Last Sunday during the children’s message, LeAnn Showers encouraged families to think about creating an advent tradition of doing devotions together as a family and lighting the candles of an advent wreath. The Showers family did that last Sunday as they gathered for dinner and when they lit the first candle of the advent wreath, their twin girls, Molly and Megan began to sing. They didn’t sing jingle bells or hark they herald angel’s sing, they started singing…Happy Birthday to you… You see, in their world, when you light candles at the table it’s for a birthday party. Maybe kids understand more than we do about the real purpose of Christmas because Christmas really is a birthday party where we celebrate the birth of Jesus. So having a party where we light candles, have a cake and sing happy birthday to Jesus might be exactly how we should celebrate this season. Maybe that is the family tradition we should think about celebrating.
We do a lot of celebrating in this season. We celebrate at parties and lunches; we celebrate with family, friends and coworkers. We celebrate by eating and drinking and giving gifts. We celebrate by singing songs, decorating trees and houses and sending out cards. We celebrate a lot, but what exactly are we celebrating? While we are celebrating the birth of Jesus, the truth is that we are celebrating so much more than just a birthday. According to the message that the angels gave the shepherds on the night Jesus was born, we are celebrating good news that causes great joy - Luke 2:10.
The birth of Jesus was to be a time of celebration because what was taking place that night was good news and good news needs to be celebrated. But what is this good news? What is it, exactly, that we are celebrating? The first good thing we are celebrating in the birth of Jesus is that God loves us. The reason God sent Jesus into this world is because he loves us and he wants us to know that and he wants us to love him in return. Jesus is the one who tells us this in John 3:16. God loved us so much that he came here in the person of Jesus to forgive us and to save us so that we can have the opportunity to live with God and love him forever.
So it is God’s love that we celebrate in Christmas but there is a lot to celebrate in that love. The first thing we celebrate is that God’s love is unconditional. God doesn’t love us because we are good or because we have lived faithful and obedient lives – not at all. We haven’t done anything to deserve God’s love; in fact, Jesus came into a world that was filled with division, brokenness and failure. The prophet Isaiah said, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Jesus came into a world that was filled with think and deep darkness. There was distrust and injustice. People didn’t care about one another or listen to one another or help one another the way God intended. Families were struggling, relationships were being torn apart, people stopped finding meaning in their faith and the institutions of the church and government were crumbling and letting people down. That was the world Jesus came into. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Things haven’t changed much in 2,000 years. There is still deep darkness we live in today and we struggle to see God let alone live for Him, but the love of God does not dependent upon our faithfulness. The love of God does not depend upon our good works or good thoughts. The love of God doesn’t depend on how well we follow Jesus or how often we pray or how much we read our Bible or how well we treat others, those things are all important, but none of that is why God loves us. God loves us because He just does. We are his children, we have been created in God’s image and so He just loves us.
So we celebrate that God’s love is unconditional and we celebrate that it is unchanging. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing that can do to make God love us less. Look at Romans 8:35, 37-39. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. My failure doesn’t separate me from the love God has for me. My faithfulness doesn’t make God’s love increase and my doubts and failures don’t make God’s love decrease. God’s love is unchanging. It is steady and constant and always there for us and that is what we celebrate in Jesus and in Christmas.
So God’s love is unconditional and unchanging, but it is also personal and universal. Let’s look again at the message of the angels. I bring YOU good news of great joy that will be for all the people. I bring YOU good news. This good news is for you. This love of God that is unconditional and unchanging is for you. God’s love is personal. God loves you. God loves me. God’s love isn’t just for someone else, it is for us and we need to celebrate that.
Sometimes it’s easy to believe that God loves the person next to you (well, maybe that’s easy to believe) but I want us to hear something else this morning. I want us to hear that God’s love is for us – personally. I want you to do something for me, I want everyone to just say their name out loud. On the count of three… Great, now I want you to say your name, but then add on these 3 words: God loves you. On the count of three… Did you hear that? God really does love you. Say that to yourself this week. Tell yourself every day that God loves you.
Celebrate that reality, but don’t let the celebration end there. Find one other person this week that you can share this message with. Write them a note. Send a card in the mail. Write down their name and tell them that God loves them. Send them a postcard invitation to worship with us on Christmas Eve with the message, God loves you and He wants to celebrate His birthday with you. Celebrate that God’s love is personal and for each and everyone one of us and then remember that it is universal.
The angels said, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for ALL the people., not a few, not just the people of Israel, but for all the people. John 3:16 said, God so loved the world that he gave his son. God’s love is universal which means God loves your neighbor, your coworker, your crazy uncle, that person who cuts you off in traffic, steals your parking space at the mall or drives you crazy with all their holiday shopping, planning and decorating. God loves those we disagree with socially, economically and politically. God even loves those that we think are way outside the bounds of God’s love.
Someone in our lifetime who showed us this truth was Nelson Mandela. After serving 27 years of a lifetime sentence in a South African prison, Nelson Mandela was released in 1990 and instead of lashing out against those who put him in prison and deepening the racial divide and hatred of his country, he loved them and worked with F.W. de Klerk, the president of the opposition party, to bring an end to the racial divide of South Africa. He helped show us that God’s love is universal.
