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Christmas Wrappings

Luke 2:8-14 

 

And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night. [9] And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. [10] And the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; [11] for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. [12] "And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger." [13] And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

[14] "Glory to God in the highest,

And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."
 

Today, as we light the 4th Advent Candle, the Angel Candle, we celebrate the Angel's message and are reminded of God's love in sending His son. John wrote, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16 KJV) Last week, as we lit the Shepherd's candle, we reflected upon the phrase, "for all the people." The good news that the Angels brought was intended for everyone-even the shepherds. Today we do not focus so much upon the intended recipients as we do the message itself-the message of love. It isn't exactly a Christmas Carol, but the final verse of "At Calvary" captures the message of the Angel's candle: "Oh, the love that drew salvations' plan! Oh, the grace that bro't it down to man! Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span at Calvary."

Yes, the hymn's focus is probably more appropriate for a Good Friday Sermon than a Christmas sermon, yet the "good news of great joy" was about a special birth that would lead to a special death. Later in the service we will further explore this truth as we consider the Magic of Christmas, but before we do, we're going to sing some Christmas Carols and rejoice in the "good news of great joy."

-Christmas Carols

Personally, I'm not a big shopper. I'd rather click a mouse button and make a purchase over the Internet than stand in lines at stores, and yet, I love to go Christmas shopping. This year, Susan & I did quite a bit of shopping together, but I made several side trips on my own to buy gifts.

I've also savored every moment of our celebration here at the church and look forward to what is still to come. Our Angel Tree, birthday party for Jesus was the best yet. I love watching the prisoners' children come into our sanctuary and receive the gifts we gave them in the name of their parents and in the name of our Lord. And what about our Choir's ministry to us last week, wasn't it great? I also look forward to our Annual Deacon-led Christmas Eve service. I anticipate it being the highlight of my personal celebration.

In our culture, icons of the Christmas Season peacefully co-exist with religious meaning and celebration. Oh, occasionally we religious leaders bemoan the commercialization of Christmas or criticize its secular trappings, but for the most part, we look forward to celebrating Christmas, American-style as much as anyone else. Frankly, I don't see anything wrong with singing Jingle Bells or having our children take their picture on Santa's lap. Perhaps you disagree with me, and that is certainly your right, but as far as I'm concerned, what is important is that we keep Jesus' birth central in our celebration. Something I believe most people do to some extent. The Scripps Howard News Service questioned 1,001 people over the past few weeks to find out their Christmas practices. The majority of those surveyed, in fact, almost two-thirds, (62 percent) said they expected to attend a Christmas religious service, either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. 

But imagine what it would be like to have a Christmas celebration that did not center around the birth of Jesus-a completely secular celebration-A Christmas with all the wrappings, but no Christ. What would Christmas be like without Christ? What meaning would it really have? Of course, for many people, this is not a hypothetical question. Scripps Howard also found that nearly half of Americans reported that they know someone who doesn't believe in God, but will still celebrate the Christmas holiday this year. They also found Americans overwhelmingly believe the holiday is becoming less focused on the birth of Jesus than it used to be.

The poll found that 80 percent of Americans plan to decorate a tree this year, including 68 percent of people who said they had no religious preferences.

Ron Barrier, a leader of American Atheists says, "There is that old tradition that says if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." He says Christmas is seductive and adds, "And it does seem that people behave a little better around the holidays, and that's always a good thing."

(http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

It is one thing to have the choice to include Christ in Christmas, and choose not to, but another not to even have the choice. Dr. Mateen Elass grew up in Saudia Arabia where he didn't have a choice. The Islamic ruled country did not celebrate the holiday, but allowed Westerners in oil company towns to celebrate it as long as the message and the decor were not specifically Christian. In his youth, Elass associated Christmas with reindeer, stars, colorful lights, sleigh bells, parties, and decorated trees. He remembers being told that the deeper meaning of Christmas was love and good will shown by giving and receiving of special gifts on December 25th.

Giving and receiving gifts is an important part of celebrating Christmas, but generosity is not the message. Others observing our traditions might say that "being together"-building community is what is important about Christmas. And frankly, I wouldn't disagree that it is a piece of Christmas magic. University of Texas Historian, Penne Restad, author of a book entitled, Christmas in America: A history says, "Christmas has become as much a celebration of community as it has a celebration of religion."

(http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

Community is important. It is important to the fabric of our nation, our church and our families. But real community can only take place in the context of strongly held beliefs-beliefs like Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life and died on the cross for our sins. 

If we aren't careful, we can disembowel Christmas of its religious character, and if we do, we will drift into the New Year with hollow community, low bank balances, high credit card debt, and an empty feeling in the pits of our souls. But if we truly celebrate, we can experience transformation.

Dr. Elass says Christmas proclaims God's love, and reminds us that God was not satisfied to speak His word from a distance, but became a man and lived among us. According to Elass, Jesus was "God with skin on, the perfect means of revealing all we can comprehend about the mind and heart of God." 

Consider the thought-God became man and dwelt among us. He who created us, became one of us so that He could restore us to Himself. Think about the power in that act. Why would anyone who knows that truth settle for a celebration void of that transforming power?

When we immerse ourselves into the season and fully experience the magic of Christmas-when we celebrate the Incarnation, "we say 'yes' to God's plan to raise us to life in Christ - it is to say 'goodbye' to our old comfortable lives enjoyable sins, and private agendas, and lay ourselves on God's operating table." (http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

Our lives are changed forever-like the shepherds were, who left their flocks to worship God. Or Simeon was, who felt his life was complete because he'd laid his eyes upon the Messiah. Our lives will be changed like the Wise Men's who lavished gifts upon the baby in the manger, or Mary's was.

Please don't settle for Christmas wrappings, when you can have the greatst gift of all times.
 

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