Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
December 18, 2011
Two great days for doubters to check out the church
The Sunday before Christmas and Christmas Eve are two great days for doubters to take another look at the church. Presumably what you will hear at church on those two days will be the essence of the Christian faith. Any preacher worth his salt will focus on the heart of the matter today and next Saturday which is Christmas Eve.
Most of us pull out all the stops at this time trying to explain the incarnation – God becoming a human to prove his love for humankind. The birth of Jesus was a God thing – the Holy Spirit being responsible for Mary’s pregnancy. Thus the baby was the Son of God, born to save people from their sins. So the church says the baby Jesus was fully human but also fully divine, God in human flesh. The Bible says that Jesus was the eternal Word of God and John gives us that classic phrase, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. “
Christmas is the time when we fairly shout the word “Emmanuel!” The word itself conveys energy and excitement. Speak the word with passion and you have declared the essential nature of God for it means “God with us.” There is no richer meaning of the birth of Jesus than this – God has come into the world and He is with us! We are not alone, helplessly tossed about by the perplexities of life and at the mercy of evil. God is with us, ready to help us and give us peace despite the storms of life.
That is why you will hear us often singing “Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.” The birth of Jesus Christ is an established fact of history and with his birth the Lord God Almighty came into the world to make known his love for the entire human race.
That is why the church sings “Emmanuel, Emmanuel, his name is called Emmanuel. God with us, revealed in us, his name is called Emmanuel.” We sing it because it is true. We sing it because we believe it. We sing it to remind ourselves that God loves us and He is with us and to know that in the depths of your heart makes you want to shout “Glory Hallelujah!” We sing it to inspire doubters to join us in worshipping him, the One who loved us while we were still sinners.
When you come to church in this holy season you will hear us singing carols like “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head. The stars in the sky looked down where he lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.” But before you dismiss that as sweet and sentimental, hang around because soon we will be singing with gusto, “O Come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem. Come and behold him, born the King of angels. O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.” This is one of many Christmas songs that blesses you more when you “belt it out” with enthusiasm, giving your lungs a good workout. This is true also of one of my favorite songs, “Good Christian Men, Rejoice with heart and soul and voice; give ye heed to what we say: Jesus Christ is born today!”
You might wonder why we invite people to “come to Bethlehem.” Why all the fuss about a small town in Israel? Well, Bethlehem was the place where Jesus was born in a cow’s stall. It was God’s way of saying that great things often have humble beginnings. Phillips Brooks, an American preacher in the 19th Century, gave us a marvelous song about the little town of Bethlehem. For my money it is one of the greatest songs ever composed. If you have never heard it, then come Sunday and sing it with me and my people. I promise you, the words of this song will touch your heart in ways hard rock will never move you. Stay with me now; check this out: “How silently the wondrous gift is given, so God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.”
Then follows the last verse, perhaps the most powerful words of all the Christmas carols: “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 angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!” My soul erupts with joy every time I sing those words! It reminds me that Christmas is all about Jesus who was and is Emmanuel, God with us!
If you happen to be a doubter, an agnostic even an atheist who has given up on the church, let me plead with you to reconsider. Go to church today and on Christmas Eve with an open mind. Tell God if He is real that you want him to reveal himself to you.
Then when folks are singing about the One who rules the world with truth and grace, confess your sins and ask him to be born in your heart that very moment. Praise him for your salvation and thank him for being your Emmanuel! Then rejoice and continue rejoicing into the New Year. Flush your doubts and be done with them. It is a far better thing to know that God loves you and he is with you than to settle for a dismal life dominated by the demons of doubt.
Oh, by the way, once you allow Emmanuel to embrace you, “Merry Christmas” will have a powerful new meaning. Merry Christmas! + + +