Is Christmas a good time for Easter sermons?
Written by Graham Stanton, Principal of Youthworks College
Is Christmas just another Easter?
I overheard a conversation the other day about ideas for a children’s talk at Christmas. I presume the aim was to stick with the general ‘birth of Jesus’ idea but find a new angle for 2011. One of the suggestions was to hand out hot cross buns and make the point that Christmas is good because the baby who was born ended up dying on the cross so we could be saved.
It left me wondering whether we should just scrap Christmas as a celebration and replace it with another go at Easter just in case people didn’t get the message the last time they came to church!
On the other hand, if we’re going to pay attention to the church calendar at all (noting of course that the Bible doesn’t require us to celebrate Christmas or Easter), we might as well celebrate Christmas as Christmas.
So what would be helpful to talk to our children and young people about this Christmas?
Talking to kids about Christmas
It’s important to get something straight: Christmas is not Jesus’ actual birthday. It might be, but it’s unlikely. Christmas day is a bit like the Queen’s Birthday long weekend – we’re not suggesting this is Jesus’ actual birthday, we’re choosing a day to celebrate that Jesus was born. The point of Christmas is the celebration of the incarnation of God – that God became human! The actual date of that momentous event is a little beside the point. Don’t miss the main message: God became human!!
So Christmas is a great opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the incarnation. A time to think about all that the true humanity of Jesus means for our Christian life.
Christmas is a great time to remind children and young people that God was a child and he knows how difficult it can be to be a kid. God learned how to walk and talk, to feed himself and control his bladder. God lived in a family and went through puberty. You can be confident that there were times when he wanted to fight with his brothers and sisters or to disobey his mum and dad. He most probably struggled with the new dose of hormones raging through his body and had to cope with the development of his brain that pushed him towards dangerous, risk-taking behaviour.
Jesus was like us
The problem with underemphasising the true humanity of Jesus is that it doesn’t often seem like Jesus’ experience really was the same as ours. We’re left with thinking that Jesus’ response to the commands of God seems a bit like asking us to try not to levitate. It doesn’t really matter how much you tempt or entice me to levitate I’m going to resist the temptation simply because I’m unable to do what I’m being tempted to do.
But if we’re going to take Jesus’ humanity seriously, we’d need to conclude that in some way Jesus’ temptations were real temptations. There was a real struggle for faithfulness going on for him. His struggle was like our struggle. He faced the challenge to trust that the commands God gives us in the Scriptures are indeed instructions that will bring us life and blessing.
Jesus endured the struggle for faithfulness just as we do and relied on the same resources for faithfulness that we have to rely on: God’s word in the Scriptures, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the support of angels and the presence of godly friends and family.
The difference is that Jesus endured to the end and never failed in his faithfulness. And as a result his life rebukes our failure and gives us a genuine example to follow.
Following the example of Jesus
The faithful human life of Jesus means that we’re not able to say to God, ‘you just don’t realise how hard it is to be faithful.’ We can’t say, ‘It just isn’t possible for a human being to remain faithful’. We can’t say, ‘I’d like to see you try it!’ Jesus’ true humanity rebukes our failure to be faithful human beings.
The faithful human life of Jesus also gives us a pattern of life for our own pursuit of faithfulness. As members of his family we too have God’s word in the Scriptures, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the support of angels and the presence of godly friends and family. The patterns of Jesus’ faithfulness (that we see for example in the temptation narratives like Matthew 4:1-10) are patterns for our faithfulness.
Of course, following Jesus’ example is only possible because his faithfulness qualifies him to be our representative and substitute. Jesus’ faithfulness to the point of death assures our rescue. Which takes us back to Easter.
Easter is the central act of the story, but without Christmas, that part of the story can remain distant from our experience.
So put your hot-cross buns away for a few months, pull out the carols and celebrate the incarnation.
Perhaps a Christmas talk on Hebrews 4:15-16?
Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin! So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with underserved grace, and we will find help. (CEV)