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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
December 20, 2015
Keeping the “X” in Xmas
The title of my message this morning, Keeping the “X” in Xmas, may appear to be quite odd and out of character for me, but I can assure you that I have not become sacrilegious. I am certainly not in any way advocating or even suggesting that Christ be removed from Christmas with an alternative designation for the holiday we celebrate on the 25th of December. I can also reassure you that I will not be preaching a sermon on why it is very unlikely that Jesus was born on December 25. I have explained in other sermons how that date became tradition and why a birth in the Spring or Fall is more reasonable. The title of my sermon is a word play by which I hope to set into the Christmas story the reason for Jesus’ birth.
Let me begin by pointing out the origin of “Xmas” and give you some tips about keeping Christ in Christmas even when out shopping. First, it should be noted that people are notorious for making contractions. We have a tendency to shorten words when reasonably possible and even when not reasonably possible. Can not becomes “can’t,” “do not” becomes “don’t” and “you are” becomes “you’re” which context and proper punctuation will help keep you from confusing with the singular and plural possessive “your.” Many of the friends of my sons use contracted forms of their names, Jon for Jonathan, Dave for David, and Jim for Jimmy. The term “Xmas” came about as a contraction for Christmas and not from evil intent to remove “Christ” from Christmas.
Those that want to avoid using a reference to Christ will avoid “Xmas” as well as Christmas and instead use a normal salutation such as “hello,” “good-by,” “have a nice day,” etc., or they will use more general terminology such as “happy holidays” or “seasons greetings” for the many events that occur this time of year. For some, a wish of happy holidays is a since wish for the celebration of holy days (from which “holidays” is contracted) for the various events related to the Advent of Christ or the Jewish celebration of Chanukah. (As a quick side note. Kwanza is a celebration created in America in the 1960’s to celebrate African heritage. Ramadan is lunar, so it shifts each year with it occurring in December only 1/12 of the time. Pagan celebrations of Winter Solstice are not holy). Others will use a generic greetings because they have succumbed to the fear of political correctness and so are very careful not to offend anyone other than Christians. Regardless of their intent, you do not need to be offended because you can easily to bring Christ back into the conversation by wishing them a Merry Christmas, and if you want to emphasize the point, then do not pronounce Christmas the way most people do which shortens the “i” and drops the “t.” Instead, make the “i” long and put some emphasis on the “t” in the word and say Christ mas.
That brings up a second point. Note that the word “Christmas” itself is a compound word coming from “Christ” + “Mass.” Literally it means “Christ Mass” or the mass of Christ. Since we are not Roman Catholics, we do not ever perform or hold a “mass.” According to “Christ Among Us,” a Roman Catholic theology for converts that was given to me for my library, the Mass is “the renewal of Christ’s sacrifice, of his passover, and new covenant, by him and us, his Church. “At each Mass Christ becomes present; he prolongs and renews his sacrifice so we can be part of it, so we can pass with him through this world to eternity, and with him continual renew our own covenant.” We reject any renewal or even the thought of a renewal of Christ’s sacrifice because the Scriptures are clear in many places that Jesus Christ was sacrificed once for all for all time (Hebrews 10:10-14). In proper terms then, we do not celebrate “Christmas,” rather we celebrate what the word has come to mean popularly which is the birth of Jesus.
The X in Xmas
While Xmas is a contraction of Christmas, the X can be in important and fitting reminder of Jesus Christ and the purpose of His incarnation. The Romans used several different designs in making crosses for crucifixion and an “X” shaped cross was very commonly used. The “X” can be a symbol for the cross of crucifixion. My desire is that we keep the crucifixion in mind as we celebrate the birth of Christ. In other words, let us keep the cross in Christmas.
