He Just Keeps on Giving --- a Christmas Sermon
by Herbert E. Douglass, Th.D.
Scripture: Read John 3:16 and Luke 2:10-14
Itís December and the world thinks about Jesus like it doesnít at any other time of the year. In some vague way we all seem to know heaven came very close on that first Christmas and that this little boy was born to die so that we might have everlasting life. In some vaguer way we try to celebrate this gift of God by exchanging gifts with one another, which is quite a stretch.
Whatever He was born to do for us, we know it was a gift because we surely donít deserve it. But why He came and what He gave upóthat is the marvelous mystery of the manger that God wants us to think about today.
So we have two questions: what was the gift and what did He give up?
Many have looked at that baby in Bethlehem and see only a wonderful young man who grew up to give us all a beautiful Example of what true humanity should be like. Others see, and with great appreciation, a super Teacher who gave this world awesome moral principles to strive for. Still others see Him only as a great Martyr who would give us a mighty illustration of how to die for oneís principles. A lot of truth in all this giving, but is this really what He gave this world?
You say, We should look at the Cross. Well, letís think about it. Was that what God gave to this world, a few hours on an awful Cross to satisfy an angry God? Was that His gift? Many of His followers have also been crucified on awful crosses, yet, and I say this reverently, they suffered many more hours on their crosses than Jesus suffered on His. More than that, many, many have suffered even more cruel deaths than dying on a cross.
If it were something more than three hours on Calvary, what was Godís gift and what did He give up?
Letís ask the question a different way: when did this giving begin? In Bethlehem on that first Christmas eve? Was that when God was born? Not exactly, you say! OK, letís back up. Perhaps the giving began when He was lost from view for nine months. Imagine that! The King of the universe disappearing for nine months! The mystery of that Bethlehem manger was only a small slice of the mystery of the universe.
Think for a moment. For some time before that nippy night in old Palestine, nine months really, far off at the center of the universeó-angels had been on special alert. From galaxy to galaxy, the angels passed the question: "Where is He? Where's Our Lord?" Faster than the speed of light, inhabitants on billions of worlds were contacted, "Have you seen the Lord?" "No, He's not here. Where is He?"
Then that moment came when Gabriel led the angels past hundreds of billions of island universes, down past Andromeda, our very close neighbor, with its 100 billion suns like our own, always asking the same questions, always the same answers: "No, He's not here. Where is He?"
But Gabriel went on, calling to his colleagues, "Come with me. Come and see." Heading now for Andromeda's nearest neighbor, more than 100 billion light-years still to go, perhaps through the open space in Orion, the angels sped through our own Milky Way system, with its 100 billion stars, each star with perhaps its own solar system.
Until they came to a special star, not very large as stars go, but to a star called the Sun, the star that controlled the fate of 9 planets. Still they had millions of miles to go, 93 million as we all know, but angels travel very fast, you know, faster than sound, faster than light, and on that first Christmas they had an especially urgent missionóas Gabriel led them to the third rock from the Sun, Planet Earth.
And then they paused, hovering in silence above a little Jewish town called Bethlehemófor Mary was in labor. Nothing like this had ever happened before in all the universe. Could all this be true, "Their Lord of the universe, here on a little planet called Earth, utterly dependent upon a Jewish woman?"
With wonder and respect, the angels waited. And then it happened! With the baby's first cry, those angels released the emotions of the universeóand they sang over Bethlehem. The lonely shepherds heard them first.
As Phillips translated it: "Suddenly an angel of the Lord stood by their side, the splendor of the Lord blazed around them and they were terror-stricken. But the angel said to them:
'Do not be afraid! Listen, I bring you glorious news of great joy which is for all the people. This very day in David's town, a Saviour has been born for you. He is Christ, the Lord! And He is our King, our Creator and He has joined the human race."
The singing angels knew that something stupendous was happening, their King had become a helpless baby. But He was still their King and they hushed as they wondered over Bethlehem. But was Bethlehem the beginning of His giving and the cross the end. Hardly!
So when did His giving begin?
