How was your Christmas? I hope it was enjoyable, fulfilling and even uncomplicated. I know that may sound strange, but Christmas can be complicated.
Just think of the things that complicate Christmas, like the decorations. Are we putting up lights or not? If we are putting up lights, how many and on what trees or roof lines are we going to place them? Of course once the determination is made on "if" and "how many," then it is a matter of getting the whole family to cooperate in carrying out the decorating logistics.
Christmas time. When you are giving a gift the gold standard is to utterly surprise the one receiving, and yet at the same time give them exactly what they want. If you try to live up to that standard, you might go crazy.
Lots of others things can complicate Christmas, like strange traditions you marry into, Christmas trees that don't stand up straight, tricky schedules when divorces and remarriages have occurred, and many more. I recently heard it said even churches sometimes complicate Christmas by not communicating clearly its simple message.
My goal today is to uncomplicate Christmas. Now I can't uncomplicate your shopping returns or the issues that came up at your Christmas gatherings. But I want to uncomplicate the message of Christmas.
In Luke 2:8-11 we read, "And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord." The angelic pronouncement is the simple message of Christmas, good news that will be great joy for all of the people.
The angel says, "I bring you good news. I am here to give you information that is helpful and good for you. This news is something you are going to like." Christmas is good news!
What is good news for us today? Many times it is what we are not going to have to do. To a group of high school students, a snow day is good news. The other day I forgot to put money in the meter and when I came back to my car there was a ticket that turned out to be a gentle reminder. That is good news. To find out the cancer is gone and radiation is no longer necessary is good news. What the angel brings is 100 percent good news. Why is it good news?
The famous verse John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whosoever believed in him would not perish but have eternal life." John in his gospel grabs the essence of the good news that the angel was speaking of and reports it in a memorable way.
The message of Christmas is good news because:
1. God loved and he gave. God so loved the world that he decided to do what in love people do — he gave. Now this was not easy to swallow in the culture in which it was written. For the Romans and the Greeks, the gods did not love people. It has been said, "the gods played and the people paid." While the gods of the Romans and Greeks were capricious and self-centered, John is presenting that the Almighty God loves and his love is demonstrated by something good. God the Father gave what was valuable to him — his one and only son — and God's son Jesus gave what was valuable to him, his life.
2. You and I are invited into God's story. "Whosoever believes in him" represents the idea that with God there is no distinction of who can believe, young or old, rich or poor, down trodden, or well-off. This nuance does not come out in English but in the original Greek language we learn that this belief is not shallow, but belief "into." It is the idea of when sitting on a stool you must lean into it, you must trust in it in order to receive the benefits.
3. The result of trusting is, "not perishing but eternal life." When something perishes it "stops going." The promise here is that the one who believes "into" Jesus will not stop going but will experience eternal life. John 17:3 says, "Now this is the eternal life that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." Eternal life is about an ongoing relationship with the God of the universe.
Imagine what would happen if you decided to "believe into" the good news of Jesus. It would uncomplicate Christmas and maybe much more.
Norm Byers is the lead pastor of Genesis Church. Genesis meets at 9:30 a.m. at North Central Michigan College in Petoskey and 11 a.m. at Boyne City Elementary. Visit www.genesiswired.com for more information, or comment on Twitter @NormByers.
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