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Growing up in Pittsburgh, it was a tradition in our home to go to the Christmas Eve service every year. We would assemble outside the church at about a quarter after ten, even though the service started at eleven, because so many people would congregate for that special candlelit event. It was filled with pageantry and great choral music, and at about 13 minutes to twelve, the minister would begin his Christmas Eve homily. Just as the clock reached twelve, in the middle of the sermon, the organist would start to play, and the pastor would stop his sermon in mid-sentence as the chimes began to sound. One... two... three... four... We would all sit there in the pews and count them. And as soon as the twelfth tone had registered, the pastor would smile to the congregation, and he would say, “It’s Christmas, and may I be the first on this day to wish you a Merry Christmas.”
It used to send chills up and down my spine. It was the same every year, and as I grew up, I never wanted to miss it—particularly not on those Christmas Eves when it had snowed and the lawn was covered in the newly fallen snow. There was just something about it; I loved it. But I was not a believer. To me, this was all just exciting pageantry, leading up to the next morning when we got to open the presents.
In September 1957, I had my conversion to Christianity. Like any new Christian, I was absolutely absorbed with the discovery of Christ. It was utter sweetness to me.
I remember my first Christmas as a Christian: coming back home from college for the holidays, driving through the snow to the church, going into the sanctuary, singing the same hymns that I had sung for so many years, hearing the sermon, hearing the chimes strike midnight. And this time, when the minister interrupted his sermon, listened to the chimes, and then leaned over the pulpit and said, “It’s Christmas,” I was about ready to walk into heaven! It was all the joy that I could handle. Now, for the first time, I was experiencing this pageantry as reality, as truth, as something that had actually taken place.
I was experiencing what Luke would have wanted me to experience when he wrote down the story in the first place.
“It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”
Luke begins his gospel account by stating his purpose. I don’t want you to just be entertained by this story, he says; I want you to know it with full assurance that these things that I am about to relate to you are the sober truth. The accounts that he is going to give to us are not the accounts of speculation; he has compiled a series of eyewitness reports (v 1-2).
Luke wasn’t an eyewitness himself. He was converted by the apostles and came under the tutelage of Paul. Much of what Luke knew, he had gained from his association with Paul, as well as with others who were among the first disciples. It’s very likely that Luke had the privilege of interviewing Mary, the mother of Christ. He gives us more information about the birth of Jesus than anybody else, and he got all that information from an eyewitness.
Luke wrote an orderly, historical, carefully documented account to strengthen our faith and give us certainty. That was his burden. That was his passion. That was his task under God: to set forth for us, and for our certainty, how it really was.
So much of Christmas, for so many people, can be just empty excitement and pageantry. But Luke wants to let us know that here, we’re not talking about fables or legends or religious fairy tales. Christmas is about something that really took place in space and time. Which— as I discovered that Christmas in 1957—makes it not less wondrous but even more so.
Why can certainty about Christ’s life and work lead to joy? Does it for you?
Our Father and our God, there is none like you. You are a God who remembers your people as a tender father remembers his child. The eternal Word became flesh and dwelt among us, leaving glory, entering into our fallen world, all to seek and save that which was lost. We thank you for your mercy in loving your people to the utmost. Nothing is too difficult for you, for with you all things are possible. And so we know that you have come near to us in your Son, Jesus Christ, coming down so that we can be raised up through faith alone by the power of the Spirit. What mystery is now revealed. What a gift of love is now unwrapped for the world to see. May we live with certainty because of the first advent of our Lord, even as we await his promised return. Thank you, our faithful God.
This is the first advent devotional taken from The Advent of Glory by R.C. Sproul. This book of 24 devotions, edited from talks given by much-loved Bible teacher, Dr R.C. Sproul, delves into the details of the Christmas story and reflects on how these impact our lives now. Get your copy now with a free ebook, so you can start reading straight away!
Daily Advent devotions that will help you to slow down and appreciate the wonder of Christmas.