“…You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us)….And he called his name Jesus.” –Matthew 1:21-25
Christmas is about Jesus
Christmas is about Jesus. Well, so much for a thought-provoking, stimulating, catchy opening sentence for a Christmas devotion. You say: “I know that Christmas is about Jesus, tell me something I don’t know.” But I think this is a good way to begin this devotion, and furthermore, I think we too often forget that Christmas is about Jesus. So, once again:
Christmas is about Jesus. Christmas is about Jesus the Savior of sinners, God in the flesh who came as a child in a pitiful manger equipped for cattle not for Deity. Christmas is about Jesus who came to be born to live for His people, to die for them, to be raised from the dead for them, and to be exalted in His ascension-enthronement at God’s right hand as Eternal Lord and King on David’s Throne.
Matthew’s genealogy in chapter one of his Gospel teaches us a lot about Jesus, but we can focus on two things. The genealogy teaches us that (1) God does the impossible, and (2) that God saves sinners. Now when we speak of God doing the impossible, it doesn’t mean that it is impossible from God’s point of view (for nothing is impossible with God, Luke 1:37!), but from our limited, finite, weak point of view as sinful humans.
A longer purpose sentence in writing this devotion would be summarized this way: Matthew’s genealogy teaches us that Christ has come to show that God does the impossible, and that he gives true hope to those with misplaced hopes as well as to the hopeless.
At Christmastime, we need faith in Christ to be realists about our situation and to truly behold what God has done for us in Christ. That is why I want to continue to emphasize that Christmas is about Jesus. Oftentimes at Christmastime, we are either full of sentimentalism or bloated with cynicism concerning the hope in our lives.
Sentimentalism and Cynicism at Christmastime
What are sentimentalism and cynicism you ask (and I’m more concerned to define these terms with how people actually live and act, not by formal definitions of these two things)? Well, I would describe a person characterized by sentimentalism as one who thinks too highly of man and what man can actually achieve for good in this world.
Sentimental: Folks who tend to be characterized by sentimentalism continue to hope that good times and good change will come for the world, but this hope is a false hope that is not grounded in the truth and reality of God (and oftentimes when sentimentalists do not see their hopes fulfilled, they then idolize and worship the past, imagining that things were better “back then…alas”). Sentimental folks don’t talk a lot about sin and sinfulness, and they don’t necessarily see the world in all its troubles.
Cynical: Folks who tend to be characterized by cynicism have lost hope and no longer expect that good times and change can or will come. This hopelessness is not grounded in God’s truth and reality any more than sentimentalism. Cynicism is more of a reaction to sentimentalism; you see this reaction at generational levels today. Grandparents that were sentimentalists might produce grandsons who are cynics. Oftentimes young people tend toward more sentimentalism, and they grow into cynicism after experiencing pain and difficulties in a cold world. Cynicism often masquerades itself as self-realized maturity, whereas sentimentalism might masquerade as innocence and the goodness of man. Sentimentalism sees only the good in the world and tends the overlook the bad; cynicism sees too much of the bad without acknowledging any of the good in the world.
You can hear sentimentalism in Christmas songs all around us an on the radio and in the “air” at this time of year. Crooners croon: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” Listen in for a moment:
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer”
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
It’s the hap-happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call
It’s the hap- happiest season of all…”
“With the kids jingle belling?” Is there anyone at your home “jingle belling” right now? Honestly. “It’s the hap-happiest season of all…” Is it really? For all?? Have you seen the poor and destitute? Have you peaked into the homes past the well-lit trees in the windows to behold the people full of strife and rampant dysfunction? Have you seen the people with the Rudolph antlers and the shiny nose after the Christmas party dealing with depression and loneliness and alcoholism seeking change in clinical therapy? Have you seen the little the rest of the world has in comparison to the riches we have as Americans, and how impoverished many people are who have never owned one of Disney’s “princesses” (and never will)? Sentimentalism sings “Fa-la-la-la-la” when there is sadness and misery all around us. Sentimentalism sings “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” forgetting that many cannot afford chestnuts, and are barely staying warm by a fire- -if they have one at all!
