Introduction: Play DVD Video Clip Why do you celebrate Christmas? from “Essentials” Vol. 3 No. 6.
Here we are—11 days away from Christmas. Can you believe it? Seems as though it has snuck up on us. Can you guess what people are thinking about getting you for Christmas? They want to get you a gift card. This is the most popular gift purchase in America (which is not really a gift). Do you know the most all time requested gift since the 1900’s? It is the teddy bear!
Did you know the average person spent 15 hours looking for Christmas gifts last year, in 5 trips covering over 20 miles? Did you know the National Retail Foundation expect each consumer to spend an average of $849 on 24 presents this year? That’s about 6% increase from last year and could total as much as $185 billion. No wonder there is a lot of stress during the holidays. There is all this pressure to spend, to make people happy, to please everyone. Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays but I think we’ve turned it in to something it was never intended to be. Take for example Santa Claus. “The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in Patara, a village in what is now Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus’ words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals -- murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. He died December 6, 343 AD in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church.” (http://www.christmas.com/pe/1978)
For many, it is assumed that you have to go more and more in debt to make it a good Christmas. I know growing up my friends and I would return from Christmas vacation. The first question we asked one another is—“How was your Christmas?” A “good” holiday meant you got the presents you wanted. A “bad” holiday meant you did not get enough.
So what is the real meaning of Christmas? Why should we celebrate Christmas? What does it remind us of? I want to give you the reason why we should celebrate Christmas and then show you why based on a familiar Christmas text. Christmas is a reminder that the Christ is to be sought and truly worshipped by all the nations on the earth.
Let’s read Matthew 2:1-12.
Matthew is the only gospel that refers to the Magi. What were magi? They were not kings as we have pictured in our heads. They were Eastern wise men. They were astrologers who were experts on interpreting dreams and other magic arts. What was their significance? To understand their significance you have to understand one of the reasons the Gospel of Matthew was written. The gospels (Matthew-John) are accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus. Each Gospel emphasizes certain themes and perspectives. One of the themes in Matthew is that God’s message of Salvation through Jesus is for all people. It is not just for Jews—but for Gentiles as well. The whole world! And so here we have the Magi. They weren’t Jews…they were pagans. But they were seeking after Christ.
Several obvious questions are raised about this story. How did they hear or know about this being the Christ if they were pagan? What about the star they had first seen in the East? Did it actually move ahead of them? Did anyone else notice it? Like many stories in the Bible (Jonah and the fish, parting of the Red Sea) people like to focus on trying to explain how it could logically have happened. The honest answer is—we can’t. We just don’t know how it happened. It is easy to get distracted by trying to figure all of it out. We have to simply accept the fact by faith that God influenced the stars in the sky to get foreign Magi to Bethlehem so that they could worship Jesus.
In the gospel of Luke, Luke shows God influencing the entire Roman Empire so that the census comes at the exact time to get a virgin to Bethlehem to fulfill prophecy. God went to a great extent to show his love and kindness to all peoples of the earth. This is a picture of God’s activity in the world to bring the nations to himself in worship. Some of us think (because we have such a small world view) that God just loves and blesses Americans and heaven is full of white people. Let me tell you something about heaven—if you don’t like people that are of a different culture or color than yours, you’re not going to like heaven. God is very interested in the entire world.
God is very interested in the peoples of the earth coming to know him. That is what the story of the Magi in search for Jesus illustrates. You are among the peoples of the earth. And if you have come to know Jesus it was not by accident. God arranged the details of your life so that you would not only hear but respond to the good news. God is at work in the world. He is at work here in this place. Those of you here (and God forbid) who might miss heaven one day, it won’t be because God didn’t do his part. You see, he brought you here to hear the Good News.
You remember our reason for celebrating Christmas? It is a reminder that Christ is to be sought and truly worshipped by the nations. Are you seeking after Christ? Or are you just hoping to get through Christmas without hurting someone’s feelings or not getting a DWI? As we see in our text this morning the Magi’s determination to seek and worship Christ was met by opposition and indifference. Read Matthew 2:2-3. Herod was a vicious and cruel man. He had his own wife murdered and some of his own children. He was a very prideful man and the very thought of someone else being considered a “King” disturbed him greatly! So he wanted to put a stop to it. He meets with the Magi to find out exactly where he is not so he could worship the Christ but end his life.
