Well, well, well….. here we are at the beginning of Advent. Seems like we just did this – oh, I don’t know – about a year ago. Time flies. Advent is the preparation for the “Coming” or birth of our Savior. So let’s focus on that. Let’s think about the fact that Christmas is the beginning of having it all.
What is the essence of the story of Christmas? Well, the essence is that whosoever accepts the Son gets it all. The Bible puts it like this: “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11-12). The one who has the Son has it all.
What do we mean by all?” First, Advent promises new life in Christ because: now we know what God is like. The coming of Christ gave us a living picture of who God is. Christ’s coming put a face on God. The Bible says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” (Colossians 1:15-16). This is what we mean by the incarnation — God came to earth wrapped in a human body. God of heaven came to live among us that we might know what he is truly like. He came to teach us. He came to die for us that we might be forgiven. He rose from the dead to help us know that we too will be raised. He ascended to the Father to intercede for us. He promised that he will return so that eternal hope would burn in our hearts. He opened the doors of heaven.
Have you ever imagined what the world would be like if God, in the person of Jesus Christ, had never come to earth. We would not have the high expressions in music that came from men like Bach and Beethoven. We would not have Handel’s “Messiah.” Harvard and Yale would not exist, because they were started as Christian institutions of higher learning (believe it or not). The founders of these schools believed that to study “science” was to study the work of God and to understand how he made the world. It was a way of learning more about what He is like. Many hospitals would not exist, because they were begun by people who had hearts full of compassion for those who were ill, due to their personal experience with Jesus Christ and being transformed by his love. Our way of dating history would be completely different, since all of history is divided into the things which occurred before Christ and the things which occurred after Christ. There would not be churches on every corner of our cities. Most colleges in would not exist, because most were started as Christian institutions of higher learning. There would be no Y.M.C.A. We would have half a Bible. We would not have heard of the love of a personal God. God would never have visited the world, and we would have no hope of His returning to the earth. There would be no Christmas — no gifts symbolic of God’s greatest gift. There would be no Christmas carols or hymns. The world without Jesus would be “always winter and never Christmas.”
Without Jesus, Mary Magdalene would have died in her sin. Matthew, the tax collector, would still have been a traitor to his countrymen. The Roman soldier would have continued his cruelty. Peter, James and John would have done nothing more with their lives than fish for a living. The Apostle Paul would never have been more than a cruel Pharisee steeped in legalism with an unrelenting demand for perfection from other people. The people who needed healing, during the time that Christ, would still have been broken in body and spirit. The lame would still have been lame; the blind would have remained in their darkness; the deaf would have still lived in silence. We would never have heard the words: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27); or “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11); and “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
This is why we sing about Emmanuel at Christmas — God is with us. He was with us 2000 years ago, and he is with us now in this present moment to show us what He is like. We have a God who cared enough to come. No other religion in the world can make that claim. He showed us what he was like and his name was love. He was the friend of sinners and failures. He showed love and compassion to the outcasts of the world. He healed the sick and raised the dead. He taught us not to use the values of this world to determine our worth, for he said, “The last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16). He taught us that our value to God was more important than what anyone else thought about us.
Some of you have seen “The Antique Road Show” on television. Often someone comes who has paid a few dollars for an item at a garage sale asking for an evaluation of its worth. Then comes the look of surprise and shock when they learn the item is worth several thousand dollars. When I see that happen, I think of how God goes about taking people who are not seen as very valuable by the world and placing a very high value on them, because that is the kind of God he is. How do we know that? We know this because we see it in the life of Jesus over and over again. The outcasts of society seemed to be his specialty. The sinful and sick, the poor and weak were the people he pulled out of the trash and transformed into a treasure. If Jesus had not come we would never have known that about God.
And because Christ showed us what God was like, we want to be like him. We have been transformed by his grace and renewed by his love. We extend grace to others because it has been so wonderfully extended to us. We forgive because we have been forgiven. We give because he gave to us. We live because he has given us eternal life. Because Jesus came, we know what God is like — living love.
Secondly, Advent promises new life because it means our sins can be forgiven. Think for a moment of the worst thing you have ever done — the thing that makes your brain burn with shame. And then think of what it would be like if Jesus had not come and you could not be forgiven for your sin. What would that be like? Your guilt would never be relieved, and condemnation would always be hanging over your head. But since Jesus came, forgiveness has come to those of us who have received the grace that Christ came to offer. We know the freedom that forgiveness brings. We can forgive ourselves and others because we have experienced the liberating forgiveness that Jesus Christ came to give us.
But if Jesus had never come, we would have only commandments to follow, and we would never hear the great words of the New Testament: “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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17). We would be missing a Savior. There would be no talk of forgiveness and reconciliation to God, only laws to be obeyed. Grace would not be a word in our vocabulary. We would talk about justice, and people getting what they deserved, rather than finding mercy with God. If Jesus had never come, the woman caught in adultery would never have heard the words: “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).
The Bible says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1). We are children of God because we have been forgiven as an act of the grace Jesus Christ made possible by his atoning death. It is as simple, and as difficult, as humbling ourselves and asking for the forgiveness which he offers. This brings about a transformation in our lives; it is so much more than just forgiveness.. The Bible says, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Christ came to not only cleanse our hearts, but to change our hearts. We are being transformed into his character more and more with each passing day. Because we live with him, we are becoming like him. His Holy Spirit is working in us to produce his image.
All of this is for one grand purpose, which leads to the third and final point — Advent promises a new life in Christ, because: It means we have the hope of heaven. Heaven was made possible by Jesus. As the hymn says, “Christ has opened Paradise, Alleluia!” Think about what the world would feel like if there was no hope of heaven. What would you say at the funeral of a loved one if Jesus had not come? There would be no hope beyond the grave. You could not talk about heaven, or any reason to hope for eternal life with God — only the reality of dissolving into the night. The Bible says, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:19).
If Jesus Christ had not come, there would be no book of Revelation; no hope for a returning Savior who would overcome the world and open heaven for us. There would be no hope of hearing the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21). There would not be any hope of a resurrection — not even the concept of one. There would be no eternal life. Nothing to anticipate, except the closing of the casket lid and the coldness of the grave. But because Jesus came, all that has changed. We live in joyful anticipation of what is yet to come.
In his book Dare to Believe, Dan Baumann illustrates what it is like to know that something is yours even though you have to wait for it. You may even have it in hand, but are not able to enjoy it “out of the box.” He says that when he was young he always did a lot of snooping at Christmas time, trying to find his gift and figure out what was in the wrapped packages which his Mom hid. One year he discovered a large package with his name on it that he knew was a set of golf clubs. One shake of that box revealed the unmistakable sound of clubs. He says, “When Mom wasn’t around, I would go and feel the package, shake it, and pretend that I was on the golf course. The point is, I was already enjoying the pleasures of a future event; namely, the [unwrapping]. It had my name on it. I knew what it was.” It was his, but it would not be handed over to him until Christmas morning. Then he would see with his eyes what before he had only seen with his heart.
Christmas means that Christ has given us the gift of heaven. At this point it is still wrapped. But the package has our name on it. We know what awaits us. It is ours. We would never have received the gift if it were not for Christmas. But we wait longingly for the day when we will enjoy the gift of heaven in all of its unwrapped wonder. As the Bible says, “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13). The day will come when we too will hear the words, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).
We know what God is like because Jesus DID come. We experience forgiveness for our sins and the transformation of our hearts and minds. We have received the promise of heaven and eternal life. What better gifts could we ask for?
And the glorious day will arrive when we will unwrap that gift of Heaven.
Let us Pray:
Almighty God, we prepare ourselves during this season for the wonderful gift You have given us – Your Son, Jesus Christ. There is nothing we can say or do to thank You enough for caring about and for us to make this ultimate sacrifice. Help us from this day forward to walk in Jesus’s footsteps and be as one with Him. Amen