When God contemplated creating intelligent beings, whether angels or inhabitants of other worlds, He made one basic decision that I do not think any one of us would have dared to make: He decided to give all created intelligences, freedom. At that point, that mysterious Bible text kicks in that describes Jesus as being "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8).
As soon as God, in His unfathomable love, decided to give freedom to His created intelligences, the giving began, for immediately He began to pay the cost of that freedom. Just think about what that gift of freedom meant to God who saw in advance how His created intelligences would abuse it! So why did He go ahead? He knew there was no other way to have a loving universe . Angels and human beings canít love unless they have freedom to choose.
Does anyone think that I have been forced to love Norma all these years? That somehow we have been programed to play this game called love and we really did not have any choice in the matter? How come Greg married Cheryl and not someone else? Isnít it great Greg, to know every day of your life that you live with a terrific lady, who is so glad she married you, and that she didnít have to marry you! That there were others out there but somehow, she chose you! What kind of quiet satisfaction does loveís freedom give you day and night?
The freedom to choose, however, has a down-side. Sometimes the person you love does not choose to love you back. Then what? It hurts! Parents never get over the anguish of watching their children go down dead-end roads, suffering the painful consequences, sooner or later. So the question: if parents saw it all in advance, would they want children?
God saw it all in advance. He paid the cost as soon as He gave the gift, and He has been paying ever since. If we want to get a peek at how much freedom has cost God, watch Jesus die. But the Cross is only a peek! The Cross is forever the symbol of what has been happening to God since the foundation of all creation.
How much has God given to this world? Just for startersóGod gave us a lot of divine heartache when He gave us freedom. Measure His heartache by thousands of Holocausts, such as the Jewish experience in Germany. Think of the agony wrapped in thousands of tornadoes, earthquakes, and zillions of wars. How many parents have seen their children die first, many with awful diseases or accidents! What was their anguish? Multiply it by billions. God saw and felt it all and still thought you and I were worth it! Worth all that anguish, even as it has piled up from the foundation of the world!
We have been focusing on when Jesus began His giving, even before He created anybody. But now letís think about what He gave up and how long He will keep giving.
We begin to see what He gave up when we go to Bethlehem on that Christmas eve so long ago. God was not play-acting when He was born of Mary; God truly became a human being. But O how He came! Not as a heavenly prince, cuddled in warm, soft blankets, hovered over by a team of imperial pediatricians and three shifts of nurses; not as a dazzling angel compelling everyone's attention; not even as a superstar teacher who would galvanize the respect and affection of both young and old.
NoóHe came as a baby, as every other helpless child has entered this world, with all the liabilities and weaknesses of His Jewish heredity. And if anyone wonders if He got any special breaks, take another look at who His ancestors were! His genetic stream was as polluted as anyone ever born.
The God of the universe was dependent on the blood of Mary for nine months and her milk for many months to come.. He had to be taught how to walk and how to care for his personal needs.
Letís not forget: Jesus was the Creator of our universe and He permitted Himself to be imprisoned within His own creation. Hard to believe! And not just for nine months, nor for only 33 years! The immensity of Christmas is that Jesus forever encased Himself within time and space, which He, Himself had created! As Inventor, He willingly locked Himself within His own machine forever! Why? Because He knew that humanity would have no chance of getting out of this crazy world unless He got within humanity Himself and showed them what salvation was all about.
What kind of giving is this? What does all this mean?
I know, itís hard to believe that the Lord of Creation, who walked among the stars and whirled new universes into their orbits, would be born a helpless babe and be laid in a smelly goat manger. But what is hardest to believe is that He loved us so much that He was willing to risk all His divine prerogatives, even His own future, when He permitted Himself "to meet life's perils in common with every human soul, to fight the battle as every child of humanity must fight it, at the risk of failure and eternal loss." The Desire of Ages, p. 49.
Why did He do it? With all the various options He had, why did He come to Bethlehem, an obscure Jewish village, and not to Jerusalem or Athens or Rome, where His birth would surely hit the front page? Why didn't He, at least, give Himself the advantage of taking Adam's unscarred body and brain, unencumbered with the savage results of sin, with all the inherited liabilities that we all are burdened with at birth?
