Rescuing Christmas

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Philippians 2:5-16 ESV

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

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I want to begin with a story that is found in the prophet Zechariah:

Zechariah 7:1-3 NLT “On December 7 of the fourth year of King Darius’s reign, another message came to Zechariah from the LORD. The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regemmelech, along with their attendants, to seek the LORD’s favor. They were to ask this question of the prophets and the priests at the Temple of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies: “Should we continue to mourn and fast each summer on the anniversary of the Temple’s destruction, as we have done for so many years?””

This was an important question. We should ask ourselves this questions about all the traditions that we are following.

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This was God’s reply: Zechariah 7:4-7 NLT “The LORD of Heaven’s Armies sent me this message in reply: “Say to all your people and your priests, ‘During these seventy years of exile, when you fasted and mourned in the summer and in early autumn, was it really for me that you were fasting? And even now in your holy festivals, aren’t you eating and drinking just to please yourselves? Isn’t this the same message the LORD proclaimed through the prophets in years past when Jerusalem and the towns of Judah were bustling with people, and the Negev and the foothills of Judah were well populated?’ “”

God reminded his people that those traditions were part of the problem, not the solution, because they were being followed for selfish reasons.

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God’s prescription for the problem was this:

Zechariah 7:8-10 NLT “Then this message came to Zechariah from the LORD: “This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other.”

God said if they really want to follow a tradition, they should make a tradition of being good to others. They could rescue the fasts by showing mercy and kindness to one another.

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Christmas is a tradition that needs to be rescued as well.

Until Christ returns, there will always be two Christmases. There will be the Christmas of this “crooked and twisted generation.” That is a Christmas that people celebrate for celebration’s sake. The world will continue to pile tradition upon tradition on top of that Christmas, because they do not know about the true Christmas. They will enjoy the show, then pack it up until next year.

But for us believers, there is another Christmas. It is a story that we cannot pack away, and we cannot afford to forget. It is a story of a loving God who gave his only son so that we might have everlasting life.

Paul’s words to the Philippian Christians are about authentic Christian living. It is by authentic Christian living that we can rescue Christmas.

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Paul said that Jesus was in the form of God, so he deserved a crown in heaven. Instead, he took upon himself the form of a man, and chose to serve. He served us as no other being could ever do. He served us by being obedient to God’s will and going to the cross. His service meant dying as our substitute in order to pay the price that we owed. The wages of sin is death, so Jesus had to die for us or we would all die in Gehenna hell.

God probably will not ask you to die for someone. But he does ask us as believers to humble ourselves like Christ did and serve others. Having the mind of Christ means wanting to serve others in Christ’s name. Wouldn’t Christmas be different if every believer went out of his way to serve others during this season?

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Paul said that God is working in the Philippians to make them desire and do that which pleases him. He encouraged the Philippians to cooperate with God by working out their salvation with fear and trembling.

These verses have been adopted by those on either side of the sovereignty/ free will debate. But Paul was urging believers to live up to what God had begun in them. Here we see both sovereignty of God in giving us new life and our responsibility to cooperate with him and work out the details of that new life.

How does this relate to Christmas? Christmas is one time of year where everyone tends to socialize. This is a time when the real us is probably more visible because there is more stress. That makes it especially important that we live up to the Christian principles we profess.

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Paul said that believers are to shine as lights in the world. What better time to shine than when the world is claiming to celebrate the birth of our Lord?

In many places this time of year neighbourhoods will have competitions to see if they can outshine each other. What would happen if we Christians would make a concerted effort to outshine each other in the sense that Paul uses the word?

What does Paul mean by encouraging the Philippians to shine?

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Listen again to verses 14-16.

• 14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning. Wouldn’t it be a brighter Christmas for everybody if we decided to go about our business cheerfully instead of turning into Ebenezer Scrooge?

•15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation. Wouldn’t it be a brighter Christmas if we decided to act with integrity. It is not the Grinch who stole Christmas. It is the Devil. This Christmas, let’s shine by doing the right thing.

•16 holding fast to the word of life. Wouldn’t it be a brighter Christmas if we used this holiday as an opportunity to share the Gospel?

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One of my favourite Christmas traditions is “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in which Linus told Charlie Brown about the true meaning of Christmas.

Linus Van Pelt (Lucy’s brother) just quoted the story of Christ’s birth from Luke 2, King James Version. But something magical happened. Suddenly Christmas was not about putting on a show. It was about Christ.

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The Vann family wishes you and your family the happiest of times this Christmas. God bless you.

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LORD, help us this year to tell the world around us about the Christmas that we know. Help us to confess the name of Christ, who is no longer a babe in a manger, but is now the Lord of the universe. Every tongue will soon confess his name. Help us to confess his name now.

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