Sermon series: Experience the Miracle of Christmas
(Begin with the clip from the movie - "He thinks you're Santa Claus." "I am." 1 minute)
We have been using this wonderful Christmas movie, Miracle on 34th Street as the illustration for our Christmas sermon series, Experience the Miracle of Christmas. We have watched some clips from the movie to illustrate different truths related to the true Christmas story of Christ's birth. But we have not really examined the basic plot of the movie, which is revealed here in this opening scene from the movie. This man genuinely believes he is Santa Claus. The rest of the movie is the unfolding of the evidence to support that claim.
The idea of meeting not just a department store Santa, and not just some well-meaning man with a pillow in his belt and a fake beard on his face, but the real Santa Claus, represents a Christmas dream come true. I recognize that we live in a very skeptical society and I would certainly agree that we have come by such skepticism honestly. We all know of people who make false and fraudulent claims.
Yet despite the skepticism, there is something about the story that catches our attention and draws us in. We are invited to reconsider some propositions that perhaps we thought were settled long ago in our childhood. As the story unfolds, there springs forth this childish hope that perhaps this Kris Kringle really is Santa Claus. It begins to open up some incredible and amazing opportunities. "Could he really be? What if he is? And if he is who he says he is, how sad not to be recognized, how tragic to be thought a fraud."
(Clip - Conversation with Ms. Walker, 2:15)
The questions Ms. Walker raises seem applicable to more than just Kris Kringle. Those are the same kinds of questions asked about this miracle of Christmas. Who is this baby lying in the manger? Could he really be who everyone says he is? What if He is?
John's Gospel describes for us in beautiful and poetic imagery this miracle of the manger.
(Read John 1:1-5, 9-14)
The big question to be answered in this movie is also the big question as we consider the birth and life of Jesus Christ. It is a question of identity. Who exactly is this child we find in the manger in Bethlehem?
I. Astonishing claims
Could He be who He claims to be?
This old gentleman with a white beard and friendly smile claims to be not just a Santa, but THE Santa, Kris Kringle, St. Nicholas, the one and only Santa Claus. And we can't help but smile as we ponder the possibility. Something within us compels us to want to believe. Of course, we know better, don't we?
(Clip: Conversation with Susan - 3 min)
Susan makes some pretty good points. The real Santa could do all those things, couldn't he? If not, then this is merely a nice man with a long, white beard.
Consider for a moment this miracle of the manger and the astonishing claims made regarding this child. Into the humblest of circumstances Jesus is born. His mother is an ordinary, young girl named Mary. His birthplace is a stable, a barn in a small, obscure little town called Bethlehem. Yet, Jesus came making astonishing claims that centered on His identity. He claimed to be sent from God, the Son of God, and even One with God. The angel announced to shepherds that this baby was Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11).
As an adult, Jesus claimed to be the Bread of Heaven and Living Water that alone can satisfy our deepest hungers. Jesus claimed the authority to forgive our sins and to offer freely His grace and mercy. Jesus claimed to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the Resurrection, the only hope of escaping God's judgment, the only path to eternal life. Jesus claimed all authority in heaven and earth, and He promised to return to judge the world in righteousness.
What do you make of such radical claims? There are some who would ignore them altogether. There are those who, while being very respectful of Jesus, don't take His astonishing claims seriously. The religion of Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet and teacher. The Hindu religion teaches that Jesus is one way of many to find God. Many people want to admire Jesus from a distance, but when it comes right down to it, He's just a nice man with a beard.
C.S. Lewis explained that Jesus did not leave us the option of just respecting Him as a good, noble teacher. His own claims leave no room for that position, even though it is very popular. We really only have three options concerning what to make of these astonishing claims of Jesus. Either He was who He claimed to be, the Lord of all. Or, He made these claims knowing they were false and therefore He was a liar. Or third, He made these claims because He believed them to be true but in reality they were not, which makes Him deceived or a lunatic. When it comes to the astonishing claims made by Jesus, there are only three conclusions that we can choose from. He is the Lord, a liar, or a lunatic. He cannot be just a nice man with a beard.
II. Staggering implications
What if He is who He claims to be?
Part of the drama of this movie is the increasing evidence that perhaps this Kris Kringle really is Santa. Every character in the story has to decide for themselves what they believe about Kris Kringle. Some want the old man declared insane and put away. But many others are ready to support him as the real Santa Claus.
(Clip: Do you believe in Santa Claus? We Believe! - 2 min)
Do you believe? What about this child born in Bethlehem? What if His claims are true? Think for a moment about the incredible implications. What if there is that awesome Someone who knows your name, who knows when you are sleeping, and knows when you're awake? And yes, He knows when you've been bad or good, and yet, He loves you and longs for you to know and love Him.
What if this child in Bethlehem really is the miracle of the manger? What if this Jesus really is who He claims to be? If He is, then you and I have a decision to make. It is a matter of eternal significance for each one of us. What we decide about this child born in Bethlehem not only determines our eternal destiny, it also determines our earthly direction as well. We cannot accept His claims without also recognizing that He has staked His claim on our lives. If He is who He says He is, then all of His promises are true. He really can wipe away a painful past and take away our burden of guilt and regret. He can give us a whole new reason to live and fill us with the fullness of His love, His life, His grace. It means it's all true.
III. A fateful choice
Do you believe?
We must all consider the question and answer for ourselves. No one can decide for us when it comes to this miracle of the manger. Jesus put the question to His disciples one day: "When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, 'Who do people say that the Son of Man is?' And they said, 'Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' 'But you,” He asked them, 'who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!'" (Matt. 16:13–16). How will you answer that question? Is Christ who He claimed to be? Do you believe?
(Clip: Final Courtroom Scene, 4:10 minutes)
In the movie, that final courtroom scene represents the real moment of decision. But when we consider this child born in Bethlehem, there is an important change, an awesome reversal, a dramatic change of roles for you and me. When we come before Christ, we do not sit in judgment of Him. It is Jesus Christ who is Lord and King. This miracle of the manger is God in the flesh. He is judge of all. We do not determine His fate. It is Jesus Christ who will determine our final destiny. Scripture records, "For we must all appear before the tribunal of Christ, so that each may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or worthless" (2 Cor. 5:10).
The miracle of the manger is that God became flesh and lived among us. He came not so He could send us to eternal punishment but to set us free. God became man so that we could become children of God. John writes in his Gospel, "But to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in His name" (John 1:12).
If you will open your heart to Christ and trust Him to be exactly who He claimed to be, you will not be disappointed. Christ will prepare a place for you, a wonderful new home where you will spend eternity. You will receive a new dad, one who is perfect and who perfectly loves you. Is it possible? Could He be who He claims to be? I believe! Do you?
Dear God, I do believe the miracle of the manger. I do believe that this child born in Bethlehem is exactly who He claimed to be. He is God in the flesh, the Lord of life, and Savior for all who call upon Him in faith. I have known about you but I want to know you in a way that is real and personal. I want to follow you and experience this miracle of Christmas in my own life. Forgive me of my sin, fill me with your Holy Spirit. Let me know the joy of walking with you throughout my journey on earth and spending forever with you in heaven. Use me to extend your kingdom here on earth until that day when you return or you call me home. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.