December 22, 2019 Christmas is a Celebration of Hope

Christmas is a Celebration of Hope

Christmas is upon us. It does not matter how you feel about this holiday. Most people like it, even if they give little thought to what it is about. Some people don’t like it that much. Some people don’t like it because they had so much fun at Christmastime as children and then, when they get older, the celebration no longer captures the fun they had as kids, so they get disappointed. Others don’t like it because it has become so commercial. Some don’t like it because a few of the emblems of Christmas had pagan origins. 

Whether you feel good about Christmas or not, it is a time of celebration. And, if we celebrate the best things about Christmas, then we will feel better about it.

The best thing about Christmas is not the presents, not the family togetherness that happens this time of year, nor the Christmas songs – as good as they are. The best thing about Christmas is that it is a celebration of hope!

To show the great hope that God Himself communicates through the birth of Jesus I wish to begin with a passage that is seldom considered during this time of year. Yet, it is quite relevant. That is Zechariah’s (the father of John the Baptist) prophecy about John and Jesus upon the birth of John:

    And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; 
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 
    77     to give knowledge of salvation to his people 
in the forgiveness of their sins, 
    78     because of the tender mercy of our God, 
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high 
    79     to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, 
to guide our feet into the way of peace.” 1

Half way though his prophecy he addresses his son, John. This child, this baby, will be called the prophet of the Most High. That is who John became – a prophet. He would appear before the Lord and prepare his ways. This he did. He would give the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins. This he did, also. John preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3, 8). That part of John’s message did not change. Jesus preached it, as did the apostles after him. There is no forgiveness without repentance.

The first cause for celebration with joy is found in verse 78. The coming of Jesus, the birth of Jesus, is because of the mercy of our God! According to Zechariah, meaning according to the Spirit of God, God’s mercy is made known because of the sunrise visiting us. This “sunrise” is Jesus (Malachi 4:2; Eph 5:14). Mercy means not receiving the punishment that we all deserve because of our sins.

This world is filled with sorrow and heartache. Do you know why? It is because of sin. People sin against one another. Other people’s actions often cause us turmoil. Worse than that, our words and actions sometimes cause those closest to us heartache and sorrow. We are part of the problem!

That is not all. It is not just personal sins that make the world difficult. It is Adam’s sin. The Bible teaches that Adam represented the whole human race and, because of his sin, all of creation has been cursed. The curse includes cancer, disease, natural disasters like tornados, tsunamis, and earthquakes, even animals that will hurt you.

What we need is mercy! When Jesus came mercy came! Jesus takes away the punishment that we deserve because of our sins. He suffered on behalf of all those who would place their trust in him and only those who will trust him. But, as good as this is, he brought even more mercy. He not only takes away our punishment, but he takes away sinning. Because of him we sin less when he changes us. Our changing is a demonstration of his mercy.

Disease and disasters will continue to claim the lives of our loved ones because the curse has not been removed from the earth yet. But, because of Christ, we will be with our loved ones once again in Paradise and, eventually, back on a renewed earth. Not only this, but because of our love for the Lord Jesus, the loss of our loved ones is bearable. The knowledge that we will be together with those who also love Jesus is a powerful hope. It is a powerful hope because it is a certain hope, based on the promises of the Living God!

When Jesus came God’s mercy was manifested!

Mercy is our great need. Those who trust in Christ have received it. We have received it but now we must extend it. That is, we have received mercy from God through the Lord Jesus. Now, we must show mercy to others.

   21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. 
   23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. (That is about 400 million dollars in today’s currency – an amount so huge that it could never be repaid. CR) 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii (That is about $7,000 in today’s currency, a lot of money but something that could be paid back. CR), and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” 2
Christmas is a time to celebrate the mercy that we have received because when Jesus was born this showed God’s mercy to us. But it is also a time to give mercy. Forgiving another person, especially those near to us, is the best present that you can give them. And, being forgiven is the best present that you can receive.

Zechariah continues his prophecy:

    to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, 3

The world is a dark place. We all began in darkness. In the Bible darkness represents either ignorance or moral corruption. Both things are true of all who are born in this world. We are ignorant of the revelation of God and we are morally dark. When Jesus came he solved both problems. He testified to the truth and he grants a new heart that desires what is good and right.

Have you been born again? If you have, then you have experienced and are now experiencing a new heart! Is this not cause for celebration? If it is not, then nothing is. Even if you have not yet been reborn, Jesus is still the light to those who sit in darkness. If you are sitting in darkness, there is a light for you. The words of Jesus are light and life. You can rejoice in them!

Christmas is a time to celebrate the truth that Jesus brought and the new heart that he has given us!

Zechariah finishes his prophecy with these words:

“…to guide our feet into the way of peace.” 

Jesus guides us in the way of peace. This peace is a harmony and calmness that we have with one another. Oh! What a gift to be at peace with God and to be at peace with one another! I tell you, when you have peace you have the best of everything, because peace makes every other gift better!

Because of Christ, our sins are forgiven. Thus, we have peace with God (Rom. 5:1). Actually, it is Christ Himself that ministers peace into us:

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.4

The peace that Christ gives is different than the sort of peace that the world gives. It is a peace that is undisturbed. It is lasting.

Because of Christ coming, we can have peace with one another.

11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.5

As Paul concludes his letter to the church at Corinth he says, “rejoice!” Indeed, this is the time of year to rejoice! Everyone, including those who don’t feel good at Christmas, rejoice! I tell you, Christians need to rejoice more than they do. We can rejoice because there is so much hope that has come when Jesus was born. All those things that bother you are insignificant compared to the gifts of mercy, light, and peace that came when Christ was born and that have been given to you! You have them! (If you are not yet a Christian, they are waiting for you to claim them!)

Then Paul writes, “Aim for restoration.” What is that about? Restoration of what? He is writing about restoring our friendship and fellowship with a fellow Christian when there has been a falling out. Look! It doesn’t matter whose fault you think it was…yours or theirs. Aim for restoration! This word is for every follower of Christ. But it is especially applicable to husbands and wives as well as parents and children. The more intimate a relationship the more it is tested. Therefore, these words, “aim for restoration,” should be on the mind and heart of each one of us if there is a need.

Then Paul writes, “agree.”  We don’t have to agree on everything, but we can agree more than we do.

Finally, he writes, “live in peace.” This is the legacy of the incarnation. Jesus has made it easier to forgive one another. If Jesus had not come, we would not have experienced our own forgiveness. It would be quite impossible to forgive one another. But, we have been forgiven, so we can forgive each other and live in peace.

When we are at peace with God and man then every other gift is better. If we are married (that is a gift), then it is better. Our family life, a gift, is better. Our friendships (gifts) are better. Even the material gifts we get at Christmas are better because they can be enjoyed more when you are at peace! I would rather have a seven-year old used car and be at peace than a brand new car and be in turmoil, wouldn’t you?

This world is dark. Yet, we can celebrate because of the great hope that came when Christ came.

We need mercy. Christ came as a demonstration of God’s mercy. Let us now show mercy to those near us.

We were sitting in darkness and the world is still dark. But, when Christ came the sun has arisen. He gives light to our darkened minds and he rises in our hearts so that they are transformed! Can you rejoice over this?

We didn’t know peace. Christ has come to give you peace. Now go and be at peace with every brother and sister.

We can celebrate Christmas because with that first Christmas came mercy, light, and peace…and they are with you now!

1 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 1:76–79). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
2 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 18:21–35). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
3 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 1:79). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
4 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 14:27). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
5 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 13:11). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.