This is always one of my most favorite moments of the Christmas season because I think to myself, well, if I haven’t purchased the gift by now, I’m not going to get it. But then I remind myself that Wal-Mart might still be open or at least Sheetz is open. While there still might be lots of things you need to do tonight and tomorrow will be a busy day for many, at least for this moment, there is nothing to do but to stop and take a deep breath. One thing I hope you don’t have to do tonight is go home and put up your Christmas tree! While many people put up their tree right after thanksgiving, when I was growing up we didn’t put our tree up until just a few days before Christmas. Does anyone else decorate that late? Is anyone going home tonight to decorate a tree? I really hope not. Now, here’s the next question, when will you take the decorations down? We always took down our tree (well, disassembled it really, we always had an artificial tree) on New Year’s Day. That was our tradition, watching the parades and taking down the tree, and the tree always had to be down before the football games started, but now it doesn’t really matter because most of the bowl games aren’t even on New Year’s Day. I miss tradition.
But seriously, how many of you will take down your decorations on New Year’s Day? Will anyone take them down tomorrow? How about Wednesday? I hope not, but eventually the tree gets dragged to the curb (or in our case put back in the box) and the ornaments get carefully wrapped up for another year and all the Christmas decorations get put away, but when we do this, we need to make sure that Christmas itself doesn’t get put away. The message of Christmas can’t be boxed up until next year, it needs to be experienced every day of the year and after the events we have gone through during the past few weeks we understand more fully that we need to keep the message of Christmas alive in our hearts and minds and lives, among our families and in our communities.
So what is this message of Christmas that we need to make sure stays out long after the tree comes down? It is the amazing and somewhat absurd claim that the God of the universe, the God who said let there be light and there was light, the God who called the all the worlds in to being and yet created us in the tender care of his love, this God has come to live among us in the person of Jesus. We call this the doctrine of the incarnation, God in the flesh, and while it is difficult to comprehend, it is what the Bible teaches us happened that night in Bethlehem.
In John 1:1,14 it says that in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God, and this word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. God himself became flesh and blood and lived among us in the person of Jesus. This idea is reinforced in Colossians 1:15 where it says of Jesus that He is the image of the invisible God. Now the reason God did all of this was so he could say to us, I really do exist – look at me. God came in the flesh to say, this is what I am like just in case you are wondering and God came in the flesh to say most of all, I am with you – that is actually part of the Christmas story. Look at Matthew1:22-23.
So the absurd and amazing claim that we can’t box up and put away until next year is the message that God has come to be with us, but that claim becomes even more amazing and more absurd when we think about how God came. God entered our world not as a warrior coming down from heaven, but as a baby coming forth from the womb. God came in the flesh and blood of a helpless, vulnerable, completely dependent child. This is how God first entered the world. Crazy isn’t it? But then again, maybe it’s not so crazy. While we tend to think of babies as being powerless and weak, they are actually one of the most powerful forces on the face of the planet. If you don’t believe me, hold a child in your arms for a few moments, or take a child and hold their hand.
Children not only love unconditionally but they draw love from us. Babies change us; they change our hearts and lives. They change our priorities and purpose. They can bring healing and wholeness to the brokenness of our lives and world. When an infant grabs hold of your finger or falls asleep in your arms they not only express unconditional love but they draw love from us.
Maybe that’s why God came as a baby, to begin to change our hearts and lives. Maybe God came as a child to show us what it means to be loved by God and what it feels like to love God in return. God came as a baby so that he could begin to draw us into a relationship of love with him and that’s the Christmas message we can’t put away with the ornaments. This is a message we need to keep out and keep alive all year. Our community and nation and world needs the message of God’s love.
There is another reason God came in the flesh and blood of a human being, and that was so he could experience the fullness of our lives. You see the infant who was laid in a manger didn’t stay a baby forever. He grew up to become a child who probably threw temper tantrums when he was tired, cried when he was hurt and was teased by his brothers and sisters. That child then became a teenager and experienced the rush of hormones and the confusion that comes when we grow into adulthood. As a man Jesus experienced all that we do, all the love and joy and pain and disappointments of life. God came in the flesh not just to love us but so he could really know us and experience all that we do in life.
In Jesus, God experienced the fullness of our lives, that’s what it says in Hebrews 4:15. So in Jesus, God has experienced everything that we have. God experienced hunger and thirst. God experienced loneliness and fear. God experienced laughter and joy. God experienced the connection and the brokenness that comes with family. God experienced disappointment and success. God felt pain and God felt love. God really does know what we are going through in life and how we are feeling tonight because God came in the flesh to experienced it for himself, and because he did, we can turn to him for help.
