Tuesday, December 25, 2007

My Christmas Eve Message

Jenni and I went into this Christmas season with such noble intent. We were going to be reasonable, to hold the line on spending. We were going to maintain our financial sanity while all around us were losing theirs. Alas, it was a noble goal. But, like all my New Year’s Resolutions in the last 25 years, this Christmas resolution did not survive the last several days.

But, you know what? I am glad. I love to give gifts to my family and there is not much way of doing that except to lay down some cash or flash the plastic. I ruled out shoplifting, and that left me with few alternatives. So, I spent a little more than I intended. Christmas will be expensive this year.

But maybe Christmas should be expensive, after all. It is a holiday designed to honor the greatest gift ever given. When the time was just right, when He had perfectly prepared the world for the coming of the Promised One, God sent His Son into this world to save us from our sins. Oh, it was a costly gift. And Jesus gave Himself. He offered Himself as an obedient Servant in the Father’s plan and came to earth to redeem a people by giving His life in exchange for those. He came to live a perfect life and die on the cross for our sins. And that was the most costly gift of all. God gave His son. Christ gave Himself. It seems that Christmas should be expensive.

But it is not enough to just spend exorbitantly on electronics, jewels, clothing or other gifts. It is important that we remember the coming of Christ and respond rightly to the gift that He gave.

I want to share a secret with you today, one that might shock you a little. Christmas joy comes in direct proportion to how expensive Christmas is for you. The more you give the more joy you will have. No, I am not talking about what you spent at the mall this year. I am talking about what you give to God, how much of your heart and life you give to Him.

Those Who Give Nothing Have No Joy

There are many who go through Christmas barely thinking about God or the great gifts he gave. There are many who give nothing at Christmas, and they receive no Christmas joy.

The Bible is full of examples of this kind of person. Herod was on the throne of Israel; a throne he had won through intrigue, manipulation and violence. He knew it was a throne he had no right to sit on, but he liked being there. Then, one day, strange men came from the east announcing that one had been BORN king of the Jews. That phrase pushed all his buttons. He did not receive the news with joy, but as a threat to his throne. He knew what many never realize – the baby in Bethlehem came to rule. If it is your goal to run your own life and live as you please, the baby whose birth we celebrate is a threat to you. He came to live and die, but after his death, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name above every name. He is the rightful ruler of this world and of your heart. The baby in the manger was destined to be King of kings and Lord of lords. You cannot serve him without submitting to him. Herod refused to submit, so he had no joy at Christmas.

There were others who had no joy. There were the scribes and the religious leaders of Jerusalem. They heard that the baby had been born, but they did not seek him. They were more interested in maintaining their own power and prestige, so they refused to seek the baby. But you cannot expect Christmas joy unless you give yourself to the One who was born that day. He demands to become Lord of all your hopes and dreams, your ambitions and desires. If you are unwilling to give that all to Him, you, too, will have no real joy at Christmas.

One other group I would mention. These were the people in Bethlehem at the time of the birth of Christ. They were not evil, as such. They did not hate the baby or try to kill him. They had no ill will toward him, they just ignored him. Think about it. Many people stayed in that inn that night. There was no more room. Messiah, the one promised for millennia, the hope of all the people, was born within a few feet of them, and they never knew it. There are many people who are so busy with the routine of life that they never stop to think about eternity, about spiritual things. It is not a matter of disbelief or skepticism for them, they just don’t have time. But if you are so busy, so wrapped up in your own life that you ignore the baby, you will have no joy at Christmas.

If you want Christmas joy, it will cost you your life. Many have turned aside to the secular celebration of Christmas, because Santa and the Reindeer don’t ask so much. But Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, offers real joy – if you give yourself to him.
Joy to the World, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her king. Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing. He rules the world with truth and grace.
Some, unfortunately, failed to understand who that baby was. They received no joy at Christmas.

Those Who Give a Little Have Little Joy

What a night that was for an unusual group. Shepherds. No one cared about the shepherds in the Bethlehem hills. They were about as far down the social ladder as you could go. But God cared about them, enough to make them the first people who ever heard the announcement of the Savior’s birth. The night was dark when suddenly, the brightness of God’s glory lit up the hillside. An angel appeared to them to tell them Messiah had been born and encouraged them to go and see. Without warning, the sky was filled with angels shouting, “Glory to God in the highest.”

So, the angels left their sheep and went in to town to check out what the angels say. They were rewarded with the privilege of being the first humans other than Mary and Joseph to see God Incarnate, the second member of the trinity in human form. It was a night like no other. They went back to their hillside with hearts of joy and a story to tell.

And then life returned to normal. Perhaps, from time to time, in the months that Mary and Joseph lived in Bethlehem before fleeing to Egypt, they came for a visit. But life really didn’t change much. They went back to being shepherds and probably talked a lot about the wonderful night when Angels appeared and Messiah was born. They had a night of real joy.

But it was only a night. We have no way of knowing what happened to these shepherds in years to come. I hope that those who survived to the time of Jesus ministry recognized him as the baby the Angels announced and worshipped him. Perhaps some of the 120 in the Upper Room on the night of Pentecost were shepherds from Bethlehem. We will only know in heaven.

But this we know here on earth. If you only give God an hour here or there, or a day now and again, you will only ever experience moments of joy. Those who give a little time to Jesus gain only a little joy.

There are many who are only willing to give the Lord a little time now and then. If they are not busy, they will give him Sundays. They will give him a little money, if they have some left over at the end of the month. They like Jesus, like the church, like the message of salvation. They just don’t want to interrupt their lives to serve Jesus or give him all their hearts or lives.

If all you ever do is give Jesus a little time now and again, you will never have anything more than a little joy. Those for whom Christmas costs nothing, receive no joy. Those for whom Christmas costs a little, receive a little joy.

