THE REALITY OF CHRISTMAS
by Ernest O'Neill
A Birthday Party Gone Awry
A certain king had a son that he thought the world of. He wanted to give him a wonderful birthday party for his 21st birthday. And so he invited all his friends and all the friends of the son who admired the son and he brought them all to this massive party in his beautiful castle in which he lived.
Everybody came and they all had all kinds of presents with them. They started the meal and had a great banquet and when the banquet was completed the real purpose of the party began. That was when they were to express their love and affection for the son of the man who was having the birthday party.
At that very moment, everybody turned to each other and started to exchange presents. After about ten minutes of this, if you had been in the room, you'd have seen in one corner this dear father with his 21-year-old son sitting together alone and everybody else having a wonderful time exchanging presents with each other. No one was giving any presents to the son whose birthday it was. Of course, you can apply that, it's a picture of our Christmases.
It's our modern Christmas. The guy who ought to receive the presents is the only one who doesn't get any. But all of us get presents. We accept that because part of it is we're expressing love to each other and I don't think we want to change that. But we do need to see that the whole purpose of Christmas is this dear Jesus. That's the whole purpose of Christmas.
Give Me The Old Time Christmas
There is something paradoxical in the fact that we not only just give presents to each other and none to Him but that we give all our attention to each other and none to Him. That's the real tragedy of why our modern Christmas becomes emptier and emptier every year. It is not just because of the commercialization. We've all accepted that and go with it. But it's because the central figure of Christmas is totally and absolutely ignored by most of us.
So, we end up trying to substitute human warmth, togetherness and camaraderie for the real spirit of Christmas that is found in Jesus Himself. I don't know if you have ever found what I found. At times we've had a great Christmas. It's just been wonderful. We've got all kinds of wonderful presents and had a wonderful dinner. Everything has gone great but it's a bit like the morning after the night before.
After it's all over, you're gathering up the bits of wrapping paper and you're wondering, "Now what did this achieve? What was it all about? And of course most of us try to console ourselves by saying, "Well, it is a little bit of the morning after the night before. After all if you are a mature growing adult, you'd know that this is what happens after all the fun is over." And yet many of us, in our deepest hearts still feel, "It wasn't exactly what I thought it should be." And even if we have gone to "The Messiah" or to "The Christmas Carol" , we still miss something of what we think Christmas should be.
I think back to Ireland (where I'm from) and Christmas was wonderful. It's wonderful in all our memories. Christmas is wonderful, because the memory has the ability to filter out the unpleasant things. So the memory always sees the thing as more perfect than it really was. We look back and say, "Oh, the old Christmases."
I'll tell you in England we used to look back and say, "Oh the old Christmases when there was snow on the ground." All our Christmas cards in England used to have snow on them. But we rarely have snow in England at Christmas time. So we would look back to those Christmas card days and say, "Oh then, it was really Christmas."
It may be that Christmas has changed because our moms and dads are no longer alive and our family home is no longer ours. It may not be the old Christmas we remember because the times have become so commercialized. It may be that it isn't because so many things have become insecure in our world. It may simply be that you and I are behaving like the people at that birthday party. Could it be us who have taken our attention off the one who makes Christmas, Christmas?
The Heart of Christmas
I am sure all our moms and dads were not saints. But when we look back to them, they hadn't so much that they could be distracted from what was real. And so, the only thing they had were the real things and however pious or holy or unholy they were, they often had more a sense that Christmas is made up of two words, Christ and mass. It is something to do with Christ and it requires some attention to Him if it's really to be Christmas.
So the first thing I would share with all of us today is, where are you in relationship to your attitude to Jesus himself? How real is your attention to Him? How real is your awareness of Him? Now, you don't need to have been years on the Christian journey to answer that. You really need to be able to say to yourself, "Do I give any attention to Jesus Himself, at Christmas certainly, but in my life?"
