Christmas and the Power of Christ

Topical Scripture: Colossians 1:15-17

This morning we’re going to try a strange experiment. While sitting in your chair, lift your right foot off the floor and make clockwise circles. Now, while doing this, draw the number “6” in the air with your right hand. Could you do it? Neither could I. I have no idea why.

The older I get, the less I understand.

Scientists don’t really know why gravity exists, how plate tectonics work, or how animals migrate so successfully. The cosmos bewilders me. But it’s no challenge for its Creator.

This Advent season, we’re going to see what we can learn about the Christ of Christmas. Today we’ll learn about his power and why that omnipotence is so relevant to us today.

Where do you most need the power of God in your life? Let’s learn how to experience such omnipotence today.

The power of creation

Our text comprises one of the most exhaustively studied paragraphs in all the New Testament. One commentary in my library (O’Brien, Word) devotes seventy-one pages to it. This is a single sentence in the Greek, probably one of the earliest hymns in Christian worship.

It begins with this phrase as the title of all that follows: Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (v. 15a). These six words capture the very essence of the Christian faith. This truth claim changed the world. This is the heart of our hope today. Why?

The Bible teaches that “no one has ever seen God” (John 1:18). The Lord told Moses, “man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).

You cannot look at the sun for more than a second or two without significant damage to your eyes. I’ve read that you’d have to get as far away as Neptune or Pluto before you could stare at it for as long as you like. So it is with the holy God of the universe. Sinners cannot be close enough to him to see his face, or they must perish.

But Jesus is his “image” (icon in the Greek), the exact representation or “mirror image” of God.

St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle is famous as the burial place of Henry VIII as well as the location where Prince Harry and Princess Meghan were married. I have toured it two or three times and am always amazed at its remarkably beautiful ceiling. But staring at this exquisite architectural masterpiece is difficult, so a mirror has been placed on the ground. We can look down to see up.

That’s the idea here—Jesus came down to earth so we could see the God who lives in heaven. However, the Greek word also shares in the nature of that which is reflected. A mirror is not a person, though it reflects one. But Jesus is God, not just his reflection. He is “God made visible.”

What else do we learn about the Christ of Christmas?

He is “the firstborn of all creation,” not meaning that he was born first but that he rules over all creation as the firstborn rules the family.

We next learn: “By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (v. 16). He was the creative agent of all creation.

What’s more, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (v. 17). He rules all that is and holds together all that is.

Our planet is spinning on its axis at 1040 miles per hour. The earth is spinning around the sun at 66,600 mph. Our solar system is moving around the Milky Way galaxy at a rate of 558,000 mph. And the Milky Way is moving through the universe at 660,000 mph. I get dizzy just being on one of those spinning rides at Disneyland. Jesus is holding our entire universe together, right now.

The power of Christmas

And then came the moment when the God who made our universe entered our tiny planet. He folded down all that omnipotence to become a fetus, the tiniest human life form, in the womb of a Galilean teenage girl. He demonstrated his inestimable power not just in making the universe but in making himself a baby.

Then the baby grew up. The Christ of Christmas would walk on water and calm stormy seas. He would open blind eyes and heal leprous bodies and raise dead corpses. He would feed five thousand families and cast out demons and defeat death at Easter.

Now, all the power of the Christ of Christmas is available to those who trust him fully. Here’s what that power means to your life, practically.

First, you have power over temptation: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). There is no sin you must commit, because the Christ of Christmas lives in power in you.

Second, you can overcome Satan: “I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:14). The power which defeated Satan at the grave will defeat him again in your life.

Third, you have power to take the gospel to the entire world: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The power to win the world to Christ lives in you.

Fourth, you have the power to pray effectively: “We do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

Fifth, you have power to see the sick healed: “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up” (James 5:15). God will answer your prayer and give the sick person what you ask or something even better.

In short, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). At Christmas, the Mighty God proved that he could live in human flesh. He still can.

How to experience the power of Christmas

But someone is asking: if that’s true, why don’t I defeat temptation more easily? Why doesn’t God answer my prayers as powerfully as he answered Jesus’ prayers? How do we experience the Mighty God each day? By following the example of his Son, our Lord.

