For a memorial of the greatest gift ever given to the world, Christmas has somehow come to display an astounding degree of obligation.
There’s the presents, obviously, for family and friends, and the backup presents for whoever turns up unexpectedly with a gift you didn’t anticipate. And the secret Santas, and the one for the longsuffering school teacher. My parents even used to give the postie a gift. All that shopping, wrapping, bowing and carding!
And the decorations – the tree, the lights, the inflatable lawn displays.
And the food, quite a production when you add in the 14 family members and their various girlfriends and boyfriends, and the need to still cater for those whose full bellies mean they’re sleeping over.
Plus the carols events, church services, the cricket on the telly, the trip to the beach, the blockbuster new movie at the cinema on Boxing Day. And speaking of Boxing Day, there are the sales.
For most Australians, it’s not much of a holy day, but it’s hardly a holiday either! It’s strange: our culture is doing its level best to forget Jesus, but it’s doing a terrible job of ignoring his arrival in our world.
Perhaps it’s not so strange, though: people have always found it very difficult to ignore Jesus. Throughout the gospels, we find some who will follow him, some who will reject him, but nobody who is simply indifferent. Poor Pilate tried hard to put Jesus out of his mind, sending him off to Herod (Luke 23:7), but even that didn’t work.
Put simply, Jesus is and has always been compelling. Even with all the forces of modern secularism arrayed against him, Jesus just keeps cropping up.
That’s why our theme this Christmas is to ask whether the whole story is simply unbelievable. Once we remind people to start asking questions, I think they’ll find it pretty hard to not want to know the answers. While the questions themselves might be fairly innocuous, they’re a gateway into meeting the Jesus of the gospels – the real Jesus, rather than our culture’s empty shell of a Nice Man.
Once we get past the Christmas weekend, we’ll start a new series of sermons that we’re calling ‘The Compelling Christ’. The idea is to look at different aspects of who Jesus is – teacher, miracle-worker, king, saviour and so on – and to recognise each time how marvellous he is, and how perfectly he answers our needs.
But did you notice the problem with that last sentence? It makes Jesus sound like he only has value if it suits me, which is horribly wrong-headed! So don’t worry – Jesus won’t just sit there passively under our microscope. He’ll call for our right response of love, worship, and obedience. He’s compelling, remember?
So be thinking about who you can invite along this Christmas, and planning the second invitation too, so that this January, they might find it hard to pack up Jesus along with the rest of their decorations…