Episode 1. The Problem of Christmas
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Well, here we are again, it’s December! It’s almost the end of another year and it’s almost Christmas time, again. It happens year after year. Christmas. The question is, what do …
Well, here we are again, it’s December! It’s almost the end of another year and it’s almost Christmas time, again. It happens year after year. Christmas. The question is, what do you make of it, what do you do with it? It’s an age-old problem, Christmas.
I don’t know if you’ve ever thought of this but Christmas is a real problem for guys like me, preachers I mean. Year after year, we have to crank out yet another Christmas series. And for the first few years, that’s pretty easy but then after a while you start thinking to yourself, “Well, how am I going to put a new twist on Christmas this year?”
Last year, I approached it from this perspective, the year before from that perspective, the year before that from … well, you get the picture. There are only so many different perspectives on Christmas. Well, we’ve all been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Yeah, so it’s Christmas again, so what?
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere it’s an excuse for a few days off. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere as I do, it’s probably the summer holidays that you’re looking forward to more than Christmas itself. A chance for a decent break, a bit of a much-needed R and R and sure Christmas is part of that but the Christmas bit can be a bit of a hassle. Buying presents, figuring out who has Christmas lunch with whom and then perhaps scooting off to Christmas dinner with another part of your family. Kids, uncles, aunts, grandparents – it all gets complicated. And then there’s the fact not everybody in the family gets on. You know Christmas day is one of the peak times of the year for domestic violence.
Even if it doesn’t get that bad you know there are going to be clashes or you’re going to have to smile sweetly at someone that you don’t really like or you just know that so and so is going to have too much to drink again this year.
Those are the burdens that many people carry into Christmas, it’s just the reality of life. So as things turn out, Christmas isn’t just a problem for preachers like me who have to dream up something fresh and new each year, it’s a problem for many, many people. I heard someone say once, a Bible believing Christian she was, “I hate Christmas, I wish we could just skip over it.” It’s pretty sad but it’s the reality for many people even those who actually believe in Jesus. So Christmas gets something of a bad rap, I wonder how many people who are out there who would just love to skip Christmas. I wonder?
Well, as you look ahead to the next ten days or so in the run up to Christmas, I wonder how you’re feeling about it all, exhausted, frustrated, anxious, stressed. What are the emotions that generally accompany this thing we call Christmas in your heart in your life? What are you feeling? Is Christmas a problem for you?
Can I be honest here? I struggle with the kids pantomime version of Christmas. I struggle with the whole Carols by Candlelight phenomenon around Christmas where people get together in parks and sing Christmas carols as though they believe them, when most of the entertainers up on the stage and on our television screens don’t have the remotest faith that Jesus is actually the Son of God.
It’s like we wrap this whole Christmas in tinsel and lights and tie a neat bow around it. And we make it out to be this happy time, when the truth is, for many people, well, they struggle with Christmas. Now I don’t mean to be a Christmas Grinch here. Personally, I love singing Christmas carols because they mean something to me but what I really want to know is why don’t we sing Christmas carols all year round? Why don’t we celebrate the coming of Jesus all year round?
I remember hosting a Christmas in July service at our Church some years back. It’s a bit of a phenomenon down under as many restaurants put on Christmas dinners in the middle of winter when it’s cold and at the service we actually sung Christmas carols. I can’t tell you the number of people who came up to me afterwards and told me how weird it was singing Silent Night in the middle of July.
Yeah, we wrap a whole bunch of rituals up in a nice neat package in December and we call it Christmas. And it’s all supposed to be sweetness and light and yet how much of it really, really, really speaks into our hearts about the wonder of what God did on that first Christmas?
What I want to do today is to unsettle you, to drag you out of your Christmas ritual comfort zone and ask you: Why do you do what you do at Christmas time? Why are you racing around buying presents for people who don’t really need anything? Why do you put tinsel and Christmas decorations around your house and maybe even a Christmas wreath on your front door? What are the candles and the Christmas tree and presents and all that food really about? What do you do it for?
If you stripped away all that packaging and paraphernalia what would Christmas actually be for you?
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified but the angel said to them, ‘don’t be afraid, for see I am bringing good news of great joy for all people. For to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
“This will be a sign for you, you’ll find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger’ and suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God and saying, ‘glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom he favours. (Luke 2: 8-14)
So if you took the packaging and the paraphernalia and the ritual and the racing around away, is that what Christmas would mean to you? Would you in your heart shout out, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven. Glory, glory, glory. Hallelujah?’ Because if not, don’t you think you just might be wasting your time with all this Christmas nonsense that you go through each year? All this pressure you put yourself under, all these presents you buy and the money you spend and the decorations you put up and the food that you stuff yourself with – is that what Christmas is all about?
Or in your heart, is it about the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God to be the Saviour of this world? The biggest Christmas gift of all history – the Son of God given to all humanity, given to you and given to me.
So let me ask you, what is your Christmas all about?
It’s something I’ve thought a lot about over the last few years, maybe that’s what you do as you get a little bit older. You start to reflect on some of the things that you’ve done over and over again without thinking too much and you ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”
So why are you doing this? In your life, in your family, in your situation, in your home, in your place, in your community, why are you doing this thing that we call Christmas? What does it mean to you? What does it benefit you? What lasting difference does it really make to you?
And when you come to December 25th, do you wake up in the morning with this overwhelming sense of joy in your heart that unto you a Saviour is born? Or do you lie there and wonder, why am I doing this again and how’s the day going to pan out?
I want to challenge you today, that if you’re going to actually celebrate Christmas and that word ‘celebrate‘ is one that I use rather loosely around this time of year to describe a whole bunch of different things. If you want to do that again this year, is it going to be worth it or not? Because this whole crazy idea that God came up with to send His Son, Jesus Christ, to be born into that stinky draughty stable, into a stinking hurting world, is meant to mean something to you and me.
It’s meant to touch our hearts deep, deep inside somewhere. And unless it does, then to be perfectly frank about it, this thing in your life that you call Christmas is a complete waste of time. Completely!