Let me offer some lessons I’ve learned the hard way.

One: Go to God first. We must connect to God’s power to experience it. That’s why Jesus started the day with his Father: “rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). He sought God’s power first, before he would need it.

I often don’t. Most of my problems come when I try to prepare the message or solve the problem in my power. When I fail, I then turn to him. But the car is already in the ditch, and I wonder why I don’t have the victory of God.

You will have the power of Christmas when you trust the Christ of Christmas.

Two: Stay close to God all day. Jesus prayed all night before choosing his disciples (Luke 6:12–13). He prayed before going to the cross. He prayed on the cross. He prays now for us. He stayed connected to the power of God.

Often I don’t. I’ll pray at the beginning of the day, then go hours without reconnecting with my Lord. Meanwhile the battery runs down, the car runs out of gas, and I’m on my own again. I’ve learned to take time all through the day to stop for a few moments of Scripture, prayer, and worship. As Moody said, “I’m a leaky bucket, and must be refilled often.”

You will have the power of Christmas when you stay close to the Christ of Christmas.

Three: Focus on the purpose of God. God give his power as it accomplishes his purpose. We will receive power, if we will be his witnesses (Acts 1:8). The Creator of the universe is no genie in a bottle, waiting to dispense blessings. God is up to one thing on earth: building his Kingdom, because that is best for us all. The most loving thing he can do for us is to make it possible for us to live in his Kingdom.

This is my third problem. I want God to help me succeed, to empower me to teach this message, to lead this church, to fulfill my agenda and ambitions. But he only empowers me when I am dedicated to his purpose. He heals us if such extends his Kingdom. He empowers this message if it is advancing his Lordship and glory. He empowers this church if we will take Christ to our city.

You will have the power of Christmas when you join the purpose of Christmas.


What does Christmas teach us about Christ? We learn that the One who is “the image of the invisible God,” who made and sustains the entire universe, has the power to enter our small planet as a tiny baby.

Now his followers have his power to defeat temptation, overcome Satan, take the gospel to the world, pray effectively, and see the sick healed. If we will go to God first, stay close to him through the day, and join him in taking Christ to our culture, he will empower us and use us for his glory and our good.

Where is such power most relevant to you today?

The Hope of Christmas

Topical Scripture: Galatians 4:4

Let’s begin with a quiz. The real St. Nicholas was born in what country? Turkey. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was created as a promotion for what department store? Montgomery Ward. What song does Lucy ask Schroeder to play on his piano in A Charlie Brown Christmas? “Jingle Bells.” Eggnog was first consumed in what US city? Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. (I got one right out of four.)

Here’s another question most people would struggle to answer: why did Jesus come when he did?

Why not when Moses was trying to save his people from Egyptian slavery? Or when the Babylonians were destroying Jerusalem? Why did he come when he did? And what does the timing of Christmas say to us today?

Last week we discussed the grace of Christmas and claimed God’s mercy for our past. Today we’ll focus on the hope of Christmas and claim God’s help for our future.

What about tomorrow is on your heart today? Where do you most need the hope of Christmas?

The timing of hope

Two thousand years before Christmas, the Lord promised Abraham “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2). The Messiah to come would come through Abraham’s descendants.

But which of his descendants? “A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17). But Jacob had twelve sons; which would continue the line of Christmas? “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet” (Genesis 49:10).

Which of Judah’s descendants? “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1). Which of Jesse’s sons? The Lord said to David, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom” (2 Samuel 7:12).

Matthew thus begins his Gospel: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1).

And there’s more. Scripture tells us not just about Jesus’ male ancestors, but his mother as well: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). We’re even told where the virgin would give birth: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old” (Micah 5:2). Both predictions were made seven centuries before Christmas.

Galatians 4:4 then describes the specific time when Jesus would come into the world: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.” Historians point to the existence of a universal language (Greek), universal roads, a universal peace under Roman military authority, and a universal hunger for truth.

The universal language means that Christians could travel the Roman Empire without having to learn new languages to preach the gospel. Universal roads gave them access to the Empire. A universal peace gave them security by which to travel. A universal hunger for truth opened hearts across the world to the good news of God’s grace.

All were essential to the remarkable spread of Christianity in the years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. All led to the hope of Christmas that came into the world on that Bethlehem night.

The promise of hope

Here’s the point: If Jesus would come where he did, when he did, he will come anywhere.

Frederick Buechner: “Those who believe in God can never in a way be sure of him again. Once they have seen him in a stable, they can never be sure where he will appear or to what lengths he will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation he will descend in his wild pursuit of [us]. If holiness and the awful power and majesty of God were present in the least auspicious of all events, this birth of a peasant’s child, then there is no place or time so lowly and earthbound but that holiness can be present there, too.

“And this means that we are never safe, that there is no place where we can hide from God, no place where we are safe from his power to break in two and recreate the human heart because it is just where he seems most helpless that he is most strong, and just where we least expect him that he comes most fully” (The Face in the Sky).

The One who came at Christmas promised us, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He will meet a persecuting Pharisee on the road to Damascus and make him the greatest evangelist and theologian in Christian history. He will meet an imprisoned apostle on Patmos and give him the Book of Revelation.

He will meet a troubled but brilliant monk named Martin Luther and make him the harbinger of the Reformation. He will meet an imprisoned theologian named Dietrich Bonhoeffer and make him a model of sacrifice and courage for all time.

The power of hope

Gabriel Marcel: “Hope is for the soul what breathing is for the living organism.” G. K. Chesterton: “There is one thing which gives radiance to everything. It is the idea of something around the corner.” Samuel Johnson: “The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure, but from hope to hope.”

A mouse dropped in water will give up and drown in minutes. But if it is rescued, it will tread water for more than twenty hours the next time.

After World War II, the Allied armies gathered up thousands of hungry, homeless children. They were sheltered and fed. But they were afraid to go to sleep. Then they were given a slice of bread, not to eat but to hold. And they slept well, for they knew they would have food for tomorrow.

Austin pastor Gerald Mann saw his church grow from sixty to four thousand members in fourteen years. His explanation: “I know three things people want when they come to church: they want help, they want home, and they want hope.”

The return of hope

Where do you need hope for the future? What about the coming year worries you today? What about tomorrow is burdening your soul today?

The truth of Christmas is that God visits us in the dark. He knocks at the door of our hearts with the promise, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).

And one day, he will come again. The season of “Advent” is not just about Jesus’ first coming, but his second as well.

When he comes back, he will not be a helpless baby in a feed trough. The book of Revelation describes his return this way:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:11–16).

In the meantime, the Christ of Christmas will meet us anywhere, hear any prayer, meet any need, and lead any soul in whatever way is for God’s glory and our best.


What about the future is on your heart today? Because of Christmas, there is hope. There is always hope.

But like all Christmas presents, the presence of hope has to be opened.

The single most meaningful Christmas present I own is an old steering wheel and wheel cover. The wheel belonged to my 1966 Ford Mustang; when it broke, I mounted it on my garage wall and have kept it ever since.

The reason is the cover on the wheel. It was my father’s last present to me. He bought it for me for Christmas in 1979. I opened it ten days after he died. I will have it the rest of my life.

I have kept the wheel because it reminds me of my father’s love for me. But even more, because it reminds me of my heavenly Father’s love for me. When my earthly father died, my heavenly Father was there for me. Over the years, when the future seemed most frightening, his power, grace, and hope were the gifts I needed.

Where do you need the hope of Christmas today?

The Humility of Christmas

Topical Scripture: Philippians 2:5-11

It seems that everything about Christmas gets bigger each year. A Christmas tree in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, floats in a lagoon and stands 279 feet tall. Conversely, an 82-foot-tall tree hangs upside down from a stain glass ceiling of a mall in Paris, France. The 77-foot-tall Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York City was lit yesterday for the first time this year.

If you’re looking for something to take home, you might consider a nativity set from Bethlehem. It’s nearly seven feet wide, four feet deep, and five feet high, and goes for a mere $35,900.

It was all so different on that first Christmas day.

The humility of Christmas

Jesus could have chosen to be born to the Chief Priest and his family, where he would have grown up in the splendor of the temple and its traditions. He could have been the son of a Pharisee and grown up with all the respect afforded these men venerated as spiritual heroes.

