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There are Christians who lament that the true message of Christmas gets lost in the secularization, commercialization, culturalization, and hustle and bustle of the season. I count myself among them.
Yet, I am deeply concerned also that many Christians--yes, Christians!--miss the hidden message of Christmas.
Now, most Christians will probably agree that the true message of Christmas is encapsulated in the pronouncement of the angel of the Lord that first Christmas: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Indeed, Jesus Christ the Lord is our Savior! We hear that message not only at Christmas time, but throughout the year in our churches. Yet, there is more to the Christmas message than that.
Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year. And, after committing myself to God through Jesus Christ and starting a family, celebrating the birth of Jesus made it all the more special. But, after a few years of witnessing superficial and sometimes extrabiblical renditions of the Christmas story, I became restless in my soul.
At first, I thought I was just getting bored with hearing the same story year after year. Then, I realized that the restlessness in my soul was not restlessness at all—it was a hunger. Yes! I hungered for something beyond what I had always heard and was experiencing in my Christian walk. But what was that something? What possibly could be missing? Or could it be that I had simply missed the point over all those years? But what was the point?
By that time in my life I had written several Christian books, some of which became best-sellers. I was a Christian book publisher. I produced scores of Christian videos and films, and I published a magazine for Christian bookstores which was dedicated to reviewing Christian books. But I never discovered the missing message of Christmas.
I’ve fallen asleep in front of TV while watching the umpteenth reruns of epics such as “The Robe,” “The Ten Commandments,” “Ben Hur” and other cast-of-thousands costume spectaculars.
I’ve read A Christmas Carol and watched motion picture versions of the Charles Dickens classic over and over again. And, yet, though Old Ebenezer Scrooge might have gotten into the spirit of Christmas, there is no indication that he found the missing message of Christmas.
I’ve dragged myself from in front of a cozy, warm fireplace on blizzardy nights to attend Christmas Eve services.
I’ve patronized reenactment after reenactment of the shepherds in the fields, the three wise men, and the manger scene, and gushed over my kids when they took part reenactments at church and sometimes at school (yes, even public schools, but that was a long, long time ago).
I’ve politely sat through repeats of the same stories in Christmas sermon after sermon. I’ve dozed off at Christmas cantatas, grew warm and fuzzy over the spectacle of living Christmas trees, and sang Christmas carols till I was hoarse. But I never found the missing message of Christmas in any of it.
Then I entered a period of my life that, after much “success,” I experienced great loss and anguish.
Years before I had a little of the Midas Touch. Walt Disney had placed me in a prestigious public relations position. I was a best-selling author of several Christian books. I was happily-married and had three wonderful children. We had many Christian friends and a church home where I taught the Bible and served as chairman of the deacon board.
Then I lost it all—my wife to another person, years of unemployment and under-employment, and finally, bankruptcy. My self-esteem hit rock-bottom. I had built my identity around those things that eventually slipped through my hands. Without them, I was lost. I didn’t know who I was anymore.
At first, I did everything I was taught to do to live the Christian life. I confessed my sins, asked for forgiveness over and over, read more of the Bible, prayed more often and more fervently, exercised more faith and tried harder—always tried harder! Where was God in it all? I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was on a do-it-myself roller-coaster that was getting me nowhere but short-lived ups, then downs that dragged on and on.
I want to make it clear, however, that I never once blamed God; but I was terribly confused and perplexed to my wits end.
Another Christmas rolled around. As usual, I was not altogether in the Christmas spirit. Yes, I celebrated the birth of Jesus. To be certain, I was thankful for my forgiveness and salvation. However, I needed something beyond what I had been taught about myself—that though I was forgiven and saved I remained unworthy and a sinner. How could I possibly be joyful and thankful over that? Was I no more than a forgiven serial sinner?
I needed answers beyond what I had read and heard about Jesus—and about myself. Did He have to die on the cross only to forgive me of my behavioral sins? Couldn’t God have simply said, “Okay, Frank, I forgive you”? Or, could it be that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplished more than that?
Answers to those questions were missing from all of my Christmases past. Would this year’s Christmas services at church be any different?
Maybe I wouldn’t find it at church. Maybe it was time for me to go back to the Bible (duh). Over the years I had read it through several times, studied some of it intensely, and memorized many verses. But, I never found the missing message of Christmas. Even so, I was willing to delve into the Scriptures one more time.
Well, that “one more time” began that Christmas past and continues to this day. Through it all, the eyes of my heart have been opened to discover the missing message of Christmas. And I share it with you through but a sampling of Bible passages that follow:
THE MISSING MESSAGE OF CHRISTMAS
If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature
(Paul, 2 Corinthians 5:17).
They shall be My people, and I will be their God; and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good and for the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me (God, Jeremiah 32:38-40)
Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances (God, Ezekiel 36:26-27).
You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you (Jesus, John 15:16).
If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you (Jesus, John 15:19).
But you are [of] a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.... (Peter, 1 Peter 2:9).
He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.... (Paul, Ephesians 1:4-7).
But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth (Paul, 2
It was through the New Covenant—being “in Christ” from the “beginning”—that I discovered I was an ontological new creature in Christ (Paul, 2 Corinthians 5:17). And that my salvation did not become a reality through systematic beliefs and behaviors. I did not deceive myself by trying to recreate myself to be a new species of human being, nor did I attempt to conjure up some new identity, nor did I choose my destiny; God through Jesus takes care of such things, not man.
As for my part in my relationship with Jesus, I worship Him as the Christ of God and as my Lord and Savior. In Him I endeavor to love and obey Him and the Father with all my heart, as I walk with Him on the path of wholeheartedness.
In retrospect, I know that everything that has happened in my life has had a place in God’s gracious purpose and plan for me.
My futile attempts to create an identity and all the losses and pains of attempted self-sufficiency in this world that I experienced over the years have served to help break me of my stubborn self-will and fleshly quest for self-defined meaning and purpose in life.
Brokenness brought me to the realization that all I had left—all that really mattered—was Jesus! And through Him the sufficiency of God’s grace! (2 Corinthians 12:9).
For me, brokenness paved the path to the Missing Message of Christmas—what it means to be a New Creature in Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians Christians (and to you and me): "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.(2 Corinthians 5:17 NASB).
At some point in time we reach that lowest of low points along the way, as did a wayward David (Psalm 51). Then we, like David, become contrite and wholeheartedly yield ourselves to God.
I pray that this message will give new meaning to your celebration of the birth of Jesus this Christmas...and that you will experience the fullness of Christ in your heart throughout the season and forever after.
Chuck Swindoll, writing in his book, Improving Your Serve, expresses the process and blessings of brokenness so well: “Since my heavenly Father is committed to shaping me into the image of His Son, He knows the ultimate value of this painful experience. It is a necessary part of the preparation process. It is being used to empty our hands of our own resources, our own sufficiency, and turn us back to Him—the faithful Provider. And God knows what will get through to us.”
Chuck goes on to quote “Empty Hands,” by an unknown poet. I’ve placed it below to share with you:
One by one He took them from me:
All the things I valued most;
’Til I was empty-handed,
Every glittering toy was lost.
And I walked earth’s highways, grieving,
In my rags and poverty.
Until I heard His voice inviting,
“Lift those empty hands to Me!”
Then I turned my hands toward heaven,
And He filled them with a store.
Of His own transcendent riches,
’Til they could contain no more.
And at last I comprehended
With my stupid mind, and dull,
That God cannot pour His riches
Into hands already full.