Christmas in August

This Sunday in worship we’re celebrating Christmas in August.

We’re going to sing some great Christmas carols.

As a bonus we’re even celebrating a Baptism.

I pray it’s a glorious service.

But we’ll be focusing on a piece of the Christmas story we usually skip over each December in our hurry to get to the manger: the first Christmas began in terror.

 God doesn’t want us to live in fear, but over and over, when God revealed even a little bit of himself, someone had to say, “Fear not!” So perhaps it’s worth asking, if God doesn’t want us to be afraid, why does he sometimes scare the snot out of people?

One of the most dramatic descriptions of fear in the New Testament is in Luke 2, when the angel appeared to some shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus, “and the glory of the Lord shone around them.”

The shepherds were “terrified.”

The old King James Bible famously says they were “sore afraid.”

What were they so afraid of?

The short answer is the “glory of God,” which showed them that God was God, not them.

When God reveals a bit of his glory, it’s not to scare you; it’s to bring you into the light. The more you fear him, the less you’ll fear everything else. 


This summer, Jana and I took a long driving vacation out west. We love to experience the beauty of the wide-open spaces. We hadn’t planned to visit Mount St. Helens, but our friends thought we should see it. We were glad we did.

Mount St. Helens is an active volcano in the State of Washington. Its last major eruption was in 1980. The top of the mountain one mile wide and about 1300 feet deep blew off. The blast killed 57 people, damaged 230 square miles of land, and destroyed 158 miles of road.

The mountains of the west are stunningly beautiful, but there’s something about Mount St. Helens that brings you up short. The beauty, combined with knowing the power suddenly unleashed there, demands you stop and reflect.

In Psalm 27, King David said there was one thing he longed for that would put all the dangers and hurts of life in perspective: “To gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.”

Jana and I took an hour or so to gaze at Mount St. Helens to remind ourselves…

What kind of artist imagined this?

What kind of power did this?

What kind of healing power brought the life back?

Are you gazing on the beauty of the Lord?

torn to pieces

When you draw up a contract to buy a house, you put down “earnest money” as proof to the seller that you’re serious. The money goes into an escrow account, and if you back out of the deal without good reason, you lose it.

In the ancient world, you had to do a bit more to prove that you were serious.

In one of the foundational stories of the Bible, God promised Abram, later called Abraham, he would build a great nation out of Abram’s descendants. But after many years, Abram was still childless. Abram wanted proof that God was still serious.

God told Abram to bring a heifer, a goat, and a ram, as well as a dove and a pigeon.

Abram obeyed. And then, without being asked, he cut the animals in two and arranged the halves opposite each other.

As strange as all that sounds to us, it made sense to Abram. Everyone knew that Abram was preparing a contract ratification ceremony. When a great king made a contract with a lesser king, the lesser king would sacrifice animals and then pass between the pieces. He was saying that if I fail to keep the contract, you can tear me to pieces like these animals.

But God didn’t command Abram to pass between the pieces. A smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.

God, the greatest king of all, had passed through. Why?

Why God and not Abraham? It took centuries before we learned the answer.

God indeed made Israel into a great nation, but Abraham’s descendants disobeyed God. They failed to live up to their end of the contract. But instead of tearing them to pieces as they deserved, God sent his Son.

We backed out of the deal, but he paid the price.

He was torn to pieces so we could remain whole. 


The Chosen is a video series on the life of Jesus that you can watch on streaming services. It’s the best cinematic portrayal of Jesus I’ve ever seen. Some pastors I respect warn that shows about Jesus can’t help but introduce ideas that are unbiblical. Writers add material from their own imaginations to keep the story moving.

OK, but why do I find myself weeping in every episode?

Like season 2, episode 3, based on Matthew 4:24:

“News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.”

The Chosen imagines what that might have been like. It pictures Jesus ministering to people all day long, the line never shorter than 50 people, Jesus never taking a break.

Meanwhile, it imagines the disciples relaxing around a fire, leaving occasionally to take their turn at crowd control. They get to know each other. They wonder why Jesus picked them. They remember that they used to think the Messiah would be a warrior. The healings are nice, but when will the revolution begin? Would the crowds still come if the healings stopped?

And they complain, too. Didn’t they walk for four hours just to get here? What’s next on the schedule? Jesus didn’t say.

As it gets later tempers grow shorter and they’re about to come to blows. That’s when Jesus appears, staggering by them to his tent, too exhausted to eat. His mother follows, taking off his sandals and washing his feet.

And wiping the peoples’ blood off his hands and face.   


Did you ever imagine what it would be like to minster to people as Jesus did? At the end of a day like that, you’d be covered with more than peoples’ blood.

Most Christians remember that “Jesus died for my sins.” But do we remember, can we imagine, the way he lived for us, stepping into our deepest hurts and our deepest messes?

Before his blood covered us, our blood covered him.