Pulpit Reflections: The real ‘reason for the season’

"She shall bring forth a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). These words were spoken by the Angel of the Lord to Joseph as he was contemplating what to do with his pregnant girlfriend, Mary. Take her as your wife Joseph, he had been told, because she is carrying a very special baby, a baby conceived not by man, but by the Holy Spirit.

And it is this, the salvation of sinners, the heart of what the birth of Christ is all about, that is almost totally missing from our modern celebration of Christmas. Even when people talk about the "true meaning of Christmas," or, "the real Christmas," it is usually about giving big bucks to charity, or presents for poor children, all of which make the giver feel good about himself, but do little to actually improve the life of those who receive it. 

It needs to be pointed out that the majority of the charity done in the United States today hurts its recipients rather than helping them.  This writer is hardly the first nor the only one to see this problem. The November issue of Christianity Today contains a favorable review of Robert Lupton's new book, "Toxic Charity, How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (and How to Reverse It)."

The reason for today's omission of the real "reason for the season," that Jesus came to save sinners, is not hard to find. We just don't believe in sin. When churches and government speak and act as though abortion, homosexuality and a life of adultery are "alternate lifestyles," just as normal and righteous as keeping the Ten Commandments, we do not actually make those things OK, we only declare the corruption of our own moral thinking. 

Nor is this new. While we today think that our ancestors, including the founders of our nation, were naïve and foolish to call these things sin, we are not saying anything new or unique. Several other nations, including Nazi Germany and Communist Russia also denied the reality of sin. Sin is against God, and the apostle Paul noted 2000 years ago concerning human sin, that the source, "there is no fear of God before their eyes" (Romans 3:18).  We forget that founders of the greatest nation in the world's history did indeed celebrate Christ as the one who came to save us from our sins.

Now the reason that we don't hear the message of the angel to Joseph much any more is that Jesus came to save us, not from each other, nor from the physical dangers of hurricanes and earthquakes, but from ourselves. The sins Jesus came to save us from are our own, and He did that by dying for our sins on the cross of Calvary. 

As He Himself said to the self-righteous Pharisees, "I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Matthew 9:13). The real joy of Christmas has nothing to do with spending or making money (if you are a merchant), nor with neat gifts, or a perfectly roasted turkey. The real joy of Christmas is the joy that Barabbas the murderer felt as he walked down the street of Jerusalem a free man when the Jews asked that he be turned free while Jesus was crucified. 

You can just hear him thinking, "I don't know who that guy was, but if he dies in my place, it's great by me!" WELL, we know who that guy was, and we know that God has set us free because Jesus came to save us from our sins. Have a truly merry Christmas!

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