Getting THIS Christmas Right

Bible Book: Luke  2 : 1-10
Subject: Birth of Christ; Christmas; Jesus, Birth of

When I was about 10 the most popular show on TV - in my opinion - was DANIEL BOONE, starring Fess Parker and Ed Ames. Every Thursday night I’d gather around the television with my siblings to watch their adventures. Well, one day I was riding my banana seat bike past the window of the local five and dime and I saw a life - sized musket - just like Daniel Boone’s for sale. Sure - it was a mostly plastic toy but it looked so genuine - plus it fired caps - which meant it made a loud sound and smoke when fired - just like Daniel Boone’s. Instantly I wanted that gun more than anything. I dreamed of the fun I’d have carrying it around as I explored the woods near our house - I’d get my little brother to play the part of Mingo. So - I started saving my money. The gun cost $3.99. I got an allowance of a quarter a week so I started stashing it. I also skimped on lunch at school. I took the quarter my parents gave me every day to buy a hot meal - and instead spent 15 cents on an ice cream sandwich - banking the dime. And in about a month, I had the cash. I headed to the store and bought my gun.

But - the joy of ownership quickly faded. I realized very soon that it wasn’t that realistic. Half the time the caps wouldn’t ignite. And - I didn’t look or feel as cool as I thought I would carrying it around in the woods. I decided I regretted spending my hard - earned $3.99.

That was my first experience with something called BUYER’S REMORSE.

How many of you have experienced that feeling?

You know what I mean. You work and save and finally buy your first home. The day of closing you are thrilled to sign every single page - all 431 of them. You move in and set things up - it’s great! But then there’s an expensive problem with the plumbing - or the roof leaks - or you discover the entire house has a wiring problem. And you begin to think, “What have I done? Why did I buy this monstrosity? I’ll never pay it off!”

Or - you buy a new car - it’s shiny and smells wonderful - it’s your favorite color - and after three hours of negotiating with the salesman who seems so sincere in wanting to help you - it’s finally yours. But the next morning you see some car dealer ads on TV and you wonder, “Maybe I could have gotten a better deal? Maybe I didn’t really need that super - duper undercoating for an extra $2,000! And - why did I spring for that warranty?” Buyer’s remorse is one of those things that is common to man. In fact, it’s so common there are BUYER’S REMORSE laws on the books in several states.

I bring it up because there’s another common phenomenon that will happen in a month or so - usually the first week of the new year. It’s referred to as “CHRISTMAS remorse.” Here’s how it works. As early as October you begin thinking about the quickly approaching Christmas season.

You want everything to be perfect. After all this is the year you have the grandkids. So - you want the perfect tree - and you spend hours finding it. Only a FRESH tree will do so you traipse through three or four live tree farms until you find a perfectly shaped one! You want the house to be perfectly decorated - so you have your husband haul in all those huge green plastic trunks from the garage. You both work into the wee hours of the night - until you finally feel everything INSIDE looks awesome - perfectly “Christmasy.” Then your husband gets out the ladder and spends hours on the roof stringing lights so that your house and lawn will glow with Christmas joy. You even get one of those new light projectors that makes it look like stars and snowflakes fill the air. In the weeks leading up to Christmas you spend a small fortune buying what you think will be the perfect gifts. You wrap them with the best paper Hallmark sells - and ribbon up every gift so that it all looks like something out of the Christmas issue of Country Living. But you’re not done. You fill the fridge with everyone’s favorite food. With that task finished you begin to imagine how the days surrounding Christmas will unfold. I mean, you want to make some perfect family memories - but you want it all to be unrushed.

You add to your plans - a sincere desire to really get serious about worship during the coming advent. You want this to be the most spiritually tuned - in Christmas ever. You want every day of the “12 days of Christmas” to be fill with worship and wonder at our great God and the sending of His Son. On top of all this you reach out to old friends with the perfect Christmas card and you used the perfect stamp - not the ones with Frosty - but the ones with the Nativity on them.