But he chose to be born to a peasant teenage girl from a town so small that it is not named a single time in the Old Testament or in the extensive histories of Josephus. He chose for his earthly father a man so poor that he could afford only the offering of two pigeons at the ceremony celebrating his birth.

The place where he was born is marked with grandeur and majesty today, but it was not so then. It was a simple cave where animals were kept. His first crib was not made of wood—it was a stone feeding trough.

The theme continued across his life. He chose to grow up in Nazareth, just two miles from Sepphoris, the Roman capital of lower Galilee. He and his tekton father probably helped to build this massive, magnificent city. It had a large Jewish population; he could have lived there, but he did not.

As a boy of twelve, he astounded the religious teachers with his wisdom and knowledge; clearly, he could have been a famous rabbi in Jerusalem like them. But he chose to base his ministry in Capernaum, a small fishing town with a population of 1,500 on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee.

He could have built a megachurch there; his first days of public ministry drew crowds from across the entire region to hear him and to be helped by him. But he chose to go to the other towns and villages instead.

Since he came to die for our sins, he could have arranged prophetic history so that he would be executed by his own Jewish people. This was the very effort they made at Mount Precipice (Luke 4:29). He would have been thrown off a ledge at least twice his height. If the fall did not break his neck, stoning would soon have rendered him unconscious as he died. Instead, he chose to be crucified, the most horrific form of torture ever devised.

Before his death, he could have arranged to be buried in a massive tomb that would still be celebrated today much like followers of Islam celebrate Muhammed and Russians venerate the remains of Lenin. But he was buried in a friend’s grave so anonymous that no one is positive of its location.

The choice of Christmas

Here’s the point to remember: All of this was his choice. He was the only baby in human history to choose his parents, the place of his birth, and the place where he would grow up. He chose to base his ministry in Capernaum rather than in Jerusalem and to die by Roman crucifixion. It was by his providence that he was buried in a borrowed tomb rather than a massive mausoleum.

One of the earliest hymns in Christian history tells the story like this: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5–8).

Christmas began when Jesus gave up his hold on his throne: he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (v. 6). He let it go, stood up, and all of heaven watched in amazement. What would he do next?

He “emptied himself.” The Greek makes it clear that he chose to do this. He volunteered to come to earth, to become one of us that we might be one with him. He did this by “taking the form of a servant.” “Form” translates morphe, the unchanging essence. He didn’t just look like a servant—he became one for us.

That’s why he washed his disciples’ feet, and fed the five thousand, and touched the lepers, and forgave us from the cross. He chose to become a servant, for us.

How would he serve? He was “born in the likeness of men.” He was “born” as a man. He chose to come to earth not as a man in full possession of his omnipotence but as a helpless, defenseless baby. And so he was “found in human form.” “Form” translates schema, external appearance. His unchanging essence was that of a servant, even as he wore the temporary flesh of a human.

Then, finally, he “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” He chose to die in the cruelest manner possible for each of us. As St. Augustine said, God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.

And every step from crown to cross was his humble choice.


What does the humility of Christmas mean for us this season?

One: We should love others as God loves us. Verse 5 introduces the hymn: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” We are to have the same “mind,” the same attitude of service and sacrifice and love, that our Lord had for us. We are to love others as he loves us.

If you choose to love those who serve you in the hectic, chaotic stores this season, to love those who cut you off on the tollway, to love friends and family members amid all the demands of this season, to look for ways to love and serve as Jesus loves and serves you, your life will make a dramatic and demonstrable difference in the lives of others.

Richard Stearns, the former CEO of World Vision, notes: “The beautiful simplicity of our faith is that it distills down to the exact same bottom line for both the brilliant theologian and the five-year-old child: love God and love each other—period.”

Two: We should love ourselves as God loves us. Our culture judges us by how we look, what we have, where we live, and what we buy. It will measure this Christmas by what we spent and what we gave. There is no more hectic and hurried season of the year for many of us than Christmas.

This season, take time every day to remember that Jesus chose to be born for you. He chose to live and to die and rise again for you. He would do it all over again, just for you.

The best advice I ever received came from my youth minister when I was in high school: Always remember the source of your personal worth.

