Today I want to share with you a Christmas story that isn’t, at first, a very christmasy story.
In my forty plus years I have experienced many Christmas’s. Growing up as a child I remember some very nice Christmas’s. My mother was very generous and she would make sure that the Christmas tree was crowded with gifts, even though they all weren’t for me and my siblings.
My mother wasn’t as practical as she is today. Today you can expect some deodorant, bars of soap and a hand towel. It’s not that she thinks you need a bath, but she sees differently.
Growing up we got lots of toys and gifts, whether we were naughty or nice.
As I became an adult, I began to realize that Christmas wasn’t just the result of good cheer, cash on hand and a great mother. There was a story behind the gifts sitting underneath the tree.
Each hand wrapped gift was accounted for with little tags, each one chosen intentionally by what my mother knew of that person or child. She then would shop for each person specifically and by name. Nephews, aunts, cousins, grandmothers, friends of friends, all were included.
Looking deeper, she was spending money that came from her many long hours of work, both her and her husband. Hours of effort to raise money to buy gifts that were part of her thoughts as early as September. What happened during the months before Christmas had a direct impact on the amount of gifts I would receive.
My childhood years and early adult years saw a shift in Christmas. Lavishing gifts were always a part of the American Christmas, but Christmas today is mostly about shopping and giving gifts, it’s about a white old man wearing a red costume, sneaking into homes, leaving behind well deserved gifts.
It doesn’t matter if most of us know that there isn’t a hooded man leaving gifts, the idea is delightful and continues to be spread as a modern day myth. Getting because you are good or getting because someone cares, it doesn’t matter.
This season has become frenzied with opportunities to purchase. November and December accounting for 19.3% of overall retail sales in 2012. Thats nearly $2 for every ten dollars earned in the months of November and December. The Christmas holiday season has become something so large that how much we spend tells us the future of our economy.
Christmas continues to grow in a direction that is farther and farther away from its original intent. The season was created to mark the birth of one particular son.
You might think, what’s the big deal, four children are born every second, why would this one male child mean anything different?
At first glance, this son was as normal and plain as any other child born that night. In fact, if you didn’t know the back story, you wouldn’t know how unique and special this child was.
Yet, the back story I am not talking about is not the angel declaring to Mary that she would conceive a child. Or an angel telling Joseph to not fear and marry Mary. Or the choir of angels that visited the shepherds in fields where they lay.
No, the back story goes way back. It’s the way-back-story that most of us never hear about and it began in eternity past.
Eternity past is an event that occurred before our timeline. We call it eternity past because it helps us to put it into perspective in our linear minds. We can see a starting point and we can see an ending point and it makes us shake our heads and go, “Yeah, I can see that.”
But eternity has no past and has no future. Eternity only has a present.
So, in our minds we will take a trip backwards to a point before the earth was created, before the stars and atoms and blackholes and all those things that fascinates us so much and see the real back story.
We are going to see a glimpse of it in the book of Philippians, turn in your Bibles to the book of Philippians, chapter 2 and I am going to start reading from verse 1.
1So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Paul was writing this letter to the members of the Philippian church. Now Paul had a fondness for this church in Philippi because many years before he, Silas and Timothy and were led by the Holy Spirit to go there and preach the gospel. And it was there that they were severely beaten and imprisoned for proclaiming the faith. This is also the place where God shook the prison with a great earthquake and all the doors of the jail cells swung open. In that same event, Paul stops the prison guard from killing himself and the prison guard is saved and his family is saved as well.
So when Paul is writing to the Philippians, there is a great deal of history and knowledge that they share that might not be as evident if you only knew the foreground story. The back story gives the letter emotion and connectivity and Paul knew that. In the chapter before this, Paul said that the church was experiencing persecution and suffering. Philippi was still a tough town to spread the gospel in and he wanted to encourage them that they weren’t alone.
In the previous chapter, Paul reminded them that he also was beaten severely at Philippi (and was still getting persecuted elsewhere) and that their Savior was also beaten severely. But just knowing that Jesus was beaten, and nailed to the cross didn’t bring comfort.
Paul wanted them to know that there was more to the suffering than they could imagine. There was a way-back-story that they didn’t really know about and the Holy Spirit moved on Paul to tell a little bit of it.
Paul says, in verse 5 (paraphrased), Think the way Jesus thinks, who although he was God, He didn’t selfishly hold onto His equality but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Paul was saying, that we need to be as unselfish as Jesus was, that although He had a position, a power, a place, he didn’t cling to that but poured himself into the fleshly likeness of a baby.
Jesus’ life did not start when He was conceived in the womb through the power of the Holy Spirit. God did not create just another baby, but poured himself into Mary’s womb and formed a new, created being. The child looked like a baby, it had the eyes, nose, chubby cheeks and the sound of a baby, but it wasn’t just a regular baby.
Paul was saying to this church that Jesus, who existed as God, became a man for one distinct purpose – and that was to die.
This is the Christmas Back Story, Jesus; the Son of God is the God of all Creation.
