I hope that you are having a peaceful Christmas season. It's so good to see you here. We are spending this holiday season together talking about what I call the secret of the holiday. It’s not a very good secret, I mean it’s something we all know, but we are not real excited to talk about it. Everyone of us has a little bit of dread during this time of the year, because Christmas is messy.
I think for us the messiness starts with Christmas cards. It starts pretty early in the process. In fact, right around Thanksgiving. This year we got our first Christmas card at Thanksgiving. I remember pulling it out and Trista and I stood there and felt like total losers. We hadn't even thought about our Christmas picture. In fact, one university professor in Salt Lake City did a little experiment. He mailed out 600 cards randomly to individuals all across America just to see what would happen. People he didn't know. He put his return address on the cards. He actually received 117 responses back for the 600 cards he mailed out.
Some of the responses were really interesting. For instance, one person said, "I just got out of the hospital and how good it was to hear from a long time wonderful friend." Another person said this, "It was really great to hear from you again. We'll be in Salt Lake City this summer. If you have a spare room we'd love to stay two or three days." What are friends for anyway?
For us the messiness starts with the Christmas cards and then it goes on from there. There is a lot of shopping that goes along with Christmas. For me it's not just the shopping. How many of you have someone in your family that it's incredibly difficult to find a gift for? Do you know what I'm talking about? How many of you are sitting next to that person right now? It can be a real challenge. I think of my dad and my father-in- law. They are the hardest people to shop for in the world. How many years can you give a guy a gift certificate to a hardware store and still save face? Every year it's the same thing. I mean we ran out of John Wayne movies for my father-in-law a long time ago, because when we first got married that's what I always got him.
Then there's the whole dynamic of the tree. Whether you have the real trees or that pre-lit three piece fake aspen fir tree it’s still a headache to get it all set up. You have all the stuff that goes with that, and then there are the lights. There is the travel. Some of you are traveling. If you are not traveling you are picking up and shuttling back and forth.
There are family dynamics. Christmas is a time when you are supposed to be with your family. The question becomes which family? You not only have your immediate family with blended families anymore, you have parents, you have stepparents, you have grandparents, you have step grandparents, you have step, step grandparents. It gets complex. How do you honor your kids and honor your parents and honor your grandparents and your step grandparents. How do you cover all the bases when it comes to the holiday? This time that's supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year can actually become filled with so much messiness that we can kind of lose it.
I want to share with you how we can recapture some of that wonder this time of year. Really re-experience what Christmas is all about. I want to do it by sharing some different gifts that you don't have to wait until Christmas to open. These are gifts that only God can give and they are gifts that He's given us through the miracle of Christmas. Our text this morning is in Luke 2 where the angels appear to the shepherds who are out in the field.
It’s important to know that these shepherds are not the highest on the social ladder. In many ways they would be considered lower class. They didn't have a lot of money. They weren't real wealthy. They couldn't meet all the Jewish ritual requirements from the Jewish religious point of view because they weren't in the towns near the places of worship. They were out in the fields watching their sheep. Yet to these lowly shepherds, God appears. He makes this wonderful announcement.
In the midst of this announcement, there is one gift that we can open immediately today and hang onto. We don't have to wait until Christmas to open it. That is the gift of security.
You see it in the angel's statement, Do not be afraid. Don’t be afraid. Right do you think that an angel ever struggles over finding the right gift?? The gift that is the right thing, at the right time, that cost the right amount of money? It can be a bit fearful at times. But our Savior has come into this world so that we can let go of our fear.
Our building this year is decorated with Charlie Brown Christmas trees. I really appreciate the work Molly and Cassie have done to pay tribute to this great holiday classic, to be honest I still think it's the best Christmas special out there. There is a scene in Charlie Brown's Christmas where Linus tells the Christmas story. I want to share a clip of that movie with you today and I want you to pay attention to Linus’ security blanket. (Play Clip)
Do you notice what Linus does when he comes to the phrase “Fear Not”? He drops his security blanket. I think the writers are making a statement. There are a lot of things that we hang onto to give us security in life. Money, IRAs, retirement accounts, hobbies, relationships, there are a lot of things we turn to to find security. Now out of the mouth of this little cartoon character, Linus, comes the words of the angel, fear not. He drops his security blanket. Christmas is God's statement of love and security for us as people. It's a gift that you don't have to wait until Christmas to open. It's a gift that you can open right now and experience in your life. Do not be afraid.
In fact, that phrase we see nine months earlier in a few paragraphs before Luke 2 when the angel comes to Mary, it says these words in Luke 1:30-32: Don't be afraid, Mary, the angel told her, for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most high. The angel comes and says, Mary, don't be afraid.
Here is Mary. She's probably around 14 or 15 years old according to custom in that time. She's just found out that she's going to conceive and give birth to a child, except she's a virgin. She's never known a man. She's engaged to be married. Is it any wonder that Mary is greatly troubled at this announcement? Who wouldn't be, right? You know she has all these questions running through her mind. Will her fiancé accept me? Will my family accept me? Is the angel going to appear to mom and dad too? How is this whole thing going to play out? There is a lot to fear. The angel says, "Do not be afraid." But he goes further than that. The angel also gives clear reason why she shouldn't be afraid, "Because the Savior was being born into the world."
I believe it's the message that God has for us today in our time, in our era, and in our own uncertainty. Do not be afraid. That Christ child has been born. You can receive the gift of security today.
Friends, what are you afraid of? For some of you it's an addiction. You are wrestling with an addiction and you are afraid of what the future can hold. Maybe you are afraid of yourself and what you might do to yourself or others. Maybe it's a relational thing that you are afraid of. Maybe you tried and tried to get pregnant in the midst of your marriage to start a family and it hasn't happened. You get afraid as you look out into the future.
Maybe you have a spouse who is in law enforcement. You know what it's like to send that individual out every day and have a little fear and trepidation of, "Will they come safely?" Maybe you have a teenager that's driving. You know exactly what it's like to give those keys to the most precious thing in your life and send them out the door. You say, "Please, God, let them not wreck, hurt someone else or get hurt." What is it that you're afraid of?
This Christmas, you and I have a unique opportunity to come before God and acknowledge our fear and lay it down before Him and accept the gift of his security. It doesn't mean that we won't face difficult times or hardships, but it does mean that through it all His presence will be with us. He will walk with us, just as He came into the world in the person of Christ 2000 years ago. He's still available to us today.
There is another Christmas gift that you don't have to wait to open until Christmas, that's the gift of happiness and joy.
Christmas is a time when we look out at all these different things, and often we just think, if we have this particular thing, then we'll be happy. I have another gift up here that I want to share with you. Some of you are really hoping for an iPad this holiday season. It's a big Christmas gift. Good luck with that. I hope that works out for you. Lots of folks think if I just had an iPad, then I would be happy.
But it’s not just at Christmas that we see this way of thinking. It’s a pattern with us. If I can make the team; if I can make the honor roll; if I could get a great report card, or get the bonus or promotion, then I'll be happy. Then maybe in our relational world we look around and you are not seeing anyone. You think if you could just see someone, then I'll be happy. You start seeing someone and then you say, "If I could just be engaged, then I'll be happy." Then you get engaged and you think, "If I could just get married, then I'll be happy." Then you get married and you say, "If I could just have children, then I could be happy." Then you have children and then you say, "If I could just get the children out of the house, then I would be happy." "If I could just get to retirement, then I could be happy." At retirement you say, "If I could just find something meaningful to do, then I would be happy." We just go on and on and on. We're continually searching for more.
The Christmas story is a story of joy brought into our world. In Luke 2:10-11, the angel says, I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The savior, yes, the Messiah, the Lord, has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David. There is a gift that God holds out to us. It's the gift of joy and happiness in Him. It's a happiness that we can experience in our lives, even when a lot of the things on the outside of our lives aren't very happy. It's a joy that can coexist with pain and struggle and difficulty and hardship. It's about what's happening inside of us more than about what's happening around us. That's a joy that God holds out to us. Christmas is about that joy.
Notice he says, A Savior has been born. The Bible teaches that all of us have missed God's mark. All of us have sinned. All of us have failed. But God provided a Savior for us, so when we place our faith and trust in Him, we cannot only be forgiven but we can have a fresh start. No matter what we have done, we can move forward in the grace and peace of God. That can begin right now in our lives. That can begin today. You don't have to wait to open that Christmas gift. It's what the first Christmas gift was all about, real joy.
Today in your life and mine, you can experience joy and happiness. Place your faith and your trust in that child who came. Joy to the world. Experience the joy that He can bring into the midst of your life. Open a gift that only God can give. It's a gift that you don't have to wait until Christmas to open.
Another gift that you don't have to wait until Christmas to open is the gift of hope.
People put their hopes in a lot of things. Let me let you in on a little secret; I'm an avid college football fan. And while I like all college football I have a particular leaning towards a team that plays four hours to our east. Every August I start to get a tad bit excited and once again I put my hope in a bunch of 18-22 year olds. Every fall I say this could be the year, it could happen this year. And this year so far so good.
But we have one more game to play, a game against a team that makes my skin crawl, a game against a team that we have already beat this year. But a team that makes me nervous. That's the problem with hope. Someone can always get in the way of your hope.
Human hopes, they come, they go. There are a lot of things that we hope in. The truth is that some of us, as we look at Christmas this year, we don't have a lot of hope. Maybe your body is failing. Maybe you are wrestling with disease or sickness. Maybe you are facing Christmas alone this particular holiday. Maybe you've gone through a divorce or a relational break up. Maybe you are not near a loved one or someone you care about. Maybe they are serving in Iraq, Afghanistan or overseas in our armed forces. That loneliness is real and tangible.
I go back to the angel's message to those shepherds 2000 years ago. Luke 2:12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snuggly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger. This sign of hope is a sign for all of us.
In your Christmas you may feel like Charlie Brown this year in that you are really not getting it. You are really not there. You don't feel the spirit. You hear the music playing all around. Everyone seems to be celebrating. You are not. If that is where you are at today, you can be honest with that. That's okay. But please understand that God loves you in the midst of it. The hope is real. The hope is right there before you and me. It's the hope of the world.
This baby grew to be a man who ultimately was crucified. He was buried and rose again on the third day so we could place our faith and trust in Him, so that we can be in a relationship with God, so we one day could be home ultimately and experience eternal life with God. That's the hope of Christmas. It's such a tangible hope for us this time of year.
Friends there are lots of Christmas gifts waiting to be opened. There are at least three that you don't have to wait to open: The gift of security, the gift of happiness, and the gift of hope. They are available to you today if you just open them. They are ultimately what Christmas is all about.
Questions To Consider
What are some ways that people look for security?
Why does it seem so difficult to be secure today?
Fear robs us of our security; what else does it take from us?
Where do we look for joy?
Why can depending on _________________ for our joy lead to disappointments?
What is the Gospel? (The Gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Nothing more and nothing less.)
If we really believe the good news, how must it show itself in our lives?
If we really believe that Jesus came to save us from ourselves, then where is our hope?