By John A. Huffman, Jr.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!"
All this evening, we have been lighting various Advent candles. One of them stands for the Wise Men.
I have a Christmas Eve question for you. Do you know what would have happened if it had been Wise Women instead of Wise Men?
1. They would have asked directions.
2. They would have arrived on time.
3. They would have delivered the baby.
4. They would have cleaned the stable.
5. They would have made a casserole.
6. They would have brought practical gifts.
Let's talk for a moment about practical gifts.
I've been fascinated by the "extreme-makeover" approaches we are seeing on TV. You've seen them, haven't you?
One morning, on the Today Show, they took a somewhat ordinary-looking woman, sent her off to another room and, later, on that same three-hour show, brought her back with a whole new look: hairdo, makeup, clothes and accessories.
One day, on the Jane Pauley Show, they had an Afro-American couple who had been married some thirty years. I guess this caught my attention because he was a pastor and she the pastor's wife. They surprised this couple by completely redoing their bedroom. To top it off, they sent them off on a second honeymoon to Hawaii.
The December 20, 2004 issue of TIME has an article describing one of the top ten television shows, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. It told the story of Alice Harris of South Central Los Angeles, who remembers the day the good people from ABC volunteered to demolish her house. In 2003, a flood had left the community activist and her family, who had no insurance, living in one bedroom. Worst of all, the waters had ruined a stash of Christmas toys Harris had collected for poor kids. Harris said, "I figured no one was going to come to Watts and help us. No one had ever done that." But Extreme Makeover: Home Edition found her. It's bullhorn-wielding host, Ty Pennington, shipped Harris and her family off for a week's vacation in Carlsbad, California. A hundred workers and neighbors tore her home down to the foundation and built a new, bigger one. They replaced the Christmas toys and donated appliances, mattresses and landscaping to her flood-stricken neighbors. They even threw in a basketball court for the neighborhood kids.
That's an extreme makeover, isn't it!
All three of these extreme makeovers have something in common. What is it? An outsider comes in with a one-two-three program.
First, that outsider sees the possibilities you couldn't see.
Second, that outsider does what you couldn't do.
Third, that outsider pays for what you could not afford to pay.
You know, that's actually what Christmas is all about. That is, if you put aside the nomenclature of political correctness, allowing "Christ" to be put back into Christmas.
You see, the God of all creation, who is "totally other," engages himself in this three-step extreme makeover on behalf of all humanity.
This God sees possibilities you and I couldn't see.
This God does what you and I couldn't do.
And this God pays the price that you and I couldn't afford to pay.
That's what Jesus came to do, except for one major difference. His extreme makeover is not just a cosmetic outside job. It is a life-changing inside job.
The Bible is primarily the story of God's extreme makeover. He created you and me in His image. You and I were not made to be robots. He gave us the capacity to choose to live the way He created us to live or to do our own thing. The Bible says the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, chose to disobey God. In the process, they became alienated from Him. Ever since, we all have chosen to do the same thing. Our disobedience and rebellion have established a chasm between us and God. The Bible says, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." The Bible also says, "The wages of sin is death." That's the bad news. But the Good News is that God has done something about it. God has taken the initiative. The Creator God has come from the outside, breaking into human history in the form of "the second Adam," His Son, Jesus Christ. That baby at Bethlehem grew up experiencing everything you and I experience, yet without sin. The Bible says that He himself bore your and my sins on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
The Bible calls this the Gospel. That literally means Good News!
This is the extreme makeover of a NEW CREATION.
The Apostle Paul wrote, "If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!" (
This is the extreme makeover of SPIRITUAL REBIRTH.
Jesus said, "'Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above'" (
This is the extreme makeover of SALVATION.
Jesus said, "'Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him'" (
I came across a saying the other day that reads: "Jesus died on the cross — that's history. Jesus died for me — that's salvation."
That's what the Bible is talking about when it quotes the angel as saying, "Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord" (
This is the extreme makeover of FORGIVENESS.
Jesus said, "'Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God'" (
Are you aware that there is no unforgivable sin? There is nothing you have ever done that is unforgivable. The Bible says, "If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (
This is the extreme makeover of RECONCILIATION.
The Apostle Paul continued writing, "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us" (
This is the extreme makeover of ETERNAL LIFE.
Jesus said, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life" (
The coming of Jesus Christ into the world makes possible this extreme makeover!
Frederick Buechner, in his book titled Listening to Your Life, wrote:
When the child was born, the whole course of human history was changed. That is a truth that is as unassailable as any truth. Art, music, literature, western culture itself, with all its institutions and western man's whole understanding of himself and his world. It is impossible to conceive how differently things would have turned out if that birth had not happened, whenever, wherever, however it did. And there is a truth beyond that for millions of people who have believed since. The birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life, but a new way of living it. The truth of this incarnation should never cease to amaze us. The mystery of the eternal, cradled in a manger, elicits awesome wonder and grateful praise.
God, since the very time of Adam and Eve, has reached out to all humankind. The Old Testament gives record to it as the prophets foretold the coming of the Savior of the world. All through human history, up until that night in Bethlehem, men, women and children have, in anticipation of that coming, experienced this extreme makeover. And it has been happening ever since that night since Jesus came.
I could walk around this sanctuary with a roving mike and have person after person stand up and describe their experience with eternal life, spiritual rebirth, salvation, forgiveness, new creation, reconciliation.
