It's the same picture that we find in the Gospel of John, chapter 1. We're familiar with the Christmas story in Luke--shepherds and angels and a baby in a manger. And we read every year the Christmas story in Matthew, Wise-men coming from afar, bringing their gifts, and then outwitting King Herod. But seldom do we read the Christmas story in the Gospel of John. The Christmas story in John is so brief in words, yet so profound in its depth and meaning. "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." John chapter 1, verse 14, and also verse 11: "He came unto his own, and his own received him not."
You may take that as a summary of the whole life and ministry of Jesus if you like. You may take it as a kind of theme upon which all the rest of the symphony is built. "He came unto his own, and his own received him not." You pick up the theme in Bethlehem, "No room in the inn." You pick it up again in Nazareth. There was not room for Him in His home town. They took Him out to a cliff and tried to kill Him. There was not room for Him in the religious establishment. You will remember their rejection of Him. At the last, there was not room for Him on earth, and so they suspended Him above it on a cross. It's a theme that comes up again and again and again in that gospel story. "He came unto his own, and his own received him not."
The unclaimed gift. Christ himself is the gift of Christmas. And along with Christ much else that goes unclaimed. His peace goes unclaimed; His message of good news go unheard. It is broadcast through all the world, and yet men and women stop their ears that they may not hear. Not long ago on a Sunday morning, a preacher turned the corner to come into the church building, and there on the corner just across the street a man was buying a newspaper. Now the preacher surmised by the way that the man was dressed that he was not on his way to the service. And as he put that big bundle of newspaper under his arm, the preacher wanted to roll down the window and shout to him and say, "Come inside; theres good news inside." Because without looking at that paper, he knew that it was filled with bad news. Have you ever bought one that wasn't? I can tell you that tomorrow's newspaper, or the day after, or the newspaper a year from now like the newspaper today will be filled with bad news. They tried to come out with a paper that would only print the good news. They couldn't sell it. It was a business failure. While the world is going home with an arm load of bad news, we wish so much that we could give them a heart full of good news. But the good news goes unheard.
A minister said that on a Christmas Sunday morning, he was not as prepared as he usually was. He'd had a busy week; he had had a lot of demands on his time; and he was not quite as well prepared as he would like to have been, but he said as he drove to church that Sunday morning, "I'm going to preach a great sermon this morning." He said it to himself, of course, since no one else would have been likely to believe it. He said to himself, "I'm going to preach a good sermon this morning. It's Christmas, and I'm going to preach a great sermon." Then a second thought came to him. "And I'm going to preach a great sermon this morning, not because I'm so skilled at oratory, not because of my talents or gifts, but because I've got a message that can't lose."
We have the custom that when we employ a new minister, he comes to the church for an interview and is presented to the congregation through a sermon. We refer to it rather crassly as a "trial sermon." I know of a minister who went off to preach a trial sermon on Christmas Sunday, and all of his minister friends said, "He can't lose." We ministers know that you can't take a subject like that and fail. He was bound to get the call. Why? Because of the message. Because of the best news that anybody can ever tell. With that kind of news to tell, the least-skilled orator cannot fail. And yet for many, the good news is not heard. The gift is unclaimed.
There is a power unclaimed. Imagine that you had never heard of electricity. You did not know that such a thing as electricity existed. You went to my home. I neglected to tell you about electricity. You stumble around every night in darkness, unnecessarily, because if someone had just told you about it, you could have gone over to the wall and flipped the little switch and the whole room would have been bathed in light. The potential for that light was there, was present, but you didnt know about it, and you walked in darkness.
The dynamos of God are humming. The generators of God are hard at work. Light is available for all who walk in darkness, but some do not know the switch is there; and some, knowing it, will not throw the switch. And so they walk in darkness when light is readily available. The unclaimed power.
Once the Ohio River froze over, and then as the ice was breaking up, it created a great problem. There was a great ice jam, and they were afraid that it was going to destroy some of the bridges. They thought about dynamite, but they kept putting it off, because they said, "All we really need is two or three days of good sunlight, and that will do the job." Now there is an enormous difference between dynamite and sunlight, isn't there? Dynamite makes a terrible noise, and shakes the earth with a terrible tremor; and the sun comes up without a sound, and shakes nothing on the earth, and yet the quiet, soft power of the sun, they said, is more beneficial than our dynamite. Doesn't that sound like the gospel of Christ?
Softly, quietly, reaching out to work it's magic in the world. More powerful than all the booming forces of men. The power that's needed in our day is the power that Christ came to bring into the world. And it is a power that is not claimed.
Then there is the unclaimed presence. There are people living in loneliness who could have the presence in their lives every day. People are walking alone who do not need to walk alone. How sad it is to see the nature of the unclaimed gift, the peace, the power, the presence, all available to us in Christ. He is the unclaimed gift of Christmas.
But why do men not claim Him? Why do men not have that presence? That peace? That power? Sometimes it is because of doubt. If you were to say to me today at the door, "Come over to my house this afternoon; I'm going to give you a million dollars," I won't be there. I don't believe you are going to give me $1,000,000. I don't even believe you have $1,000,000. And if you had it, I don't believe youd give it to me. So if the promise were real, and if the gift were real, it would go unclaimed simply because I doubted the reality of it. How many people are there in the world, who because they will not forgive themselves, or anyone else, doubt that there is any forgiveness in the world? Since they are unforgiving with themselves, they presume that God is no better than they are, and that God cannot forgive their sins. They believe their stain is too deep, and so God's great gift of forgiveness lies there unclaimed simply because they doubted that it exists.
If you were to go to Mexico City and take the city tour, they'd take you down to that great massive cathedral that is at the heart of Mexico City. And as they were showing you the beautiful interior of that cathedral, they could point out to you the damage that was caused by a fire a few years back. The fire came about through a short circuit in the electrical wiring of an altar in that cathedral. It is rather strange to listen to the guide tell you that the fire was caused by a short circuit in the altar of forgiveness. Oh, how many short circuits I have seen in the altar of forgiveness! Sometimes people didn't know that forgiveness was available. Sometimes they heard the message, but they couldn't believe it was so. Sometimes nobody told them what response God expected them to make to His gracious offer. For one reason or another, there was a short circuit in the altar of forgiveness, and the power did not come through. So if you doubt the reality of Gods promise, if you do not believe that He is who He said He was, and that He did what He came to do, then all Gods rich blessings will not be yours, simply because of doubt.
Its easy to doubt. Isn't it? We remember the song, "I Heard the bells on Christmas Day, their old familiar carols play, and wild and sweet the words repeat, of peace on earth, good will to men." "Then in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth, I said. For hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men."
Does it ever seem to you that life and circumstances mock God's promises? That there is no peace to be found? That He is not a living presence in our world? That He's abandoned it and abandoned us in the process? That's a very common way to feel. But we've got to get out of that pit of doubt, and we've got to believe; believe strongly and firmly that Christ did, in fact, come into the world as God's Son and as the world's Savior, and that He reaches out to us in love today, and that He wants us to reach out to Him, too.
Sometimes it is the distractions of the world that cause us to fail to claim our gift. We know about the gift, and we believe in the gift, and we really intend to pick up our gift one of these days, but were distracted. Our attention is drawn to other things, and so the gift goes unclaimed. Did you see in the paper that the greatest place for astronomy in the world is a mountaintop in Arizona that is in the middle of an Indian Reservation? And they've picked this place for their mighty telescopes for three reasons. One, obviously, its on the top of a mountain. Two, its in a part of the country that is very seldom cloudy. Third, they picked this site because it was far from any city so that the light of the stars was not competing with the manmade light of our cities. Does it seem to you, this Christmas, that the twinkling of the man-made lights of our holiday obscure the light of the star, that the star of Bethlehem, is not seen as clearly as it might be because the twinkling lights of our trivial concerns distract us and we cannot see it clearly?
Sometimes the gift is not claimed simply through neglect. We always have in our church office a shelf of unclaimed Bibles. And every two or three years, we gather up the ones whose names we do not recognize and have never been returned to the owner, and we put them to some good use. Now I don't think its any bad commentary on our characters that we forget where we've left a Bible. It says that probably most of us have more than one Bible, and thats good isn't it? While we're using one, were quite certain that the other will turn up, that weve only hidden it from ourselves in some place. I don't think there is anything sinister about all these unclaimed Bibles. They only serve to illustrate the fact that in every Bible, there is a gift--Christ. And He goes often unclaimed simply through neglect. Not that we doubted. Not that we were caught up in the world. We simply neglect to take the benefit that is ours through the presence of Christ in the world.
And what are the consequences? Well, we ourselves are made poorer. Can you imagine having been present at the feeding of the five thousand, and eating no bread or fish? Can you imagine yourself sitting there on the green grass looking over the blue Sea of Galilee and seeing the miracle of the loaves and fishes and saying, "I'm not going to eat any of that"? Not only would you have gone hungry physically, but you would have been the poorer spiritually because of it. Imagine yourself a shepherd sitting on a hillside one night when suddenly the heavens are opened and the angels sing. And imagine yourself closing your eyes and saying, "I'm not going to look. I'm not going to look at any angels. Why that light's so bright, it might put my eyes out." Can you imagine stopping your ears and saying, "I dont want to hear it"? Yet that is what we are sometimes doing. The sweet songs of the gospel come to us, and we stop our ears. Spiritually, we close our eyes. We are like those people Jesus talked about. He said, "Your heart has waxed gross; your ears are dull of hearing; you cannot understand." Oh, how much the poorer we are when we spiritually close our eyes and ears to the truth of God. How it wounds God. How it offends God. Both those words are necessary to describe it. He is both offended and wounded when the gift goes unclaimed.
Have you ever been down to the SPCA, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and walked down the hall and looked at all those cages full of unclaimed pets? Did you ever think that here is a dog that once was a little puppy and charmed a little boy's heart? Here is a cat that was a little playful kitten that meant more to a little girl than anything she could have imagined. Not long ago, a man was going down a street and saw a big homemade sign leaning up against a street sign. And the sign said, "Lost, one gray kitten." Not very far from that sign was a very brokenhearted little child who would have claimed that kitten in a moment if it could have been found.
Do you mind if I turn this sermon upside down for a moment? We have been talking about Christ, the unclaimed gift. What would be the case if He did not claim us? What if we were caged up in that SPCA and Christ came along and said, "Never saw anything like that before. I don't know anything about that." What would it be like if He would not claim us?
Now there is never any danger
that He will not claim us if we claim Him. But if, on the other hand,
we reject Him, then He has no other alternative but to reject us.
We leave Him no choice. If we claim Him, here is His promise: "Whosoever
therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my
Father which is in heaven." Oh, God wants to claim you as His son
or His daughter today. Jesus wants to claim you as a brother or a
sister today. The church wants to claim you as a member of the family
today. I promise you that if you confess His name here, Christ will
stand in the presence of God Almighty and claim you there.