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Keeping Christmas Well

December 19, 2008

Tis the Season and I am filled with both joy and sadness: joy because of what Christmas represents and sadness because it seems that more and more people are foregoing any outward demonstration of what was once “that time of year, when the world falls in love…” I have driven around this town every year to look at Christmas light displays and this year, many houses are dark which once shown brightly with festive lights and decorations.

 

Now I am not saying that if you don’t have Christmas lights at your house you are evil. What I am saying is that the signs of the times are very stark. Children have been indoctrinated for years in public schools that Christmas is an American holiday and is evil, exclusive and a fairy tale at best. I think the darkness I see in the homes around town is evidence that the efforts of the NEA have succeeded. Again as in our look at Thanksgiving, we can see what we are up against as the forces of antichrist gain increasing influence in society and suppress the truth of God while exalting evil in every form.

 

So today I am going to return to the theme of last year’s sermon because it is my favorite subject and truly points us in the right direction. We must have a proper perspective, a biblical perspective in the face of such blatant evil that is increasingly being foisted upon us through the media and fringe groups who seek to gain the upper hand. Indeed because of this we must shine the light of the truth of the gospel to all who come within the sphere of our influence.

 

The theme of the lesson for today comes from one of the last lines in the movie, “A Christmas Carol.” Here are the words, “It was always said of Ebenezer Scrooge that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.” And so my question to you this morning is this, do you keep Christmas well?

 

Now the story: written by Charles Dickens, deals with the redemption of a lost soul. The key character is a miserly, very worldly old man named Ebenezer Scrooge As the story unfolds, Scrooges character becomes very apparent. But an old friend, 7 years dead comes to visit him with both a tale of woe and a message of hope. Jacob Marley has made arrangements so that during the night Scrooge would be visited by the spirits of Christmas past, present and future.

 

During his meeting with the Ghost of Christmas present, he spoke of being too old and finally said, “Let me keep Christmas in my own way”!  The Spirit’s reply is oh so powerful and oh so vital to us. Listen to these words and weep at your faithlessness as I have: Mortal, we do not live only one day of the year. We live the whole 365: just as it is true of the Child born in Bethlehem. HE DOES NOT LIVE IN THE HEARTS TO MEN ONLY ONE DAY OF THE YEAR BUT ALL THE DAYS OF THE YEAR!”

 

Is this not intensely convicting? The message is clear; we are to be living for Jesus every moment. We are to be walking in the Spirit so that we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. And we must understand that sin is crouching at the door and its desire is for us; but we must master it. We have been redeemed from our old life of sin and are called to walk in newness of life! Remember that Great Commandment: Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength. We are to be so occupied with Jesus and the things of the Spirit that we have no time for anything else. And we are to be so occupied all the days of the year! There is to be no slacking off. Devotion is not just for the holidays.

 

So I put it to you: where is your heart during this Christmas holiday? For us it is to be a time of remembrance, a time of reflection as we contemplate the coming of Immanuel, God with us.

Now it is a historical fact that Christmas was inaugurated by the Roman Emperor Constantine to placate the pagans who were complaining about the lack of ‘feasts’ in the Christian Church at Rome. During the month of December, particularly December 25th, the pagans used to celebrate the feast of Saturnalia, literally the birth of the sun. This pagan feast had begun centuries earlier as a day to honor Nimrod whom the Babylonians called the sun god.

 

What Constantine did was ‘Christianize’ this pagan feast and he turned it into a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. He did so to placate the pagans who would not have stood for the abolition of their feast days. Constantine tried to save sinners by placating their sin. This will not do. You can’t take the sin away from the pagan. The sin must be taken out of the pagan and this can only be done by the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ or they will remain as they always were. They will merely have a religious façade around their sin.

 

Now today, there are certain ‘religious’ groups who say that if we celebrate Christmas at all, we are participating in a pagan holiday. These include, among others, the Jehovah’s witnesses of all people. A cult! Are we to give heed to deceiving spirits or doctrines of demons? I say no! But what I do say to you is that if you love Jesus Christ and you have come to worship Him as the shepherds and the wise men, then you are doing well!

