David Jeremiah - Sights and Sounds of Christmas
I was reading something this year written by one of my favorite authors, whose name is Frederick Buechner. And he was writing about the great snow that happened in New York City in the winter of 1947. He described what happened here. And it almost seems impossible that it could have happened this way. He said:
It seemed no different from any other snowstorm. The flakes gently floated down without any wind to drive them. And all day the snow fell. Gradually, the sidewalks, the parked cars, and the buildings were covered with a blanket of white. Shopkeepers were out with their shovels trying to keep a clear path to their doorway. And the snow just kept on falling. The plows couldn't keep ahead of it. And consequently, the traffic nearly came to a standstill. Businesses closed early, and people did their best to get home before nightfall. By the next morning, bustling New York was a totally different city. Abandoned cars were buried. Nothing on wheels could move. Skiers glided down Park Avenue. And the most striking transformation of all was the absolutely incredible silence. The only sounds were muffled voices and ringing church bells. People listened because they couldn't help themselves.
Our world today rarely listens anymore unless there's a crisis of some sort. "But every year," my friend Buechner said, "there is an annual illustration of this same deafening silence at Christmas time". You see, during the Christmas season, businesses increase to a frenzied pace. Canned carols blast over all the din of traffic. Bells jingle. Red-robed Santas freeze in Chicago. And then suddenly, night falls on Christmas Eve. The last shop closes. All the hullabaloo is over, and everything is silent for one brief day. It's unlike anything else in all of culture. For 24 hours, our world shuts down to celebrate something so magnificently wonderful that we have not recovered from it in over 2,000 years. The obscure birth of a peasant child, seemingly insignificant in its time, reaches across the years to command our attention.
For on that historic day, 20 centuries ago, deity embraced humanity. On that day, God became a man. The very thought of that so overwhelmed the Apostle Paul on one occasion that when he was writing to his young friend, Timothy, he burst out into this moment of wonder. He wrote, "And without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness. God was manifest in the flesh". Paul says, "That's unbelievable. The fact that God has become one of us is just a wonder". Look at the person who is seated next to you right now. Do it. Christmas reminds us that God became a person just like that person. And I know some of you are hoping that God is better looking than that, but I want you to get the point. God becoming a person is not some spiritual thing, some spiritual personality, but a real, physical person like you. Like the person you just looked at. God becoming flesh and blood.
John 1:14 puts it this way, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth". And one person has written about it in this way, "The coming of Jesus Christ into the world represents a truth more profound than any philosophy you have ever read about". All of the great thinkers of the world together could never have produced anything even remotely approaching the wonder disclosed in these words, "I have come". The words are wiser than all learning. They are more eloquent than all oratory, more lyric and moving than all music. They tell us that of all mankind sitting in the darkness, they've been visited by the light of the world.
Suppose it hadn't happened. Suppose we lived in the generations prior to its happening. And just suppose that we would have gotten some advance notice that on some particular day, at some particular place, the Most High God was going to condescend to become a man. We would celebrate it in the biggest party of all of history. But ladies and gentlemen, it has happened. And the party has been goin' on for 2,000 years. And God has become a man, and it is a wonder that deity has embraced humanity. But on that day, not only did deity embrace humanity, but eternity embraced time. One of the most confusing facts to many people who study God is that God is not affected by time.
In fact, when I tell people that God created time, they look at me weird, like, "How could that be? How could God create time"? God lives outside of time. Another way to say it is that there's never been a time when God was not, and there never will be a time when God ceases to be. God is eternal. But on that day, 2,000 years ago, eternity came down and subjected itself to the boundaries of time. Eternity chose to walk in days, and weeks, and months, and years. God voluntarily limited himself to the boundaries of time. And for a few years, God confined himself to live as we live. In fact, Micah, one of the great prophets of the Old Testament, captures this in one of his prophecies. Here's what he said, "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to me the one who is to be Ruler in Israel," now, listen to this, "who's goings forth are from of old, from everlasting".
Ladies and gentlemen, Jesus did not become a person at Bethlehem. He became a man at Bethlehem. Long before Bethlehem, Jesus was. As I said before, there never was a time when he was not. And there never will be a time when he ceases to be. Micah said someone was going to be born who had already been alive forever. And that's what happened on Christmas. In Jesus Christ, eternity embraced time so that those of us who are bound by time might one day embrace eternity. And finally, the third major reason why we celebrate all of these years this incredible event is not only because deity embraced humanity, and eternity embraced time, but because royalty embraced poverty.
Have you ever read this verse in the Corinthians? "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich". On that day when Jesus Christ was born in the stable and placed in a manger, the God who lived in the majestic beauty of heaven, who was adorned in the royal robes of deity, that God put on swaddling clothes and came to be one of us. "He became poor," says this Scripture, "that we through his poverty might be made rich".
The unmeasured Word of creation was coming to talk with shepherds and fishermen. And the light that blinded a people in the desert so that it was reflected in the face of Moses, that light was about to shrink to a flicker of tiny life in the breast of a baby. Heaven's throne was about to be removed and become a wooden manger. And the one who sits on that throne would shortly know hunger and cold, and would assume the life of a servant. God was about to be born of Mary. "And being found in appearance as a man," Paul wrote, "he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross".
Have you ever thought about it? Because he was willing to humble himself and become a man, because he was willing to die, even the death of the cross, because through his death he would pay the penalty for all our sin, he now offers us the free gift of eternal life, which we may receive by faith. And in receiving that gift, we become the richest and most wealthy of all the people in the world. "The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord". I have been preaching on Christmas now for almost 50 years. And I still find myself humbled by the message of the incarnation.
Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard told this parable to help his congregation understand why he came and why he had to come. This has helped me greatly. I pray that it will mean something to you as well. Imagine that there was a king who loved a humble maiden. She had no royal pedigree, no education, no standing in the court. In fact, she dressed in rags. She lived in a hovel. She led the ragged life of a peasant. But for reasons no one could ever quite figure out, the king fell in love with this girl in the way that kings sometimes do. Why he should love her is beyond explaining. But love her he did, and he could not stop himself from loving her. One day, there awoke in the heart of the king an anxious thought. How was he to reveal his love to this girl? I mean, how could he bridge the chasm that separated the two of them?
His advisors, of course, would tell him simply to command her to be his queen, for he was a man of immense power. Every statesman feared his wrath. Even foreign power trembled before him. Every courtier groveled in the dust of the king's voice. She would have no power to refuse him, no power to resist. She would have to become his queen. But power, even unlimited power, cannot command love. The king could force her body to be present in his palace, but he could not force love for him to be present in her heart. He might be able to gain her obedience this way, but coerced submission is not what he wanted. He longed for intimacy of heart and oneness of spirit. And for all the power in the world cannot unlock the door of the human heart. It must be opened from the inside. His advisors suggested that he try to bridge the chasm between them by elevating her to his position.
He could shower her with gifts, dress her in purple and silk, have her crowned the queen. But if he brought her to his palace, if he radiated the sun of his magnificence over her, if she saw all the wealth and power of his greatness, she would be overwhelmed. How could he know if she loved him for himself or for all that he had given to her? How could she know that he loved her and would love her still even it remained only a humble relationship with a peasant? Would she be able to summon confidence enough to never remember what the king wished only to forget, that he was the king and she was a humble maiden? Every other alternative came to nothing. There was only one way for him to love this woman.
So one day, the king arose, left his throne, removed his crown, relinquished his scepter, laid aside his royal robes, took upon himself the life of a peasant. He dressed in rags. He scratched out a living in the dirt. He groveled for food and dwelt in a hovel. He did not just take on the outward appearance of a servant, he became his actual life, his nature, his burden. He became as ragged as the one he loved so that she could be united to him forever. It was the only way. His raggedness became the very signature of his presence. When I read that story, I realized that's what Jesus did for me.
Could Jesus have just said a word and pronounced us all children of the King? Absolutely, unparalleled power. Could he have wooed us to himself in some other way? Yes. But the Lord Jesus Christ loved us enough that he left all of the beauty of heaven, took upon himself flesh. The book of Hebrews says, "He tasted flesh". He became one of us. Christmas is about Jesus Christ becoming one of us, a true, fully human person. While not leaving any of his deity behind, he became the God-Man. And he walked among us, perfectly living the life that was given to him. And one day, as the spotless Lamb of God, he hung on a cross and paid the penalty for our sin.
When I think of Christmas, I think of love, love of my family, love of my wife. But even more than all of that, I think of the love of God. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believed in him should not perish but have everlasting life". Christmas is not about the lights and the music, although that's much a part of our celebration. Christmas is about this story. Humanity was embraced by deity, time was embraced by eternity, and poverty was embraced by the richness of the Son of God. I know that if you know him in your heart, you understand the incredible wonder of Christmas.
One of the most exciting times in a family is when a child is born. And perhaps in the time surrounding the birth of the child, the most traumatic and exciting time is trying to figure out a name for the child. Parents labor at that. I found out some years ago there are whole books written about it, books with all kinds of suggestions. Websites are dedicated to the naming of a child. So it's very interesting to me that when Jesus Christ was born, his parents didn't have anything to do with giving him his name. In fact, as you remember, the angel told Joseph, "You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sin". By special instruction, expressing God's perfect will, it came to pass in Bethlehem while the stars were shining and the angels were singing, and the wise men were somewhere journeying, someone asked, "Who is that in the manger"? And Mary and Joseph responded, "His name is Jesus".
Did you know that in the Gospels God's Son is called by that particular name over 500 times? There are over 300 different names for Jesus in the Bible, but by far the most popular name is the name Jesus. And Jesus has been my favorite name for the Savior. It might surprise you, as it did me when I first learned this, that Jesus, at the time when Jesus was on this earth, was a very popular name. It was an everyday name. In my family, there are three Davids. I'm a David. I have a son named David Michael who has a son named David Todd. You should be with us when we check into a hotel together. David is one of the most popular names in our culture today. And the reason I know that is if you ever go to a place where they sell things that have particular names on them, the name David is always out of stock.
Everybody has a name David somewhere in their family. That's the way it was with the name Jesus when Jesus was born. Jesus' name would have appeared three or four times on every class roll because it was an everyday name. The interesting thing is that when God chose to name his Son who came to this earth to present God to us, he chose a very simple and common name. We often think that Jesus was a particular name that nobody else had. Only after Jesus' birth and his life on this earth did that name start to disappear as a name people called their children. In the Hispanic world today, many people still use that name for their children. In the English world, it's hardly ever used. But before Jesus was born, it was a name everybody had heard before. It was an everyday name. And it was an easy name.
Did you know that there was a man in the Bible named Tiglath-Pileser Adonibezek? That's really true. Aren't you glad God didn't call his name...? Can you imagine the worship choruses we might have written around that name? No, he called his Son Jesus. Only two syllables, five letters, a child can learn it. If you translate this name into all the languages and dialects of the world, whether Hebrew, Greek, or Anglo-Saxon, you will never be able to rob it of its music. Its sweet tones break in upon your ear.
In fact, when I was younger, when I was a teenager, I used to build shortwave radios, and I loved to listen to shortwave radio. And I learned from my father that there were many Christian shortwave radio stations all over the world. And I would find them. And most of the time, I wouldn't be able to understand anything that was being said. I just knew it was a Christian shortwave station. But if I listened long enough and they played music, sooner or later I would hear a name that I recognized. Jesu, or some form of Jesus. It's almost always spoken in some similar way all over the world. And that's when I realized that Jesus' name was not just a name to tell us who he was, but it was specifically chosen so that it would be understood by everyone who would ever hear of the Savior.
My friend, Rob Morgan, once wrote that, "The Author and Finisher of our faith is Jesus. He's the source of our salvation, the destination of our dreams. He is the first cause and the last Word. He is the origin of creation, the terminus of time. He reigns from vanishing point to vanishing point, from past to future, from everlasting to everlasting, he is God. He transcends time and pervades eternity. He appears at the beginning and the end of the ages. He's also at the beginning and ending of our lives, present at the moment of our conception and on the day of our death. He knows how to lead us from birth to death". And the name of Jesus is such an enduring name that according to the book of Revelation, when we get to heaven someday, that name is going to be written on the foreheads of the followers of Christ.
In fact, Revelation says it this way, "They shall see his face and his name shall be on their foreheads". Jesus is an everyday name, and it's an easy name, and it's an enduring name. But it's also a very exalted name. As simple as it is, and it's almost so precious that sometimes we hesitate to say it. That's why when I hear someone take his name in vain, it hurts me in my heart. To take that precious name and use it as a way to curse someone. The name Jesus is a precious name. It's an exalted name. In fact, in the book of Philippians, we are told that, "God highly exalted him and gave him a name which is above every name," listen to this, "that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that he is Jesus Christ the Lord to the glory of God the Father".
The Bible says that, "Those who take his name in vain one day will bow before that name". If they don't receive him in time, it will be the last moment they ever spend in his presence. But those of us who know him, those of us who love him, we know that his name is precious and exalted. And when we sing of him in our hymns as we shall do in a moment, we sing with a kind of respect and love for the name Jesus, the Savior who was born in Bethlehem. And Jesus is also an empowering name. By that, I mean there is power in the name of Jesus. Jesus promised that, "Whoever asks him of something in his name, it would be granted".
How many of you know when we pray, we pray in the name of Jesus? When we're baptized, we're baptized in the name of Jesus. We serve our friends and our neighbors in the name of Jesus. We have no standing before Almighty God in heaven apart from Jesus. I cannot pray to God if I don't know Jesus. Jesus is my only access to the Father. So when I pray in Jesus' name, what I'm saying is, "God, I don't have a standing before you, but Jesus does and I know him, and he represents me. I pray in Jesus' name". It's an empowering name. And it's an exclusive name. When the angel said to Joseph, "You shall call his name Jesus," he added a qualifying phrase. Do you remember what it was? "For he shall save his people from their sin". Jesus is the only name by which a person can find heaven as their eternal home.
