The Candy Cane Gospel
Today the children of the village school came to the Chapel for a performance and some special treats, which included the Candy Cane Gospel:
The Miracle of Christmas
The Virgin Birth is a fundamental belief of the Christian faith. Like the Resurrection, if it is true the Gospel is true and ought to be believed. If it is not true then Christians are to be pitied (1 Cor 15:19).
The Apostle’s Creed summarises the clear New Testament teaching on the Christmas story:
I believe in Jesus Christ, [God’s] only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
“Hail the incarnate deity,” the carol Hark the Herald Angels says; fancy words to say that Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, was born of a virgin and conceived by the Holy Spirit and so both fully God and fully man, yet without sin. The Bible says “he tabernacled” [pitched His tent] or dwelt among us (John 1:14) enfleshing Himself, taking on human form to become one of us (Phil 2), so as to live the perfect life, die the perfect death, rise from the dead and bodily ascend into heaven, all to become the Saviour of those who’d call upon Him in faith for the forgiveness of their sins. The Incarnation was God’s rescue plan.
Most dismiss Jesus as simply a good moral teacher and not God’s Son and a saviour. As only ¼ of Brits believe in the Virgin Birth here are three answers to common objections and also three reasons to seriously consider the incarnation, Common objections include
- It’s unnatural (or biologically impossible)
- Objection: Because the virgin birth cannot occur according to the laws of nature it is impossible.
- Response: This naturalistic view is blind for it discounts that as part of creation there is a spiritual reality and also that Creation is a closed system unable to be interacted with by the Creator who is sovereign to engage with His creation. In fact it is deistic and thinks such a God could not engage with a world and laws He made, rather than seeing God as the personally involved and the sustainer of His creation (see my sermon on miracles in our Jonah series here from October 8, 2017).
- The simplistic view (the NT is simply a primitive religion)
- Objection: Primitive religions may have believed such things but they were naïve.
- Response (from C.S. Lewis): “A moment’s thought shows this to be foolish, with the story of the virgin birth as a particularly striking example. When Joseph discovered that his fiancée was going to have a baby, he not unnaturally decided to repudiate her. Why? Because he knew just as well as any modern gynecologist that in the ordinary course of nature women do not have babies unless they have lain with men.
- “No doubt the modern gynecologist knows several things about birth and begetting which Joseph did not know. But those things do not concern the main point—that a virgin birth is contrary to the course of nature. And Joseph obviously knew that” (Miracles, New York, Macmillan Pub. Co. Inc., p. 48).
- A personal God, come on!
- Objection: What kind of God, if there is a God, would stoop so low as to be born in a manger and die on a cross?
- Response: A personal God and God of love (again see Phil 2). Consider the evidence of the New Testament, the most trustworthy ancient document in the world!
The Virgin Birth is theologically necessary for a number of reasons (not limited to):
- It shows salvation is of God and not of man.
- It produced the full deity and humanity of Christ, necessary for Him to sympathise with us, relate to us, be an example to us of the perfect man, and live the perfect life we could never live. His deity was necessary that God the Son might die to save us (again so salvation would be of God), so Jesus would be the perfect sacrifice to atone for sin.
- It fulfilled Bible prophecies like the one to Abraham (i.e. “seed” or “offspring,” Gen 12), etc.
The Virgin birth is a mystery but a mystery need not be incoherent or illogical, it simply means we cannot know everything about it, but that does not make belief in it unreasonable. If we trust that God has spoken to us through the Bible we must believe in the Virgin Birth. In fact, belief in the Virgin Birth is a sort of test of belief (of orthodoxy), yet not the only one. Ultimately, have you bowed your knee in awe to the God-man Jesus Christ, recognizing Him for who He is, accepting Him as Saviour and submitting to Him as Lord?
We showed the following video, a modern parable on the Incarnation, at one of our Christmas carol services. It helps impress the key points of this blog post:
The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,
 It is not simply modern atheists and liberals who don’t believe in the Virgin Birth, many people throughout history have denied it including the Greeks and the Gnostics.
 In 2008 it was 1/3 and I presume this has dipped since this time.
Christmas Day vs. the Lord’s Day
This is the second Christmas blog post that seeks to cut through nominalism and encourage true worship of the Lord this Christmas season. The first was titled Christmas vs. Jesus.
A number of years ago at a church I was serving at there was a strong human tradition surrounding Remembrance Day (Nov 11). In the community this day was sacred. At the 11th hour everything stopped and a sizable portion of the village assembled at the cenotaph. Having been in the army I thought that this was very commendable. However, it illustrated an interesting point when Remembrance Day fell on the date and the time of our regular Lord’s Day worship of the Lord (which also had a Remembrance Day element such as a moment silence, etc). This rare occasion pitted one [noble] human tradition against the divine command of worship on the Lord’s Day (Rev 1:10; Ex 20:8–11). Sadly this produced an interesting spiritual experiment: would people choose a human tradition or joyful obedience to the Lord’s command?
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Prov 3:5–6).
It saddened my heart because some from our fellowship choose their own way and prioritised a human tradition over faithful obedience to the Lord. In fact one of the roles of the Sabbath command is to reveal our idols for the thing we are most tempted to do on the Lord’s Day (or do in place of worshipping Him) shows where our priorities truly lie (click here to read a blog on this subject).
The same is true of Christmas this year, as Christmas falls on the Lord’s Day. Christmas, a noble event in salvation history that we remember on December 25th (along with things this day has come to mean to people making this the human tradition par excellence) will be pitted against the Lord’s Day, the first day of every week sacred to the Lord. Will people “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”?
In all honesty December 25th, 2016 is a double blessing. We have the joy of not only honouring the Lord’s Sabbath command, not only remembering Christ’s resurrection from the dead and celebrating the new life we have in Him, but also on this rare occurrence of also remembering His incarnation and worshipping Him. After all isn’t Christmas about worshipping Jesus anyway?
But how many will be tempted to skip worship because they think they have too much to do or prepare?
How many will prioritise family, travel or vacation over the Lord?
How many will be lured by using those gift cards and shopping online?
Which day will trump the other? Will we fit Christmas into our Lord’s Day observance, or will the celebration of [a secular?] Christmas squeeze out and overshadow the Lord’s Day?
For Christians in a mixed family environment this can be very tricky. I empathise for those whom December 25 will present a significant moral dilemma between pleasing the Lord or family, but what an opportunity to witness by taking a stand for the Lord and explaining the reason for your position with gentleness and respect. I remember one side of our family always used to have their Christmas lunch on the Lord’s Day before Christmas. Only three families within this wider family were Christian, the rest were either nominally so or not at all and so in their mind no moral dilemma existed. They had no trouble having an early lunch because they didn’t have a greater appointment beforehand. Yet because three families always worshipped the Lord on a Lord’s Day morning that always came into conflict with the timing of this family Christmas meal. Usually the time of the meal was not pushed back to accommodate, though very occasionally it was, which meant that for those who choose worship ahead of family, you got some cold left overs upon your arrival. However, while they had neglected their duty, we had the joy of not neglecting ours.
I hope that this Christmas worshipping the Lord and honouring his day—first and foremost—will come ahead of any planned festivities.
“Let us not neglect to meet together as is the habit of some.” (Heb 10:25)
The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,
Christmas vs. Jesus
This might sound like an odd title, so allow me to explain. While these two things should be near synonymous they have actually come to be in needless opposition to one another. We’ve become confused as to what we are celebrating, Christmas or Jesus. While the contemporary Christmas originated in the celebration of Jesus birth this religious definition has been supplanted by a more secular definition—even Jews, atheists, pagans and Hindus celebrate it—clearly its religious roots have been lost. Indeed, the majority of Brits view Christmas a merely a fun filled cultural festival. It is part of what it means to be British! It is about time off, good food, family, indulgence, Santa and gifts and other sparkling trappings. For some it includes the nativity and taking in some heart-warming carols as part of the wider buffet—squeezing Him in— but for the majority it doesn’t have to. For most though, it would be better if that nagging religious heritage were forgotten altogether (better for the conscience).
