December 20, 2009

What Christmas Is All About

Growing up, I had a little exposure to the “church.” As a young boy, for example, on Christmas I went with my mom and sister to the First Church of Religious Science in Peoria, Illinois, an organization that espouses the dogma: “We believe in the incarnation of the Spirit in all, and that we are all incarnations.” I say this because as a small boy I had no idea what I was hearing, if in fact I heard anything at all. I preferred to play games so went on my merry way, skipping about.

Years later, in Missouri, at age 16, I attended a Christian film called for Pete's Sake produced by the Billy Graham organization. At the end of the film Dr. Graham presents the message of Jesus Christ. For the first time, I really understood the testimony of the New Testament that God became man – Jesus was the one and only incarnation -- and as the God-Man went to the cross to die for my sins. That day I believed and asked Jesus Christ to come in to my life and forgive me so that I could receive eternal life as He promised.

Several months later I visited the minister at the First Church of Religious Science thinking he would rejoice with me over my new discovery of Jesus. Little did I know what awaited me in our conversation. To him, Jesus Christ was not the unique incarnation of God and he expressed disgust with my testimony. I sat there in disbelief in the face of his disbelief! I realized that day that not every person who calls themselves a reverend or minister believes in Jesus Christ as the unique, incarnated Son of God.

Of course, I get that. The apostle Paul refers to the incarnation of Jesus as a mystery when he writes, "by common confession great is the mystery of godliness: he who was revealed in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16). Here the word "godliness" refers to the incarnation which he defines as "revealed in the flesh." He acknowledges that this is not the normal thing a person would believe apart from God telling us, and even after telling us, who could explain how the incarnation actually happened? This mystery is a miracle, and all miracles remain a mystery to mortals.

Sadly, when some cannot prove something, they refuse to believe it. Added to this, not a few intellectual types point to the mythology of gods taking on human form and therefore dismiss as mythology the idea that Jesus is God. After all, who in their right mind would claim another person is God? Interestingly, Saul of Tarsus, later the apostle Paul, struggled with this very thing. He said, "At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view.” (2 Corinthians 5:16 NLT). In other words, Saul, the intellectual who studied under Gamaliel, rejected any thing that suggested Jesus was more than a man.

Yet, the Biblical testimony about the incarnation rings loud and clear. John penned, "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, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:1, 14). Obviously, to John, the Word, who was God, became flesh, who is Jesus.

During this Christmas season, what do you believe about the Incarnation of Jesus?

The cartoon character Charlie Brown distressed over the insincerity of many concerning Christmas asks in anguish, “Isn't there anyone out there who can tell me what Christmas is all about?”

On stage, beautifully and brilliantly Linus responds to his question. “Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you. Lights, please.”

With security blanket in hand the miniature theologian takes center stage and exclaims, “And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not! For behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you this day is born in the City of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace; good will toward men.’”

Finished, Linus turns to Charlie Brown and comments, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Indeed, "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which translated means, "God with us" (Matthew 1:23).

The Incarnation.

As Paul later wrote to the Romans, “God... sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh ... (Romans 8:3) and to the Galatians, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4). Also to the Philippians he said, “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, {and} being made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6,7).

The Incarnation.

The prophet Isaiah foretold, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us… And His name will be called… Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

The Incarnation.

That’s what Christmas is all about. Merry Incarnation!

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