In 2005 a mom, Carol Aebersold, and her twin daughters, Chanda Bell and Christa Pitts, self-published a book called, “The Elf on the Shelf,” and it all began. Today, those little elves have infiltrated millions of homes all across America. Buddy, Elfie, Jingle, Holly, Max, Alvin, Peppermint, and their brothers and sisters move at will throughout the homes where there are young boys and girls who want nothing more than for Santa to bring them all of the items on their Christmas “wish list.”
For those of us who don’t have little ones running around the house any longer and may not be familiar with the little elves, let me explain to you what’s happening every single day in homes all across the country. I talked to Dan this past week to find out about their elf whose name is Alvin. Alvin arrived on the scene one day and let Kellen, Macy, and Parker know that he would be watching their every move and taking notes. Each day Alvin records everything that Kellen, Macy, and Parker do so that he can report back to Santa…who is still up in the air about what he will bring, if anything, to my grandchildren. Whatever the kids receive from Santa will be based on the reports that Alvin turns in to the jolly round man.
The “Elf on the Shelf” book says that the elves are “scouts.” That’s a pretty nice term for the little elves if you ask me. That’s probably the term somebody who isn’t being stalked by the little guys gave them. Where I come from they would be called snitches, rats, tattletales, and moles who are looking to do somebody in. I’m so glad my mom and dad didn’t allow one of the elves in our house when I was a kid or I would have never gotten a gift at Christmas.
It’s bad enough that my grandkids have to deal with a snitch that’s constantly looking to do them in. Dan told me something else about Alvin, the elf that hangs out at Kellen, Macy, and Parker’s house. I want you to know that Alvin is no saint; he’s no model of virtue, he’s no pillar of righteousness and goodness. Alvin pulls all kinds of mischievous stunts while the kids are asleep. He’ll tear up toilet paper and put it on the Christmas tree, eat the kid’s chocolate, draw on family photos, or write a note to Santa saying the kids deserve to be on the “naughty” list. Dan told me about something Alvin did last Christmas that almost led to Dan and Rachel calling for the paramedics—Macy and Kellen almost had a heart attack! They woke up one morning and found that all of the toys in their playroom were gone. Alvin had left a note telling them that he had taken all of their toys back to the North Pole! If I would have been Kellen and Macy I’d have torn him limb from limb! At the moment Macy and Kellen grabbed their chests and yelled, “Call 911!,” Dan and Rachel found that Alvin had hid their toys in Parker’s room. If that would have been Tony Soprano’s kids, Alvin would still be at the bottom of Lake Hefner wearing lead boots!
I’ve been thinking about Alvin and all of his buddies that are scattered all across America this past week and I’ve come to bring good news to all of the kids, young and old alike. It is quite apparent that Alvin and his buddies carry a lot of clout with Santa, but there’s One greater than Santa who has the final call my friend. This morning I want to spend some time comparing Alvin and his buddies with Jesus. Before we do that, I want to say that you and I are much more like Alvin than Jesus. You may wonder what I mean by that so let me explain. Alvin sits around the house with a sharpened pencil and big notebook just looking for others to do something, anything that he might write down and point out, but he fails to see his own sinful ways. Jesus has a word for Alvin and for you and me. Turn with me to Matthew 7:1-5 and let’s read together.
1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5 NIVO)
“Alvin, brother, let me break it to you gently—you should be spending your time making a list of your own defects, character flaws, shortcomings, or what I would call “sins,” instead of scrutinizing the sins of others.” The very words I’m sharing with Alvin can be applied to me and most everyone who walks the planet this morning—Christian and non-Christian alike. We are quick to notice the faults, the sins of others, and totally bypass the fact that we are just as broken and sinful as they are, aren’t we? This propensity to point out the failures, behaviors, and sins of others has garnered us the title of “Most Judgmental People on the Planet” by the watching world.
The Barna Group made their survey public in an article called, “A New Generation Expresses Their Skepticism and Frustration with Christianity.” 90% of people between the ages of 16-29 said that Christians are judgmental. According to the study, “Being judgmental is fueled by self-righteousness, the misguided inner motivation to make our own life look better by comparing it to the lives of others.” The sad reality is that many of us who are followers of Jesus are totally blind, oblivious, to what we are doing. We wouldn’t consider ourselves or describe ourselves as being judgmental at all…and neither did the Pharisees, the most religious people of Jesus’ day.
