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Bah! Humbug!

1 November 2010 | by John Woolley

Bah! Humbug!

Poor old Scrooge has a bad press when it comes to this time of year. He is forever typecast as the epitome of the original Christmas killjoy. Even Michael Caine and the Muppets could not improve his image! This man had the audacity to question our enthusiasm for the Christmas celebration. Listen to him:

Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough… What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older and not an hour richer?

A probing question prompted by Christmas

You have to admit hidden under his money-grabbing duplicity there is a probing question. What right have you to be merry? As we engage in another Christmas holiday celebration at break-neck speed, it passes us by in a blur of activity as we try to compress as much into the holiday period as we possibly can. But will it make us merry? Shopping, consuming, sharing, sipping, slurring and sleeping.

There is an old saying that goes, ‘you cannot put a quart into a pint pot!’ (For those who are imperially illiterate a pint is just over half a litre and a quart is equal to two pints.) You cannot put two pints of liquid into a one pint pot. This old idiom means it is impossible to cram too much into too small a space. It is not possible to try and fit too much into too little time. I expect for many of us this time of year is like trying to put a quart of activity into a pint pot of time and ending up with a pint of dissatisfaction after putting in a quart of effort and aspirations! And how tragic if Christmas is just an exacerbated reflection of how we live life – cramming as much as we can into too short a space of time and never finding lasting satisfaction. No wonder the teacher in Ecclesiastes wrote, ‘Meaningless, meaningless, utterly meaningless. Everything is meaningless.’

A profound mistake made at Christmas

But Scrooge’s morose take on Christmas was fatally flawed. Why? Like so many folk today he left God out of the picture and the moment you do that you restrict life’s potential, removing the impossible from life’s agenda. Christmas is about rejoicing in what God has done. He is the God who is able to do the impossible and no where is that more evidently seen than in the birth of Jesus Christ.

With a profound simplicity the Bible records the announcement made to Mary concerning the birth of Jesus (see Luke 1:30-37). The angel said, ‘you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son.’ Mary genuinely asked, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ The reply of the angelic messenger was, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God… For with God nothing will be impossible.’

The cute nativity scenes that so many are fond of speak of the power of the God who made the impossible possible when Jesus was born in the stable at Bethlehem. Here was the most incredible act the world would ever see. We say, with the utmost reverence, here God was putting a quart into a pint pot. A ‘quart’ of infinite deity was placed into a ‘pint pot’ of humanity. Here, through the supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit, was poured into finite humanity all the fullness of deity; emptied into the frailness of a human frame was all the goodness of divinity; now forever encased within one body, made in time, the infinite majesty of eternal deity.

The person lost sight of at Christmas

The problem with people like poor old Scrooge is that they have lost sight of the person Christmas is all about. Paul wrote about Jesus that ‘in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily’ (Col. 2:9). The marvel of Bethlehem was that now in one unique human being resided all the fullness of the second person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ.

How helpless the child in the manger. He would cry out like any other child – dependent on the mother who bore and fed him. He would know hunger. He would be weary. He would sleep from sheer exhaustion. He would taste death for every human being (Heb. 2:9). How human He was! But how do we account for the power with which He healed the sick, fed the hungry and calmed the storm? How do we explain the winsome words of authority with which He spoke, which still hold power after 2,000 years? Listen to Him pronounce, as only God could do, without fear or hesitation, ‘your sins are forgiven’ (Luke 5:20). How could He rise again from the grave? Why does He still have power to change lives forever? How is He very God of very God?

Here was the God-man about whom the church confesses:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man… begotten before all ages… born of the Virgin Mary… one and the same Christ… to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably…

Chalcedonian Creed, 451 AD

Missing God’s purpose at Christmas

By failing to see the person who Jesus was people like Scrooge entirely miss the purpose God had in sending Him into the world. Scrooge reduced Christmas, all of life’s activity, to the acquisition and accumulation of material assets alone. He would have listened incredulously to the words of the Bethlehem child who grew-up and taught, ‘lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth… but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven’ (Matt. 6:19-20). For all his guile poor old Scrooge fell for the oldest trick in the book. He thought life was all about the ‘abundance of things he possessed’. He failed to see that by sending His Son into the world, God was enriching our lives beyond our wildest imagination. By impoverishing Himself into our humanity Jesus would enrich us with all the riches He would accrue through His perfect life, atoning death on Calvary and glorious resurrection.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9).

No human being should have taken refuge in such a place as that stable in Bethlehem, much less should a baby have been born there. Yet the wonder was that God gave His Son to be born there! His poverty was for our enrichment, and Jesus did this for a reason that Scrooge could never understand in a million years; He did it because He loves. God, in love, gave Jesus who would enrich our lives by purchasing the forgiveness of sins through His death on the cross and procuring everlasting fellowship with God through His life. Free, abundant life, bought by Jesus. He freely offers to eradicate our spiritual poverty and fill the pint pots of our humanity with all the fullness of God. All Scrooge’s money couldn’t buy what Jesus offers but it can be yours as a free gift when you receive it by faith. Don’t be a Scrooge this Christmas!

John Woolley is the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Gabalfa, Cardiff.

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