Another thing - you also want to make sure you help others who are less - fortunate than you in as anti - Scrooge a way as possible. But then the months fly by - Christmas is over and January dawns - and in spite of all your good intentions you look back and realize things didn’t work out at all as you had planned. I mean, you’re exhausted. You are emotionally numb. Your times of family closeness led to bruised relationships. You didn’t get in touch with most of the friends you intended to - and you didn’t do anything to bless others as you have been blessed. You just didn’t have the time. And worst of all - your busy Christmas schedule with parties every other night and shopping till you dropped - didn’t allow time for you to worship God like you wanted. I could go on - but you get the idea. This my friend, is Christmas REMORSE. But then, in the spirit of all those die - hard Redskin fans, you think, “Next year, next year, I promise - next year will be different. Next year I’m going to get Christmas right.”

Has anyone ever felt that way? Let me put it another way. Because of past experience with Christmas remorse - have you ever dreaded this season because you know it’s going to be hurried and harried? Well, I want us to work together to prevent CHRISTMAS REMORSE hitting in 2018. I want us to ask God to help us get THIS Christmas RIGHT.

I loved last week’s VISION SUNDAY. It was so exciting to read through all the commitment cards you turned in - and to ENVISION what can happen as we keep those commitments to work for a common goal. With that in mind - envision something ELSE with me. What could happen if we all made another commitment? What if we worked together - CONNECT together in the achieving of ANOTHER common goal? What if we pledged together that we were all going to do everything we could to get this Christmas right?

* Think of what Christmas would be like if we all decided that we are going to draw near to God this Advent?

* What if we committed right now that we will make good decisions about family and friends and gift giving - and following Jesus’ example of putting OTHERS first?

I mean, wouldn’t it be wonderful if in about three weeks - when we get to the other side of Christmas 2017 we could look back with great satisfaction and say, “We got this Christmas right!” What if 2018 DIDN’T begin with any Christmas remorse? Well, that’s the goal of this series. I want us to pray and study together toward that end.

And to get us started right this Christmas, I’m going to read the Christmas story to you. Stand as I read these familiar words in God’s Word - Luke 2:1 - 20:

1 – 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 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.

8 – And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.

9 – An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

10 – But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.

11 – Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.

12 – This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 – Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 – “Glory to God in the highest Heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.”

15 – When the angels had left them and gone into Heaven, the shepherds said to one another,

“Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 – So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby, Who was lying in the manger.

17 – When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this Child,

18 – and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

19 – But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

20 – The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

I don’t know about you guys, but every time I read that simple story, it touches my soul in a special way. I feel the love of God in those words. Don’t you? And I hope this isn’t the last time you read Luke 2 this Christmas. In fact, if you’re really serious about getting this Christmas right, I would challenge you to read it once or twice a week. Because every time you do, you’ll be reminded anew of what God did to meet your need and mine - you’ll remember how God saw the condition of planet Earth and did not look away. Instead of being repulsed by our sinfulness and fallenness, He knew that we needed a Savior, so He sent one. Do you remember how one anonymous poet put it?

“If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent an educator.
If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent a scientist.
If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist.
If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer.
But our greatest,” and I always put - MY greatest need - was for forgiveness.
So, God sent a Savior.”

At Christmas we’re reminded that God sent the best He had because that was the only way to meet our greatest need. And remember God didn’t come up with this 2000 years ago. No - way back at the dawn of time God knew what would happen. He knew Adam and Eve would sin. He knew you and I and every other human would follow suit. But He created us anyway. So - before the beginning God decided to send Jesus. Before the beginning, He had you in mind - He had me in mind. I can’t help but think of the lyrics to an old Gaither song:

“Love has always been here,
In the chaos of our world, it was the Word that echoed through the formless void;
And whether in the universe or worlds of our own minds, it’s God’s love that turns our chaos into joy.
His love went on longing And His love went on reaching; Right past the shackles of my mind.
And the Word of the Father Became Mary’s little Son; And His love reached all the way to where I was.”