There’s a really interesting message that Jesus delivered to the crowd that was listening in as Jesus warned them about the Pharisees in Matthew 23. The Pharisees were no doubt present because in verse 13 and continuing through verse 39 Jesus addresses them. What’s interesting is that Jesus calls the Pharisees “blind” five times in these verses. Let me just show you one place. Turn with me to Matthew 23:25-26 and let’s read together.
25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. (Matthew 23:25-26 NIVO)
The Pharisees portrayed themselves as righteous and holy. They carried their big Bibles with them wherever they went. They quoted Scripture at dinner parties whether it was fitting or not. They were always ragging on the government or big business or the ills that ailed society. They paid far more attention to the depravity of others and the society around them than they did to their own dark and hard hearts. They presented themselves to the community as pillars of righteousness, but Jesus knew better. He knew they were hypocrites who were full of greed, self-indulgence, and self-righteousness. They were sinners just like the people they pointed fingers of condemnation at each and every day.
You have to wonder, “How does this happen? How did it happen to the Pharisees and how does it happen to us?” We’re not talking about atheists or people who are bent on being evil. We’re talking about people who study the Scriptures, go to church, and do the things that religious people think they should do. How does this happen? I’ve got an answer for you. Turn with me to Matthew 15:7-9 and let’s read together.
7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: 8 “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'” (Matthew 15:7-9 NIVO)
What happened to the Pharisees and what happens to so many of the followers of Jesus is that they, and we, misinterpret what God wants. God desires for us to be in a relationship with Him, but we interpret what God wants as nothing more than following rules. We think God just wants us to be good. That’s the farthest thing from the truth. If we were able to be “good,” God would never have sent Jesus to reconcile us to the Father by dying in our place. Jesus didn’t die so that we would be good; He died so that we would be God’s. Jesus said, “They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” “Don’t do ‘this,’ make sure you do ‘that.’ The truth is we fail at every turn. If our hearts are far from God then we will always resort to nothing more than following rules.
In the time we have left I want to show you just how different Jesus is from the little elf that sits on the shelf. First, we are told that both the elf on the shelf and Jesus are watching. I want you to know that they are watching from two very different perspectives and for two very different reasons. The elf on the shelf is keeping a close eye on boys and girls in order to record when they are good and not so good and report back to Santa Claus. The elf on the shelf is kind of a “gotcha” guy who is watching our every move. Jesus, on the other hand, is watching and He sees clearly what’s going on, but He’s not a gotcha guy, He’s our Savior. In the Gospel of John we read,
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17 NIVO)
God didn’t send His Son to make a list and check it twice. He’s not trying to figure out who’s naughty and nice—He already knows that “none are righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). God sent Jesus to those who know they’ve been naughty, those who know they are sinners to the core, in order that they might be rescued, saved from their sins. In Galatians 4:4-5 we read,
4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (Galatians 4:4-5 NIVO)
Jesus did not come to condemn us because of our guilt, He came to save us from our guilt and shame by offering His life in our place. That’s past tense, but let me share something powerful with all of us who are here this very morning. Jesus is watching you. Oh yes, He’s got His eye on you. Not like Alvin is watching my grandkids, but for an entirely different reason. Turn with me to Romans 8:33-34 and I’ll show you what I’m talking about.
33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. (Romans 8:33-34 NIVO)
Are you tired of fighting the same old battles against the sin that seems to have a hold on you? Are you riddled with anxiety over situations that you find yourself in this morning? Do you feel like if anyone really knew what takes place in your heart and mind that you’d lose every friend you have? Know this my friend, Jesus is interceding for you this very moment. Alvin preys on the weaknesses of those he’s watching, Jesus prays for those He knows are weak. What a mighty Savior!
Second, Alvin may be a “scout” who has come to take notes and serve as a judge, but he’s no more qualified than you or me to be the judge of anyone. Jesus lived a sinless life, He never sinned, and therefore He is more qualified than anyone to stand as Judge over all of humanity. Jesus lived a perfect life and yet He came not to Judge and condemn, but to save those who were powerless to save themselves. Listen to the testimony of what I’m talking about from God’s Word.
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIVO)
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. (Hebrews 4:15 NIVO)
5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. (1 John 3:5 NIVO)
Third, according the Alvin and his buddies, the gifts that will come on Christmas morning are dependent upon our being good enough throughout the year. Alvin and his buddies will let Santa know who is deserving of gifts and who should get a lump of coal in their stocking. The gifts that God gives to you and me come by grace and grace alone, not because of any good thing we’ve done or failed to do. Listen to what God’s Word has to say.
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIVO)
22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24 NIVO)
The Apostle Paul felt that there was no better illustration of this truth than his own life. Paul was a persecutor of Christians. He was present and applauding when the first Christian, Stephen, was killed. Then, while on the road to Damascus, on his way to arrest the followers of Jesus, Paul met Jesus and his life was forever changed. Paul never lost sight of the grace of God. As a matter of fact, Paul saw in his own life the greatest illustration of how the grace of God comes freely to those who are sinners. Paul wrote to Timothy and said,
14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:14-16 NIVO)
Fourth, the final difference I want to share with you between the elf on the shelf and Jesus has to do with the nature of the gifts they give. Hopefully all of you will be on the “nice” list and get gifts that you’ve wanted this Christmas, but I’ve got news for you. The gifts you long for and are hoping will be under the tree on Christmas morning will lose their attraction; they’ll break or become worn out. The good gifts that God gives to His people never grow old and never wear out.
The truth of the matter is that it’s not only Alvin the elf who is making a list of who is naughty and nice. This world in which we live is based upon our performance. If you work hard in school and study like crazy you’re going to make better grades than if you just blow off your assignments. If you show up for work early, stay late, and work diligently throughout the day then you are probably going to be rewarded for your efforts. We are conditioned to believe that if we do right then good will come our way and this is oftentimes true.
The problem we run into is that we take our experience in the classroom, in the office, and in much of society and we overlay that understanding onto our relationship with God. We live by the belief that if we do “good” then “good” will come our way. We want to believe that if we do right, if we are good boys and girls, men and women, then God will take notice and do right by us. Our assumption is that we can be good. In Psalm 14, David wrote,
2 The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. 3 All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3 NIVO)
In Romans 3, the Apostle Paul picked up on the idea and used it to illustrate his teaching that Jew and Gentile alike are all in the same boat. Whether we have the law, like the Jews, or live by a law all our own, we are all sinners, not one of us is righteous. Listen to what Paul wrote in Romans 3:9-12.
9 What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. 10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:9-12 NIVO)
I was leading a Bible study a few weeks ago about the grace of God. I said, “God doesn’t owe us anything, but He gives us salvation because of His grace alone.” I then asked, “Why would we prefer for God to owe us?” Someone in the class said, “Well, if God doesn’t owe us anything then what will we do when we have a crisis?” I don’t think I will ever forget that moment. We want God to notice our good deeds so that God will come through for us when we need Him, when we find ourselves in a pinch. Let me share with you something far more powerful this Christmas. Not one person in this sanctuary has been good enough to merit one single solitary gift this Christmas, but you are at the top of God’s Christmas list anyway. God loves you and me not because we have been good, are good, or because we show great promise for being good in the future, but because He is good. How good is He? That’s a great question and I want to encourage you to always seek answers about God from the Bible and not from what you think or from what others think. Let’s turn to Psalm 103:8-12 to find our answer.
8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. 9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; 10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:8-12 NIVO)
“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” We all know that when a person owes us something they may or may not come through. God on the other hand doesn’t owe us anything, but His grace, love, and compassion have prevailed. His love, His grace, His mercy, His compassion has prevailed. Just this past week there was a conversation that took place on The View about a billboard the group called “American Atheists” have put up all around the country. The billboard has a picture of Santa and it says, “Go ahead and skip church! Just be good for goodness’ sake.” The ladies were discussing the billboard when Joy Behar asked her Christian co-host, Candace Cameron Bure, if she was offended by the billboard? She said she wasn’t offended because it gave her a perfect opportunity to share the Gospel with others and find out what they defined “goodness” to be. The other women jumped in and the discussion took off. Raven-Symone jumped in and said, “All religions are about being good.” Paula Faris spoke up and said, “By grace through faith we’ve been saved. There’s nothing we can do.” The women began talking about what it means to be “good.” Joy Behar said “I’m a good person.” Candace pointed out the Ten Commandments and asked Joy, “Have you ever lied?” Joy asked, “That’s one of the Commandments?” “That’s one of the Commandments,” Candace said. Joy said, “Nevermind.” By the end of the conversation they realized that none of them were “good” according to God’s standards, and neither are we. The message of Christmas is not our goodness, but God’s. In Ephesians 2:11-13 we get a good idea of what I’m trying to explain to you. Read along with me.
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)– 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:11-13 NIVO)
We who were far, far away from God have been brought close, but not by our goodness, by His grace alone. That’s the message of Christmas.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
December 20, 2015