Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
December 24, 2000
Twas the day before Christmas, And all through the Church,
People were still anxious to continue their search.
They had come to worship, So they did say,
But the presents were due the very next day.
“Oh, Pastor, finish early,” they plead with their eyes.
While looking at their watches and making big sighs
One last trip out to a very crowded mall,
Though their exhausted bodies are ready to fall.
And there is still cleaning and cooking and baking to do,
And then wrap up the gifts for great Aunt Sue.
There are decorations to put up and a table to set,
Meanwhile their money runs out and they go into debt.
There is a battle being fought, has the culture won?
For it seems most folks have forgotten the Son.
Should we who know Jesus lose the Christmas game?
Getting caught up in the season and forgetting why He came?
It is fine to enjoy the gifts, and family and friends,
But that is not why Jesus Christ to Earth did condescend.
He came to pay sin’s price and break its powerful hold,
Man can now be forgiven and come into God’s fold.
The Angels rejoiced then and now we can too,
For salvation in Jesus brings life brand new.
That is the message to counter the cultural perversion
It is faith in Jesus that will bring about their conversion
So, on the day before Christmas let there be all through this place
Praise and worship of God for Jesus and His wonderful grace
– Scott Harris, December 2000
My little poem sets the tone for the message this morning. We are in a cultural battle and it includes our holidays. People look for there to be a special magic in this season. They desire to enjoy the blessings of gifts, family, friends and shared love, yet, as much as they may desire those things, many, if not most people in our society no longer know why this should be a special time of the year for those things. And unless there is a foundation in truth that explains the reason for this season, they will eventually find that even if they do get what they are seeking, it will leave them hollow.
We often hear at this time of year the phrases “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays.” Neither phrase has much meaning to the average person anymore other than a kind greeting and wish for an enjoyment of the seasons festivities. Yet, both phrases are profoundly religious in nature and speak of the true reason for the celebrations, though most people ignore those reasons.
Christmas is an obvious compound word from “Christ” and “Mass,” which is the celebration of the Eucharist in Catholic and Anglican churches (Webster). It is worship of Christ. Webster defines “Christmas” as “the annual festival observed by Christians on December 25, commemorating the birth of Christ.” “Merry Christmas” then, is properly the wish that you have a joyous festival in commemorating Jesus’ birth. That meaning has been lost on many people in our society. Even so, there are some school districts which, in their effort to stamp out any recognition of such an obviously Christian celebration, have banned the use of the word, “Christmas.”
Many have substituted the word “holiday” for Christmas, but even that is a religious word, though not as distinct to Christianity and with most people having lost any religious connotation. Holiday is a compound word composed of “holy” plus “day.” Properly, a “holiday” is a day set apart for a religious festival or commemoration, but “holiday” has taken on the connotation and meaning of simply a day when one does not go to work, school, etc. To say, “Happy Holidays,” to someone used to be an expression of a wish that they enjoy the religious festival and commemorations. Now it basically means, “enjoy your time off.” Yet, even with that meaning there are school districts that have “Winter Break” instead of “holidays.”
My point is simple. We live in a post Christian society that uses a lot of the same words, but they have different meanings. A lot of the traditions are kept, but the reason for them has been lost. That is why people still think of the Christmas season as a special time for giving gifts, being with family and friends and sharing their love for one another. They place themselves under tremendous pressure to try and complete all the traditional tasks – purchasing presents and wrapping them beautifully, decorating the house, preparing special foods, inviting people over for special times together, traveling long distances if necessary to see loved one – all this with the thought that somehow in doing these things the season will have special meaning.
But all the pressure to perform leaves a lot of people cranky. They do not enjoy making the preparations for the celebrations, partly because they really don’t know exactly what they are celebrating. It is just a party that they know that they are supposed to have because of societal tradition. And when they do finally get together, they are too exhausted to enjoy it. And then there is all the clean up afterward and they wonder why they bother.
Christmas is supposed to be a magical time of year in which everyone suddenly becomes nice and full of good cheer. But the reality is that while most people can put on a good face for a few hours, they are still the same people they have always been. Christmas does not change them. The magic of Christmas has been taken captive by a culture that is turning away from the reason for it. But there is hope. The magic of Christmas can be returned if it is celebrated once again for the proper reasons.
For the rest of the sermon this morning I want to contrast the cultural desire for Christmas magic and why that desire cannot be fulfilled apart from Jesus Christ Himself. I will be looking at four basic desires that people want Christmas to somehow fulfill. Gifts, friends, family and love.
Gifts are certainly a large part of what people look forward to at Christmas. It is basic selfish human nature to want things and an even stronger desire in a materialistic society such as exists in the United States at this time. Many people do live by the philosophy that “he who dies with the most toys wins.” They sadly neglect to see the problem with their philosophy is that even if you win, you are dead.
Most of us have experienced the joy of getting a present from someone that has thrilled our hearts. We are excited about getting the thing we really wanted and gratified that someone cared about us enough to get it for us. We still remember the gift with gratitude even though it broke or was stolen a couple of days later. Most of us have also experienced the quiet comfort of receiving a gift that let us know that we were special to that person. The gift was of minor importance. It really was the thought behind it that mattered to us. That is often the way it is with the gifts we receive from young children isn’t it?
Most of us have also felt the pain of getting something that was an obvious white elephant. It was a gift given with no thought of you and was simply the token gift of obligation. You did not want it and it made you feel bad because it revealed that the person giving it did not care about you.
There is also the other side of gifts and that is in giving them. Some gifts we love to give and we greatly anticipate the reaction of the person when they open the present. Those are gratifying times when it is more blessed to give than to receive. There are also the times when you worked hard on the gift, but the receiver had no gratitude for it and you wondered why you had bothered. There is not a lot of blessing in that, nor is there much joy in the gifts of obligation that we give. There are also the dreaded group gift exchanges. Probably one of the more stupid things people have come up with. I admit I have a bias against them that goes back to the gift exchange we would have in our Scout troop when I was a boy. I would think hard about a great gift, earn the money for it, and go buy it and wrap it myself – usually some neat plane or ship model – quite a cool gift for 12 year old boys. What would I get? Usually something that somebody’s mother must have had left over or something stupid – like the size 5 Swiss yodeling suit I got one time. Everyone else laughed. I felt horrible. Not much Christmas magic in that.
I think all of us can relate with these different situations, for we have experienced them in one way or another.
Gifts can be fun to give and receive. They can also be hurtful and cause a lot of stress and frustration. What is the problem? Most people are clueless as to why we give gifts at Christmas. What is the purpose of it? To impress people and make them feel good towards you? Give a little joy to the neglected? Mimic the charity of Saint Nicholas? Or perhaps the bribe payment to those who were good – i.e. Santa Claus? I think I am on safe ground in saying that those are the type of reasons that most people give gifts at Christmas time. But all those reasons fall short. They are not the reason we should give gifts at Christmas and because they are not, they cannot bring lasting fulfillment to the giver or the receiver.
If you bribe the children to be good this year, you will have to bribe them again next year. Impress someone this year, and you will have to do it again next year – except it will take more to impress them next year. A token charitable gift at Christmas is nice, but the neglected have need all through the year.
The proper reason for giving gifts at Christmas should be out of the joy of receiving the gift God has given us. Yet it is right at this point that most people fail for they do not know the gift of God or they have taken it for granted. They have lost their enthusiasm and simply carry out a tradition without thought for why it is done.
What is the gift of God? The offer to forgive our sins through Jesus Christ. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Salvation from our sin is given as an act of God’s grace – Romans 3:24 ” . . . being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” We all deserve eternal punishment for our many sins against our Creator, but God offers us eternal life in Jesus – Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Salvation from sin and eternal life cannot be earned. They are given to those who have faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ – Ephesians 2:8,9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast.”
Christmas is properly a festival celebrating the coming of Jesus Christ. That point in time when the second person of the triune Godhead took on humanity and was born in a stable in Bethlehem of Judea so many years ago. It is not the most important evet that Christians celebrate, for Jesus’ death on the cross as our substitute sacrifice and His resurrection are much more important. But Jesus’ birth is a reason for celebration because it marked the beginning of the many prophecies concerning the Messiah that would result in our redemption through Him.
The “magic” of Christmas can be brought back if we will give our gifts in recognition of Jesus and out of joy for what God the Father had done for us through Him. What difference would there be in your own life if you would give gifts with this in mind? Would you give different gifts than you do? Would your mindset be different as you purchased the gifts? Would you receive gifts from others with a different attitude?
Jesus Christ is the greatest gift and He is to be the reason that we give gifts to others. He is the “magic” of Christmas. With Him there is life and joy for eternity. Without Him there is only cultural traditions and obligations which may or may not satisfy for a fleeting time.
Friends are important to all of us and a large part of the holiday celebrations. By “friends” I am talking about the people you have either affection or regard for that are not relatives. I am not talking about acquaintances or business associates either. Friends are the people you enjoy being with (otherwise could those people really be called friends?). It is our friends that we probably enjoying buying presents for the most because it is not done out of any obligation, but desire. Friends make any celebration better and so we like to include them in our holiday plans. Depending on the depth of the friendship, we will even make great sacrifices on our own part in order to be with those friends.
It is at Christmas time that we also try to catch up with friends that have moved away or that we left behind when we moved. That is one reason the tradition of sending Christmas cards developed. We want to stay in touch with our friends and let them know we still care and think about them. This is a special time activity for Diane and me. We sent out about 100 letters this year to folks in other states. Both friends from California and many of the folks that have moved away from here over the years. We love to get letters full of news from them too and find out what God has been doing in their lives.
Yet, it is right at this point where the “magic” of the season that causes us to send out the letters also brings a sadness that is related to these friendships. The “magic” breaks down. Some of these friends send us a card that they have signed, but there is nothing in them about their lives. We are glad that they considered us enough to send a card so we know they are still alive, but the lack of communication beyond that tells us that our friendship with them is not as deep as it used to be. Then there are those that you just never hear from, or you already know that something has changed the relationship and they really are not friends anymore. Perhaps I am more sentimental that I would like to admit. But I hate crossing people off the Christmas card list for whatever reason that may need to be done whether it be no new address, no response or a broken relationship. There are also the ones we cross off because death has taken them away from us in the past year.
Friendships are wonderful and the source of much of our joy in life. But friendships can change. People move. People change. People die. Friendships end. The spirit of this season may help keep friendships alive, but the “magic” of the season cannot stop sin’s curse. There is a hope for friendship found in the true reason for Christmas that does break sin’s curse. This hope is both practical in the present and future.
Sin destroys friendship because its selfishness eats at the fabric that holds relationships together. Pride, jealousy, covetousness, ignorance and misunderstandings are all common elements grounded in human selfishness that tear at the fabric of relationships. Salvation from sin in Jesus Christ gives the ability to build relationships on a different foundation than self-interest. Pride is replaced with humility. Jealousy is replaced with joy at the other person’s success. Covetousness is replaced with giving. Ignorance is replaced with the Word of God and the Holy Spirit as the tutor. Misunderstandings still happen, but now they can be worked out with the goal of glorifying God in all that is done.
Jesus is the “magic” of Christmas and He is the one gives sinful man the ability to have friendships that non-Christians cannot even imagine. Anyone can develop a friendship with someone who has a compatible personality and likes the same things as they do. But Jesus transforms the Christian into someone who can become friends with those who are very different in personality and preferences. This church is a practical example of that. When I looked over the results of the worship survey we did earlier this year that became obvious. We are a very diverse group of people with some strong differences in our preferences, and yet we can be friends and work together because of our common love of Christ. In addition, the Christian is to even love enemies and pray for those persecute them, so we can be friends to those who are not friends to us.
One last aspect of friendship that is different with Jesus, is that our friendship with Him will never end and He will never let us down. He will always be there. He is the friend that loves at all times (Prov. 17;17) and the one that is the ultimate fulfillment of Proverbs 18:24 of a friend that sticks closer than a brother. His love for us is proven in the cross. As Jesus Himself said in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. Jesus added in verse 14 “You are My friends, if you do what I command you.” Jesus is your friend, are you His friend?
If you want Christmas to work its “magic” in your friendships, then you need Jesus Christ as your friend so that you can be the friend He wants you to be to others. The “magic” is Jesus Christ changing you so that you become a true friend to all.
Similar in desire to friends, but often with a deeper longing, is wanting Christmas to be a special time with family. Friendships are great, but they often do change rather quickly. Think back over the years. How many of your close friends have been close friends for 5, 10, 15, 20 years or more? Friends seem to come and go, but your family is still your family regardless of how many years go by and regardless of whether you want them or not. Perhaps there is some truth to the old adage that blood is thicker than water. Proverbs 17:17 alludes to this nature of family when it says, “A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.” Friends are easy to find in the good times, but when things get rough, it is your family that is still there, and it is proper for them to be there. 1 Timothy 5:8 even says that, “if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.” While non-Christians may neglect this responsibility, such neglect is not an option for the true Christian.
Gathering the family together is one of the special draws of the Christmas season. I think most people have some idealized picture of Christmas with family that they want to have for themselves. Perhaps it is the gathering of the whole clan at Grandma & Grandpa’s house. I had that happen once when I was a kid when we went back to Mississippi to my dad’s folks. We didn’t get as many presents that year, but we had a wonderful time with all our aunt, uncles and cousins. Perhaps it is the ideal of you and your spouse watching the kids opening presents on Christmas morning. Whatever particular dream you may have, there is something special about having the family together for Christmas. Many of our folks are not here today for that very reason.
Yet, all of us are painfully aware, that just as in friendships, the relationships in a family can change. Perhaps we did have the Norman Rockwell version of Christmas a few times in the past or are enjoying it now, but we know that it may not continue. Grandparents die as do parents and all the previous generations. Children grow up and their wonderful childish exuberance diminishes as they mature. There is also the terrible reality, repeated all too commonly in our society, that families break apart. Relationships are strained, estranged or lost. We hurt because of those broken relationships and our picture perfect Christmas with our family members will never be a reality.
