I was cleaning up our desk the other day and I came across an order form that he school sent us along with Trafton’s senior picture. Like a lot of other things, it just went on the desk with everything else to be sorted through later. So I was in the process of sorting and stopped to look at the proof when I noticed the photographer offered a peculiar service: you could circle any imperfection in your child’s picture, label it, and they would airbrush it out in the final prints. Suggestions included: stray hair, scars, blemishes, and clothing stains. In other words for $19.99 they can make your child beautiful. It sounds absurd to try and airbrush out the imperfections but this is what we do to Christmas, isn’t it?
One of the dirty little secrets of Christmas is that it is a story made up of completely unplanned, messy events. There was a surprise pregnancy, a difficult journey, no room in the inn, and then having your wife go through labor while the farm animals look on. It was not exactly the picture that they put own those Hallmark Cards. Every year we try so hard to have the perfect Christmas, but it seems to quickly turn towards panic and stress.
For me the stress always begins with Christmas cards. In fact, we received our first Christmas card this year the day before Thanksgiving. I remember opening the card and feeling like a total loser. Who thinks this far a head? A few years ago we were running so late with our Christmas Cards that I decided to just own it and send out New Years Cards. But this year it may be happy Summer Cards.
While it starts with the Christmas cards, it takes a nose dive 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 have often wondered how many years can you give someone a gift card and still save face?
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, now there are parents, stepparents, grandparents, and 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 make a few suggestions of 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.
Never lose sight that the Angels appeared to a group of men who were excluded and marginalized. It is tempting to have a sentimental view of the shepherds, but the reality is that they were despised. They didn’t have a lot of money. Their work brought them into frequent contact with blood and mess, so they were ritually unclean and unfit to participate in the religious celebrations, which was fine because they were out in the fields and couldn’t just drop into town and go to worship. But these were the people, the outsiders who were excluded from all of the things that we take for granted at Christmas and in daily life, that the Angels appeared and made the 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. Our Savior has come into this world so that we can let go of our fear. 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. But these Shepherds didn’t have any of these things and the Angels are telling them fear not.
Christmas is God's statement of love and security for us as people. Christmas is how God tells us fear not. It is the same phrase we hear nine months earlier when the angel comes to Mary, and says these words in Luke 1:30-32: Don't be afraid, … 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.
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 as well? How is this whole thing going to play out? There is a lot to fear. The angel comes and says, Mary, don't be afraid, you have found favor, the Lord delights in you. But he goes farther than that. The angel also gives clear reason why she shouldn't be afraid, "Because the Savior was being born into the world."
That’s God’s message for us today as well, in this time, this era, and in our own uncertainty. Do not be afraid. That Christ child has been born. You can receive the gift of security today, which is a message we all ned to hear because we are all fighting different fears. 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 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. Some of you are really hoping for an iPhone XS 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 iPhone XS, 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 found in a relationship with 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.
The Angel declares, A Savior has been born. What we needed most in this life has been born, because everyone of us has 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. The first Christmas gift given to humanity was given by God and it was a gift that brings real joy.
Today you can experience real joy and lasting happiness. Place your faith and your trust in that child who came and experience the joy that He can bring into the midst of your life.
Another gift that you don't have to wait until Christmas to open is the gift of hope.
Even the best family goes through challenging times and the happiest marriage has ups and downs. Illnesses invade the lives of those we love and watching them suffer is a terrible weight to bear. For many of us, life is full of burdens and disappointment. That's the problem with hope. Someone or some thing can always get in the way of your hope.
Human hopes come and 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. 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.
While the calendar says it’s Christmas, it may not feel like Christmas to you. You are struggling to have a little Christmas spirit. It’s so easy to forget while we are surrounded by lights and the carols softly fill the room, what was really happening on the night that Jesus entered into our world.
Indescribable hope collided with unspeakable tragedy. Hope, in the form of a baby, God became man and was lying in a manger wrapped in strips of cloth. The Angels announced that the hope of the universe was born. Then hope turned into unspeakable tragedy as King Herod, trying to hold on to his power, commanded the slaughter of countless baby boys. The celebration of hope was met with the heartache of human tragedy.
It’s so easy as we gather this morning with our stage beautifully decorated with this stunning Christmas tree to forget that this is not the tree that brings us hope during this season. There was another tree where indescribable hope collided with unspeakable tragedy. There was another tree where God’s beautiful offer of love, forgiveness, and salvation, and transformation collided with our selfishness, sinfulness, and brokenness. The Baby Jesus grew up and lived a life of perfect obedience so that He could offer His life for our sin and suffer an unjust and violent death.
With the stress and strain of life it becomes easy to lose sight of God’s plan and think that the Cross and Calvary were the worst tragedy ever. But here’s the hope of the Christmas story: the worst thing that ever happened was the best thing that could ever happen.
The truth is that our Christmas story began with horror and violence and also ended horror and violence. The Christmas story begins with the horrible slaughter of children and ends with the violent murder of the Son of God. The actions of Herod and the slaughter of those children serve as a reminder of how deeply we need God’s grace. The murder of our Messiah is the basis of our hope, when God poured out the grace we so desperately need. That's the hope of Christmas.
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.