I was praying one time at a political dinner, and I was sitting at the table with some political leaders, and I prayed for the dinner, and I prayed for the event, and I prayed in Jesus' name. And some people were sitting in the back and they were very angry at me. They came all the way up to the table where I was seated and began to, well, they began to swear at me because I had the gall to pray in the name of Jesus in a ecumenical crowd. And I remember saying to them, "That's the only way I know how to pray. I don't know how to pray any other way except in the name of Jesus". Because you see, Jesus is an exclusive name. There's no other name like it. And this is the reason it's so exclusive. "You shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sin".
The word "Jesus" means "Jehovah saves". It's the New Testament representation of the Old Testament name "Joshua". Sometimes we call him "Yeshua". The Joshua of the Old Testament couldn't save. The priests of the Old Testament couldn't forgive sin. I am a pastor. I cannot forgive sin. There is no man on this earth who can forgive sin but Jesus only. And because of that, he is the most unique person who ever lived in the universe. His name sets him apart from everyone. He alone can save his people from their sin. In the book of Acts in the 4th chapter, and the 12th verse, we read these words, "Nor is there salvation in any other," watch this, "for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved".
I know some people say it's not politically correct to say that Jesus is the only way to heaven. It just happens to be biblically true. I'd much rather be biblically true than politically correct, ever more so, every day, amen? Over 50 years I've been preaching about Jesus. Every time I preach about him, somewhere, something happens. The Bible says that, "His Word will never return unto him void". Even this week, as I've walked the streets of New York, people have come up to me to tell me stories about how Jesus has changed their life because they heard "Turning Point" on the radio or watched a television program. It's not about David Jeremiah, it's not even about "Turning Point". I can't do that, nor can our program do it. But Jesus can do it. And when you lift up Jesus, when you lift up Jesus, the Bible says, "He will draw all people to himself".
Oh, how we need to lift up his name in this day, in this time of such disappointment and disillusionment in our culture. The one name that sparks hope into all of our lives is the name of Jesus. And he has come to be the Savior of the world. Longing to leave her poor Brazilian neighborhood, Christina wanted to see the world. She was discontent with a home having only a pallet on the floor, a wash basin, and a wood-burning stove. And she dreamed of a better life in the city. One morning, she quietly slipped away, breaking her mother's heart. Knowing what life on the streets would be like for her daughter, Maria, her mother, hurriedly packed and set out to find her. She went into a drugstore to get one last thing, pictures. She sat at the photograph booth and closed the curtain and spent all the money she could on pictures of herself. And with her purse full of small, black-and-white photos, she boarded the next bus to Rio de Janeiro.
Maria knew Christina had no way of earning money. She also knew that her daughter was too stubborn to give up. When pride meets hunger, a human will do things that were before unthinkable. Knowing this, Maria began her search. Bars, hotels, night clubs, any place where the reputation for streetwalkers or prostitutes might be, she went to them all. And at each place, she left her picture taped on a bathroom mirror, tacked to a hotel bulletin board, fastened to a corner phone booth. And on the back of each photo she wrote a note. It wasn't long before both the money and the pictures ran out and Maria had to go home. The weary mother wept as the bus began its long journey back to her small village.
And it was a few weeks later that young Christina descended the hotel stairs. Her young face was tired. Her brown eyes no longer danced with youth, but spoke of pain, and spoke of fear. Her laughter was broken. Her dream had become a nightmare. A thousand times over, she had longed to trade those countless beds for her secure pallet. Yet, the little village was, in too many ways, too far away. As she reached the bottom of the stairs on that fateful day, her eyes noticed a familiar face. She looked again, and there on the lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother. Christina's eyes burned and her throat tightened as she walked across the room and removed that small photo. Written on the back was this compelling invitation: "Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn't matter. Please come home".
And she did. And I want you to know that that's what the message of the gospel is all about. Did you know that the Bible says that, "Jesus Christ has come to seek and to save that which is lost"? And Jesus Christ is God's picture to us. Did you know that? The Scripture says, "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father". Jesus said that. Do you want to know what God is like? He's pictured in Jesus. Jesus is God, but he's a picture of who God is. And Almighty God sent his picture down here. It's taped on the podium of churches. It's heard on the dial of radio stations. It's seen in television programs. And on the back of the picture is this message: "Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, come home".