People have always been that way towards Christ. The world doesn’t like it when God gets our attention. It has always been that way. The world doesn’t like the possibility that there is a God who not only created the world but wants to be in the driver seat of our lives. Thus, the systematic attempt to throw God out of our country. For example:
ILLUSTRATION: (From the Falwell Confidential/www.trbc.org) “In Wisconsin, public school officials have mandated that students amend “religious” words in Christmas carols they will sing during a concert. They have been prohibited from using the words that refer to “Jesus” or “God” and instead substitute secular words and phrases.” “In Michigan, public schools recently separated all “religious” books on (Hanukkah and Christmas) and placed them in a separate room. These books are out of sight and out of reach of the students.” “Our friends at the Citrus Heights, California based Pacific Jones Justice Institute reported that a school in Fountain Valley informed students that they could not wear clothing with religious messages (such as Jesus is the Way), even though Muslim students were permitted to wear headscarves.”
Slowly and methodically the wool is being pulled over the world’s eyes. The world loves the holidays as long as we find another reason besides Jesus to celebrate about. That’s why Easter is about the bunny and Christmas is about jolly Santa Claus. Parents, I strongly encourage you to teach your children the significance of Christmas. Engrain it in them early so that they can have a better opportunity to see through the sensationalism of it all.
The worship of Christ was also met with indifference. Notice Matthew 2:4-6. The religious leaders and scribes were asked where the Messiah was to be born. They replied in Bethlehem. And then, it is as if the Scriptures go silent. They don’t go see for themselves. They aren’t the least bit curious. The one they were supposedly waiting for—they didn’t even think twice about it.
Many are indifferent about Jesus. It’s like out of sight out of mind. The fact is, one day we will see him. One day we will meet him face to face. Don’t be indifferent about Jesus. You will regret it one day.
So what should our attitude in worship be? It should be like it was when the Magi found Jesus. Matthew 2:9-11. The Magi were overjoyed because they found what they were looking for. ILLUSTRATION: I remember a Christmas several years ago we were in Brackettville celebrating the holiday with my family. My nephews were there and we were all opening presents. Of course all the adults had one or two presents but those grandsons had dozens. After they unwrapped their presents the first thing they said was, “Is that all of them?” Many are doing that with their lives. They are unwrapping all that the world has to offer and in the end we say, “that’s all there is?”
But with Jesus it doesn’t work that way. Jesus is to be sought after and truly worshipped by all the nations on the earth. Two more important points worth noting about this story is the way the Magi worshipped. Look at Matthew 2:11. They first of all, bowed down. They literally fell at Jesus and worshipped. Not sure what they said or how they worshipped but the focus of their attention was Jesus. What is so significant about bowing before God? It shows humility. It says to God, “I’m not worthy.” “You are greater than me.” “I’m at your mercy.” People will beg to differ and say, “I’m a little more dignified than that.” If you don’t like to bow you won’t like heaven. We won’t be in a constant state of bowing but one look at our beautiful master and we can’t help but bow.
They also brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I’ve heard a lot of sermons that try to spiritualize the significance of these gifts and if they had any hidden meaning. Whatever they were—they mattered to the Magi. But even more importantly they were saying by giving those to Jesus, that Jesus mattered more. They weren’t given as a way to get needs met. Many people think they can buy God’s love or buy God off. You can’t. I believe what they were saying was “You are my treasure and not these things.” I think that is the essence of what it means to give sacrificially. People think the preacher wants my money. No—God wants you! Before God wants your money he wants you. And if God has you (ownership of your life) he will have your wallet. And if God has your wallet then giving sacrificially is not a burden to you but a blessing.
Can you and I say that this morning: “Jesus, you are my treasure and not things.” God, above presents, above giving and receiving presents, above seeing family on vacation—you are my treasure. That is what Christmas is all about. Jesus is to be sought and truly worshipped by all the nations on the earth.