Although Advent marks the beginning of the church year, Christmas comes at the end of the civil year. It is a grand climax to the year. Perhaps the older we grow the less of a climax it seems. But even the most cynical retailer sees it as a sales climax.
I wonder how much of a climax people who lived through the first Christmas considered it. We sing carols that cheerfully proclaim “a new king born today.” And yet when the Magi called with Herod he was far from cheerful (Matthew 2:1-12). He was furious. He was the King of the Jews. How could there be a new king born that he was unaware of? He wasn’t born in his house. Christmas was no climax for Herod.
Little did he know that long after his death the Roman authorities would name the baby of Bethlehem King of the Jews. Before they named him, Pilate, the Roman civil and military governor, questioned him carefully at his trial. He asked him straight, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33). The honour guard came up to him and said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (John 19:3) The governor presented him to an expectant crowd with the words, “Behold, your King!” (John 19:14) And at the governor’s insistence an inscription was made for public display, bearing the words, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” (John 19:19)
But this was no climax for the Jewish leaders. Their Easter plot to do away with the baby of Bethlehem now grown to manhood was perilously close to failure. When Pilate presented Jesus to them with the words, “Behold, your King!” the crowd replied, “Crucify him!” (John 19:15) And when Pilate asked for confirmation, “Shall I crucify your king?” the chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:15) Later they protested in vain when Pilate hung his inscription on Jesus’ cross proclaiming him “King of the Jews” (John 19:19-22). Easter was no climax for them.
And yet these events were climactic, if only the participants had seen them for what they really were. The new king born on Christmas day was God in the flesh (John 1:14). The Apostle Paul described Jesus’ birth this way: “But when the fullness of the time came God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law . . .” (Galatians 4:4).
And the king on the cross achieved something beyond the wildest imaginations of everyone around his cross. Paul jumps from Christmas to Easter when he continues: “. . . in order that he might redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:5) Christ’s crucifixion dealt the final death blow to sin, and redeemed, that is ransomed, those bound by sin, in order that they could become part of God’s family.
Advent and Christmas point to the climactic events by which God has provided redemption, or salvation, for repentant sinners. But they also point to a greater climax, greater than any climax earth has ever known. Christians of all ages have attested to it as they confessed their faith using the words of the Apostles’ Creed. The Jesus who was born of the virgin Mary also suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. The third day he rose from the dead, and he ascended to the right hand of God the Father. From thence he shall come to judge the quick (that is, the living) and the dead.
Judgment Day will be a real climax. When it comes, it will be more than righting the wrongs of Christmas—the murdered toddlers of Bethlehem, or the city without room for God come in the flesh. The truth is, we live in a world where atrocities still happen. And worse, this world still has no room for God, whether in life or leisure, business or pleasure, heart or mind.
The King who came at Christmas will come again one day as King and Judge. And when he does he will hold every one of us to account. Everything we do will be subject to his examination and scrutiny. And head of his list will be our response to God’s universal command that everyone repent of their sin (Acts 17:30-31). God has charged every single human being on the planet to change the way they think and act.
Last week I mentioned how John wrote his gospel account that every who read it should believe in Jesus. That is the change of mind that is needed. The urgent question of Christmas is simply, “Do you believe in Jesus?”
The world’s best known Bible quotation summarizes the consequences of believing or refusing to believe. “For God so loved the world that he sent his unique Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) The coming judgment will result in eternal perishing and consequent punishment for all who refuse to believe in Jesus.
But the message of Christmas is that you may avoid such a terrible future. Believe in Jesus and receive God’s amazing Christmas gift—eternal life. But don’t wait until Christmas. God offers this gift all year round. The time to receive it is now. The time to believe in Jesus is right now. Then Christmas will be a real climax this year.
This was first posted at Gilnahirk Baptist Web site on 23 Dec 2009.