Lord Chesterton, the man who inspired C.S. Lewis, once said that God may be the only child left in the universe. All the rest of us have lost our sense of joy because of sin.
God, the only child left in the universe. I’ve thought about that. When He created the universe, He did it with a spirit of joy. Joy radiated through His being when He made you, when He made me, when He made each of us. Indeed, creation gave Him great joy, says the opening chapter of the bible.
I’ve wondered how God created daisies. Did He just say daisies be. I think not. I have a grandson. When he was a little boy, I would throw him in the air, bounce him off my knee, set him on the floor and I could always count on him to say ‘do it again Pop Pop, do it again.’ I’d throw him in the air, bounce him off my knee, set him on the floor, he’d yell ‘do it again Pop Pop, do it again.’ I could do it fifty times and the fiftieth time with hysteria he would yell, ‘do it again Pop Pop, do it again, do it again!’
I have a sense that when God created daisies, He created one little daisy and something inside of the childlike heart of God said do it again. And He created daisy number two. And something inside of God said do it again and daisy number three and four and five and fifty billion, trillion daisies later the great God of the universe is jumping up and down and clapping His hands and saying do it again, do it again, do it again. The God of joy.
But then something happened in this world of ours. We messed it up. And God, because He wanted His joy to be in us, and our joy to be full, He came into the world. That’s what Christmas is all about. The great joyful, loving God broke into history so that we could know His love and His joy; it could be in us and live through us.
When I was a boy in Sunday school, I remember I was just about seven years old when I asked my Sunday school teacher about why Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem’s manger, why did He come into the world. And I remember her saying as only a group of junior high boys would understand. There was once a man with magical powers and he could change himself into anything. But the thing that was most important about him is that he loved ants. Out behind his house, he had an ant hill and every day he would go out to the ant hill and yell at the ants I love you, I love you, I love you, but they never got the message. He would give them sugar and bread and jam but still in spite of all his great gifts, they never got the message. But remember boys, she said to us, this man had magical powers and if he wanted to really communicate with the ants, what would he do? And we all said he would change himself into an ant. Indeed, she said, because only by becoming one of them could he communicate with them.
And that’s what the Christmas story is all about. The great loving God wanted to communicate His love and impart to us His joy and there was only one way He could do it, there was only one way He could communicate with people like you and me, and that was by becoming one of us because only by becoming one of us, could He communicate with us. Two thousand years ago He did that. He came and brought joy and love into the world. You say well I don’t see it. I see evil on the increase. I see darkness pervading the earth. Indeed you’re half right.
Jesus, in the 13th chapter of Matthew, starting at the third verse, tells this story. He said I’ve come to bring My kingdom, but My kingdom is like a sower who goes out to sow wheat and the wheat begins to grow. But then the evil one comes and sows weeds, tares, and the tares begin to grow alongside of the wheat. And they come to the master and say what should we do, shall we pull out the weeds? He says you can’t do that without destroying the wheat. Let the wheat and the tares grow up together and comes the end, we will separate the wheat from the tares. There it is. The story of history. Evil is on the increase. The tares are growing. The weeds are growing. Pick up the newspaper, read the headlines. Evil seems to be growing in intensity. It’s more pervasive today than ever before. But do not be deceived, people. Even as evil and the kingdom of darkness is growing, so is the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s growing stronger and stronger every day.
Let me tell you this: the evidence is everywhere evident. Let me point out that the world is changing and while there is evil, the kingdom of God is also increasing in intensity. At Eastern University, I would always say to my students how bad things were but then they began to remind me how better things were getting. Twenty years ago, one out of every six persons on this planet had no access to clean drinking water. Today it’s one out of 12. The situation has improved one hundred percent. I used to be able to say while you were sleeping last night, 45,000 children died of either starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. I can’t say that anymore. I say 30,000 children died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. You say that’s still terrible, that’s still ugly. Indeed it is but there is a big difference between 45,000 and 30,000. The church of Jesus Christ has been largely responsible for that change. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, reaching out into all the far corners of the world, bringing hope where there was no hope and joy where there was no joy.
Oh joy to the world, the Lord has come and through His people, things are changing.
It was about 27 years ago that I got a telephone call from a friend of mine, Millard Fuller. He said I got this great idea, Tony, we’re going to build houses for poor people. Well that’s good news. Poor people need homes. There are so many homeless people around the world and even here in America. I said how are we going to do it? He said we’re going to raise money for building materials. And we’re going to build the houses, then we’re going to sell the houses to poor people, no down payment, long term mortgages with no interest, because the bible says you should not charge interest to the poor. I said fine. That sounds great. You haven’t answered one basic question. Who’s going to build these houses? He said church people. I said church people like me? He said like you. I said right. Twenty seven years later, Habitat for Humanity has completed 300,000 houses for poor families across America and around the world.
