Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Point of All This

The Third Sunday of Advent

John 3:16

The Telegraph newspaper ran a story about what kids in the UK know about Christmas. The news wasn’t so good.

When asked what gifts the Three Wise Men brought to the baby Jesus, these were some of the responses:

A boy from Manchester said: ‘The wise men brought coconut oil, which is made from coconuts, some sweets…and gold.’

A kid from Merseyside said: ‘The wise men brought Jesus presents of gold, frankincense, myrrh and silver…but I would have given him a Liverpool shirt.’

A six-year-old said: ‘I don’t know what the three wise men brought Jesus, but I would have given him a tin of biscuits. I think Mary, Joseph and Jesus would have all liked a biscuit.’

When asked what animals were present at the birth of Jesus, one boy said: ‘There were sheep, horses and a crocodile outside the stable.’

When asked who the Angel Gabriel was, one girl said he was ‘big white fairy who helped Mary and Joseph take care of the baby…kind of like a doctor.’

Then they got to the big questions.

When asked who Jesus was, a five-year-old said he ‘was a king and wore a crown even though he was a baby. It was a really small crown.’

One kid said that Jesus was Mary and God’s little boy,’ while another just said that ‘Jesus was a mystery man.’

The cappers were the responses to the question: ‘Why do we celebrate Christmas?’

A seven-year old said: ‘We celebrate Christmas because Santa comes and gives us lots and lots of presents.’

Now I don’t want to be too hard on these kids, and their responses are worth a few laughs. But if we’re honest we’ll admit that it’s hard to keep from losing focus on the true meaning of Christmas. As we shop and eat and drink and give and receive and travel—it’s hard to keep our eyes fixed on what we’re celebrating at this time of year.

It’s hard to avoid missing the point of Christmas.

Our passage today might be the most familiar text in the entire New Testament: John 3:16

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

In Eugene Peterson’s translation called The Message, he writes the passage like this:

‘This is how much God loved the world. He gave his son, his one and only son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.’

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

When we get lost in the busy-ness of Christmas it’s easy to lose sight of what’s happening here—to miss the point. The British equivalent phrase for missing the point is ‘to lose the plot,’ and that might be closer to the truth here.

The plot of the story runs like this: God made us to enjoy an intimate relationship with him, and to live in close connection with each other. But sin has damaged relationships at all levels, and God has created ways for us to be restored and renewed and welcomed back into his presence.

The climax of the plot is the redemptive work of Jesus the Messiah—his ministry of healing, his death for our sin, and his resurrection to prove that he had power over all places and all things, even death.

The beginning of that climactic chapter—of this crucial point in the plot—all of that begins with the birth of the Christ child.

Our text might seem like a strange one for the Christmas season. There’s no manger, no animals or crocodiles outside the stable, no Mary and Joseph.

But this one verse is the point behind everything in the Christmas story. This one verse gives us the meaning behind the action in the drama of salvation we experience in the ministry of Jesus Christ.

This one verse is the point of everything, everywhere, and for everyone.

Since we’ve already started talking about the elements of drama here, let’s get deeper into this passage. As a true English major language geek I’ll say that there are four verbs in this passage that matter. But more than just describing the action in the passage, these four verbs drive the plot of the story, and help us understand the true meaning of Christmas:

‘He gave his one and only son…’

‘That whoever believes…’

‘Will not perish but will have eternal life’…they’ll live.

But the most important of the four action words in our passage is the first one:

‘For God so loved the world…’ God loved the world just so…God loved the world so much.

He loved us so much that no expense was too high to pay.

He loved us so completely that no gesture was too grand to make.

His love for his people was so deep and wide and high that no sacrifice ever seemed too painful if it helped to communicate the purity and perfection of his love.

Brennan Manning tells a story about a friend of his that gets at the point here. He writes:

A few years ago, “the day before Christmas, Richard Ballenger’s mother in South Carolina was busy wrapping packages and asked her young son to shine her shoes. Soon, with the proud smile that only a seven-year-old can muster, he presented the shoes for inspection. His mother was so pleased that she gave him a quarter.

On Christmas morning as she put on the shoes to go to church, she noticed a lump in one shoe. She took it off and found the quarter wrapped in paper. Written in the paper in a child’s scrawl were the words:

‘I done it for love.’

We learn something pretty important about Christmas in John 3:16, in this passage that people can recite even if they haven’t been in a church in years.

Through the birth of the baby Messiah—through his life and ministry, his arrest and beating and death and resurrection—in each one of these plot twists in the story, God is there, looking at us and saying: ‘I did this for love.’

The point of all this business about Christmas is that God loved us so much that he wasn’t about to let us go through this life or any other life without him. As we continue thinking about Jesus and cultivating a sense of waiting, of expectation for the coming of the Messiah, never forget that the point of Christmas is to be reminded of God’s complete and perfect love for you—for all of us.

You won’t get a better gift this year or any year. May God bless you with a sense of his presence and love this Christmas season.

Let’s pray together.

1 comment:

  1. Hello! You wrote: “This companion volume to T. F. Torrance’s Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ presents the material on the work of Christ, centered in the atonement, given originally in his lectures delivered to his students in Christian Dogmatics on Christology at New college, Edinburgh, from 1952-1978.”

    Hello! You wrote: “‘For God so loved the world…’ God loved the world just so…God loved the world so much.

    He loved us so much that no expense was too high to pay.

    (le-havdil) I want to discuss that statement.

    How to live in order to enable the Creator in His loving kindness to provide His foregivness is outlined in the Jewish Bible ; and was also taught by the first century Ribi Yehoshua from Nazareth (the Mashiakh; the Messiah).

    The Jewish Bible – for example Yekhëzqeil (Hezekiel) 18 – promises foregivness to those who do their sincerest to keep Torah. The Creator cannot lie and He does not change (Malakhi 3:6)! According to Tehilim (“Psalms”) 103 the Creator gives his foregivness to those who do their sincerest to keep His berit (“covenant”; the pre-conditions to be included in the berit is according to the Jewish Bible to do ones sincerest to keep Torah).

    Using logic there is only one conclusion if the statement: “forgiveness by faith in Jesus” is valid or not.

    You will find Ribi Yehoshuas teachings here: Netzarim

    All the best, Anders Branderud


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.