There’s Something About Christmas

There’s something about Christmas. At Christmas, even a motorcycle nut like myself longs for snow. That’s rare! We enjoy the same songs, again and again, year after year. Even artists you would never associate with Christianity enjoy putting their hearts and souls into faithful renditions of specifically Christian Christmas Carols. And many, many, people, whether they attend a Christian church or not, enjoy hearing them. There’s something about Christmas. There’s something about the Christmas story that captures the imagination. What is it?

There’s also something about Jesus. There are many things about Jesus that most people could agree on whether they are Christians or not. Though some would appeal to coincidence, most people can recognize that Jesus fits well with Old Testament prophecies. Most would agree that the teaching of Jesus astounded and still astounds today. Most historians agree that Jesus existed, that his birth was unusual, that he died by crucifixion and that his followers claimed to have seen him alive and went about saying such at great risk to their own lives. Most people, whether Christian or not, with enough background reading would recognize the positive impact of Jesus on the world, and upon individual lives throughout the world. There’s something about Jesus that everyone can recognize.

Then of course there’s something about Jesus that we who are Christians don’t just accept, but celebrate. His birth was not just unusual, it was unique, a virgin birth, the incarnation of God Himself: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 (NRSV) The birth is just the beginning of what is unique about Jesus. His death and resurrection was unique in accomplishing a rescue of great significance, a display of God’s forgiveness, grace, and offer of eternal life.

There’s something about Christmas and there’s something about Jesus. At Christmas we love to go back to the beginning of the Gospel accounts of Jesus and read the story about his birth. It is a story that impacts the imagination. So, knowing there’s something about Christmas, let us go to the beginning of the Gospel of Luke:

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.  Luke 1:1-4 (NRSV)

It would seem that Luke does not actually begin with the Christmas story. Luke’s intent was not to share a story that strikes the imagination. His intent was to tell the truth. There’s something about Christmas. That something is that it is true.

Sandra, the boys and I wish you a Merry Christmas!

Christmas. It’s Time (Puppet Remix)

Continuing my tradition of posting the sermon-related puppet skits my boys have been helping me with on each Sunday of Advent. Feel free to adapt to your own situation if they can be of any use. The three previous skits in this series are available here,  here, and here.

OPENING VIDEO  (or another puppet)

Farley: Welcome to “Dangerously Close to Furry Farley’s Ferocious Frenemies,” The real life reality tv show that features real clips of me, Furry Farley, really getting dangerously close to some really ferocious animals, which are really real. It is dangerous work, but I really want you to get dangerously close with me. These animals may look all cute and furry. But they are really dangerous.

(Music and video to look like a tv show intro.)

(Music fades – shots of a wolf and a sheep.)

For three weeks now we have been tracking a Coyote tracking a sheep. The coyote still has not struck his prey. You’d think he was waiting for Christmas. Let’s get dangerously close and see what happens . . .

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Sheep: You are still around Coyote?

Coyote: You are still alive Sheep? I thought you may have been eaten by that lion that was prowling around last week.

Sheep: No, but is today the day you finally eat me?

Coyote: Nope, I’m saving room for the Calvary Church Family Christmas Dinner immediately following the service today. I’ve been waiting all year for Christmas to come. It always seems so far away.

Sheep: Cheer up, you get to celebrate Christmas every year, but those who were waiting for the first ever Christmas had to wait a long, long time.

Coyote: Oh really? How so?

Sheep: Well, as we have said before, there were hints that Christmas was coming going right back to Adam and Eve. And then over hundreds of years, God gave his people more than hints, he gave them promises through the prophets. He gave His people hope.

Coyote: Like the smell of turkey in the air right now is giving me hope that a really good dinner is coming soon?

Sheep: Yep, but in addition to having hope, God’s people had to have patience.

Coyote: Like the people of Calvary Baptist will need to have patience during Pastor Clarke’s sermon with the smell of turkey dinner in the air?

Sheep: Something like that. But all that patience paid off when the time came for God to fulfill his promises.

Coyote: And a baby was born!

Sheep: Yes, but before the baby was born, something else had to happen first.

Coyote: What was that?

Sheep: The angels had to tell Mary and Joseph.

Coyote: I bet they were shocked by the angels and the news. But no where near as shocked had the baby come without the angels and the news!

Sheep: It sure was a shock, and something else had to happen also.

Coyote: What was that?

Sheep: Mary and Joseph had to be willing to be used by God. Joseph especially was reluctant at first, but the angel helped him figure it out.

Coyote: It is a good thing Mary and Joseph made the right decision, or there would be no Christmas, and we would have no turkey dinner today.

Sheep: God being God, He knew he could count on Mary and Joseph. The question is, can he count on you? Mary and Joseph had important decisions to make, but so do each one of us. God made Christmas happen as a matter of fact, but only you can decide to make Christmas happen as a matter of your heart.

Coyote: So the Christmas story does not really end with the birth of baby over two thousand years ago, but continues today with the birth of new hope in each of us today.

Sheep: I’m beginning to think that you are beginning to see Christmas as more than an opportunity to eat turkey.

Coyote: Yep, and I promise to never eat you.

Sheep: Because I have helped you to begin seeing the truth about Christmas? Or because you are sick of eating sheep?

