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The Ugly Side of Christmas (Matt 1:21; 1 Timothy 1:15)
The Ugliness of Christmas
The Ugly Side of Christmas
Matthew 1:21
 
It's hard to imagine that we are now only a few weeks away from Christmas, and yet, as you know, area retailers have, for several weeks, had their decorations and inventory ready for the season.
 
And it's hard to be critical about that because there is such a beauty about the Christmas season. As everyone starts putting up light and decorations and all the colors and smells begin to fill the air, there is just something about Christmas that causes a different feeling and spirit.
 
We’re surrounded by the trees and candles and wreaths and snow scenes and warm fireplaces in the hearth in a family home with all the beautifully wrapped presents under the tree and everyone loves the beauty and magic of Christmas.  And it's especially refreshing that for a few weeks out of the year, virtually everyone around us is celebrating the birth of the One we worship and adore.  
 
But there is another side to Christmas that often goes overlooked and unnoticed.   The most popular Christmas song of all time is "White Christmas", but there is another side to all the beauty and festivities which is the blackness of Christmas. 
 
So for the next few weeks, I want us to think about the ugliness of Christmas.  Now, there are a lot of ways we could approach the subject. 
 
 
We could think in terms of ugly Christmas trees.  Here are a couple of examples.  Or maybe we could consider ugly ornaments like these.  One of the newer phenomenons of Christmas is the ugly Christmas sweaters that are available.  You can even host an ugly sweater party in your home.  Here are some examples. 
 
And maybe you'd like to combine the ugly sweater and the ugly tree like this!
 
On a more serious note, we could talk about a dark, cold night in a small non-descript village in Palestine, where a lovely young woman gave birth to a baby in the most unsanitary, wretched conditions imaginable, standing in the filth and manure of a stable.
 
Or we could talk about the ugliness of a man named Herod who, because he feared the loss of his control and power, massacred all the babies in that region.  We could talk about an indifference the religious leaders in Jerusalem gave to the birth of their Messiah. 
 
So aside from the frivolity of trees and sweaters, Christmas does have some ugly aspects.  But there’s something even beyond those things.   In fact, lurking behind every beautiful scene on every Christmas card, every lovely sentiment of Christmas, somewhere behind all of that is something very vile and very ugly.  The most wretched, heinous, hideous reality in all of the universe. 
 
 
 
And I really believe that to have a proper understanding of the beauty of Christmas, you must have a proper understanding of the ugliness of Christmas.  Let me see if I can’t help you to focus in on what I’m referring to.
 
Listen to what we read in
 
Matthew 1:21
 
That thought is repeated twice by John in his first letter,  In 1 John 3:5, he says, “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins;” and then in  1 John 4:14, “And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the savior of the world.”
 
And then I want us to focus on one very specific text,
 
1 Timothy 1:15
 
In a word, the dark and ugly side of Christmas is sin.  And at the very heart of Christmas is this reminder that Christ came into the world to save sinners.  Christ was manifest to take away sin.
 
And the only  way to fully understand and appreciate real beauty of Christmas is to understand the ugliness that it cures. 
 
Sin is that phenomenon that damns every soul to hell.  It affects the entire world. 
 
 
 
Because of sin, there are tears and pain and war and fighting and anxiety and discord and unrest and fear and worry and sickness and death and famine and earthquakes and pollution.  All those things which mar our existence are the direct result of sin.
 
Sin disturbs and disrupts every human relationship, whether between man and man, man and creation, or man and God.  It is that which generates cosmic chaos.  It is that from which no one escapes and all who die in childbirth or from heart disease or cancer or war or murder or accidents or old age, or whatever else, are dying because of sin. 
 
The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.”  And every person on the globe will die, and therefore has been affected by sin.
 
We cannot hide behind the smokescreen of Christmas cards and all the rest.  Sin must come to the forefront.
 
Every broken marriage, every disrupted home, every shattered friendship, every argument, every disagreement, every evil thought, evil word, evil deed, every good deed undone, good thought unthought, good word unsaid can be attributed to sin.
 
But the Bible says that Jesus Christ came into the world to save us from sin.  If there were no sin, there would need to be no Christmas.  We cannot divorce the two and we cannot hide behind the fantasy of Christmas and ignore the reality of sin.   That’s the reason for his coming.  Sin is the ugliness of Christmas.
 
But it is also the reason for Christmas.  And Paul writes to young Timothy to say, "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners". 
 