The Christmas “magic” that people dream about is once again shattered by reality. But again we find that hope is restored in Jesus Christ. He offers us something that no human family can. John 1:12 says, But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, [even] to those who believe in His name. Through Jesus Christ we can be adopted into God’s family (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:5). I like the way the Apostle John put it in 1 John 3:1, See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. He also will provide us a home. John 14:1 “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
People want Christmas to be a magical time of family closeness, but that may or may not happen. God’s invitation is for you to become part of His family for eternity. That is the Christmas “magic” that Jesus can bring. It is open to all that will accept His invitation to believe in Jesus. It is a family that in the present can be more dear, more intimate, and more important than blood relatives. That is a comment I often hear from folks who are the only ones saved in their families. They are closer to their church family than to their siblings and parents. Do you belong to this forever family?
Love is one of the other things that people often dream that Christmas will magically bring. That is one reason that so many of the popular Christmas songs and films have some element of romance to them. Whether it is finding that special someone to be your partner for life or just a renewed love with the one who already is your spouse, people long for Christmas to work its magic and bring love into their life. Christmas does not do this. Perhaps there might be some increase sense of romance in the air during the holiday season, but the let down comes as normal life picks up again and reality sets in. I recall the year I proposed to a lady on Christmas. She accepted. The families were happy. Life was beautiful. But by the next May we were not even seeing each other. If there was any Christmas magic, it did not last long.
But there is hope in Jesus Christ for love because He changes us. I mentioned earlier the depth of God’s love for us. It was proven on the cross. Paul put it this way in Romans 5:8 – But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. For the Christian, this is not only a final proof of God’s love for us, it is the example set for us to follow. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34,35). Paul adds specifically in Ephesians 5:25, Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.
That makes the Christian very different. Instead of looking to get love, we seek to give it as the overflow of the love we have already received from Jesus. Jesus is what makes Christmas special and what He does continues. For example, when my engagement ended, sure I was hurt, confused and discouraged, but my love for the lady did not end, though it did change and became more pure. I had to take a hard look in the mirror and ask myself if I really did love her the way 1 Cor. 13 describes and was I following my Lord’s example. After a while I talked with her and told her that though our engagement was broken, I intended to be at her wedding to wish her and whoever she might marry the Lord’s blessing, because I truly wanted what was best for her. I would continue to be a true friend. I am glad to say that I was at her wedding. I don’t say that to brag on myself, but just to point out the difference Jesus Christ should make in a person’s life. A Christian is to be a channel of God’s love to others whether that love is requited the way we want or not.
People look for the “magic” of Christmas. They want a special time of getting gifts, being with friends and family and sharing love. Sometimes they may get what they are looking for, at least for a short time. But the truth of Christmas is not seasonal magic, but the Son of God who changes lives. He is the greatest gift. He is the greatest friend. He offers us adoption into His family and He enables us to love others in ways that seem impossible to the non-Christian. And Jesus Christ is not with us just for the brief time of a holiday season. He is with us every moment of every day of our lives – and then through eternity.
The Christmas season is special and wonderful memories are made at this time of year, but if want you want is just the “magic” of the season, be warned that there will also be heartaches. Why then would anyone settle for just the “magic” of the season, when they can have the truth of Jesus Christ that lasts all year. I trust those of you who already have that personal relationship with our Lord rejoice in the celebration of His incarnation, the starting point of our redemption in Him. I invite those of you who do not know Him in that way to repent of your sin tonight and receive His forgiveness purchased for you on the cross of Calvary. You can begin a new life with Him today and then have the truth of Christmas with you always.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your
picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the word “Christmas” is used. 2) Discuss with your parents the true
meaning of Christmas and how you can celebrate it.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What are some of the traditions you keep at Christmas? Why do keep them? What meaning do they have? What do you like most about the Christmas season? What do you like least? In what ways do you see the cultural conflict in the way different people observe Christmas? What is the meaning of “Christmas” –
“Holiday”? How important are gifts to you at Christmas? What gifts are most meaningful to you? Why? Why do you give gifts to others? What is God’s gift to you? What have you done
with it? How important is it for you to be near friends and family at Christmas time? Why? Who is your best friend? What makes that friendship so special? How could your friendship with Jesus improve so that He really is your best friend? How can you be a true friend to others? How can a person be part of God’s family? What does that truth mean to you – to be an adopted child of God? How do you express your love to others at Christmas? How has God expressed His love to you? In what practical ways do you see God’s love for you expressed in daily life? Are you thankful for that or do you take it for granted? How could Christmas be more “magical” for you? What needs to change to have that happen?
CULTURAL CHRISTMAS WISHES
The desire for Christmas “magic”