Now - when we realize this - when we let this fundamental Christmas truth wash over us, what happens? We start letting those truths draw us nearer to God. We sense His presence more. We are filled with a kind of wonder and worship. And then we look at people around us we realize, “Jesus came for him and her too. God was thinking of THAT person when He sent Jesus. God has been loving him or her since before time began.” That realization leads us to treat people with a little more dignity. Then when we look at people with less - when we see people with needs - well, we begin to think like God. We begin to want to give to help others - as a reflection of the way God gave to help us.

I mean, like Scrooge after his nightmarish Christmas Eve, a Christmas spirit begins to take root in our spirits and it changes us for the better. We begin to see - even difficult to get along with people - as being precious in God’s sight. We begin to love them as God loves them - as God loved US - in spite of our sin.

Well, with that in mind we’re going to take the next three Sundays and strive to wash and rewash ours heart with Christmas content that will help us get this Christmas right. But - be forewarned. I can work to prepare sermons with the kind of content we need to hear. Bill can use his amazing giftedness to compliment that content with music. But - the key to getting Christmas right is not going to be what is done in this room - it’s what happens when we all exit this room each Sunday - and we enter the maddening Christmas rush - that is already in full swing. So, here’s the plan. Here’s how we can keep the content the Christmas story washing over our spirits. This morning, I have borrowed an idea from Bill Hybels and gathered some Christmas objects, some Christmas scenery, some Christmas elements - and I want us to use them as MEMORY AIDS. Whenever you see these things out there during the week - and you will - whenever you see them or HEAR them - I want you to remember a part of today’s message. The idea is when you see or hear these things you will say to yourself, “Oh, wait a minute. I remember what we talked about Sunday.” And as you do - the real meaning of Christmas will wash over your souls again and you’ll get back on track for getting this Christmas right. Are you ready? Here goes.

I. The first memory aide is a NATIVITY SCENE.

You’re going to see nativities like this everywhere this Christmas. You’ll see them on neighbor’s lawns. You’ll see them in some public places. You’ll see them in stores. You’ll see big ones and little ones. You’ll see blown - up inflated ones. You’ll even see LIVE ones being done non - stop by some area churches. Well, whenever you see a nativity - small or large - fake or live - decide right now to embrace this thought: “That nativity scene is an illustration of something that really happened in human history.” Remind yourself that Christmas isn’t just a story - it’s HISTORY.

If it helps remember, Luke gives us a historical person to anchor the Christmas story in historical fact. He said the census that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem happened, “while Quirinius was governor of Syria.”

Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was a real person. He lived from 51BC until 21AD. He was born in a town near Rome. He was a Roman soldier - leading in several campaigns. He was the tutor to Caesar Augustus’ grandson. He was a Roman senator. And after the banishment of the Ethnarch Herod Archelaus from the tetrarchy of Judea, Quirinius was appointed legate governor of Syria - to which the province of Judaea had been added for the purpose of a census. Well, Luke included this statement to remind us all that the Christmas story is a real one. It’s a HISTORICAL event.

When Daniel was in middle school his school went on a field trip to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. and I went along as a chaperone. The tour they gave us was geared for middle - schoolers. They didn’t see everything you and I would see if we took a tour of the Holocaust museum. But even that “toned down” tour was too much for me to handle. The things we saw and heard - reminded me of the horror Jews endured under Hitler’s fascist regime. Museums like that are important - because they proclaim the fact that the Holocaust is not fiction. It really happened.

Well, as you drive through our community in the next couple weeks - and you see lawn displays of elves and the cut - out props of the Grinch who stole Christmas - as you see Santa and his sleigh and Frosty the snowman - and the obligatory nativity scenes - don’t make the mistake many people do. Don’t lump it all together as mere “Christmas folklore.” Because, whereas Frosty and the Grinch are just stories - the Nativity really happened.

In fact, I will testify that I have BEEN WHERE it happened. I’ve been to Bethlehem. I’ve been in the cave where Jesus was born. I’ve seen the fields where the shepherds heard those angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.” I’ve walked the ruins of the streets of ancient Nazareth where Jesus lived and learned to be a carpenter. I’ve stood at a winepress that His neighbors used. I’ve been to that hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee where Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount. I crowded into the church built over where He was crucified between two thieves. I put my hand in the hole where His cross was placed - the cross where He purchased my salvation and yours. I’ve seen the empty tomb where Jesus burst forth in resurrection power. If you’ve been blessed to BE there as well, would you raise your hand? Say out loud, “It really happened! I was there!” I don’t know about you but when we were in Israel that’s what we said over and over, “This really happened. This is the sea of Galilee where He walked on water and calmed the storm. These are the steps leading into the temple. He climbed those stairs. This is the house of Caiaphas where He was held the night of His arrest.”

And listen - if you’ve never been to the Holy Land - don’t feel bad. I mean you don’t have to go to Israel to say those three words. Whenever you see a nativity tell yourself, “This is not like Santa and the sleigh. This is not the snowmen and the elves. THIS REALLY HAPPENED.”

Then add this sentence, “And it happened for me.” Say that, “It happened for ME.” Good!

“Jesus took on human form. God lived here on this fallen planet in human flesh for 33 years. Then He died on a Roman cross. Three days later He rose from the dead. And He did it ALL for me.”

I promise - that will go a LONG WAY toward making THIS Christmas right for you. So - have you got this first memory aid? Every time you see a nativity scene, what are you going to say?

“This really happened in human history. And it happened for me.” GOOD!

II. Okay let me give you another memory aid - MUSIC.

This is an important one because there is never a time of year when you are going to be exposed to more music than during the Christmas season. You’re going to hear it on the radio and in the malls. It’s going to be played in restaurants and elevators. People at work will have their own PANDORA Christmas music stations playing. Some even play it in their front lawns to accompany all their Christmas decorations. And much of it is wonderful, beautiful music. I look FORWARD to playing my Christmas playlist I have on I - Tunes every year. But - let’s be honest some of the music people play at Christmas it is really strange. I’m thinking of popular Christmas hits like:

* Grandma Got Run Over by A Reindeer

* Please Daddy Don’t get Drunk This Christmas

* Santa Baby

* I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, and too many others!

This week I came across an article where a psychologist named Linda Blair says that instead of adding a spring in the step of all those overworked by the holiday season - the songs of the holidays likely detract from worker productivity. She writes,

“People working in the shops at Christmas have to [tune out] Christmas music, because if they don’t, it really does stop you from being able to focus on anything else. You’re simply spending all of your energy trying not to hear what you’re hearing.” In spite of this store owners are going to play all the peppy Christmas music they can - even those silly songs I listed and others like them. They do this because they believe by combining the right sensory mix of music, colors, and scents it will help shoppers feel more positively about shopping and - and will therefore spend more money.

Well, when you hear all the Christmas music - you can either let it remain background noise and not let it affect you - or you can make it a memory tool - and that’s what I would like you to do.

Any time you hear ANY Christmas music - even “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” - think of the story we just read together from Luke 2. Tether any song you hear - good or bad - to ANOTHER song - the Christmas carol the angels sang that first Christmas night. Do you remember the lyrics?

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Now THAT Christmas song had substance! It said, “Give glory to God for what He is doing by sending His Son, worship God in the highest. He deserves it because Jesus is going to bring peace - a peace that passes human understanding. He is going to replace anxiety with tranquility. He’s going to replace that anxious spirit that so many people live with, with peace. He’s going to take worry about eternity and replace it with trust. He’s going to proclaim the good news that Heaven awaits those who open their hearts to Christ.