So if Christ came to save sinners and that is the real reason for Christmas, then it is imperative that we understand what sin is all about.  So let's explore that topic by exploring four aspects of sin.
 
Let's begin with
 
1. A Definition of Sin
 
Perhaps the most basic definition of sinthe Bible provides is found in
 
1 John 3:4
 
Sin is any violation of God’s law.  That's what John is telling us.  Sin equals lawlessness.  Lawlessness equals sin.  It is living as if there were no God and no law, no authority and no standard. By the way, look at the characteristics of any culture in any age, including today, and the you will find examples of those who live as though there is no law and no God. 
 
Sin is that attitude that says there is no God, and even if there is, He has no right to impose any rules or laws or standards on me.  Therefore, I'll live as I want to live and do what I want to do and nobody will tell me otherwise. 
 
And to do that is to violate the law that God has given.  And by the way, that law is good and right and intended to be a blessing to us. 
 
In fact, Romans 7:12 says of the law of God it is “holy, just, and good.”  In it, there is nothing impure, nothing unfair, and nothing wrong.  All of God’s law is for man’s blessing.  All of God’s law is for man’s good.  All of God’s law is for man’s happiness, man’s salvation, man’s eternal joy.
 
But man is a fool and while, like a horse who has a beautiful pasture to graze in and leaps the fence only to land in the mud, man has defied the beauty of what God has provided within the framework of obedience to his law.  He has jumped the fence, overstepped the boundaries, and landed deep in the quicksand of his own sin and cannot extricate himself there from. 
 
And even though we can look through scripture and find many different kinds of sin and many different terms to express what it is, the simplest definition is that it is a violation of God’s law.
 
So what does that look like?  Well, let's thing about that.  Let me give you some of Now that leads us to a second question. 
 
2.  The Characteristics of Sin
 
First of all, sin is
 
- defiling
 
Sin is not just rebellion against God, it carries with it the pollution that comes from disobedience.  There is a corruption or defilement that accompanies the rebellion.  It is to the soul what rust is to metal.   It is what scars are to a lovely face, what stain is to pure linen, what smog is to a clear blue sky.
In 1 Kings 8:38, the sin of man’s heart is compared to oozing sores of a deadly plague.  In Zechariah 3:3, it is compared to filthy garments.  It is a defiling, polluting, staining thing.  Sin pollutes and defiles and stains and mars everything it touches and it touches everything in the human realm. 
 
Read through Scripture and you will find associated with sin words like the “filthiness of the flesh and spirit".  Words pictures describing sin talk about dogs eating their own vomit, rotten sepulchers full of dead men's bones and pigs wallowing in the mud and slop. 
 
It is all the ugliness, all the defilement of the world.  And that's not all. Sin is also
 
- defiant
 
We've already talked about the rebellion of sin in regard to the law of God. That is its nature.  It is defiant.  It is clenching your fist and striking a blow in the face of Jesus Christ.  It's what drove the nails in his hands.  Sin crushes the crown of thorns on his head.  Sin jams a spear into his side.  Sin spits on him.  Sin mocks him.
 
Sin says, “I will do what I will do.  I don’t care what your claims are or who are.”  Jeremiah, when he was indicting the people of Israel for their evil against God, says in 2:31 that the people say, “We are lords; we will come no more unto thee?” 
 
And that is the statement of every sinner.  “We are lords; we will come no more unto thee?”  We’re not interested in your sovereignty and your rule.  We rule.  We’re in charge.
 
It is the heart of defiance that is in the heart of every sinner.  In fact, sin not only would unthrone God, it would un-God God.  If the sinner had his way, there would be no God.  Every man would rule his own life and make his own rules. 
 
And it is the height of hypocrisy for someone who strike a blow against God and spits on the savior and defies God and demands to do its own will to sing carols and celebrate Christmas. Sin is defiling and defiant, and thirdly, it is
 
- unthankful
 
According to Acts 17:28, the Bible says, “in him - ” that is, in God, “ - we live and move and have our very being.”  You do realize, don't you, that without God you wouldn’t be here.  You were created by God.  You live and breathe because God made you, and whatever it is in this world that you have and enjoy is only because of the mercy and grace and kindness of God. 
 
It is God who has provided all the food the sinner eats, every delicacy, every taste you enjoy, every beautiful scene you have ever seen, every good feeling you have ever felt.  God gave you that.  It is God who has granted every beauty.  It is God who has given wisdom to our minds, coordination to our bodies, to allow us to think and to feel and to work and to play and to rest that life might be full and useful.
 
