So much of Christmas has been hijacked by popular cultural and transformed into something it was never meant to be. For anyone who has ever read the Christmas story it is quite apparent that all of the trappings that are considered “musts” for modern-day Christmas fans were not even given a thought while Mary was laboring to give birth to the soon coming King.
Just to give you an idea of what I am talking about I want to invite you to imagine with me for a moment. Let’s take the story told by Matthew and Luke and overlay “Christmas 1997” as we know it. Bethlehem remains crowded just as it was in the day of Jesus’ birth, but this time the crowds have gathered for different reasons. There is no census to be taken, there are sales to take advantage of as shoppers hustle through the Bethlehem Mall trying to find those remaining gifts yet to be conquered. The streets of Bethlehem are lined with tinseled ornaments draped over each corner light post. A platoon of Salvation Army ringers ring the city celebrating each coin deposited into their kettles. Just outside of the stable where Mary labored without the luxury of an epidural are displays of twinkling lights, cutouts of Santa’s workshop complete with knee-high elves, and plastic figurines of the blessed mother and her Son with fifty-watt bulbs inside to illuminate them against the backdrop of night. Choirs of carolers break through the noise of Christmas with their tributes to Jesus, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus, and Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer. Just as the baby is born all join together in singing Joy To The World. Only then do they retire to the dining room for a big Christmas dinner and a ballgame just for fun.
Boy, have times changed! Christmas, as we know it, is a time of credit cards, caroling, cranberry sauce, and celebrations without end. The first Christmas was something altogether different. Christmas was a time of crisis. Stop and think about it for a minute. The months leading up to Christmas were some of the most difficult days that Joseph and Mary had ever faced in their lives. Mary was found to be pregnant before she was even married. That was something “good girls” just didn’t do. Oh, Mary knew the angel had told her that God had blessed her womb with the King of all creation, but he had failed to tell all of the people of Nazareth. Mary was the talk of the town, but they weren’t calling her the Blessed Mother, they were calling her a slut. After enduring months of ridicule and humiliation she was now told that she had to go to Bethlehem with her husband Joseph — a ninety mile ride on the back of a luxurious donkey. Hey, at least it had leather seats. When they arrived in the small town there were unbelievable crowds of folks who had gathered from all over for the census and Joseph had forgotten to call ahead. As a result of Joseph’s oversight all of the Holiday Inns were booked…they couldn’t even find a Motel 6. Mary labored for hours on a bed of hay with attendants of cows, sheep, and pigs until finally her labor ended and her Son was born.
The crisis was over. Not so fast. Mary didn’t even have time to toilet train Jesus before an angel of God appeared to Joseph and said, “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” (Matthew 2:13)
For Mary the crisis didn’t end in Egypt as she watched her Son, whom she knew to be the Promised Messiah, ridiculed, rejected, and reviled all of His days. Mary faced her greatest crisis as she stood at the foot of an old, battered wooden cross and heard her son cry out, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” before He drew His last breath and died.
Christmas is more than a celebration my friend. Christmas is continuing to believe in the miracle of Christmas morning, the coming of our Savior, in the midst of our crisis-filled life. You see, today in our society, Christmas is all about feelings. Not a day goes by that we don’t hear somebody say, “I just don’t feel like it is Christmas.” Christmas is not a feeling it is a fact. I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the way somebody slipped in under the cover of night and replaced the fact of Jesus’ birth for the feelings of Christmas. This is the greatest heist ever pulled off in the history of the world.
Because of this hoax many are left feeling hollow and empty at Christmas. Because feelings dominate the Christmas season those of us who don’t feel so “Christmasy” feel left out. We don’t feel like we have anything to celebrate. We don’t feel like we have anything to smile about. We don’t feel like we have anything to laugh about. We don’t feel like giving anybody a hug. We don’t feel like being hugged. We haven’t hit the jackpot on Wall Street — we’re teetering on the edge of skid row. We haven’t won the lottery — we don’t even have money enough to buy a ticket. We’re not planning for a wedding — we’ve just attended a funeral. We’re not feeling festive — we’re feeling like a failure. Our home is not brimming with presents — it’s brimming with pretense, pressure, pettiness, and Pandemonium. Our eyes are not bright and cheery — they are bloodshot with the tears that will not seem to stop flowing. Our hearts are not happy and delightful — they are hollow and dark and dreary. We’ve lost our mothers. We’ve lost our fathers. We’ve lost our children. We’ve lost our jobs. We’ve lost our marriages. We’ve lost our hopes. We’ve lost our dreams. We don’t feel like Christmas. We don’t feel anything.
If you’ve found yourself saying, “Amen” for the past couple of moments then I have come to bring you Good News. The Enemy has stolen the real meaning of Christmas, but I’ve come this morning to steal it back! Christmas is not a feeling — Christmas is a fact! Jesus has come! There is hope for the hopeless! There is joy for the sorrowful! There is love for the unloved! There is healing for the sick! There is forgiveness for the condemned! There is salvation for the lost! There was a baby who was born one bone-chilling night in Bethlehem’s stable. He didn’t come on a feeling — He came as a fact! As He came into this world He came not for tinsel, parties, and bows, but He came for the broken, sin-filled, and alone.
I have come this morning to tell you who are broken, you who do not feel like joining the celebration, you whose hearts are scarred, whose eyes are stained, and who souls are dry — He has come for you. Christmas is for you!
Some of you are thinking, “Christmas for the broken, alone, crying, scarred? Boy, leave me off of that invitation list!” Exactly my point! We’ve missed the whole point of Christmas and turned it into a Hollywood premier, but Jesus has never forgotten. Jesus stated His reason for coming when He said,
18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, 19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. 20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. (KJV Luke 4:18-21)
If I am reading this Scripture right, I fail to find any mention of festive get-togethers full of frivolity and fun. I fail to see the sales. I missed the mistletoe. I could have passed over the parties on my way to the poor, but I’m sure I didn’t see any bows among the blind, broken, and bruised. I guess if you really wanted to stretch your imagination you could see carolers among the captives.
Oh, how far we have drifted. Christmas is not a gathering of business associates, buddies, or blood relatives, it is a gathering of the broken that find their only hope in the Babe lying in the manger.
If you will look closely at Jesus “Mission Statement” you will see that Christmas is about restoration. Look at the Scripture and you will see that Jesus lavishes the Good News on the poor — a gift far more valuable than material possessions. Jesus restores the brokenhearted. Jesus restores freedom to those who have been held captive to their sin, shallowness, short sightedness, and selfishness. Jesus restores sight to those who have been blinded their troubles, trials, and tragedies. Jesus brings freedom to them that have been bruised and bent over — immobilized by their pain and fear. Jesus has come to restore us to Almighty God, a relationship that we severed, but that God desired at the greatest cost to restore!
In the light of a Christmas Season that glamorizes the glamorous, celebrates the celebrated, and heralds the “haves” — I dare say Jesus did not come for any of that! Jesus’ coming was for those who have been stripped of everything! Stripped of hope! Stripped of love! Stripped of passion! Stripped of piety! Stripped of joy! Stripped of peace! Stripped of assurance! Stripped of friends! For those who have no hope — He is our only Hope! For those who feel unloved — He is our Beloved! For those who have been stripped of their passion and purpose — He is our Purpose! For those who have been stripped of piety — He is our Holy King! For those who have been stripped of joy — He is our Joy! For those who have been stripped of peace — He is our Prince of Peace! For those who have been stripped of assurance — He is our blessed Assurance! For those who have been stripped of their friends — He is our most trusted Friend!
He is our Beginning and End! He is our End All! He is our Lover and Faithful Friend! When we come to understand that Jesus’ coming was for the bruised and battered then we can have the joy of Christmas return. The joy of Christmas does not, has not, and never will reside in our feelings my friend. The joy of Christmas rests solely and singularly in a Person — Jesus, the Lover of our souls, the Mender of our broken hearts, the Restorer of our joy, and our Reason for living!
Charlene Elizabeth Fairchild tells a moving story of her struggle to find the joy of Christmas when she says,
Last year our first Christmas decoration was a mustard seed. A lowly mustard seed. Taped on a sheet of white paper to the center of our mantelpiece. It was a sign and a symbol of the fragile and tiny hope I had of celebrating Christmas. The hope was fragile and it was tiny because I did not “feel” like Christmas last year. How could I sing the Lord’s song in the strange land of Grief?
It was the first Sunday in Advent and my husband and I were having our usual leisurely coffee brunch after all the duties of the morning and the noon hour. Two church services and the important weekly phone calls to my father and other family members were behind us for another week. My husband, rather gingerly, brought up the subject of Christmas knowing that I was immersed in the full bloom of grief. Mom had died on Labor Day and this was the first Christmas to be marked without her. I did not “feel” like Christmas.
Despite my fog of misery, I knew that I was being somewhat self-absorbed in my pain. Life was going on all about me, but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how I was going to get through this time. Everybody busy and happy and having parties and family gatherings. I shrank inside. The thought of smiling and pretending joy was beyond pain for me. What was I going to do?
I remembered the reading from Romans that morning, “The night is far gone, the day is near…let us put on the armor of light…put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” The season celebrating His birth and looking for His coming again was upon me and I was being called to participate. But it was beyond me to rejoice. As I said these things to my husband, he reminded me that God IS able even if I was not. He mentioned the parable of the mustard seed to me. God could take that little mustard seed and make of it something worthy. God could take that tiny seed of faith and grow it into a kingdom of hope.
I felt as if I had been touched. I got up and went to the kitchen and rifled through my spices. Yes! There it was. My bottle of mustard seeds. I got one out and grabbed a piece of paper from the pad by our phone and taped that mustard seed to the center. I returned to the dining room, waving the paper triumphantly. “I’ve got it! I’ve got it! I CAN celebrate this year.” My husband said, “Here, let’s put it up on the mantel. It’ll be our first Christmas decoration.” Up it went. Every time I looked at it, I was reminded of the hope it symbolized and the faith it embodied. I couldn’t do it on my own. But God could. And God did!
The mustard seed became a powerful witness in our house last year. Many people asked about it and it became a growing joy to share what it meant. The mustard seed again graces our mantelpiece to symbolize Light in the darkness, hope in the face of grief and despair and faith in the promises of God. My prayer is that, in the midst of difficult times, you will find hope; that a mustard-seed Christmas may be yours. Charlene Elizabeth Fairchild
I read, on Wednesday morning, of a pastor who heard Mrs. Fairchild’s story and it touched him so deeply that he shared her story with his congregation. He wrote to thank her by saying,
Dear Ms. Fairchild,
I am the pastor of a tiny very hard-pressed Methodist church in Miami. My congregation is desperately poor and has all of the [problems] you would expect from such circumstances. I found your meditation by accident and I have not stopped thinking about it. I have been in tears for two days thinking about what it represents. I, too, have had a couple of mustard seed Christmases.
Today we will decorate our tree in the Sanctuary. One of the ornaments will be a cardboard ball with a mustard seed taped on it. I will tell my congregation to go home and make their own ornaments for their own trees.
God bless you and your husband for your faithfulness. And thank you for a wonderful sermon this Advent season.
My prayer for you this Christmas is that you too will come to understand this very morning that Jesus has come to restore you to the heart of Almighty God. If we remain dependant upon our feelings then Christmas may never come, but if you and I will trust in the fact of Christmas — Jesus has come to restore what we lack, then we can celebrate, truly celebrate Christmas this year.