Summary: We celebrate Christmas because of God’s gift..His only begotten Son
This year I have experienced many firsts. Last week was my first Karaoke. It was fun! Some of my English students took me and we had a great time. We sang Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Carpenters, Elvis Presley songs of many years ago. My students also sang a couple of Enca songs. I liked them.
I also experienced my first earthquake. I’ve also experienced several of them since I’ve been here, and I’m thankful for God’s protection. I’m still a little frightened of getting a really big earthquake, but remember my security is in trusting God to take care of me. Remember Psalm 46.
As we are in Advent I would like to share a few boyhood memories of Christmas for you. This will be my first Japanese Christmas and while there may be differences in how we celebrate Christmas, I think we need to remember what we are really celebrating.
Most of you know that I grew up Jewish. The Jews do not celebrate Christmas, because they do not believe in Jesus Christ. We have a holiday which is called Hanukkah which is celebrated around Christmas time. The dates we celebrate Hanukkah vary, because the Jewish calendar is not the same as our calendar. Hanukkah commemorates the Jews celebrating their deliverance from Antiochus Epiphanes. Led by Judas Maccabeus, the Jews revolted against Antiochus Epiphanes and reclaimed their temple. After cleaning it, they realized they only had enough oil to burn the lights for one day. However, the lights burned for eight days, and so every year the Jews celebrate Hanukkah in remembering their deliverance. It is celebrated for eight days and we are supposed to get a present every night. I remember the rabbi’s telling us to tell are parents we are to get a present every night. We didn’t.
We started exchanging gifts on Christmas day and as a child I believed Santa Claus did come down the chimney at midnight to bring us gifts. I always loved Christmas, because I enjoyed the Christmas lights and decorations, the Christmas carols, and most of all, the presents. I knew that as Jews we weren’t supposed to be celebrating Christmas (the rabbi told us that), but I had no idea of what Christmas was really about. I remember singing the carols about Christ’s birth. But it wasn’t until several years later I truly understood the meaning of Christmas.
I became a Christian in September 1976, and since then each year I like to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. I remember when I was in Israel, visiting Bethlehem. We saw Shepherd’s Field; where the angels appeared to the shepherds. One of my seminary professors shared how when the angels appeared, they didn’t go to the high priests and kings. They went to the lowly shepherds, and said, “Today, in Bethlehem, there is born FOR YOU a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.
Let me tell you briefly about Christmas in Dallas Texas. Many wealthy people live in Dallas, and it is very commercialized. Most people decorate their homes lavishly, with Christmas trees and lights. There was a part of Dallas where many very wealthy people lived, and my mother and I always enjoyed driving through there and looking at the pretty lights.
Many of the shopping malls are decorated and they are very busy with shoppers. And of course the children cannot wait to get their presents from Santa Claus.
But is that really why we celebrate Christmas? I am convinced that in most places if you take Jesus Christ completely out of the Christmas celebrations, nobody would even notice it.
I brought with me a Gideon’s Bible which I was given while a college student. In the beginning of the Bible a famous verse is quoted in 25 languages, in which the Gideons Bible is printed. I’m happy to say that Japanese is one of them. That verse is John 3:16. It’s a verse that we probably learned when we were children, and it may be that the person who shared the gospel with you used that verse. It’s a verse that many of us have memorized. This verse tells us about God’s Christmas gift to us. If I could only use one verse to explain the gospel to an unbeliever, this would be the verse.
Let me share a little about the context of this verse. Jesus was speaking with Nicodemus who was a Pharisee. Nicodemus was a teacher, but he was not just a teacher, he was THE teacher of Israel. And yet when Jesus explained to him that a man cannot enter heaven by religious deeds or works, but only through faith in Jesus Christ, Nicodemus didn’t get it. And after Jesus finishes his discussion with Nicodemus he shares this important verse.
There are several things I would like us to look at. First is God’s love for the world. What kind of love does God have for the world? Is it an emotional infatuation? Or is it the same way I love KC and Simone? No, it is a love that God had for us, so much that He decided to do something about it. And this verse speaks of His love for the whole world. That includes every person sitting here. When you walk through Shinjuku station during the rush hour it includes every single one of those 2 million people who use Shinjuku station. It includes your neighbors. When you travel to another country it includes everybody there. There is nobody it doesn’t include.