How does the Bible describe all this? We donít often let Paul tell the Christmas story but letís listen to him in Heb 2:14-18 (TEV) "Since the children, as he calls them, are people of flesh and blood, Jesus himself became like them and shared their human nature. He did this so that through his death he might destroy the Devil, who has the power over death, and in this way set free those who were slaves all their lives because of their fear of death. For it is clear that it is not the angels that he helps. Instead, as the scripture says, ĎHe helps the descendants of Abraham.í This means that he had to become like his brothers in every way, in order to be their faithful and merciful High Priest in his service to God, so that the peopleís sins would be forgiven. And now he can help those who are tempted , because he himself was tempted and suffered."
How did Jesus do it? He looked Satan straight in the eye and said, "You have nothing on me, you Master of Deceit, you Troublemaker! I have demonstrated that you have been a liar from the beginning. I have shown the universe that even a human being, fallen and cursed by sin, with a DNA full of the results of sin, even that kind of a wreck, can yet find strength to overcome all your temptations and treacheries. I met you on your home court and I won and you lost!" John 8:44-46
Earlier, He had beaten Satan in the wilderness for 40 days. Later, in Judea and Galilee , He was hunted like a dangerous criminal. Those who knew the Bible best, despised Him. What kind of human emotions did Jesus give up, such as retaliation when one knows he is right? How many appeals to fairness did Jesus give up when He could have withered His accusers with scorching logic? We talk much about our rights these days: How much of His rights did He give up in showing us how to be humble and meek in the face of arrogant men and women?
Letís take this one step further: If you were the Creator of the universe, can you imagine yourself saying, "I can do nothing on my own. . . . I can do nothing on my own authority" (John 5:19, 30) Are you beginning to see the dimensions of how much He was giving up, day after day, for this lousy human race?
And then the cross. Again he looked Satan in the eye and said, "Love is stronger than death, something that you chose to reject, dear old friend.. And I am going to show you that I have the keys of death, not you. I am winning and you are losing, no matter what it looks like today."
And he looked humanity in the face and said, "If I be lifted up, I will draw all unto me." I am dying today so that you may live forever. Further, you will never again have to worry about how God thinks of you, for these outstretched arms are long enough to reach you wherever you are. You can never get away from our love for you. And, yes, I have given you freedom to reject all this, but I will do everything I can to keep you from rejecting me. If you donít reject me, I will get your ready to be safe to save."
He heard the mocking religious leaders ride Him, "He saved others, let Him save Himself if He is whom He says He is" (Luke 23:35). He surely gave up the chance to show them wrong, that He was not an imposter. It seems that Jesus is always giving up something for you and me.
And so He died, was resurrected, and returned to heaven. But His giving wasnít over, it had hardly begun. Letís read Paulís preview of the hereafter, after the resurrections, after the earth has been made new: "Then the end will come; Christ will . . . over the Kingdom to God the Father. For Christ must rule until God defeats all enemies and puts them under his feet. The last enemy to be defeated will be death. . . . But when all things have been placed under Christís rule, then he himself, the Son, will place himself under God, who placed all things under him; and God will rule completely over all" (1 Cor. 1524-28, TEV). Forever a subject, never more the King!
All I can do at this point is just stop and observe. The Creator of the universe, a human being, flesh and blood, never again moving around with the freedom of even an angel, limited to time and space. How can this be?
Look at those hands. Every time He looks at those nail scars in His hands He gives a little more to this rebel world. And it never will end! On those hands are written the names of all those He loved and lost. Those for whom He died. Those whom He still loves. Love that was not returned. Unrequited love, we say.
Your name is on His hands today. It will be better for Him to see your face throughout eternity than to only see your memory imbedded in those scars! Is it any wonder that He will be the subject of our conversations forever and ever. We surely werenít worth it, but He kept on giving until we got the point, and settled the question, once and for all, that we would not disappoint Him. That all this giving was not in vain! Bethlehem, yes, but long before that first Christmas, and long after He welcomes us home, He has been giving and will be giving and giving. Will it be your face that He will see forever, or the scars in His hands reminding Him of you that He will see forever? Your face, or His scars, itís up to you!
Copyright © 2000 Herbert E. Douglass. All rights reserved.
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