Let me tell you just one brief story. One of the toughest guys in the Nixon White House was a man by the name of Chuck Colson: New Englander, Ivy-League trained, a tough Marine. He was the president's lawyer. He had a sign on his door: "I'd walk over my own grandmother to re-elect Richard Nixon." There were those who, during the terrible months of the Watergate inquisition, were convinced that Chuck Colson was behind it all. Colson himself was deeply troubled as he watch the administration he had given his life to come crumbling down around him. Searching for some kind of help, he talked with his friend, Tom Phillips, the CEO at Raytheon. Phillips told him about how Jesus Christ had transformed his life and could do the same thing for Colson.
Colson didn't believe it. Nonetheless, he took the little book, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, that Phillips had given him and, in the dark moment of his soul, began to read through it. God spoke to him. Colson realized his need and, intellect that he was, faith did not come easy. Cynical lawyer that he was, he didn't want to be spiritually gullible. But then, in the extremity of his need, he finally opened his heart to God and admitted he was a sinner. He repented of that sin and put his trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Chuck Colson received God's promised eternal life. He was born again. He experienced salvation, forgiveness of sins. He understood what it was to be a new creation in Christ. He was reconciled with the Father.
But that's not the end of the story. He was subpoenaed to testify about his knowledge of the Watergate break-in and coverup. Now, as a new creature in Jesus Christ, having experienced God's extreme makeover, he had to be honest. Much to the shock of the investigators, he declared that he had known nothing in advance of the Watergate break-in and was in no way involved in the coverup. The instinctual reaction of those examining him was to see him as a person who was using religion as a way of getting out of trouble and then even denying the trouble he was in.
But, wait a moment! Much to their amazement, Colson stopped and declared that although he knew nothing about the Watergate matter, he had been engaged in criminal activities of which they had no idea. Under oath, he confessed — owning up to what he had done wrong; that which God through Christ had already forgiven him, but for which, in human terms, he was responsible to the American people. For those self-confessed crimes, he went to jail.
At the time, I was a young pastor in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Having followed the Watergate saga closely, I was cynical about Chuck Colson. I had a prime-time television interview show on the NBC station, probing the ethical, personal and spiritual dimensions of life. When Chuck Colson came out of prison in the mid-seventies, I asked my producer if we could take a film crew to Washington to interview Colson. The station approved it, and I had one of the first television interviews with Chuck Colson, fresh out of jail.
I am embarrassed now to admit that I wasn't very kind to him in that interview. He was joined by his mentor, Senator Harold Hughes from Iowa, one of the brothers in his covenant group. After he told his story, I said, "Chuck, I'm not sure I believe you. In fact, I resent the way you have used the name of my Savior, Jesus Christ, to get the publicity you have gotten surrounding your experience in jail and now your release. How do I know you are telling the truth, that this not just some exploitation of Christianity?"
Colson looked at me and, with an unmerited graciousness toward me, said "John, I guess the only way I can answer that question — both for you and for myself — is to simply say, check me out and see what I am doing ten years from now."
You know the rest of the story. That was thirty years ago, and Chuck Colson today is a living witness to God's extreme makeover. Touched by the plight of men and women in prison, he established the Prison Fellowship Ministry. Withstanding the struggles that he had intellectually with the faith, he has written numerous books and articles and lectured widely on the issues of our day, pointing to the power of Jesus Christ to transform lives. We serve together on the board of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and often make reference to that interview and what God has done in his life in the intervening thirty years.
There are literally hundreds of equivalent personal testimonies of God's transformational power within this very room tonight. Our stories may not be as dramatic and well known as that of Colson's, but they are just as true and just as transformational and every bit as clear of the evidence of God's extreme makeover.
There is one more dimension to this business of extreme makeover. God won't do it to you unless you let Him. It is sort of a strange paradox in a way. You can't make over yourself without God's help. On the other hand, God doesn't spiritually rape you. He invites you to allow Him to come into your life. You are the one who has to say yes or no. And you know whether or not you have experienced the extreme makeover of His eternal life, His spiritual rebirth, His salvation, His forgiveness, His new creation, His reconciliation.
He offers you His gift of extreme makeover. But it will never happen unless you let it.
Have you received this gift? If you have, you know it. Perhaps you have wandered away a bit from the Lord and you need to come back to Him. But you know whether or not you have admitted your need and put your trust in Him alone for salvation. If you haven't, I invite you to do it tonight. Don't delay. Don't put it off. Now is the accepted moment. This is what our whole ministry at St. Andrew's is all about — leading men, women and children to a personal, saving faith in Jesus Christ, helping us grow in our faith, and serving others here and throughout the world.
Right now, as this center candle, the Christ candle, is lit, I urge you to take one of three actions.
One, if you have already given your life to Jesus Christ, celebrate His extreme makeover.
Two, if you have wandered away from Him, come home.
Three, if you have never repented of sin and trusted Jesus Christ alone for His extreme makeover, I invite you now to invite Him into your life, join His forever family and receive His great gift!
And let me add one additional word. If, for some reason, you can't bring yourself to make this commitment right now and you need more information and time to reflect, I want to do for you precisely what Tom Phillips did for Charles Colson. Give me your business card at the door of the church or drop me a note, signifying your interest, and I will purchase and send to you a copy of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.
John A. Huffman, Jr. is Pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA.