PULPIT TODAY SERMONS
WHAT’S SO FRIGHTENING ABOUT CHRISTMAS?
Robert D. Pace
When the general populace describes Christmas they employ words like Jingle Bells, Santa Claus, Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and the like. But none of those words has their place in the original Christmas story. So what are the Biblical words descriptive of Christ’s birth and infancy?
Personally, I like words: “Good tidings,” “great joy,” and “peace on earth.” These words describe the beauty and wonder of Christ’s birth. There are words like, “manger” and “angels” and “wise men.” But there is also the word, “Behold.” Did you ever correlate, behold with the story of Christmas? This word means, “to give attention to; or, to understand the meaning of something.”
This is what the angel said to Joseph, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1:23). The angel also used this word, behold, to the shepherds when he said, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. Today in the city of David a Savior has been born. He is Christ, the Lord.”
“Behold” is a wonderful word that’s associated with Christmas because everyone needs to understand the true meaning of our Savior’s birth. But let me introduce another word we might not associate with the Christmas story. It’s the word “fear.” The word fear appears, in some form, ten times in the Christmas passages. For example, an angel said to Joseph, “Fear not, Joseph. That which Mary has conceived is of the Holy Spirit.” And when Zacharias saw the angel, the Bible says, “fear fell upon him.” Later an angel appeared to the shepherds, who saw the glory of the Lord that night, and he said, “Be not afraid.”
In my mind, I imagine them relaxing by a low-burning fire as the stars are twinkling with every pulse of brilliance they can muster. A gentle wind is just enough to keep the shepherds close to the fire and in rapt conversation. “All was calm, all was bright,” but then, suddenly, an angel burst on the scene and shook up everything. In fact, the sky was filled with angels! It’s only my opinion, but I believe God sent every angel of Heaven to that sky of Bethlehem to announce Christ’s birth.
When that happened, Luke says the shepherds were “terrified” by this angelic hubbub! They weren’t just unnerved; the Bible says they were, “exceedingly afraid”! Have you ever had an encounter with God that was so real and soul stirring that it created fear? The reason these encounters strike fear within us is because the Almighty Creator makes Himself known to our frail flesh; and it’s okay for us to recoil when this happens. Solomon said, “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.”
When I saw how frequently the “fear” phrases were written into the First Century Christmas story, I realized nothing has changed. The story of Christmas still frightens people. But why? Why does this story of “Good tidings” and “great joy,” and “peace on earth” strike such fear in men? No one else in human history has elicited the alarm that Jesus has.
(Transition) That’s what I want to investigate—What’s so frightening about Christmas? And the truth is, it’s Jesus Himself that frightens people. It’s the very character of Christ that creates incredible apprehension in people.
I. The Character of Christ Creates Fear
Think about how Matthew 1:23 describes Jesus: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us” (NIV). I suppose Immanuel is the highest title that Scripture ascribes to Jesus. Christ didn’t come as a mere religious leader or a great prophet that was simply a “cut above” the others. He didn’t come as a social revolutionary. Jesus came as Immanuel—God in human flesh. How wonderful! The Lord God Almighty descended from Heaven to live on earth as a man.
I have been thinking recently about the words that Solomon wrote in the Song of Solomon 5:10. The Scripture says, “My beloved is fair and ruddy; He is chief among ten thousand.” Do you know what it means for Christ to be “chief among ten thousand”? At first glance, that verse can be misunderstood. It doesn’t mean that Christ would stand out in a mere company of 10,000 people; but in a company larger than that He might be overshadowed. It doesn’t mean that at all! What it means is this. Whenever . . . and wherever . . . and whomever the 10,000 may be that gather . . . Jesus always stands supreme.Gather 10,000 military Generals, and Jesus would be the preeminent General.
Gather 10,000 philosophers, and Christ’s wisdom would confound them all.
Gather 10,000 benefactors, but Christ’s mercy would rise higher than the heavens and flow deeper than the seas.
Gather 10,000 surgeons, but the Physician who never wrote a prescription nor administered anesthesia would stand supreme.
Gather 10,000 kings, but there is only one “King of kings and Lord of lord” and He governs realms without borders.
“He is chief among ten thousand,” whomever and wherever they may be!
Can you see His magnificence . . . His splendor? Look closely at every inch of His being. Picture Him from head to foot:
When you look into His eyes you will see an infinite glow of love.
When you look at His hands, once pierced with iron, you will see they are now freed and holding a scepter of the Universe.
Look at His back; it’s a frayed reminder that it was His life for yours.
Look at His waist, girdled with strength. There you will see hanging the keys of “death, hell, and the grave.”
Notice His feet, once nailed to the Cross. Now they trample the serpent—that “great dragon,” “Satan”—and all enemies are under His feet!
When you examine Him head to foot you will have to confess, “He is chief among ten thousand . . . and altogether lovely.” This is our incomparable Savior.
You see, the Christ that is wonderful to Christians, is fearsome to the world! The world might acknowledge the babe in the straw-filled manger, but they would hardly accept the titles, “Immanuel, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). When we attach these crowning titles to Christ we’re acknowledging that He is infinitely greater than man. It means we have a higher authority in life to obey. And that’s what terrifies the world about Jesus.
(Bible Example) It’s been this way from the beginning. When the Magi from the east came to Jerusalem looking for Jesus they asked Herod, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2, NIV). Do you remember the reaction of Herod and the religious leaders when they heard that news? Matthew 2:3 says: “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him” (NIV). The world knows how to handle its own; but it doesn’t know how to handle somebody from another world. If Christ had been a mere man they could have contained Him.
As a mere mortal, Rome could have ridiculed Him and maybe He would have faded away. Had that not worked, they could have threatened Him and perhaps He would have cowered down. Had threats not worked, Rome could have imprisoned Him. And then, if all else failed, the authorities could have crushed and killed him, and that would have terminated the work of a mere man. But Jesus wasn’t a mere man. That’s why insults, accusations, and even death couldn’t contain Him. He was Immanuel, God in the flesh, and it wasn’t possible to dominate Him! Jesus is irrepressible:
The Father sent Jesus to earth and there was no more than a stable to accommodate Him. But when you give Immanuel a stable, He’ll enter a heart. And when Immanuel enters a heart, He will make a disciple; and when He makes disciples, He will form a kingdom. And when He forms a kingdom, it will spread into the world. And one day, “the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.” And that is why the world fears Christ! He is uncontainable and irrepressible! This is the Savior of Christmas that we serve.
(Transition) But the character of Christ not only creates fear in worldly men, the Light Christ brings to men creates fear.
II. The World Fears the Light that Christ Offers
I have to admit that I enjoy most everything that comes with celebrating Christmas—especially the food. I don’t have a problem with listening to the dogs bark out the tune to “Jingle Bells,” or watching, for the forty-ninth time, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I’ve never gotten disturbed about Santa, as long as we are truthful about him. And the mistletoe routine isn’t all bad either.
It’s alright to enjoy the cultural traditions of Christmas, but we should never sacrifice the sacred for the secular! And unfortunately, the American culture has done that! It’s ironic that the world wants to celebrate the sights and sounds of Christmas, but it doesn’t want to celebrate the Savior of Christmas! Malls, public squares, and businesses decorate with holly, reindeer, elves, and snow—but they ignore the One in the manger. But that’s understandable. The world won’t embrace Jesus as the Sovereign Lord and Savior because that would require the world to obey His teachings. And the world has created its own principles/dogma/rules.
(Illustration) Awhile back a cartoon epitomized the secular sentiments of Christmas. It showed two houses decorated for the Holidays. One house featured Frosty the Snowman in the yard, Santa near the chimney, and a yard sign that read, “Merry X-mas!” The other house displayed a simple manger scene. Someone observing it all looked at the two displays and said, “Some people have to put religion into everything.”
A few years ago, State Chief Justice Roy Moore fought to keep the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama State Courthouse. In the end, not only were the Ten Commandments expelled, so was Judge Moore! But remember, Jesus was unwelcome at His birth. The innkeepers had no room for Him and Herod tried to assassinate Him. So when you think about it, suppressing Christ is part of the original Christmas story. Not much has changed!
If we’re really going to celebrate Christmas, let’s understand that Jesus came to shine the light of Heaven upon this dark world. And light is indispensable to our welfare. Light, along with air, water, and food are essential for man’s survival. This is why Jesus said: “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). The light that Jesus offers dispels the darkness that hides men from God. The only way we can find our way to God is through the light that Jesus shines.
Listen to Isaiah’s words 700 years before Christ was born. He said, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2, NIV). This is what Jesus does for those that accept Him as their Savior. Without Christ we are lost and groping through the dark, hoping to find the path that leads to peace and joy. We search for that path by pursuing riches, pleasures, and earthly relationships. But we remain unfulfilled by what the darkness of this world offers. The light of Jesus is the only radiance that can brighten our soul. However, when you make the choice to step into the light of Christ, He will fully illuminate your life and nothing will stand as His equal. John 1:5 says, “The light shined in darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it.”
(Bible Example) Remember the shepherds of Luke 2? Luke reports they were “terrified” when they saw the night sky illuminated with God’s glory. What would they do? Would they run the opposite direction? Here’s what Luke 2:15 says they did. “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about” (NIV). Incredibly enough, the shepherds ran directly toward their fears, not away from them! They ran toward the light. They ran toward the One that could expose their sin but then show them how to deal with it. Have you done that? If you haven’t, I invite you to make room for your Savior today.
(Illustration) Ron Hutchcraft tells the story of a boy named Harold that was mentally impaired. Harold’s church was replaying the drama of Christ’s birth and he desperately wanted to be in it. The director knew Harold couldn’t do much, but he wanted to include Harold in the drama, so he gave Harold the part of the Innkeeper. His only words were, “I’m sorry, there is no room in the Inn.” He practiced repeatedly until he mastered his line. The big night arrived and the church was packed. Mary and Joseph made their way through Bethlehem, suffering the denial of one Innkeeper after another. Finally, the couple made it to Harold’s Inn and knocked on the door. The whole cardboard prop shook as Harold struggled to open the stuck door. Finally the door opened and Mary and Joseph stood there looking very real to Harold. After a long, unsettling hesitation, he blurted out the words, “I’m sorry, there’s no room in the Inn.” The couple turned and walked away, when suddenly, Harold busted through the door, ran after the couple, and said, “Wait! Come back. You can have my room.”
Are you running toward the Light? Are you letting Him shine so that others can see the way? Have you made room for Him. Remember, Jesus is your Savior and Lord?