David Jeremiah - The Wonder of Christmas
As a father and grandfather, I have had the opportunity to relive the wonder of Christmas through the eyes of my children and my grandchildren. I'm transported back to when I was a child as our family decorated the Christmas tree, strung lights outside the house, sang carols with friends and loved ones, and anticipated the gifts that would surround the tree come Christmas morning. As we get older, our wonder at Christmas should remain, but now for different reasons.
Hello, I'm David Jeremiah, and welcome to today's Christmas edition of, "Turning Point". You may have already guessed the subject of today's special Christmas message. I've entitled it, "The Wonder of Christmas". Together, we'll discover five timeless reasons to remain amazed at what happened that first Christmas. Those five reasons were true then and they remain true today, ensuring that we never lose our sense of wonder at Christmas. So, discover how you can have a wonder-filled Christmas, next, right here on, "Turning Point".
When we started the church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, back in 1969, we had just a few families. We built a little building. One day I was in my office and a guy knocked on the door and he introduced himself and he said he was the president of WPTA which was the ABC affiliate station there, channel 21. And he said to me something like this. He said, "I drive by your church every Sunday on my way to get the newspaper and I see you have lots of cars. I don't know what's going on here, but something's going on here". And he said, "We haven't had a live television service in this community for many years and I'd like to know if you'd like to do that". And I said, "Well, I don't know anything about that. How would we do it"? He said, "Well, we'll help you". And he said, "We have a couple of old cameras out in our warehouse. We'll give you those cameras. We'll microwave it to the station every Sunday at 11 o'clock. This will be live".
What we do here is live here but we record it and then we go make sure it's okay, then we put it out there on the network. Well, we didn't have any opportunities to make sure it was okay. It was okay whether you liked it or not. And we had some incredible experiences. I don't have time to tell you all of them but, Fort Wayne, Indiana, is in the snow belt, whether you know it or not, and we had some amazing snow storms when I was the pastor of that church. We had several weekends when there was so much snow, we couldn't go to church.
And I remember one particular Sunday in the early '70s after I'd been there for two or three years. We had a blizzard that was the blizzard of all blizzards. It annihilated all the streets. The streets weren't just full of snow, you couldn't even see the streets. You didn't know where they were. Well, my friend at WPTA called me and asked me what we're gonna do on Sunday 'cause we have to have a broadcast. I said, "I don't know. I'll work on it". And here's what we did. We went and got all our cameramen on snowmobiles. We got our vocalist on a snowmobile. I was close enough, I could walk. There was about 10 or 12 of us in the building and we had church. And nobody was there. But there were a whole lot of people watching at home 'cause they couldn't go anywhere and do anything else.
And I remember when this happened, I had read something somewhere previous to that day about snow and how God makes snow and every snowflake is different than every other snowflake. And I remember the verse of Scripture says: "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as snow", and I don't know what I said, but I preached a whole sermon on snow that day and the next day I got a note from the guy at ABC and he told me it was the highest rated audience he'd ever had on a Sunday 'cause we had a captive audience. Nobody could do anything, they had to listen to me.
After that was all over, I walked out into the parking lot and I remember just standing there and trying to absorb all that had happened that day. I felt the presence of God. I felt the presence of Christmas. I felt the reality of what we celebrate every year. I know I'm not alone in that. I know that you probably have had those moments and you weren't for sure what they were. But something happens at this season of the year that never happens at any other time. And something that we should not be afraid of, but should embrace because I believe that's the way it was when Christmas was born.
Let me read to you a portion of the Word of God and I'll put the words up on this big screen behind me. Here's what it says: "Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. And the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!' And so it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.' And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child".
Now listen to this. "And all those who heard it marveled". "All those who heard it", literally, the King James says it this way: "And they all who heard it wondered". They wondered, they marveled. I could say it if you will let me. They felt the presence of God. They felt Christmas in its true beginning. They were in awe. I think that's one of the things that we've lost in our celebration of Christmas and I'd like to make the point of trying to reestablish it.
My friend, Max Lucado, wonders at this season. He wrote this. He said, "It is the season to be jolly, because more than any other time we think of him. For a few precious hours he is beheld, Christ the Lord. And those who pass the year without seeing him suddenly see him. People who have been accustomed to using his name in vain pause to use it in praise. Eyes now free of the blinders of self marvel at his majesty, and all of a sudden, he is everywhere, in the grin of the policeman as he drives the wagon full of presents to the orphanage, in the emotion of the father who is too thankful to finish the dinner-table prayer, in the tears of the mother who welcomes home her son from overseas. He's in the solemn silence of the shopping mall shoppers as the elementary school chorus sings, "Away in a Manger". He is with us. God has come and we are filled with wonder".
Christmas truly is an amazing time of the year. Heaven coming to earth, God coming to man. Actually, God becoming a man. It is no wonder then that when we open our Bibles we discover how majestic that first Christmas really was. From the beginning of the story to the end of the story, Jesus's birth is filled with awe. The story is packed with angels, and dreams, and kings, and prophecies, and gifts, and the glory of God shining in the skies. Even our favorite Christmas hymns remind us that Christmas is a time of wonder, just as much as it is a time of joy. But I would tell you that for myself I have a lot more to work on with the wonder part. And I want to learn more and more how to be in awe of what God has done for us.
Isn't it interesting that our favorite Christmas hymns remind us that Christmas is a time of wonder? For instance, you remember this one? "I wonder as I wander out in the sky how Jesus the Savior did come for to die for poor, on'ry people like you and like I, I wonder as I wander out under the sky". Or this familiar one: "He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness and the wonders of his love. And the wonders of his love, the wonders and wonders of his love". Or maybe you remember this one: "O star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright. Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light".
The wonder of Christmas. And it is the one thing I will honestly tell you seems to escape us a little bit every year and if we're not careful, more so one year after the other. Isn't it interesting how we can play the game all around the meaning of the game and never find out what the meaning is?
I remember reading the story of the Wright Brothers. It was December 17, 1903, and the place was Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Orville and Wilbur had just made history for keeping their flying invention in the air for a total of 59 seconds. Elated, they rushed to the telegraph office and wired their sister in Dayton, Ohio, and here was the telegram: "First sustained flight today for 59 seconds. Hope to be home by Christmas". Their sister was thrilled and she hurried down to the local newspaper with great news and the telegram and, sure enough, the next day, there was an article about the Wright Brothers in the, "Dayton Daily News". The headline read: "Local bicycle merchants to be home for Christmas".
And not one single thing was mentioned about the first airplane flight. And I thought to myself, "Isn't that like Christmas? We give all the details and we forget the wonder, the most important message of all". For just a little while this year, I have captured that in my heart, and I cannot tell you why, but I know that what I have sensed in my heart all about this, if I could, I'd package it up in a bottle and hand it out to everybody. Oh, what a wonder is Christmas. Oh, how blessed we are to celebrate this season. So I thought what I'd do today is just give us a few things we can wonder about that are connected with the Christmas story. Are you up for that? These are just some checkpoints that we can work on right out of the narrative of the first Christmas.
Let's begin by wondering at his humble birth. Micah foretold it in Micah 5:2. He says: "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from old, from everlasting". There's two wonders in that little verse, and you can pick 'em up quickly: out of Bethlehem would come Jesus. Bethlehem was a little, insignificant village. Nobody ever knew about it. There are two Bethlehems in the Bible. This one was hardly even known. It was a little postage stamp stop along the way and here was the one to be the Ruler of the world, to be born. Here's the other things in that verse you don't wanna miss: "whose goings forth are from of old".
Have you ever heard of anybody being born who already had been living? Here was Jesus to be born. Who is this Jesus? Oh, his goings forth have been of old. He's been around forever. Literally, he's been around forever. Born in Bethlehem, Jesus was born in the meekest and most unobtrusive of places. History tells us that early in the 19th century, the whole world was watching the campaigns of Napoleon. There was talk everywhere of marches and invasions and battles and bloodshed as the French dictator pushed his way through Europe. Of course, babies were born during that time but, I mean, who had time to think about babies, or to care about cradles or nurseries or anything else when the international scene was as tumultuous as it was?
Nevertheless, between Trafalgar and Waterloo on Napoleon's marches, between those two places, there strode into this world a host of heroes whose lives were destined to shape all of humanity. I found this truth to be astounding. Take for example, William Gladstone. Born on December 29, 1809, Gladstone was to become one of the finest statesmen England ever produced. On August 6 of that year, Alfred Tennyson was born to an obscure minister and his wife. Tennyson would one day greatly affect the literary world in a marked manner. On August 29 of 1809, Oliver Wendell Holmes was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. On January 19, 1809, not far away in Boston, Edgar Allan Poe began his eventful but tragic life. On February 12 of that year, a physician named Charles Robert Darwin was born. And it was that same year that the cries of a newborn infant could be heard from a rugged log cabin, in Hardin County, Kentucky.
You know who I'm talking аbout: the baby's name was Abraham Lincoln, born February 12, 1809. All of those people born in the same year. And if there had been a news broadcast at that time, I am certain these words would have been heard. Something like this would have been written: "The destiny of the world is being shaped on an Austrian battlefield today". But today only a handful of history buffs can even name two of the three Austrian campaigns. Nobody remembers that. Looking back, history was actually being shaped in the cradles of England and America as young mothers held in their arms the movers and shakers of the future. And so, it was with Jesus. No one heralded his coming. The shepherds, the angels, the magi, a few would-be worshipers.
Had you written a story of that year, you would have said, nothing really important happened this year. Nothing really important. But that year the Savior of the world was born in that humble place called Bethlehem where deity would invade eternity, and eternity would invade time, and royalty would show up dressed as poverty. Only God could have written such a script. Only God could have imagined something like that and brought it to pass.
Who could have thought of such a humble story for the entrance of our Lord? I really believe that Paul was experiencing a moment of wonder when he wrote these words to young Timothy. He said, "And without controversy, Timothy, great is the mystery of godliness: God manifest in the flesh". Paul says this is unbelievable, we can't even argue about it. The fact that God has become one of us is mysterious. Almighty God has come down here to be one of us.
A.W. Tozer was so astonished by this thought he wrote: "The Coming of Jesus into this world represents a truth more profound than any philosophy I have ever heard. All of the great thinkers of the world together could never have produced anything even remotely approaching the wonder and profundity disclosed in the message of these words: 'He came.'" He came. God came to us.
And Philip Yancey wrote that, "In Jesus something new happened. God became one of his own creatures, an event unparalleled, unheard of, in fact in the fullest sense of the word. The God who, fills the universe, imploded to become a peasant baby who, like every infant who ever lived, had to learn to walk and talk and dress himself. In the incarnation, God's Son deliberately handicapped himself, exchanging omniscience for a brain that learned Aramaic stroke by stroke, omnipresence for two legs and an occasional donkey, omnipotence for arms strong enough to saw wood but too weak for self-defense. Instead of overseeing 100 billion galaxies at once, he now looked out on a narrow alley in Nazareth, a pile of rocks in the Judean desert and a crowded street in Jerusalem".
Wow, who could ever come up with that? Who could ever have originated that but God himself? I don't know what you think when you hear all of these words by these great men, but they stretch my mind to the breaking point. This is a truth without any precedent. There is nothing you can compare it to. The God of the universe, the Creator of us all, ordained in his wisdom to come down to earth and confine himself to a human body like yours and mine and to walk among us so that he might ultimately go to a cross and die for us.
Often when we walk by a manger scene during the Christmas season, we first of all look for the baby and if we're with children, they will usually say, "Oh, look at that cute baby. Look at the baby Jesus". And certainly, that is a part of our celebration. But when you look at that baby Jesus in the manger, remember that baby Jesus is the Lord God of glory coming down to be born as one of us and that, my friends, is the wonder of Christmas. He came down to be one of us. Let us wonder at his human family. Jesus's family was really a human mother and one who was a stand-in father. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Now there's something to wonder at. That's never happened before, nor since. But consider his human family. Mary was probably 15 or 16 years old and Joseph not more than 19. Yet into their family was to be born the Savior of the whole world. The most significant event of the centuries took place in a stable in an insignificant city called Bethlehem. And I cannot help but wonder what Mary thought, what ran through her mind when she held the baby Jesus for the first time.
The most significant thing in the history of the world did not happen in Caesar's Palace, or in the plans of the Jewish zealots. The most significant thing in the history of the world happened in a manger. As Mary held that baby, I wonder if she heard ringing in her ears the words of Isaiah the prophet: "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and call His name Immanuel". Mary held Immanuel in her arms.