You can *hear* sentimentalism better at Christmas than cynicism, because cynics don’t necessarily sing about Christmas at Christmastime, unless they are singing about Grandma getting run over by a reindeer coming home from a Christmas visit, or the one-horse open sleigh turning over and seriously injuring Frosty the Snowman, or wanting an alien for Christmas. But because cynics don’t “do Christmas” and therefore they don’t sing much about it (although those days might be coming to an end, I’m hearing more cynicism in Christmas songs now; it is indeed a “Mad World” isn’t it?!).
Sentimentalism has false hopes of what mankind can actually achieve in thoughts of peace and unity and love at Christmas. You may recall the great Jim Reeves Christmas song from the 1950s: “A long time ago in Bethlehem…And man shall live forevermore because of Christmas day.” Now I’m not going to criticize the great Jim Reeves (and for those who know not of Jim Reeves, well you should know this wonderful singer of times past—there’s my sentimentalism for you!), but Reeves’ song teaches us that mankind will live forever just because of Christmas; this is not true; this is classical liberalism. Sentimentalism wants feelings of what Christmas should be, but it is because of feelings more than the power of God that came down to sinners in Bethlehem’s manger.
This song Mary’s Boy Child by Jim Reeves seems to be saying that just the knowledge of Jesus being born at Christmastime will make everything all right at Christmas…and man shall live forevermore (and I don’t know what kind of person Reeves was so this is not criticism of the man, just the message). Christmas is so much more than merely a message of man trying to change himself, or being overwhelmed with “Christmas-ey” sentimental thoughts and feelings of Jesus in a manger that will make us all nice people. The message of Christmas is more than merely getting Linus to tell us what Christmas is all about, and then we change in response to the commercialism, etc., and we decide to get a small and meek Christmas tree rather than a great and shiny one, and we are all changed- –and we all do it ourselves.
No, we must be changed. We must be changed by a sovereign work of God. God was born into the world and took upon human flesh to be with us so that he would grant us the power by His grace and Holy Spirit to be transformed into new people; a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). Sentimentalism will not hold out true hope for anyone; sentimentalism will just not do. Sentimentalism too easily embraces classical liberalism: “A God without wrath brought [good] men into a kingdom without judgment, through a Christ without a cross (H. R. Niebuhr).” No. Mere sentimentalism will not do. We must be changed from the inside out; sinful man must be changed from the heart.
Now those characterized by cynicism are onto this, but they don’t have the answer either. Hopelessness is not the answer for false hopes!
Usually folks who are cynics (not in the formal philosophical, Marcus Aurelius sense) are those who are converted from sentimentalism, but they find that the “hope” that they had in the future, and in the love of human beings never appeared, and that their warm-feelings of the brotherhood of man and peace and kindness faintly faded into a memory, and this “hope” never manifested itself in their heart nor in the hearts of others. Cynics thought at one time things might get better, but they have now lost hope that good times and change will never come, and so let’s just mope knowingly. But this cynical hopelessness is not grounded in the truth and reality of God any more than sentimentalism.
Cynical folks think they know. They are always giving “knowing glances” and looks and sneers to those who are especially eat up with sentimentalism. Two people are having coffee at Starbuck’s. One is a sentimental person, and the other is a cynic (who formerly was a sentimental person). Bob the sentimentalist says: “You know, I just love Christmas, the lights, the good cheer, the ‘decking the halls with boughs of holly’, and gathering with family- -don’t you just love it?! If only it would be Christmas all through the year?” The sentimentalist will think on the bright lights and surface things of Christmastime, with false hopes that good can come and will come through people. The sentimentalist forgets the loneliness, poverty, grief, guilt, and funerals that still take place on and around December 25th!
