Christmas from an eternal perspective

Below are extended notes from a sermon on John 1: 1 - 18 I preached at Stoneleigh Baptist Church, Surrey, on Sunday 3 December 2017.

In his book ‘The Hacking of the American Mind,’ Robert Lustig tells of whether have happiness or pleasure: ‘Pleasure is short-lived, happiness is long lived; pleasure is visceral, happiness is ethereal; pleasure is taking, happiness is giving; pleasure can be achieved with substances, happiness cannot be achieved with substances; and, finally, pleasure is experienced alone, happiness is usually experienced in social groups.’

He then goes on with the 4 Cs for creating lasting happiness in your life, which we could apply to the festive period:
·         Connect – most will be experiencing face-to-face (not Facebook, etc.)
·         Contribute – doing things so others are happy
·         Cope – might be doing self-care, not multitasking, exercising
·         Cook – that is non-processed foods (think brussels sprouts!)

This is all well and good, but there must be more than this.

Some might have wondered why we have not had the traditional passages from Matthew or Luke this morning, but we need to take it from different angle.

We can so easily caught up in time that we forget about eternal perspective, We can be neglectful that both run parallel to each other, although there will be a moment in time when God will make time cease to exist.

The consideration of eternity is an essential part of the nativity narrative – along with Mary, Joseph, the angels, the shepherds, the magi.  If we do not get this, then rest of the events of the nativity narrative will be out of kilter.

In order to demonstrate this fact, I want to show that each of the Gospel authors were writing to a different community with their own emphasises. Matthew was the author with a Jewish audience to show Jesus as king with wise men bowing, Luke was writing to a Gentile audience to show Jesus as Son of Man with humble adoration of shepherds.

Mark was again writing to Gentile readers to show that Jesus was Servant for there is no introduction, he was straight into the action.

However, John wrote to show Jesus as Son of God, so he started his book with wider perspective.

Let your imagination run – Christ, the Father and the Holy Spirit together planning for Christ to come into the world as a baby.

We find it easier to think about time than about eternity – for we know that the service started at 10.30 and (desperately) hope that it will not go on for eternity!

When we think about eternity this morning, it will in these seections:
a.    Who Jesus is
b.    What Christmas is about
c.     How we live our lives


a.    Who Jesus is

When we think about baby in the manger, we have to remember that He is also Lord of all creation.

Jesus’ own words tell us : ‘I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence.’ (John 8: 38)

Also, in the Great High Priest Prayer, Jesus before He died: ‘And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world begun.’ (John 17: 5)

Jesus told His Jewish listeners, ‘before Abraham was, I am’ (John 8: 58) – followed Jesus saying that the Son of Man ascending to where He had come from (John 6: 62)

Hebrews 13: 8 – ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.’ – there is consistency in His attributes.

It blows our minds that Jesus is fully God and fully man – we can think about one aspect at any one time, but we find it difficult to think about both at the same time.

We are reminded that Jesus said: ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.’ (Revelation 22: 13)

When Jesus came to earth, human flesh did not become the Word, the eternal Word became flesh.


John tells of the ‘One and Only’ (verse 14), that is Jesus was literally unique.

He knew the prophesies from Genesis 3: 16 (about the seed destroying Satan) to Micah (foretelling His birth at Bethlehem Ephrathah).

He looked down the corridors of time, saw the human list of descendants (mentioned by Matthew and Luke with some unpronounceable names!) both the good and the bad

He is in control of history, which has the knock on assertion that He knows all about our lives.

He knew that outcome would be cross, where we would be responsible for placing Him to die.

He came ‘in the form of a servant’ (Philippians 2: 6 – 7) to become a ‘ransom for many’ (Matthew 20: 28).

Jesus was our God ‘contracted to a span,’ as Charles Wesley reminds us in his hymn.

It's incredible to think that God loved us from the foundation of the world, looking down through the tunnel of time, to ‘choose us before the creation of the world’ (Ephesians 1: 4) – what thoughts and emotions does that evoke in us?

All these thoughts about eternity can blow our minds, for it is easier to think of Jesus as baby rather than as Lord of the universe, even more so when we try to think of both things together, so we shall unpack this in the next section.


b.    What Christmas is about

‘When the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.’ (Galatians 4: 4 – 5)

‘Made His dwelling’ (verse 14) – it  literally means that Jesus  ‘tabernacled,’ i.e. set up camp. He was willing to dirty His hands in the world that had rejected Him – in world just like this one, rejecting the eternal for what we can get now.

How would we have reacted if Jesus was born in this time? Possibly we would have looked down at Mary the single mother, not on a nice estate, soon to be a refugee. It is a challenge to our prejudices.