Only a being of unimaginable love could have done what the Son of God did for us. God loved us so much that He not only calls us His people, but He took action way before we needed it. You see, salvation is not an afterthought. God did not have to come up with this idea of saving humans from their sins. It wasn’t a surprise. Sin wasn’t a monkey wrench throw in the machine. The same being that spoke the universe into existence already had the solution before the words ever left His mouth.
Let’s turn to Revelation chapter 5, John the Apostle has been caught up in the Spirit and is shown a string of heavenly events, starting at verse 1:
1Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”
3And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.
5And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
6And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.
7And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.
8And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
9And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
John the Apostle was experiencing an incredible spiritual journey into the eternity present of God and he witnesses an amazing event. Now this describes so much about Jesus, it shows us His superiority, it shows us that He alone is worthy to open the scroll, that He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, he is a conqueror, but on top of that, he is the Slain Lamb.
Jesus is the Lamb that looks or bears the mark of having been killed, yet He is alive.
This connects us to Revelation 13:8, I am going to read this in the KJV because it gives us the origin of these wounds that the Lamb bore and reflects the greek text more accurately:
And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him [the antichrist], whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
The Christmas Story began before the world was ever created. It was like all those months that my mother worked to save money so she could give a gift on that one day a year. Jesus made a way — way before Adam sinned, before you or I sinned. Jesus made a way for you to have your name written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Now that we see the back story for Christmas, we can go forward through the Life of our savior.
Paul finishes up the rest of the story, back in Philippians 2:
8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Jesus was born to die. The Angel proclaimed to Mary, that her child would save His people from their sins, but Mary did not know that the only way her little baby would save His people was to die for in their place.
Jesus lived like a human, He learned how human lives. He was the Creator who now had to be subject to His Creation. Jesus made the wind, but this was the first time He could feel the wind against His face. He learned how it was to be everything He was not. I say that Jesus was like a human because He was different that any human ever created.
I don’t mean different because He was God in the flesh, but that the flesh He had was very different from those who walked next to Him. His flesh did not have the stain of sin on it. He was a new creation, not just sinless man, but a container for God Himself to walk among men and not destroy those around Him. His power was contained in this one new creation and God walked among us unnoticed for 30 years.
Paul was saying to the Philippians church, “Christ was amazing and yet, He humbled himself to the point of death, worse, a death on a tree.” He didn’t just die, but he died in the worst way they could imagine. He was cursed by God’s own mouth. He was a volunteer to slaughter, but there was no one else who had what it took to get it done. Jesus had his own Christmas tree — only his tree was adorned with iron nails, splintered wood and the redness of his own blood. He was the first Christmas light to decorate a tree.
This still is not the end of the Christmas story, the story doesn’t end like this:
9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The Christmas story continues with this truth, that Jesus life did not end at the Cross. Jesus sacrifice did not culminate with the Resurrection from the Dead. The story of Christmas continues because the reason for the season continues:
Therefore, God highly exalted him and gave him a name that is above all names.
That at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!
Paul was telling the Philippians and is telling us today, that our origins began a long time ago, in eternity past. He was saying that before the manger, God was at work to save mankind. He was saying that although we might go through tough times in our lives, Jesus went through tougher times. Paul is saying that if we endure, if we press on, we will receive a reward that only God can give.
This is the mind set, the thinking that Paul is saying to have, because this is how Christ thought.
So, what does this mean to us? How can we apply this knowledge to our lives?
In this Christmas season, God is encouraging us to think of others more than ourselves. This might sound like the Christmas spirit but it isn’t. It’s to think of those who can’t repay you or those who will give you back. It’s to think of others in a gift giving kind of way, but it’s the gift of Jesus that He wants us to give.
God is telling us to think like Jesus thought. Although He was God, He became lower than angels and put Himself in a dangerous position so that so many millions would be saved.
God is the greatest gift giver this Christmas, because there is a Savior seated on the throne who has been touched with the feelings of our infirmities. A Savior who can say, “I know how it feels to be alone, rejected. I know how it feels to have friends leave you in the moment you need them the most. I know how it feels to be alone and not have anyone understand what I am saying.”
A Savior who can say, “I still carry the scars of the pain, I still can hear the whips striking my back, I can still feel the piercing of nails through my body. I know your pain and I have overcome the world and if you trust in me, you too can overcome the world through me.”
This Christmas, there can be a Savior born in your heart today. Jesus has already paid the price for this new life of salvation that can be born in you today. God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit have planned this since before you or I was born. They planned a way to save us from our sin and the Son of God carried out that plan so that we, those who believe, can have that new life in ours.
So, you might be asking yourself, How can I have the savior born in me today? How can I be saved?
The Bible says that Jesus said to, “Repent and believe.”
Repent means to change the direction you are heading in and head in the right direction that God has for you. Your life is heading in a godless direction without Jesus, God wants you to make a decision to change that. He wants to give you the power to make that change and wants to call you his own.
Believe means to accept in your heart and mind that Jesus is the Son of God, believe that He did live as a man, believe that He did die for your sins and believe that God raised Him from the dead.
Romans 10 says, starting in verse 8,
8But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
10For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
11For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”
12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.
13For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
To listen to this sermon, go to: The Way-Backstory of Christmas Audio Message