More than ever this truth needs to be lift up and celebrate today. There is too much division and strife between people locally, nationally and globally. We make those we disagree with into our enemies and question their integrity and value. In time, these divisions cause us to question whether or not God can really love these people which means we are questioning the purpose of Christmas which is that we celebrate the good news that God’s love is universal, for all the people.
What would our family, community and world look like if we really saw people as deeply loved and cared for by God? What would our lives look like if we shared this message with people who we disagree with and consider our enemy? Can we celebrate God’s love this week by sharing with someone we may completely disagree with that God loves them? Maybe that note softens their heart so they can experience God’s love more. Maybe reaching out that way just softens our heart so we can experience and celebrate God’s love more.
So we celebrate God’s love for us in the birth of Jesus, but that is not all we celebrate, we also celebrate God’s presence with us. In Jesus, God is with us. We believe that Jesus is God in the flesh. We don’t know how it happened. We don’t know the physiological dimensions of it all and we never will, but we believe that God came to be with us in the flesh and blood of a man named Jesus and we call this the incarnation. What this means is that God walked on this planet and knew what it was like to be hungry and alone as well as satisfied and surrounded by loved ones. God knows what it’s like to be disappointed and let down as well as to be inspired and lifted up. God knows what we are going through and he feels our pain and our joy. While politicians often say this – God means it because he came in the person of Jesus to be with us.
God not only knows what we are going through but he has promised to go through all things with us. God said, do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
No matter what we are going through – God is with us. A friend reminded me this week that God likes to hang out with us right in the middle of our mess. So if you are feeling like a river is sweeping over you in this busyness of this season or like a fire is sucking the oxygen and the joy and passion from your life, understand that God is with you. He is right by our side and his love and strength is here to help us through. God is with us but we have to be awake and alert and aware enough see this, which is why time of reflection is part of the purpose of Christmas.
So Christmas is to be a time where we celebrate God’s love for us and God’s presence with us, but God is not just with us, God is for us. Too often when we think of God being with us we think he is there to scold us and remind us that we have failed and made a mess of things, but that is not God. God is not against us, God is for us. God celebrates us and cheers us on. Have you ever cheered for your child or friend in some kind of a game or event? Maybe it was watching them in a musical or concert; maybe it was watching them on the pitcher’s mound or the soccer field. What did that experience of being a cheerleader feel like? Sometimes we are nervous because we want them to do well. Sometimes our hearts break because they didn’t do as well as they wanted. Sometimes we just shout and cheer because they passed their own expectations as well as everyone else’s.
Being for someone is full of emotion and love and passion and that is how God feels when he thinks of us. I think God is excited for us when we step out in faith wanting to do our best. I think He cries with us when our plans don’t work out very well and I think God whoops and hollers when we do well. In fact, the bible tells us that God whoops and hollers, look at Zephaniah 3:17.
He will exalt over you with loud whoops and hollers. Ok it doesn’t say that, but for some people loud singing sounds like whoops and hollers – right? The singer and songwriter Dennis Jernigan rewrote this passage of Zephaniah this way; God cannot contain himself at the thought of you. With the greatest of joy he spins around wildly in anticipation over you and has placed you above all other creations and given you the highest place in His priories. In fact he shouts and sings in triumph, joyfully proclaiming the gladness of his heart in a song of rejoicing, all because of you. My favorite image here is where he says God spins around wildly in anticipation over us. It makes me think of the pure joy a dog has when a member of the family comes home and their little bodies just can’t contain the joy. That’s what we have in God – someone who can’t contain himself at the thought of us and cheers us on at all times and in all places because he is for us. That is something to celebrate.
The purpose of Christmas was to share with the world the message that God loves us and God is with us and God is for us – each and every one of us and each and every person in this world. I don’t know about you, but when I think about this, when I really grab hold of what this means for me and for our world, I want to celebrate.
The Purpose of Christmas ~ A Time to Celebrate
1. Celebrate God’s love being unconditional and unchanging by reflecting on the following Scriptures:
• Psalm 136:23-26
• Isaiah 43:4-5, 49:15-18, 54:10
• Jeremiah 31:3
• Luke 15:3-32
• Romans 8:31-39
• Ephesians 3:14-21
• 1 John 4:16-21
2. Celebrate God’s love being personal by beginning each day with this phrase: ________________(your name here), God loves you!
3. Celebrate God’s love being universal by sending a card to someone that needs to know God loves them. Consider sharing this message with someone you might completely disagree with but needs to hear this message.
4. Celebrate that God is with you by taking time to reflect on God’s presence in the midst of the busyness, chaos and “mess” of this season.
5. Celebrate that God is for you and cheering you on by choosing one person you can be for and cheer on this week. (As we stand with and for others we will sense God’s presence with and for us.)
6. Plan a Birthday Party for Jesus and include family, friends, coworkers, neighbors and those who are alone and forgotten. Make it a real CELEBRATION!