C S Lewis wrote: ‘The central miracle asserted by Christmas is the Incarnation…Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this…It was the central event in the history of the Earth – the very thing that the whole story has been about.’

When we look at a baby, we often wonder what his/her life will be like. Jesus was the only one in Nativity that knew what was before Him. He knew that the centre of history points to the cross, it was also the centre of His purpose.

Even in crib, Jesus was author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12: 2). He knew that the cross lay before Him.

C S Lewis commented: ‘God has landed on this enemy-occupied world in human form. The perfect surrender and humiliation was undergone by Christ: perfect because He was God, surrender and humiliation because He was man.’

When we look at the Christmas cards and stable depictions, we can forget that Jesus was only a baby but God Almighty.

In the song , 'Mary did you know?' are these words:
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God

Paul wrote (1 Timothy 6: 15 – 15): ‘God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no-one has seen or can see.’ – He became the babe among the animals, worshipped by men.

Christmas can be sentimentalised so what songs dominate your Christmas? Is it 'Walking in a Winter Wonderland or 'Rocking around the Christmas tree'? Or is it 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing or 'From the Squalor of a Borrowed Stable'? What we sing tells where hearts lie and our viewpoint. Have we focused on the eternal or just on the here and now?

c.     How we live our lives

It said that the first candle in an Advent wreath represents expectation – what are we expecting? How limited are our expectations?

Where eternity and time converge is now, in the present moment.

Can we see beyond the sweater that the recipient doesn’t want? They will inevitably take it back in the January sales.

Ecclesiastes 3: 11 – ‘[God] has [also] set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.’ – God has called us to be people of destiny.

God became flesh – He became the greatest Gift, so our worship should be our only response, like the shepherds, the magi, Mary herself who sang ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour’ (her song, Luke 1: 46 – 47)

We need to live life in the tension of time and eternity. As the old spiritual song reminds us that here is not our home, we are just passing through.

We can bow our knees before the infant in the manger, but being with God around His throne should be our motivation.

Even as evangelical Christians, we  can sort of bow towards materialism and secularism – we can think of presents and parties (although can be nothing bad about those in themselves) so that we forget to wholly bow our knees before the Holy One. It can be an indication of how we live our lives in the other eleven months of the year.

If we put down roots here on earth, we will be reluctant to let go and move onto eternal home.

‘Adventus’ is the Latin translation of the Greek word Parousia, which New Testament mostly referred to Second Coming. In ancient writings, Parousia was usually associated with the arrival of royalty, when the city leaders went outside the city gates to meet the emperor and escort him back to the city.

At Christmas, our first encounter is with the heavenly King, who wants us to submit our lives to Him, come into relationship . The words in the hymn ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ should apply to our lives.

The 7thcentury Advent hymn, ‘Creator of the Stars of the Night’ has both first and second comings: ‘Thou, grieving that the ancient curse should doom to death a universe, hast found the medicine, full of grace, to save and heal a ruined race.’

Then goes on: ‘At whose dread Name, majestic now, all knees must bend, all hearts must bow; and things celestial Thee shall own, and things terrestrial Lord alone.’

When thinking of priorities in our lives, especially at Christmas, remember words of a leading evangelist of 20th century, Keith Green: ‘If your heart takes more pleasure in reading novels, or watching TV, or going to the movies, or talking to friends, rather than just sitting with God and embracing Him, sharing His cares and His burdens, weeping and rejoicing with Him, then how are you going to handle forever and ever in His presence? You’d be bored to tears in heaven, if you’re not ecstatic about God now!’

The Bible states that we are to live for 70 years (Psalm 90: 10); but come what may, our time on earth will inevitably cease.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote: ‘God is God. Because He is worthy of my trust and obedience, I will find rest nowhere but in His holy will that is unspeakable beyond my largest notions of what He is up to.’


Conclusion

Advent is not meant to take us to Christmas and leave us there – it is to move us on in our lives, and onto Jesus’ Second Coming.

We live in materialist society where seek the lights and laughter, trees and trimmings, gadget and gismos – but we have to be reminded of the priority and preciousness of Jesus.

Before kneeling before the tree to get our presents, we are to kneel before Almighty God who came to be the biggest Gift of all.

a.    How does Christ being God and man give you confidence? – salvation rooted in eternity, planned before time began.

b.    What difference will it make to our Christmas? – before bewitched by world’s interpretation, make Jesus the priority, ‘the reason for the season’

c.     Does this impact on how we live our lives? – Christmas comes once a year, important how we also live for the other eleven months of the year

Could be that do not know Jesus or not walking closely with Him, today you can change all that today – get the eternal perspective

Having the eternal perspective should make a difference so we should be introducing others to the Eternal One.


We are exhorted to lift up your eyes and heart to the One who came down to save us for His glory.

Comments