Those Who Give Much Have Great Joy

They are the most mysterious of all the characters of Christmas. We don’t know their names, and we know precious little about them. They were Magi - Parthian king-makers, pagan wise men from modern day Iran. They had likely heard of the Messiah of the Jews through the Babylonian captivity, perhaps through Daniel himself, or Shadrach, or Meshach or Abednego.

Then they saw the star the night Jesus was born and they set out on a long journey. They walked, or rode on camels for hundreds of miles, week after week, month after month. (I know they had camels, because they are in our manger scene.) Finally, they appeared in Jerusalem, and asked about the Messiah, being directed to Bethlehem.

When they arrived in Bethlehem, they saw a star in the night sky over the house where Jesus lived. Was that an angelic light over the house, some manifestation of the glory of God, or some amazing natural phenomenon? We will only know in eternity.

But they entered the house and found a little boy, probably just learning to walk. They knew in their hearts that he was the one prophesied by the ancients, the one born King of the Jews. They bowed low. What a comical scene that must have been – the Persian noblemen in ornate finery bowing before a Jewish peasant baby. They gave him gifts: gold, a recognition of the royalty of the child; frankincense, representing his divine nature; and myrrh, a very human gift. It was a burial spice and symbolized that fact that Jesus was destined to die for the sins of the world.

But most important, they worshiped him. No one in Israel knew who the boy was, or cared. The religious leaders could not be bothered. But these pagan astrologers bowed low and worshiped him. They left their homes, their families, their lives. They traveled far to see him. They gave him expensive gifts. And the scripture says that they rejoiced with “exceeding great joy.” For the Magi, Christmas was very expensive, and they had very great joy.

There are some for whom Christmas costs nothing, and they have no joy. There are some for whom Christmas costs a little, and they have a little joy. There are some for whom Christmas costs a lot, and they have a lot of joy.

Those Who Give All Have Eternal Joy

But, my friends, there is another level of joy. It is the most costly. It will cost you more than a night, or a year. May God prepare your heart to receive your King!

Only two people in the Nativity stories ever experienced this maximum joy. They were the two main characters, Mary and Joseph. You see, Jesus’ birth did not cost them a night, like it did the shepherds. It did not cost them a couple of years and some expensive gifts, like it did the Magi. It cost them everything.

When the angel appeared to her, Mary said, “Whatever you say, Lord.” And her life would never be the same again. She was laughed at when her story was told around that little town. Most likely many shunned her, believing she was covering over her weakness and immorality with this preposterous story. Do you think even her parents believed her?

There was no chance that her life would ever be normal again. Folks, when you are raising a child who is the Son of God, God in a human body – that never works out to be normal. It was a wonderful blessing and privilege, but it had to present some very unique challenges.

Years later she watched, I’m sure proudly, as her son became a celebrity in Israel. Everyone was talking about the miracle worker from Galilee. But then, problems appeared. People did not like what he was teaching. He asked for too much – level of commitment that most were not willing to give. She may have heard the rumors that the religious leaders were out to get him.

Then, during Passover, he was arrested. Mary had to watch as her son was tried, abused, brutalized and finally hung on a cross. It must have torn her heart out not only to watch Jesus hang in agony on the cross, but also to hear passers-by hurl insults at him. The prophecy said that a sword would pierce her heart. That day it did.

But, when the angel came to her, Mary said to him, “May it be to me as you have said.” She called herself the servant of the Lord. Jesus was her life and she would serve him to the end.

We know much less about Joseph. In fact, after the trip to Jerusalem in Jesus’ childhood, we hear nothing about him. The general assumption is that he died in the years before Jesus’ earthly ministry began. But the one thing we know about Joseph is that when God told him what to do, he did it. He was a good man, scripture says that. But he became a great man in the kingdom of God when he laid down his life to serve the Savior.

Mary and Joseph were unique. They did not give a night to Jesus. They did not give him presents. They gave him themselves. And because of that, in spite of the pain and hurt they might have sometimes felt, they knew a joy greater than any we can imagine. They were parents to the Son of God. They had joy not for a day or a year, but for eternity.

The baby they raised did something no one else had ever done. He lived a perfect life, fulfilling all the righteousness of God’s law. He offered himself to die for the sins of the entire world. He paid the price for the sins that we have committed by his precious blood. Then, God raised him from the dead, glorified him and seated him at the right hand of glory. And now, he asks us to turn away from our sins and trust our lives completely to him.

He offers the joy of forgiveness and new life to all who will come to him in faith. Mary had a joy that lasted forever because she gave herself to God’s plan. Joseph surrendered himself to the sovereign plan of God and his joy will never end.

Now, at the beginning, I warned you I was going to tell you what God requires for us to experience that unending joy. It is no easy thing. Real joy, eternal joy, comes to those who give themselves, body soul and spirit to Jesus. Paul said, “Present your body a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” That is what you must do. Present your body to Christ. Lord, here I am. I belong to you. Use my life as you see fit. I will serve you in any way that brings glory to your name. If the road is hard, I will walk it. “May it be to me as you have said.”

People who give themselves to God as living sacrifices experience eternal joy, a peace that passes understanding and a love that transforms lives.

Yes, my friends, Christmas is expensive. It is only when you realize that the Baby in the manger in Bethlehem is King of kings and Lord of Lords, when you give him yourself – body, soul and spirit – only then will you know the true joys of Christmas.

Will you, right now, give him the one gift he really wants? Will you give God your body as a living sacrifice – a holy sacrifice that is pleasing to God? That is the only way to truly worship Him today.

1 comment:

Jed said...

This is great, Pastor Dave! I'm so excited to find your blog.

Hope you and your family had a merry Christmas!

Jed McClurg