The Christmas holidays are in full swing. People all over the world are in the celebration mood, and businesses are pulling out the stops to make money with all sorts of deals. Similarly, churches are aware of the season and carols have been sung and sermons have been preached on the birth of Christ (and hopefully the purpose of His coming). There is a growing number of sincere Christians who are voicing discomfort over the celebration of Christmas; some have gone as far as calling it pagan worship and hence idolatry. And while there is a place for a healthy discussion about the issue time, space and purpose do not allow me to venture into that debate. The words of Al Mohler on Christmas will suffice:
The Christian celebration of Christmas brings essential truths into clearer view. The central fact of the incarnation of the Son of God looms before us as the dividing line of all human history and the fulfillment of God’s promises. Priests and prophets and kings had long awaited the coming of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. At Christmas we declare what the angelic host announced to shepherds on a Bethlehem night: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” [Luke 2:14].
In talking about the Christmas account, John the Baptist and his message rarely shows up. Can you imagine receiving a Christmas card with John the Baptist on the cover, with his garment of camel’s hair, a leather belt in his waist and eating locusts and honey? And then when you open the card, the message inside says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand…You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance…His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” That was part of the message John preached as recorded in the first 12 verses of Matthew chapter 3. So what makes the message of John the Baptist so unpopular such that you rarely hear a Christmas message from it? Let me offer two reasons why his message and Christ’s message was and is still unpopular.
It was a call for sinners to repent
John was a forerunner of Jesus Christ; he was sent to prepare the way and straighten the paths. His message was as dramatic as his appearance. He boldly called all to repentance. A message of repentance is a message that acknowledges people’s sinfulness and their inability to find a remedy for their sins. John was not a motivational speaker neither was he a prosperity preacher. He was a preacher of the gospel, which called people to turn from their sinful ways and humbly turn to God for forgiveness of sins.
It was a warning of coming judgement
His winning fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his own into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire—this is a graphic warning of the judgement to come. The coming of Christ was good news as it fulfilled God’s promise to send a messiah to save his people, but it is a warning that God is serious about sin and will not relent until it is fully punished. In the Bible times, a farmer would wait for harvest to separate the wheat from the tares. At harvest the farmer would pick the plants with a fork and toss them into the air; the wind would blow off the chaff and the wheat would fall to the ground. The point is unmistakably clear, God will judge the unrepentant sinner! Christ’s coming and eventual death was clear evidence that God is serious about sin and will not let it go unpunished.
No wonder John and his message were not popular. He preached a God centered message, a message that revealed the sinfulness of man, the holiness, goodness, mercy and glory of God. And that is really what the Christmas message is all about—the sinfulness of man and the greatness of God. It is no wonder that when the angels appeared, their cry was glory to God in the highest and on earth peace. Merry Christmas from John the Baptist.