I had the tremendous opportunity some years ago to hear Philip Yancey, renowned author and Christian thinker, speak at Seattle Pacific University, my wife’s alma mater. (I even got to shake hands and speak with both him and Dr. Paul Brand, one of his co-authors, after the service!) Yancey, author of such bestsellers as What’s so Amazing about Grace, The Jesus I Never Knew and Soul Survivor, addressed the topic: "What makes Christianity different than any other religion?" Christianity’s three distinctives, he noted, are a belief in a personal God, Jesus Christ, and grace. It was a truly delightful evening. Though it was not new info per se, Yancey is an excellent thinker and communicator. His words spoke deeply to all of us that evening.
When all three distinctives are added together, the result is Christmas. Christmas is not just about holiday traditions, entertaining friends and family, or finding the best gift at the best price. All those are fine, but they are the “extras” of the season. The heart of Christmas is that a personal God entered our existence in the person of Jesus Christ. Broken and exiled by sin, we needed a Savior, a Deliverer, a Redeemer. Christ came to earth to die, to take the punishment we so justly deserve. He took our place because of grace (unmerited favor). We did not deserve it, but He chose to give Himself on our behalf.
Yancey pointed out that Christ is the "magnifying glass" that reveals God to us. Christ entered our existence to show us the Father. In response to Philip’s request to show them God, Jesus said: “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” Yancey reminded us that, just as a magnifying glass tends to be a little fuzzy on the periphery, there are a lot of “fuzzy” things about Christianity. But if we will center the magnifying glass that is Christ upon God, we will see Him in clear focus. It is tempting to get sidetracked by things that won’t matter in light of eternity. But when we look at God, through Christ, we see what has true and eternal value.
The Incarnation, the fact that Christ became one of us, is foundational to Christianity. Many religions have an account about a god coming to earth. Yet we know Christ’s incarnation was very different. All other accounts, I believe, feature a god who either comes to observe mankind or engage in mischief or sexual behavior. But God entered our existence in the person of Christ to become one of us and to show us the Father.
According to the apostle Paul (Philippians 2:5-8), Christ "humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!" To leave heaven’s glory to enter our existence would be terrible indeed. It would be like you or me leaving our comfortable human lives to become something insignificant, like an insect, in order to be able to communicate with them. That would be extremely humbling. In fact, the word Paul uses in Philippians 2:8 is more than our word humble. It is very close to the idea of humiliation. Do you remember the last time you were humiliated? You might have wished the ground would open up and swallow you whole, so you could disappear. Christ “humiliated” Himself in order to become a man, so that we might share in His glory! May His name be praised forevermore! He is Immanuel! Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
This Sunday, December 20, at 10:35am the children will be leading us in worship and sharing Christmas Joy. Please join us and give your support to all the keikis. We will also continue our Christmas series with "His Name shall be called Everlasting Father!" Note: Come early and be part of Bible classes for all ages at 9:30am.
Our ono-licious, not-to-miss "After Christmas" Potluck Lunch will take place next Sunday, December 27, after the 10:35am service. Bring your favorite foods to add to the table and get ready for a fun time together!
Mele Kalikimaka and Aloha ke Akua!