Summary: 2nd sermon in series in which I challenge people to evaluate how they typically observe Christmas with the hope they will seek to make it more about Jesus and less about us. I draw some thoughts from Mike Slaughter's book "Christmas is not your birthday"

AM Sermon preached at Central Christian Church December 8, 2013

A Different Kind of Christmas sermon series Message 2 “Giving Up on Perfect”

Christmas. For most of us the word, “Christmas,” overflows with meaning and memories. The thought, “Christmas is coming,” evokes emotional responses in us. We can’t help it and we can’t fight it. It just does that to us. Maybe our minds become awash with hopeful anticipation....anticipation over the giving and receiving of gifts. Some look forward to shopping for gifts. Many look forward with great anticipation to get-togethers with family and friends...some can’t wait to have some time off---you know, a break from work or from school. Some look forward to experiencing a special kind of warm-fuzzy, for them it’s a holiday thing where something happens that triggers an emotional response that as I remember one woman telling me “made her feel all Christmasy” inside. On the other hand, some people don’t look forward to the coming of Christmas at all---instead of harboring a hopeful anticipation their heart feels rather melancholy or perhaps it has a sense of dread or depression hanging over it. Maybe it’s because they’re dealing with a great loss or maybe they’re battling loneliness. Maybe they’re trying to bounce back from some great disappointment or they’re facing some financial hardships. If your past experiences are anything like mine you’ve found you’re emotions all over the place---one day you’re kind of down because you’ve found yourself thinking of loved ones who have passed---another day you’re feeling up because you’re looking forward to spending time with people you love. And then there are some days that are emotional roller coasters. You’re up, you’re down, you’re excited, you’re bored.

When we look closely into the pages of the Bible where the stories of what happened that first Christmas we find or at least can sense this same wide range of emotions taking place. But that’s just it----lots of people don’t take the time to look closely at what’s in the Bible, instead they mistakenly presume to know what it has to say about that first Christmas. And for that matter lots of people also wrongly presume to know what the Bible has to say on many other things too. Presuming to know what’s in the Bible instead of checking to see what’s in the Bible, my friends, is a dangerous thing. It’s dangerous not physically but spiritually. I’ll explain----when someone assumes they know what’s in the Bible rather than take the time to actually learn what’s in the Bible, they set themselves up to become easy prey to two of faith’s most powerful enemies which often go hand in hand. Those enemies are----#1 lies Satan circulates and #2 false expectations of God.

Here’s an example of how this works----think about this----when’s the last time you’ve ever gone to a funeral and heard someone say something like this about the deceased---- “poor Sue she’s in a worse place now” or “I liked Joe; I really did. But you know he was such a bad person I hate to think of the punishment God’s going to hit him with...”? You’re probably thinking, “Are you kidding me, preacher? People just don’t say those kinds of things, especially about the dead.” And if you’re thinking that people don’t talk that way about the dead, you’re right---for the most part, people don’t talk that way about the dead. Instead people say things like, “We never really talked about whether or not she believed in Jesus. But when I look at her life, I know she was a good person and so I’m confident she’s in a better place now.” or “I know he wasn’t much of a church goer and he rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, but people who got close to him, they know he had a good heart and I’m sure he’s in heaven now.” And what’s sad lots and lots of people not only say those things, they believe them---and here’s why---they believe them because they don’t know what’s in the Bible. They assume them because they haven’t done their homework. You see they assume that the Bible teaches us that God welcomes good people into heaven. And they assume that the person that died was a good person. But the Bible doesn’t teach either of those things! Check it out for yourself---the Bible teaches us that no one is good. Romans 3:12 tells us us, “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Jesus Himself taught that “no one is good---except God alone.” (you’ll find that in Mark 10:18). I mean I suppose God would let a good person into heaven, if such a person existed---but none does. So good people aren’t getting into heaven friends, forgiven people, that’s who get welcomed into heaven. And while God is willing to forgive everyone, He doesn’t forgive everyone. He only forgives those people who put their hope and trust in Jesus and seek God’s forgiveness on God’s terms. But hey don’t take my word for it, look into the book and see what it says.

On Friday at our December Chaplains meeting at the O’Fallon Police Department one of the things we discussed with some of the officers in attendance was how the media seems to make a bigger deal about crimes that occur during the Christmas season. The officer who brought up the tendency the media has to sensationalize violent crimes more during the holiday season than the rest of the year had no idea that he was hitting one of the nerves in the message I’d planned to share this morning. And after he shared how the force has to deal more with the media during the holidays even though they pretty much deal with the same types and levels of violent crime throughout the year, I shared that I think for the media it’s all about the ratings and that I believe the media makes more of violent crimes at this time of year because they know that people have this expectation that that kind of stuff is not supposed to happen at Christmas. I added that I think I kind of understand what the officers have to deal with because people tend to make a bigger deal about people dying close to Christmas. And if you ask me it all goes back to false expectations people have because they don’t know the Bible. People have this idea that Christmastime is supposed to be all about good feelings and warm fuzzies and magical moments. They think it’s supposed to be a clean, problem free and care free time. Now I think I know where those ideas come from---I think they come from stories and songs and movies and TV shows, even from our favorite Christmas carols like “Away in a manger” where we sing about how after waking up the “little Lord Jesus no crying he makes”---seriously? What newborn have you ever known to wake up really hungry or really uncomfortable from a wet or dirty diaper and not cry? You see friends, we’ve sanitized and glorified and romanticized not only the memories of our own past Christmases we’ve done those things with the first Christmas----One thing’s for sure the picture that the Bible gives us of the first Christmas is anything but problem and care free.

For example let’s look at the visit Mary received from the angel Gabriel. In Luke 1 beginning at verse 26 here’s what we read.... God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

[And immediately Mary was overcome by this awesome warm fuzzy, a feeling she later described as that first moment she felt all Christmasy inside... No, folks, that’s not what the Bible says---the Bible says

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. ---- Did you catch that Mary was greatly troubled at his words... picking up at verse 30 and reading on we find...

30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” 34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.” 38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

When we read those words we have a tendency I think to romanticize everything that was taking place because we know the end as well as the beginning. But Mary, she had never heard of Easter---she had no idea that someday Jesus would conquer sin and death and be resurrected from the dead. All she knew at the moment was that she was a young unwed girl, probably a teenager who was going to become pregnant with God’s child. How crazy is that? What’s a young girl supposed to think? How’s she going to feel? Do you suppose she wrestled with fear as to whether or not her parents and Joseph would believe what she told them?

Let’s skip ahead in the story to what we find in Luke 2... 2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

What do those verses clue us in on? They tell us that Mary and Joseph had to make a trip to Bethlehem because the government demanded it. We don’t know what time of the year it was. Did they make the trip in the Spring or Fall when the temperatures where ideal? Or did they make that trip in the heat of summer or the cold of winter? Did Mary get to ride a donkey or did she have to walk all those miles? The truth is we don’t know. What we can assume I think is that it was a very uncomfortable trip for Mary to make. We know that when they got to Bethlehem all the guest rooms were filled and they ended up in a stable type of area, a place where animals were fed. And I think we can assume that that meant the place smelled not only of animal sweat but also animal dung. And where there’s dung, there are flies, except of course in the coldest part of Winter. And when we look in Matthew chapter 2 it becomes clear that a group of local shepherds, no doubt smelling of the fields and sheep, crash their intimate little birthing party. Not long after an angel tells Joseph to get Mary and Jesus out of there because King Herod was going to try and find Jesus and kill him. So Joseph and Mary and Jesus made this mad dash to Egypt. There in Africa they spend two years as refuges who fled their hometown area because its king was bent on genocide. You see, that first Christmas wasn’t a sparkly white clean problem and carefree holiday season---it was messy. Heartaches and hurts were a part of it---so were fears and feelings of disillusionment.

