December 25 each year for centuries has been thought by many people to be the birthday of Jesus Christ. Christians think of it as the anniversary of the day that God placed his only son in the midst of mankind, thus attempting to show his love for us by teaching an improved approach to our mortal life. This so impressed us, that we even designated the four weeks prior to Christmas as Advent, and made it a joyful time in anticipation of the Christmas Day celebration of Jesus' arrival.
Of course, some of us have found the rituals of purchasing and giving gifts, sending greeting cards and meeting with friends and neighbors at holiday parties, a frantic effort to stay on a tight schedule. Most of this occurs during the four weeks of Advent, so perhaps we are not all that well prepared for religious Christmas, after all.
But, what IS the point of religious Christmas for us?
Well-known Pastor Rick Warren, with a church in California, offers some helpful ideas on how we can focus ourselves on the deeper meaning of Christmas. He explains why we should have real gratitude for the birth of Jesus, and not limit our thanks to one day of the year.
Warren says the first purpose of Christmas is to celebrate. Do you realize that God loves you! Not based on what you do, but based on who God is. Our good works do not buy God's favor. This is so different from the rewards of the secular world!
Secondly, Warren says, God is with you and will never abandon you. You may not feel like He is near, but that means you are not tuned-in. Therefore, the gift to mankind of God's only son, Jesus, is a priceless gift to you.
But, there is more!
There is a thing called "Salvation." Rick Warren believes that most people recognize their need for somebody greater than themselves ---- someone to help them through a problem, rescue them from a tight spot, and ultimately save them from something they can't solve on their own. They realize the need for somehow being saved ---- salvation!
Warren believes that Salvation is three-dimensional. You are saved FROM something ---- yourself. We all have a pride problem; an unfortunate attitude. We call it SIN. We sin by acting out or saying: "I want to be my own boss I don't need God." The problem with sin is that it separates us from God. Jesus came to free us from our sin. So, there is truly something from which we need to be set free. We need to be set free from ourselves. We need a Savior!
In addition, Pastor Warren believes Jesus came to save us FOR a purpose. It's in Christ, he says, that we find out who we are and what we are living for. But, Warren believes we will never be completely satisfied with mere "success" in some secular sense. We were not made for "mere" success. We were made for a higher level of significance. Significance that comes from knowing God, His purpose for your life, and then for us to fulfill it.
Thirdly, Rick Warren reminds us that Jesus came to save us BY his grace. Grace is when God gives us what we need and not what we deserve. Grace is when God says, "I'm going to take your problem and make it my problem." God came to save us from our hurts, our habits and our hang-ups.
So far, God and Jesus have done all the work. What role do we play at Christmas time, if any? Rick Warren sees a very difficult but important role for us! In a word, it is Reconciliation ---- when a broken relationship is restored. Perhaps it starts with our relationship with God ---- but it does not end there.
Pastor Warren sees three varieties of Reconciliation:
---- First, if you are trying to live without God, then you are at war with God and you need a peace treaty. How do we make peace with God? You don't do it by promising to be good. We don't do it by being perfect. You can't be perfect. You don't do it by never sinning. You will sin You make peace, the Bible says, by developing faith ---- faith in God's grace.
---- Second, you've got two choices in life. In every circumstance, you can pray or panic. You can worship or worry. If you prayed as much as you worry, you would have a whole lot less to worry about. The peace of God happens in your heart when you've made peace with God.
---- Third, God has given us both a ministry and a message about Reconciliation ---- to help other people find peace with God and peace with each other.
With whom do you need to rebuild a broken relationship this Christmas? Just remember that you will need to let Jesus Christ fill you with his love so you love other people the way he does. And, you will need to let him fill you with his forgiveness. Until you let God in, and feel truly forgiven, you don't have the ability to meaningfully forgive others.
So, we have a range of gifts to acknowledge, but not just at Christmas. There could be some material gifts you receive or give on Christmas, like new golf clubs, or special gifts for the children in our lives. At the same time, we can count on an invaluable gift from God, as evidenced by the birth of Jesus. But, one of the most precious gifts we can give might simply be the gift of forgiveness to someone who caused us pain in the year that is now behind us, just as God's grace has already forgiven us of our repeated sinning. We can give this gift any time of the year ---- not just at Christmas!
These thoughts are brought to you by CPC's Adult Spiritual Development Team, hoping to encourage you to pursue some personal spiritual growth this winter at CPC.