The Sword of Christmas
Right celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ reckons with the sword of Christmas.
The error of the American unbeliever who waxes sentimental over the birth of Jesus as the symbol of world-peace is his failure to reckon with the sword of Christmas. The heresy of the preacher who proclaims Jesus' birth as universal grace and salvation is his rejection of the sword of Christmas. The illusion both of the liberal and of the conservative postmillen-nialist that the birth of Christ heralds a bright new day of earthly peace in history for Christ's followers is shattered by the sword of Christmas.
The sword of Christmas is the bloody word of history. Before Jesus is two years old, the soldiers of the empire march to His birthplace and, on account of Him, massacre Rachel's children. As soon as the church of the New Testament begins preaching the gospel of God manifest in the flesh, the Jewish nation persecutes the church. For some two hundred and fifty years, the Roman Empire attacks the Christians worldwide. When the Reformation recovers the good news of Jesus Christ, the Roman Church, the empire, and individual governments turn on those who confess Christ, harassing, imprisoning, torturing, and killing.
Still today, in Islamic nations, Muslims kill the Christians, whom they hate. Wherever the Roman Catholic Church controls the state and can get away with it, Rome continues to persecute Protestant Christians. Apostate and departing Protestant churches persecute the true church, if not with the steel sword, then with the sword of the tongue and pen. Western nations, increasingly anti-God and pro-Man, resent and ridicule those who defend chastity, oppose the state-sanctioned murder of the unborn, and confess Jesus Christ as the only Way of salvation, that is, the disciples of Christ.
The sword was Christ's own Word about His birth. "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword" (Matt. 10:34). His coming was His incarnation and birth. The purpose of that coming is division between men. The division is not amicable. It is the division of hatred, the determination to destroy, and war. The sword of Christmas is the war against the church, spiritual in nature but taking physical forms, of those who hate and persecute the disciples of Christ for their confession of Christ's gospel and their obedience to Christ's will. It is hatred of Christ by His enemies as He is present in men and women in His Word and Spirit. It is division occasioned by the truth and holiness that Christ came into the world to give His elect people in all nations and among all races.
Let Christians celebrate the birth of Christ. It is worthy of celebration. Culminating in the atoning death and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, it brought us peace with God, peace with each other, and peace with the circumstances of our lives. It promises the peace of perfect harmony with God throughout the whole creation in the Day of Christ. But in our celebration let us not ignore the sword of Christmas.
The Sword in Our Family
We covenantal Reformed Christians can be guilty of this—ignoring the sword ofChristmas—as regards our own family-life. We convince ourselves that the purpose of the incarnation of the Son of God is peace with God for every member of our family. Therefore, the meaning of the birth of Jesus must be lovely harmony among all the family members. Nothing may be allowed to disturb these harmonious relations. Regardless of open unbelief, bold denial of the truth, and impenitent disobedience to Christ's will, husband and wife, parents and all the children, blood relatives and the in-laws are all one happy family. Especially during the Christmas season, we insist on it. We celebrate the plowshares and pruninghooks of Christmas, the dove and olive branch of the birth of Christ. We turn a blind, if not hostile, eye to the sword of Christmas—in our family.
Did not Christ come for the peace of His people?
Is not His peace a covenantal harmony, embracing the children of believing parents in the generations?
In a world of men and women divided against each other because all are at war with God—the only union and peace of humans—a world whose most painful and destructive divisions are those of divorce and the separation of parents and children, is not the Babe of Bethlehem the Savior of the family?
The sword of Christmas in the covenant family is the cruel word of the history of the people of God. There will be Reformed husbands observing Christmas this month apart from their wife and Reformed wives observing Christmas without their husband, although wife and husband are very much alive. There will be Reformed parents celebrating the birth of Christ in the absence of one of their children. There will be children glorifying God for the gift of His Son whose father or mother does not share in the festivity, but is antagonistic, and absent.