Now why is this important? The cross was the reason Jesus came to earth and became a man. The reason for the cross makes people uncomfortable unless they have become Christians. Secular people can be very comfortable with not only society’s celebration of Christmas, but they can also be very comfortable with how it is celebrated in most churches. Don’t believe me? Go to any store or website that sells music and see how many artists who reject Christianity have recorded Christmas songs which will include religious carols. They have become numbed to the words in the songs and take the season as the celebration of a wonderful baby that grew up to be a wonderful man. For them, Jesus lying as a baby in a manger is just a pleasant, almost romantic scene that celebrates the innocence of a baby.
But the truth is that Jesus was no ordinary baby and the manger scene is one that begins the demonstration of the humility of the Son of God. John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16 make it clear that Jesus is the creator of all things, yet He set aside the radiance of His glory to become a man, one of His creatures (Philippians 2:5-8). The manger scene should disturb us with a very serious question. Why has God become a man? The reason for it goes back to Genesis, and the connection with Genesis leading up to the birth, sinless life and crucifixion of Jesus Christ is often called the scarlet thread of redemption.
Creation & Fall
The beginning of this scarlet thread begins soon after Creation. Adam and Eve are sinless and living in the garden of Eden. God gave Adam only one prohibition which is recorded in Genesis 2:16-17, “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.” Adam was responsible for telling Eve about this command after she was created later that same day.
The Scriptures do not tell us how long Adam and Eve lived in the garden of Eden. Perhaps they enjoyed the bliss of that place for many years, or maybe it was only a short time, but at some point Satan used a serpent to deceive Eve into believing that God was holding back the best from her. He deceived her that she could become like God if she ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She took from its fruit and she ate and then gave also to Adam and he ate (Genesis 3). The result was sin and death for all mankind for through Adam “sin entered the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). All of us were born already condemned by the sin transferred to us from Adam, and it does not take long for that sin nature to be manifested even in a baby confirming that all of us are by nature and action sinners.
Adam’s sin had immediate consequences. Genesis 3:7-8 states, Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Adam and Eve became aware of their sinfulness and responded with an action that demonstrated their spiritual death. Remember that death means “separation” with physical death separating the life spirit from the physical body, and spiritual death separating the soul from God. Adam and Eve separated themselves from God by hiding because of the fear brought about by their disobedience.
The great dilemma of the human race had begun. Created to be in a personal relationship with God, they were now separated. What could Adam do? It was impossible to undo what he had done. His effort at covering his exposed body with fig leaves was feeble, besides, the penalty he faced was death. He was now afraid of God for He was guilty and deserving of punishment. What could God do? His very character as holy and just demanded that He carry out the penalty He had established for the crime of disobedience to His commands.
God sought out Adam & Eve. He corrected them. He placed a curse upon them that would continually remind them of the consequences of disobedience. Then, out of His love and compassion for the man and woman, He took an innocent animal, killed it, and made a proper covering for their nakedness – a covering for their shame. The law of sacrifice was instituted. An animal would lose its life as a substitute for the life of the man who had sinned. The scarlet thread of redemption began.
Eden to Abraham
It is also important to note that within the curse upon the serpent in Genesis 3:15, there was also given a message of hope to Adam and Eve. There would be enmity between the woman and the serpent and between serpent’s seed and her seed, but the word “seed” here is masculine and so refers to a man and not a woman. The offspring of the serpent would bruise the seed of the woman on the heel, but her seed, a man to come in the future, would crush the serpent on the head. A future man that would come from her was central to the hope for redemption. That is the reason that when Eve bore Cain she was so excited. It was not just that she had a baby, but she held a hope that this man child given her by the Lord would some how play a role in their redemption. Adam and Eve understood that God was gracious in accepting an animal sacrifice, but the life of a man and that of an animal were not of equal value. They trusted that God would do something else to redeem them from their sins.
Tragically, Cain was not part of the redemption plan for he followed the sin nature within him and out of jealousy murdered his brother, Abel. Mankind did quickly reproduce and fill the earth, but mankind also quickly degenerated in the pursuit of sin instead of righteousness. Only in the descendants of Seth, a later son of Adam and Eve, was there a line that sought to follow after God. The wickedness of man increased to the point “that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” so God finally decided to blot out mankind, but Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:5-8).
