Episode 1. The Problem with Christmas
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Another year’s almost over. And we’re hurtling towards Christmas. Christmas. You know what the problem is with Christmas. Who’s got time for it? I mean really. We’re all busy people. …
Well, another year’s almost over. And we’re hurtling towards Christmas. Christmas. You know what the problem is with Christmas? Who has time for it? I mean really. We’re all busy people.
Here we are, we’re standing on the threshold of yet another Christmas, another year gone by. I’m not sure whether you’ve ever considered this but Christmas presents people, like me, with a big problem, a real problem
You see, the problem is this; every year you expect me to come up with a fresh take on Christmas. You don’t want me to repeat what I said last year. “No Berni, we’ve heard that. Tell us something new.”
Indeed, tell us something new. And so each Christmas, people like me have to figure out something new to tell people like you, about Christmas. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining but you see my dilemma.
How many new things can one man say about Christmas? We have one of them every year, it’s, well it’s Christmas. Jesus was born, baby in the manger, no room in the inn. And then there were the shepherds and Mary and Joseph and of course, these wise men from the East and we all celebrate that by going on a shopping spree.
In the west, at least, the success of Christmas is measured by the retail trading figures for December. How many billions did we spend again on Christmas this year? There you go, it’s Christmas! What more do you want me to say?
So you see my point. We do Christmas as this seasonal thing and in the southern hemisphere, it’s wrapped up in our whole summer holiday. In the northern hemisphere, well I don’t know, it’s cold I guess but I’ve never done Christmas in the northern hemisphere.
Just stand back with me for a moment and take a global perspective. While we in the west are wallowing in our wealth, billions of people are starving. Billions of people are in poverty and pain and privation. In fact, that challenges me because today, today there are more people listening to this program out of their poverty than there are those who have credit cards at the ready to go out on a shopping spree.
In fact today, millions of people listening to this program, well they must be sitting there wondering, “What’s Christmas all about? Why? Why Christmas?” It’s a question you can’t answer with a shopping spree or a radio program for that matter. Why? Why Christmas? What do I say to people? What do I say to you in answering, why Christmas?
Well God’s amazing. I can just churn out another series of Christmas pantomime messages but I’m not sure that will help anyone. I’m not here to entertain you; I’m here to make a difference in your life. That’s what’s been churning around in my heart.
The other morning I was up early, at 4.00am, as I often am. I was preparing for this program and I looked at an email that came in overnight. It was from the head of our Rwandan ministry, a man called Bubahase Joseph, a good friend. He’s received an email from a listener that touched me so deeply and it helped me to understand Christmas in a whole new way. I’m going to share this email with you, from this man in Rwanda, who listens to this program, word for word, exactly the way he wrote it. Have a listen. He said:
‘I’m going to pass on my thanks to the team at Christianityworks. For the past 7 months, I have been following Berni’s programs on Radio Rwanda. I’m in my 3rd year of my divorce but let me tell you, this last year was the worst year of my life. But this past Saturday, I was so touched by Berni’s teaching on God’s love to us. I’ve had many teachings on this subject but no-one ever convinced me in the way that I am right now. After this night teaching on Saturday, I realised that I have to reconcile to my wife.
Yesterday morning I was able to pick up a telephone and phone my wife after a whole year of no communication with her. We had a great conversation. As you know we have a Rwandan proverb, ‘a man doesn’t cry’. I was crying, my wife was crying too. We ended up forgiving each other and agreed to consider to be reunited as wife and husband again.
So, my brothers and sisters, thank you for providing these programs to us and for your prayers. Be encouraged for what you are doing.’
As I often say, a testimony like that just kind of blows me away. I shouldn’t be amazed but I am. And as I sat there, thinking about what Christmas means to each one of us: to the wealthy woman driving her 4 wheel drive to the shops to buy presents for her kids; to the mother in a refugee camp in Africa, whose daughter has been raped again; to the man whose marriage is falling apart; to the business man in some wealthy western city, who’s climbing his way up the corporate ladder towards an early grave; as I was thinking about what Christmas means to each one of us, this email nailed it for me.
We dig a pit for ourselves, each one of us differently. For this man it was a marriage breakdown, for you and for me, well who knows but you know what I’m talking about. We dig a pit for ourselves and then, when the night seems so incredibly dark, God reaches down into that pit. He reaches down into that pit with His love: a love so great that it compels us to change; a love so great that it brings reconciliation.
This man listened to a program on his radio in Rwanda and some joker from Australia, with a funny accent, talked about the love of God. And even through that, God reached down into the pit:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son and so that whoever believes in Him wouldn’t perish but have eternal life.
God didn’t send His Son into this world to condemn us, He came to save us. See, the love of God saves us. On that night, in Bethlehem, God reached into my pit, He reached into your pit. The Bible calls Jesus “the Word of God” because Jesus is God speaking to us.
See, God didn’t just stop by sending us a letter, God didn’t just stop by sending us an email or a text message. That is not how He sent His word to us. He came Himself, He sent His Son, His one and only beloved Son. What a miracle! This little baby in that stable on that night – little hands, little fingers and toes – born out of His mother’s womb into that draughty, smelly stable that night. He cried, He slept, He gurgled. He grew up. He died on that cross for you and for me.
See, that’s real love, that’s God’s love. That’s God becoming a man, becoming one of us, talking to us in a way that we can see and touch and hear and perceive and understand and receive. In a man, in Jesus, the Son of God.
Whatever war you and I happen to be living in right now. Whatever conflict or pain or loneliness or isolation or injustice we happen to be living through, this love is a love that rings so clearly, so truly, through all the noise and the clamour: the sound of the cash registers, the sound of hungry children crying, the sound of bombs exploding.
On that night, He gave us His Son – Jesus. And what that man, who sent me that email discovered, is exactly what God meant him to discover. This love of God that slipped into this world on that night, 2,000 years ago, is a love that changes our hearts, is a love that changes our lives. That’s why, that’s why Christmas!