There is a new movie on the shelves at video stores around town. The movie is last winter’s big hit, Jingle All the Way. The movie shows us how a successful Christmas is closely tied to getting the right gift for our loved ones — no matter what we have to pay or who we have to whip, even if it is Arnold Schwarzenegger. The moral of the story seems to be that you can buy your way to a merry Christmas.

The story of Jingle All The Way evidently plays well in a secular culture that depends on holiday gift-giving to keep retailers in business. As we listen to the reports on the evening news it is not difficult to understand that for us as Americans to have a good Christmas the cash registers need to be singing for all the world to hear. The day after Thanksgiving I heard a report on a local newscast that “we are off to a good start this Christmas as sales are up 5.3%. I’m sorry my friend but the increase in spending has nothing to do with how well Christmas will fare for you or me.

What is really interesting is a new poll that has been released by the Barna Research Group that confirms the fears of those like myself who doubt that most Americans don’t understand the “reason for the season.”

The Barna Research Group poll, conducted for the Lutheran Hour Ministries found that:

37% of adults in the national survey (88% of whom identified themselves as Christian) said the birth of Jesus is the most important aspect of Christmas.
More than 75% of evangelical Christians placed Jesus’ birth as of first importance on Christmas.
Only 32% of those who identified themselves as fundamentalists gave that answer.
Only 29% of Catholics placed Jesus’ birth first.
Only 24% of theological liberals said the birth of Christ made Christmas important for them.
44% of the respondents said family time is the most important part of one of the three most sacred days (along with Good Friday and Easter) on the calendar.
26% of respondents ages 18 to 34 said the birth of Jesus was the most important aspect of Christmas.
39% among respondents 65 and older said the same thing.
Only 3% said presents or parties were the most important part of Christmas.
The same percentage that said the best thing about Christmas was getting a paid holiday.
“I guess it demonstrates what preachers have been wringing their hands over for some time: Christ has been evacuated from Christmas,” said the Rev. William Willimon, a theologian and Duke University chaplain. “It’s good to know where we are. Christmas has been a co-opted holiday.”

“Americans are more likely to correctly recall the significance of April 15 than they are to connect Christmas with the birth of Jesus. As America becomes increasingly anesthetized to Christian principles and practices, it seems only fitting that we have contracted acute amnesia regarding the spiritual significance of December 25,” said pollster George Barna. Barna goes on to say, “Even with all that I know about how secularized our culture has become, I would have thought that more people would say Christmas, the birth of Jesus.”

George Barna’s findings reinforce a conclusion I have drawn from watching people through the years. We have crowded Christ right out of Christmas. In His place we filled our time with parties, we have filled our checkbooks with gifts to those whose birthday falls at other times of the year, and we have filled our hearts with anxiety and fear that we won’t be able to find the “right” gift rather than with peace that comes from the true Gift.

There is a lot of misunderstanding this time of year. There are so many who fail to understand what Christmas is all about and as a result this glorious, joy-filled time of year is turned into the most frantic, frustrating season of all.

I read about a FAMILY CIRCUS cartoon where a little girl was sitting with her little brother on her lap. The little girl was telling her brother the Christmas story. According to her version, Jesus was born just in time for Christmas up in the North Pole surrounded by eight tiny reindeer and the Virgin Mary. Then Santa Claus showed up with lots of toys and stuff and some swaddling clothes. The three wise men and the elves all sang Christmas carols while the Little Drummer Boy and Scrooge helped Joseph trim the tree. In the meantime, Frosty the Snowman saw the star.

We are confused about Christmas. We seek the mall instead of the manger. We follow the sales instead of the star. We kneel to hurriedly open presents instead of to worship the newborn King.

In the cartoon SHOE, Skyler and Uncle Cosmos were talking about Christmas when Sklyer said, “What was it you wanted for Christmas, Uncle Cosmos?” Uncle Cosmos replies, “I told you, Skyler, just a little peace and quiet.” Skyler shoots back, “I know, but I just came from the mall and I think they are all out it.” Isn’t that the truth! Anyone seeking the peace and quiet of Christmas in a mall will be sorely disappointed.

We have become so confused concerning Christmas. We wear ourselves out trying to make every dinner party, find every present our children circle in the Toys R Us catalog, and hanging every light our house can hold. We work so hard that we are too exhausted to celebrate the birth of the Messiah. When Christmas arrives we haven’t the energy to express the joy and ecstasy embodied in the old man Simeon when he finally laid his eyes on the newborn King in Luke 2. Luke writes of Simeon.

In Jerusalem lived a man named Simeon who was a good man and godly. He was waiting for the time when God would take away Israel’s sorrow, and the Holy Spirit was in him. {26} Simeon had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he saw the Christ promised by the Lord. {27} The Spirit led Simeon to the Temple. When Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the Temple to do what the law said they must do, {28} Simeon took the baby in his arms and thanked God: {29} “Now, Lord, you can let me, your servant, die in peace as you said. {30} With my own eyes I have seen your salvation, {31} which you prepared before all people. {32} It is a light for the non-Jewish people to see and an honor for your people, the Israelites.” (Luke 2:25-32 NCV)

Rather than seeing the birth of Jesus as the reason for our celebration, we have been persuaded to believe that Jesus’ birth was an after-thought tacked on to the mad rush to find our children’s favorite gift.

Even church folks sometimes behave in the same manner as the two ladies who were walking in downtown Chicago shopping for Christmas. While they were walking down the sidewalk searching for that one elusive gift they saw a nativity scene displayed in the window of a downtown store. One lady turned to the other and said, “Humph, would you look at that; the Church is even trying to horn in on Christmas.” We demonstrate the same type attitudes and bristle at the thought that the church should seek our time in worship while we still have so many items left on our list. I thank God for the churches around our city that are trying to draw attention to the significance of the birth of Jesus. I dare say that if it weren’t for these churches we would totally and completely crowd Jesus out of Christmas!

I want you to know that I’m not going to be one of those preachers who seeks to persuade you to boycott the stores this year. I’m not going to try and guilt you into not giving any gifts. As a matter of fact, I’m going to share a couple of shopping tips to help us out as we move closer and closer to the day when wrapping paper will fly, bows will be shredded, batteries will be found missing, and the Mastercard bill will serve as reminder of Christmas day for months to come.

The number one shopping tip I want to share this morning is — know who you need to give a gift. Every Christmas my family gathers together and we exchange gifts. It would be tragic if Connie and I forgot one of our children. Can you imagine the horror that would race across their face on Christmas morning if there were gifts for two instead of for three? Can you imagine the horror that would flood my soul if Christmas arrived and I realized that I failed to show my love and appreciation to those I love the most? We’ve got to know who we need to give gifts to at Christmas.

I love the story told by James Dobson about a mom and her three daughters who learned the importance of understanding who needs a gift at Christmas.

Mary and her husband had three little girls, lived in a nice home, and wanted for nothing. That is until dad decided that he didn’t want to live with the family any more, packed-up his bags, and left. Dad’s leaving left Mary in a jam. She had to provide for her children and at the same time she wanted to be there to take care of her kids. To accomplish both goals she decided that she would clean houses. By cleaning houses she could be home when the girls got home from school and still make some money to provide for their needs.

It was a tough adjustment for Mary. She had never had to work outside the home before. Now she was cleaning houses to keep the girls fed. Their clothes were handed down from her employer’s children. Most of all, she regretted having to have them walk so far since she didn’t have a car.

The two older girls, Cindy and Laura, helped as much as they could and they never complained. The youngest girl, Becky, found happiness in her doll, Charlie, who she kept wrapped in a blanket.

One day Mary walked the kids to school and then walked on with little Becky and Charlie to the first house she would clean. As they approached the house Mary saw a beautiful Christmas wreath on the front door. When they went inside there were Christmas decorations everywhere, a big tree with lots of presents underneath, and star on top. Mary said, “I’ve got to go to work now so please don’t touch anything.” Becky said, “Okay mom.” She climbed up in the big easy chair and sat with Charlie admiring all of the presents and ornaments. Becky would guess what was in every present and pretend that Charlie was guessing with her.

Later that day they went to another home and found the same decor. Tree, ornaments, presents, and the smell of Christmas in the air. Becky never asked any questions, she just admired all of the colors of Christmas.

When they got home that night Becky suddenly realized that she was missing out on something. Becky looked up and said, “Mom, why does everyone have a tree in the house? Why are there so many presents? Is it somebody’s birthday? Why don’t we have a tree?”

Mary had known the questions would come. Laura and Cindy looked up from the floor where they were playing, waiting for her answer. Mary pulled Becky up in her lap. “You’re a very smart girl. It is somebody’s birthday, and I’ll tell you all about Him. His name is Jesus, and He was born Christmas Day. Mary told the kids how it all happened.

Becky hugged Charlie close and said, “Poor baby. Was it very cold in the stable? I wouldn’t want to sleep in the stable, would you? I wish I could go there and see it, though.”

Down the street was a church. Each Christmas they always had a huge nativity scene. Mary took the kids for a walk and they arrived at the church. When they got there they saw the manger with straw, large ceramic figures of wise men, Mary and Joseph, and the baby Jesus. Becky didn’t want to leave. Mom said, “Come on girls, it’s cold out here and we must get home.” Becky wanted to stay as she was mesmerized by the scene.

The next week was difficult for the family. It seemed that everywhere they went life was taunting them with what they would not have for Christmas this year. Mary went to Safeway to pick-up the spaghetti that would be their Christmas dinner. Folks were standing in line with big turkeys and all the fixings. Mary laughed, but her laugh was hollow.

Things were even more difficult for the girls. At school everything was focused on Christmas. Gifts, decorations, parties, but the girls stood as strangers on the outside looking in. Mary’s sadness turned to bitterness as every carol made her hate the season more. The older girls saw what was happening with their mother and they became bitter as well. Little Becky seemed to be immune. She rocked little Charlie in her arms and told him again and again about the baby Jesus who was born in a stable. Becky begged the other girls on a daily basis to take her down the street to see the story “for true.” They would take her grudgingly and drag her back home long before she was finished looking.

Christmas morning came in a flurry of snow. Laura and Cindy woke up cold. They ran into Mary’s room and burrowed under the covers with her to warm up. Mary cuddled them close and kissed their foreheads. “Merry Christmas,” she said. “Merry Christmas, Mama,” they echoed. “I’m afraid there aren’t many gifts for you girls, but go wake up Becky and we’ll open them,” Mary said.

The girls bounded out of the room to get little Becky. Soon they dashed back into mom’s room and said, “Where is she momma? We can’t find her!” They checked the house, went outside to check the yard, and then began to check around the neighbor’s houses.

Mary prayed, “Dear Lord, please help me find her. I’m sorry for my selfishness. The gifts and the dinner that I prayed for are not important. Forget them and just give me back my Becky.” Mary continued to pray as she searched every place a little girl could possibly be.

Then Mary noticed Charlie. He was carefully positioned in a chair facing a window. Mary’s heart raced with her thoughts. Charlie was never out of Becky’s sight. And where was his blanket? Becky always insisted that his blanket be wrapped tightly around him at all times. Suddenly she knew!

“Stay here!” she told the girls as she ran out the door into the dark and snowy morning. Down the street she ran, until she could see the church. Then she slowed, and tears of release ran down her face as she caught sight of her daughter. The star from hanging over the manger was shining down illuminating Becky and the manger. Becky had climbed in and was busily covering the Baby Jesus with the ratty scrap of a blanket. As Mary got closer she could hear Becky talking.

“You must be cold. I knew the snow would be falling on You. This is Charlie’s blanket, but we will give it to You. He has me to keep him warm.” She looked up when she heard the footsteps. “Oh! Hi, Mama.” Becky smiled her beautiful innocent smile. “I was afraid He might have thought we forgot about Him on His birthday.”

Mary lifted Becky out of the straw and held her tight, the tears now raining unchecked. “I did forget, Honey…Dear Lord, I’m sorry I forgot.” Then she tenderly carried her daughter home, filled with Christmas joy.

When they got home a new Mom walked through the door. With Christmas carols to cheer them, they hung popcorn strings and ornaments on Mary’s tallest house plant. A star made of tin foil perched on top. They put the presents underneath, and there was just enough to fit nicely under the little tree. And best of all, Mary made a birthday cake. With their hands joined around the table, they all sang, “Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus, happy birthday toYou…”

It is my prayer that this Christmas we understand — the key to Christmas is to know the One who deserves our gifts. Christmas is not about us my friend; it is not about outdoing our neighbor, it is not about spending ourselves into debt, it is not about bagging the one toy that society has deemed a “must have” — it is about knowing the One who has given us the gift of eternal life.

I want to challenge us this morning to follow through on what we are learning. I want to challenge every person here, or who reads this, to give a gift in honor of the birth of our Savior to your favorite ministry. If you are part of a family, it will be the highlight of your family’s Christmas. Get together with your family and talk about it. Talk about all of the ministries of the church and pray for God to guide your family so that you can make a special gift to your favorite ministry. As you talk you’ll know which one the Lord desires for you to bless. After you decide on one think about all of the wonderful things that particular ministry is doing to bring glory to God and to bring others to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. As a family give a gift to Jesus by giving a gift to one of the ministries which are blessing His Name. Do so in honor of the One who gave Himself for us.

The second shopping tip I want to offer for us is — be ready. I always watch in amazement as Connie prepares our Christmas list for the year. I am amazed not because the list is long or elaborate, but because the list always comes so early. When I go to do my shopping for Christmas I run out to the store a day or two before, pick up what I think folks would like, and head home. Connie sits down and talks with the kids, makes phone calls, and prepares her list. She then heads out to the store, compares prices, sets her agenda, and marks them off one-by-one. After they are all purchased, she wraps them, places them neatly under the tree, and it is finished and done. I think to myself as I am running around at the last minute, “Boy isn’t she lucky to be so organized.” I have come to the conclusion that Connie’s way of getting our shopping done is not luck. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Connie isn’t lucky, she is prepared.

One of the greatest reasons why Christ gets crowded out of Christmas is that we are not prepared for the celebration of His birth. We allow all kinds of things to fill our calendar so that we have to put off the most important thing until it is an afterthought.

If we are going to be able to be ready for Christmas and not miss the celebration of the coming of the Messiah we must be ready. When we are rushing around trying to tie up loose ends we tend to become fragmented and frazzled, unable to think clearly.

I recently heard a story about a woman who had waited until the last minute to send Christmas cards. She rushed into a store and bought a package of 50 cards without really looking at them. Still in a big hurry, she addressed 49 of the 50 and signed them without reading the message inside. On Christmas Day, when things had quieted down somewhat she found a leftover card and finally read the message she had sent with the 49 other cards to her friends. Much to her dismay, it read: “This card is jut to say — A little gift is on the way.” Suddenly, she realized that 49 of her friends were expecting a gift from her — a gift that would never come.

We must be prepared. Stores all over the city will be opened until midnight on Christmas Eve for those of us who will run up against Christmas Day unprepared for the great celebration. It would be horrible if you were to wake up on Christmas morning and realize that your lack of preparedness had caused you to miss out on the great celebration.

We must be prepared. Long ago they looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. They longed to see His face, to hear His voice, and to experience the salvation that He would bring. They looked forward to that day, each and every day! They longed for the coming of the Messiah until He finally came. That wonderful Christmas morning when the Savior was born there were many who were prepared and basked in the glory of the Savior’s presence. There was another group though who missed the coming of the Messiah. There were many who missed the first celebration because they were not ready. They weren’t ready for the coming of King. They weren’t ready for the little Baby born in a manger. They were too busy doing other things to be ready for the coming of Jesus and as a result, they missed the celebration.

Today, we have the written account of Jesus’ coming and we can be ready because we’ve been told of His birth. My friend the King has come! We celebrate the day that the Messiah was born and we are benefitting from the salvation He brought the world.

There is another celebration coming which hasn’t happened yet, but which is as sure to take place as the birth of the Messiah long ago. Jesus promised that He would return for His people to take them to His glorious Kingdom prepared since the foundation of the world! We can’t be busy hustling around trying to tie up loose ends if we expect to be ready. We can’t be tied up in the frivolous nonessentials while neglecting what is central if we expect to be ready. Just as there were people who were too busy to celebrate Jesus’ first coming, there will be those among us who will miss out on Jesus’ second coming.

The first celebration was announced to the world, but the second celebration will take place in the twinkling of an eye and be over. I don’t want you to miss that glorious celebration as the Son of Man comes back to take His people home. I came by this morning just to tell you to be ready! Make ready your heart so that when Jesus comes again you will not be left behind. The King has come, but He is coming back! Make no mistake about it — the King is coming back for His own! The trumpets will sound, the sky will part, and the King will come!

The Bible speaks of His coming over and over again. Let me share with you one of the stories Jesus told to illustrate His own second coming. Take a look at Matthew 22:1-14,

At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went to wait for the bridegroom. {2} Five of them were foolish and five were wise. {3} The five foolish bridesmaids took their lamps, but they did not take more oil for the lamps to burn. {4} The wise bridesmaids took their lamps and more oil in jars. {5} Because the bridegroom was late, they became sleepy and went to sleep. {6} “At midnight someone cried out, ‘The bridegroom is coming! Come and meet him!’ {7} Then all the bridesmaids woke up and got their lamps ready. {8} But the foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ {9} The wise bridesmaids answered, ‘No, the oil we have might not be enough for all of us. Go to the people who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ {10} “So while the five foolish bridesmaids went to buy oil, the bridegroom came. The bridesmaids who were ready went in with the bridegroom to the wedding feast. Then the door was closed and locked. {11} “Later the others came back and said, ‘Sir, sir, open the door to let us in.’ {12} But the bridegroom answered, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t want to know you.’ {13} “So always be ready, because you don’t know the day or the hour the Son of Man will come. (Matthew 25:1-13 NCV)

In every instance where the Bible speaks about Jesus’ Second Coming it never gives us a time to set our watch. We must always be ready because the coming of Jesus is at hand. When you least expect it Jesus will return to take His people home. I hope you will be ready. You can be ready if you will make room. If you will make a commitment this morning to refuse to crowd Christ out of your Christmas celebration this year then you can be ready for His coming. Receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior today and be ready for the coming of our Messiah to take us home!

Making Room: Don’t Crowd Christ Out of Christmas
Luke 2:25-32