Ready for Christmas?
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Ready for Christmas?

In the opening verse of the Gospel of John, we encounter the beginning of the Christmas story. Even before time itself began, God had a plan and purpose to provide a Savior to a rebellious world. In this Christmas Eve message, Alistair Begg reminds us that Jesus, as the eternal Son of God, stepped into time not ultimately to live but to die. Because of Christ, we can know a love like no other—a love that seeks in order to save, allowing us to know and share the greatest story the world has ever known.

Sermon Transcript: Print

I’ve noticed it routinely—I’ve been noticing it for ages—the question at the checkout, somewhere you’re going: someone will inevitably say, “Are you ready for Christmas?” And the answer depends on whether you’re ready or not. And I hope that all of you are ready by this time on a Christmas Eve. Otherwise, it’s going to be a lot of disappointments tomorrow morning.

But some people are, I’ve noticed, kind of “Christmas in July” people. I mean, I was down 306 with Sue some couple of months ago now. We went in a place we’d never been in. And I thought it was fun just to look around. And then, as I was getting ready to leave, I noticed she had a bag of goods. And I said, “Well, what is this?”

And she said, “Well, it’s just Christmas shopping.”

“But it’s only September!”

“Well, it’s stocking gifts.”

I said, “Okay, fine.”

So I have to be honest. And that’s good. I’m glad she did that, because if it were left to me, there would be very little at all, and it would be happening, you know, about right now. Because I’m definitely a December planner.

But you know, when you read these stories—and we’ve been reading mainly in the Gospel of Luke, haven’t we?—we might wonder: What’s God’s timing when it comes to Christmas? I mean, would you say that God is a kind of December planner, or do you think he’s planning a little earlier than that?

Before even time began, it was God’s plan and purpose to provide for a rebellious world the gift of a Savior.

The fact of the matter is that the readings from both Matthew and Luke would suggest on first glance that the story of Christmas actually begins as you turn from the last page of the Old Testament into the first page of the New Testament. But in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. And one of the reasons that I thought it would be nice for everybody to be given a copy of John’s Gospel this evening upon arrival—and I hope that you did and, if not, that you’ll take it as you go—is simply because in the Gospel of John, unlike Matthew and Luke, there are no shepherds; there are no wise men; there’s no manger scene. So where is John starting from?

Well, actually, he’s starting even before anything in the Old Testament. The beginning of the Gospel of John begins in the same way as the book of Genesis begins. Genesis begins, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”[1] The Gospel of John begins, “In the beginning … the Word was with God, and the Word was God”[2]—telling us that in fact, from before even time began, it was God’s plan and purpose to provide for a rebellious world the gift of a Savior; that he was sending into the world, as John says in his prologue, he was sending “the true light” into the world “which gives light to everyone”[3] in the world.

And that’s why when we read in the Old Testament, we discover these little hints and pointers along the way—that we’re saying to ourself, “Now, this is pointing us to something.” Well, it is pointing not simply to something, but it’s pointing to someone. “But you, Bethlehem,” in the prophecy of Micah, “though you be the least of all the places in the world, out of you will come one who will be the ruler of my people Israel.”[4] Perhaps more familiar to those of us who know the Messiah: “Unto us a child is born” and “a son is given: and the government [will] be upon his shoulder.”[5] Anybody just reading that thoughtfully has got to say, “And where is this heading?”

Well, it’s heading to the unfolding of God’s revealing of himself. The Bible makes clear that God has made himself known in the world that he has made, he has made himself known in his Word that he has given to us to ponder, and he has made himself known finally and savingly in the person of his Son. Again, in the opening part of the Gospel of John here, John makes perfectly clear, “No one has ever seen God.”[6] “No one has ever seen God.” God is completely and infinitely beyond us. It is not for us to be able to access him on our own time or on our own terms, but God himself chooses to make himself known. He shows up, if you like. And the story of Christmas is essentially, beyond comprehension, that God has, in the person of Jesus, moved into our neighborhood.

Now, I just have two verses that I want to put on the screen. And the first of these is this. This is John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John simply states it as a fact, causing us to ponder—meditate, if you like—on this fact: that Jesus was born in the same fashion as any one of us is born, but he was God’s eternal Son. So, unlike us, he did not start to exist a few months before his arrival, because he was always God’s Son.

You see, if you start your Christmas, as it were, simply with the mangers and angels and a little dose of sentimentality, I think it’s relatively easy to dismiss it, for all kinds of reasons—good reasons, bad reasons. But it is relatively easy to do. What is far harder to ponder is the notion that somehow or another, out of eternity, God takes the initiative to step into time, and in such a strange way: to be born to a lowly Hebrew girl, probably maybe sixteen, seventeen; to be born in such an unusual place; to spend part of his life as a refugee, along with his mom and dad, in Egypt; then to grow up in an obscure part of the world, working in the carpentry along with Joseph, progressing through life with no home of his own, never writing a book, never leading an army, unrecognized as he moved among the communities, and rejected, John tells us again in this booklet that I’ve given you—rejected by the people that he came to first of all.[7] And, of course, it leads inevitably to the cross of Jesus Christ.

And as he anticipates the cross, he prays in this way: “Now is my soul troubled.” He’s praying to his Father. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.”[8] What are you to possibly make of all of that? Jim Packer says, “The crucial significance of … Bethlehem lies in its place in the sequence of steps down that led the Son of God to the cross of Calvary, and we do not understand it till we see it in this context.”[9] In short order, it’s virtually impossible to get an angle on Christmas without seeing it through the prism of Easter. For the reason for the coming of Jesus was ultimately not to live but was to die. That’s what the Bible says.

Christianity is the story of a God who, despite our disinterest in him, sends his only beloved Son as a Shepherd for his people, as a light in the darkness.

That brings me to my second and final verse, this time from 2 Corinthians chapter 8. And Paul, once Saul of Tarsus, whose life was changed by this Jesus, is encouraging the people to whom he writes in the realm of generosity. And in seeking to do so, he gives us this amazing statement: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

C. S. Lewis, at a meeting at Oxford years ago, was in conversation with a number of people, and somebody said to him, “How would you explain the difference between Christianity and other world religions?”—to which Lewis replied, “That’s easy. One word: grace.” Grace. Every other encounter with religion starts from here in an attempt to find God, to appease God, to please God, to be accepted by God. The story of Christianity is the exact reverse. This is the story of a God who, despite our disinterest in him, sends his only beloved Son as a Shepherd for his people, as a light in the darkness, and the darkness has never actually been able to put it out.[10] It’s a love that is just like no other love. It’s love for those who don’t deserve to be loved. He says in this verse, it’s a love which gives up its own prerogatives for the well-being of those to whom they come. It’s a love that takes the initiative in seeking people who aren’t even seeking him. In short order, Jesus gave himself up for us.

You see, that’s why unless you get to Easter, you still don’t know what to do with Christmas: “Well, this seems very nice. It’s a nice story.” And people dismiss it easily, say, “Well, it’s a sort of thing for the children, you know. It’s nice for the children.” They damn it with faint praise. Oh, no, it’s far more demanding than that, isn’t it?

You see, what we’ve been singing about tonight—and some of us, perhaps, may be skipping words (I don’t know), may be wincing—but we’ve been singing about the idea of our position before a holy God, and the position is described in terms of sin. And people stumble over the idea of sin. They’ve got the idea that somehow or another, sin is just doing a lot of really bad things, and you can flip that if you try and do as many good things. But sin actually is a condition. Doing bad things is a symptom. You don’t want a physician that only treats the symptoms. You want a physician that goes to the source. However painful the diagnosis may be, that’s the best of doctors: “Here is where the predicament lies, and here is the answer to your condition.” That’s the coming of Jesus. We place ourselves where God deserves to be: in control, on the throne, determining our own destiny. And the story of Christmas is that God places himself where we deserve to be: in the place of punishment.

Now, I want to stop, but I want to say just one other thing—just a word to the skeptic, the person who says, “Well, I can tell you’re relatively sincere about this, but I really… I’m not tracking with you.” If Christianity is false, it is of no importance. If Christianity is false, it is of no importance. If Christianity is true, it is of supreme, it is of infinite importance. But what Christianity cannot be is kind of important. That’s not an option.

Are you ready for Christmas? Are you ready to accept the gift that God sends to us in Jesus, just to welcome him? Are you ready for Christmas, sufficient to bow down your knees before him and worship him? Am I ready for Christmas—to say, “You know, ultimately, no matter what I get, where I go, where I go, that all that I really have in heaven is you. All that I have, all the wealth I have, everything else goes in a garage sale. Everything else will be gone. You’re everything.” Do you “know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you [through] his poverty might [know all the] rich[es]”?

There’s a new biography—three parts, somebody told me, one of my colleagues told me the other day—about the final day of John Lennon. And so I immediately went to see if I could find it. And I found a piece of it, and I found only one audio quote, and I immediately wrote it down. This is Lennon speaking. He says, “The Beatles had all the fame they wanted, all the money they wanted, and we found out we had nothing.” See, it goes from the third person to the first person? “The Beatles,” he says, “had all the fame, all the money.” Then he goes personal: “And we found out we had nothing.”

Where did they go? Where they went: to the Maharishi Yogi. They went to Eastern mysticism. One of the reasons they didn’t go to Christians, I would say, from the other side of the ocean, is because the Christians were obnoxious. They didn’t like that long hair. They didn’t like those dreadful lyrics like “I want to hold your hand. I want to hold your ha-ha-ha-hand. I want to hold your hand.”[11] They couldn’t cope with that. Do you remember the scenes? Do you remember the scenes where they burned the Beatles albums? It’d be pretty hard, I would think, for John, Paul, George, or Ringo, as they stand there watching their life’s work going up in flames, to hear somebody say, “You know, I’d like to invite you to an evangelistic carol service.” They’re like, “You’ve got to be out of your mind.”

You’re a Christian? You’ve welcomed him? You worship him? You’ve found your wealth in him? Then let’s go out. Tomorrow’s the new day. Let’s go out into our broken culture. Let’s go into the unfulfilled lives of the well-heeled and tell them the greatest story the world has ever known: that he stepped down into time to forgive us, to fill us, to use us.

A brief prayer together.

We say together, words on the screen:

Gracious and triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—we praise you that your glory shone out in highest heaven when Jesus the Son was born. We thank you for the most wonderful gift of peace with God …. We humbly bow before your kindness and acknowledge that all these blessings are your undeserved kindness to us in Jesus. We praise you in Jesus’ name, Amen.[12]

[1] Genesis 1:1 (ESV).

[2] John 1:1 (ESV).

[3] John 1:9 (ESV).

[4] Micah 5:2 (paraphrased).

[5] Isaiah 9:6 (KJV).

[6] John 1:18 (ESV).

[7] See John 1:11.

[8] John 12:27 (ESV).

[9] J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), 51.

[10] See John 1:5.

[11] John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (1963).

[12] Christopher Ash, Repeat the Sounding Joy: A Daily Advent Devotional on Luke 1–2 ([Epsom, UK?]: The Good Book Company, 2019), 104.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.