The Christmas Message: What is Essential to Being a Christian? - 1 John 1:1-4
By Ted Schroder,
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched -- this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our (and your) joy complete" (1 John 1:1-4)
Christmas celebrates the fact of God's entry into history. Christianity is not the message of some abstract doctrine about Jesus, or the importance of preaching about Jesus, it is the story of the creative self-expression of God, by whom the cosmos was made. The Word of life gives the universe coherence and purpose. He who existed from limitless eternity entered time and space and took up residence here on earth. This appearing in history was not imagined. God in the flesh was heard, seen and touched by all the apostles.
This is called the scandal of particularity, unique to Christianity. The life of God has been channeled to us through an historical event which was verified by the people who saw it. The credibility behind this belief is not merely some tradition or doctrinal convention. It springs from experience. John's authority rests in what he knows to be true because he has touched him (mentioned three times). This experience is the principal reference point of his life. It changed him forever.
"He touched me, Oh, he touched me,
and oh the joy that floods my soul.
Something happened and now I know,
he touched me and made me whole." (William Gaither)
What is the principal reference point of your life? What guides and energizes your life? What motivates you? What gives you value and significance? Is it ambition? Is it a moral or political truth? Is it a sense of calling to a wider usefulness? Is it a personal relationship? What is your purpose?
The purpose of John's experience with the Word of life which appeared to the apostles is "so that you may have fellowship with us, fellowship with God, the completion of joy." It is to share his experience with others -- so that "the joy that floods my soul and made me whole" may be yours as well. C.S. Lewis entitled his autobiography, "Surprised by Joy."
This is not just an individual experience to be fulfilled in isolation from others. It is entry into a community of joy. Christian community is not just some passing association of people who share common sympathies for a cause -- the latest fad, the popular cause of the moment, the winning side or team. It cannot be so superficial. Christianity is a partnership in a shared experience of Jesus Christ, the source of eternal life. This is not just a social relationship with likeminded believers. It is a spiritual relationship with God who indwells us with his joy.
Jesus said, "Abide in me and I in you... I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete" (John 15:11) "Joy to the world, the Lord has come."
Christmas underlines what is essential to being a Christian. If you wandered in here tonight wondering what makes this season so special, and what it means to be a Christian it is this: God became flesh and blood in the historical Jesus and experiencing his life through his story, who he is and what he has done for us, is at the center of our lives. This is the essential core of belief that distinguishes the Christian. It is the watershed truth at the heart of our faith. It is called the Incarnation.
Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City, writes about the dialogues he has had with many members and leaders of other religions. He has asked them how in their faith the individual's relationship with God actually works.
Adherents of Eastern religions say that there is no possibility of personal communion. God is in the end an impersonal force, and you can merge with that force but you cannot have personal communication with it.
For other world faiths God is personal, but too removed to be said to have intimate, loving communion with believers.
He concludes, "I've become convinced that what makes the difference for Christianity is the incarnation. No other faith says God became flesh. Think about the great phrase from Charles Wesley's Christmas hymn -- 'veiled in flesh, the Godhead see.'" (Keller, Hidden Christmas, p.134)
At the center of Christianity is the entrance of God into history.
It is definitive.
It is an event that cannot be ignored or jettisoned.
It cannot be redefined as a myth, a fairy tale or compared with the religious revelations of others.
There is no Christianity, no Christmas, if Jesus Christ as God in the flesh is not at the center.
There is no Christian life if Jesus Christ as God in the flesh is not personally experienced. He is experienced through fellowship with the community of joy composed of his followers.
The apostle John wrote this letter in witness to his experience. What can you write this Christmas about your experience of the Word of life?
Each of the writers of our Christmas carols have expressed their experience for us to share. Phillips Brooks, Rector of Trinity Church, Copley Square, Boston expressed his in this prayer:
O holy Child of Bethlehem,
descend to us we pray;
cast out our sin, and enter in;
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angel,
the great glad tiding tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
our Lord Emmanuel.
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13).
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