The Sunday After Christmas December 31, 2006
1 Peter 2:1-10
91, 715[TLH alt., 136], 139, 767[TLH alt., 416], 706 [TLH alt., 97]
Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious. Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.
In the name of our newborn Savior, dear Christmas Christians:
What a difference a few days will make. It wasn’t long ago that stores around town were bustling with activity. Excitement, anticipation, and, at times, frustration filled the air as last-minute gifts were being purchased. Then came Christmas and one day of empty parking lots. Next there was a new flurry, this time it was after-Christmas shopping. Now, most retail locations have “moved on” and all traces of Christmas will soon be gone. From a business perspective Christmas is over and it’s time to move on to the next opportunity.
There is also a disappearance of Christmas within external Christianity. Leading up to Christmas, Christian churches were also filled with excitement, concerts, and special presentations, but after Christmas it all fades rather quickly. After Christmas there is a sense of relief as schedules lessen and life returns back to what we might consider “normal.”
Each year, in the space of just a few days, schedules lighten, lights go dark, the sparkle and excitement of Christmas disappears, and a certain ordinariness settles in. Life then continues in the mode of “after Christmas.”
However, we are Christmas Christians—365 days of the year. By “Christmas Christians” we mean to say that we’re not just holiday Christians. Our excitement does not rise or fall with a retail season. Rather it is a Christianity and a hope that founded in Christmas—Christ! It is Christmas as expressed in a true celebration of Jesus’ birth. Christmas is not merely a holiday that comes and goes, Christmas is an ongoing celebration in the birth of our Savior and all that He came to accomplish and what that means. We can, therefore, be Christmas Christians well past December 25 and indeed in ever day of our lives.
We are Christmas Christians living in an after-Christmas world which all too soon forgets Christmas or never understood it in the first place. We consider that I. Christ’s birth is not unanimously celebrated II. The Christmas Gospel continues to nourish III. The Christian’s identity is built on Christmas truth.
Peter quotes the Old Testament and writes: “Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.’ Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.’ They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed” [vv.6-8]
There are two very distinct approaches to the Savior’s birth. One is that you are filled with joy because this is the birth of your Savior. The other is, “I couldn’t care less.” To one, Jesus is precious and therefore, His birth is precious. To the other, it means nothing because Jesus is not treasured.
We have seen in the past several weeks how this plays out in our world. We have heard and seen how much the world emphasizes the equality of Christmas with all of the other holidays—Hanukah, Kwanza, or something else. This has been emphasized so much people are afraid to have any expression that is specifically Christian. We are supposed to be afraid to even utter the words, “Merry Christmas,” because someone may be offended! That is not viewing Christmas and the birth of the Savior as precious. That is viewing the birth of the Savior as a holiday like all of the rest—a day off, a celebration, time with family and peace and goodwill and cheer. That is not what we celebrate.
The celebration of Jesus’ birth is not unanimous in this world and never will be. There are those who believe in a false god and will not celebrate the birth of God’s only Son because they don’t believe in Him. They don’t see Him as precious because they, as Peter says, are in darkness and cannot see. Their unbelief blinds them and they cannot understand how anyone can become excited about the birth of a child two thousand years ago. But by God’s grace we have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light. By God’s grace we see Him as precious and He is our Lord and Savior.
The false gods which blind people toward the Savior may be something as common and simple as a love for the things of this world—materialism. Or it may be an openly false god. In the end, it doesn’t matter, because whatever someone pursues other than Christ blinds him to the preciousness of our Cornerstone.
The blindness can also afflict Christians. When Christianity becomes watered down and Christ becomes watered down to being “an example,” then Christmas becomes a celebration of a man who showed us how to live and to love and its true significance is lost. In this after-Christmas world we are encouraged to “be kind to one another especially in this season.” It is said that we should cover over sin and not talk about it, not judge one another because, after all, “Would Jesus speak against sin?” Of course, He would! And He did! But in a world that doesn’t celebrate His birth He doesn’t. He simply turns a blind eye and pretends that sin doesn’t exist. Christianity becomes blinded and side-tracked when it deals with social ills and feeding the poor—which is good—but does not celebrate Christ’s birth in the context of sin and grace.
Peter describes the Cornerstone—the Foundation on which we build our hopes—as a stumbling block for those who do not believe. The Jews of Jesus’ day certainly stumbled over Him. They studied the Old Testament scriptures day after day. Jesus told them that those Scriptures testified of Him (cf. John 5:39), but the Jews were blinded by their unbelief and stumbled all over the prophesies that were being fulfilled right before their very eyes.
As Christmas Christians living in an after-Christmas world we will find that there is opposition to our Savior and His Word and not all will celebrate with us. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “…we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).
Jesus was sent for all people. His Word is the power of God for the salvation to all. Peter writes that the Word was also appointed for those who reject Jesus (cf. v.8). How sad that in an after-Christmas world so many still walk in darkness. We are Christians in this world needing to stand strong, to watch and to pray, but also to share the Gospel’s light of salvation with those who are still in darkness.
In this after-Christmas world we will still find nourishment from the Christmas Gospel. Peter writes, “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” [vv.1-3]
It is beautiful imagery and a wonderful picture that Peter uses to describe the nourishing characteristics of God’s Word and the desire that we sinners can have for it. He compares us to babies craving milk. They may not understand all of the nutritional details, but they feel hunger and they know that the milk satisfies the hunger. The milk nourishes them and causes them to grow and mature and become stronger and stronger. Eventually they grow enough to move on to solid foods, but even adults can still benefit from milk and at times may need to return to the simplest of foods until strength returns.
The pure and simple milk of the Word is what the children confessed and proclaimed on Christmas Eve: “Jesus my Savior is born. He loves me. He died for me and because of that my sins are forgiven.” That’s the simple milk of the Word. We study Scripture to grow in our faith and move on to meatier truths, but we also will have a craving for that simple Gospel message that gives us the assurance that our sins are indeed washed away.
Peter adds, “…if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” Think of your favorite food, the first time you ate it, how much you enjoyed it, and how much you like to return back to that food because it is so delicious. You keep eating it because you have tasted that it is good.
Your soul has tasted the Christmas Gospel in its fullness. Through the weeks of Advent you prepared your hearts for celebration. You have heard the angel’s message, “Today, is born to you in Bethlehem a Savior who is Christ the Lord” (cf. Luke 2). You have rejoiced with Christmas joy to remember how God has fulfilled His promises and what the coming of the Savior means. You have tasted how wonderfully great and good the Lord is. Keep tasting it! As sinners we all need that nourishment day by day. It is not just Christmas nourishment. The Christmas Gospel nourishes us, strengthens us, preserves our faith, assures us every day. We are Christmas Christians in an after Christmas world who need nourishment. Who need to crave it, go to it, consume it, and digest it, just as babies crave and eagerly consume their milk.
In this after Christmas world we have an identity. Peter says, “you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” [vv.9-10]
We were born in sin, trapped in Satan’s control. God has provided the way out of that. We are not the people of God by birth. By birth we were slaves of sin and the people of Satan. God has called us out of that darkness. He has made us, not just any people, but His own special people. We were once not a people, but now we are the people of God Himself! We were once in darkness, now we are light. We are a chosen generation.
You were chosen by God’s grace before time began! You were chosen by Him and now have been brought to faith by the Gospel. You have been pulled out of the darkness of sin. You have been pulled out the entrapment of sin and set aside for the holy purposes of being His children and serving Him all of your days.
As the people of God we have a purpose. Peter says, “We are a royal priesthood that we may proclaim the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.” [v.9] God says that each of you is a priest before Him. Each of you has the full power of God’s Word in your hand to use with yourself and with one another. You have the authority to personally go to God in prayer and take every need to Him, to receive blessing from Him through His Word. You are His child, you are a priest before Him, you have direct access to the God who made heaven and earth and the Savior who gave up His life for you. You are a unique people, a chosen generation—chosen by God Himself and redeemed by His Son. This is your identity. In the world there is temptation abounding to cloud that identity, to hide your identity from others, to wear away your joy in that identity.
We have been redeemed by Jesus. We are God’s Children. Therefore, in the encouragement of Paul and Peter, let us walk worthy of our calling as children of God (cf. Ephesians 4:1) and proclaim the praises of him who called us out of darkness into His most marvelous light.
In the after Christmas world we too will move on and our activities will change, but in our hearts Christ lives. In our hearts, the Gospel nourishes. In our hearts lives the faith that has been created by God to make us His children. Rejoice to be Christmas Christians even in an after-Christmas world. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.