It is God who made love.  It is God who made laughter.  It is God who gives us joys in life.  It is God who gives each man and woman the uniqueness of who they are.
It is God who preserves us from getting every disease and dying every death.  God literally surrounds the ungrateful sinner with his providential care.  And when we continue in sin, we defy that goodness and we express ingratitude for that kindness.
 
And yet, that is the nature of sin.  We would never dream of being ungrateful to someone who saved our physical life, and yet sinful man will refuse to bow His knee to the God who gave and preserves his life. 
 
Sin is defiling and sin is defiant and sin is ingratitude.  And humanly speaking, sin is
 
- incurable
 
There is an interesting question posed in Jeremiah 13:23 where the prophet asks, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?” 
 
Obviously, the answer is no.  None of us can change our skin color and animals can't change their markings.  And then the prophet makes the point that neither can an evil man can do good. 
 
There is nothing humanly available that can change the sin nature with which we are born.  I don't care how many resolutions you make to do better, how many new leaves you turn, how much effort you put forth to reform, no matter how much religion you add to your life, sin is humanly incurable.
 
 
 
Sin is the incurable leprosy of the soul.  It can’t be legislated out.  It can’t be philosophized out.  It can’t be psychologized out.  It can’t be wished out.  It can’t be pushed out by self effort.
 
John Flavell once said that all the tears of a penitent sinner, should he shed as many as there have been raindrops since the creation of the world couldn’t wash away by his own tears one sin.  And then he went on to say, “The everlasting burning of hell couldn't purify the flaming conscience from one sin because sorrow can't cure one's sin and punishment can't cure one's sin, only Christ can cure sin.”
 
Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.  There's no other way.  There's no other cure.  Sin is a disease cured only by one thing, and that is the blood of the divine physician Himself.
 
Further, in understanding what sin is like, we ought to say that sin is also
 
- hard work
 
Proverbs 13:15 reminds us that the way of transgressors is hard. Have you noticed that?  Sin
causes pain, and yet people go to great pains to do it.  They sneak around behind the backs of those they love.  They compromise their convictions and marriage vows and jeopardize their homes and relationships. 
 
It is this this strange compulsion our nature gives to us that in spite of the pain and threat and damage, we are willing to take the risk to satisfy the desire.
 
Jeremiah 9:5 says, “They weary themselves committing iniquity.”  And it says of Jerusalem in Ezekiel 24:12, “She has wearied herself with sin.”  Sin is hard work and yet, people go after it with a vengeance.
 
There is a vivid illustration of that in Genesis 19 where the perverted, twisted homosexuals in the city of Sodom came to the house of Lot because two beautiful angelic creatures had come to his house from God. 
 
These perverts wanted to sexually molest these visiting angels, and in judgment, God struck them blind.  And yet, even though they were blinded, they didn't  stumble and fall and crawl around on the ground or run and cry out for mercy and forgiveness.
 
Instead, with even greater intensity they tried to beat the door down and get into the house any way they could. 
 
Now think about that:  going stone blind on the spot as a direct result of the judgment of God was not enough to subdue the incredible impulses of their lust.  They ignored their blindness and went to extreme effort to reach the goal their lust drove them toward. 
 
That is the essence of sin.  It is so perverse that ignoring the pain and the consequences, men go after evil and weary themselves in the process.  In fact, as someone has observed, people go to hell sweating.
 
 
What is sin like?  It’s defiling, it’s defiant, it’s ingratitude, it’s incurable, and it’s hard work.  All of that for men to violate the law of God.  And just so we're clear, everyone is affected.  Consider
 
3.  The Reach of Sin
 
How many people does sin affect?  The answer is in Romans 3.  “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.  For there is none righteous, no not one.”  By the wya, that last phrase is just for you, just in case you think you’re the one who hasn't sinned.  “No, not one.”  Sin entered the world through one man, Adam.  And by Adam then came a whole civilization of sinners.  Like produces like.
 
Ever since Adam it’s been sinners, and more sinners, and nothing but sinners.  And the only non-sinner was Jesus Christ.  “In Him was no sin,” 1 John 3:5 says.
 
And not only the guilt of Adam’s sin but the nature,  depravity, corruption, and pollution that comes along with it has been passed down to us.  We drink from the same poisoned well.  We inherit the same fallen genetics. 
 
Original sin in Adam contaminated the entire human stream.  And if you have a question about it, it’s very simple to answer.  “The wages of sin is death.”  And if you die, you die because of sin.  That is simple and clear.  If you look at your life and you want to know whether you’re a sinner, ask yourself if you’ve ever been ill, if you’re growing older, if you will die.  The answer is yes, and sin is the reason.  You cannot deny that.
 
