Is There a Right Way to Celebrate Christmas?

Various Texts

 

ÓDecember 17, 2006 Rev. Bruce Goettsche Advent 2006

Every family has Christmas traditions.  Some households gather on Christmas Eve to open part or all of their gifts.  Some would consider such an act to be a sacrilege and do not open a single present until everyone is awake and seated on Christmas morning.  In my family we all ate breakfast together before anyone opened their gifts (kind of one final torturous “wait” for children). In some homes people all open their gifts at once (two months of shopping opened in 5 minutes!).  Others open gifts systematically.  In some families after you your gift someone else can take it from you (Ah….the Christmas spirit).

 

Some families have a special meal. Others have a birthday cake for Jesus. In some homes the Christmas Story is read out of the Bible.  In other the Night Before Christmas is read on Christmas Eve.  Some decorate a tree with popcorn or homemade ornaments.  In other homes there are decorations of other kinds. In some homes, Santa is left a plate of milk and cookies (or something else Santa would enjoy), in other homes Santa is ignored.  We all have our traditions.

 

Speaking of Santa, this jolly man in the red suit is often a source of contention among Christian people.  Every year there are Christians who seem to square off over whether Santa should have any place in our Christmas celebration.  Some see Santa as a fun part of the “magic” of Christmas.  Others feel he is a counter (or anti) Christ and a contemporary idol. 

 

I have no particular Biblical guideline for my view of the issue but I will share it for what it is worth.  It is a similar position to that expressed by Focus on the Family. As I look back on my childhood Christmas’ I remember the anticipation of Santa Claus with wonderfully warm memories.  They are some of the most cherished times of my life.  We enjoyed sharing that joy and “magic” with our children as they grew up.

 

I understand and respect the concern of parents who don’t want to mix the pagan celebration of Christmas with the historical reality of Jesus Christ.  These parents don’t want to risk weakening the Christmas story. I admire their passion for what is true.

 

When all is said and done I think it is a matter of parental choice.  In our case, I don’t think our children were confused about what Christmas was really all about. I don’t think our credibility was diminished by Santa Claus.  If I were doing it over again, I’d do the same thing. 

 

My plea would be for understanding, respect and love in this particular debate. There is always value in discussing how best to celebrate the birth of Christ.  However, when an issue like this becomes a point of contention and division, we actually do more harm to our celebration than Santa could ever do.

 

Rather than focus on this debate, let’s ask a more basic question: “What are appropriate ways to celebrate Christmas?”  To answer the question we are going to look at the Biblical accounts of the Christmas story and seek to discover how the various players in the story responded to the birth of Jesus.  We look at these people not because we are driven by what others do (there is too much of that going on already) but because all of these people were responsive and approved by the Lord.  These were people who were on the “same wavelength” as God. 

 

WORSHIP (Matthew 2:11; Luke 2:20)

 

As we start in Matthew notice how the Magi responded to Jesus,

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh (Matthew 2:11)

 

In Luke 2:20 we read something similar about the Shepherds,

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

 

Both the Magi and the Shepherds responded with worship.  Perhaps we can symbolize worship with an offering plate.  The Magi offered gifts and the Shepherds offered God their praise.

 

Too often we view an offering plate as being about money.  It is certainly true that giving money to ministry IS a way to honor and worship the Lord. However, it is also true that a true worship offering is an offering of our hearts to God.  The Magi, the Shepherds, and really all the participants in the Nativity story gave themselves to the Lord.  They worshipped God.

 

There are at least two reasons why this is an appropriate response.  First, we should worship God because He is God.  In Bethlehem, God came to earth.  He was, if you will, “in the house”. 

 

When a judge enters a courtroom the people are told to rise as a way of showing respect for the position and authority of the Judge.  When people address the court they begin with “Your honor”.  They speak respectfully.  They do so because the Judge represents the power and authority of law.  A person who treats the court with disrespect is often fined or thrown in jail.

 

Having said this, it only makes sense that when God . . . the Creator of the Universe, the ultimate law giver, the Judge of the Universe enters the world we should likewise show honor and respect.  Every time we are reminded that God is with us we should bow in worship and offer ourselves anew to the service of the King.

