What Christmas Does To Us
Though most of the people we associate with know about the story of Christmas, many people have been seduced by an alternate Christmas. They have taken the liberty of reinventing Christmas so that it means whatever nice things they want it to mean. I suppose it is understandable that Christmas would take on another meaning to a people who do not know Christ. After all, in such an abrasive world, people need a sentimental season where they pause and wish peace on earth and good will toward men. The songs, the greenery, and the gifts only help.
However, as Christians know, Christmas is far more powerful than simply wishing good tidings and offering reasons for momentary smiles. Let me remind you of what Christmas does to us according to 1 John 1:1-4.
1. CHRISTMAS MAKES US LOOK BACK.
John writes in verses 1 and 3, “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes” and “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you.” John is not proclaiming this by himself. He is doing this in conjunction with others. The number of eyewitnesses only helps to substantiate the evidence for the reality of Christ.
Christmas makes us look back and see that the incarnation is historical fact. There is an undeniable antiquity to Christmas. We shouldn’t let the familiar rhyme and rhythm of carols trivialize the historical reality of the incarnation. The incarnation is not speculation or religious folklore. John writes as a member of a team of eyewitnesses who saw the birth of Christ, lived alongside Christ and saw his life. They attest to what both secular and religious writers recorded. These are witnesses who also attest to Christ’s death and resurrection. Here they are reporting on “that which [they] have seen” with their very own eyes.
Dr. Timothy Keller underscores the veracity of the gospel account by noting that ancient legends were written with no specific details unless it developed the plot or character. The Bible, on the other hand, contains these details because it is not a legend. Richard Bauckham notes that unlike the Gospels, specific personal names are not included in legends or in ancient fictional stories. These names are specifically listed because these individuals were eyewitnesses of the accounts. He also notes that the historicity of the gospel is why the Gospel writers make no effort to soften what may be a potentially embarrassing episode in the life of Christ. For example, his own siblings didn’t believe in him and thought he was insane (Mark 3:21). At times Jesus seems rude and calls his opponents “dogs” (Mark 7:27). I’ll add the fact that Jesus picked Judas Iscariot, an unbelieving thief and betrayer, to be one of his disciples who would go out to evangelize, heal and raise the dead. The biblical account shows that these were eyewitnesses who were interested in conveying an accurate version of what happened.
Christmas makes us look backwards and see the reality of it all.
2. CHRISTMAS MAKES US SPEAK OUT.
John writes, “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you.” The gospel is a truth that compels us to make it known to other people. When the gospel is running fresh in our soul, it is news we want others to know. It cannot be contained. The incarnation carries us and flows through us. It marks the beginning and the end of our day. It is in the air we breathe and we want others to know it too. It is difficult to contain that which brings us so much life.
Our proclamation is not in vain. Christianity is a growing community. The world is becoming more religious, not more secular. This is seen in various ways but note this one positive trend. The growth of religion now exceeds the population growth. Yes, Islam is growing faster at a rate of 1.87% over Christianity’s 1.3%. However, at this rate, by 2050 (27 years from now) – there will be 1 billion more Christians than Muslims on this planet. Christianity is larger in numbers globally, and growing fastest where Islam is strongest, and certainly is a contender in the nations of largest populations. We know that the church will prevail because Christ said, “I will build my church.” This is important not because we want to win. It is important because truth matters. It is also important because souls are on the line. But mostly, it is important because God is worthy of worship and is building a people for himself and his glory. The reality of Christ’s birth makes us want to tell others.
3. CHRISTMAS MAKES US RELATIONAL
If Christ the Savior had not come, Christmas would be very, very depressing. The Scriptures would be discouraging, divisive and gloomy. If Christmas was not true, it would not bring us together. Rather, it would isolate us.
However, Christmas makes us relational. John writes that he is proclaiming the arrival of Christ on earth “so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed, our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3b ESV). “Fellowship,” or koinonia in Greek, refers to a participation or communion with and to share in common. The author of 1 John, along with his group of eyewitnesses, in conjunction with the historical apostles and other believers then and now, tells us that Christmas brings us into fellowship with the Father, Jesus Christ and each other. Fellowship with Christ is not about who we hang out with or with whom we are kindred spirits. Fellowship with God is about a new reality where we experience reconciliation with God and are in communion with him. The Christian no longer stands alienated from his creator and left to hide in fear, hoping that the God of the Bible is not real. Fellowship with God means we experience joy, personal peace, God’s love, purpose and satisfaction. Christmas makes 1 Corinthians 1:9 our reality: “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (ESV).
Great intimacy with God belongs to everyone who has genuinely placed their faith in Christ. And with that comes my last point:
4. CHRISTMAS MAKES US JOYFUL
First John 1:4 reads, “And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” Joy is not a response to our environment or circumstances. John Piper says it well when he writes that “Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul (not body), produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.”
and sisters, God is determined to give us joy through fellowship. Joy begins with knowing God as you read the Bible and as you see him in the world around you and worship him. And that joy is made complete when others are in fellowship with you. John writes in verse 3c, “so that you may have fellowship with God.” And just before that he writes about fellowship within the church, “so that you may have fellowship with us” (v.3b).
Joy is inseparable from salvation in Jesus Christ. But joy is made complete through fellowship in the community of saints… the church. Something seldom noted is that there is a reason why John speaks about “us” and “we” and “our joy.” Joy is bound up with the person of Jesus Christ, but whoever is in fellowship with Christ must also be in fellowship with people of God. Wherever Christ’s true church is, there is the opportunity to know more of him and express joy. In other words, when we come to Christ, we are coming to the fellowship of believers also!
The believer does not first believe and then join the fellowship of other believers. Rather, in coming to Christ, he is also coming to the fellowship of believers who belong to Christ. The believer believes in the one in whom the church already believes in. Christ alone saves the individual and the church helps the individual to see Christ in the word and in the world. “Fellowship with Christ and fellowship with men (the church) are correlative (corresponding), the one cannot exist without the other” (Emil Brunner, the Misunderstanding of the Church, p.14).
Our friend Greg Strand draws out the beauty of our statement of faith when he reminds me that in our EFCA Statement of Faith, we affirm this. Consider these statements.
- Article 1, God: ‘God has graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for Himself and to make all things new for His own glory.’
- Article 7, The Church: ‘We believe that the true church comprises all who have been justified by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ alone.’”
He points out that “Soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) and ecclesiology (the nature and structure of the church) are organically connected! Granted, they are not one and the same, and the latter does not create the former… But they are organically related, with soteriology being the ground and ecclesiology being the goal.”
Trevin Wax wisely writes that “If you excise the gospel community from your thinking about the gospel announcement, you gut the gospel of its purpose. Though the church is not the subject of the gospel announcement (Christ alone is the subject, of course), the church is a necessary object. Christ’s death has a purpose: to save sinners and incorporate them into a community that reflects His glory” (emphasis mine).
Christian joy and Christian fellowship should never be separated. Christmas, the incarnation, makes this fellowship of believers’ joy possible.
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