And the roots of sin are so deep, that even after salvation, sin remains a problem for the Christian.  Paul cries out, “The things I want to do I don’t do, the things I don’t want to do I do, I see this sin that is in me.”  And even when it was forgiven and even when the Lord had put the righteousness of Christ over that sin because Christ had paid the penalty for that sin, it’s still there, the roots of sin are so deep.
 
All of us are affected by it.  Such is the reach of sin. 
 
So what are
 
4.  The Results of Sin
 
What does sin cause?  Very quickly, let me give you five.  First,
 
- sin causes evil to overpower us
 
Sin turns a person into a victim of evil.  Evil dominates the mind.  It says in Jeremiah 17:9, “At the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.”  It says in Ephesians 4 that the mind is dark, that the mind is alienated, that the life of God is absent.  It says in 1 Corinthians 2 that we cannot understand the things of God.  In Romans 1 that the mind is reprobate.
 
In other words, sin has dominated the mind so that the thinking process is overpowered with evil.  It thinks evil.  It plans evil.  It conceives evil.  And then it moves to dominates the will.  Proverbs 23 reminds us a man acts according to the thoughts of his heart.  "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he."
 
And until the mind is changed, the actions will never change.  So Satan seeks to dominate the mind so he can dominate the actions so that the evil he perpetrates overpowers the sinner.  He is a total victim. 
 
And then evil dominates the affections.  Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.  Their loves, their affections, their wishes, their wants, their desires, their longings are toward those things which are not right.  And so man is overpowered by evil. 
 
This week the most famous criminal in modern American history died when Charles Manson's life came to an end.
 
Charles Manson was born Charles Milles Maddox on November 12, 1934, in Cincinnati, Ohio to 16-year-old Kathleen Maddox, a mother who never wanted him, and once sold him ot a waitress for a pitcher of beer. 
 
He began to steal at the age of nine which resulted in him being placed in a home for boys.  It wasn't long before he added burglary and auto theft to his repertoire. He would escape a school, steal, get caught, and be back in a reform school again, over and over.
 
When he was 17, he drove a stolen car across state lines, leading to his first federal offense and a stint in federal prison. During his first year there, he racked up eight assault charges before being transferred to another facility.
 
After several years of being in and out of prison, he was able to develop a cultic following, many of whom believed he was Jesus Christ, and on August 9, 1969, Manson ordered four of his followers to go to 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles and kill the people inside.
 
Sharon Tate, her unborn baby and four others were brutally murdered.  The following night, Manson's followers brutally killed Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in their home.
 
In December 1969, Manson and several of his followers were arrested. Their trial began on July 24, 1970 and on January 25, Manson was found guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, and on March 29, 1971, Manson was sentenced to death.
 
His life was spared when the California Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty and he remained incarcerated until his death this past week.
 
He is a reminder that not only does evil overpower us,
 
- Sin brings us under the domination of Satan
 
One of the deceptions of sin is that people think they’re free to do whatever they want.  But that's not true. The only free person is one who has had his sin covered and is free to do what is right through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Everyone else is in bondage.  A sinner is not free.  He is under the total domination of sin and the control of Satan.
 
Paul told the Ephesians that the sinner walks and lives his life according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit working in the children of disobedience.  Satan is at work.  He is in control. 
Man is a slave to Satan.  He is not free, he is totally controlled.  Satan works in him to accomplish his own will.  But Jesus said, “The only way to be truly free is to be set free by the Son of God.” 
 
In fact, not only are we enslaved by sin,
 
- Sin subjects a person to all the miseries of life
 
Sin brings the worst of all there is in the world on the individual.  Because of sin, there is something missing in the life of a sinner.  There’s a dissatisfaction.  There is no purpose or joy. You live a life of sin and you get trouble and emptiness.  Solomon said, “Vanity of vanities, emptiness of emptiness, all is nothing, all is nothing.”  What a conundrum, what a paradox.
 
A man enters the world with a cry and leaves with a groan and nothing in between, only emptiness.  Sin has torn man down from the place of honor.  He has lost his dignity.  He is robbed of peace.  He knows no lasting joy, no hope, no meaning, no values.  “There is no peace,” says my God, “to the wicked.” 
 
