Faded Glory: Why Christ Had to Come
Psalm 8 & Hebrews 2:5-9
November 30, 2003
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On Christmas Eve, 1998, George Will wrote a column called “The Happiest Holiday.” It began this way:
A sardonic British skeptic of the late 19th century suggested that three words should be carved in stone over all church doors: “Important if true.” On Christmas Eve, at the end of the rarely stately and always arduous march that Americans make each year to the happiest holiday, it sometimes seems that they are supposed to celebrate Christmas as though they have agreed to forget what supposedly it means.
There are several reasons why forgetting, actual or make-believe, is not altogether unfortunate. First, some people really have forgotten, or never knew, or never cared about Christmas’s religious dimension but they can still enjoy, and benefit from, the seasonal upsurge of nonsectarian goodwill. Second, many Americans are of faiths that assert Christianity is mistaken about what occurred in Palestine 1,998 years ago, and in the 33 or so years thereafter.
This is a case where a mainstream writer gets closer to the truth than many theologians do. I was thinking about what he wrote when I received an e-mail last night from Erwin Lutzer, pastor of Moody Church in Chicago. He wrote about this and that, and then he said,
What are you preaching these days? I’ve decided to do a defense of Jesus this Christmas—just finished preparing a message on the Da Vinci Code that is grabbing so much attention. An incredibly sly attack against Christianity.
That little phrase stuck in my mind—”a defense of Jesus this Christmas.” Have we finally reached the place where Jesus needs defending at Christmastime? Evidently the answer is yes, and I’m sure Dr. Lutzer will do a stellar job. Gene Edward Veith, writing in the current issue of World magazine (December 6, 2003), chronicles the rising tide of doctrinal illiteracy among born again Christians. He quotes a Barna poll of self-identified “born again Christians” that contains disturbing news:
26% believe all religions are basically equal.
50% believe that good works will get you to heaven.
35% do not believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
45% do not believe that Satan exists.
33% accept same-sex marriage.
38% say it is okay to live together before marriage.
Veith adds this comment: “This is strong evidence of how American Christianity is conforming to the dominant secular culture. It is all right to be religious, according to the dictates of postmodernism, as long as your faith exists just in your head. If you start claiming that your beliefs are more than just a private mental state that makes you feel good, asserting instead that what you believe is objectively real and valid for everybody, then you are an intolerant menace to society.”
Christmas and the Christian Worldview
I think the British skeptic had a good point when he said we should write over the door of every church: “Important if true.” Those three little words hang in the air as we approach Christmas this year. But what if the things we believe are not true? How can we be sure? Certainly there are doubts on every hand. Maybe Jesus does need defending in 2003. Or perhaps we need to remind ourselves of what we really believe. Last month I was invited to speak to a group of ministers at a breakfast meeting in Carol Stream. When I arrived, I discovered that the only person I knew was Pastor Lou Diaz of Wheaton Evangelical Free Church. I’ve known Lou for many years but hadn’t seen him in a while so we chatted before my talk. He told me that he was thinking about doing a series of sermons called “Christmas and the Christian Worldview.” I was immediately struck by what he said because we tend to sentimentalize Christmas when we ought to see the birth of Christ as the single most stupendous event in world history. If you think about it, all the elements of a Christian worldview are in the Christmas story. Because the coming of Christ changed history—literally, from B.C. to A.D.—we aren’t straining things to say, “Everything is different now that Christ has come to the world.” This isn’t a sentimental thought—like “The Little Drummer Boy” or “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” The coming of Christ establishes the truth of all that we believe. Seen in its proper context, Christ’s birth speaks with incredible relevance to 21st-century people who write off Christmas as nothing more than eggnog and candy canes.
I hope that in the next four weeks we can lay a foundation for seeing Christmas as the basis for all that we believe. Let’s begin with the observation that the Bible makes some rather astounding claims relating to Christmas: