24th December 2000

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It is Christmas…but where is Christ?

By Professor Kanthi Ratnayake

Christmas. Isn't this the time when the whole world moves into a festive mood, with Santas, bells and candlelight, cards and gifts and pure delight? The shops prepare for the season's fanfare months ahead, and the messages of all the goodies that you can buy ( at special discount rates ) come floating through - catalogues, banners, T.V. ads. and what have you. The church also prepares to usher in the joy of celebrating Christmas, with special congregational diners, nativity plays and cantatas, taking up most of our resources, time and effort. There is so much meticulous planning to have every detail correct.

Of course, we do not forget to reach out to the poor and needy in some small way at Christmastime, though perhaps, we may not have cared to do so during the rest of the year. Anyway, isn't it often true that, by comparison with all other activities that we have lined up for Christmas, this reaching out to the poor and needy, sick and hungry, and the 'samaritans" of society, is often only marginal? Come on. Let's be honest about it.

In the midst of all this once-a-year celebration, and the well-loved strains of "Glory to God in the Highest........Peace on earth, Goodwill toward men", we have lost it. Somewhere along our Christian walk, following Him who said, "The Son of Man came not to be served unto, but to serve .....and to give His life a ransom for many...", we have wandered away, and we hardly hear His voice or His call.

At the heart of Christmas, as I see it and believe, is the historical fact that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was born into this world with one single mission - to love and serve all mankind, and to pay the supreme penalty for the sins of all mankind, on the Cross at Calvary. Throughout His life, Jesus Christ was "a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief", not a celebrity clamouring for popularity and a life of extravagance. Jesus sought, not the rich and influential, not the bold and beautiful, but the poor and lonely, the destitute, the sick and hungry in His society. And believe me, there were many. He fed them, healed them, comforted them and moved with such ease among them, as their loving friend. Jesus had time for hurting people. And we, who are Christians, ought to hear the words of Jesus ring loud and clear in our hearts ...."If anyone wants to be My disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me."

I sometimes wonder. Since when has the obedience to Christ become optional? Most of us seem to be substituting knowledge about God and resource material written about Him, for practical obedience to Him. Jesus makes no effort to soften the uncompromising demands of the Cross. To all those who would follow Him, He gives the same fundamental message that He gave 2000 years ago. It is the birth of this same Jesus that we are celebrating at Christmas in the 21st century. But, isn't it sad, to say the least, that we Christians corporately and individually, have done almost everything we can to apologize for Christ's demands and explain them away?

The Holy Scriptures call each one of us to be worshippers of the Holy God. Jesus Christ clearly explained how God expects us to worship Him. Not merely the 'bang-bang' of music, and singing to the perfect chord and the perfect note, but far more importantly, we are exhorted to worship God in Spirit and in Truth. True worship puts God where He deserves to be, not only on a Sunday morning at church, and true worship also keeps us where we ought to be, every day of our lives. I truly believe that, while we celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ gave up heavenly glory to come down to earth as a poor, human baby - the reason for Christmas, true worship leads us to the Cross of Calvary, even at Christmastime, and prevents us from losing the vision of the Risen Lord with nail imprints on His Hands and Feet. True worship humbles us and causes us to repent at the foot of the Cross, even at Christmastime.

Just a few weeks ago, I was there when the massive Christmas tree was placed in Rockefeller Square, New York. This is an annual event that takes place with so much fanfare. Indeed, it looked so stately and beautiful, a marvel of God's creation. What grieved my heart was that all the thoughts and attention were on that Christmas tree. None of the many persons interviewed spoke one word about the glory and beauty of the Christ-child and Risen Saviour, who is surely the only Reason for the Season. Be that as it may, how many of us take time during this festive season to truly reflect upon who Jesus is, and what He would really want us to do for Him.

Our society today, whether in the West or the East, is pursuing an increasingly materialistic lifestyle, and we, as believers in Jesus Christ, are not immune to it. Many of us have a bondage to material playthings. Our goal, often, is to live the "happy and comfortable life" as advertised in the media. We are on our way to having it all. The situation becomes very serious when the Church also succumbs to this materialistic view, although the message from the pulpit may proclaim the Good News Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In moments of quietness in prayer, I have increasingly had the realization that Jesus wants the Church to be a gathering of sinful, hurting people who are earnestly desiring to repent, and live a holy life before a Holy God. So, when the Church meets, there is celebration that Jesus can and will forgive us of our sin, thus enabling us to forgive others. It lifts us to higher ground to walk in the Truth of His Word. And rightly so. But that is only part of the story. There is also God's desire for the sharing of burdens and the healing of broken hearts by us, as His instruments in a hurting world. And, it is truly God's desire that all of us, not just a few here and there, become His channels of blessing and service.

Love is at the heart of Christmas. Indeed, it is the message of love, sacrifice and forgiveness that runs through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. "God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son". We read in the Bible that Jesus was challenged to name the greatest commandment, summing up the moral teachings of the Old Testament Torah, and His answer was direct and unambiguous. " Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. Love thy neighbour as thyself." Jesus Christ, preaching to His disciples (and to all disciples for all time), just before His death said, "A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another .... By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

If we really love the Lord Jesus Christ, we must give and serve others sacrificially. The life of Jesus was one of love, service and sacrifice, on a daily basis. We are expected to fall in love with the Person of Jesus Christ daily, and to daily follow Him into the pain and anguish of society. The compelling word is 'daily', not by fits and starts, or for a season, or when our mood is good.

Renowned Christian writer A.W. Tozer puts it well: "It appears that too many Christians today want to enjoy the thrill of feeling right, but are not willing to endure the inconvenience of being right." The divine message to us is clear. God desires a life of love, service and sacrifice. There is no other option available. But it is a strange message to the world, and sadly, to many Christians too. Often our ministry does not match the message. We Christians boast that we are not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but perhaps, the Giver of the Gospel may have every reason to be ashamed of us. Christmas is a good time to take stock of our lives and the values that we live by. The best gift that we could give Jesus Christ this Christmas is to make a total commitment to have the mind of Christ in our lives at all times which, in turn, makes it a joy to love and serve sacrificially. Shouldn't we do just that?

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