Christmas in July
Rev. Mark A. Barber
Several years ago during the Great Recession, several retailers in an attempt to increase slumping sales advertised a “Christmas in July” sale. They put out the Christmas decorations and even played “Christmas” songs in the stores to try to get shoppers in the buying spirit. To me, it seemed a silly act of desperation.
So some of you are probably thinking of what kind of gimmick the preacher is up to this morning. Is this just a gimmick to attract people to the church? The church seems to be doing a lot of these things today to revive slumping attendance and to try to get people to believe in Jesus Christ. Do we need to resort to such tactics today to draw people? Or does God have a different way?
I could try to get you into a Christmas spirit by saying that I saw a picture of snowplows in Santa Rosa, New Mexico removing a foot of hail from the city streets which had whitened the town. I am sure they did not appreciate the “Ho! Ho! Ho!. I could mention that we don’t know what time of year that Jesus was born. Who knows if Jesus wasn’t actually born in July and not December? The traditional celebration of Christmas at the shortest time of year seems appropriate in that during the time of the world’s greatest darkness, the Light of the World was born in a manger in Bethlehem. However, the days are only at their shortest in December in the Northern Hemisphere. In Australia, the longest days are in December and the shortest ones are in June and July. I always wonder how well snow and sleighs fit there in December.
The reason I am preaching a Christmas message this morning is that we are starting a series in the Gospel of John this morning on July 5th. The Gospel, like all the other Gospels begin with a Christmas story. Matthew presents the Christmas story from Joseph’s point of view. Luke presents the Christmas story from Mary’s. It is a little harder to find the Christmas story in Mark, seeing it starts with “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ”, and immediately introduces the ministry of John the Baptist. However, there is a Christmas story there as well. Christmas is when Christ is born in the heart of a new believer.
John begins his Gospel well before the day Jesus was born in Bethlehem. In fact, we don’t get to that until verse 14 where it says “and the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.” In fact, he begins the Gospel before time and the universe itself existed. “In the beginning” are the same words which Genesis uses at the start of the account of creation. John says that the Word was already in existence before creation itself, and that this Word was “with God” followed by the stunning statement “And the Word was God”. Just to be sure the reader got the message he repeats that the Word already existed at the beginning of the universe
This Word is the Creator of every single thing. To be sure this is understood, John goes on to state the opposite that not one single thing was made apart from this Word. Then John says “in Him was life”. Only God has life in Himself. In other words, God does not owe His existence to anyone or anything else. The life we live has its immediate source in our parents and ultimately comes from God Himself who is the source of all life. Genesis states that God breathed upon Adam and he became a living soul. It also states that He made male and female in His image. In the Gospel we read that this Word was the light of humanity. In other words, He has made us more than rocks or even the other animals. The Westminster-Shorter catechism states that the goal of human existence is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”. We were created with a purpose and to have fellowship with God. The life of God in our soul is to be our light.
So this Word which became flesh is none other than the Creator of the universe. This Word is identified in verses 17-18 as “Jesus Christ” and the “Son”. This Jesus that was born in Bethlehem was no ordinary baby. The other Gospels emphasize that in one sense, Jesus was a perfectly ordinary human child who had to be nourished, protected, and had to grow up to adulthood. He was perfect humanity, of course, born without sin. But he was fully human as Adam was human. John here clearly shows us that Jesus was also fully God as well. Here we must understand that God is a Trinity, Father Son, and Holy Spirit. The Nicene Creed informs us that God is One God in three Persons and that these three persons are equal. The teaching of the Trinity is beyond our full understanding, but one picture I could give is this. The Father willed the creation. And the Son, the Word, spoke creation into existence. And as it requires breath to speak, and the word “spirit” in both Hebrew and Greek can mean “breath” or “wind”, then the Holy Spirit provided the breath that the Word spoke.
The doctrines of the Trinity and of the human and divine natures of Jesus are certainly difficult doctrines for even the most learned to understand. But these doctrines lie at the very foundation of the Christian faith itself. You might say at this point: “Preacher, just make it simple. Just tell people to make some sort of profession of faith in Christ and all will be well.” However, John and the other apostles want believers to know their God and their Savior more than that. Jesus, quoting the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy, reminds us to love the Lord with all of our mind as well as our heart and strength. Christianity is not just a religion of the emotions, but of the whole person, including the mind. Emotion by itself has no substance by itself. It leads to an up and down faith. A merely intellectual faith is cold. A healthy Christian experience has both. When we realize that God Himself came to us in that manger to save us, it should make us shout. He did not leave the job to an underling. When we realize that this Jesus, the Word died on a cross for our sin, it should make a difference in our lives.
