Main Passage 2 Tim 3: 1-7
It is advent season again. It is time to sing carols, eat Christmas cakes, wear new cloths, decorate homes, put up the stars, and wish people Merry Christmas. It is that time when we are supposed to rejoice in the good news of great joy that was announced to the shepherds by the angel Gabriel.
But let us face the facts. We all complain about Christmas being commercialized. It really has become a time of shopping and discounts for some and for others it is a time of partying and merriment. There is a complete economics around Christmas now a days. In the US, one fourth or 25% of all personal annual spending takes place during the Christmas shopping season. On an average every US citizen is expected to spend at least 800 USD (Almost INR 55000/-) per person during this season alone on shopping, and 75% of it is on gifts. In Briton, the alcohol consumption is calculated to go up by 40% during the Christmas Season. Every person on an average gains at least 2 Kilos of during this season. Close to 4.5 cores (That is 45 million) hours are spent on online shopping itself during this season. There is a whole repertoire of terms that has evolved around the Economics of Christmas. One of the interesting ones is “Christmas Creep”, which refers to advancing the beginning of the shopping season by a few days every year. Concepts like Black Friday, Christmas market, Super Saturday, Boxing day etc. have evolved around the commerce surrounding Christmas. There is even a Christmas Price Index being calculated by economists. I am sure there will be PhD dissertation on Economics of Christmas soon. Don’t worry, I will not be the one who is doing that research!!
One of the most interesting economic fact that I came across about Christmas is the concept of Deadweight loss. What is that, you might ask. It is a complicated economic term, but let me try to explain it in the context of gift giving for Christmas. Many of you would have heard the carol “Twelve days of Christmas”. It is about the gifts that a true love sends to a person. Here is an exercise you can do when you go back home. Add up all the gift items listed in that carol. It comes to a whopping 364 items. That gives you an idea about the scale of gift giving during Christmas. Economists have calculated that if the people actually purchased the gift items themselves, rather than being purchased by the gift giver, the overall cost would have been lesser by as much as 4 Billion US dollars in the US alone (That is 4 followed by 9 zeros, this translates to an amount of 28000 Crores of INR). This loss is called the deadweight loss of Christmas.
What do these statistics tell us? To me these are not surprising. Paul warned us in 2 Timothy 3:1-7 (NKJV) But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Don’t you think this is what is happening in the world today? Is the world not moving towards this description where men are lovers of self, lovers of pleasure, lovers of money, unloving, unforgiving. And what is concerning is that even those who have “some form of godliness”, fall into this trap. In other words, we might be carrying a Christian name, might be professing Christian faith and might still be just part of this Christmas Economy, without knowing its power as v 5 tells us. I am sure all of us have heard the Christmas message, the meaning of Christmas many times. This morning, let us ask ourselves, do we fall into that category that 2 Timothy 3:7 (NKJV) talks about? “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth”.
How do we understand the power of the message of Christmas better? How can we “come to the knowledge of the truth” about Christmas? In my opinion, to do this we have to understand the real truth behind the message of Christmas, the real message behind the good news of great joy.
Since we started with commerce around Christmas, let us stay with that theme. How do companies send the message about their product to the public? How do they generate interest in their products and services so that we will go and splurge our hard earned money on their products, there by making them richer and contributing to the Christmas Economy? You know the answer, they do it by advertising? One of the most common means of advertising is celebrity endorsements. So we see Sharukh Khan selling a supermarket service, we see Sachin Tendulkar selling a mobile payment App. We see Priyanka Chopra selling chocolates, we see Amitabh Batchan selling baby accessories. You know the details, this list goes on and on. The commercial world tries to reach their message to us through various means, they send their representatives to convey the message that their product or service is great and we should spend our money on it. And many times they succeed. The statistics that I quoted at the beginning of the sermon should convince us that they are successful.
Now I want you to turn this around and look at someone who have been trying to send a message to us for a long time. I want you to think about God trying to send the message of salvation and reconciliation with Him to the stubborn mankind ever since creation. Did God not use all possible means to send this message to the mankind? 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 mankind. 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 something? This is where we get amazed by the simplicity of the whole thing. Have you noticed in life that sometimes, 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 a 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 had 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 born 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)
So here it is. This is the true message of Christmas. This is the truth behind the Christ of the advent. The simple message. Christmas is the ultimate act of demonstration of the unfailing love that God has for us. Not because we deserve anything, but because He simply loves us. Period!!
So the painful question is, what do we do with that message? Do we keep it to ourselves or do we have a responsibility to let others know about this message? If God loves us so much isn’t it our responsibility to love others? Is it not the only command that Jesus put above all others? Matthew 22:37-40 (NKJV) Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
People ask me, what do you think is the biggest problem with Christmas today? And I have no hesitation in answering “Lack of love”. If we have to spread the true message of Christmas, the true message of the Christ of Advent, we have to learn to love selflessly as He did. Tough proposition, but that is what God is asking us to do this morning.
Let me end with what Paul said about the importance of Love. 1 Corinthians 13: 1-3 (NIV) If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
This morning I am tempted to add, If I can sing the best Christmas Carols, but do not have love, I am just a loud mouth looking for attention. If I have the gift of preaching a good sermon about Christmas, I have the gift of explain the Christmas story well to others, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I buy expensive gifts for Christmas and distribute them to the rich and the poor, If I toil hard to make the best Christmas cake ever and share it with others, but do not have love, I gain nothing. If I decorate my house well, and invite the whole neighborhood for a Christmas feast, but do not have love, I am just a show off. If I put on my best cloths and best smile and come to church on Christmas morning, but do not have love, I am just a hypocrite. Well. We can go on on… You get the message.
Let us pray!!