A couple of weeks ago as I was listening to an Advent Sermon, I heard a pastor make a very interesting point. I won’t quote him exactly, but the point was this: the most tragic thing that can happen to us during the Christmas season is that we will not be changed by anything that goes on. His point was well taken. I mean, think about it: during this time of year, we especially emphasize peace on earth and goodwill toward all men. We talk about joy. We proclaim a spirit of giving instead of getting. Even in those places in life where they try to exclude religion or at least minimize it tremendously, these things are talked about. I mean, I’ve been attending my kids’ school Christmas programs for the past five years, and all of the programs have something about peace, love, and joy–and nearly all of them were completely secular.
We talk a good talk about such matters during the Christmas season, but how many of us are truly changed by our experiences this time of year? How many of us live a completely different life? Have a completely different attitude? Really and truly have a sense of peace throughout the year? Really and truly have goodwill toward all of our fellow man? Really and truly have hearts that leap for joy each and every day? Anyone here willing to admit that they have experienced such a change and have had it last for a whole year? Month? Week? Even a day?
I’m not counting too many hands, and the question I have is why? Why don’t we change? Why don’t we have that sense of peace and goodwill? Why aren’t we filled with joy?
The Christian faith has an answer to that question, and it is not necessarily an answer we like to hear. However, the answer Christianity proclaims must be said because it has also been said by many philosophers and scientists throughout the generations. If you listen very carefully–despite what some in society would say–the answer proclaimed by Christianity and by various philosophers and scientists is: we are simply too self-centered to have peace, goodwill, and joy.
Biologists tell us that the way the world evolves and moves is by genetic mutation and natural selection. Those are fancy words to say that life changes by our genes being changed deep within AND by survival of the fittest. The strongest survive. And, if in nature the strongest survive, then we are forced to get stronger or manipulate the process for our own benefit. Even deeds of kindness are not done for kindness sake: they are done out of our need to keep from being trampled by the strong.
Nietzsche, the philosopher who laid most of the groundwork for the transitions and upheavals in contemporary society said that all people have a will to power. All people are working for their own benefit–to further their own stations and situations in life. This is the main driving force for all decisions; all institutions; all philosophies and religions. It is a self-centered process innate in all beings.
Christianity says that we are infected with original sin. Going back into the very beginnings of creation, man and woman chose to live for themselves apart from God. Instead of submitting to the Creator, they chose to be like the Creator knowing good and evil for themselves. They did not want God telling them what to do. They wanted to do things on their own. Self-centered.
And when you are self-centered, you will never be at peace. You will never have goodwill toward all men. You will never be full of joy. You will always be looking over your shoulder and comparing yourself to others. You will always want one more thing. You will be angry when others disagree with you and will not conform to your way of thinking. You will become more and more fearful about circumstances in life, and hold others in contempt when they do not meet your standards.
If you have listened to my words this far, I think you can see that what I am talking about is exactly what is happening in much of our society today. People are self-righteous. People are more interested in what they can get than what they can give. People hold the opposing viewpoint in contempt. People are angry. People are frustrated. And nothing is really going to change.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news in that regard, but it is the truth. Things just aren’t going to change, especially with people trying to get people to change by pointing fingers and yelling and screaming that their positions are ignorant, stupid, asinine, idiotic, and the like. No one is being persuaded by argument no matter how rational or irrational. No one is being persuaded by rules and regulations to become better people–to form a better society–to change the way they live.
Why? Why don’t we change?
Here’s a hypothesis: we don’t change because rules and regulations cannot change a heart. Simply knowing what one should do will not compel one to actually do it. I mean, think about it: each and every one of us here tonight know several rules and axioms to live by. Here’s a good one that just about everyone knows: if you have a problem with someone, you should talk to everyone but that person. Right? That’s the rule? Of course it isn’t, but that’s what happens anyway, isn’t it? I mean, we know we shouldn’t say things, but then we find ourselves in a conversation, and things start slipping out–things we wouldn’t dare say in the presence of that other individual. We say it, even though we know we shouldn’t. And we do it over and over and over. And we will continue to do it over and over and over until our heart changes–until we begin following the rules with a different motivation.
What do I mean?
I want you to think about what I just said about talking about someone behind their backs. I want you to think about who you have talked about. Think about your relationship with that person you have talked about, and let me ask you this question: do you love them? Really, ask yourself that. Do you love that person, not in some “I love everyone” fashion, but really love, respect, and appreciate that other person–not for who you want them to be, but for who they are? Do you love that other person in such a fashion?
You know the answer to that. You know that deep down, when you truly love someone, it is very, very difficult to talk about that person in a hurtful way. When you really, truly love someone, you go out of your way to talk about that person with kindness. You go out of your way to minimize their flaws. You go out of your way to tell others how much you love and appreciate that other person. You are willing to defend them to the hilt, and if you are hurt by that other person, you are willing to forgive and move forward. Love does that. Love changes you deep within, and that change deep within changes the way you live as you reorient your life. No longer do you only think about you: you think about the one you love and rearrange your life to accommodate that other person.
Oh, and if you are a parent, your life drastically changes because of the love that you have for your child. I remember vividly the last birthday I celebrated before adopting our oldest. I remember that Dawna and I hadn’t made any real plans for the day, so on a whim we ran down to Pizza Hut ate and then decided to go to a movie. As we were sitting in the Pizza Hut, knowing that we were days away from adopting, I said, “You know, we won’t be able to do this anymore. Things are really going to change.” And Dawna replied, “Yes, but they will be a good changes.”
And she was right. We adopted Kiera, Kaylee, and then were surprised with Kevin. Each child brought changes, but we loved our children. We still love our children, and we adapt our schedules all the time to care for them. We sacrifice for them. We put off the things we want to do for their sake. Love does that. When you love someone deeply, your life is transformed because of that love. Your life is transformed by the arrival of a child.
The Prophet Isaiah proclaims, “6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
The angel proclaimed, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
A child changes everything and transforms your life.
You may wonder how. You may wonder how the birth of this baby so long ago changes and transforms you. You may wonder how the birth of Jesus brings you peace, goodwill toward men, and a lasting joy. How does a simple birth do that?
Well, the birth doesn’t. The birth is just the beginning for as this child grows, He will accomplish something that you and I cannot. He will live the perfect life. He will live sinless and blameless. He will not talk about people behind their backs. He will utter words of truth. He will love His neighbor as He loves Himself. He will love God and be obedient unto God. He will live the life we are supposed to live.
And He will die the death we deserve. He will go to the cross to reconcile the world unto God. He will offer Himself as the sacrifice of atonement for our sins. Oh, there is much to be said about this, but I do not have the time tonight. If you want to hear more about how this works, please call me. But for this time, let me say this: Jesus, this child will lay down His life for you. He will die for you even though you do not deserve it. He will love you when you are unlovable. And He will not hesitate to do this for you. He loves you that much.
And when your heart is touched by His love...
When your heart is moved by Jesus’ sacrifice for you...
When you know what it cost for Jesus to make things right between you and God...
Your life will be transformed. You will indeed be changed. When the storm rages around you, you will be at peace. When events of sadness occur, you will have hope. When circumstances in life seem to go against you, you will still have joy. When others disagree with you, you will not hold them in contempt but will see them as fellow children of God. The arrival of this Child on this night leads us to the cross where these things happen over and over and over again.
If you take the time to think on this; if you take the time to ponder these things in your heart, you will find the peace that passes understanding. It is a peace rooted and grounded in love. The love of God that He has for this world. For God so loved this world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him may not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him. Behold, the Son has come. Merry Christmas. Amen.