Christians have responded with slogans like: Jesus is the reason for the Season! or Keep Christ in Christmas! Many have sought to become anti-commercialistic in an attempt to strip things back. While some have taken notice, most have not. Christ still gets buried in all the secular traditions.
How did we get here? How did we arrive at a place where Jesus has been divorced from a term that bears His name (Christmas)?
Jesus was originally the reason for Christmas. While His birth date is unknown the Church chose December 25 as a date to celebrate a Christ Mass to encourage pagans to worship Jesus instead of their gods and traditions (don’t worry about the Roman Catholic theology here too much, just read “remember Jesus birth” for a short explanation).
Jesus is a perfectly beautiful object of worship, especially when we remember why he came:
She [Mary] will bear a son, and you [Joseph] shall call His name Jesus, for He will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21b
He came to rescue all those who would trust in Him to save them from their sin, which separates them from God. An indescribably great gift!
When we speak of women’s fashion you sometimes hear the word adorn. We often think that adornments serve to make someone more beautiful. Women, devoid of an understanding that they are created in the image of God strive to “adorn” themselves in an attempt to make them more beautiful, when they are already beautiful, bearing the very image of God.
Rather, adornments, serve to draw attention to, to point to, the beauty they already possess. The same is true of Jesus. The earliest traditions added to His celebration (Christmas) were designed not to make Him more wonderful but to point to Him. Things like carols, food, family, lights can all serve this function and they can come to have great joy associated with them because of the greater joy they point us to. If, however, they were robbed from us, we could still have a joyful, worshipful Christmas if our eyes were fixed firmly on Jesus (this is a good test to see what truly is the source of our joy and object of our worship, take away all the extras).
Yet the moment we shift our focus from Jesus to the adornments we’ve committed idolatry—worshipping something other than He who is worthy of our ultimate homage. To help diminish our sense of guilt that we’d rather worship a cheap plastic imitation rather than the real thing we deny that we have a sin problem. We suppress the reason why Jesus came in the first place (that ought to do it). Presto: the birth of the secular Christmas and the snowball of various traditions that accumulate like a snowball rolling downhill. They accumulate both to hide the truth and as a result of our failed attempt to celebrate something meaningless. When our traditions don’t satisfy, we add more. When it doesn’t feel sparkly enough, we add more tinsel. When in desperation we try anything to create that Christmassy feeling and it doesn’t work, we lose all hope.
This year as a chapel we have posted signs that don’t encourage people to celebrate Christmas or even to keep Christ [as an element] in Christmas but to “celebrate Jesus this Christmas.” The reason? People have a choice what to celebrate: Christmas or Jesus.
Christians don’t celebrate Christmas, rather they remember Jesus’ coming and express worship to Him for why He came at a certain time of year and call that time Christmastime. This infuses the period with a worshipful spirit such that whether you have the extras or not, it is a beautiful and meaningful time of year. To celebrate Christmas on the other hand is to worship everything in life that is fleeting and receive the due reward of meaninglessness.
The difference might appear subtle but in actual fact it couldn’t be more important to distinguish between the two.
The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,
It is no real surprise that those churches that believe the Bible is true tend to grow, whereas generally those that don’t are in a state of decline.
Such is a recent finding from a study conducted in my home province from Canada posted in this country through UK Christian Concern (sign up for their helpful newsletters and prayer list too). It is short and well worth a read.
The Bible itself urges us to not wander from the truth revealed to us by God in the Bible:
Jude 3b: “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”
2 John 1:9–10: “everyone who goes ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ does not have God.”
Eph 4:14: do not be “carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”
Prov 3:5–6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.”