 

We are not worshiping the sun, we are worshiping the SON! This day is a day in which we remember the birth of Jesus. Christmas Day is a day in which the lovers of Jesus Christ bring to special remembrance of the Word Who became flesh and dwelt among us! No matter how it got started, we who love Jesus remember Him on this day, in a special way. And we are to strive to keep this truth in remembrance all the year for “HE DOES NOT LIVE IN THE HEARTS TO MEN ONLY ONE DAY OF THE YEAR BUT ALL THE DAYS OF THE YEAR!”

 

So I put it to you again: do you keep Christmas well? Do you keep the fires of devotion to Jesus burning all year or do you live like the world for the majority of you life only waiting for December 25th to roll around so you can have one big celebration to make up for all your past failures? Do you understand that the giving of gifts illustrates the giving of the Greatest Gift? These small tokens of our love bring happiness and joy into the hearts of others which illustrates the exceeding great joy that overflows the banks of our hearts because of the matchless gift of grace in the Person of Jesus Christ!

 

We Christians have chosen to esteem this day, to set it aside as a day of celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (Joh 1:14) “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Some religious groups, as we have already seen, have declared that Christmas is a pagan holiday. They say that Christians should have nothing to do with it. Other groups have been seeking to legislate Christmas out of the land specifically because by its very nature, Christmas celebrates Christ! Other groups have ‘commercialized’ Christmas to hock their products. Still others say, Celebrate, shmelabrate! Who cares! This is what I was lamenting at the outset of the lesson. And finally there are those like us who have set aside the day to remember His Holy Birth.

 

But how we remember it speaks volumes of where we are spiritually!

 

Remember the words of our brother Paul who said in (Rom 14:5-8) “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. 7 For none of us lives to himself and no one dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”

If you are in Christ then you are the Lord’s own purchased possession and Christians are by their very existence, living testaments of His gift, the gift of Himself and when we ponder these truths our hearts are filled with joy unspeakable and full of glory. This is vastly different from the mindset of worldlings who are merely waiting that day to see if they will get what they have spent the whole year dropping hints about: you know; that really wonderful thing that they’ve decided they ‘just can’t live without!’ The difference in the two heart-attitudes is clear and plain. The world is like the leech’s two daughters who say, give, give while the believer walks through this world with the attitude that they want to be a good steward of what God has entrusted to them and they don’t want to be stained by the garment defiled by the flesh!

 

Each attitude says a lot about the individual doesn’t it!

 

I would like for us to consider a few passages for the remainder of our time this morning which will bring to our remembrance the proper heart attitude of the believer. It is true that the passages I am going to direct your attention to are familiar but you have heard the saying: familiarity breeds contempt. I believe that it is of utmost importance that we be constantly reminded; that “For this reason (because we are a forgetful people) we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.Heb 2:1 We must not pass over these words and treat them like throw away lines. Instead I share them with you renew your devotion to Jesus, to rejoice anew in our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ whose matchless gift of salvation is the greatest demonstration of love that His creation has ever known.

 

Turn with me to (Isa 7:14). Here is one of those glorious prophesies of the coming of the Messiah. The Lord, through the Prophet Isaiah had just finished scolding the house of Israel in general and the evil king Ahaz in particular for his sinfulness. In the context the prophet Isaiah is speaking to Ahaz, king of Judah who is fearful of heart because Rezin, king of Syria and Pekah, king of Israel have joined forces to attack and capture Jerusalem. God, through His prophet Isaiah, tells Ahaz to ask for a sign to comfort his heart and give him assurance that his enemies will not prosper against him. Ahaz refuses which is never a good thing to do when God issues a command. Therefore God prophesies concerning the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, saying; “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

 

“Therefore; because you despise me, and the sign which I now offer to you, God of his own free grace will send you a more honorable messenger, and give you a nobler sign, to try whether that will cure you of your infidelity. Or another way of putting it is, “Although you deserve no sign nor favor, yet, for the comfort of those few believers: the faithful remnant who dwell among you, and to leave you without excuse, I shall remind you of another, an even greater sign which God hath promised, and will in His due time perform; which also is a pledge of the certain accomplishment of all God’s promises.” Matthew Poole

 

Now consider all that he said. The Lord is going to give us a sign. It will be a miraculous witness of His loving-kindness, mercy and grace. It will be an indisputable demonstration of the omnipotence of our Lord. It will be the fulfillment of the prophesy God uttered in the Garden when He spoke of the Seed of the woman. Here is the One who will crush the head of the serpent, who will free those who are in bondage to sin.