God revealed to Noah what he was about to do and gave Noah a plan by which he and his family could survive the coming flood that would destroy the world. Noah and his three sons along with their wives, eight people in all, along with a male and female of all the animals kinds that would not be able to survive the flood were preserved in the ark. The first thing Noah did upon leaving the ark, a little over a year after entering it, was to offer sacrifices to God (Genesis 8:20). Noah was preserved from the flood, for which he was grateful, but he was also still concerned about the condition of His own soul and continued in the sacrifices which were to be a substitute for himself and his family.
However, it did not take long for sin to once again become rampant within the human race. Instead of dispersing over the earth as God had commanded, the people all wanted to stay in one place. The tower of Babel was the result. Mankind fell into idolatry and there were few that sought God properly.
Abraham to Moses
Two notable exceptions were Job and Abraham. Job was found to be righteous in his generation even offering sacrifices on behalf of his children (Job 1). Job’s faith was in God’s grace. He did not understand how, but he believed that God was to be trusted even if He slayed Job (Job 13:15). Job’s hope was that His redeemer lived and so that even after his skin was destroyed, from his own flesh he would see God (Job 19:25).
Abraham’s faith was of the same quality. God called him out of an idolatrous family and Abraham believed God and followed what God told him to do. Abraham never believed he could earn God’s favor, but rather because he believed and trusted God, he sought to do God’s will. God’s promises to Abraham were passed down through Isaac to Jacob, later called Israel. Throughout their lives the patriarchs continued to offer sacrifices as substitutes for themselves in the hope that God would graciously accept them and forgive their sins.
The culmination of these sacrifices came at the first Passover when God brought Israel out of Egypt with a mighty hand. An innocent lamb would be slain and its blood spread upon the lintel and doorposts. When the angel of the Lord saw the blood, he would pass over that house without killing the first born. The lamb was the substitute for the first born. Again we find the blood of the scarlet thread of redemption.
Moses to the Davidic Kingdom
Through Moses God codified His laws for Israel including the law of sacrifices and the reason for the shedding of blood stating in Leviticus. 17:11, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.” The root meaning of atonement is “to cover.” It is the blood by reason of the life in it that was to cover over the shame and ugliness of our sins. But even in this, God never accepted sacrifices as a means by which someone could earn His favor or in some way obligate Him to forgive them. God has always looked upon the heart, and the sacrifices were always simply to be the product of a heart that wanted to be right with God. This truth was made frighteningly clear in 1 Samuel 15 when King Saul disobeyed God’s command and instead brought back many animals as spoils of war to be given in sacrifice to God. The prophet Samuel declared in his scathing rebuke of Saul, “Has the LORD as much delight in burn offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22)
The kingdom was taken away from Saul and given to David, a man that God declared was “after His own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). It was to David that further revelation was given about the one to come that would be the seed of the woman (Genesis 3) and the “great prophet” mentioned in Deuteronomy 18. David would have a son who would reign eternally on his throne (2 Samuel7:13).
David’s son, King Solomon built a temple, but the various kings and people that followed continually swayed from good to evil despite the prophets warnings. Eventually, that kingdom was destroyed. The Northern tribes were carried away by Assyria in 722 B.C. and the Southern tribes by Babylon in 586 B.C. They thought God would never destroy their nation because of their temple worship and sacrifices. Their understanding of God had degenerated into believing He wanted the blood of bulls and goats and would tolerate them in order to get the sacrifices. They ignored His multiple warnings.
Isaiah 1:11-13, “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” Says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, And the fat of fed cattle. And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats. 12“When you come to appear before Me, Who requires of you this trampling of My courts? 13“Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies– I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.
Psalm 51:16-17, For Thou dost not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; Thou art not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.
Proverbs 21:27, The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination, How much more when he brings it with evil intent!
Jeremiah 6:20, “For what purpose does frankincense come to Me from Sheba, And the sweet cane from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, And your sacrifices are not pleasing to Me.”