C.H. Spurgeon said that, “the coals of orthodoxy [correct belief] are necessary to fan the flames or revival [kingdom growth].”
This is especially important at Christmas. Thankfully at Cromhall Chapel when we talk about:
- Prophecies fulfilled in Christ foretold in ages past,
- Angels and choirs of heaven,
- A young teenager becoming pregnant through the Holy Spirit (the Virgin Birth),
- God becoming man in the person of Jesus (the Incarnation),
- And that He came to save us from our sins (SIN is real), and
- That by believing who Jesus is and why He died you will be transformed into a new person and given eternal life [the ultimate personal testimony to the truth of the Bible’s message, the Gospel]…
…we actually believe what the Bible says!
Happy Christmas—IT IS ALL TRUE!
Looking Forward to Christmas
Christmas is just around the corner—it is almost here! Perhaps you’re looking forward to Christmas? Maybe you’re looking forward and seeing all that you need to do to make this Christmas a success? It could also be that as you look forward to Christmas you’re looking back to attempt to recapture some nostalgic ideal of a Christmas long, long ago?
I’d encourage you to look to Jesus this Christmas and there find a Christmas to look forward to. Millions of people this Christmas will have the worst Christmas imaginable. They’ll think it is going to be great, the presents, the trimmings, the food and the fun, but when it’s past they’ll look back in regret. Something just wasn’t quite right. There always next year…I guess.
Allow me to let you in on a secret. The angels, Joseph and Mary, the shepherds, the wisemen, they all had the perfect Christmas! The key to their success…not Sainsbury’s, nor John Lewis…it was Jesus! They stood in awe of God’s plan in history, they focused on Jesus, they appreciated His coming, they worshipped Him and praised God the Father for sending His Son.
The trimmings are in part meant to recreate the wonder and the joy of that first Christmas. Far too often they crowd Jesus out. Take time this December to worship Jesus and make Him number one on your Christmas list and I’ll guarantee you that you’ll have a Christmas to look forward to, and one to remember.
Where are you Christmas?
Sometimes I wonder, sometimes I struggle, sometimes amidst all of the anti-Christmas forces that seem to grow stronger each year I wonder where Christmas has gone. I feel that it is slipping away. The true meaning of Christmas is challenged on many fronts. Commercialism seeks to usurp Christmas for capitalistic purposes and increasingly moves the Christmas season forward so when it actually comes we cannot wait for it be to over. Militant secularists bombard society with their “uplifting” message of political correctness that makes one feel guilty about even wanting to wish someone a happy Christmas. Secular Christmas narratives of Santa and elves, while cute, lack the substance to preserve the tradition much longer. Other religions seek to advance their agenda by playing upon all this and not even wanting to entertain the English culture and spirit of Christmas. Then there are those who nominally celebrate it, even going to a religious service or two to do God a yearly favour, and by so doing degrade its meaning and relevance for the next generation still further. And finally there are the 40% of the English who do not even know who Jesus is and are becoming oblivious to Christmas altogether. The momentum of this bah humbug spirit can be disconcerting for the Christian.
BUT in the midst of it all, it is my prayer that we will find opportunities to reclaim Christmas, to take a stand for what it is actually about, to resist succumbing to the pressures and temptations that seek to draw our attention away from it. Most of all, however, it is my prayer we will rediscover adoration at Christmas by responding to the miraculous arrival of Immanuel in the same manner as the heavenly host, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the magi. A spirit of worship:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:14).
So as Christmastime nears and we prepare our hearts to welcome our Immanuel I bid us to recall those worshipful words from an old carol:
O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
May the blessing of the simplicity of worshiping and adoring Christ this Christmas be the greatest gift you may receive and may it rise far above all bah humbug spirits for the glory of God!
Have a blessed Christmastime indeed,