Makin' a List, Checkin' It Twice? Gonna Find Out Who's Naughty and Nice
For Christmas Day I share a Christmas Sermon from my files. May it point you to the knowledge that Jesus reveals a God whom we need not fear, a God who loves and saves!
John 1:14 “And 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.”
If you haven't done so already, when you get home from this morning's service you'll get to open your Christmas gifts. Funny how priorities change over time. Remember when you were a child and how it was sooooooooo hard to get to sleep on Christmas Eve because you knew that Santa would be coming and that there’d be presents to open in the morning.
In my household morning never came so early as on Christmas Day. My sister and I would wake up at about 5:00 a.m., run to the tree to see how many presents Santa had left for us, and then run upstairs to wake Mom and Dad up. Mom and Dad, poor tired souls that they were, would tell us to go downstairs and wait for another hour. And so we would slink back downstairs and sit on the bottom step looking upstairs, as if by sheer willpower we could drive Mom and Dad into their robes and slippers.
That only lasted a total of fifteen seconds or so, though, and then we were back at the tree lifting presents, shaking presents, trying to see through the wrapping paper. And when we couldn’t take it anymore, when the anticipation was just too much to take, one of us would run upstairs to fetch Mom and Dad. And they’d
kick us back downstairs. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we’d
hear Mom and Dad coming down the steps and we knew that it was time to open our gifts. With the sound of their footsteps it was as if someone had sounded
a horn and announced, “Let the gift-wrapping tearing fest begin!”
And year after year Santa never disappointed. And from what kids tell me today Santa still never disappoints. I suppose that’s why we love Santa so much. He’s the one guy we can count on to give us what we want with no strings attached. Oh,
sure, there’s the poem that tells us that Santa’s “keepin’ a list, checkin’ it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.” Santa must be a pretty bad bookkeeper, though, because I don’t know of anyone who’s gotten a lump of coal from Santa. Everyone always gets presents.
Wouldn’t it be interesting, though, if that poem were actually accurate; if Santa did keep a list and rewarded everyone according to what he or she had done. I wonder if our pictures of Santa would be the same. I can virtually guarantee that the image of Santa being a “jolly old elf” would disappear pretty quickly. No one would like a Santa who actually rewards us based on whether we’ve been naughty or nice. And the reason why we wouldn’t like a Santa like that is because deep in our hearts we all know that we’ve been naughty way more than we’ve been nice throughout the year.
And I suspect that in the end that’s why so many people don’t like to give much heed to God. Through poor examples at home, through poor education and instruction at church, and through buying into wrongly cast stereo-types there are an awful lot of people who’s image of God is a guy who keeps a record of our rights and our wrongs and who rewards us accordingly.
Nothing terrifies the heart of a sinner more than the idea that God will reward us according to what we have done, according to what we deserve. Nothing! Sinners can’t bear the thought that they’ll get what they deserve. Because in their heart of hearts they know what they ultimately deserve. And what they have deserved isn’t pretty. For many, many people it’s simply easier to forget about God or to ignore Him altogether rather than to reflect upon His system of rewards and merits. Thinking too long about God rewarding us based on what we have done or not done will drive a person to despair and depression pretty quickly. Much better to enjoy the image of Santa Claus–a guy who gives us presents with no strings attached, then to think about a God who keeps a record of rights and wrongs. We welcome a visit from Santa, but shun the idea of a visit from God.
That is, until we hear the words recorded for us by the Apostle John: “And the Word became flesh...” With these words the stereo-type of God as a stern judge and beancounter, who keeps meticulous books recording our every deed is put to the lie. Oh, certainly God does keep books and, unlike Santa, God does know who’s been naughty and nice. But this is not a full and complete picture of God. A God dressed in a judge’s robe is an inaccurate picture of God. The Bible presents us with that picture of God sometimes, but it doesn’t stop there. So we must listen to everything that the Bible says about God in order to keep a clear and correct picture of what kind of a God He is.
Our text this morning proclaims to us that our God is a God of love, who “became flesh.” He is a God who wants to be close to us, so close to us that He deigns to leave His throne in heaven and to become a man. He doesn’t become one of us in order to judge us, or to reward us according to what we have done. He doesn’t come in a blaze of fire and brimstone, of full divine majesty and glory. He doesn’t come to destroy the world or anyone in it. The proof of that lies in the way in which He comes. He could have appeared as a full grown man–with flesh and bones, all fully developed. But He wants us to be certain that He doesn’t come in judgement. And so He comes in the least threatening form of all–that of a newborn Baby. And He doesn’t come into this world to inhabit a palace, to be surrounded by wealth and by armies. Instead, he comes as a baby born to an obscure and poor peasant girl, who has to lay her newborn boy in a manger. A newborn baby laying in a manger. Not much threatening in that picture. Which is the whole point. Jesus Himself says in John chapter twelve, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.” He comes as a baby to make us certain of that.
What Jesus brings is different from what an inaccurate stereotype would suggest. He doesn’t bring a tit-for-tat reward system with him. He doesn’t bring in the final judgement, either. What he brings with him is the fullness of God and His glory and grace and truth. “And 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.” He comes full of grace and truth, not anger and judgement. He comes, in the words of a favorite advent hymn, “the pris’ners to release, In Satan’s bondage held. The gates of brass before Him burst, the iron fetter yield. He comes the broken heart to bind, the bleeding soul to cure, and with the treasures os His grace T’ enrich the humble poor.”
That is borne out in verse sixteen of John chapter one: “And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” We have received grace upon grace because this tiny baby, who’s birth we celebrate today, is the one who gave Himself upon on a cross, and with His dying breath proclaimed “It is finished!” With those words our sins were forgiven and God was reconciled to man. God’s grace was showered upon us in Jesus Christ. That grace is received by faith, which sees in Jesus’ death the satisfactory payment for all of our sins.
Jesus came in grace and truth to go to the cross and there to blot out our sins with his blood. And because He came in human flesh and blood, born as a baby in Bethlehem, we now have nothing to fear from God, nor need we desire the likes of a mythical Santa Claus over Him, especially on Christmas. Amen.