Finding Merry in a X-Mess

John 16:31-33

Christmas is on us with full force. I know that this season has been building for some time. Walmart, Target, and Walgreens all had their Christmas trees up by October 15th while Hobby Lobby had their’s up in July.  But for most of us we don’t really start thinking about it until the day after Thanksgiving.

I will readily admit that I like Christmas, and everything that comes with it. I like the lights, trees, colors, the music, the gifts, the the cookies, and the cranberry tea. As a matter of fact I think that I am driving the folks in the office a bit crazy. My office is decorated with a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, a Christmas Story Leg Lamp, and thanks to Amazon Music there is Christmas albums playing non stop. I have a little Carpenters, a little Harry Connick Jr., and a lot of Straight No Chaser playing because even though I love this season there are times that it’s hard to stay in the mood.

I wonder if you ever have that trouble? Do you ever have difficulty getting or staying the the Christmas spirit? For many of us, we lost the Spirit around 5:00pm on Thanksgiving day. You remember what happened at 5:00pm on Thanksgiving this year don’t you? Target started their Black Friday sales. By Friday at noon we began to hear the news stories about Wal-Mart’s failed attempt to make thing better by using a maze, actually caused longer lines and more fistfights. Then there was the shooting of “EJ” Bradford Jr at the Riverchase Galleria as people flooded the mall looking for Black Friday deals.

It’s not just those stories that dampen our spirits, This can be a messy time of year for people.  Some of us are struggling financially, and we feel all of this pressure to buy people the right gift, or an overabundance of gifts. We are looking at Christmas lists and we are not sure we will be able to buy Christmas items for our kids, much less the rest of our family and friends. 

There are others who enter into this holiday season with fear and trepidation because they’ve lost a loved one or because of a relationship that is currently strained. We are just not sure what the holidays are going to bring. As we get closer to Christmas there are times it feels like someone stole your Hallmark Christmas and left you with a huge mess.

That’s why over the next three weeks I want you point you back to the idea that even in the midst of the mess we can experience a Merry Christmas. But to find peace in the midst of this X-Mess we have to be willing to do a few things to change our thoughts or direction.

First we can experience joy if we are willing to become a kid again.

Do you remember growing up? Some of your Christmas’ may have been a difficult time. But for others it's this wonderful experience. Some of you will remember waking up and going out and finding toys around the Christmas tree. I can remember my favorite Christmas Toy of all time was when I woke up and Santa had brought me a trampoline.

My mom was big on having lots of presents under the tree and making sure that my brother and I had the same amount of gifts. The problem was that my dad was in the Navy and we didn’t have a lot. So the way my mom was able to wrap a lot of gifts for us was to wrap underwear and socks.

One year I had 14 gifts under the tree, and I though we had hit the mother-load. This Christmas was going to be different. But the first gift was socks, then underwear, then socks, and then a matchbox car and then more socks. By the time the last gift was open I had 6 pair of socks, 4 pair of underwear, three matchbox cars, and a candy cane in a pear tree. I was devastated until my parents told us we needed to go in the back yard and give our dog his Christmas gift. To be honest I was thinking if mom and dad had not spent money on these milk bones I could have at least gotten another matchbox car.      

But when we walked out the back door there in all it’s christmas glory was our trampoline. In the excitement I forgot all about the socks, and that Christmas still ranks as one of my favorites. 

I hear all the time that Christmas is for kids. You know what; it is for kids. It's wonderful for kids. But I wonder if since we think it’s for kids then we also believe that it’s not for adults. Somehow we spend all of our time focusing on the kids that we become secondary or worse. For adults it's just another day of the year and I think somewhere we lose the joy in it all. I think that God would be pleased if we would become childlike about Christmas.

Now, I didn't say childish about Christmas. Those are different things; when a kid is childish, that's something else, right? Childish just means immature. It means tantrums. It means flailing on the floor. It means throwing a fit when you don't get your way. It means tattling on your sister or brother, pulling hair; you just go down the line.

Childlike is something else. In fact, Jesus in the Bible has a certain encounter with a group of kids. Luke 18:15: One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But when the disciples saw this, they scolded the parents for bothering him.

Can't you see that? The disciples were Jesus' friends and here are all of these strangers, these parents coming up and bringing their kids with their little runny noses and dirty hands. Don’t they realize that Jesus is special? I mean He is so much more than just a good teacher, He's the rabbi, and He's busy! He's too busy for kids, kid stuff and kid's things. Give a guy some space. Clear the way. The disciples are just trying to protect Him.

I love what Jesus says, Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, Let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.

What does it mean to receive the Kingdom of God like a child? I think Jesus is saying there are some key things about faith and life that we can learn from children like dependence. A child is dependent on their parents for everything that they have. They are dependent for food. They are dependent for shelter. I have done everything I could to make sure my kids ever had to worry or fret about having their needs met. They are never stressed out about that because they know that dad has that covered.

What would happen this holiday season if we begin to view our relationship with God in a similar way, if we begin to depend on God like kids who could trust and depend upon their parents to take care of their needs? What would happen if we just stop worrying, fretting and stressing out so much this holiday? Instead we say God, we're going to trust you because you are our Father. We know that you will take care of us.

Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 7:9-11: You parents, if your children ask for a loaf of bread do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him? Jesus is reminding us that God is a good and loving Father who is watching out for us.

I know there are some of you that are not real sure how you are going to make ends meet. You are not sure you are going to be able to take that trip you planned. You are not sure you're going to be able to reconnect with the family that you want to reconnect with. You are just not sure what's coming. The future is unknown. There is some fear there. There is some frustration there and some stress there.

I would just challenge you to take a step back from it all and realize that God loves you. He is your Father and that He will take care of you. You don't have to carry that burden on your own. Trust God and lighten up a little bit. You can laugh. I can laugh. We can become like kids again. Because we have a Father who loves us who promises to take care of us.

Another thing we can do to experience merry in the midst of the mess is simply rediscover the joy of giving.

Readers Digest tells the story of a grandmother who was too overwhelmed with the holiday. So this year she decided that for her kids and grandkids she would just send everyone a check in their Christmas Card. One morning she sat at her desk wrote out the checks and signed the cards, Merry Christmas, I love you and was hoping this year you could buy your own gifts. Dropping off the cards at the post office was a huge relief, but can you imagine her surprise when two weeks later when she opened her desk drawer and found the checks. Can you imagine her family opening these cards from their grandmother and reading buy your own gifts? It's classic. Christmas is a wonderful time to give.

I want to remind you this morning of Acts 20:35 where Paul writes, You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: It is more blessed to give than to receive." Jesus also says in Luke 6:38, "Give and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full -- pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount that you get back.

There is a basic principle that is hard wired into the universe. It's the principle of sowing and reaping. As we give and we're generous with our time, talent and our stuff, God will bring it back to us in our lives. He will bless us in multiple ways. Christmas is a great time for that to happen.

I love the fact that gifts are a part of this holiday. Christmas and receiving gifts have been tied  together as long as I can remember, even though the process has changed a bit. Trista tells the boys that they need to have their Christmas Lists done by Thanksgiving morning. And sure enough they both texted their lists to her right on time. Isn’t technology wonderful? And to think that I used to just circle things in the Sears Catalog for my parents and now I get text’s with web addresses and amazon reviews.

I'm all for getting gifts, but we also feel that giving is equally important. The Bible teaches that the real blessing is in giving. And to be honest if you think back to all of your Christmases how many gifts do you remember? I can remember getting a new bike and the trampoline, but most of the things I don't remember. Most of the toys I received and the things I got as a kid, by the time I was six months past Christmas they were long gone. Some of them were long gone a week after Christmas. They are lost in the back corner somewhere. Have you ever noticed that the thing you want so bad, the thing that you have to have at Christmas, a month later it's like no big deal. You've moved on. Those gifts pass.

But there is a way this holiday that you and I can give. We can give in ways where the joy from that gift remains. Where the reward for our gifts can be eternal and could follow us all through eternity. Let me tell you about some gifts that will bring some joy that won't fade away. When you give a toy to a child who doesn't have a parent, when you bring food to someone who would otherwise go hungry, when you share what you have with the person everyone else forgets about, when you give of your time to visit a shut in who is drowning in loneliness, when you send a card or a package to a soldier overseas whose spending another night away from their family so to keep you safe here at home, when you do without something you want so that you can give someone else what they need, that is blessing them.

You’ll receive a reward that you can't really put a price tag on. Jesus is saying it will come back to you. It doesn't have to be in big things. It can be in little things, make a difference in their lives.

The needs are real. You don't have to look far in our community to see hurting people. And it's not so important what you give, but it's whatever God leads you to give. It's that you gave something.

Finally today we can experience merry in the midst of this mess by simply turning on the light.

How many of you love Christmas lights? Trista and I like to drive around and look at all the Christmas lights people have up. Christmas lights are awesome. They are pretty. They are beautiful. They shine light in the darkness.

A light shining in the darkness is how the Bible describes Jesus, and the way that Jesus describes you. Look at what He says in Matthew 5:16:  In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone can praise your heavenly Father. We are being called to live our lives in such a way that our good deeds shine brightly in our culture.

Every year at Christmas we have a great opportunity to live a life that shines in the darkness. The entire world is singing our music. They are thinking about our Savior whether they acknowledge it or not. It’s in the malls, it’s in the grocery stores, and people are walking around singing or humming about Jesus. What an opportunity we have to shine the light and show that the Christ Child who was born 2000 years ago can still bring hope today, can still change lives today, and can still make a difference today in our culture and in our times.

Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:15 Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. This season we need to focus on shining our light, and if someone asks about this hope that you have, that you hold onto, it's what Christmas is all about. It's about hope. You be ready to explain it.

We live in a culture and a time where there is a lot of hurt and a lot of pain. God will put people in your path this holiday that are hurting. Maybe financially they are hurting, maybe in their family they are hurting. Maybe it's something they don't talk about a lot, but deep down the holidays sort of raise everything up to the surface.

Or maybe it’s you. Maybe you are hurting. Maybe you are wrestling with depression. Maybe you are wrestling with the fact that your parents aren't in good health. Maybe financially you are a mess and you don’t even know where to start to try to get out of the hole you are in. Christmas is not a joyful experience. There is a lot of pain that comes with the holidays.

Today I want you to know that even in the midst of it you can find joy in the person of Christ. You can find it in the person of Christ even when maybe you feel like you can't find it anywhere else. I’m not saying that you will feel deliriously joyful, but if you will trust Him even in the struggle He will pull you through. He will. He promises that He will. The best thing you can do is just be honest about where you are at. Be honest with God about what is going on in your heart. Know that you are around a group of people that care about you and love and want to walk with you. Together we can find the joy, even in the mess of Christmas.

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