Date: December 11, 1930?
I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. – John 10:10
AS these words speed out tonight into the vast reaches of our country and beyond its borders, they come into uncounted thousands of homes that are happily busy with the preparation for the joyous Christmas now but a few short weeks distant. No matter where men may find themselves, no matter what their position or station in life may be, no matter who they are and what they are, when the happiest season of our long and eventful year draws close, there is something so vast and so contagious about the external side of Christmas that there are few who can remain untouched and uninfluenced by the outward preparation for this day of days. Six hundred millions of dollars accumulated in Christmas savings clubs, even in these days of depression, three billion greeting-cards and Christmas packages in the holiday mail, two hundred tons of postage-stamps,—all this is only fragmentary evidence of the stupendous proportions which are involved in the modern preparation for Christmas.
But would to God that there were a corresponding inner preparation of the heart and soul, a real understanding of the profound significance that these weeks bear to every one of us, emphasizing as they do the advent of Jesus Christ into our hearts! Beneath all the shimmer and sheen of the tinsel and the dazzle of our modern Christmas, this holy festival has too frequently degenerated into a commercialized “Xmas,” in which the “X,” true to its algebraic associations, stands for the quantity that is unknown to many. Too often we forget the divine love for sinful mankind that prompted the coming of Christ into the weakness of our human flesh. In spite of the fact that we are living in an age which has produced more books and lectures and discussions on religion than any previous period, it is a sad commentary on the spirit of much of this religious discussion that the vital and essential reasons for the coming of Christ and the real message of the Christmas season are often misunderstood, misrepresented, or reduced to that colorless, spineless sentimentality that has room for holly and mistletoe and the profusion of lights and color, but for the Christ of Christmas even less room than that crowded inn at Bethlehem.
So tonight let me speak to you who have never learned to know the reason for Christ’s coming and the divine happiness which it offers; to you who have broken faith with Christ and the Church and closed your hearts in indifference and neglect; to you who are trying to bear up under the cross of affliction; to you who know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and show you all the comforting reason for His coming, as He Himself summarizes this in the words of our text, “I am come that they might have life.”
LIFE IN CHRIST.
These words of Jesus, “I am come that they,” My followers, “might have life,” imply very precisely that without His blessed advent into the flesh there would be no assurance of life, nothing but despair and death. Because sin separated man from God and brought its inevitable wages, death, humanity could be rescued and restored to life, not by itself and the best it could offer, not by an indulgent, careless disregard of sin on the part of God, but only by the advent of Him to whom all the burnt offerings and sin-offerings of the Old Covenant pointed as to the perfectly atoning Sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. It is the consciousness of His sin-removing and life-bestowing capacity that finds such repeated expression in the utterances of Jesus. We ask, “Why did Christ come?” and the death-defying, life-bringing answer in our text, “that they might have life,” is paralleled by the utterances in which our Lord reiterates the sin-removing, life-giving purpose of His coming. Thus there is the rich comfort of His promise, “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” We pause for a moment to reecho the glorious meaning of these words, “to seek and to save that which was lost.” And well may we pause because people do not like to believe they are lost in this age in which we often read of humanity’s “finding itself”; because self-sufficient men do not like to be told that they must be saved when they think they are getting alone quite well by saving themselves or when they have so thoroughly lost their moral balance that the conception of sin is regarded as medieval and puritanical. In a day when a syndicate writer can fill the larger part of a column with a satire on the subject “The Decline and Disappearance of Sin”; when a new motion-picture appeals to a morbid public with the slogan “Beautiful Sinners and Savage Sins,” let me remind you that sin—and I mean the sin of your life and mine—was such a stark and hideous reality that the very purpose of Christ’s advent was to “save His people from their sins.” To Christ the contrite acknowledgment of all the wrongs and shortcomings in our lives was so essential that He said, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” To Christ the sin that mars our own individual lives, that makes us untrue to the highest and noblest ideals in life, that damns us into death,—that sin, in its repulsive immensity, was the compelling cause that brought Him down from the indescribable glory and majesty that was His with the Father into the madhouse of perversion into which sin has caused this world of wonders to degenerate. That is why Christ came—to eliminate the soul-harrowing punishment of sin and to offer the gift of God, eternal life.
Stop for a moment to appropriate the incomparable comfort of that Advent promise, “I am come that they might have life.” Other creeds, spurning the gracious love of Christ, lead downward to the darkness of death. But here—eternal thanks be to God!—is the great upward hope of humanity. As soon as any soul, anywhere, at any time, believes in the sin-removing love of Jesus, that soul, to use the words of Christ, “is passed from death unto life,” that person is reborn unto a newness of life that knows no end; that regenerated child of God has found life; he lives in a marvelous, Christ-centered existence, that culminates in the victory of an eternal, all-glorious life with Christ. That is why Christ came.
Note that our text offers no other reason in addition to this life-giving mission. And, truly, Jesus did not come to satisfy any secular ambitions. He warned His disciples against the delusion of believing that He had come to institute a reign of peace and comfort here on earth. His silence remonstrated with Pilate when the thick-visioned pagan could not grasp the conception of the soul kingdom of Him who was born into the world that He might testify to the truth. “I am come that they might have life,” this is the answer of divine and infallible Wisdom to the Advent question, “Why did Jesus come?”
THE ABUNDANT LIFE.