The first eighteen verses of the Gospel, called “the prologue” are written in an ancient pattern called a “chiasmus” (Key-az-moose). We think today in a more linear pattern. We start at the beginning and go to the end. But in those days, both ends of a passage worked back to the middle. For example here, verses 17-18 help explain what is meant by verses 1-5. Chiastic thought is like a set of steps going up to the middle and another going back down on the other side. Each step on the one stair corresponds to the same step on the other. In this type of thinking, what is stated in the middle is the most important.
So then, what verse is in the middle that we need to zero in on? It is this one “But to those who did believe. He gave them the right to become the children of God.” This is the central theme of the Gospel of John. In fact John says so at the end of the Gospel itself: “These things have been written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that by believing you might have eternal life.” So John wrote His Gospel with the intention that people might come into a saving relationship. So even if the water get a little deep at times, what is stated here in the prologue is important for people to come to faith in Jesus Christ. This is God’s way. We do not trick people into becoming Christians. In fact, we cannot make someone a Christian at all. We can as Paul says plant (evangelize) or water (nurture), but it is God who gives the increase. People are born again not by human will or means, but rather by God. All we can do is to bear witness to Who Jesus is and what He has done for us. We just need to tell the truth about Jesus Christ. We see this in the testimony of John the Baptist. His sole purpose was to point people to Jesus, to bear witness to the Light.
There is a note of great sadness in the opening of the gospel in that so many people have rejected the gospel. This is seen in the statement that the Light shone in the darkness, but the darkness did not understand it. God shone the light, but far too many refuse to see the light. They have preferred to stay in the dark. They head for the darkest closet and close their eyes just like a person suffering from a migraine. God clearly reveals Himself in creation as Paul says in Romans 1, but humanity deliberately suppresses this knowledge. It is as the Gospel of John states: “The men loved darkness rather than the Light”. Adam and Eve who were given everything save one tree in the garden chose to disobey and bring the entire human race into darkness. And until the time of Jesus’ birth, the world remained in darkness.
Jesus came into the world to bring light to the world. He even came to his own people, the Jewish nation. But most of the Jewish nation rejected Him. And we all know John 3:16 that it was God’s love that sent Jesus into the world to offer Himself so that no one need perish. What a tragedy that so many have perished and are perishing this day. It is even a greater tragedy that many who go to church have rejected him, preferring to substitute their own Jesus for the one revealed in Scripture.
But as we have noted, the emphasis is on those who do believe the gospel have eternal life through Jesus Christ. We have this wonderful verse in the prologue that the Law was given to Moses, but grace and truth by Jesus Christ. The Law was a gift given to the Jews to prepare them for the greater grace of Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s grace.
Salvation requires two things. One is that the Savior be able to save. I can remember one hot Saturday night when I was delivering the Sunday Free Press that I was on Climer Road when I saw a large fire in the distance and the outline of the building. Naturally, I raced to where I saw the fire. When I got there, I saw a barn which was being converted into an apartment on fire. I screamed and hollered as loud as I could, “fire!”. The barn was right next to the owner’s house. I banged on his door but got no answer. Every on on the street woke up but this fellow. I then saw a garden hose and a faucet at the house, so I tried to play the firefighter. I didn’t know if anyone was in the barn of the house. I was most certainly willing to save anyone who was in the building that was on fire. But there was one problem. The heat from the fire was so hot that I couldn’t even get the stream of water from the hose close enough to the fire, as though my efforts with a garden hose was going to make any difference at all. I was willing to save, but I could not save. Fortunately, no one was in the barn apartment and someone called the fire department. Eventually the owner who lived in the house woke up, wondering what had happened.
The other thing that is required to save is the willingness to save. Jonah was to bring a message of doom to Nineveh which he know would lead to their repentance and deliverance. That is why he ran off to Tarshish. God had to go to extraordinary means to make Jonah willing.
So we see that Jesus must be both willing and able to save. We know that he was willing by his coming to earth to die for our sin. We know he is able to save because He rose from the dead. We also know that He is able because He is Himself God the Son, and that nothing is impossible for God.
I can only say that I cannot save you this morning. I can relate to your sufferings and pain because I am human too. But I am not God. I can listen to your stories like a psychotherapist or bartender. I might even make you feel better. But the truth is that the world is on fire. If I don’t tell you of the danger you are in, then all I am doing is putting salve on an infected wound. Pain is a good thing in that it tells you something is wrong and needs attention. If all I do is dull your pain this morning, I am doing worse than nothing. I cannot save you, but I can holler that your house is on fire. This is what I can do. I can witness to the truth. But it is up to you to wake up to the reality. Jesus is returning to bring eternal life to those who believe and eternal judgment to those who reject Him. Make sure you make the right decision.