Date: December 16, 2018 Audio: Transcript:
A few years ago, I preached a sermon warning about the dangers of materialism during Christmas. Soon after that, a member of the congregation said to me, “Pastor Dan, your sermon really convicted us. We decided to cut down on our Christmas list in order to not spend as much money on presents. And that means we have to take all that sweet, gooey chocolate stuff we were going to give you and eat it ourselves.”
They were kidding, I think; but if you need to cut down on your Christmas list so you are not stuck in the materialism trap where you shop, shop and shop, my name is certainly one you can delete. Besides, if you really love me, you won’t give me that sweet, gooey chocolate stuff. I am afraid it is obvious I have eaten too much of that already.
Friends, the topic I want to address today is having a Christian Christmas. There are discussions this month about whether it should be called a “holiday tree” or a “Christmas tree.” I’m all for Christmas tree, but to be honest my main concern is not the small number of people – 5% of the American public according to a recent survey – who object to celebrating Christmas.
Rather, I am far more troubled by the much larger number of folks – probably the majority of people in this country – who say they celebrate Christmas, but don’t seem to really grasp, or sometimes even have a clue, as to what the holiday, the holy holiday, is really about.
There are a lot of folks, including individuals I know, who will have Christmas this year; but it won’t be a Christian Christmas. So today we are going to explore how to have a true Christian Christmas. Let’s pause and pray that as we do, the Lord would work in our minds and hearts to make these next nine days truly meaningful in each of our lives.
I want to begin by saying this: If we are to have a Christian Christmas celebration – one which is truly Christ-centered – there are two traps from which we need to escape and avoid.
The first, which I mentioned a few moments ago, is materialism. If the presents under the tree have become the focus of your Christmas celebration, you have a problem. Those stuck in the Christmas materialism trap need to do whatever is necessary to get free. If that is the situation you find yourself, and you are not sure how to get out of it, I encourage you to give me a call. I have some practical suggestions that might help.
It is also important to stay out of the stress trap. This is where we get so busy with all the Christmas activities that we start to get anxious and stressed out. When that happens, we don’t enjoy the holiday, and we certainly don’t have a Christ-centered celebration.
Though all the activities may be good ones, we may need to lighten our schedule to get out of that stress trap. Again, if you would like to do this, but you’re not sure how, give me a call. I’d be glad to talk about it with you.
Remember, however, that our goal should not merely be to spend less money or be involved in less activities. Our aim ought to be to have a “Christian Christmas.” The main reason materialism and stress are problems is simply because they can prevent us from having a Christ-centered Christmas.
So, today I want to focus, not on attitudes and actions we need to avoid this week, but on four things we need to do in order to have a true Christian Christmas.
#1 We need to focus on the full meaning of Christmas. That maybe is a little different than what is often meant by “the real meaning” of Christmas. Most of us here know “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Though caring and sharing are important virtues, the real meaning of Christmas is Jesus. But to simply define Christmas as Jesus’ birthday is inadequate.
Now, I think it is great if someone decides to have a birthday party for Jesus. I suspect the Lord is pleased when children and adults get a cake and candles (maybe 2,018) and sing happy birthday to Jesus. But, we also need to focus on the full meaning of Christmas.
Christmas is the commemoration of Jesus’ birth. But it is a totally different holiday than my birthday, your birthday, or George Washington’s birthday. Calling Christmas Jesus’ birthday is like saying the Mall of America is a place where you can buy a pair of socks. Yes, it is, but it is much more than that! If we are going to focus on the full meaning of Christmas, two things need to be on the front burner of our minds.
First, Christmas is about the Incarnation. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but his life didn’t begin then or nine months earlier when he was conceived in Mary’s womb.
John 1:1 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
The Word is Jesus, the Son of God, and the eternal Son of God. The real meaning of Christmas is:
John 1:14 – The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
God became flesh. That is what Incarnation means – put on flesh. God became human. He became human in the form of a little baby, born in a stable in the village of Bethlehem. That is what Christmas means. I doubt if we even begin to grasp the magnitude of this event.
God came to live on our planet. I have tried to think of a good analogy, but there really is no analogy which adequately illustrates what happened.
We might try to compare it to Superman. Some of you remember the story – Superman leaves the planet Krypton as a baby and comes to earth. He is found along the roadside by Tom and Martha Kent, who adopt him as their son. He grows up to be Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet, who as Superman fights the never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way.
But, do you know what? Even if there really was a Superman, it could not be compared to God coming to our planet. Superman would just be a slight shadow of the living God who is the Creator and Sovereign of the universe.
Or imagine what it would be like to walk into church this morning, and instead of having Craig and Denny greet you at the door, Donald Trump is there handing out bulletins. The President says, “It is good to see you. I have decided to make Chisholm, MN my home away from the White House.”
Though it might be fun to have the President of the United States dwell among us, it is nothing compared to having the eternal Son of God live on this earth. The real meaning of Christmas involves the glory, beauty and wonder of the Incarnation. It is about Emmanuel, God with us, in the person of Jesus Christ.
Secondly, Christmas is about salvation – God’s redemptive plan of salvation. Jesus Christ was born (Matthew 1:21) to save his people from their sins.
In one sense, the story of Jesus is the ultimate tragedy. God becomes a man, Jesus Christ, full of compassion, goodness and truth. But, what happens? We kill him, execute him as a criminal.
Yet, that’s why Jesus was born. This was the reason for the Incarnation. God became a man so that he could die, so that through his death we might live. This was God’s plan right from the beginning. Seven hundred years before Jesus’ birth, the prophet Isaiah predicted (Isaiah 53:7) that the Messiah would be pierced for our iniquities and crushed for our transgressions.
Way back in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15), we read the Messiah would be killed and would then destroy the evil one by his resurrection from the dead. It is very appropriate that in Revelation 13:8, John describes Jesus as the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world because from the beginning of time, it was God’s plan that the Son would become human in order to die, to give his life for ours.
Friends, that is the full meaning of Christmas – God becoming a man, to die in our place.
Matthew 1:21 – His name will be called Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
To have a truly Christian Christmas, we need to be able to see beyond the Bethlehem manger, beyond the shepherds and wise men and focus on the full significance of what happened that first Christmas night – God becoming human to save us from our sin.
#2 To have a Christian Christmas, we need to receive the gift God offers in Jesus Christ.
I suspect under the Christmas tree in your home there might be a present that has your name on it. Or at least, if there is not one now, there will be by next week. There is a certain amount of enjoyment which occurs knowing that you have a gift under the tree. Yet, that gift really has no value or purpose until it is opened. Only then will you receive the gifts you can wear, eat or play with.
I know the analogy is imperfect, but there are people who are content to just look at God’s gift of salvation in Christ. They kind of put it under the tree and just leave it there. They may think, talk and sing about what God has done at Christmas, but they never get around to opening the present. They never receive the salvation God so freely offers.
God became a man. He died on the cross so that we could experience forgiveness for our sin and freedom from sin’s power. But we cannot just look at the gift. We must open the gift.
It is not enough to just believe about Jesus and the Christmas story. Instead, we must believe in Jesus, put our trust in him, and receive the gift of salvation.
John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
Now, it is true that on our own, we lack the desire and ability to receive the salvation God offers. We are like a little baby who is given a present, but doesn’t have the ability to open it. Of course, as those little babies get older, they quickly acquire the skill to open presents, no matter to whom they belong.
When God grants us the ability to respond to his grace, it is our responsibility to do so. It is our responsibility to turn away from our sin, to stop trusting in ourselves, and put our trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Friends, if you have not done that, this is what you need to do today. If you are not sure exactly what this involves, please talk to me or someone who can help you understand what it means to trust in Jesus Christ. Because it is impossible to have a Christian Christmas until we receive God’s gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.
#3 To have a Christian Christmas, we need to celebrate the real meaning of Christmas.
I hope any frustration you may have with holiday materialism or stress doesn’t cause you to throw in the towel and say, “Well, I’m just not going to celebrate Christmas this year.” You are certainly free to make that choice, but I really believe Christmas is worth celebrating. What happened that first Christmas totally changed the course of history.
We celebrate birthdays and wedding anniversaries. We celebrate when our favorite football team wins a game (which has not happened very often for me this year). In 1945, the whole nation celebrated when we defeated the Nazis in WWII. Many Americans celebrated in 1969 when we landed on the moon. Celebrations were held across Europe in 1989 when the Berlin Wall was torn down, marking the end of Communist rule.