I remember well, from the earliest days of my ministry, the hard words concerning her husband of a wife with whom I had reasoned and pleaded, in the presence of the husband, that she not divorce him: "I hate him." The cause was his conversion to Christ according to the Reformed faith, his membership in a true church, and his life of discipleship after Christ. The result for him was a life of loneliness, without wife and children, though he had both, until the day of his death.
The sword of Christmas in the family of the Christian!
That we ignore the sword of Christmas in our family is inexcusable. Christ Himself foretold it. "I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household" (Matt. 10:34-36).
The sword of Christmas will cut into the tightly woven fabric of the family of Christians, the fabric of the Reformed, covenantal family.
A son renounces the faith and abandons the church. A daughter marries a divorced man and thus lives impenitently in adultery. A daughter-in-law embraces a false gospel, joins a false church, and worships a false god. Because the relatives confess the truth, worship the true God, walk on the way that is genuine discipleship after Christ, and rebuke the sinner, the sinning loved one hates his relatives and breaks off harmonious relations, or makes them impossible. Family life is disturbed. Division disrupts the closest earthly communion. War breaks out, and the battlefield is the home.
This is painful. This is nothing less than a form of losing one's life for Christ's sake. Faithfully and willingly endured, this is cross bearing for the Christian, not merely severe suffering, but sharing something of the agony of the cross of Christ. When it comes down to it, Christianity knows only one cross. This agonizing pain and loss for the Christian who endures the sword of Christmas are not at all the atoning suffering of the cross of Christ, nor anything at all of the punishing wrath of God. But they are his sharing in the suffering of Christ at the hands of a hateful, hostile world of enemies.
Since these enemies of Christ and the Christian are members of the Christian's own household, the suffering is intense. The strong temptation, therefore, is to mute the confession of Christ, compromise the truth of the gospel, widen the way of discipleship, silence the rebuke, and treat the sinning relative as though all were well.
How often is this not done? How often is this not done among us?
And how often does not a father say in defense of his denial of Christ for the sake of keeping the love and fellowship of his son, "But he is my son"? How often does not a mother excuse herself, "But she is still my daughter, and I cannot be expected to lose my daughter"? How often does not the mother-in-law justify her tolerance, or even approval, of her daughter-in-law's ungodliness, "Christ would never require me to give up my daughter-in-law and with her my son and my grandchildren"?
As though Christ never said, "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:37).
Especially at the season of Christmas, the temptation to compromise our confession of Christ for the sake of enjoying the love and fellowship of a Christ-denying family member is strong. At the very time we remember the coming of the one who brought the sword, we blunt the sword that He brought, or take it out of His hand altogether.
But then we love kindred more than we love Christ. And then we are not worthy of Him.
Besides, a sword-less Christ is not the Christ of Scripture. A Christ who never causes division in Reformed families is not the Christ of Scripture. A Christ who allows the compromise of His truth, the tolerance of disobedience to His commands, and the fellowship of those who deny Him with those who confess Him, in the interests of the carnal peace of His disciples in the world, is a figment of our imagination.
Nor is the peace we obtain at the cost of our confession of Christ His peace.
Christ's peace is blessed harmony among those who together confess Him in the truth and together walk in His ways because all alike have been reconciled to God. By virtue of the covenant, Christ's peace does indeed extend to the Reformed family. But it does not necessarily include every member. One may be an enemy of Christ and therefore also an enemy of his own father, her own mother, or her own mother-in-law.
It is Christ Himself who sends this sword. It is Christ Himself who is this division in the family. Sending this sword in our family was His purpose in His incarnation and birth.
Come, let us celebrate Christmas.
Let us celebrate the blessed plowshares and pruninghooks of His peace—often as a covenant family.
Let us also celebrate the coming of the Christ by receiving and enduring, with tears, the sharp sword of Christmas—if need be, in our covenant family.
Prof.David J. Engelsma (Wife: Ruth)
Ordained: September 1963
Pastorates: Loveland, CO - 1963; South Holland, IL - 1974; Professor in the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1988; Emeritus - 2008Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof_D._Engelsma
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