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Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Happy Christmas!

Here I am, in between the early evening Christmas Eve worship service in Wishaw Baptist Church, and the Watchnight Service in Motherwell's Dalziel St Andrew's Church. It was good to see some local visitors at WBC - and even one young girl from Perth (that's the one in western Australia!).  One can't travel much further than that for a Christmas Eve Service!

So what is Christmas all about?  It's a question that has been asked, and answered many times - and that's just by me! For so many, Christmas means little, if anything, other than holidays; fun and festivities; an excuse – as if one were actually needed – for a good booze-up.  For others, it’s a time for the children, for the family, for “..peace on earth, goodwill towards men..” – at least for a couple of days! A poem, written by an old friend of mine, caused me to ask the question – “What does Christmas mean to the Christ, Himself?  What does Jesus think of this season, when we celebrate His birth into the world as a human child?  In other words, “What’s it really all about?”
Perhaps we need to see the whole story!  It starts with the crib in which the Babe was laid. This, of course, is the easy part of the story.  It’s the sweet, sentimental part that surely all, except the Dickensian Scrooges, love. 
Almost everyone has a soft spot for a baby.  And if that baby is born, in seemingly romantic surroundings; heralded by supernatural events; surrounded by gentle animals, by lowly shepherds, by noble kings; with the snow lying softly all around – well, even without Santa Claus and his flying reindeer, who could resist an ‘Oooh!’, or an ‘Aaah!’?
But is that really what it was like in that stable in Bethlehem, some 2,000 years ago?  The answer, of course, is 'No!'  It was not the clean, bright, airy, freshly-strawed, building depicted in so many Nativity scenes, and Christmas cards.  Rather, it would have been a dirty, dark, damp, smelly area, probably underneath the inn itself and, doubtless, in need of a good clean-out.  Not as attractive a picture as the one the sales people like to portray!  More like the pictures we see on our television screens, of refugees, and other types of victim: some of them barely clinging to life: in U.N. tents, or maybe just a ramshackle structure of corrugated iron and cardboard: rain, and mud, and snow, and ice: a lack of fresh, clean water; of nourishing food; of even the most basic sanitary arrangements. No!, not a pretty picture.  But is it not much more symbolic of our sin-ridden world; our sin-stained selves?  And doesn’t the recorded fact that “..there was no room in the inn.” symbolise humanity’s rejection of the very Incarnation of Almighty God?  Now there’s a Christmas thought!
But every good story has a middle as well as a beginning.  And the middle of this story concerns the cross to which the Saviour was nailed.  The Babe in His crib grew, as children do and, in time, He became an itinerant Preacher, preaching a message of repentance for, He said, “The Kingdom of God is among you.”  He preached God’s Word, without fear of man and, as had always happened before – and has always happened since – He became very unpopular with those in authority, the religious leaders of the time.  And so “... they watched Him, and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might take hold of what He said, so as to deliver Him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor.”  And later, we read that “…the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put Him to death.”  And, in that way that authority has, they achieved their goal.  After a mockery of a trial; a total travesty of normal justice; we read that Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, “…delivered (Jesus) up to their will.”  “And when they came to the place which is called ‘The Skull’, there they crucified Him.”
However, the Cross of Calvary was no cheap Cross.  God, the Son, gave up His throne in glory to come and live in this world of sin, and to give His life “a ransom for many”.  There was nothing cheap about what He did for you, and for me.  And when He calls us to take up our cross and follow Him,it is not to an easy way – but to one that is filled with the light of His Presence, and with opportunities to serve Him.
Yes, the Babe of Bethlehem became the Christ of Calvary.  And if we come only to Bethlehem; if we stop at the manger; we see only the beginning of the story.  Oh, I know that many find it uncomfortable to lift their eyes from the crib, to the Cross.  But we must do so, if we’re going to even begin to see the whole story.  At Bethlehem, we see Love’s Gift; at Calvary, we see Love’s Sacrifice.
However, after the beginning, and the middle, a story has an ending.  And this, the greatest story ever told, is no exception.  So, we discover that there's a crown with which the King will come. 
The Second Coming of the Christ still doesn’t receive a fraction of the attention which is given to the celebrations of His first coming.  And this is understandable.   For the Scriptures make clear that, while at His first coming, Jesus appeared as a helpless Babe, in a fodder-trough, in a byre; at His Second Coming, He will appear in all of His glory, and majesty, accompanied by a mighty shout, the sound of a trumpet, a host of angels.
Two thousand years ago, He came to save; next time, He will come to judge.  And so, people tend to push this aspect of the story to the side.  A little Baby they feel they can handle; but the crowned King of Glory?! – well, now, that’s a different matter altogether!  And man’s ostrich-like syndrome is displayed, as he hides from the fact, in the vain hope that it will go away!
We do ourselves, let alone Jesus, no service at all if we fail to look beyond the coming, to the coming again, and remember that He will return, even as has been promised, to judge, and to rule.  
This is a longer-than-usual post, but I must add the poem that sparked the thoughts that I have shared:
"I see, again, the cradle, Lord, in a far-off stable bare;
I hear, once more, the cattle low as they gather round You there.
They could not have known the noble birth they witnessed in that stall;
How your short life upon this earth was forfeit for us all.
The shepherds came; the wise men, too, in answer to a star.
They saw the King of kings asleep, and spread the news afar.
But now, the Cross looms dark and tall o’er all we do and say,
For Your cruel death, nailed to that wood, grips all the world today.
Its weight, its pain, and all its power – You took upon Your Name; 
The blood that flowed, so long ago, has paid the price of shame.
Your Cross is empty now, I know, for You rose up from the tomb;
A Comforter You promised us, until again You come.
Your love – ’twas shown at Christmas-time, so many years ago,
When You came to earth, a little Child, to set each heart aglow.
It shines in every corner like the star in Bethlehem’s day,
To bring Hope and Faith, and true concern by all, for all, for aye.
The agony of the cross remains – but still its victories stay;
And, because of these, we daily strive to follow in Your way.
Revive in us, today, O Lord, the wonders of Your birth;
Let Your light shine in all, throughout the joyful, happy, mirth.
Help us to bear our cross with strength, assisting where we can
To ease the load, along the road, for all our fellowman.
Be with us now, in that same love so long ago come down.
Teach us to know the wonders of Your Crib, Your Cross, Your Crown."                                             (Alex Thomson, Retired Police Insp.)

May each person who reads this post have a wonderful Christmas, centred on the Christ Who is the reason for the season, and a new year filled with His presence in your life.

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