Listen, sin brings the worst things in life.  It exposes men to all the ultimate misery.  In fact,
 
- sin makes a person an object of God’s wrath
 
It is sin that causes us to be condemned and damned.  It is sin that sends men to hell. 
And hell is the ultimate expression of the wrath and justice of God.  God’s wrath is not something to be trifled with or ignored.  God's wrath is a holy hatred, an act of God's pure and holy will against that which is evil and unacceptable and He will destroy it.  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God, of a mighty God, of a judging, wrathful, vengeful God.
 
And sin makes men the rightful objects of God’s wrath.  And while they think they’re partying and having the time of their life and answering to no one, God is quietly calculating the offenses that will ultimately come under His judgment and wrath and with the final result being
 
- sin damns people to hell
 
In Revelation chapter 20 it says in the end at the great white throne judgment the Lord will gather all the unbelieving and cast them into the lake of fire that burns forever.  Jesus taught the doctrine of hell.  He was the one who framed it and articulated it in the gospels.  The apostles picked it up and it’s repeated throughout the New Testament.
 
And we need to know this, dear friends, that of the 7,582,000,000 or so people living on the earth today, all of them will die.  All of them will die, and all of them will face hell if they die without Christ. 
 
Fifty two million people will die this year.  Around  155,000 die every day.  Since I've started speaking over 6,000 people have died - 107 die every minute. 
 
 
And they're being replaced on this earth at 2.5 times the birth rate, which means more will die in the future that are dying now.  And hell awaits the vast majority of people.
 
In fact, Jesus said, speaking of entrance into heaven, there are only a few who find it. Many are on theri way to everlasting destruction.  Charles Spurgeon said, “Man is hanging over the mouth of hell by a solitary plank and the plank is rotten.”  And that is the fatality of sin ultimately.  What a horrible thing it is.
 
Now why all of this talk about sin?  Because this, dear friends, is the ugliness of Christmas that brings us to the point of its beauty.  You see, the beauty of Christmas is that Christ came into the world to save sinners. 
 
And the only way to appreciate and value the beauty is to understand the ugliness.  The beauty of Christmas isn’t the cards, and the trees, and the lights, and the presents. 
 
The beauty of Christmas is that Christ came to cure the ugliness of the world.  That’s Christmas.  That’s the meaning of Christmas.  And until and unless you understand the ugliness of your own sin and embrace Jesus Christ who alone by His death and resurrection can save you from that sin, you don't have any way to really know the real beauty of Christmas.
 
It's not even thought of when we talk about Christmas carols, but perhaps the best one was a hymn written by a man named Joseph Hart.
 
We don't know much about the early years of Hart's life, except that he was born in 1712 in London, brought up in a Christian home and taught what it meant to be a good Christian and to praise God.  But soon, he  fell into temptation and sinned.
 
When around 20 years of age, Hart began to see that his youthful sins are wrong, and decided he needed to learn to be a better person. And it all seemed to be going well, but, by his own testimony, he became proud of  his new status as a religious man.  He would later repent of this sin of pride and denounce it.
 
At about this same time, Hart met a young lady, fell in love and was married.  It was also during this period in his life that he left off doing his good works, and became a libertine, believing that there is no need to be righteous, all you need is to believe in God, then salvation is certain.
 
Eventually, he would come to have a genuine salvation experience.  His conversion began with a question:  Was he really and truly saved? He had no indication from God, no elaborate vision, telling him that he had been saved. This was a great worry to Joseph Hart. He began to pray to God that there would be some revelation granted him, or perhaps just a little sign. This tormented Hart for more than a year.
 
Then, the week before Easter of the year 1757 Hart "had such an amazing view of the agony of Christ in the garden [of gethsemane]"[2] showing to Hart that all Christ's sufferings were for him (along with the rest of the church).
 
But soon after this, Hart again began to be afraid of the life to come- eternity, and feared exceedingly when reading about the condemned in passages in the Bible.
 
Eventually, under the preaching of George Whitefield, Hart's true conversion came.
 
The song he wrote was really a testimony of his won search for God.  he wrote
 
“Come ye sinners, poor and needy,
weak and wounded, sick and sore. 
Jesus ready stands to save you,
 full of pity, love and power. 
 
He is able.  He is able. 
He is willing. Doubt no more. 
He is able.  He is able. 
He is willing. Doubt no more. 
 
Come ye weary heavy laden,
bruised and mangled by the Fall. 
If you tarry till you're better
you will never come at all. 
 
Not the righteous, not the righteous,
 sinners Jesus came to call. 
Not the righteous, not the righteous,
sinners Jesus came to call.” 
 
Let's pray.
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