So whenever you hear Christmas music for the next few weeks, say, “Wait a minute. I was supposed to remember something. Oh yeah,” say it with me, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men,” okay? In fact, when you hear, “Grandmom got run over by a reindeer” or “Santa Baby” sing, “Gloria, in excelsis deo! Gloria, in excelsis deo!” If someone in the elevator or the grocery store line looks at you oddly, tell them what you’re doing. Remind them that ANGELS sang that Christmas night - and their song had nothing to do with hippos!

III. Here’s your next memory aid - CHRISTMAS CARDS.

We all get them - and most of us send them. By the way, here’s some statistics on this part of the Christmas celebration:

* Every Christmas 1.5 Billion cards are sent in US

* 45% of all cards sent all year long - are Christmas cards

* The most cards sent by a single person, 62,824. I think he’s got too much time on his hands!

By the way, I learned this week that the custom of sending Christmas cards was started in the United Kingdom way back in 1843 by a man named Sir Henry Cole. He was a civil servant who had helped set - up the Post Office and wondered how it could be used more by ordinary people.

Sir Henry came up with the idea of Christmas Cards and his friend John Horsley, who was an artist helped. They designed the first card and sold them for 1 shilling each. (That is only 8 cents today). The card had three panels. The outer two panels showed people caring for the poor and in the center panel was a family having a large Christmas dinner! Some people didn’t like the card because it showed a child being given a glass of wine! About 1000 were printed and sold.

Today they are very rare - and are worth a lot more than eight cents!

But here’s the thing to remember about all the cards that are going to fill your mailboxes. As Christmas season begins, the people who know how to plan well - and how to multi - task - do an evaluation of their relational world and they make a list of their friends - people they want to touch of bless. And they send those people a card. If you’re on the receiving end of one of those cards it feels good doesn’t it! It tells you, “I’m on someone’s friendship list.” That’s a beautiful CONNECTION thing. I love looking in the “A” slot of the Lottie Moon Post office and seeing a pile of cards for the Adamses.

Well this Christmas whenever you get a card - at home or at the Lottie Moon Post Office - after you thank God for the person who sent it to you - remember this - remember that because you are a Christian - because you’ve opened your heart to Jesus - you are on GOD’s “friendship list.” Whenever you open a card remember Jesus’ words in John 15:15, where He said to a group of His first followers, “I, now, call you My friends.” Think about how wonderful that is! I mean, the best human friend you have is flawed.

* They don’t have unlimited time for you.

* They don’t always have perfect listening skills or empathy

* or anything close to PERFECT counsel.

I mean, they try. I try. You try, but we’re flawed.

Remember though, when you’re on God’s friendship list, you’re in a relationship with a flawless Friend.

* He is THE wonderful COUNSELOR!

* HIS love is love of another kind. It’s never flawed.

* His listening skills are unparalleled. He’s available 24 hours a day.

* His counsel to you is always wise and true.

* His power and his resources are infinite.

And HE calls you friend! Have you ever experienced the BLESSING of almighty God’s friendship? Have you ever felt the blessing of being God’s PERSONAL concern? I have. I can think of tons of times when I felt overwhelmed by this job - or times I faced deep grief - or times of fear - or times of financial crisis - when I felt God’s hand on my shoulder. I heard His still, small voice and the peace only He can give washed over my soul. Over and over I have been reminded of the powerful blessing of my personal friendship of God - a relationship that NEVER leaves me alone.

Listen. Some of you are heading into this Christmas season, and you are dreading it for various reasons.

* Maybe a loved one died this year. Or perhaps this is the first Christmas that you’ll be single because of a divorce.

* Maybe this will be the first Christmas that you’re contending with the eminent loss of someone whose gotten bad news from the doctor.

