"Dr. George Carey, a former head of the Church of England, told British television it was time that Christianity reclaimed its place at the heart of Christmas," according to CNSNews.com. "As more and more workplaces ban Christmas decorations, and with many town councils prohibiting any reference to it as a religious holiday, Carey said the nation's Christian heritage was in danger of being lost." Further, "Carey's successor as Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, also weighed in, taking to the columns of a mass circulation tabloid to scold 'silly bureaucrats' for trying to turn Christmas into just another day off work."
While it really does not bother me that a particular business shuns Christmas decorations or instructs its employees not to say Merry Christmas, it indeed should bother all of us when town councils prohibit references to religious holidays, when bureaucrats seek to turn Christmas into just another day off work, and the surrounding culture feels pressure to instruct its employees not to say Merry Christmas by virtue of the politically correct climate in which we live. The difference lies in personal choice vs. state ban or politically correct coercion. Indeed Christians have been given a mandate from God to engage the culture in which He has placed us (Gen. 1:28). In light of such a dynamic, let us remember that part of what Christmas is all about is hope in Christ. In part one of this post, we looked at two issues concerning that hope. Here, we turn to a third and fourth.
Third, if our hope is born in the Lord's gift, then surely our hope is confirmed in the Lord's sign. "Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel." In the aftermath of the Squalus disaster (see part one), the names of the survivors were published and sent out over the news wires. You can imagine those women who were elated and those women who collapsed in grief. Strangely, one survivor had inadvertently been counted among the dead. Five hours after he had been reported dead, his wife was told that he was actually alive. This news, of course, gave rise to new hope among the other women. Many said to themselves, "If one mistake was made, perhaps there were others, maybe my husband is alive." Of course, the thoughts ran both ways. No doubt some of the women thought, "Maybe one who had been reported alive was in fact lost." Anxiously, the women waited for final confirmation. When it finally came, there were no further mistakes. One can imagine again, those who were heart-broken, perhaps even more, in contrast to the rest who breathed a great sigh of relief as the report was confirmed.
These fortunate thirty-three had been given a sure sign. They had been given a confirmation of the truth. They who wondered, they who were in the dark, finally had light. "The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up (Matt. 4:16)." God gave His sign to the people. God's sign was a confirmation of His report. There were and are no mistakes in His report.
Sadly, the nation in general did not believe the report of the Lord even as most in our nation respond in the same way. "But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him; that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke, 'Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?' For this cause they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, 'He has blinded their eyes, and He hardened their heart; lest they see with their eyes, and perceive with their heart, and be converted, and I heal them (Jn. 12:37-40).'" Yet, He confirmed it with a sign. God's sign is a manifestation of His power. The Lord does great and mighty things. His power gives us great reason to hope. He can do what He says He will do.
God's sign is a token of His promise. "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. Thou hast multiplied the nation, and increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest…For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this (Isa. 9:2-7)." The sign confirms our hope.
Fourth, as we have seen, our hope is confirmed in God’s sign. By virtue of the nature of the sign, our hope is secured in the Lord’s sinlessness. "Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel." The fact that Christ was born of a virgin gives us great hope. This miracle speaks to the fact that Christ, though having taken upon Himself a human nature, did not take upon Himself a sinful nature. "For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3)." "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:15-16)." What hope could we have in a mere sinful creature like as we are? Here we have a tremendous confirmation of the nature of what had to be done for us, and indeed what was done for us. "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed (1 Pet. 2:24)."
Hear Spurgeon comment on this verse: "Blessed announcement! Not the less hateful, nor hated, is the sin because it is forgiven and entirely blotted out. Oh no! Let the Lord touch your heart, Christian reader, with a sense of His pardoning love, with the assurance of His forgiveness, and you will go and hate, and mortify, and forsake it, more resolutely and effectually than ever. And must the Son of God become the Son of man, that those who are by nature children of wrath, might become the sons of God! Must God, the eternal God, the high and lofty One, stoop so low as to become incarnate, and that for sinners; To save me from eternal woe, must the Son of Man suffer, agonize, and die; die in my stead, die for my sins, die an accursed death! Ah! Lord, what must sin be, what must my sin be! How little have I thought of it, how little have I mourned for it, still less have I hated it as I ought to have hated it! Lord, how vile, how unutterably vile I am! Oh hated sin! Do You forgive it, Father of my mercies? This only makes it more hateful still." I ask again, what hope do we have outside of the sinlessness of Christ our Savior?
According to Warren Throckmorton, "A school district in Wisconsin [was] attracting attention through the singing of a song called 'Cold in the Night.' The words are 'Cold in the night, no one in sight, winter winds whirl and bite, how I wish I were happy and warm, safe with my family out of the storm.' These words are supposed to be sung by the children to the tune of 'Silent Night' (for those of you who don't know or remember, Silent Night is a Christmas carol)." While the children are now allowed to sing "Silent Night," consider Throckmorton's point prior to that allowance: "As poetic as those new lyrics are, I don't understand the point of singing them. I've been to Wisconsin in winter, it is really cold there. Call me crazy but I don't understand why I would want to break out into festive song about freezing outside, alone and separated from my family. Sounds depressing to me." He is indeed right. Those words are depressing. They are the opposite of the words we say about Christ at Christmas; for He gives us hope.
[Part Three Tomorrow)
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