I am told that a very wealthy man had a young, teen-age son, who shared his passion for art collecting. Mother was dead. Together the two of them traveled around the world, adding only the finest art treasures to their collection. Priceless works by Picasso, Monet, and many others adorned the wall of the family estate.
The son developed a trained eye and a keen business sense and the father was proud. But war clouds loomed and soon the son was inducted for service. Then, overseas. And then the telegram--his son was missing in action. All father could do was wait. And then the next telegram and his fears were confirmed. His son had died while rushing a fellow soldier to a medic.
On the following Christmas, father was awakened by a knock on the door. Depressed and lonely, he opened the door to be greeted by a soldier in uniform with a large package in his hands. He introduced himself by saying, "I was a friend of your son. I was the one he was rescuing when he died. May I come in for a few minutes? I have something for you."
As the two began to talk, the soldier described how the manís son had told everyone about his love for good art and how he learned it all from his father. Then, the soldier said, "I am an artist, and I want to give you this."
As the old man unwrapped the package, he saw the portrait of his son. His young face was painted in striking detail. Overcome with emotion, the father thanked the soldier, promising to hang the picture above the fireplace. A few hours later, other paintings worth thousands of dollars were pushed aside. And the father sat in his chair and spent Christmas gazing at the gift he had been given.
During the days and weeks that followed, the man realized that even though his son would never return, his life would live on because of those he had touched. He soon learned that his son had rescued dozens of wounded soldiers before a bullet stopped his great heart. These stories helped to ease the fatherís grief. The painting became even more precious.
The following spring, the old man became ill and died. The art world was in anticipation, knowing that his son was dead and that the great art collection would be sold at auction.
According to the old manís will, all of the art works would be auctioned on Christmas day. Strange as it may seem, even on Christmas day, the worldís art collectors gathered to review the remarkable collection. Dreams would be fulfilled that day as many would leave with an great art piece of their own.
The auction began with a painting that was not on any museumís list. It was the painting of the manís son. The auctioneer asked for an opening bid, but the room was silent.
"Who will open the bidding with $100?," the auctioneer asked. Minutes passed, and no one spoke. From the back of the room someone shouted, "Who cares about that painting? Itís just a picture of his son. Letís get on with the real pieces!" Others agreed.
"No, we have to sell this one first," replied the auctioneers. "Now, who will take the son?" Finally, a neighbor spoke, "Will you take ten dollars for the painting? Thatís all I have. I knew the boy, so Iíd like to have it."
"I have ten dollars. Do I hear $15?, called the auctioneer. After more silence, the auctioneer said, "Going once, going twice, gone." The gavel fell.
Cheers filled the room as they shouted. "Letís start the bidding!"
The auctioneer announced that the auction was over. Stunned disbelief quieted the room. Someone spoke up, "What do you mean, itís over. We didnít come here to buy an old manís son. There are millions of dollars of art here. Whatís going on?"
The auctioneer replied quietly, "Itís very simple. According to the will of the father, whoever takes the son, getís it all."
Whoever getís the son, gets it all! Thatís exactly how God celebrates Christmas! We are surrounded with the toys and the joys of this world. The older we get, the most costly our toys. The older we get the joys are more or less. But in the end, it is not, The One Who Gets the Most Toys Wins. The music of the universe is singing out, Whoever getís the Son wins. Whoever getís the Son, gets it all!
God wants us to get it straight. He did not come as a Prince with nannies around the clock. He did not want us to get confused about what matters most. He didnít even come as a helpless little boy as one would see through the nursery window at Auburn Faith Hospital. Many months before Bethlehem, in Nazareth , He, the Lord of the universe, had come as a fetus inside a dark womb, living off Maryís blood, just floating plasma too small for human eyes to see, as close to non-being as even God could get.
And then in that manger, He did not come as Christmas cards picture it, Miss Israel for His mother, cleaner than clean stable. He came with the placenta and squalling cries, desperately needing a warm breast, loving eyes to bond with, God naked, and not ashamed.
What was God saying to us? We can choose to be utterly independent and in need of no one, full of ambition and going for the gold, with no need for advice or for love. We can choose to surround ourselves with all the comforts and amass material securities and be in need of nothing. Well, God could have worked all that out for Himself on that first Christmas.
But no, from the starting gate, He amazed us with His choice to be dependent on His Heavenly Father and Mary and Joseph. Throughout His life, He may not have chosen to be so lonely but in this crazy world thatís the way it turned out. He simply chose to be uncluttered with distractions and lifeís toys. And, in the end, He taught us that those who have the Son as a Friend, get it all!
We get it all! A life without fear. "Be not afraid", the angel said, and that was a promise that we all understand, sooner or later. A life with joy, if not always happiness. A life with a terrific interest for the other side of what we call death. A life with friends who really care about us, probably the ones we meet in this sanctuary every week.
Think about it! Without the Son, can you really live without fear? Would you really know the difference between joy and fleeting happiness? Would you have the calmness of heart to think about what happens after death, without the Son? I donít think so.
God is giving us a Christmas card today, to every child, every teenager, every young man or woman, every adult. It says clearly: "Immanuel, those who accept the Son, get it all!" Let every adult who is told he or she is over the hill, that there is not much left, let them say, to those who follow: "the higher we climb, the clearer it gets, the sky is brighter, and it seems we can see forever! In fact, we understand better than ever, the meaning of Immanuel, that those who have the Son, get it all."
Copyright © 2000 Herbert E. Douglass. All rights reserved.
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