Now, could I take you another step? Because there's a group of people at this party that realize what everybody else is doing and they think "this is terrible, this is terrible, we're all ignoring the person for whom this birthday party was created. Now, let's do something. At least we should be concerned with Him, now let's talk about Him." "Now, isn't He good?" "Oh yes, He is good and do you know that He can answer prayer? Here's how you get prayer answered if you want Him to answer prayer. And if you really want to know Him, here's the way you want to live." And they start talking about the things of Jesus.
It's easy for us to do the same thing. It's easy for us to say, "You're right, we ignore Jesus. We should talk about the important things at Christmas time." And so we get into this religious stuff where we're talking about how to get prayer answered and how to be a good Christian and how to have victory over sin. We're talking about things and methods and techniques and ways to be Christian but we're still not giving attention to Jesus.
God has in His providence, arranged Christmas every year so that He will be able to give an opportunity to the most wild and unethical human beings that are alive in our world. He will be able to give an opportunity to them to bring them right back down to what is the center of life. The center of life is this stable with the cattle tied up. Then in here, there's a little crib with a little baby in that crib. He is the center of everything.
Jesus is the center. It's not this and it's not that. It's not all our preaching and all our singing. It's not what you think about predestination or what you think about Catholics or Protestants. The center of everything is Jesus. It's Jesus Himself. It's finally you and Jesus. It's what your attitude is to Jesus. That's what life is about. Now, there are many reasons for that but one of them is very plainly set forth in John 1:3.
The Sum of All Life
John 1:3, "All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made." Jesus was the one by whom God made everything. God made everything through Jesus. He made you through Jesus. He made everything around us through Jesus. The most complex computer that IBM has produced, that was made through Jesus. The theories of relativity that we have not yet discovered, those were made through Jesus.
Everything in this world is summed up in one person-- Jesus. Those of you who have moved in the realm of business or politics or philosophy know that there's something right about that. However complex business or academic theory becomes, it always ends up being centered in a person of some kind. It's always simplified because it's integrated in a person or enshrined in a person. The whole world is enshrined and consummated in Jesus. This is why the "bag ladies" can know Jesus as easily as the professor of medicine can know Jesus. Jesus is a person and he's the center of everything.
Now, there's another incredible reason why you and I need to get back to Jesus. It's in the next verse. It's not obvious in the translation. John 1:4, "In him was life, and the life was the light of men." In the footnote on this verse you see the alternative translation of the Greek. Instead of "In him was life", it is "That which has been made was life in Him." "That which has been made was life in Him." You were life in Him. You were life in Jesus before you came here.
The doctors can't explain why the heart keeps beating. They talk about the electric charge but they can't explain why it keeps beating. The reason is there is the life of Jesus in you that keeps you alive. You are alive here today because there's life of Jesus in you that keeps you alive. Because you were life in Him before you came to this earth. Now, loved ones I don't know how to get that over to you if you're filled with all kinds of inferiority complexes and feelings of being worthless and being useless. I don't know how to stop you thinking that. That is a gross lie. It is a desperate untruth.
The fact is you are part of Jesus in a way in which none of the rest of us are. That, which has been made, was life in Him. Why did He make you? Did He just want crowds around Him? You know He doesn't. You know how He scatters the seeds that make the flowers and how relatively few of them grow into flowers. He's not concerned with numbers. Why are you alive at all? Because you were part of Jesus' life in a way that none of the rest of us are.
Why You Are Alive
There is a part of His life in you that is not in anybody else in the world. That's why you are alive. You are not just a nothing. You are not just a human being trying to make your way through this life. You are a unique part of Jesus. I don't know how to get that over to you. I'd love to take each of you individually and give you a good shake. That wouldn't do it but I'd love to whisper it repeatedly into your ear for the next 40 years. YOU are part of Jesus.
There is something of Jesus in you that isn't in the rest of us. And it's His life that keeps you alive. Can you see what a dreadful sense of strain He must have when He looks at you and me ignoring Him? He knows that it's Him that keeps us alive, that it's His life that gives to you your individuality. It's His life that makes you you. That's why you are precious. And that's why Jesus is dear and you need to get to know Jesus.
You need to start giving attention to Jesus, and treating Him like a real person in your life. Talk to Him and think about Him as a real person. Begin to find out what He wants to do in your life. That's the other purpose of Christmas. It's in John 1:14.
John 1:14, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth." The word of Jesus took on the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth and then people saw what God was like. The whole purpose of your life is so that Jesus can coat Himself with you and can live again a unique life through you. That's the purpose of your life. That's why you are alive.
You are not just some little soul trying to make your way through to old age successfully. You are not just some little human being trying to eke out an existence here in this world for 70 years. You are a unique person in whom Jesus wants to live a unique life that He has never lived before in anyone else. That's it. You understand that's why we are all yearning for significance.
That's why we give so much attention to the pop singers and why we would all secretly like to be up there on stage and why we all like crowds, fame and success. There's something in us of Jesus that is crying out and saying, "I am significant. I am important. I am different from everybody else."
That 'something' saying that, is in you. It's Jesus, but you don't realize it. All you sense is "I am important. I am important. I want to be important." And we try to make ourselves important. So what we have is a globe full of four billion frustrated people. We are all trying to say to the other four billion, "I am more important than you."
We're all saying that to each other and frustrating and annoying each other to death. The fact is, you are unique. You are unique. I am not saying it the way the psychologists say it to us to make us happy. "Oh you're unique, you are different." "Oh yes, I am. I am not just like to everybody." It's not that. You are different. You are unique. Jesus is in you in a way in which He isn't in anybody else.
Now, I don't care if a man or a woman stood up here, swore mightily and confessed a life that is wretched and filled with sin and filled with evil. It's still true. Jesus is still in you and you have got these 70 years to let Him take over and be in you what He wants to be. After those 70 years, I agree with you. You determine your destiny and you go to hell if you don't accept that. But during these 70 years, you are part of Jesus and Jesus is part of you. That's why I respect you.
Jesus in Us
That's why it beholds everybody to respect you and love you and look up to you and treat you with dignity and protect you and defend you. It's because Jesus is in you. You were life in Him before you came to earth. You are dear and precious. And the whole purpose of your life is to know Him as not only your dearest friend, but as your dear Savior. He is heart of your heart so that He can show you the things that He wants you to do as Him in this world.
The insane are not so far from sanity when we think of the poor guy in the psych ward that says, "I am God, I am Jesus Christ." There's something that happens in the borderland that we like to identify as insanity. There's something there where even God is able to get through. He is saying something that is true and right. It's the old story; the truth is not far from error. It's very close.
That's what Christmas is. It's Jesus. It's you and Jesus. Jesus loves you and He knows you. You're alive because of His life in you. The whole purpose of your life is so that you and He can do something together. So that He can live a unique life through you, different from everybody else.
You know the glory of that. It doesn't matter whether we're successful. It doesn't matter whether we're winning financially or whether we're bankrupt. It doesn't matter whether we're on the top of the heap or whether we're at the bottom. It doesn't matter whether everybody thinks well of us or everybody hates us. It doesn't matter whether our lives appear to the world to be wonderfully successful or not. That's all a passing scene. It's all a passing façade.
The heart of life is that you are part of Jesus and He is in you. He wants to be Himself in you in a way that He isn't in anybody else. None of us can define that. Thank God, He's taken it out of the hands of the priests and the ministers and all the religious people. He is at this moment engaged in living a unique life through you that nobody else can experience.
The secret is Jesus. Pay attention to Jesus. He is real and He's yours in a way that He isn't anybody else's. And you're His in a way that nobody else is His. Christmas is a dear time. Don't get wrapped up in giving presents to each other or in talking about religion. Pay attention to Jesus.