Merry Christmas! On behalf of the bishops, the clergy, and the wonderful lay people of the Anglican Church in North America, “Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year” to you.
What a year we’ve just had! All around the world, not just here in North America, we have seen tremendous events. Events that have changed people’s lives, changed countries, changed the world. Not just with elections, and new leaders, but with horrific events where innocent lives have been taken, Christians have been martyred just because they are followers of Jesus, and innocent people have been hurt. But God is not surprised by all of this. God is the author of human history, God entered human history, and God is over human history.
This was true in the first century as well. When the Roman empire began to dominate the known world, God orchestrated human history so that His purposes would be fulfilled. The birth of His son Jesus, which we celebrate at Christmas, He orchestrated it at just the right time, to just the right person, to just the right family, to just the right tribe, in just the right city. And for just the right purpose, Jesus was born. The gospel of Matthew puts it this way, in Matthew chapter 1, “Behold an Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son and you will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel which means God with us.’”
The baby Jesus grew up to be a Jewish rabbi. He taught, he preached, he healed; he did miraculous things in people’s lives and ultimately he died on a Roman cross to save people from their sins, and he rose from the dead. If he hadn’t died and rose again we wouldn’t be here celebrating Christmas. That validated everything he did. This was God’s plan to liberate the human race from sin, and the power of evil, and the power of destruction in people’s lives. But this is a gift. It’s God’s grace, and like any gift it must be received.
My son recently asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I told him I wanted a kiteboarding kit. That would be a kite, a board, and the harness. Now if he went out and bought that, put it in a box, wrapped it up, put a nice bow on it, put my name on it, and put it under the Christmas tree it would be just sitting there until I received it, until I took it, until I made it my own. And that’s the way it is with God’s gift. He’s done this for us. Jesus has died on the cross for our sins, he rose from the dead and gives us the promise of eternal life. He promises forgiveness of our sins, and the power of the Holy Spirit in our life, but it’s a gift. It must be received. As the Apostle John said in John chapter one, verse twelve, “But to as many as received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to be the children of God.” We must receive him, we must believe in him, we must receive the gift that God gives us at Christmas.
Nothing will change the events in our world until the human heart is changed, and only God can do this. When Jesus enters into the human heart he transforms it. He makes it holy. He makes it righteous. He makes it full of himself. When we receive Jesus into our life he does this, but it must begin with you; it must begin with me. We must be willing to open ourselves to the presence of God in our life.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your heart and your mind in the knowledge and love of God and of his son Jesus Christ our Lord, and may the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you always. Amen. Merry Christmas!