Now, of this gift of life, which begins the very moment a lost soul finds Jesus, our text promises that we are to have it “more abundantly,” or, as the original Greek of this passage indicates, that we are to have it in full abundance, in overflowing measure. And indeed, the Christian’s life is abundant; for, coming from Christ, who is the Way and the Truth and the Life, it is the highest and best life possible, profound enough to satisfy the soul’s deepest longings, exalted enough to meet the heart’s loftiest aspirations. Psychological research has shown that men and women with a religious background are normally among the very happiest people on earth; and the demonstration of our faith proves that, when a man begins to live his life in Christ, he has a divine peace and tranquility that offers a rich and happy fullness to his existence. In the materialistic perversions of our day, men may regard the abundant life as the career that is showered with a lavish profusion of wealth and comfort and pleasurable enjoyment. Gilt-edged bonds and bulging bank accounts; rakish autos and sleek, swift yachts; city palaces and country mansions; social prestige and elite environments; intellectual attainment and a smart-minded grip on life; physical beauty and esthetic attractions,—these are some of the symbols of the popular conception of life at its fullest and richest. But the utter emptiness of an existence that may have all this and more, the painful poverty of a life that may bask in overflowing bounty, is demonstrated in the crises of life and death, where all that caters to the pride of life is swept aside as veritable froth. A child of God may be destitute, persecuted, forsaken; a follower of Jesus Christ may live the most restricted, isolated, and cramped existence, and yet, having Christ, he has the fullest and finest life that may be lived on earth.
But that Christ-bestowed life is the abundant life also because it abounds in those happy virtues that are so predominant in the Savior’s perfect life. It is an intensely interesting study and one that is peculiarly appropriate just in this Advent season to take the passages in which Jesus expresses the purpose of His coming and find in them some of the outstanding expressions of the abundant life that we are to live as we follow in His footsteps. Thus He says in the twentieth chapter of St. Matthew, “The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” And, oh! that we in this hero-zero worshiping age could properly understand the profound depths of that service of love which made Him give His life “a ransom for many” and realize that only in the sacred imitation of Christ’s service of love can we come to the abundant life He offers. We are passing through a crisis in our national life in which millions of otherwise productive workers have been forced to spend months in idleness. This means that we have especial reason this Christmas to hearken to the words of Christ, “I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you.” And as Jesus never refused to help the poor and needy and hungry and even resorted to miracles to feed the famished, so in the name of that holy, sinless, stainless Son of God I appeal to you who bear His name to throw open your hearts and homes this Christmas; if necessary, to curtail the size and cost of gifts to friends and relatives, so that, in extending the ministering hand of Christian love to your less fortunate fellow-men, you may receive Him and His benediction who says, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.”
Again He expresses an ideal of the abundant life when He tells us in the ninth chapter of St. Luke’s gospel, “The Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” We look about us, and with dismay we behold the forces in our human civilization that are intent upon destroying men’s lives. We think almost instinctively of the horrors of the World War and of the eight and a half millions of human sacrifices that were offered up to the grinning god of war; we turn back the pages of history and hear the shrieks of thousands of martyrs echoing piteously into the night of religious intolerance that wielded the naked sword of inquisition in the name of the Lord of Love; and as we anticipate the angelic chorus on Christmas morning, “Peace on earth, good will toward men,” may we realize that through the peace that passes all understanding, the peace that comes with the forgiveness of our sins and the reconciliation with the Father, we who would live abundantly are called upon to remove hatred and rancor and prejudice and bigotry from our hearts and to follow Him whose suffering and death gave the world the new commandment—”that ye love one another.” We do not entertain the delusion that this world will ever witness a cessation of war and bloodshed; for the Scriptures tell us that until the very last—yes, as an unmistakable sign of Christ’s second coming—there shall be wars and rumors of war, that nation will rise up against nation and kingdom against kingdom. But we do believe that the one force which will do more to minimize the frequency, the horror, and the brutality of war than any other agency or combination of agencies, the one power that can give us individually the abundant life of peace, is the spirit of the Prince of Peace; for this spirit alone can effectively check and restrain the sin and selfishness which lie at the root of national and individual prejudices.
But the life that Christ gives us is the abundant life because it is divinely equipped to prepare us for the victorious life that begins where earth’s life ends. That abundant life which only Christ can give and which lies higher than the purchase power of wealth, deeper than the reach of research in the profoundest philosophies and in the most intricate sciences, beyond the grasp of the most persevering human ambitions, that life and overflowing existence bestows its greatest blessing when in the limitless bounty of His immeasurable love the Christ of Advent offers you life everlasting, life unending, life eternal. To give you that blessed, hallowed existence, and to give it to you in surpassing abundance, Christ came.
Now, if these words find you spending your life, the one existence that God has given you, in the darkness of worry, or bitterness, or envy, or hatred, or unbelief; if tonight you realize that you are living an aimless, purposeless, unproductive life and you try to emerge from the clouds of soul-depression by asking, “May I come to Him, too?” then remember that the Christ whom I preach to you knows no distinction of race or nationality or color. He repudiates the entire artificial caste system that shortsighted human beings have built up on the basis of money and brains and position; and as at His birth He received the homage and adoration both of the lowly shepherds and of the intellectual Magi, so there is none too low, none too high, to be excluded from this all-embracing promise, “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” Do you ask, “How shall I come?” The Christ that I preach to you imposes no conditions, demands no obligations, requires no credentials; for here is the faithful reassurance, “WHOSOEVER believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins.” Do you ask, “When shall I come?” While the Christ whom I preach unto you is always at hand with His never-ending, never-failing love, His Word of Truth testifies, “Now is the accepted time,” and it pleads with you, “Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts,” but open them up to receive the coming King of Glory. Indeed, what more appropriate season is there in which to fling wide the portals of your hearts to His repeated knockings; to become a follower and a defender of Jesus Christ if you are not now one; to reestablish your loyalty and allegiance to Him if you have been unfaithful and untrue; to rededicate the best that you are and the best that you have if you have been preserved in faith by His grace,—than this, the season of His blessed coming? God grant that from contrite hearts, filled with both, the conviction of sin and of sin-conquering grace, uncounted thousands may carol into a cold world:—
O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.