Summary: This sermon answers the question, "What is Christmas all about?"
Several years ago RBC Ministries, the producers of Our Daily Bread, published a tract titled, “What Is Christmas All About?” I would like to share that with you tonight.
The First World War began in August 1914. It was brutal, bloody, four-year-long war that affected the lives of millions of people. The embattled sides settled into a system of trench warfare based on attrition, where the last man standing “won.”
A well-known story is told that on Christmas Day, 1914, a soldier popped his head over the top of his trench and looked across no man’s land. Rather than throw a few hand grenades across the field of death, he instead tossed couple of tins of corned beef into his enemy’s trench, knowing that both sides of the war lacked most of life’s basic essentials and were nearly always hungry. Within a minute or so, a dull thud sounded in the soil next to him. What was it? A hand grenade? No. It was the arrival of a packet of coffee and some candy.
Cautiously, men began to emerge from the relative safety of their mud coffins. Within a short while jokes were being translated from German into English and vice versa, food was pooled together for a Christmas dinner, cards appeared on makeshift tables and, finally, a game of soccer broke out between the two warring armies, amid shouts of delight and good humored rivalry. The day ended with handshakes, smiles, and even prayers for each other.
On December 26, the commanders on both sides outlawed any repetition of this event under pain of death, and the slaughter began in earnest. The ray of hope disappeared, and most of the participants would be dead within a year.
This remarkable episode in military history is a marvelous story of kindness and goodwill in a terrible situation.
But why did this happen, and why on Christmas Day? Does this story tell us all we need to know? Are hope in the midst of darkness and the triumph of the human spirit the sum total of the meaning of Christmas? And today, where does that view of Christmas fit in with presents, war, Christmas trees, terrorism, feasting, depression, old movies, and so on?
This evening I would like to answer the question, “What is Christmas all about?”
I. Different Views
If you were to ask people about the meaning of Christmas, many would sum it up in ways similar to the story above. Christmas is about being kind and caring, about doing good and looking out for each other, and about setting aside our differences for a while.
The Bible, however, describes the meaning of Christmas in an entirely different way. It tells the story of Jesus coming into the world. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. When Jesus was born, the event was announced as a time of “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” – which sounds like the message of those trenches! So how do the two ideas of peace and goodwill meet, and what relevance, if any, do they have for us today?
II. Broken Relationships
To begin with, peace and goodwill are the hallmarks of friendship. But friendship is a relationship, and when friends have a falling out, that relationship is broken. What once was a relationship of trust can become a relationship of hostility. Formerly, friends, but now two sides at war – enemies.
How can that broken relationship be restored? In the case of the First World War, one side was the aggressor and the other side needed to convince them by means of force that what they had done was wrong and must not be repeated. The aggressors, of course, believed they had a right to pursue their own interests. This resulted in a deadlock and the war continued until one side finally surrendered and peace was restored.
That peace, however, lasted only 20 years before the whole thing started again. Why? To put it simply, the “relationship” had not been put back to what it had once been. All that had happened was that one side managed to subdue the other for 20 years. Nothing had really changed at the root of the issue, so the relationship remained broken.
This reflects a reality at the deepest part of our being. People (let’s be brutally hones) are deeply selfish and therefore want the best for themselves first and foremost. With this “default” position, the pursuit of self-interest will inevitably result in conflict. Moreover, it will always produce a cycle of conflict, continually fed by selfish ambition.
III. Restoration Needed
The Bible tells us that, long before the birth of Jesus Christ, this selfishness first showed itself when Adam and Eve (the first people) decided to disobey God who had created them and “go it alone.” Their strong desire to live on their own terms broke the relationship with God and, in the words of the Bible, they “died.” This was not an immediate physical death, but an inevitable certainty of death brought on by time, decay, and the effects of wrongdoing (which the Bible calls sin). So, having been made in God’s image and destined to enjoy the friendship of God forever, Adam and Eve, through selfish rebellion, suddenly became dying creatures. The human race was now destined to suffer the effects of being outside the constant protection and friendship of our Creator.