Summary: Unbelievers and believers look at Christmas in very different ways. This sermon seeks to point out these differences.
Christmas is Worship
Text: Matthew 2:1-12
Introduction: Christmas isn’t just for Christians anymore. Nearly half of adult Americans report they personally know someone who doesn’t believe in God but will still celebrate the yuletide this year according to a survey of 1,001 people conducted by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University. Significantly more people will set up a Christmas tree than will attend a worship service on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. And Americans overwhelmingly believe the holiday has become less focused on the birth of Jesus than it used to be. "Historically, it has been a struggle for America to find meaningful holidays that include a sufficiently broad number of people. But Christmas seems to have many modes of interpretation upon which we can set our own personal needs," said University of Texas historian Penne Restad, author of the scholarly book Christmas in America: A History. "Christmas has become as much a celebration of community as it has a celebration of religion," she said. The survey asked if "you, personally, know anyone who does not believe in God but still celebrates Christmas?" 45% percent answered yes, 51% percent said no and 4% were undecided. "Sure I know people like that. I’m one of them," said New Yorker Ron Barrier, a leader of American Atheists, a 2,500-member national organization defending the rights and interests of atheists. "As a free thinker, I believe the holidays are a great tradition regardless of the underlying basis for them." It seems that today MOST AMERICANS ARE FINE WITH CHRISTMAS ALONG AS IT DOESN’T INCLUDE CHRIST! Countless people outside the Christian church are delighted to share in the festivities, family gatherings and practice of gift-giving, but when it comes to Jesus, that’s where they draw the line. With this view so prevalent in our culture, what it is that we see as we drive down the street? Amazingly, we observe all the peripheral trimmings of Christmas without much of the substance. Why? There is something quite threatening about the real meaning of Christmas to the unbelieving world. Oh, they seem to be fine if we stick to Santa, Rudolph and Frosty, but mention the advent of the Christ-child and conversations quickly turn to other things. I’m not totally sure I can explain this phenomenon, but if you’re okay with it, I’d like to take my best shot. So let’s spend the next few minutes this morning contrasting the way unbelievers and believers approach this very important day by looking at the examples from our text of King Herod and the Magi.
I. Three Observations Regarding the Unbelieving World’s Response to the 1st Christmas.
A. Some unbelievers’ are uncomfortable with the celebration of His birth (See Matthew 2:1-3). The word used in 2:3 to describe not only Herod’s response but also that of all Jerusalem is "disturbed." The word is most often associated with the emotional response of various parties to trying circumstances (For examples see John 11:33 and Matthew 14:26). Now we can all understand why Herod would not be excited to hear of the birth of the King of the Jews as he clearly saw Christ as a rival to be eliminated. But why would all of Jerusalem also be disturbed by the news? Well, at the time of the birth of Christ there existed an opinion predominant throughout the Middle East and in Judea particularly that a great person would soon make an appearance to deliver Israel from her enemies and take upon himself the rule of a vast empire. One Roman historian named Suetonius wrote, "An ancient and settled persuasion prevailed throughout the east, that the fates had decreed some to proceed from Judea, who should attain universal empire." The people living in and around Jerusalem could not have looked forward to a revolution that they had to know would be resisted with the full rage of Herod, a man known for treating people savagely. They feared that if the opinion were true, their world would change radically. Application: Many people today respond the same way. They’re okay with Christmas until you start talking about Jesus. The moment they recognize that their world might change and the comforts they’ve come to trust in be removed, they get very nervous.
B. Some unbelievers are unaware of the claims regarding His birth (See Matthew 2:4-6). Here the barrier is not an emotional one, but intellectual at its root. King Herod did not know the Scriptures. In one sense we can understand this because he was not a Jew, but a Roman appointed to rule the Jews. On the other hand, it would have served him well to have acquainted himself with the beliefs of the people he ruled. Had he been familiar with the Word of God, he would have realized several things: