Avoiding a Humbug Christmas
At this time of the year many people are stressed out. We are getting “down to the wire” and they are wearied from shopping and anxious because of commitments and obligations. Even though we want to give gifts to those we love, the anxiety and the cost of trying to find the correct gift for the people we care about produces more stress than joy. As a result Christmas is sometimes endured more than celebrated.
This morning we return to a familiar account in Luke 2:8-20. This is the story of the appearance of the angels who announced the birth of Jesus to the Shepherds outside of Bethlehem. Shepherds were not particularly social people. I’m sure they got along fine with each other but they were used to people keeping their distance from them. Shepherds didn’t have the best reputation as far as their honesty. Due to their work they probably didn’t smell the best. They spent so much time with sheep that they likely did not have the best social skills. I’m betting most of these guys preferred quiet nights in the countryside over the activity of the city.
During the day the animals would graze in the grass. At night they would be led to crude shelters, pens or sheepfolds. They protected the sheep from wild animals, thieves, and bad weather. The shepherds stayed near the pen (sometimes sleeping across the entrance). They probably took shifts during the night.
We don’t know what time it was when the angels appeared to the Shepherds. Perhaps some were already sleeping. Perhaps they were all sitting around the fire near the sheep pen cooking beans, making “Smores”, and telling stories.
The text tells us that “suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.” I can’t imagine a time when an angel didn’t “suddenly appear”. You never expect an angel. Most believe this “glory of the Lord” was a great brightness that engulfed them. I can only imagine the experience being similar to what it is like when you meet someone on the road who has their bright headlights shining in your eyes.
Luke says “they were terrified”. I bet they were! These may have been very godly and faithful men but like us they were not used to this kind of an audience with Heaven.
The angel responded to their fear with the words: “Fear not! For I bring you good news of great joy for all the people!” First thing the angel made it clear that the Shepherds were not in trouble. God was not going to strike them dead. The angels had come with “good news”. They had come to tell them something wonderful. What I want to do the rest of our time this morning is focus on this simple sentence.
The Coming of Christ is GOOD News
When the angels announced the coming of Christ was “good news” they used the word that is often translated evangelize or preach the gospel. The message of salvation is “good news”. In other words, the first evangelist was an angel. Spurgeon pointed out that this is most appropriate because the final message will also be proclaimed by an angel when they blow the trumpet and the dead in Christ are raised in resurrected glory.
The reason I stress this is because it seems to me that many have missed the fact that this is GOOD news. Look around as you stand in line at a store. Are most of the people smiling? No. Most look stressed out; weighted down. Christmas often appears to be a burden.
Why is this? The simple answer is that they are looking at the wrong thing. People think Christmas is about proving our love for someone by spending money we don’t have to buy a person something they don’t really need. We think Christmas is about credit card bills and increased activity. Christmas is an obligation we need to meet.
Do you see how far we have drifted from the truth? The gift at the center of the good news is not a new video game system, a DVD player, a computer, or expensive jewelry. The focus of the good news is Jesus. It is the message that God has not given up on us. Even though we have made mistakes; even though we have ignored God’s counsel and have gone our own way, God has not given up on us! Christmas is God drawing us close and wrapping His arms around us.
The good news of Christmas is that there is hope for the hopeless; there is healing for the broken! There is life for those who feel dead inside. There is forgiveness for those who have turned away from the Lord.
We turn on the television and we hear all kinds of bad news. There is bad news about the economy, the environment, the government, and crimes that reveals a growing decay in our society. However, when you open up the Bible it is different. Instead of bad news there is the good news: hope, life and joy have come to us in Jesus Christ. The solution to our problems is not found in a political party, a particular program, or a good investment program. The answer to the deepest issues of our life is Jesus!
The Coming of Christ is JOYFUL News
The text also said the angels brought good news of great joy. We sing “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.” But in our actions it often seems that we don’t believe the words. Joy is more than happiness. It is deeper and less affected by the circumstances of life. It comes from a connection with God that floods our hearts with life.
