It?s Christmas Eve and I?ve got to tell you?I love Christmas. For me Christmas is a blessing, but I know that for many folks today Christmas is a huge burden. If you polled those who say that they are burdened by Christmas you would come up with lots of different reasons why they feel this way. For some, Christmas is a financial burden. They feel the pressure to buy things for their kids and family members that they really can?t afford and that will burden their credit cards for months to come. For others, Christmas is a burden because loved ones who were around the table and tree last Christmas will not be there this year. For some Christmas is a burden because of family issues like divorce or tension between extended family members that will make Christmas get-togethers difficult. Last of all, for some in our society Christmas is a burden because they don?t want to be bothered by the Christmas story. They don?t mind the merchandising and marketing, the days off work, or the family get-togethers, but they would prefer that Jesus be left out of the celebration.
I?ve seen and heard about incident after incident this year that has led many to believe that there is a movement to try and remove everything Christian from Christmas. Let me give you some examples. I received and email from Promise Keepers this past week that read,
What?s wrong with saying ?Merry Christmas?? All of a sudden, it seems like open season on any authentic celebration of Jesus? birth! May I offer three recent headlines as examples?
– Target Stores Ban the Salvation Army.
– Denver Parade Bans Church Float.
– Denver Mayor Bans ?Merry Christmas? Sign on City Hall.
Something spiritual is going on here. Since when has the birth of a Jewish baby been so controversial? Why are some people so offended by the mere mention of ?Christmas?? The three cases above seem so bizarre, so outlandish, many of us are asking, ?what was that about?? (PKnews.com)
Even more evidence is provided from another article I read this past week from Fox News? Bill O?Reilly. He writes,
? Christmas with the Kranks? is not only the name of a holiday movie this year, it is also a national trend. Once again, Christmas is under siege by the growing forces of secularism in America. Put these facts in your stocking:
? Federated Department Stores, which includes Macy’s, has suggested that managers avoid displaying ?Merry Christmas? banners and have ordered employees not to talk about it.
? In Denver, a church was banned from the “Festival of Lights” parade because it wanted a religious theme to its float. Part of the reason many seem to be upset is that while the parade says it’s not promoting religious themes, it is allowing some spiritual groups to participate, including the Two Spirit Society of Denver, a support group for American Indian homosexuals.
? The Maplewood, New Jersey school board has banned all religious music from “holiday” concerts.
? And New York City Mayor Bloomberg insists that the lighted tree outside City Hall is not a Christmas tree, it’s a “holiday tree.” (Bill O’Reilly for BillOReilly.com Thursday, Dec 09, 2004)
The last incident that I want to share with you happened right here in Oklahoma. The Mustang superintendent removed a Nativity scene from an elementary school?s Christmas program. The story has made national news. Let me read to you what one Associated Press writer had to say.
Voters incensed over a superintendent’s decision to remove a Nativity scene from an elementary school Christmas program took out their anger at the ballot box, helping to defeat bond measures worth nearly $11 million. Tuesday’s rejection of the two measures – one of which would have paid for construction of an elementary school – marked the first time in more than a decade that voters in this bedroom community west of Oklahoma City denied additional funds for their school district. Some parents were angry that Santa Claus, a Christmas tree and symbols of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa were left in the production. “If you’re going to cut one symbol, then cut them all,” said Shelly Marino, the parent of a third-grader at the elementary school. “Santa Claus was in the play and a Christmas tree was displayed, but that’s not a Christian symbol.” (Julie E. Bisbee AP)
I would have to confess to you that it saddens me to see what is taking place in our society. I wish that the people of our country could realize that the real Gift of Christmas has nothing to do with days off from work or the latest gadget to hit the shelves, but that it is the Gift of God?s son, our Savior. This is not what is happening in our society today. We are on a drift, and we are drifting further and further away from the One who desires for us to know Him and live for Him. I will not allow this reality to rob me of my Christmas joy. I will not allow myself to be distracted from the great opportunity I have to celebrate the greatest Gift ever given?Jesus Christ, the Gift of Christmas.
Because of these steps that have been taken to secularize Christmas?exchanging ?Merry Christmas? with ?Season?s Greetings,? removing Nativity scenes, and teaching elementary school kids that Christmas is really nothing more than an opportunity to get gifts and a few days off from school?many Christians are coming undone at the seams. Let me assure you that this is not necessary. If our government chooses to remove every vestige of faith from Christmas those who know Jesus will still draw near to the manger and worship the King of glory!
Furthermore, I want you to know that the first Christmas wasn?t without controversy. Turn with me to Matthew 1 and let?s read the story together.
18This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ?Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.? 22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23?The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel??which means, ?God with us.? 24When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25 NIV)
Before Jesus was ever born there was controversy. A young virgin who was engaged to be married was told that she was going to have a baby. I will assure you that Mary was far from ecstatic when she first heard the news. Being pregnant without the benefit of marriage was something that wasn?t accepted, it wasn?t tolerated, she would be judged, and harshly. Mary was engaged to Joseph and I will assure you that he wasn?t giddy with the news either. Joseph loved Mary and he didn?t want her to be publicly humiliated so he planned to quietly slip out of her life.
Once the Angel of the Lord had reassured Mary and Joseph that they were being blessed with the greatest gift the world would ever know, that Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit and not by some other man, their hearts were overflowing with gratitude, but not everyone shared their joy. Turn with me to Matthew 2 and let?s read.
1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, ?Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.? 3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people?s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5?In Bethlehem in Judea,? they replied, ?for this is what the prophet has written: 6 ??But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.?? 7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ?Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.? 9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. 13When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ?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.? 14So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ?Out of Egypt I called my son.? 16When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 18?A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.? 19After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20and said, ?Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child?s life are dead.? 21So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ?He will be called a Nazarene.? (Matthew 2:1-23 NIV)
I see a great lesson in this Scripture for us tonight. There was so much controversy, so much heartache, confusion, fear, and frustration that surrounded the birth of Jesus. Herod wanted to kill the baby. How about the emotions experienced by those poor families who lived in Bethlehem and watched their little boys ripped from their arms? Mary and Joseph were living on the run trying to escape Herod?s evil plan. I would dare say that the controversies surrounding Christmas in our day don?t even compare to the climate of the times when Jesus was born.
Controversy will continue to surround Christmas. It may be that we see even more secularization come about. The government will do what the government will do, but I want you to notice something about Matthew 2 that took place in the midst of such great threat and controversy. Take a look at verses 7-11 with me.
7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ?Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.? 9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.
Did you notice what happened? Chaos, turmoil, and controversy were everywhere, but the wise men found Jesus and they worshipped Him. They weren?t distracted by Herod. Oh, they heard what he had to say, but they were looking for the Savior. They knew he was up to something, but they knew that God was up to something even bigger. The wise men found Jesus and they worshipped Him.
What will you and I do as we live in this land of controversy and chaos? Will we get involved in all of the little disputes and societal shifts that are taking place or will we single-mindedly seek the Savior and fall at His feet in worship? I pray that this Christmas Eve you will recognize the distractions that are before us so that we can avoid them and kneel before the manger once again in worship. You see my friends, wise people still seek Him today.
Matthew 1:18-25; 2:1-23