Well, you need to remember that you are not going into what can be a very difficult Christmas alone because as a Christian, you are on God’s friendship list. He is an ever - present help. God never leaves or forsakes us. So, whenever you get a Christmas card, between now and Christmas Day, say, “Oh God, thank you for human friendship, and that I’m on some human friendship list.” But before you put the card down, say, “Oh, and thanks for the greater miracle, that through my faith in Jesus, I am on YOUR friendship list. Thank You God that You are with me ALWAYS!” Okay?

IV. Here’s the last memory aid: CREDIT CARDS.

I would imagine some of you are going to use these a lot in the next few weeks - SO much, you’re going to melt the numbers right off this baby. The edges are going to get all worn down through sheer usage and - I’m not putting down that practice. Gift - giving is important and we are increasingly a “cashless culture.” But if you’re like me, whenever you use one of these plastic babies you kind of do a mental calculation. You think, “How much have I used this card since my last bill? How high is the balance going to be?” I mean, you kind of dread the painful day in a few weeks when you’re going to have to write the check or arrange the bank transfer of funds to pay off that credit card bill. You know writing that check is going to hurt!

Well, this Christmas in those seconds after you make a credit card purchase and the clerk is processing the transaction - and you’re waiting to give them your signature - tell yourself something like this, “My moral debt came due one day and Christ paid it and it hurt Him - it was costly - but He did it anyway. And in this moment, I worship Him for that.” Whenever you use a credit card - remember that Jesus was born - to die - born to pay our sin debt. And when you remember that, thank Him.

I don’t know about you guys but I miss Calvin and Hobbes. Do you remember the one where Calvin, a little boy, is hurtling down a snowy slope on a sled with his friend Hobbes, a tiger, and they are having a discussion about sin? Here is the dialogue:

Calvin: I’m getting nervous about Christmas.

Hobbes: You’re worried you haven’t been good?

Calvin: That’s the question. It’s all relative. What’s Santa’s definition? How good do you have to be to qualify as good? I haven’t killed anybody. That’s good, right? I haven’t committed any felonies. I didn’t start any wars. Wouldn’t you say that’s pretty good? Wouldn’t you say I should get lots of presents?

Hobbes: But maybe good is more than the absence of bad.

Calvin: See, that’s what worries me.

That Tiger was pretty smart - because in God’s Holy eyes, good IS more than the absence of bad. The fact is, we ALL do bad things - we ALL think bad thoughts - because WE are bad. We are fallen. We not only SIN. We are sinners. And Jesus came to die for that. He took our sins - He took our sinful state - upon Himself. 2nd Corinthians 5:21 says that “God made Him Who had no sin to BECOME sin for us.” Whenever you use your credit cards this Christmas - remember that. Remember the price Jesus PAID to cleanse us - to purify us - remember the pain He endured in order to clothe us in His righteousness. There are several hundred of us here today - and we’ll each use our cards tons of times. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful offering of worship if every time a Redlander used his or her credit card this Christmas - it was turned into a time of worship? Clerks at stores would probably wonder, “Why does that person seem so thankful? Why is he smiling about this $300 - dollar purchase? He does know he’s going to have to pay it off, doesn’t he?”


Okay. Stand with me now and we’ll do a quick review.

What are you going to say when you see a NATIVITY SCENE? “That really happened in human history. And it happened for ME.”

When you hear CHRISTMAS MUSIC, instead of just letting it be background noise, you’re going to tether it to that Christmas carol where the angels sang what? “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”

When you realize someone put you on their friendship list and they give you A CARD, you’re going to thank God for human friendship, and then, you’re going to say, “Through Christ, I’m on God’s friendship list.”

And when you’re single - handedly trying to bolster the American economy by using this little PIECE OF PLASTIC at a blistering pace - when you break out in a cold sweat at the counter and you say, “Oh man, this debt’s coming due. This bill’s coming due and I’m going to have to pay it. It’s going to hurt.” You’re going to add to it. You’re going to say, “My moral debt came due one day and Jesus paid it and it hurt Him, so I worship Him for doing that - right now.”