I teach at Eastern University, which is in St. David’s Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia. We started a graduate program there to train young men and young women to go to third world countries and start small businesses in cottage industries that people could own and run themselves. There’s only one way to eliminate poverty and that’s by creating jobs. You may be a Democrat or you may be a Republican. The only question is who can create the most jobs for people who need employment. And if you want to eliminate poverty in the third world, you’ve got to create jobs. So at Eastern we developed this special graduate program, this NBA program that does nothing else but to train people to go to the poor countries of the world and among the poorest of the poor, start small businesses that indigenous people could own and run themselves.
I remember the first business we created. It was in the Dominican Republic in a slum called Guachupita. We got some women together and we started making sandals out of worn out discarded automobile tires. We gave the boys and girls in Guachupita fifty cents every time they brought us a worn out, discarded automobile tire. People of God, hear me: it wasn’t long before we had every worn out, discarded automobile tire in Santo Domingo. Then we started getting a lot of new automobile tires. Well do you or do you not believe in a God that works in mysterious ways. Obviously, we had to change our modus operandi. But we have been creating jobs ever since. Going to work with groups like Opportunity International and World Vision, we have created jobs in third world countries through those organizations, with other people working along with us.
And over the last 15 years, we and through these groups and other groups like it, have created three and a half million jobs for poor families in third world countries. Don’t tell me the church isn’t making a difference. Don’t tell me that the forces of darkness are going to win.
This God came into the world as Jesus Christ, lived among us, went to a cross, died there and when He died there, He took the punishment for our sins so our sins are buried in the deepest sea, they are blotted out, they are remembered no more. That’s why I’m joyful. I’m not afraid of judgment day because I know when I stand before Him, says the scripture, He shall present me to His Father, are you ready for this, faultless. Faultless. I can handle that. I can just imagine Jesus saying Father; I want you to meet my friend Tony, the perfect one. I hope my wife’s there; I just hope you’re there.
The truth is He shall present me to the Father faultless. No wonder we’re full of joy. Our sins, because of Calvary, is blotted out. I don’t care what you’ve done, I don’t know where you’ve been, I don’t know what you’re in to, but here’s the good news. This Jesus is God come to be among us in order to deliver us from the power of sin and to make us into new creations, and to make us into people who will change the world that is, into the world that ought to be. I’m looking for young men and young women all across America who will heed the call and older people who will support them and heed the call to change the world that is into the world that ought to be. When He taught us to pray, He taught us to pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth, on earth, not just in heaven, but here on earth.” He wants to change the world and He wants to change the world through people like you and me. And don’t you ever say you’re too old to do it. I mean I’ve seen that in you. I’m an old man, and these young people have got to take over. Don’t give me that stuff. You’re never too old to become an instrument of God through whom God can change the world that is, into the world that ought to be.
I say to students, you can become an instrument of change as long as you get your head screwed on right because the world is seducing kids into a cultural value system of consumerism and sexuality. But they’ve got to change, they’ve got to change.
Fred Craddock tells the story of a man who loved greyhound dogs. He would go to the racetracks where they race greyhound dogs. And he would rescue them and bring them home. And he said I went to see my friend who rescued greyhound dogs from the racetrack. And there was this greyhound dog in the middle of the floor wrestling with the children, having a great old time. They were kissing each other and rolling with each other. Fred said I looked at that dog and said hey dog, why aren’t you racing anymore? Are you too old? And the dog said, oh no, I’m still young. Well why aren’t you racing anymore? Weren’t you winning races? Oh no, said the dog, I was winning races right up until I quit. Then why did you quit? And the dog said, because one of these days you’ll realize what I realized. I realized that that rabbit I was chasing wasn’t real.
Oh people, how many of us out there are chasing rabbits that aren’t real. And Jesus said “seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” and all the other things will take care of themselves. I’m calling upon you to surrender to the Christ who died on the cross for your sins, to surrender to the Christ who loved you so much that He came into the world to save you from the powers of darkness, to give yourself to the Christ, who this day wants to invade you and fill you with joy.
Blaise Pascal went into a dark room one day and sat down at seven o’clock at night. And he determined not to get up until the spirit of God came rushing into his life. And he waited and waited and waited and the next day he writes in his diary: ten thirty p.m., fire, fire, fire, joy, joy, joy. Not the God of the philosophers, not the God of the mathematicians, the God of the theologians, but the God that was alive in Abraham, Moses and Jacob. Joy, joy, joy, fire, fire, fire, joy, fire, joy, fire, joy, joy, joy, unspeakable joy. Isn’t that what you want? It can be yours. All you have to do is to invite Him in and allow Him to transform you and make you into a new creation for if anyone is in Christ, he can become, she can become a new creation. All those dark, ugly things pass away and He can make for you everything new. Everything brand new.
Here’s the good news, the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our God and He shall reign forever and ever. Hallelujah, hallelujah!