Monday, December 12, 2016

Someone Greater is Here

An icon of Christmas in America is the holiday movie or TV special. And so many of them, both old and new, have a similar theme: The true meaning of Christmas. 

Take The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (the Jim Carey version) for example. Cindy Lou Who asks the Grinch (who is disguised as Santa), "What's Christmas really about?
"Vengeance!" The fake Santa blurted out without thinking. Then he caught himself and said, "I mean, presents, I suppose."
"I was afraid of that." Cindy Lou Who said sadly.

But of course, the "real meaning" of Christmas was finally discovered by the Grinch and all the residents of Whoville: Christmas is about being together! Here's how the original cartoon ends:

"Christmas Day is in our grasp,
    so long as we have hands to clasp.
Christmas Day will always be
    just as long as we have we.
Welcome Christmas while we stand,
    heart to heart, and hand in hand.."

Think of the favorite Christmas shows that answer the question: 
In the classic Christmas movie, It’s A Wonderful Life,
(that everyone should see, by the way) it's all about
how blessed we are to have friends.
In A Christmas Carol, it's all about having compassion 
and giving to others. You don't want to be a Scrooge!
In Elf it's about Christmas spirit (because that's what 
makes Santa's sleigh fly)!
In Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, it's that everyone is 
special, even misfits!
In many (like A Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, and Home
Alone) Christmas is all about family. 
These are all good things, right? Of course. But a good answer isn't always the right one. Truth is, they’re all asking the right question, but they’re providing the wrong answers. That’s because they totally miss Jesus. 

I must say, there is one shining exception. It’s perhaps the most famous Christmas special: A Charlie Brown Christmas. You know the story: After Charlie Brown experiences aspects which don’t sit right with him about Christmas, he becomes more frustrated about the whole holiday itself. The climax of course is this: After everyone laughs at Charlie Brown for picking a terrible tree and as the obvious failure of his directorship of the play reveals itself, he has a meltdown, and in frustration shouts climactically, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” That’s when Linus, the security-blanket-carrying philosopher walks into the spotlight and quotes Luke 2:8-14 and then walks over and says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” 

Linus got it right. Bottom line: if you miss Jesus, you miss Christmas

Here’s the tragedy: 
if you miss Jesus, you don’t just miss Christmas. 
You miss life. 
You miss God. 
You miss everything.

Luke 11:29-32 is not a Christmas passage. But it is in this sense: it's about people who miss Jesus. 

29When the crowds were increasing, [Jesus] began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign..." 

Evidently all these people rushed to see Jesus because they wanted to see him do something amazing. "Sign" means miracle. They wanted to be able to tweet that they saw him do something paranormal…Facebook that they were there…take a selfie so that they could brag. They wanted an emotional... maybe even a spiritual experience. Hearing about him wasn’t good enough. Hearing him speak wasn’t either. They wanted to see something big. Jesus said this was evil! Why? Because their thirst for entertainment would never be quenched—it was from selfish motives. Others sat in judgment wanting to see if his miracles “passed the test” worthy of a prophet, much more a messiah

Let me ask you: are you seeking some sign? Are you wanting God to perform for you? Is he failing to meet your standard or pass your test?

Jesus continues, "...but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation."

What does that mean, "the sign of Jonah"? You remember Jonah, right? The guy who was swallowed by a fish for 3 days and lived to tell about it. 

In Matthew 12, Jesus says something similar:

38Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 

That’s what Jesus meant: “Do you want a miracle? I got your miracle. I’m going to die and be buried for 3 days. Then I’m going to rise.” That’s really the greatest of all miracles. Others you might fake. Death, burial, and resurrection—quite tougher.

Back to Luke 11. Jesus continues:

"31The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 

What’s he saying? He’s referencing 1Kings 10 & 2 Chronicles 9 when a well-known and wealthy Queen from today’s Yemen or Ethiopia came to see King Solomon for herself because she had heard about his wealth & wisdom. She recognized that what she’d heard was true! Then she confessed God and proclaimed him blessed! Jesus is saying, while she was able to recognize greatness, those in his day couldn't see it even when it was as clear as the nose on their faces!

"32The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here."

Remember a little more about Jonah? He was the reluctant prophet during a time when Israel was threatened by Assyria (capital: Nineveh). He resented that God wanted him to go there because he hated Nineveh—so much so that he ran from God rather than prophesy to them. Nineveh was east, so he fled west, got on a boat and headed toward Spain across the Mediterranean! So God sent a violent storm. After all efforts were made to spare the ship, the sailors beckoned the passengers to pray to their gods. Jonah confessed his sin and suggested they throw him overboard. They reluctantly did, and the storm Jonah sank to the bottom. But God sent a fish to swallow him. After three days inside it, God now had his attention. He was spit up on the beach and this time he went to Nineveh. I’m sure he was quite a sight—perhaps the first bleach-blonde middle-easterner ever seen—when he preached, “Repent!” Then he found a place outside the city to watch God burn the sinful city. But much to his chagrin, all the men of Nineveh, including it's king, repented. It was an amazing revival of an unlikely city! They knew nothing of God or the Bible. 

Jesus points them out and said that God will raise them up one day and that they will stand in judgment of those who DO know better. 

The imagery here is powerful. Jesus reminds us that there is a judgment day coming. God will be on the throne, and call forth witnesses. The Queen of the south and the Ninevites will shout: “Guilty! We outsiders believed! You insiders did not!

And here we are in America. A nation founded by Bible-believing people, many who were deeply committed Christians. Here in the south, there are churches on every corner and Bibles in every home. What's more? Our single greatest national holiday is Christmas—nothing else comes close. WE, OF ALL PEOPLE MUST RECOGNIZE THAT SOMEONE GREATER THAN ANYONE ELSE HAS COME. Amazingly, the God of the universe came to us—as a baby. That’s it. The GOD-MAN has come!

Bottom line: This Christmas if we forget that it is first and foremost a celebration of God becoming flesh and entering the world he created that we marred by our rebellion and sin—in order that he might save us and bring us to himself, then we have missed EVERYTHING about Christmas. Everything. We have rendered our celebrations and traditions vacuous and even harmful. We, with those who missed him in Jesus' own generation will also be condemned by the queen of the South and the men of Nineveh for our great blindness and error. 

Do not miss Christmas! Do not miss what this is really all about! Not family & friends, not peace, not giving to others, not good will to men—as good as those things are! Christmas is about God enacting his rescue plan in the most amazing, unexpected way. Coming to us as a baby. So that even the least among us might be saved by grace through faith.

Don’t miss Jesus. Receive him. Confess Christ. Repent and turn to him. Do not be that one on judgement day who is condemned. Christ came for you, died in your place, and raised just as he said he would so that you might believe. IF you believe, you will not only see Christmas with new eyes and find infinitely more fulness in it, you will see life with new eyes. And you will have God. Forever.

Don’t let others miss him. Christian, tell about him this season when you get opportunities. Look for opportunities. You WILL have opportunities. Here are some ideas:
  • When your unbelieving co-workers miss Christmas, don’t scornfully demand that everyone “keep Christ in Christmas,” SHOW them Christmas! Show them Christ and a Christ-centered, Christ-like Christian. Serve them! Love them. 
  • When people’s patience wears thin in line at the store, be different. Show love & smile & overcome evil with good. Complement the shell-shocked lady at the customer-service desk. Tip your waitress well. Be different with contagious JOY & goodness. Maybe they’ll ask why, and you can say: “Because the REAL meaning of Christmas has changed my life.”
  • When you gather with your crazy family, BE THE ONE who reminds everyone what Christmas is all about. Be a Linus.
  • Look for ways to share Christ’s love SECRETLY. As a family, do Secret Santa with a purpose, or secretly give someone in need a gift from God.
  • Do something uncomfortable and unexpected. Invite an outsider. Perhaps an  international person for a holiday meal. Trust me, they’re curious. They’ll love hearing the Christmas story with your family. Include a single person or a new couple in town in your family celebration. Ask God to show you someone to include.
  • Of course, include someone in our church family on Christmas Eve. People are especially open to church on Christmas. Then have a worship service at home with your family and guests on Christmas Day.
These might help you and your family not only REMEMBER what Christmas is about, but TELL others in a powerful way.

No comments: