I’ve celebrated Christmas 21 times in my life.
21 mornings of cranberry bread and red-wrapped packages and the Steven Curtis Chapman Christmas album. 21 times I have run down the stairs with my 5 siblings to see what Santa left for us while we were sleeping. (Yes, Santa still brings the Bowsers presents. Yes, 75% of us are adults.)
And we eat monkey bread and tear into presents (one by one, of course) and we laugh and gawk over what was waiting for us under the tree. And by the time we’re all on our 3rd cup of coffee, we pop a Christmas movie in and settle down in our new Christmas pj’s and we cuddle with our dog under the lights of the decorated tree.
And that’s Christmas. At least, on the outside, that’s Christmas.
But if I’m honest with myself, friends, for so many years my inside has looked pretty much the same. Sure, as I grew older, I would pay a little more attention to the story in Luke about the brave teenage mother and the long journey she took to give birth in a cave. Yeah, I knew that her son was Jesus, and I knew that Jesus was good because He came to save the world from its darkness. And of course, I knew that Christmas was the day we celebrated that.
And so as I unwrapped presents and drank orange juice and laughed with my family I would think about that sometimes.
But Christmas, if I’m honest, has often been all about me.
This morning is different. This morning, all I can think about is a garden from 2,000 years ago.
It was late, and a man was there, and he was hunched over, in agony. With his hands pressed up against his eyes, sweat like blood dripped down over his wrists and he cried out,
“Father… if it’s possible, let this cup pass from me…”
He paused, glanced at the trees and wiped the sweat from his forehead, his face scrunched and his vision blurry. Rubbing his hands on his knees, he buried his face in the spotty grass and moaned,
“….nevertheless…” looking up to the sky, tasting his own blood, “not my will, but your will be done…”
And within minutes, soldiers came into the very garden, and he rose to meet them, wiping dirt from his knees and tears from his eyes. And this very man, who minutes before had begged to be pardoned, willingly gave himself into the hands of the soldiers.
He didn’t even fight it.
And the next day they beat him, and tore his clothes, and they killed him. They took nails and they dug them into his wrists, and they hung him by those nails, on a tree. And he suffocated as his body weight dragged him down, his bloodied wrists the only force attempting to pull him up.
And so he died, slowly, in front of a mass of people who spat at him and cheered as he breathed his last.
This Christmas morning, that’s what comes to mind.
You see, that really happened.
2,000 years ago, if you had gone to a place called the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem, you would have found a man with blood on his face. You would have seen him crying, heard him praying, begging for something. You would have seen him walk up to guards and give himself to them, no longer saying a word. You would have seen him being dragged to the officials, sentenced to death, and killed.
And you would have noticed that he never said a word, never put up a fight.
That’s what I think about this Christmas morning.
How would you feel if I told you that the reason we have a holiday called Christmas is because somebody died for you?
You were alone on a crowed highway, a semi-truck heading full force your way.
Standing on thin ice, watching it crack beneath your feet.
In your bedroom alone, trying to think of a reason, any reason, to live.
You were done, fresh out of hope, fresh out of reason. You couldn’t explain why, but you knew that unless somehow somebody did something, you were done.
Maybe that’s you this morning. Maybe you’ve run out of strength, scraped dry your reserves.
What if I told you that the reason Christmas exists is because Jesus came to this world in order to die for you? He came to be born as a baby, humbly. He came to die, painfully, on a cross. He came so that you and I today can have hope.
Hope. Hope that this world isn’t it. Hope that despite everything, we have been saved from the darkness around us.
2,000 years ago Jesus lay in a garden and sweated blood as he took on himself our burdens. He voluntarily came into this world, this dark world, to be its light. He is God, but he became human. The Bible says that he came to serve, not to be served, and to give his life in order to save ours.
He gave his life in order that our darkness would be pardoned.
This Christmas morning, I cannot help but think about that. I cannot help but sit in awe of the God who takes away my darkness. I cannot help but give him my life because he has given me his. Without Jesus, without the man in the garden, I am hopeless.
But because Jesus was born in a little town 2,000 years ago, I can have life. Because he was born, because he made the choice to die for me, I can have hope.
That’s Christmas. This December 25th, I really hope you know that.
You are loved- loved so much that God Himself, Jesus, jumped in front of that train for you. In the midst of packages and popcorn and playlists, I beg you to remember.
You have been handed hope. What are you going to do about it?