James C. Denison
I learned a new term this week: “Lifehacking.” This is the word being used in the computer world to describe programs which are supposed to make our lives easier. Software to organize our to-do lists, programs to prioritize our priorities, reminders set for all hours of the day and night, files set to pop up on our PDAs or cell phones to tell us what to do next, and how. All this because we are living in the fastest-paced, highest-stress culture known to human history.
My father could expect to change his employer three times; my sons can expect to change their vocation, their careers, their life work, seven times. The global economy means that a downturn in China today affects your stocks and retirement tomorrow.
For every disease we seem able to eradicate like tuberculosis and polio, we are afflicted with new diseases like AIDS and the bird-flu scare. To say nothing of global warming and the future of our planet, with predictions that the seas will rise and the glaciers will melt and life will change drastically in coming generations.
How can a holiday like Christmas be “good news of great joy” in a day like ours? When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the light bulb was 1883 years away.
If today were Christmas, Edison’s invention would be announced in the year 3890. Columbus wouldn’t “discover” the New World until the year 3495. That’s how old Christmas is. How can a holiday which predates the Middle Ages by 500 years and the Declaration of Independence by 1780 years possibly be relevant for our problems and questions today?
The answer is that it can’t. At least, not without a decision only you can make today. Let me explain.
Hear “good news of great joy”
The angels brought “good news of great joy” to the shepherds, and such news indeed it was. On that day we learned that “a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (v. 11). This news is “for all the people,” for the Christ has been “born to you.” If to them, then to us all.
You know their story. First-century shepherds were thieves, stealing from their masters’ flocks. They were liars, so that they could not testify in court. They were ritually unclean, living out in the fields for up to six months at a time, so that they could never be allowed into a synagogue or the Temple. And yet Christmas came for them, because God loves all of us.
No other religion makes such a claim. Zeus and his pantheon loved those who obeyed them. Hindus and Buddhists have no concept of a personal, loving God. Muslims base God’s acceptance on our obedience, the degree to which we keep the five pillars of Islam.
Every other dimension of life is conditional and performance-based. You are what you do, how well you perform, how many people you impress. I am this sermon; you are your work, your school, your achievements.
Except with God. This promise is for shepherds everywhere, you and me included. What is the promise? Why is it relevant? It applies to your life only if you need help with your past, your present, or your future.
Christmas says that God forgives us, no matter what we’ve done. What have you done that you’re glad we don’t know about? Guilt leads to low self-esteem, anger at yourself and others, the inability to forgive yourself and others, depression, anxiety, panic, and even suicide. The shepherds knew what guilt was about. Modern-day shepherds still do.
To people like us, “a Savior has been born to you.” Literally “one to save us.” No other religion has a Savior. No one else has someone who will forgive your sins and failures and remove your guilt from your soul and life. No one. Because of Christmas, God can forgive you.
Will anyone else forgive you like this? Will anyone else forgive us, no matter what we do? There are crimes you and I could commit which would be unforgivable. Child abuse, torture, 9-11 terrorism–who could pardon such sins? Only God can. That’s “good news of great joy.” Who needs such forgiveness today? Well, this news is not enough. Before this forgiveness is relevant to our souls this morning, there’s something left for us to do.
Christmas says that God delivers us, no matter what we need today. This Baby is “Christ,” the Lord. Christos, the Greek word for Messhia, the Messiah, the Promised One who would deliver God’s people from slavery into freedom. This was “good news of great joy” for a people enslaved by the pagan Roman Empire.
Because of Christmas, God can deliver you. Can anyone else deliver us, no matter where we are? There are diseases which no doctor can cure, lawsuits which no lawyer can win, battles which no army can survive. Only God can deliver us, wherever we are today.
That’s “good news of great joy.” What problems need God’s solution in your life? What burdens need his strength? What despair needs his hope? Why do you need deliverance today? Well, this news is not enough. Before this deliverance is relevant to our souls, there’s something left for us to do.
Last, Christmas says that God directs us, no matter where we need to go tomorrow. He is Christ “the Lord.” Kurios in the Greek, the Master, the Boss. The Romans used this word for their Caesar; Christians used it for their Christ. This was “good news of great joy” for a people subjected to a man in Rome, to know that the true ruler of the universe was their God and that he would guide their lives.
Because of Christmas, your God rules the universe and is ready to guide your life. Can anyone else guide us, no matter where we need to go? There are problems no counselor can resolve, decisions no wisdom can help us make. Only God can guide us, no matter how dark or bleak the future, no matter how perplexing and confusing the day.