Amos 5:21-23, “I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. “Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept [them]; And I will not [even] look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. “Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.
Micah 6:6-8, With what shall I come to the Lord And bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, With yearling calves? Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my first-born [for] my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?
The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and we are all guilty (Isaiah 64:6). God instituted the sacrificial system as a means for a substitute to be offered for the payment of sin, but there was always inherent problems within the system.
The first is that people thought that through it they could buy off God and nothing was ever further from the truth. The grace of forgiveness was always given to the worshiper based on the heart of faith that produced the action and never on the action itself. Forgiveness was granted because the penitent individual entrusted himself to God’s mercy and grace trusting Him to both accept the substitute sacrifice and to provide for Himself whatever was lacking.
The second problem of the sacrifices is that there is not an equivalence of an animal’s life for a human life. As Hebrews 10:4 states it, For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
The third problem with the sacrificial system is that a sacrificed animal could only substitute for the current sin committed. There would always be another sin and therefore another sacrifice needed. Hebrews 10:3 describes this problem well, “But in those [sacrifices] there is a reminder of sins year by year.” Verse 11 adds, And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. The sacrifice reminded them of their sinfulness and that there would always be need for more future sacrifices. A sacrifice of greater value than a man would have to be made if there was to be an end to the sacrificial system.
The fourth problem with sacrificial system is that it was only a copy of what was in heaven, a mere shadow of reality. Hebrews 9:22-23 states, And according to the Law, [one may] almost [say], all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. 23 Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. Hebrews 10:1-2 adds, For the Law, since it has [only] a shadow of the good things to come [and] not the very form of things, can never by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins?
The Cross and Christmas
All of that brings us to the purpose of Jesus becoming a baby in a manger in Bethlehem. It was not so that winter sales could be increased, or so we could have a “holly, jolly, Christmas,” or “deck the halls,” or have a “happy holiday,” or even celebrate family by “being home for Christmas.” Having a “white Christmas,” building snow men or going on sleigh rides have nothing to do with the reason for God the Son to become a man. God became a man in order to redeem us from our sins.
The cross must be kept in Christmas because Jesus came to overcome the inherent weaknesses of the sacrificial system by being the perfect sacrifice. Since we do not offer Him, but He offered Himself on our behalf, there can never be with Him any thought that we are somehow earning God’s forgiveness. Instead, His sacrifice stresses that salvation comes by God’s grace through faith and not by our works of righteousness.
Jesus Christ became a man, so His life is perfectly equivalent to the life of all other men. In fact, since He is also God in human flesh, His life is more than equivalent and solves the second and third problems mentioned above. It is sufficient for all time (Heb. 10:12).
The sacrificial system was a shadow, Christ fulfilled the reality. Hebrews 9:24-28 states, 24 For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a [mere] copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 nor was it that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood not his own. 26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this [comes] judgment, 28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without [reference to] sin, to those who eagerly await Him. Hebrews 10:10-14 adds, By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. 14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
As Luke 19:10 puts it, Jesus Christ came to “seek and to save that which was lost.” Matthew 1:21 tells us that the son born to Mary was to be named Jesus because “it is He who will save His people from their sins.” Paul states plainly in 1 Timothy 1:15 that “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” 1 John 4:9-10 explains, “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins.” Jesus is, as John the Baptist declared in John 1:29, “the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”
This Christmas, make sure you do not leave Jesus in a manger. Instead, keep the cross central in your thoughts and celebration, for that is the reason He came. Keep the “X,” the cross, in Xmas.
Sermon Notes: Keeping the ‘X’ in Xmas
Xmas is a ________________of Christmas
Generic greetings could be sincere, political correctness, or disdain of Christ – wish them Merry __________
Christmas = Christ + Mass. We reject the __________________premise of Mass
The X in Xmas
“X” in one of the shapes of _____________used by the Romans for crucifixion
Jesus was born a man for the purpose of going to the ____________as the means of redemption
The manger scene should be _____________- Why has God become a man?
Creation & Fall
Genesis 2:16-17 – Adam & Eve were _________and living in the Garden of Eden with only one prohibition
Genesis 3:7-8 – Adam & Eve died spiritually and _______from God – and the physical death process began
The dilemma: How can man be made _________with God? How can God forgive and remain holy and just?
God sought them, corrected them, cursed them, and instituted animal ______________as a substitute
Eden to Abraham
Genesis 3:15 – hope was given of a future man that would _____________the serpent’s head – redemption
Cain was not that man, and mankind became more ____________until God determined to destroy him
Noah found __________in the eyes of the Lord, and his family & animal pairs survived the flood via the ark
Mankind quickly degenerated and refused to ____God resulting in the Tower of Babel and forced dispersion
Abraham to Moses
_________& Abraham were notable exceptions of men who believed God and sought to obey Him
The patriarchs continued animal _______________as substitutes trusting God’s grace to accept and forgive
Moses to the Davidic Kingdom
Moses codified the sacrifices & gave their reason -for life is in the ______which atones / covers – Lev. 17:11
God’s concern is the __________of the person making the sacrifice, not the sacrifice itself – 1 Samuel 15:22
God gave the kingdom to David who was after God’s heart, and then promised a future son an ______throne
Solomon built the temple, which did not protect future generations whose ________resulted in captivity
1) A sacrifice itself did not guarantee ______________, that was based on the belief / heart of the individual
2) An animal’s life is not equivalent to a ____________life – Hebrews 10:4
3) An animal sacrifice was only a substitute for ____current sin and so had to be made continually (Heb. 10)
4) The sacrificial system was only a __________of the reality that was in heaven – Hebrews 9:22-23; 10:1-2
The Cross and Christmas
God became a man in order to redeem us from our sins by being the ___________sacrifice on the cross
Jesus sacrifice proves that salvation only comes by God’s ____________through faith & not by our works
Jesus’ sacrifice is ______________for all for all time – Hebrews 10:12
Jesus’ sacrifice is the reality that ______________the shadow of the sacrificial system – Hebrews 9:24-28
Jesus came to seek and save ________________from their sin by taking it away due to the love of God
Keep the cross central in your thoughts as you celebrate Christmas, for that is the ____________Jesus came
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do the following: 1) Count how many times “sacrifice” is mentioned. 2) Discuss with your parents the importance of Jesus becoming a man in order to be the perfect sacrifice for sin.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. List some of the contractions for words and phrases. How should you respond to someone that uses a generic greeting instead of Merry Christmas? What is the celebration of Chanukah about? What is Kwanza? When is Ramadan observed? Can celebrations of Winter Solstice be considered holy? What three types of crosses did the Romans use for crucifixion? Why are non-Christians comfortable with Christmas celebrations even singing Christmas carols? Why should it be disturbing to consider the question, Why has God become a man? What was it like for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? What happened that God kicked them out of it? What effect did that have on all future mankind? Why did God institute a system of animal sacrifice for Adam and Eve? What hope was given to Eve and Adam in Genesis 3:15? Why did God determine to destroy mankind with a flood? Why didn’t God destroy Noah and his family? Why did Noah’s descendants build a tower and why did God confuse their language (Genesis 11)? What made Job and Abraham notable exceptions among the patriarchs? What was the purpose of the Passover lamb? Examine the Mosaic law concerning sacrifices in Leviticus 1-7 & 14 and explain their purpose and means of atonement. Why did God remove Saul from being king and give it to David? What promises did God make to David concerning his descendants? Why were the nations of Israel and Judah taken into captivity? What warnings did God give to them concerning the foolishness of trusting their sacrifices and the temple instead of Him? Consider Isaiah 1:11-13; Psalm 51:16-17; Proverbs 21:27; Jeremiah 6:20; Amos 5:21-23; Micah 6:6-8. What were the inherent problems with animal sacrifices? How did Jesus’ sacrifices resolve those problems? What is the importance of the cross in the celebration of Christmas? How will you keep the cross central in your celebration of Christmas this year?
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