Maria, the cynic responds: “Get a life, Bob! I don’t do Christmas. It is all fake and surface. No one really cares and after the lights are taken down off the freshly cut trees (those trees could have continued to grow by the way!), and no one cares for others, and the good cheer is all conjured up with hopes that someone will give me a present (but they just give it to me so that I will give one back to them in return; I know). At Christmas, I think of those who suffer, and those who are lonely, and when I think back to my memories of Christmas, all I can recall is a big turkey on the table surrounded by gluttonous dysfunctional family members who had too much to drink, and did not care a lick about anyone but themselves.”
Jesus Came to Save Sentimentalists, Cynics, and All Who Will Believe!
Both the sentimentalist and cynic are trying to find hope in this world of sin and misery. The sentimentalist is trying to seek hope in man’s ability to change and do good; the cynic has given up hope, but deep down would like to find hope, but would never (or rarely) admit it. Both are missing Jesus, and the important fact that Christmas is about Jesus. Both sentimentalists and cynics are imbalanced and wrong. Jesus came to save both sentimentalists and cynics. Christmas is about Jesus.
Well, there I go again! Christmas is about Jesus. When God came into the world, he came to seek and save both the sentimentalist and the cynic (and whosoever else would believe). For the sentimentalist, God must show the true sinfulness of mankind and the hopelessness apart from Jesus the Savior, no matter how much figgy pudding one might have! For the cynic, God must show that there is hope for repentant and believing mankind as they look to Jesus for hope, but hopelessness is not the only answer for those who have given up hope. Amen!
Christmas is about Jesus, and Matthew’s genealogy shows to us that whether you tend to be characterized by sentimentalism or by cynicism, you can have hope in Jesus Christ. Whether Sentimentalist, or cynic, we should understand that God became man “in our mess” with hope in our hopelessness to rescue and save all who would believe! God shows us Jesus’ rich heritage as the very realization of all of the promises of God to Abraham and David (Matthew 1:1-2); God also shows us Jesus’ heritage as one born in a dysfunctional, “messy” family (Matthew 1:3-6). In Matthew’s genealogy, God calls sinners to repent of both sentimental faith in false hopes and cynical hopelessness.
You must see Jesus Christ as your only hope; Christmas is about Jesus your only real and enduring hope. In Matthew 1, God reveals Himself to Joseph, Mary’s betrothed husband, and tells him that Jesus will be a Savior from sin; Jesus will be a Savior for sinners; Jesus will be Immanuel, which means “God with us”:
ESV Matthew 1:21-23: [Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
Jesus will be a Savior. Jesus will save His people from their sins. This we must emphasize. God would do the impossible but by forgiving sinners. God would not overlook sinfulness and the selfish deeds of mankind, but would indeed judge them. However, he would send Christ Jesus, His only Begotten Son to be cursed and judged in the stead, or in the place of all who would believe.
God does not believe in either sentimentalism or cynicism. God disagrees with and contradicts the sentimentalist that man could change on his own or have any hope apart from Christ; the Bible teaches that man is cursed by sin and under the condemnation of God, described as being “without God and without hope in the world” (Eph. 2:12ff). God disagrees with and contradicts the cynic who thinks all is hopeless, because God graciously offers true and enduring hope for mankind, and salvation and peace with God for helpless, hopeless sinners in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ name “JESUS” means God saves. God comes into our dark and miserable state, and grants us hope in Jesus. Jesus comes to rescue us out of our sinful estate by living and dying for us.
Christmas is about Jesus. This is our hope. How so? Jesus came to live for sinners; Jesus came to die for us on the accursed cross; Jesus came to shed His blood for those who believe, and grant to us His perfect righteousness as we receive it by faith; Jesus came to be raised from the dead and seated at God’s right hand. God offered Jesus to be judged in place of sinful man; God justly and righteously punished sin in Christ, but God justifies or makes right sinners who believe in Him (see this great hope in Romans 3:23-26):
ESV Romans 3:23-26: “…For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
This is true hope. This is real and lasting hope that changes man from within. This is the hope that can turn our false hopes and blurred dreams of what man can do into realizing the power of the Holy Spirit and how He transforms us by His grace, and can give us hope and make all our dreams come true in Christ. Even as we live in a fallen world characterized by sin and misery, pain, suffering, death, poverty, and helplessness, there is hope for us in Jesus Christ. Hope to have peace with God, and great joy in the midst of whatever affliction He call us to live through.
We can embrace the tension of the reality of living in a world with great hope (as the sentimentalist sings about at Christmas), and in a world still tainted by the disease which is sin and misery (as the cynic refuses to sing about at Christmas).
True hope for both the sentimentalist and the cynic is found in Jesus Christ. Christmas is about Jesus. Christmas is not merely a warm feeling to be embraced, or rejected without thought.
Christmas is a declaration, a message, a proclamation that what man could not do, nor would want to do for himself, or for another (even at Christmas)- – God did, in our Savior Jesus Christ. This is what is so impossible- -God did in Jesus Christ all that we need so that we could receive His righteousness by faith and hope in Him alone! (Romans 8:3-4).
For the sentimentalist, I would say that you must stop painting things too rosy in this world even at Christmastime. This world is fallen, and although a good world created by God, it is infested with many sinfully selfish and greedy people who care only for themselves, and it is a world much characterized by misery and enslavement to sin and the devil. And Jesus came to cure us; Jesus came to remove the curse as far as it is found!
For the cynic, you must stop painting things too hopeless in this world especially at Christmastime. You, too, are a hypocrite and part of the problem. You sneer at the sentimentalists “knowingly” but you too have no answers, you too, have no hope. You are right that things are wrong, but you are infested with this sinful dis-ease too- -and Jesus is your only hope.
Stop hoping in something like a Christmas season that is not rooted in God’s truth and reality; stop the hopeless rant about the Christmas season that is not rooted in God’s truth and reality. Notice the sane and biblical balance between the imbalances of both sentimentalism and cynicism in Isaac Watts’ Joy to the World; there is both sorrow and love; hopelessness and hope!:
“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.”
Matthew’s genealogy teaches us that God who does the impossible has done it- -for us! God has come to heal us of our sinful dis-ease and to show us our king. Hail, the newborn king! Hail, the Son of Righteousness! Hail, God’s Son clothed in human flesh for us. For us and for our salvation he came to give us real and true hope.
In Matthew’s genealogy we see the “cold-hard” truth of the reality of sin in the Bible. Our greatest gift from God is Jesus Christ, Savior of sinners, hope of all those who believe. We don’t have it in us to change, or to convert ourselves; there are no “born again” Scrooges in this world, only Scrooges who continue to be greedy and nasty for self. Sure, man can change a little, perhaps for a season, but can never learn the truth and love and grace of God apart from God’s powerful work in man by Jesus Christ. Mankind by nature, including all “Ebenezer Scrooges” are those who are ever learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth (apart from the saving and glorious work of Jesus Christ; 2 Tim. 3:7!).
What we need is the transformation power of God’s grace found in Jesus Christ, and no matter how great a “Scrooge” you may be- -you can change permanently and become a disciple of Jesus by God’s transforming power and grace found in Jesus, the Savior of sinners! No matter how grossly sinful your past has been, no matter how sinful you have been both in public and private; no matter how terrible you acted under the influence of that wine you had at Uncle Tommy’s a few years back and said things to the family you regret; no matter how many times you have miserably failed from your self-induced “new starts and resolutions” to be a “good and kind person” and found yourself to be worse; no matter how often you have tried harder and crashed. You can have great hope.
Christmas is not about you. Christmas is about Jesus.
But sadly, you may realize that you have often rejected Jesus Christ. You may have rejected the only hope of the world in Jesus either through sentimental hope in yourself, or through cynically denying yourself any hope. You may have thought Christmas was about you and so you have seen no real change for the better.
You may just realize that the only real change that has happened to you, the only “true” conversion you have ever experienced, has been from going from a sentimentalist at Christmas to a card-carrying, dyed in the wool cynic without hope. Well, congratulations. How is that change working for you? So, you can see through everything now- -even Christmas; you can see so clearly through everything so well and so clearly, that you can now see absolutely nothing! (got that idea from C. S. Lewis!). You can hear the sentimentalism in those Frank Sinatra Christmas songs… “It’s that time of year when the world falls in love…” yet you cannot change yourself, and you have no hope of real love for yourself.
A New Beginning in a New Family Tree!
Here’s hope: Christmas is about Jesus. If you think you’re hopeless, and you come from a hopeless family line, look again at Jesus’ genealogy, his family tree. God has not only done the impossible in providing salvation, God has incarnated Himself not into the best of families, but into a typical, sinful, family tree. This was so that all sinners would have hope; even those deemed the most “hopeless” in the eyes of the world. Jesus wasn’t tainted by our sins, he was sinless, but he was incarnated, or made flesh in our messiness here in this world. If you read through Matthew 1:1-25, you will find great hope for yourself (and I recommend that you do read it- -go ahead- -right now, read it…I’ll wait….)….
….Did you see? In Jesus’ genealogy there is Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah (Matthew 1:3-6). What’s so special about this?
Jesus’ family tree was tainted by sin (but Jesus was not- -that is our hope!). In the ancient world, genealogies normally would not include women, and they were selective. Ancient genealogies would be selective about the important and special people in the family to include and (ahem…exclude!).
Matthew’s genealogy is selective, but he is not excluding the embarrassing sinfulness of Jesus’ family tree. Scandalous activities happened with Tamar; Rahab was a prostitute; Ruth was a Moabitess (Moabites were particular enemies of God and his people); and “wife of Uriah”- -now this is embarrassing! Her name was “Bathsheba” and she is the young woman with whom David committed adultery and then proceeded to kill Uriah her husband, so that King David could selfishly keep her for himself. This was Jesus’ family tree. There were “skeletons” in the closet for Jesus’ family.
Let me say it again: Jesus’ family tree was tainted by sin, but Jesus was not! The Holy Spirit caused Mary to conceive (Matt. 1:18ff; Luke 1:31-35); the power of God through His Spirit impregnated Mary so that God would become man, but a man without sin. A man without the taint and sinful disease we carry within us. He was without sin, so that He could be a faithful Savior- -one who could truly and really save us from this lowly estate and condition and grant believers peace with God and hope in the world.
Matthew’s genealogy teaches to us that no matter how sinful we have been, no matter how dysfunctional our family from which we come, God offers to repentant sinners who believe in Jesus a new beginning in Jesus. This begins a new family tree in Jesus Christ as a new creation of God. This is not just a decided change, but a real transformation by God’s Spirit (2 Cor. 5:17).
Jesus’ family tree and history was nothing sentimental. Growing up, Jesus could not look back at His family tree and see only the good, and boast about his “great people” or reflect dishonestly upon his family’s past (although there were great and godly kings, righteous men, and heroes in his family no doubt!). Jesus had to look back and see a family tree of folks who even at their best were still sinners. Jesus could have been tempted to cynicism when looking at the family tree if he had been tainted like us because of the kind of folks who made up His family tree.
But his sinful family tree is why Christmas is about Jesus. All of our families are dysfunctional. Every single family in this world is dysfunctional (have you read Genesis 3 lately, or do you remember the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Or, have you read Genesis 16, or Genesis 38, or Psalms 32 and 51, or the Book of Judges lately?). Sentimentalism will never give enough hope to make our dysfunction go away; cynicism cannot sneer enough at the façade of many people’s dreams and hopes at Christmas, because Matthew 1 reveals them all for us to see.
Yet Matthew’s genealogy is with great hope, not tainted by either sentimentalism or cynicism. Jesus was pleased to call even the chiefest and greatest of sinners “brothers”. Here’s hope from Hebrews 2:10-14:
“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” 13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.” 14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things…
What great hope for all! Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers this Christmas! (Heb. 2:11b). Jesus shared in our flesh and blood and partook of the same things, that is, he came to save us out of a world of sin and misery to cause us to live life as we should, with real hope rooted and grounded in God’s truth and reality. And Jesus came to transform us so that we would be like Him.
Christmas is about Jesus. Jesus’ birth is a manifestation of God doing the impossible by living and dying for sinners. Jesus’ birth is about God coming to a sinful, dysfunctional, hopeless people, and granting hope through the extended and blessed hand of a Savior.
Jesus is the hope for both sentimentalism and cynicism. For those sentimentalists who have yet to see yourself as you truly are, and the world as it really is at Christmastime, see the sinfully tainted family tree of Jesus, and yet the true hope found in Christ alone. See Jesus dying at the hands of weak and blind and selfish sinners. For those cynics who have lost hope at Christmastime and perhaps see yourself, and the world as it really is (at least you see the world as it really is), don’t lose hope, but see God doing the impossible through transformation, and real change that comes through knowing Jesus Christ as Lord.
Nothing should stay the same; nothing has to stay the same. In Jesus Christ, there is true hope for both the sentimentalists and cynics, and this hope is rooted and grounded in God’s truth and reality!
Christmas is about Jesus and Jesus is about God doing the impossible by becoming man. Perhaps you are a person at present inspired by all the dashing through the snow, eating chestnuts roasting by the fire, singing your fa-la-la-laaas, and living the nearly perfect picture Christmas print by Currier & Ives over at Farmer Gray’s, passing the coffee and the pumpkin pie, singing at the top of your lungs with Andy Williams that It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and thinking this year will be the best of them all. Christmas is about Jesus. Look to him for your real hope.
Or, perhaps you have it all figured out (don’t you?!), and right now you have folded arms, eyebrow raised, perfectly placed sneer on lip thinking how you would like to see that one horse open sleigh turn over, and that those sad souls who are walking in the winter wonderland “making plans” and dreams for the future with Parson Brown, would come to realize when they later conspire by the fire, would face unafraid that the plans that they made in that miserable, hellish winter wonderland will just be the nightmare that one day ends in divorce. Perhaps you would rather rant on at your best about how Christmas should not be so commercialized?! But honestly, what have you done to lift a finger to make a difference in this miserable world? How can you change, too? Christmas is about Jesus. Look to him for your real hope.
Do you want hope that is false, misleading, and empty, not grounded in God’s truth and reality? Or do you want hopelessness leading to despondency and despair? Or, better, do you want God’s way where you look to Jesus and see one who didn’t falsely mislead you about yourself, or the world, or the past, nor did he just give up on you.
Jesus came to live, die and be resurrected and exalted for all who believe- -and this is our only hope!
Christmas is about Jesus. Jesus says sentimentalists repent! You have not seriously and realistically considered your own sins or the hopelessness and misery of this world apart from God. Jesus says to the cynics repent! You are very hypocritical, and the hopelessness that can be very real is nothing to savor, but to flee from to the hope found in Christ alone.
If you read Matthew’s genealogy, you can tell you’re a sentimentalist because of seeing the great heritage only, and not the sin. If you read Matthew’s genealogy, you can tell you’re a cynic if all you see all the sin, but not see the great heritage. Those who trust in Christ alone for hope see both; and they see both a great heritage and great sin in themselves, too, and they know that their only hope can be found in Jesus.
Christmas is about Jesus. But I’ve said that already.
Love in Christ, and Merry Christmas!