Do we wonder at that? Is that not an awesome thing that the Savior of the world would be born to a humble peasant girl? And the one who had created her, she held in her arms? Let us wonder at his human family. Thirdly, let us wonder at his hostile rejection. The Bible says that when Jesus was born, they went to Bethlehem for the census and when they got there, there was no room for them in the inn and the Scriptures record that it was an awesome time in history. It was an unheralded arrival. When Jesus came to Bethlehem, nobody was out there saying, "Here he comes. He's gonna be born in our city, the Savior of the world coming to Bethlehem. Don't miss it".
When we went to India, I'd never seen anything like this before. When we arrived at the airport, there were about, oh, 20 couples there with flowers. They put flowers in the hand of every woman who was in our party. When we got to the church, there's a long entryway into the church, and lined up on both sides of the entryway were people with placards, had my picture on it and it said, "Welcome, David Jeremiah". I don't think I've ever felt so honored in my life.
But let me tell you something. There wasn't anybody on the street when Jesus came to Bethlehem. Nobody to welcome him. If you've ever been on a vacation and you've waited too long to get a motel, Jesus probably in his mother's womb stopped at every hotel along the way into Bethlehem and probably a few inside and every place they went... you see, there was a census there and the Roman soldiers had come to occupy the town of Bethlehem to administer the census.
So, it's quite possible that they had tried every place along the way, and finally, there was nowhere else for them to go. So the innkeeper simply had to say, "We don't have any place". I think Joseph was a strong man. He worked in a carpenter's shop. I bet his hands were full of calluses. Maybe the kind of person you would say, "That's nobody to mess with". I can't imagine that he didn't grab hold of the innkeeper's shoulders and shake him a little bit and say, "What do you mean, you don't have any room? My wife is gonna have a baby. She can't have this baby out here in the street. Find me a room".
I'm just trying to think what I might have said. Finally, the innkeeper remembered that he did have a stable and maybe they could clean out a corner of it, and at least provide a shelter for this child to be born. Frederick Buechner who's a wonderful writer, tries to take the innkeeper's position for a moment. Kind of bail him out of the problem he created for himself by not letting Jesus into his inn. And maybe he helps us a little bit to feel better about the times we push Jesus away as well.
Listen to his words. He said, "Do you know what it's like to run an inn? To run a business or a family, or to run anything for that matter, even your own life. I mean, it's like being lost in a forest of a million trees and every tree is a thing to be done. Is there fresh linen on all the beds? Did the children put on their coats before they went out? Has the letter been written? Has the book been read? Is there money enough in the bank? Today we have food in our bellies, today we have clothes on our back, but what can we do to make sure that we'll have them still tomorrow? A million trees, a million things, and finally we have eyes for nothing else. And whatever we see turns into a thing and we have no time for the wonder".
I get it. I can see how he missed it. Just totally overwhelmed with the busyness of Christmas season, even though it had never happened before. Isn't that what happens to us? I'll be honest with you, over the years that I've been here, I have come to Christmas on a few times and by the time the day comes, I didn't care whose birthday it was, just leave me alone.
We maybe had, I mean, back in those days, we were having all kinds of programs every night for two weeks. Every night we had a program, every night, night after night, and on the weekends we had two on Saturday, two on Sunday. And then, came Christmas, and who cared? We were all so tired, we couldn't do anything about it. We felt kind of good that we'd served the Lord, but you understand what I'm saying. Christmas gangs up on you, doesn't it? And all of a sudden you realize, "Oh, it's only five days from now". And you have 15 days' worth of stuff to do. That's the way it was for him.
It's not any different than it is for us today. He was so preoccupied with the everyday changes and challenges of his life, he failed to see the opportunity. Let us wonder at his heroic worshipers. "Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night". The Scriptures tell us that those who gathered to worship Jesus first were shepherds.
Now, I need to tell you that in our culture that loses some of its meaning and therefore some of its wonder. In that time and culture, however, shepherds would be the last and the least to expect the Prince of Peace to come to them. I mean, they were shepherds. They were ceremonially unclean. They were not allowed to go into the temple area to worship. They were unaccepted. They were nobodies. They could not be called as witnesses in court. For somebody had written that no one could ever believe the testimony of a shepherd. They were despised, they were looked down upon, often hated.