My point in bringing all of this to your attention is not only to once again remind you that Jesus didn’t come to bring us a holiday, but also to remind you that He came to save us from our sins---and He came to make it known to us that He is with us, not just when things are going well, but also when things are not going well. One of the things we learn from the Christmas story as it reads in the Bible is that the lives of God’s followers aren’t always going to be predictable and problem free. Mary after all had agreed to be God’s servant. She was trying to do her best to please God and submit to His authority over her life but things weren’t always easy because of that. She had to deal at first with Joseph’s wanting to divorce her because he thought she’d been with another man. Then there was that trip to Bethlehem and the flight to Egypt and years away from home. But what we don’t want to forget is that Jesus was with her throughout the entire ordeal and that His being with her is meant I think to remind us that when we’re faithful to God, while we’re not guaranteed everything will go smoothly we are promised that even when life gets messy, God won’t abandon us. Instead He’s promised to meet us in the mess, to be with us.

This holiday season I want to challenge you to give up on the idea or the pursuit of having a perfect Christmas because it’s not going to happen. Something’s going to happen to mess things up. Maybe someone will get sick or maybe someone won’t like their gift or maybe when they open the box the thing inside will be broken or maybe your divinity will turn out sticky or maybe the thing you ordered won’t arrive in time or maybe someone will say something that really hurts your feelings at a family gathering or maybe there will be one less place to sit needed this Christmas. Friends it’s okay if something goes haywire this Christmas because no matter how messy it gets, God will still be on His throne, Jesus will still love you and the Holy Spirit will still be with you.

I want to challenge you this holiday season to avoid the world’s pursuit for some type of Christmas magic to make everything all warm and fuzzy and wonderful. Instead I invite you to draw near to God and to see Him at work in your life---and not just in the great and wonderful things that He provides for you but also to see Him at work in the everyday and ordinary. In the Christmas story you not only have the wow and the wonderful---you have the plain and the simple stuff going on. Yes there are powerful miraculous moments with angels visiting and a virgin conceiving and a star appearing---but there are ordinary things taking place too---there’s no guest room and no crib but there was a stable area and there was a angels stopped the armed assassins that Herod sent out from killing an untold number of children but Joseph and Mary and Jesus did make it safely to Egypt...yes, angels told the shepherds about Jesus being born, but it was through their simple obedience that they were rewarded with the sight of seeing the Christ child. And hey I encourage you to be a little more flexible and stress a little less. Plans sometimes have to be changed. Just ask Joseph and Mary and they’ll tell you some of their plans were changed because of what God was doing in their lives and some of their plans were changed because of what other people were doing or trying to do. Again if your holiday plans get all messed up it’s not the end of the world. God will be with you and together you can deal with it.

And I want to again put out there for you to think about the challenge to be thinking of how you might brighten someone else’s holiday and meet someone else’s need. Jesus made a huge sacrifice for us, one that we’ll never fully comprehend. He did it because He saw our need and He loves us. And Jesus wants us to show love to others just as He had loved us.

And lastly I want to encourage you to be thanking God and praising Him this Christmas season as we remember that when it comes to giving He doesn’t give gifts the way we’re told as small children Santa gives gifts. We’re told as little children that Santa’s watching us and we’d better be good because only good little boys and girls get presents---while on the other hand bad boys and girls get lumps of coal. Thank God He doesn’t give like that----because none of us is good. If we got what we deserved, it wouldn’t be heaven. But thank God because He loves us even though we’ve been bad. Thank God He offers us because of what Jesus did for us what we don’t deserve. He offers us forgiveness and eternal life. It’s a gift He says we can have. He doesn’t force us to take it. He simply says, “here this is for you. I’d love for you to have it.” I’ve accepted that gift and most of you here have too. But perhaps there’s someone here today who hasn’t yet done that....

NOTE TO THOSE WHO READ AND OR CHOOSE TO MAKE USE OF ANY OR ALL OF THIS SERMON: I am sharing this sermon with the hopes it will be an encouragement to others. I apologize for any blatant typing errors! If you find any I’d appreciate hearing from you so I can correct them. I try to give credit where credit is due, noting writers and or sources to the best of my ability. I have for years been drawing from a wealth of sources including this website. I recognize that my mind and writing processes are fallible. I may occasionally fail to properly identify a source. Please do not take offense if you see anything of this nature. I never intend to plagiarize. Having said that I want you to feel free to draw from my message. When appropriate I hope you will give credit as I do. But most of all I hope Christ will be lifted up and God will receive the glory in all things.