What does Christmas Mean?

The author AW Tozer once wrote a powerful article about the meaning of Christmas. Though it was written several decades ago, the words have more impact for today than ever before. Christmas is not about the celebrations, the materialism, the gifts, or even the family time. It is about a Savior! As we approach Christmas Day, may our hearts and minds be fixed upon the truth of God’s Word.

Throughout the Western world we tend to approach Christmas emotionally instead of factually. It is the romance of Christmas that gives it its extraordinary appeal to that relatively small number of persons of the earths population who regularly celebrate it.

So completely are we carried away by the excitement of this midwinter festival that we are apt to forget that its romantic appeal is the least significant thing about it. The theology of Christmas too easily gets lost under the gay wrappings, yet apart from its theological meaning it really has none at all. A half dozen doctrinally sound carols serve to keep alive the great deep truth of the Incarnation, but aside from these, popular Christmas music is void of any real lasting truth. The English mouse that was not even stirring, the German Tannenbaum so fair and lovely and the American red-nosed reindeer that has nothing to recommend it have pretty well taken over in Christmas poetry and song. These along with merry old St. Nicholas have about displaced Christian theology.

We must not forget that the Church is the custodian of a truth so grave and urgent that its importance can not be overemphasized, and so vast and incomprehensible that even an apostle did not try to explain it; rather it burst forth from him as an astonished exclamation:

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. – 1 Timothy 3:16 ESV

This is what the Church is trying to say to mankind but her voice these days is thin and weak and scarcely heard amid the commercialized clangor of Silent Night.

It does seem strange that so many persons become excited about Christmas and so few stop to inquire into its meaning; but I suppose this odd phenomenon is quite in harmony with our unfortunate human habit of magnifying trivialities and ignoring matters of greatest import. The same man who will check his tires and consult his road map with utmost care before starting on a journey may travel for a lifetime on the way that knows no return and never once pause to ask whether or not he is headed in the right direction.

The Christmas message, when stripped of its pagan overtones, is relatively simple: God is come to earth in the form of man. Around this one dogma the whole question of meaning revolves. God did come or He did not; He is come or He is not, and the vast accumulation of sentimental notions and romantic practices that go to make up our modern Christmas cannot give evidence on one side or the other.

Christ’s coming to Bethlehem’s manger was in harmony with the primary fact of His secret presence in the world in preincarnate times as the Light that lighteth every man. The sum of the New Testament teaching about this is that Christ’s claims are self-validating and will be rejected only by those who love evil. Whenever Christ is preached in the power of the Spirit, a judgment seat is erected and each hearer stands to be judged by his response to the message. His moral responsibility is not to a lesson in religious history but to the divine Person who now confronts him.

Christmas either means more than is popularly supposed or it means nothing.

We had better decide.

The Evils of Division (part 1)

Over the past several posts, I’ve been giving an overview of Jeremiah Burroughs’ book, Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions. Though written in the 17th century, Burroughs’ could easily be addressing the Church today.  The divisions we face have the same causes, and bring the same pain and destruction to our hearts, and to the ministry of the Church, as it did so long ago.  Burroughs thoroughly explores those thoughts, words, and deeds that cause division, then explores the consequences of those divisions, finally turning to the healing cure in the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

We come today to Burroughs chapter on the Evils of Division, which he takes in two sections, 1) The goods they hinder, and 2) The sin they cause.  Today I’ll give a brief overview of the first part, and review the second next week.

The Good Our Divisions Hinder

Each of us has experienced a falling out in the family; whether your immediate family, or the family of faith.  Sin divides – the sins of others, and the sins of our own hearts.  We put our desires, our pride, our pain, before one another, and a chasm is created that pulls at the fabric of our union.

We know the pain of division, but have we ever stopped to consider just how our divisions really affect us?  Here Burroughs lists seven things that our sinful divisions hinder:

  1. The Quiet, Comfort, and Sweetness of our Spirits – “When the bee stings, she leaves her sting behind her, and never gathers honey any more. Men by stinging one another, do not lose their stings, but they lose their honey; they are never likely to have that sweetness in their hearts.” You know the experience, one argument with your spouse, one heated word with a coworker, and you are set on edge for the rest of the day.  I’m reminded of the old saying, “Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.” When we engage in contentions, it is inevitable that we will come way unscathed in spirit.
  2. They Hinder the Freedom of a Man’s Spirit – Contention is a great snare to a man: he wishes he had never meddled with it; he is weary of it: but knows not how to come off fairly.
  3. They Hinder the Sweetness of Christian Communion – Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote: “It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren” (Life Together). This sweet communion, this gift from God, quickly become tedious and soured by our divisions and fighting.  What was meant to be a source of joy and blessing has become jarring, embittered, and troubled.
  4. They Hinder our Time – When men are engaged in contentions, they will follow them night and day: whatever business be neglected, to be sure that must not.  Those times when we were to be in prayer to God, we spend trolling on social media, fuming and raging in gossip, plotting in our own thoughts.  So much of our time is wasted on our quarrels; time otherwise spent in building up one another and glorifying God.
  5. They Hinder our Prayers – Matthew 18:19 teaches, “if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” 1 Peter 3:7 also teaches, “husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”  Burroughs writes, “Private contentions in families are great hinderances of family prayer: so our public divisions and contentions are the great hindrances of the prayers of Christians in a more public way.”
  6. They Hinder the Use of our Gifts – “Many men have excellent gifts, but they are in such sour, vinegar spirits, that they are of little or no use in church and commonwealth.” In time of division, we we use the gifts God has given at all, it is only to advance our own side of the argument or to serve ourselves.  This is not why God has gifted the Church, and we become useless to ourselves and to others because of it.
  7. They Hinder our Graces – The reason the Church comes across as cold, dead, empty, barren is this: we are not united to one another. “If you untwist a cable, how weak is it in the several parts of it! A threefold cord is not easily broken; but a single one is.” What we need today are holy, humble, gracious souls – whose whole lives were “nothing but a continual exercise of self-denial; who were not only patient, but joyful, under afflictions.”  Instead, we quickly draw lines in the sand, choose sides, and bunker in for the fight with other Christians, and the beauty and glory of our faith are tarnished.

These are the goods that are hindered by our evil divisions.  We see these in our homes, our churches, our denominations, everywhere.  What goods we’ve lost in our divisions!

May we recognize how our divisions are hindering the work of the Church, repent and be healed, that Christ’s grace may be seen working in and through us.

SDG