|Text: John 3:16
God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.
As we have seen today Christmas is celebrated with great variety with each country and community emphasising the joy that the Christ-child brings in their own way appropriate to their culture. As I have researched I have been amazed at the different emphasis different cultures have on the Christmas story and when you add them all together what a rich picture you get of the importance of Christmas among Christians the world over. We have heard some of these today like the Posada Procession on the evenings leading up to Christmas reminding one another that there was no place for Mary and Joseph to stay. And the emphasis in Spain on the 3 Wisemen bringing gifts for the children today just as they did to Jesus so long ago.
There are many traditions and customs associated with Christmas and there are many stories that give the origin of some of these giving added meaning as to the Christmas celebration.
One of my favourites Christmas stories comes from Mexico which emphasises that gifts that come from the heart are the best gifts of all. It also explains why the poinsettia flower gained its place as an important part of Christmas. The story goes like this.
To honour the birth of Christ, a church in Mexico displayed a beautiful manger that drew crowds of admirers. Villagers walked miles to admire the manger, bringing lovely, expensive gifts for the baby Jesus. Two children, Maria and Pablo, watched the villagers place their gifts in the soft hay around the manger. They felt sad. They were very poor and had no money to buy gifts for their family and no money to buy a gift for the baby Jesus.
On Christmas Eve as Maria and Pablo walked to the church
they saw the shadowy outline of an old man (some versions say this was an
angel). Maria and Pablo were afraid. The man asked why they were so sad and
they explained how they didn’t have anything to take to the Christ-child. The
old man said, “Ah, children, don't you know that any gift is beautiful because
it is given. Whatever you give, the baby Jesus will love, because it comes from
“But what can we give?”
The old man told them to pick some of the short green weeds that were growing by the road and place them near the manger as their gift to the baby Jesus.
Confused but excited, the children filled their arms with large bunches of the
green weeds and hurried to the church. When the children entered the church,
many of the villagers turned to stare. Some even laughed.
"Why are those children putting weeds by the manger?" they asked each other.
Maria and Pablo began to feel embarrassed and ashamed of their gift to the baby Jesus, but they stood bravely near the manger. Suddenly, the dull green leaves on the tops of the plants began to turn a beautiful shade of red. The baby was surrounded with an amazing blanket of red – a colour that pointed to the future of this child when his blood would be shed to save all people.
The laughing villagers became silent as they watched the green plants transform into the lovely star-shaped crimson flowers. It became known as the ‘Flower of the Holy Night’. We call it the Poinsettia. Maria and Pablo knew they had no reason to be ashamed anymore. They had given the baby Jesus the only gift they could – one that came from the heart and it was the most beautiful gift of all. Their humble gift reminded everyone present that God's gift of a baby born to poor parents in a stable was the greatest gift of all.
It doesn’t matter
what place around the world you celebrate Christmas,
what language is spoken and
what traditions accompany the Christmas season,
the message is the same everywhere.
God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son. God's love for everyone is seen in the tiny baby lying in a manger, born of humble parents.
Jesus is God’s gift to all people at Christmas.
This is a gift that comes from the heart of God - it's the kind of gift that everyone needs.
Jesus is the Saviour-God who came down from heaven, was born a tiny child and became a human.
He died for the sins of all people and rose again from the dead.
Why did God do all this – “so that all who believe in him may not perish but have eternal life”?
Even in the Christmas story itself there is a cross cultural and international flavour. We know that the first visitors to the baby in the manger were people who were considered the bottom of the pile in society. They had no cultural standing. They were shepherds – people who did the lowliest of jobs because that’s all they could do. They had little education, no money and possessions, no rights. And yet in spite of all this, God made sure they were the first to know of the birth of the Saviour. Jesus is saviour for even the humblest and most insignificant people in our world.
The second lot of visitors we hear about are the learned men from the East.
They were scholars, astrologers, scientists, men of considerable wealth. They
were also foreigners.
They came from another country.
Spoke different languages.
Lived in a different culture.
Jesus came for everyone, even those who were considered to be outside of the people of God.
We know from Jesus ministry that he came for sinners –
for tax collectors,
for people of low moral standing,
for people who thought they were better than everyone else,
for those who were considered unworthy of the title ‘human’ – lepers, the possessed, those with mental illness,
for people who were suffering and dying and the grieving.
Jesus came into the world to save those with power and authority, the religious hypocrites, those who didn’t believe they needed a Saviour.
Jesus makes no distinction – he came for all sinners no matter the colour of their skin, their cultural background, their standing in society. He came for all. The apostle Paul put it this way, “There is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slaves and free people, between men and women; you are all one in union with Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26).
Jesus came for you and me and he invites us all to share in the forgiveness and hope for the future that he offers. He wants all people to know his love and so challenges us to tell one and all that God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. Isn’t it wonderful to know that Jesus came for the whole world - that includes us, our families, our friends, our nation and our world?
That’s what Christmas is all about. Wherever people are celebrating Christmas in the hottest countries to the coldest, the highest to the lowest, the poorest and the richest, they are celebrating the love of God that came down from heaven to save people from their sin.
© Pastor Vince
9th December 2007