I used to keep count, but somewhere along the line I stopped. School choir concerts. I had to sit through several of them a year for my three sons and my daughter – a father’s burden to bear. I’d figure out how many I had left until they were all done. Then, my third son got married, had a kid, and realized his band’s album sales were not going to threaten Casting Crowns’ place at the top of the charts, so he decided to finish college. In a couple of weeks he will be done with college, which made this Christmas concert the very last one I will ever have to attend. Of course, there’s grandkids, but we’ll worry about that later. It was a great concert – great music and a great message focused on Christ as the “real meaning of Christmas.”
The college is a typical secular religious school. Established by a mainline denomination many years ago today has little more Christianity than a state school. But things are very different at the school’s Christmas concert. Santa was completely absent tonight, as was Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph and all the other reindeer – and no one donned any gay apparel (fa-la-la-la-la). There were no chestnuts roasting on any open fires. It was Silent Nights, Angels from the Realms of Glory, and even an Ave Maria. The choir director read beautiful narration about the importance of Christ in our lives and how he came to earth to give us hope and life. The entire evening was about Jesus and while I don’t have a transcript I’d hazard a guess that not a single false word was spoken all evening. It was a beautifully written, Christ-centered celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
And it was completely empty of gospel truth.
I found that ironic, that I sat through 75 minutes of Christ-focused, Christ-honoring, Christ-centered music and narration with no real truth. While not speaking a false word all evening and while singing great traditional carols, we also had a Christless Christmas celebration. Jesus-filled but gospel-empty.
You wouldn’t think that is possible, would you? Everything is about Jesus – that has to be good, doesn’t it? But it is entirely possible to make everything about Jesus but say nothing of real import. We can talk about Jesus without facing the truths that really matter. I attended a “revival service” once at a sister church and pretty much the same thing happened. It was all about good things, true things, right things, but by the end of this “evangelistic” service I realized that the saving gospel of Christ had been completely absent. It can happen. We can talk about Jesus, but completely miss the truth. Everything can be about Jesus but still miss what Jesus is all about.
Tonight, the narrator kept going back to the passage in Luke 2:11-14 in which Jesus appeared to the shepherds at night.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
He talked about how Jesus came to bring peace and love, but ignored the meat of the Christmas story.
1. A Savior was born! Tonight, there was no mention of sin. We talked about war and social ills and the need for peace. But not a single time was there a mention of the root fact of anthropological theology – that we are born in sin, separated from God, that we fall short of God’s glory and that this sin leaves us eternally and spiritually lost. Only those who are lost need a savior. The fact that God sent a Savior into the world is an accusation against the spiritual condition of humanity. Humanity is in constant eternal peril and only the work of Christ can rescue us from our deadly destiny.
You cannot celebrate Christmas with traditions, nostalgia, and sentimentality alone. You need to look at the hard, ugly truth of why Jesus came – he came to pay for our sins. Sin! It’s an ugly word and an unpopular concept, but if you remove it from the story of Jesus you have a saccharin story that can save no one.
2. He is Lord. Of course, the concept of Lordship was absent as well – as it is all too often from churches today. Jesus Christ, according to Romans 14:9, died so that he might be Lord of our lives. The gospel is never presented in Acts in terms of “where are you going when you die?” The issue is always, “Jesus rose from the dead and is Lord of all – what are you going to do with that?” We want a Jesus who fits into our lives, who aids us in our goals, who helps us “be all that you can be” (a “your best life now” comment might be appropriate here), but we want nothing to do with a Lord who demands that we submit to him and his authority in every area of life.
3. He is Christ. It means so many things, but the Christ was the chosen one of God, set aside for the purposes of God. When you come to Christ your life is no longer about you but about the mission of God. We’ve been given a “Great Commission” and called to lives that are lived for his sovereign and glorious purposes.
You can talk about Jesus all day, but if you don’t face your sin through the blood of Christ, if you don’t acknowledge Christ as Lord over every area of life, if you don’t die to self to live to Christ and his purposes in you, then all the Jesus talk in the world is just empty and meaningless.
I sat through a wonderful concert tonight, one that was filled with Jesus Christ, but empty of a Savior who is Christ the Lord. We can talk of a make-believe Jesus who came to help us be happy and reach our full potential, but the real Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, take up our Cross and follow him. A night spent talking about Jesus can be as empty as a night watching Big Bang Theory reruns if we avoid the real truths, the hard truths that must be faced.
As you celebrate Christmas this year, remember that it is not enough to simply focus on Jesus, you must see the shadow of the cross falling across the cradle. You must see the birth of Christ in the light of all that would come after – his perfect life, his death, his resurrection, and his glorification. Even if you focus on Jesus, it will still be an empty Christmas celebration unless the deep truths of the gospel are kept front and center.
May your Christmas not only be Christ-centered, but Cross-centered.