Thoughts on Christmas

During my private worship this morning I was reading Mark Dever’s commentary on the New Testament, Promises Kept, transcribed from messages he’s given at his church. This morning I happened to be reading his sermon on 1 Timothy. Providentially, it was a message he first gave on Dec. 19, 1999, so it contains numerous references to Christmas. I wanted to share some of his comments with you, along with my thoughts.

1. Christmas isn’t about who’s been "naughty or nice."

"The news we have to declare as Christians is not fundamentally about our law-keeping or our obedience. The glad tidings we bear are not for ‘good people.’ It is ‘for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly, and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers, and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers’ (1 Tim. 1:9b-10a NIV). I doubt you have received many Christmas cards like that. Yet have you realized this is who the Christmas message is for? The Christmas message is not for a bunch of well-dressed, respectable people who attend church to celebrate a cultural holiday. The Christmas message is a message that brings joy to people like father-killers and slave-traders!" (p. 345-346)

To truly find joy in Christmas, I have to acknowledge that Jesus didn’t become a baby because I’m so good. He came because I’m so evil and needed a Savior. He didn’t come to reward us for what we’ve done, but to save us from what we’ve done.

2. Christmas isn’t merely about good feelings.

"A Christmas card theology of ‘holiday cheer’ or of angels with trumpets singing ‘Peace on earth, good will toward men’ is simply not good enough in a world that includes real tragedies like the Columbine High School shootings, the terrorist threat of nuclear weapons, or, truly, the contents of your heart and mine. If you regard evil only as what those ‘bad people out there’ do, you will not understand Jesus at all. You must understand this truth first: there is far more to the Christian gospel than celebrating the mean remnants of goodness that may remain in us" (p. 348).

The expressions of "Merry Christmas!" and "Happy Holidays!" that I’ve heard so often recently are in one sense a sign of common grace. Many people tend to be kinder and more thoughtful at Christmas time. However, to think that’s all Christmas is about is to miss the point. We need more than a temporary respite from the real tragedies, problems, and fears that plague our lives. We need more than good feelings. We need a Savior. And Christmas tells us that he’s come.

3. Christmas is only one part of a greater story.

"To think that Christmas is more about the stable in Bethlehem than about the cross in Jerusalem is to regard the acorn as more important than the oak…The Christmas message is not merely the fact that God became man by being born of the virgin Mary; the Christmas message is the reason for the Incarnation: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’" (p. 353-354).

Jesus held by the wood.
Delivered and delivering,
Jesus held by the wood.

Witnesses on either side.
Mary silhouetted,
quietly gazing
with great feeling
on her son,
the sky dark above.
As at the beginning,
so at the end.

Jesus held by the wood.
Delivered and delivering,
Jesus held by the wood.

The scene of Christmas
and of Calvary,
of the cradle
and the cross.
(Mark Dever, p. 354-355)

While the mystery of God becoming man stretches the boundaries of our comprehension, his coming can’t be separated from the reason he came. May the two stories – the cradle and the cross – always remain inseparable in our meetings, our relationships, and our hearts.

7 Responses to Thoughts on Christmas

  1. Jeff December 19, 2006 at 11:56 AM #

    What a wonderful statement: “To think that Christmas is more about the stable in Bethlehem than about the cross in Jerusalem is to regard the acorn as more important than the oak…”

    A great Christmas post.

  2. Peter Schott December 19, 2006 at 7:03 PM #

    This was pretty awesome. I really liked the imagery behind the last poem. It’s so true that the birth without the cross or the cross without the birth are meaningless. Both are important for our salvation.

    “To truly find joy in Christmas, I have to acknowledge that Jesus didn’t become a baby because I’m so good. He came because I’m so evil and needed a Savior. He didn’t come to reward us for what we’ve done, but to save us from what we’ve done.”
    That also moved me. It’s easy to get caught up in the love that God had for His creation and sending His Son to die for us, but this puts it in perspective again. My sin. I’m no better than the worst sinner to walk the earth. God has covered me with the blood of Jesus and without that covering, I’m judged and found wanting.

    Thank you for the time that you spend on this blog. I appreciate the articles you write and the thought behind them.

    Merry Christmas!

    In Him,

  3. Angela Gilland December 20, 2006 at 12:19 AM #

    This was such a great post. I’ve been really thinking about this topic of what it meant for Jesus to come into the world today.

    Thank you for your faithfulness in serving us with these blogs.

    In awe of the Cross,

  4. Kyle Carlson December 20, 2006 at 10:01 AM #

    I recently received (for my birthday) Mark Dever’s books “The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made” and “The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept,” and have been slowly making my way through the Old Testament one in the past two weeks. It is a remarkably helpful resource, and a wonderful read. I would recommend these books to anyone and everyone who is interested in getting a better grasp of the Bible and the story of redemption.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, Bob, and for pointing others to Dever’s outstanding work.


  5. Jonathan Moorhead December 20, 2006 at 7:39 PM #

    Great thoughts, Bob.

  6. Bill McCarthy December 26, 2006 at 12:20 AM #

    I recently received somewhat of a revelation (not huge, but perhaps worth sharing) in the same vein as this post.

    While picking out scripture passages in preparation for our Christmas Eve evening service of lessons & carols, I was struck by the correlation between the references to the “fruit” mentioned in Genesis 3 (which was the object used by man to execute disobedience toward God, leading to the ‘fall’) and that mentioned in Isaiah 1:1 which states “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear FRUIT” – ESV.

    Although, possibly, the most widely accepted interpretation of this passage may be that the “branch” is the object which is referring prophetically to Jesus, and that the “fruit” would pertain to His accomplished redemptive work, I would like to offer another take. That the “branch” might be a reference to the lineage of Joseph through Jesse. Then the “fruit” which is borne (or, perhaps, even born) of the branch would be the very person of Jesus, Himself. Who could then also be referred to, metaphorically, as the new (and redeeming) “fruit” of God’s provision.

    Especially in light of the celebration of the Eucharist. We now partake, according to his positive direction to “DO this in remembrance of Me” (as opposed to “…thou shalt not eat…”), of the “fruit” of redemption. Of Jesus Himself (not to imply a doctrine of Transubstantiation).

    Much in the same way that He is referred to as the new “Adam”, perhaps Jesus might also be referred to as the new (and thereby redemptive) “fruit”.

  7. Bill McCarthy December 26, 2006 at 12:58 AM #

    I also wanted to share another Christmas-themed observation I received that gave a fresh breath (for me anyway) to an old carol. While listening to the ever-familiar The First Noel, it suddenly dawned on me (much like a sky full of angels) that, as the first line states, the first noel (which means Christmas carol and is from the root word – ‘natal’ which refers to birth), the angel did say, was to certain poor shepherds. And it occurred to me (though I have been singing this song for all of my known life) that this had profound significance. The fact that the very first official announcement of the birth of Messiah, Christ, by the official messengers of the biological (if you can really use that term in this context) father, (that being, THEee Heavenly Father, Numero Uno of the triune God Head) was indeed being delivered to shepherds.
    Now Ive always understood that most people think that this is significant because these were the common people, of humble origins and existence. Which fits in with the theme that though He be a king in His own right, Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself -ESV
    Though this is absolutely true and accurate, I think that a deeper pertinence is not so much the station in life of those receiving the announcement , but rather the correlation of the object of the announcement to those receiving it. The announcement was about the birth of a lamb, THEee Lamb of God, who is Himself also a shepherd. Who better to announce it to first than a bunch of shepherds (common though they might be).

    By the way, still flying high from the WorshipGod ’06 conference. Thank you, Bob, for your excellent leadership.

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