 

In this declaration of grace, God calls to sinners saying, Behold; you who will not believe that God alone is able to deliver you from the united force of Syria and Israel, take notice for your full comfort and assurance. God is not only able to do this work, but will do far greater things.  He will fulfill the promise He gave in the garden. Behold a virgin shall conceive. Now what God is saying is, from a human perspective impossible. Consider that when man marries a virgin and they have had sexual relations, well, she’s no longer a virgin!  But what God is declaring is that on an appointed day an elect virgin is going to get pregnant apart from the normal process. God Himself will speak to her; the power of the Most High will overshadow her.

With the same creative power He used to speak the world into existence, God will speak the word and Christ will enter into the womb of Mary. She who has known not a man will give birth to a Son, the Son of God. And you shall call His name Immanuel which means “God with us!” Here is the meaning of Christmas for the Christian. Here is the reason why we decorate trees, give gifts and sing Christmas carols. We are worshiping our Glorious Lord “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men…

 

We are remembering the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. For us the statement made in the Gospel of John is a reality; we have indeed beheld His glory. No we have not physically laid eyes upon Jesus Christ. We have not actually seen Jesus for no flesh can see Him and live! But He has revealed Himself to us in a miraculous, wonderful way on the day He visited us in salvation. 1Pe 1:8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory… The Christian is the recipient of infinite mercy and grace upon grace for Christ has regarded our helpless estate and has come to earth to live according to God’s perfect standard for us and to shed His own blood for our souls. To sinners who had gone astray, who had turned our backs on God and had gone our own way, God sent His Son to redeem us.

 

This is why Isaiah said in (Isa 9:6) “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: God is very specific here is He not! And what a wonderful message of grace! A Child was born to us! Christ took on human flesh for us! A Son is given; for us! He came to live a life of perfect submission to the Law of God, and to die for the sins of all who will call upon Him for salvation, for deliverance from their sins and restoration to a right relationship with the God they have shunned and hated.

 

Of this One, Isaiah says, “and the government shall be upon his shoulder: Let me give you my ideas on this for it leads me to the Luke text commonly known as the Christmas Story. We must consider this fact: all governments, all laws, all principalities and powers are here by Gods decree. He caused all things to work together so that the nations of Assyria and Babylon would rise to power, that Babylon would wipe out Assyria, would in turn be destroyed by the Medes and the Persians who would fall before the Greeks under Alexander the Great, whose empire would collapse before the armies of Rome.

 

Now Rome would enforce its law called Pax Romana, or Roman peace. They would build highways and in short, civilize the known world. Into this setting Christ would be born. Isaiah says, “and his name shall be called Wonderful, (whose Name is more wonderful to His children than the name of Jesus Christ?) We read further in (Isaiah 7:2-7) that He is our Counselor, He is the One who teaches us, leads us into all truth and guides us by His omnipotent wisdom.

 

You have to wonder why ‘Christian’ people go to psychiatrists and psychologists and analysts and whatever other ‘ists’ there may be when the best these people have to offer is the wisdom of the world. God said Jer 17:5 “Thus says the LORD, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind And makes flesh his strength, And whose heart turns away from the LORD.” And in 1Co 1:20 Paul asks, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” You have a problem? Go to the word of God and hear wise council from the Wonderful Councilor! He alone can help you.

