Christmas - Week 1
I want to start a series this week on what the Bible tells us about Christmas. This series will include many points taken from a book titled “Hidden Christmas” written by Timothy Keller. This may seem early for starting to talk about Christmas but in reality, the next eight weeks, representing the eight chapters of the book, will take us through December 24th, the last Friday before Christmas. This week’s note contains some highlights from chapter one of the book titled “A Light Has Dawned” mixed with a few of my own thoughts.
When most in the church think about Christmas, they think about a baby being born in Bethlehem. They think of shepherds on the hill and angels in the sky. The story of Christmas though starts before that. The story really starts in the Old Testament. We need to grasp and understand the points mentioned there to better help us know what Christmas is really all about. Let’s look at a passage from Isaiah, chapter 9, verses 2 and 5-7.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
One of the first indications of the Christmas season to most of us is the appearance of lights. Lights on houses, in yards, on trees, in stores, on building roof edges, and on street lamps. My dad was a lineman for Alabama Power and when I was a child in the weeks leading up to Christmas in the 1960’s he was one of those that put up the Christmas lights on the streets in our hometown. He would come home and tell us the lights were now up and we would go to town that night to see them. It was an exciting time. Christmas is a season of lights all over the world but do we really grasp the meaning behind that? Christmas contains many spiritual truths but it will be hard to grasp the others unless we grasp this one first. Here prophesied by Isaiah we see that a people walking in a land of deep darkness have now seen a great light. This is a light that has come unto them and upon them. It is not a light they worked up on their own or reasoned from their own wisdom or even one they went seeking diligently to find. A light is coming to them, this people who live in a great darkness. Matthew 4:16 makes reference to our focus passage. John 1:9 further tells us “The true light that gives sight to everyone was coming into the world”.
To better understand the context of what Isaiah is telling us in chapter 9, you need to look at chapter 8. In verses 19-22 of that chapter we see a people consulting mediums and magicians instead of God. It says that if anyone does not consult God’s instruction and speak according to His word then they have no light. They are distressed, (sound familiar with today), and hungry, they roam throughout the land. They look toward the earth, this world that many now say is doomed by climate change, and see only distress and darkness and a fearful gloom. It is into this earthly condition that God sends His one and only begotten Son as referenced in the key passage in chapter 9. In fact, during the four hundred years before the birth of Christ, God had not sent a single prophet to His people. It was a truly dark time. Into this dark time comes “The Light”.
Darkness is defined by some as the absence of light. It refers to two things in our passage for then and today. First it means that the world is filled with evil and untold suffering. What Isaiah described seems very similar to what we see today. Second, darkness refers to ignorance. Ignorance means that no one knows enough to cure the evil and suffering. People are looking toward the earth, in other words to human resources, to try and fix the world. They call upon all of their experts and scholars and even mystics for solutions. In our day people look to the government, the business side of things such as the stock market, or to technology. All of these share the same theme. They indicate we believe we can end the darkness with intellect and innovation. They indicate we are the ones in charge and we do not need God.
The first president of the Czech Republic, V’aclav Havel, had a unique vantage point from which to peer deeply into socialism and capitalism. He was not optimistic that either would by itself solve the greatest human problems. He knew that science unguided by moral principles had given us the Holocaust. He concluded that neither technology nor the state nor the market alone could save us from nuclear conflict, ethnic violence, or environmental degradation. He said “Pursuit of the good life will not help humanity save itself nor is democracy alone enough. A turning to and seeking of God is needed”. The human race constantly forgets that “we are not God”. Havel knew that humanity could not save itself. In fact he argued that the belief that we can save ourselves, that some political system or ideology can fix human problems, has only led to more darkness. People looked to themselves for the answer in Isaiah’s time and they still do it today. As Solomon told us in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “there is nothing new under the sun.”
Christmas is the most unsentimental, realistic way of looking at life. It does not say, “Cheer up! If we all pull together we can make the world a better place”. True Christianity does not agree with the optimistic thinkers who say “we can fix things if we try hard enough”. True Christianity also does not agree with the pessimists who only see an unpleasant, bad, totalitarian or environmentally degraded world. The message of Christianity is, instead, “Things really are this bad, and we can’t heal or save ourselves. Things really are this dark – nevertheless – there is hope”. The Christmas message is that “on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned”. Notice that it does not say from the world a light has sprung. Isaiah says upon the world a light has dawned. It has come from the outside. There is light outside of this world, and Jesus has brought that light to save us; indeed, He is the Light as John 8:12 tells us.
How can a child bring this light to us or as Isaiah literally says – flash upon us? This child can do it because He is “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace”. All four of these titles belong elsewhere in the Word only to God Himself yet Isaiah applies them to a child. Several points can be made from this.
First of all, if Jesus Christ is really Mighty God and Everlasting Father, you can’t just like Him. In the Bible, the people who actually saw and heard Jesus never reacted indifferently or mildly. Once they realized what He was claiming about Himself, either they were scared of Him or furious with Him or, they knelt down before Him and worshiped Him. Nobody simply “liked” Him.
Second, if Jesus is Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace, you should want to serve Him. Why is He called a counselor? When you are going through something very difficult, it is good to talk to someone who has walked the same path, who knows personally what you have been going through. If God has really been born in a manger, then we have something that no other religion even claims to have. It is a God who truly understands you, from the inside of your experience. There is no other religion that says God has suffered, that God had to be courageous, that He knows what it is like to be abandoned by friends, to be crushed by injustice, to be tortured and die. Christmas shows He knows what you are going through. When you talk to Him, He understands. It is the reason Hebrews 12:2 tells us to “Look unto Jesus”.
This child had the infinite highness of being the Mighty God, yet He became one of us, enmeshed in our condition, in order to know our darkness. He saved us by going to the cross, and He did it all voluntarily, freely, out of sheer love. As Wonderful Counselor He walks with us even into and through the shadow of death (Matthew 4:16), where no other companion can go. He is a light for us when all other lights go out.
Another key point hidden in our passage is that it does not just say, “for unto us a child is born”. It also says, “unto us a son is given”. This Son is a gift. This Son can be yours only if you are willing to receive Him as a gift of grace. Verse 5 hints at this too. This verse speaks of a great battle saying, “every warriors boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire”. This imagery means that a great victory over evil will not require our strength. We won’t need a warrior’s shoes. We won’t need a sword or armor. Melt them all down. Burn them up. Someone else will do your fighting for you. Isaiah tells us more about that later in his book.
Christmas means that we are so lost, so unable to save ourselves, that nothing less than the death of the Son of God Himself could save us! Think about that statement for a minute. To accept the true Christmas gift, you have to admit that you are a sinner. You have to be saved by grace alone. All of your own personal efforts, your “trying harder” will not save you. Only Jesus Christ, the gift that we celebrate year round but especially at Christmas, can rescue you.
When Jesus died on the cross, darkness fell over the land as recorded in Matthew 27:45. This is an amazing point in itself to consider why darkness fell for three hours while Christ died. The Light of the world descended into darkness in order to bring us into God’s beautiful light (1 Peter 2:9). The promises of Christmas cannot be discerned unless you first admit you cannot save yourself or even know yourself without the light of His unmerited grace in your life. This is the foundational truth from which we can proceed to learn the hidden meanings of Christmas. A Light has dawned and this Light has come to us, His children!
Next week – “The Mothers of Jesus”.