 

There is a second reason why we should worship: because of why God came to earth.  Jesus came into the world not on some fact-finding mission or for some publicity photo-op.  Jesus came to the world to help us find the way to be right with God.  He came to communicate God’s love and goodness to those who cast Him aside. He came to give His life for us.

 

There are all kinds of stories of people who have been drawn close because of a gift of a kidney or bone marrow.  One person gives sacrificially and the other person feels gratitude for the rest of their lives.  How much more should we be grateful for what God has done for us in Christ?  He has turned us from death to life.  He has transformed us from enemies of God to children of God.  We owe Him our worship, our admiration, our respect, and our devotion.  We are right to give ourselves as an offering to God.

 

There are lots of ways we can give to God.  It is not simply about money.  Let me borrow some ideas from H.B. London and the Pastor’s Weekly Briefing.  We could give the gift of,

  • A renewed commitment to Christ
  • A promise of daily interaction with the Father as His child
  • A commitment to guard our hearts and to flee those things that might negatively entrap us
  • A more sensitive commitment to the lost; those for whom Christ died
  • A disciplined and vigilant attitude toward a healthy lifestyle in recognition that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
  • A recommitment to love our spouse and children and Christ loves us
  • A humble spirit

 

It would be unthinkable to go to a birthday celebration and give gifts to everyone but the person who was having the birthday. I would venture to say that you have assembled a number of gifts to celebrate Christmas . . . what plans have you made to honor the King?

 

CELEBRATION (Matthew 2:10; Luke 1:44; 1:46; 2:29)

 

There is a second element of an appropriate celebration of Christmas and that is celebration and joy.  In the same section of Matthew we are told that when the Magi saw the star, they were overjoyed.  When Elizabeth (Mary’s aunt who was pregnant in her old age with John the Baptist) heard Mary’s greeting, she said her baby jumped for joy!  (That had to be uncomfortable).  Even the baby knew that the coming of Jesus was a time for joy and celebration.

 

We have records of songs that were sung or spoken by Mary, the Angels, and Simeon (the old man who blessed Jesus when he was brought to the temple).  That first Christmas was a time of joy.

 

When something good happens to people (they are selected as an American Idol, they win a lot of money, get a promotion, win a championship or are surprised by a gift they have long wanted but never thought they could have) they often jump, scream, dance, and celebrate.  Grown people carry on like little kids when there is good news.

 

I’m not suggesting we should carry on like little kids at Christmas.  However, I would suggest that it is right and appropriate to sing songs, to have parties, to decorate and to celebrate . . . as long as we are celebrating Jesus and not simply celebrating the celebration.  Is there any better news than the news that “God has come and opened to us the way to eternal life?”

 

REFLECTION (Luke 2:19)

 

A third response is seen in Luke 2:19.  We read that after Mary was told all the things the Shepherds saw and heard, she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

 

If you have been blessed to have had a child of your own, think back to that wonderful day when your child was born.  You thanked God, you smiled, but more than anything, you held that child and treasured and pondered how your life had now changed.  You think about your responsibility to protect this new life.  Some start immediately making plans to pay for college.  One thing is for sure, there is a great deal to think about.

 

Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what was going on in the head of Mary and Joseph?  Did they wonder if they were mistaken about their messages from God?  Did Mary listen to the words of the Shepherd and wonder, “What in the world have we gotten ourselves into?”  Did she wonder, “Why me?”  Were they anxious about their responsibility of raising the Messiah?  Did they reflect on what this child would mean to their own lives?

 

Mark Lowry does a great job asking some of these questions,

Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered will soon deliver you

Mary, did you know That your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Did you know That your baby boy will calm a storm with His hand?
Did you know That your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little boy You've kissed the face of God

 

Mary, did you know That your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Did you know That your baby boy will one day rules the nations?
Did you know That your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding Is the Great I Am.

 

I encourage you to take some time to reflect on the birth of Jesus.  Stop and think about the difference that His coming makes to your life.  Think about how His entry into the world has changed everything (even those who don’t believe).  Find quiet place and ponder and reflect on the truth of His coming.  As you do, you heart will be led into worship.