Coyote: Nope, because you are a puppet, and eating fake animals is disgusting. Am I rigt? (The sheep and the coyote high five)

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CLOSING VIDEO

Farley: Did they just high five? I guess we will not be observing the eating habits of Coyotes today. But we will be observing the eating habits of humans, downstairs following the service! And so concludes the final episode. I’ve had it with snakes, lions, and puppets. Thanks for joining me in “Dangerously Close to Furry Farley’s Ferocious Frenemies.”

Believe It Or Not, Mary and Joseph, a Baby Is On the Way.

Christmas is an unbelievable time. It’s time for God to intervene in a special way. All along God has been preparing His people for something special, and this something special is on the way in the birth of Someone special. It’s time for God Himself to be incarnate. It’s time for Jesus to be born.

But before this birth something else needs to happen first. Mary and Joseph need to know about it. And this is where things can get tricky. What if they don’t believe it? A virgin conception does not happen everyday after all. What if they don’t want it? Being in on God’s plans. What if they don’t want Him? Jesus, their son, or rather, her son, and you are not going to believe who is really responsible for this preganancy! I imagine the majority of Mary and Joseph’s neighbours and friends didn’t. Joseph himself didn’t believe at first either:

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, . . . Matthew 1:18-20

Though the writer of the Gospel of Matthew states rather matter of factly that this child is from the Holy Spirit, clearly Joseph initially does not think so. He already knows about the pregnancy before an angel explains it to him. If Mary told him about the angel’s explanation, he is not buying it. Mary must be lying. Being a good man he resolves to do, not the right thing, which would be to expose her obvious lack of fidelity publicly, but to do a good thing, breaking the relationship off, letting Mary carry on quietly with her life. An angel intervenes to help Joseph move from disbelief to trust, both trust in Mary, and more importantly, in what God has in store for them.

Mary quickly comes to a place of trust:

(NRSV) Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Luke 1:38

It takes Joseph longer, but he eventually also comes around to a place of trust:

Matthew 1:24-25 (NRSV) When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

If Jesus were born today into our Western civilization, I wonder if a Mary or Joseph would be harder to find. If we were Mary or Joseph, we scientifically informed Westerners might try to explain away the experience. Joseph in the Bible evidently entertained the possibility that Mary was lying. A man today might conclude likewise, but also that the angel appearing to him in a dream was, in reality, more dream than angel. As for Mary, a woman today might entertain the possibility she was drugged and raped with the whole angel thing being an emptionally charged episode. That Joseph’s encounter with an angel mirrored that of Mary’s could be chalked up to the power of suggestion. There is, in our culture, a tendency in matters of faith to go with any possible explanation rather than a supernatural one. Any explanation without God, no matter how ridiculous it might be, is preferred to every explanation that includes God, no matter how good it is. In contrast to our society’s assertion that “nothing supernatural is possible,” Mary believed the angel’s assertion that “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37)

What if you were Mary or Joseph? Would you trust the supernatural explanation, or would you go with the other possibilities? When it comes to finding truth, do you go with the most reasonable explanation, even if it involves the supernatural, or do you default to the possibilities that discount the supernatural?

The reality and existence of God as revealed in the Bible has great explanatory power for so many questions. Such as:

  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • Why does the evidence point to the universe having a beginning?
  • Why does the universe seem to be fine tuned for life in many ways?
  • Why does our solar system and planet seem to be placed “just so” for life?
  • Why do the ecosystems of the world work so well together?
  • Why is there life at all and not just dead matter?
  • How did life come about when even a simple cell is so complex?
  • Why is there mind and intelligence?
  • Why do human beings seem to be set apart from the rest of the animal world in so many ways?
  • Why are there objective moral values?
  • Why do we appreciate beauty?
  • Why is there is a unity and unified story across the Bible when the documents of the Bible were written over hundreds of years by many different writers?
  • Why are the NT documents the way they are?
  • Why was the tomb of Jesus empty?
  • Why were the early disciples changed people ready to die for their claims?
  • Why did Jewish theology develop the way it did into Christian theology, not changing direction, yet going down an unexpected road?

The supernatural explanation, that God the Creator exists, and that Jesus rose from the dead, is able to explain these questions and so many more. But there are those who would never allow for such an explanation. “It is possible that . . . ” becomes the mantra. It is thought that even if we have not found them, there must be other explanations rather than the “God explanation” that explains so much so well.

There are two difficulties to living with such a mantra. First, one’s mind would never be open to the possibility of God. A closed mind is not the best starting place for finding truth. Second, we don’t live that way. It is possible that my chair might fall apart at any moment. Yet here I sit. The possibility of chair failure does not dissuade me from my apparent trust in this chair. Does my wife truly love me, or did she marry me for my money? The latter is possible, the former is more likely and explains so much more besides. And so I trust. Is it possible I exist due to aliens swapping me out for the real Clarke Dixon. Possible, but not a possibility that I am concerned with. You can invoke aliens to cast doubt on anything and everything, especially God. But we don’t live that way. We don’t live with incredulous doubt, we live with sensible trust. As cold case detective, J. Warner Wallace points out, juries make incredibly important decisions based on what is beyond a reasonable doubt, not on what is beyond every possible doubt. If you approach matters of faith the way you approach life, a case can be made that the reality of God and His love is beyond reasonable doubt and can be trusted even in the face of other possible explanations. But if you are not open to a supernatural explanation, or you do not want it to be true, you will always default to other possible explanations. But will they be true? Though Joseph and Mary may have been able to come up with other possible explanations for what they experienced, they knew that this baby was Someone special. Do you?

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)