But none of these events are even a fraction as significant as what happened in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. The Incarnation that would bring salvation – that is a reason to celebrate! Yet, we need to make sure that is what we are celebrating this week.
Let me give some practical suggestions which I think might help us celebrate the true meaning of Christmas:
First is something those of you in this room are already doing – meet together with God’s people for worship. I encourage you to attend the Children’s Christmas Program this Wednesday evening and to join us here next Monday evening for our Christmas Eve Service, either at 3:00 or 4:30pm.
If you are going out of town, find out where and when Christmas services will be held in the community and then attend and participate. Taking time for corporate worship, to join in giving praise to God and enjoying his presence is a most important part of a Christian Christmas.
Second, when you have the family Christmas gathering over the next couple of weeks, make sure you do something to acknowledge the real meaning of Christmas.
Maybe it is a birthday cake for Jesus or reading the Christmas story from Luke 2 or singing Christmas carols. We need to do something to turn our attention to the coming of Jesus and the reason why he came.
One suggestion I have is whenever we sing carols, we need to get out the song sheets or hymnals so that we can sing more than just the first verse. In many Christmas carols, the first verse describes Jesus’ birth, and the later verses focus on the meaning of his birth. Don’t skip those.
Another suggestion is when we are sitting around the table on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, before or after we consume the lutefisk or whatever is on the menu, take time to go around and have everyone list things that are different because Jesus has come to earth. This is a good way to help everyone focus on the full meaning of Christmas.
Finally, I suggest you take some time on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day or sometime this week to just be by yourself and think. Reflect on what Christmas is really about. Take time to, as Mary did, ponder in your heart what the coming of Jesus means to your life. That will help you celebrate the real meaning of Christmas.
#4 To have a Christian Christmas, we need to tell others the true message of Christmas. The angels brought the shepherds good news of great joy which was for all the people. An important part of the Christmas story is that the uneducated, lower-class Jewish shepherds and the educated, upper-class Gentile magi are the two groups of people that worshiped the Christ child. This reminds us that Christmas is for people like the shepherds, people like the wise men, and for everyone in between.
There is no one you know – at school, work, in your neighborhood or in your family – that doesn’t need to hear and understand the message of Christmas. Rich people and poor people, old people and young people, smart people and not-so-smart people, cool people and nerds, Republicans and Democrats, Packer fans and Viking fans all need to know that God has become human in the person of Jesus in order to save us from our sins. They all need to know they will experience that salvation only if they turn to Jesus Christ and receive him as Lord and Savior. Friends, it is our privilege and responsibility to share with others the marvelous message of Christmas.
Some of you are thinking: “Oh, Pastor Dan, I know that. It is just so hard for me to talk to other people about Christian stuff.” Friends, I know it is not easy, but Christmas provides some unique opportunities for us to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ in our community. Let me just mention a few of them:
First, we should utilize our Christmas cards and letters to tell others what Christmas really means. Now, I know most of you mailed all of your cards weeks ago; but if you are like me and are still working on them, let’s make sure we write something which lets others know about the salvation we have because Jesus has come into the world. It doesn’t have to be anything long or profound. Just a simple testimony of our experience of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. And if you have already sent your cards out, this is a good idea for next year.
Second, invite someone to come with you to church on Christmas Eve. Studies have found that people who don’t usually attend church are more likely to come on Christmas Eve than any other time during the year. I know that many of you are concerned about the spiritual health of a friend or family member. Perhaps for months you have been trying to work up the courage and figure out when a good time would be to invite them to come to church with you.
Well, friend, this is it! Do it! Ask them to come with you to church next Monday evening or even next Sunday morning. They may say, “No, thank you.” And that’s OK. But ask them. You will be glad you did.
Third, during the next few weeks, when someone asks you how your Christmas was, don’t just tell them what family members you saw, what you had to eat or what presents you received. Make sure you also tell them that you tried to have a “Christian Christmas.”
Be honest. You might have to say that despite your good intentions it didn’t really work out as you had hoped, and it was not a very Christian Christmas. But if, by God’s grace, you really are able to celebrate the birth of Christ in a way that honors the Lord, say so. Let others know that, by far, the best Christmas is a Christian Christmas.
May God help each of us to
have one of those this year!