 

Now for those who say, “Jesus is not God” Isaiah answers saying that He is indeed “The mighty God” and The everlasting Father, Here is great mystery but in fact it is also great truth. Jesus Christ is our God and Savior who took spoke the world into existence and who came to His own and took upon Himself the sins of the world. As The Prince of Peace He is the Great Mediator who came to made peace between us and the Father, granting us the gifts of grace and faith, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ro 5:1) 

(Isa 12:2) tells us, “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.

 

The 53rd of describes what Jesus went through for us. “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; He was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

 

And so this leads us again to “The Christmas Story” found in (Luke 2:1-20) Where we read these familiar words “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was a registration, a taxation of the people which required them to go to their places of birth in order that the Roman Empire could keep track of its subjects. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.

 

3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, (This was in keeping with the promise of God to David. God told David that his Seed would sit on His throne forever. This spoke of his immediate descendents but pointed to the ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ.)  And so Joseph went to Bethlehem, the ancestral home of David the place whose name means “House of Bread” which is fitting as Jesus Himself is the Bread of life. Joseph went there 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.

 

6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. Paul tells us in (Gal 4:4-5) “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, 5 to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”

 

7 And there in Bethlehem, according to Gods decree that He had declared through His prophets, she brought forth her firstborn Son, Who is the Bread of Life, the true bread that comes down from heaven and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and (here we see to what extent He humbled Himself for they had to stay in a stable with the animals) so Mary laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Notice that God didn’t call kings or princes to laud the birth of His Son, or priests to sing praises to the King of Heaven for the promised fulfillment of Prophesy. Instead He called for humble shepherds to come and see the Good Shepherd who would lay down His life for His sheep. We read in verse 8 “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.”

 

The long awaited for day has arrived. 11 “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

 

All praise goes to the great God of heaven for He has done great things. He has looked upon men and had mercy for we are but dust. He has looked with great favor upon sinful men. He has seen our helpless estate and has sent a deliverer to redeem us from the house of bondage to sin. To wicked men whose thoughts and intents of the heart are only evil continually He has had mercy on the hopeless and has extended good will toward men. Bow before Him in thanksgiving for His marvelous gift to the children of men.

Returning to our text we read in verse 15 “So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.”

 

In the same way we are called to tell of His birth, His life, His death, resurrection and the deliverance He has wrought in our lives as we observe this Holies of Holidays. And we are to be pondering all the words of God in our hearts, meditating on them day and night so that we will be careful to obey Him. We are to be filled up with His Spirit and His word and we are to live out what we know from His word in our lives. We are to keep Christmas well for we have the knowledge!

 

So what is occupying your mind this morning? Have you come to worship Him? Have you come to the manger to behold the King of kings and Lord of lords? Have you brought him the gifts of a devoted life and a heart full of the high praises of God in your mouth? Or are you being choked out by the cares of this commercialized and sinful world? Remember that Jesus Christ came to deliver you from such things and in essence, to return to the same old attitudes of fretting and hand wringing over things you have no control over is literally to turn away from your first love and return to the vomit of your old life.

 

But there is nothing there!

 

As the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, the ecclesia, the called out ones, we have been called out of the world and redeemed from our old manner of life. We are strangers and aliens here. We are just passing through on our way home. Our citizenship is in heaven where our Lord Jesus Christ is, seated at the right hand of the Father. He has given us salvation and everything that pertains to life and godliness. He has given us Himself. He has given us His Holy Spirit!

 

I plead with you; don’t take your eyes off of first love. Don’t take your eyes off of Jesus to look to the wind and the waves. Remember that the wind and the waves still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below. Don’t look back longingly to Sodom for there is only death there. Turn your eyes upon Jesus and look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.

 

As we approach Christmas Day let us come with hearts already full of devotion to Him whom our soul loveth. Let us come in remembrance of Jesus Christ. As I said at the outset of this lesson, our giving of gifts is merely a reflection of the giving of the greatest Gift. Let us come to worship Him as the Angels and the Shepherds did. Let us come and lay down at His feet offering ourselves as living sacrifices to God with an attitude of thanksgiving for His wonderful gift.  If you come with this attitude then you will be keeping Christmas well! May that be truly said of all of us!

 

Merry Christmas

Mike Leonard

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