We are closing in on yet another Christmas season. The air is already filled with festivities, and people are thinking about cakes, candies, great food, carols, decorations, gifts, new cloths, holidays, travels, family get togethers and everything joyous. At BBF we are thinking about the barbeque evening scheduled for next Saturday. This indeed is a joyous period.
And it the time when you will hear many of the much clichéd sayings like, “Don’t forget the reason for the season”, “Don’t forget the person whose birthday we are celebrating”. Don’t commercialize Christmas”, “Don’t turn this into a pagan festival” etc. This is also the time when arguments about the historical evidence of the date crops up. People start arguing about what is the true and proper Christian way to celebrate Christmas, whether putting up a Christmas tree is allowed or not, whether we should teach little children about Santa Claus or not. The good news is, whether you are a believer or not, everyone has a reason to talk about Christmas.
This morning I want to spend time in guiding us to think about what is God’s message for us through Christmas. What was God telling us?
But first let us take a look at how the world makes sure that we listen to their messages. One of the major sources of income for celebrities is through endorsements. You know it right? We have Aishwaray Rai telling us that “we are worth it” and hence use L’Oreal. We have Sachin asking us to let the Dil Mange more. We have Sharukh asking us all to become fairer. We have Kareena Kapoor selling the stylishness of the laptops, we have Sanjay Dutt telling us that eating chicken is healthy even during the avian flu times. We have Salman Khan promising great discounts only if we will buy tickets and Hotels through his travel agency.
Further more, we have seen Businessmen endorsing causes, chartable and otherwise. We have politicians endorsing views and strategies. There are celebrities asking us to save the tiger, and save wildlife, drive carefully, wear helmets, use bicycles instead of cars, give way to ambulances, fight against AIDS, etc etc. The world around us is all about endorsements, for good things as well as bad things. There are multiple and many times confusing messages out there.
In the midst of all this there is one another person who is trying to talk to us. Another person who has been trying to send us a message for a very long time. For a very long long time. That is God himself. Ever since the fall of mankind, He has been trying to tell us through various means, through various people, at various points in human existence. He tried to reach that message to us through signs and wonders. He sent plagues, which did not touch his chosen people, he parted the red sea right in front of them. He defeated an entire army with just 300 men. He brought fire down on a very very wet bundle of wood and meat (Elijah, 1Kings 18:33-38, also Gideon, Judges 6:21). He healed leprosy in unbelievers (Naaman, 2Kings 5:1-15). He tried to send his messages through multiple people . He used Patriarchs ( Abraham), He used Kings (David), He used a long line of Prophets starting from Moses to Micah , he used Beauty Queens (Esther), he used Macho men (Samson), he used statesmen (Nehemiah), He used Poets (David, Solomon and Asaph), he used thinkers and intellectuals (Daniel), he used Warriors (Gideon, Joshua), He used the rich (Job), He used the Poor (Servant girl in Naaman’s house), He used magicians (Balaam), He used every conceivable type of personality to convey His message to man kind. He even tried speaking through a donkey (Numbers 22:28-30)
And what was the message? Was it a complicated message that he was trying to convey? Was he trying to sell us some thing? This is where we get amazed by the simplicity of the whole thing. Have you noticed in life that some times, the simplest of messages are the most difficult ones to convey?
The message that he was trying to convey was very simple. That He loves us no matter what, and He wants us to be reconciled to Him. His message was clear. In His own words “Because I am GOD, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior. I paid a huge price for you: all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in! That’s how much you mean to me! That’s how much I love you! I’d sell off the whole world to get you back, trade the creation just for you.” (Isaiah 43:3-4 (MSG) ) He wanted us back. He wanted to demonstrate His love in manner that we will understand.
But unfortunately, the stubborn world did not understand this simple message. The stubborn world continued to sin, and rebel and run away from Him, and He knew that the time had come for him to pull out the “ultimate trick out of his hat”. He knew that only a personal act will convince mankind of His love. He knew all along that this was required, and he knew now that the time has come. He knew that He had to come down himself and live among us. And he sent himself, his only begotten son to the world as a helpless baby. He did not send anything regal, anything that could have put us off. He sent a helpless baby on the first Christmas. A baby that no one could keep away from, a baby who one had to hug, and kiss and carry and feed and wash and be cared for. A baby who felt hunger and thirst and pain as we all do. A baby who needed rest and sleep. A baby who was no different from any other, other than the fact that the conception was divine. And He even made sure that the baby was not borne in a palace or in the secure and secluded home of the rich and famous. He made sure that the baby was borne in a manager. My bible says the baby was to be called Emmanuel, God with us. My bible says that “..the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth”. John 1:14 (NKJV)
God was closing out all excuses for mankind not to accept His message of love anymore. God was giving mankind no more reason to stay away from Him
Now comes the sad part. We thought this problem of not listening to God was only in the old testament time. We would believe the first Christmas changed all that. Unfortunately, the fact is that despite this literally “down to earth” act from God, more than 2000 odd years from the first Christmas, we, the mankind, continue to build walls between ourselves and the manger. I am going to play a video clip to illustrate this point. As you watch this video clip, may I request you to please think about the walls that you can identify with?
Let us look at the various types of walls that we put up. I would group them into four categories. The first is the Walls we put up due to our own actions. These would include the walls due to Sin, Guilt feelings, our failures etc. Of course all of us have sinned. We have goofed up many times, we have failed miserably in many areas. We might have failed as a son or a daughter, we might have failed as a sibling, we might have failed as a husband as a wife, we might have failed as a parent. We might have failed in business, we might have failed at work, we might have failed in our studies, we might have failed at home. But that is exactly the reason for the Manager. If we keep away from the manger because of Sin, we are demeaning the very purpose of the manger.
The second category is the walls that we put up because of what we feel or how we feel. This originates from our imperfect past, our own self abasement, where we consider ourselves utterly worthless, where we have no self respect or self worth. Sometimes it is also due to our own obsession with perfection, our inability to accept imperfections in us. These walls would have us believe that we are not worthy to approach the manger and hold the baby. But you see, the baby in the manger is non judgmental, the baby will smile at us immaterial of our past. The baby will throw up his arms at us, immaterial of how we feel about ourselves.
The third category of walls is what we put up based on what others feel about us. This could be due to fear of others, need for others approval, or the feeling of obligation. This becomes important when we start measuring ourselves by what others feel rather than what is right in God’s eyes. True; we must do things right not only in God’s eyes, but also in man’s eyes, but we don’t need to be constantly afraid of others. We don’t need to be constantly seeking approval from others. The Manger was created so that we could be free from obligation, free from fear, and depend on the grace and truth that flowed down on that first Christmas.
The last category of walls is based on how we let others control us. This includes the rules and regulations we build around our lives, this includes the “religious” practices that we follow, this includes the Gurus that accept for ourselves. I am not talking about the legitimate laws of the land here. I am talking about the rules and regulations that our religion could impose or our gurus could impose upon us. One can feel inadequate if one cannot speak in tongues, one could feel belittled if one does not fall down when a Guru places his/her hand on your forehead ( actually it is pushing..) One could feel that one is of little faith, if one is not healed instantly, or completely. When we build walls based on such rules and regulations, we completely miss the grace that came to us through the manger.
So we have seen the walls that we could all build. We all have reasons to build such walls between us and the manger. But this morning, God is asking us to breakdown those walls. This month’s theme at BBF is “Refreshing Rain”. If we have to experience the Refreshing Rain, we have to let it fall on us. If we have let the refreshing rain of Grace fall on us, we have to break down the walls that prevent the rain from falling on us.
Let me conclude this morning with the story that the Sunday School children are hearing right now. This is the story of Dr. Mary Verghese. Mary Verghese was borne in Kerala in a well to do family. She studied in CMC Vellore and subsequently started working there. In 1954 she met with a road accident that resulted in a complete spinal cord injury. She became a paraplegic. Through her faith and with support from many friends, she decided not to be limited by her disability. She learned reconstructive surgery techniques, and specialized in healing leprosy patients. She subsequently set up the dept of physical medicine and rehabilitation which became a healing place for many handicapped persons. She also set up the Mary Verghese trust, which continues to provide vocational rehabilitation to people with disabilities. She died a paraplegic, but touched many lives before we died.
You see if any one had reasons to be bitter, if anyone had reasons to build walls around her, it was Dr Mary Verghese. She was never healed. She could have lived a life of questioning and bitterness blaming God and others for her plight. She decided otherwise. She decided that she is not going to let this become a wall between her and the manger. She embraced the baby completely. She accepted the Grace that came through the manger and became a channel of that grace for many others.
As we listen and sing along with this closing song, let us be reminded that Mary did not know many things that the baby in the manger was going to do in the 33 years and after. Mary just knew that it was a baby that needed care and love and attention. We have the privilege of knowing who the baby was and what the baby did. While listening to this song, may I please encourage all of us to identify the walls that separate us from the cradle and break them down this Christmas? Merry Christmas Everyone!!