Pointed Paragraphs on Christmas

A Time of Surprises – For many people, and especially for children, Christmas is a time of surprises. Often they receive gifts they did not expect. Most of us enjoy being surprised that way. It can be a very pleasant experience. But we seldom consider that being taken by surprise should also be a humbling experience. It is a sign of the basic limitations that belong to us as creatures. The fact that we can be taken by surprise is proof that we don’t know everything.

God never can be surprised. He never can be caught unawares. What a comfort that is in our prayer life! We need never pray with the fear that God Himself is not sure what may happen. He is sure! He makes things sure! We creatures never can make a thing certain for God. Were that possible, God would not be God.

Who can measure the comfort this gives us in the all-important matter of salvation? “The Lord knoweth them that are His” (II Timothy 2:19). He knows them because He chose them. He chose them before creation. This gives great encouragement to Christian Missions. It is a guarantee of the success of Christian Missions. To be sure, God’s eternal plan does not nullify our personal responsibility. His plan includes our hearing and our dwelling. It is we, not God, who do the hearing and the heeding. And when we do it, it is a self-conscious experience.

What an amazingly gracious provision has been made for us in God’s sovereign choice! He thought of me before I knew Him!

Ere suns and moons could wax or wane,
Ere stars were thundergirt or piled the heavens,
God thought on me, His child,
Ordained a life for me.
The love of God for me began
Long before I became a man,
Before my lips could speak His name,
Before from out the dark I came,
Within His mansions I was known
Before He made a cross His throne.

Answer to the Skeptic’s Cry – L. P. Jacks tells of an agnostic who said to another agnostic on his death-bed, “Stick to it, Tom.” “Yes” gasped Tom, “but there’s nothing to stick to!” How different with the Christian! He has so much “to stick to.” Against what one writer calls, “the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” the Christian fortifies himself with the revelation of God in Christ. The Lord who gave us the miracle of Bethlehem and all the redemptive events that followed it will one day set all things right and bring His people to that city of unending day “where life’s long shadows break in cloudless love.” The personal integrity of Christ Himself is involved here, for He said: “If it were not so, I would have told you” (John 14:2).

Many have cried the skeptic’s cry, “Who will show us any good?” (Psalm 4:6). They see nothing but the grim reality of humankind’s bankruptcy. The saint sees that, too. But he sees more. He sees God who can put gladness in the heart of a bankrupt sinner who calls unto Him. He sees God who can turn sinners into saints. Such re-made people know what Christmas is all about, and they how how Christmas should be celebrated.

Emerson’s Blunder – One of the affirmations by which our Lord made exclusive claims for Himself is found in John 14:6: “No man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Note, that as Savior He refuses to go shares with anyone. He is not satisfied with being designated a way, but says emphatically: “I am the way.”

Emerson blundered badly when in those lines about great men in history he wrote,

One was born in a manger,
And one by Avon’s stream,
One grew up by the bank of Nile,
And one in the Academe.

That is like a blow in the face of our Lord. To put Him in a line with Shakespeare, Moses, Plato or any others among the world’s illustrious, is hardly less offensive to the believer than the act of those who crucified Him in company with malefactors.

What a terrible commentary is given the Bethlehem story when it is hinted that other religions can in some measure do for us what Christ came to do. Where else but in Christianity is there provision for removing the sinner’s guilt? What else but the Christian Gospel gives the word of reconciliation to the alienated sinner? What philosopher has ever been qualified and authorized to give assurance of pardon in his own name? Where but at Calvary has there been an atoning deed?

If Christ is not the only Savior, He is no Savior at all, and all that He suffered from His birth to His death was a strange superfluity. Let it be said very emphatically here, and let it be remembered when Christmas day dawns, that the One who was born at Bethlehem and resolutely went to His dereliction at Golgotha is out of all comparison with the one by Avon’s stream. Let’s make sure we do not repeat Emerson’s blunder. Christ is the way! He is the all-sufficing Savior!

From fullest bliss that earth imparts
We turn unfilled to Him again.

A Catalog Christmas – George Macdonald’s poem of the little child’s expression of religious faith has relevance for modern men, however much we may smile at its simplicity.

I am a little child, and I
Am ignorant and weak;
I gaze into the starry sky,
And then I cannot speak.
For all behind the starry sky,
Behind the world so broad,
Behind men’s hearts and souls doth lie
The good almighty God.

Very elementary, you say. True, hut a good beginning of theological sense!

Not all people have made such a good beginning. We may think we have advanced far beyond the ancient world with its “gods many and lords many” (I Corinthians 8:5), hut the truth is that our modern world reeks with idolatries. One of them is associated with man’s excessive confidence in science. The “sacred cow” of the twentieth century is science. All are expected to nod assent when someone declares: “Science says….” We modern Laodiceans feel we are wealthy in science and have need of nothing more.

Proud man today prophesies still greater wonders for tomorrow’s world. How blind he is to the utmost wonder of the universe: God’s Son lying in a manger! What could be more amazing than that! With sinful man ever aspiring to be God, the Son of God became flesh and dwelt among us. He stooped low to embrace us with His redeeming arms, Indeed, so low that it is even written He was made “to be sin for us” (II Corinthians 5:21). Only God could work a wonder like that.

It is this sense of wonder, and again, the sense of this wonder, that needs to be restored to our modern Christmas. A catalog from a New York merchandising firm advertises: “Full of Hard to Find, Luxurious, Impressive, Unique Items.” It lists everything from Electrically-Heated Clothing to Bubble Gum by the Gallon. What an assortment of items from which to select Christmas gifts! This is the kind of Christmas many people plan on enjoying. A Catalog Christmas! But where is Christ? It is His birthday, after all.

A Note of Astonishment – The word “Behold” occupies a prominent place in the Bible. One of the familiar texts in which it is found is I John 3:1: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God.” The word “Behold” here carries a note of astonishment. We are summoned to contemplate the fact of God’s adopting love in a spirit of amazement.

Many people fail to see t.he elements of amazement in the Christian religion. They regard orthodox Christianity as dull. The Christian view of God and the world, as expressed in our creeds and doctrines, is said to be narrow and uninteresting—a religion that bleaches the rosy cheeks of life. Unfortunately, there are orthodox believers who by their temperament and manners encourage that sentiment. They are unpleasant people. They live in rigid grooves and manifest no sweetness at all. These representations of the Christian life certainly leave much to be desired. But you cannot charge that to Christianity.

How can a revelation be described as dull when it discloses the God who made all things, creating them out of nothing; the God who can take up the isles as a very little thing, to whom the nations are as small dust in the balance; the God whose will governs the movement of heavenly bodies in stellar spaces as well as the flight of a little sparrow and the fall of a human hair?

What is dull about the revelation of His grace? Though His majesty is insulted by our sin, He yet “delighteth in mercy” (Micah 7:18). He thrust His arm of redemption into our weakness, shame and sin, making dramatic entry into history by humble doors at Bethlehem. What is prosaic about that?

What is commonplace about the Seven Words from the Cross? What kind of mind is it that finds the story of the first Easter unexciting? What is trite about the Ascension and Pentecost? Who finds it tedious to read the signs of the times which tell us that “the coming of the Lord draweth nigh”?

Let those who say we need a new religion take another look at the old. Let them listen to

The Voice that rolls the stars And speaks the Promise.

Dr. Leonard Greenway is pastor of the Riverside Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan.