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December 17, 2008
Column #1,425
"The Purpose of Christmas"
by Mike McManus

When Rick Warren was 3 years old, he asked his mother, "Why do we have Christmas?" She explained that Christmas is the celebration of Jesus' birthday.

"Well, then we should have a birthday party!" the toddler replied. "We can have cake and Kool-Aid and sing happy birthday to Jesus!" She agreed, beginning a five decade Warren tradition, with angel food cake and candles that the youngest child blows out.

In addition to singing carols and reading the Christmas story from Luke, each family member then answers two questions: "What from this past year are you most thankful for?"

"Since it's Jesus' birthday, what gift will you give him this next year?"

Warren, America's most famous pastor, suggests that you too might consider creating a similar annual tradition of pausing at Christmas to review God's grace in your life, and to "recommit yourself to knowing and loving him better" as a way to "make Christmas more meaningful."

He makes that suggestion in an inspiring new book, "The Purpose of Christmas," packed with insight on the person whose name is rarely mentioned at Christmas parties. People get so caught up shopping, decorating and entertaining that many have lost the focus on the peasant boy whose birth is so important that we measure time from when he was born. The years before are  called BC, Before Christ.

"Beneath all the visible sights and sounds of Christmas are some simple truths that can transform your life," he writes. The angel's announcement to the shepherds gives three reasons to rejoice: "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people."  He writes, "This message is personal: `I bring YOU.'  It is positive: `GOOD news of great joy.'  And it is universal: for `ALL the people.'"

Many who call themselves Christian never considered the possibility of having a personal relationship with Jesus.  However, Warren notes that one of God's great promises is this: "When you go through deep waters, I will be with you" (Isaiah 42:3).  Jesus often asked, "What do you want me to do for you?"

Many think God is waiting for people to mess up. In fact, 365 times in the Bible, God says "Don't be afraid."  That's one "Fear Not" for every day of the year.  Warren comments: "God is not mad at you. He is mad about you!  Jesus said, "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world."

What does that mean?  Warren ends one chapter with big headlines: "Jesus Saves You From Something. Jesus Saves You For Something.

"Let me be blunt: YOU are the source of most of your problems. Even when other people cause you problems, your natural response often makes them worse."  Any parent knows that from the youngest age, children are selfish. It comes naturally. This tendency to make wrong choices is called sin, a word the middle letter of which is I. 

Selfishness will distance us from God. On a personal level, it leads to worry, fear, confusion, depression, conflict, emptiness and even illness. Globally, sin leads to war, injustice, corruption and prejudice. Warren asks, "Who can save us?  Not government. Not business. Not academics...Any lasting solution must start in the heart, and only God can transform hearts.

"Another word for salvation is freedom. The Bible says, `I was in trouble, so I called to the Lord. The Lord answered me and set me free.'" His death on the cross paid for our sins, and that love liberates us for a purpose - to turn and serve others.

The need for such loving service can be seen in all forms of broken relationships.  The natural reaction is to be defensive and blame others, while the Bible suggests praying to God for help.  James, the brother of Jesus, wrote, "You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God."

However, once a person reaches out to God and makes peace with him, God turns him or her into a peacemaker, Warren writes, "He gives you the desire, then the ability and power, to reconcile with people in your life with whom you have had conflicts." 

Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God."

Warren's most famous  book is "The Purpose Driven Life," which sold 40 million copies.  Only the Bible sold more.

"The Purpose of Christmas" is the perfect Christmas gift, because it shows how to live the faith inspired by Jesus.

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