My wife and I started Season 5 of The Crown over the weekend. Like most viewers, we were surprised to learn that the Sunday Times took a poll in 1991 suggesting that half of the British public wanted Queen Elizabeth II to abdicate in favor of Prince Charles. In response, Charles met with Prime Minister John Major to persuade him to encourage the queen to step down.
Except nothing I just wrote is really true.
According to the Washington Post, the poll was taken in January 1990, not August 1991. It did reveal that nearly half of the public said the queen should consider abdicating in favor of Charles. But the Post reports that “importantly, they said she should consider ‘eventually,’ not necessarily at that very moment. The ‘eventually’ has been left out in the show.” And according to Major, the meeting with Charles portrayed in the show never happened, calling it a “barrel-load of nonsense.”
To continue with royal “news”: a new biography of King Charles III claims that the monarch once “destroyed a sink because he lost a cufflink down the drain.” But as we learn from The Crown, claiming something is true doesn’t make it true.
These stories do raise a personal question: Aren’t you glad no one is publishing a tell-all exposé of your life? That no one knows the secrets you’re keeping from the rest of us?
Actually, someone does.
“HAPPY BIRT, JESUS”
As we move into the Christmas season, this Washington Post headline caught my eye: “A decade’s worth of photos capture Christmas in America, from the joyful to the bleak.” Photographer Jesse Rieser traveled to eighteen states from Oregon to Florida to capture images of Christmas across the country.
The book he published as a result shows us an inflatable Santa Claus looming four stories over a Christmas tree lot, a giant Tyrannosaurus Rex dressed in a Santa costume, and a display of soldiers guarding Santa and his reindeer called “Protecting Dreams.”
Rieser titled his book Christmas in America: Happy Birthday, Jesus. According to the Post, the title originated from “one of Rieser’s favorite photos.” In it, neon red lights spell “HAPPY BIRT, JESUS” over the roof of a white garage, with the missing four letters laying atop the shingles. This is the only reference to our Lord in the Post story.
If you were to publish images of Christmas from Scripture, what verse would be on the cover? My answer is a text that will revolutionize the Christmas season for everyone who takes it to mind and heart today.
“The Lamb slain from the creation of the world”
A preacher once told the story of a mother on her deathbed. Her husband stood on one side, their estranged son on the other. In her last act, she took the hand of the angry father and the hand of the wayward child and brought them together over her body.
In the same way, he said, Jesus on the cross took the hand of a wrathful Father and the hand of sinful humanity and brought them together over his body.
But that’s not what happened.
Recall the most famous verse in Scripture: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This familiar declaration reminds us of the why behind the what of Christmas and supplies a vital corrective to the way many in our culture view our Father.
In short: Christmas was God’s idea. Jesus was “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8 NIV). As Jesus explained, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).
From his conception to his crucifixion, Jesus’ incarnation was his Father’s plan for our salvation.
“No creature is hidden from his sight”
Why does the God of the universe love us so much that he sent his Son to die so we could live eternally with him?
Is it because we deserve such love? Categorically not. Unlike a tell-all biographer exposing (or fabricating) the royal family’s secrets, the omniscient God of the universe knows the absolute truth about every single one of us: “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).
Your Father knows not only the deepest secrets of your past—he knows the most grievous sins and failures that are in your future. And yet, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He did this because “God is love” (1 John 4:8). He loves us because it is his unchanging nature to love us. Stated bluntly, he cannot not love us, no matter who we are or what we have done.
Jesus made this fact clear in John 17 when he prayed “that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (v. 23, my emphasis). The Greek is literally translated “and loved them as much as you loved me.”
Think of it: your Father loves you as much as he loves his “one and only Son” (John 3:16 NIV).
“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”
Here’s the point: if we had to earn God’s love, we could lose his love. If the Christmas gift of our Father was given on the basis of merit, none of us could receive it or hope to retain it. But because God “is” love, there is absolutely nothing we can do to make him love us any more or any less than he already does.
So, as we step into the Christmas season, let’s make time every day to remember the why of Christmas. Let’s reflect on the unchanging, unconditional love of our Father for us. Let’s respond with the grateful worship of our souls. And let’s pay forward this gift by sharing it with everyone we can.
In response to “the surpassing grace of God,” Paul exclaimed, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:14–15).
Do his words express your heart today?