"This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me." Isaiah 15:8
MERRY CHRISTMAS! Say it loud! Say it proud. I never get tired of hearing or saying these two small words. For me and millions of other people they carry a great deal of meaning. For years I have been on a one man mission to remove the use of the auto response mechanism, "You too!"
There is a reason why "YOU TOO!" is not emblazoned upon Hallmark Christmas cards. It will never become a best seller.
It's not too much to expect another Christian to celebrate the meaning of the season and to simply repeat, "Merry Christmas!" It may be a bit of a stretch to hold a high expectation for a person who doesn't hold any meaning to the birth of Christ to respond with a hearty "Merry Christmas!" However, don't expect those of us who place great meaning on it to stand by and watch "Merry Christmas" bullied off the scene by a plethora of politically correct phrases. In other words, don't mess with Christmas!
Still, the militant Merry Christmas cadets ought to have some degree of understanding about what they are saying before they arm twist a perceived heretic into spouting them out. They should also avoid saying the words without having their heart engaged in obedience to the One who gives the words substance. There are more platitudes and pop culture Christianity on tap this season than at any time of they year. I draw little Christmas cheer from mindless mantras repeated over and over,
- "And that's what Christmas is all about."
- "Jesus is the reason for the season."
- "Keep Christ in Christmas!"
- "Put Christ back in Christmas!"
- "Christmas is not just one day a year."
- "Celebrate the Spirit of Christmas all year long."
- "Cash or charge?"
OK, I threw that last one in just to see if you were still there. I know it was a little off message, but not by much. Christians could do with a healthy appreciation of what it took for Christmas to have any meaning for them at all. They can fall prey to the same advertising campaigns and commercialization of Christmas as those who have no comprehension of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Don't fall into the trap of becoming a Christmas snob who thinks that repeating two words makes them better than those who have yet to see The Light.
It is important to remind those determined to put Christ back into Christmas that they were never commanded by The Christ to celebrate His birthday. He placed no great significance on it. His last words to His disciples challenged them to remember His death, burial and resurrection. They were told in no uncertain terms, "DO THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME!"
Putting Christ back into Christmas simply requires obedience to what He said. To do this is going to really cramp the style of churches all over the world. The bale of hay and a bathrobe pageants, the live nativity scenes, the lazer light shows, and the countless cantatas will take a back seat to Baptism and The Lord's Supper. Not quite as flashy, but they carry the reason for the season with a great deal more substance.
It dawned on me this year, that THE CRADLE, THE CROSS, and THE TOMB are all vacant. I know I'm not the sharpest knife in the theological drawer so cut me some slack on this, but to make much of them and still miss Jesus is still disrespectful to Him. THE HEART is the only place where Jesus can be found. A heart filled with Jesus gives His Spirit elbow room to keep Him as the focus of a person's life every day of the year. That kind of fulness is marked by obedience to what The Risen Christ desires for His followers to be and to do in His name.
"This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you." John 15:12
"Love one another." Profoundly simple, and simply profound. It describes the unconditional love to be expressed to those closest to us, and to those who drive us away from them. Simple? Yes, but simply impossible until there is a change of heart in the one required to do the loving. Jesus describes this kind of love as obedient behavior in response to His command. Singing the "Happy Birthday" song or choking "Merry Christmas" out of a heretic is not on His "To Do" List.
In September 1996 I had the privilege of attending a conference at The Cove in Asheville, NC. Warren Wiersbe was teaching that week on The Book of Romans. It was an amazing experience. The setting was spectacular with The Smokie Mountains, and The Lodge at the Billy Graham Center serving as a backdrop to the study of the Scripture. It just doesn't get much better than that for me.
One of the statements made by Dr. Wiersbe that has stuck with me over the years was his reference to sin as it related to the teaching in Romans. I believe I am doing him justice to quote him as saying,
"The heart of the matter is the heart, and the matter of the heart is sin."
He went on to describe how Paul taught that a person's heart cannot be made right by keeping The Law or through a slow process of self-correction. The sinner's heart required a state of grace to be declared between The Law Giver and The Lawbreaker. There was simply no hope for a change of heart to take place in the life of the sinner without an act of grace being administered in the heart of a sinner.
Sin separates a person from Holy God. Only a righteous Judge can declare an end to the separation. Healing of the breach is not a matter of want to on the part of the sinner, but can do on the part of the Judge. God judges a person to be right with Him based on the work done on behalf of a sinner by His Son, Jesus. When Jesus came to THE CRADLE it was a start. When Jesus died on THE CROSS, it was a finish. When Jesus rose from THE TOMB, it was a promise. THE CRADLE, THE CROSS AND THE TOMB are all vacant. Only THE HEART can be filled with Jesus.
THE HEART remains the one place in the world where JESUS desires to live. Without Jesus there is no reason for the season. Without The Spirit of Christ there is no Spirit of Christmas. All that is left is the tinsel, the glitter and the sentiment, but there is no change of heart. THE HEART filled with Jesus is filled with His Spirit, and allows Him the elbow room to develop the character of Christ in the life of the follower of Christ. The change of THE HEART is in an instant, but the development of The Character is a process that will take a life time.
THE HEART of the matter is still the matter of THE HEART. A life of obedience comes from a heart full of Jesus. THE CRADLE preceded THE CROSS and THE TOMB. Jesus told His disciples to remember His death, burial and resurrection, not His birthday, but none of those remembrances will have real meaning until THE HEART becomes the residence of THE RISEN CHRIST.
"Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said...'What shall we do?' Peter said, 'Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, and as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." Acts 2:37-39
Don't forget the real gift giving of Christmas. Give your heart to Jesus and experience The Gift that keeps on giving, The Spirit of Christ.