All this week much of the world has been focused on one event – Christmas. It only makes sense. Two thousand years later, Christmas can still stop traffic. It is the most significant event in the history of mankind.
And it should be the greatest celebration, the greatest party, we have all year. That may not surprise most people. We have tons of parties during this holiday season. Sometimes it feels as if we're going to a different Christmas party every day in December. But pastor, what – or who – is missing from most of those parties? The guest of honor! Christmas is a birthday party for Jesus.
Did you know that God loves parties? And he wants us to "party" every Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus.
A few years back I was in Manhattan during the Christmas season. I remember standing in the middle of Fifth Avenue watching thousands of people bustling around. Nobody looked happy. Everyone looked pressured, stressed – and cranky. That's not what Christmas is about. Christmas is about the greatest news ever. Our celebration (and preparation for the celebration) should be joyful not sad.
But despite the busyness and chaos that often characterizes our Christmas season, God wants it to be a time of celebration.
What did the angel say to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus? "I bring you good news of great joy, and it's for everybody." But what is that great news? What are we supposed to celebrate?
First, God loves you.
The most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16, says, "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal [or everlasting] life."That's good news. God so loved the world. And that's why he sent Jesus. He was on a mission of love.
The Bible says God is love. He doesn't just have love. He is love. It is his nature. God created the entire universe just so he could create the human race, just so he could create you, just so he could love you. You were created to be an object of God's love. God made you to love you. It's the only reason you're alive. And his love isn't based on what you do. His love is based on who he is. God is love.
His love is based on his character, not your performance. You can't make God stop loving you. You can try, but you can't do it.
The Bible makes it very, very clear that God loves you. God sent Jesus to Earth to one day stretch out his arms and die for your sins and my sins. You will never fully comprehend how much God loves you. It's like an ant trying to understand the Internet. You don't have the brain capacity to understand how much God loves you.
Second, God is with you.
God is with you all the time. You may not feel his presence, but that doesn't make it any less true. The Bible says Jesus' name was to be called Emmanuel, which means, "God is with us."
How many of you have been abandoned in life? I'm sorry. But know that God will never abandon you – never ever. Jesus truly was "God with us." And he is still with us today.
God says, "I not only love you. I'm with you all the time." It means you don't have to face anything in 2009 by yourself. You can if you don't invite God's presence into the situation – but you don't have to. When God is near, it removes your fear. You don't have to worry or be anxious about what's coming next.
Third, God is for you.
God's on your side. He wants you to win. He wants you to succeed. In fact, Jesus said this: "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it" (John 3:17 NLT).Many people are afraid of God. They get nervous when people start talking about God. You know why? It's guilt. Guilt separates us from God. We think, "If I get close to God, he's going to scold me. He's going to remind me of all the things I've done wrong. He's going to tell me the bad stuff." But the Bible says Jesus didn't come to condemn the world. He came to save it. He says, "I didn't come to scold you. I came to save you." That's good news. And if God is for us, who can be against us?
And, by the way, condemnation isn't our role as Christians, either. It's not my role to condemn the world. I don't spend a second of my life condemning society. I didn't come to condemn the world. I came to help save it. And so did you. That's what God says your role is when you become a follower of Christ.
We need to celebrate this Christmas. Jesus' birth was – and is – good news of great joy. And it's for everybody, whether someone is Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Hindu, Buddist, Baptist or nothing in particular. It's good news of great joy for all people because God says, "I love you, I'm with you, and I'm for you."
This article was adapted from Rick Warren's 2006 sermon which was the basis for his new book, The Purpose of Christmas.