A number of years ago, the actor Kirk Douglas was a guest on the Johnny Carson show. They were talking about the experience of being recognized everywhere they went, with people pestering them because of their fame.

Then Douglas told about the time he was driving his car one day and stopped to pick up a hitchhiking sailor. When the sailor opened the door, looked in and saw Kirk Douglas. His jaw dropped and he exclaimed, “Do you know who you are?” Douglas said that it was a good question, one he’d been thinking about ever since.

Christmas tells us who God thinks you are. Do you agree?

The Redeeming Grace of Christmas

Topical Scripture: Revelation 13:8; Romans 5:8

Here are some Christmas facts I didn’t know:

  • The Germans made the first artificial Christmas trees out of dyed goose feathers.
  • Most of Santa’s reindeer have male-sounding names. However, male reindeers shed their antlers around Christmas. Thus, the reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh are likely female.
  • Two weeks before Christmas is one of the most popular times of the year for couples to break up. (Perhaps they’re trying to avoid getting gifts for each other?) However, Christmas Day is the least favorite day for breakups. So, you have only ten days to go.

Today we’re discussing the grace of Christmas. Not only is it unlikely that your loved one will break up with you today—your loving Father never will.

I read this week that Billy Graham’s favorite hymns include Just As I Am. This is not a surprise: he made it the title of his autobiography, and it was sung at the close of his crusades for more than sixty years.

He explained why: “It has special meaning to all of us because they don’t have to go home and rearrange their lives; they can come just as they are, no matter how they are dressed, no matter what language they speak or what their sins are in their background. They come to Christ and He puts His arms of love around them, forgives them and changes them.”

This Advent season, we’re learning what Christmas can teach us about Christ. We’ve explored his power and his humility. Today we’ll focus on the theme Dr. Graham so loved: Jesus’ redeeming grace.

Here’s what we’ll learn today: our past is no barrier to God’s future. How we begin the race is not as important as how we finish.

What in your past bothers you today? What guilt or burdens or failures are on your heart? Let’s learn to find God’s Christmas grace wherever we need his grace the most.

“While we were still sinners”

The book of Revelation describes Jesus as “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (13:8 NIV). 1 Peter 1 describes “the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (v. 19) and says that “he was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (v. 20).

In other words, before God made the world, his Son was already a sacrificial lamb for the sins of the world.

Romans 5:8 makes this fact plain: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” “While we were still sinners”—before we had done one thing to earn God’s forgiveness, Jesus died for us.

Here’s the point to understand: Jesus chose to die for you before you committed your first sin. He knew your forgiveness would cost him his life, but he chose to create you anyway. And every other person in our race with you.

There is nothing we can do to earn such love, because it was decided before we even existed. His redeeming grace is like a house you build for your children and their children before your children are born. It is like a soldier who dies for a country that does not yet exist but his death helps create.

Would you have a second child if you knew that second child would murder your first child? We are God’s second children. And he chose to make us, and his first child chose to die for us, anyway.

Yesterday, Navy defeated Army in their annual football game. But the significance of the game is less the score than the commitment of those on the field to their mission. Clint Bruce, a former Navy Seal and friend of mine, once said that Army-Navy is “the only game in the world where every person on the field is willing to die for every person in the stands.”

Such sacrificial love is the grace of Christmas.

“So that we might receive adoption as sons”

All through Scripture we see the same theme: our past is no barrier to God’s future.

The Jewish people had sinned against their Lord constantly across the centuries leading up to Christmas. They worshipped Baal, the Canaanite pagan fertility god that required all sorts of horrific immorality; and Molech, an even more horrific pagan god that required child sacrifice. They rejected God’s prophets and spurned his revelation. They no more deserved a Savior than we do.

Nonetheless, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4–5).

We see his choice to redeem our past for his future in the shepherds of Christmas, men whose ritual impurity and immoral lives barred them from the temple or the synagogue. And yet he invited them to witness the birth of the King. We see it in the pagan astrologers, Persians who worshiped a plethora of gods but who were invited to worship the one true God.

We see it in the apostolic leader he chose, a Galilean fisherman who would deny him three times but then preach the Pentecost sermon and lead the advance of the kingdom. We see it in the missionary leader he chose, a rampaging Pharisee who led his people to prison and death but who later led them to reach the Roman Empire and wrote half of the New Testament.