 

EVANGELISM (Luke 2:17)

 

Fourth, it is proper to use this time to tell others about Jesus. Notice that in Luke 2:17 we are told what the Shepherds did after they met Jesus for the first time.

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.

 

After the Shepherds met Jesus they told everyone about Him.  This is significant because Shepherds were generally social outcasts.  They spent all their time with sheep (and smelled like it) and didn’t have many social skills.  The idea of a shepherd seeking out other people to talk to them is quite remarkable.  It leads us to believe that something life-changing happened to these men when they met Christ.  What happened was so great they had to tell others.

 

I can’t help but think of someone who is a new parent.  These people can’t wait to tell people (even total strangers) about their children.  They will show pictures, go into great (too great) detail about the delivery, and be completely enthralled by the way that baby grabbed hold of their pinky.  Why?  It is because the birth of a child is a life-changing event to the parents of that child.

 

We say on occasion that our life would be changed (for the good) forever if: we won the lottery, if we were given a certain job, if we married a certain person.  Those things are nothing compared to what potentially can take place in our lives because of Jesus. The birth of Jesus is a life changing event to each of us.  Because God humbled himself and came to earth as Jesus, we can now,

·       Be forgiven and given a brand new and fresh start

·       Be certain of Heaven and life beyond the grave

·       We can have a new focus and perspective on life

·       Know an intimacy with God that provides strength and joy

 

Why wouldn’t we share such great things with others?  We get hung up on evangelism because we don’t believe we can answer all the questions of a skeptic or be able to point to just the right Scripture passages.  The Shepherds couldn’t do any of these things either.  What they could do is testify of what they had seen and heard.  We can (and should) all be able to do that much.

 

OBEDIENCE (Mt. 1:24, 2:12, 2:14; Luke 1:38, 2:15)

 

Finally, as I was studying the responses of the characters in the original Christmas story there was one response I had missed in the past.  It is the response of obedience. 

  • Joseph obeyed God, he took Mary as his wife and named the child she delivered, “Jesus”.
  • The Magi, having been warned in a dream, did not go back to Herod
  • Joseph, when he was told to take Mary and Joseph and “get out of Dodge” (Bethlehem), went to Egypt
  • In 2:19 Joseph brought Jesus back to Israel and eventually ended up in Nazareth because this is what God told him to do.
  • Mary responded to the request of the angel with the words, “I am the Lord’s Servant, may it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38)
  • In Luke 2:15 the Shepherds went to see the baby the angels of the Lord had told them about.

 

Each of the people in the Nativity story honored God by obeying Him.  Notice something.  What each one of the things these people were asked to do, didn’t make much sense from our perspective.  Think about it.  Mary was asked to give her body for the birth of the birth of Christ . . . that doesn’t make sense to the human perspective.  Marrying a woman pregnant with a child not your own . . .didn’t make much sense.  These people didn’t obey because what they were asked to do seemed like a good idea.  They obeyed because they trusted God.  They obeyed out of faith.

 

It is an appropriate response to Christmas.  If you love someone you show it by the way you live.  If you are grateful you show it by the things you do.  At Christmas it is a good time to obey God by,

  • Forgiving an offense or letting go of resentment (doesn’t make sense to us)
  • Telling the truth
  • Reaching out to someone who is hurting
  • Taking a step of faith and beginning that new ministry or supporting one that is already underway just as God has been prompting you to do.
  • Receiving Christ as the One who can Save and transform YOU
  • Sharing the message of Christ with someone close to you

 

Obedience demonstrates our devotion.

 

CONCLUSIONS

 

So, as you prepare for Christmas do you see: worship, celebration, reflection, evangelism, and obedience, in the way that you plan to celebrate Christmas? It is possible to have wonderful family traditions and still miss the real celebration of Christmas.  You can go to church and never worship.  You can sing the carols of the season and never encounter Christ.  You can spend thousands of dollars on gifts and still ignore the one whose life we honor.

 

So take stock of your life. Give thought to how you celebrate Christmas. Enjoy your family traditions.  But as you do, don’t forget to honor the King. 

ÓDecember 17, 2006 Rev. Bruce Goettsche  Advent 2006