The Jewish Talmud says of them: "Give no help to a heathen or to a shepherd". And that's how they were appreciated. What a wonder that God would choose them to witness the birth of his Son, to be there first to worship the coming of the Messiah. The shepherds. I mean, men whose skin glistened with sweat, whose clothes gave off the stench of the field, those who lacked the most basic manners, who used language unfit for your children's ears and on this night, they were favored by heaven.
Do you see what I'm talking about when I say, there are so many things in the Christmas story to wonder about? You say, "I want the answers". No, I don't need all the answers. I just need to wonder at the imponderables of the story of the incarnation. Out of the whole of Jewish society, God chose shepherds. Out of the entire population of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, these outcasts were the only ones who came to see the Messiah and to spread the news of his coming. Let us wonder at his humble birth. Let us wonder at his human family. Let us wonder at his hostile rejection. Let us wonder at his heroic worshipers. And finally, let us wonder at his holy mission.
"For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord". This is really the only thing that brings wonder to the rest of the story. Apart from his mission, this is just a good seasonal tale. But when we put all of these things together and we understand that the purpose for all of this was that he might come to be our Redeemer, we just stand in awe. I mean, his purpose in coming was to die. He was born to die. To die for you and for me. He had no other purpose. The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which is lost.
Paul wrote to Timothy. He said, "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief". So, you can sum it all up in this way as you consider the wonders of Christmas, the Creator in a cradle, the Savior in a stable, the Messiah of the world in a mother's womb, and the Sovereign of history welcomed by the outcast shepherds in the field. I cannot get my arms around it, it is just too wonderful. All nature honored him, and for three years he preached the gospel. He wrote no book, he built no church, he had no money, and after 2000 years, he's the central figure of human history, the perpetual theme of all preaching and the pivot around which the events of the world take place.
When he was born, history was cut in half. When that child was born, whether you believe or do not believe, you will date your letters and checks and income tax forms with a number representing how many years have gone by since what happened, happened. Even people who do know not Jesus, who take his name in vain, who criticize those of us who are Christians, who talk evil about Christmas and its real meaning, they give humble credit to the reality of the birth of Jesus every time they sign a check, every time they sign their papers for their taxes, every time somebody asks them, "What is the date", and they give the date. They say, "Oh, let me just remind you for a moment what date it is. Let me see, how many years has it been since Jesus was born"? And they don't even believe it.
The real wonder of Christmas is just that, that the Christ who came to Bethlehem has come to us. And now, in those moments when we pause to reflect upon the wonder of Christmas, for most of us, it may be the wonder of Christmas and the wonder of our first Christmas as a Christian. I've gotten letters throughout the years from people who said, "Dear Pastor, I've come to your church and this year I became a Christian and this is gonna be my first Christmas as a Christian". And most of us in this room have had many Christmases as Christians. But I don't know about you, I've had far too many when I've let the busyness of the season rob me of the wonder of the message. I've determined not to let that happen again.
So, let me ask you to do this. During these next few days, wherever you wander, look for those moments and capture them. That quiet moment you didn't expect to have, that experience of wonder out in the open or maybe at the fireplace in your home or wherever you may find a moment that isn't distracted by the other things we do. When that moment comes, embrace the wonder and thank God for such an incredible message of hope for all of us. And if you do that, this will be the best Christmas you ever had.
And I want to encourage you if you haven't done so already to invite him to come into your heart and life. Open the doors of your heart. It's a decision you make, it's a moment in your life where you just decide, "I've tried everything else, Pastor. I'm gonna try Jesus". And I promise you, he will not turn any of you away. The Bible tells us that he has never said no to anyone who has asked him to come into their heart. You're not gonna say, "Lord Jesus, come into my heart", and he's not gonna say, "No, I'm not up to that today", or "I'll come back next week". Those are the answers we give; that's not his answer. He is always willing to open the door of your heart if you'll just unlatch it on the inside. So, what about it? Don't miss the wonder of Christmas this year. It begins with the wonder of having Christ in your heart.