My favorite Christmas card

This is a theme unlike any you will find in any of the world’s religions.

As I’ve noted before, the difference between them and Christianity is this: they claim to show us how we can climb up to God, while in Christianity, God climbs down to us. The way to do this, they say, is to find ways to atone for our mistakes and failures so God or the gods will accept us.

The Jews did so through sacrifices and now through good works. The Muslims do so through obedience to the Qur’an, praying five times a day, fasting during Ramadan, giving to the poor, and making pilgrimage to Mecca. Hindus believe they must go through multiple reincarnations before the karma, the law of cause and effect, purifies them for moksha, when they are absorbed into Brahman. Buddhists strive to cease wrong desires to cease suffering, hoping that through the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eight-fold Path they can earn their way to nirvana, their version of absorption into reality.

Three transforming facts

Here’s why the world’s religions, with their works-righteousness to atone for guilt, remain popular: they appeal to our fallen humanity. There’s something in us that wants to justify ourselves, to earn our way, to do it our way. We are willing to forgive others but hate asking others to forgive us. We want to pay our debts and be a debtor to none.

Even to God.

If God won’t punish us for our sins, we’ll punish ourselves. We’ll make ourselves feel enough guilt and do enough good that one day, we hope, we’ll feel that we’ve squared our accounts and paid our debts. Much of the good done in the world is done for this reason—to pay for the past and secure a better future.

But guilt-based religion is a pale substitute for grace-based relationship, for three reasons.

One: We can never do enough good to outweigh the guilt in our hearts. The first does not accomplish the second. It’s like wearing a stained shirt to feed the poor or help the homeless—we can feel good about the good we do while wearing it, but the stains remain. Only God’s grace can remove our guilt.

Two: We will never win the world to guilt-based religion. The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That means everyone else has guilt in their hearts just as we do. They’re all trying to be good enough to feel good about themselves and perhaps to earn their way into heaven. If we offer them another lane on the same freeway, why would they take it?

I used to think that Christianity was about going to church and trying to be good. I couldn’t see that Christians were any better than I was, so I didn’t see why I needed to go to church. And I was already trying to be good.

When I met Christians who had a sense of peace, purpose, and joy I had never encountered, that was when I was drawn to their faith. Not by guilt-based religion but by their grace-based relationship with Jesus.

Three: Grace-based relationship will transform your life and your world. Imagine stepping into heaven and knowing that your past is gone, forever. Imagine knowing that all your failures, your mistakes, your sins and your guilt, are no more. They are part of your old life in your old world. They are gone, forgotten forever.

How much joy will you feel in that moment? To know that you are forgiven and free forever?

That’s the joy you can feel right now, because of Christmas. Because Christ was born to die that you might be born again to live forever. Because Christ chose to die before he made you, so he could remake you. Because “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Because of the redeeming grace of Christmas. Sharing that grace will change every life it touches until it changes the world.


Where do you need this grace the most today? Claim the Christmas grace of your loving Lord.

Who do you know who needs such grace from you? Who needs your forgiveness as you have needed the forgiveness of God? Who needs your love as you have experienced his? Who needs your help and encouragement as you have received his? How can you pay forward what you have received?

One of the first stories I ever remember hearing in a sermon was about a boy who built a red model sailboat. He worked on it for days until it was just right. Then he took it down to the creek behind his house to sail it.

Unfortunately, the string he attached to it was too weak for the wind that caught its sails. The string broke and he had to watch his red boat sail down the creek and out of sight. He was heartbroken.

Days later, he happened to walk by a second-hand store and saw his sailboat in the window! He was overjoyed. He ran inside and told the man at the counter, “That’s my boat in your window. I made it and it’s mine.”

The man said, “Son, I paid someone for that boat. If you want it back, you’ll have to pay for it.” The boy was angry but determined.

He worked every job he could find until finally he put together enough money to buy back his boat. It was a joyful day when he marched into the second-hand shop, put his money on the counter, and took his boat from the window.

As the boy carried his red sailboat home, he said to it: “Now you’re mine twice. I made you the first time, and I bought you the second.”

Let us pray.