The Angel not only proclaims that it will be joyful news . . . it will be news of GREAT joy. The joy that the coming of Christ brings is a joy that dwarfs any of the joys the world has to offer. There are some great joys in life: the birth of a child, marital union, promotions, awards, victories. However, in comparison to the joy that can be ours in Christ, they pale by comparison.
Too often our Christmas looks more like this parody of Luke’s words.
“And there were in the same country children keeping watch over their stockings by the fireplace. And, Lo! Santa Claus came upon them; and they were sore afraid. And Santa said unto them: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which be to all people who can afford them. For unto you will be given great feasts of turkey, dressing and cake; and many presents; and this shall be a sign unto you, ye shall find the presents, wrapped in bright paper, lying beneath a tree adorned with tinsel, colored balls and lights. And suddenly, there will be with you a multitude of relatives and friends, praising you and saying, ‘Thank you so much, it was just what I wanted.’ And it shall come to pass as the friends and relatives have gone away into their own homes, the parents shall say to one another, ‘Darn it! What a mess to clean up! I’m tired, let’s go to bed and pick it up tomorrow. Thank goodness, Christmas only comes once a year!’ And they go with haste to their cold bed and find their desired rest.”
If this parody describes your typical Christmas then you have missed the good and joyful message of the gospel. The gospel is joyful news because God has drawn us close. Because of Jesus whenever God looks at a sinful person, He remembers that his own Son, as a man, once stood in the sinner’s place and bore his penalty. Like any feud, when the opposing parties intermarry there is no more war. We have become family. The enmity between God and man has ended because God has joined with us in a manger in Bethlehem. It is a cause for great joy.
God has brought about the solution to the world’s greatest problem: the alienation of sin. What greater joy could there be than knowing that we can be made right with God? The message of Christmas is that this life is not all there is. Through Christ we can “live even though we die”
Second, Christmas is a time of joy because it represents promises fulfilled. Way back in the Garden of Eden there was a promise that the Devil would be defeated. Satan was told that there was coming a day when a woman would have a child and, “he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15). Abraham was told that through his descendents “all the nations of the earth would be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3). David was told that his Kingdom would have no end. In Jesus all those promises were fulfilled. Satan was defeated, the whole world was given a Savior, and He became King forever as a descendent of David. God keeps His word. As God has kept His word in the past, so He will keep His promises to us.
Third, Christmas is a time of joy because it changes our perspective on the hard times. There is joy even…
- For the one who has lost a mate. Because of Jesus we know that those in Christ are not gone . . . they have simply gone ahead. We are reminded that this is not the end of the story. Though we grieve we do not grieve as those without hope. Without the coming of Christ death would be the height of life’s futility.
- For the one who has made horrible mistakes. Whether that person is in jail, ostracized from their family, or is paying a steep price for a lapse in judgment. Christmas reminds us that “If we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) The coming of Christ opens a door to a new beginning even to those who feel they are out of chances.
- For the one who feels desperately alone. It may be you have no one with whom to celebrate at Christmas. You may have lost your family due to any number of reasons. You may be separated because of work, military service, or even conflict. You may be one who simply feels misunderstood in a crowd of people. Christmas is the declaration that God cares, sees, understands, and has not given up on us. He will never leave us or forsake us.
- For the one who is overworked. In the stress of life Jesus promises a peace that overcomes the world.
- For the one who has reached the top of the world and has found that there is nothing there. Jesus reminds us that true joy comes not from titles and perks, but from a deep and abiding relationship with the Ruler of the Universe.
- For the one who faces an illness that threatens their life. Jesus reminds us that “He who believes in me will live even if He die.”
- For those who feel inadequate. Scripture reminds us that we can all things through Christ which strengthen us. He reminds also that He will supply all our needs. We can move forward confident that He will equip us for every good work.
Christmas changes our perspective on the hard times of life. It is meant to lead us to a time of celebration, laughter, and singing.
This is the Perspective God Wants us to Have
The angel says I bring YOU good news of great joy. Do you ever wonder why the angels appeared to Shepherds? Why not to the religious leaders, to the political leaders, or even the important people of Bethlehem? I think it was because by announcing the good news to Shepherds the angel was announcing the news to the common man. It demonstrated that this is not a message for someone else . . . it is a message for you and for me.
May I ask, have you taken the message of Christmas personally or do you view it as some abstract historical happening? Is it old news or good news to you? The message of Christmas is meant for YOU even as it is meant for me.
If the people of God, the Christians, are not able to rejoice why will would anyone else? Christian people should be directing the bands, leading the parades, and singing joyfully at the top of our lungs. We should do this because we understand from personal experience just how good the news really is.
The Shepherds were told that the news was personal but also meant for all people. If you read the remainder of the story the Shepherds went to see the baby and then
“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.”
The good news of Christmas was meant to be shared. There are millions of people around the world who do not know the good and joyful news of Jesus Christ. We, as God’s people need to joyfully share this great news with anyone who will listen
- by our testimony
- by our missionary outreach
- by our joyful songs
- by our greetings
- by our gift-giving
- by friendship
- by the joyful way we live our lives
The Shepherds understood that this was not news they could/should keep to themselves. They could not be silent even if it was politically incorrect to speak out. They could not keep quiet even if the whole world told them they could believe what they wanted as long as they did not try to impose their beliefs on others. The Shepherds understood the truth that when you discover something life-changing you should share it with others. You don’t adjust the message to be less “initially offensive”. You tell the truth because the truth is worth hearing.
If you had the cure for a devastating disease (such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, MS or any number of other diseases) you would certainly want to apply that cure to your own life. You would want to apply it to those you loved who were suffering. But I think and I hope you would also want to share such a discovery with the rest of the world. You would do this not because of the profit you could make but because you would want to help those who are hurting.
It should be the same with the message of the gospel. Sin and rebellion against God is a disease more devastating than anything medicine has ever had to address. We have the cure: a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. We owe it to everyone we meet to tell them this great truth.
I encourage you to continue to look for opportunities in the days ahead. Make every effort to turn the spotlight of the celebration to the real reason for the celebration. The time is ripe. This is not religion! It is life!!
To the credit of the Shepherds they did not say to the angel, “How do we know this is true?” The angel however gave them a sign. He told them that there would be a new baby in Bethlehem who was lying in a manger and wrapped in cloths. There may have been more than one new baby in Bethlehem but there was only one lying in a manger. The angel in essence said, “Go and check things out for yourself.” It was not enough to just see the angels (even though that was cool). . . they wanted to see the One who sent the angels. They went into Bethlehem to “see this thing about which the angels spoke”.
I would extend the same invitation to you this morning. Examine the facts. Check it out for yourself. You have heard the claims that the coming of Christ is good news and joyful news. You don’t have to take my word for it. You don’t have to take the Bible’s word for it. You can discover the joy of a relationship with Jesus Christ in your own life and experience. Examine the life of Jesus. See for yourself what an incredible Savior He is.
Second, I challenge you to take the message personally. Suppose you were sent an invitation to attend a dinner at the White House. Obviously it would be quite an honor. I suspect you would show the invitation to everyone. You might display it proudly in your home. It might make you feel very special.
But what if while cherishing the invitation, you neglected to go to the dinner? Instead taking advantage of the opportunity given you all you do is show off the invitation. How foolish.
At Christmas God extends an invitation to you and to me. He invites us to become a part of His family. He invites us experience the forgiveness and new life that has come through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He invites us to become a citizen of Heaven. We can celebrate the invitation. But if we fail to respond to that invitation we are fools.
If you have never entered into the new relationship that comes through Christ . . . I encourage you to do so today.
One more application: If we recognize the facts and respond to the invitation then we should worship joyfully. Like the angels we should proclaim “Glory to God in the Highest”. We have every reason to smile, to laugh, to celebrate and to rejoice. The Lord has come to us and He has changed our lives forever.
Christmas is only the beginning of the story. When you put away your gifts and take down your decorations the holiday will be over. However, for the child of God, the adventure is only beginning. Let the message of Christmas affect the way you live your life not only in December, but also in January, June, July and every other day of your life.
Let the celebration begin!