Look Hebrews 4:16. He knows what we are going through so he can help us in times of need. How can we put this message away until next year? No matter what we need in life, God is ready to help. When we have doubts – God understands and he is here to help. When we are ready to give up – God understands and he is here to help. When we are hungry for more in life – God understands and he is here to help. In fact, the Christmas story itself makes clear to us that God is here to give us what we need. Did you hear that in the story tonight?
You know sometimes the Christmas story from Luke is so familiar that we often miss some of the details that are important for us to hear. Did you hear that three times in the story we heard about the crib Jesus was laid in. Who does that? Who sends out baby announcements that says, on his first night we laid our son in the Graco Charleston classic convertible crib? No one does that, so there must be something important about that detail. The crib Mary and Joseph used wasn’t a Graco Charleston classic convertible crib, it was a manger. A manger was a simple trough used to feed animals. It could have been made of stone or wood but either way it would have been a pretty dirty place that night. Remember, Bethlehem was a busy town because of the census, which meant there were lots of extra people and lots of extra animals, so that manger would have been well used.
So what is the message of the manger? The manger tells us that no matter what our hearts and lives hunger for – Jesus is the answer. Whatever our need is tonight, Jesus is the answer. Jesus is the gift that can satisfy the deepest longing of our hearts not for a day or week, but for eternity. There’s nothing Santa will bring tonight that will satisfy our deepest longings, in fact, many of the gifts we receive will soon be broken or forgotten. How many of us can even remember what we got for Christmas last year, or the year before? But what God is offering us tonight in Jesus can satisfy our deepest needs and it can meet the need our world has for hope and grace and healing and peace.
So one of the messages of Christmas we need to keep out all year is this message that in Jesus, God has come to be with us and he came to fully understand who we are so that he could to satisfy the deepest needs and desires of our hearts. God came in the flesh to love us and to draw love from us, but there is another message we need to keep out after Christmas and that is the message that in Jesus God also came to save us. In Matthew’s version of the Christmas story it says that Joseph was to give his son the name Jesus because he would save people from the sin. That’s what the name Jesus means, it literally means God saves. I don’t know what you need to be saved from tonight, maybe it’s fear of the future, maybe it’s the darkness of despair, maybe is the constant pull of addictions – whatever it is; God is here to save us. God is here to help us experience more freedom and power in life.
While each of us may need to be saved in different ways, there is one way we all need to be saved and that is from sin. Sin is simply our straying away from God, it’s missing the mark of how God wants us to live our lives and treat other people. As we have seen clearly in the past few days, sin hurts others and it hurts ourselves and it breaks down our society and it separates us from God. The bible says that the consequence of our sin is death, but God doesn’t leave us in this state of brokenness and pain. God saves us from sin and death through Jesus. John 3:16 says, God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
So when we place our faith and trust in Jesus, we are saved from sin and death, and when we allow the power of God to enter our lives we can begin to experience the freedom and joy God wants for us. Again, I don’t know how you might need to experience the fullness of life tonight, but God is here to offer us that gift. If we are struggling to experience the freedom that comes with forgiveness – God is here to forgive. If we are struggling to experience a renewed sense of direction and meaning, God is here to offer life. Whatever it is we need and whatever power we need to overcome – God is here to help. That’s why Jesus was laid in a manger, that’s part of the Christmas message that we can’t put away. Every day I need to be saved from the power of sin at work in my life and every day God is here to offer me that salvation. How can we box that up until next year?
The last message we can’t put away until next year is that because of Jesus there is always hope, even in the face of death. We have seen a lot of death recently. Whether in Gesseytown or Newtown, we have seen senseless death but even in the midst of death, there is hope because Jesus didn’t stay a little baby lying in a manger. Jesus grew up to be a man who not only taught us but showed us how to live life. He taught us and showed us how to love others and how to take care of people, and how to forgive and he said that when we do these things we experience hope and the kingdom of God.
The baby in the manger didn’t say in the manger. At about 33 years of age Jesus died on a cross but his death didn’t have the final say because three days after he was placed behind the stone of a tomb and all hope seemed to be lost, Jesus rose from the dead and with his resurrection he destroyed the power of death once and for all. In 1 Corinthians 15:54 it says that death has been swallowed up in victory… the victory of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus is God, God rose from the dead. In Jesus, God defeated death once and for all, which means that we have the hope of an eternal life. When we place our faith and trust in God’s love for us and when we trust in and believe that Jesus lived and died and rose again to save us from sin, then we can find hope in every situation, even death.
So if God can overcome death, God can overcome the problems we face and our world needs this kind of hope. Our community needs this kind of hope. Our families need this kind of hope. We need this kind of hope. We need to know that no matter where we are tonight, no matter what situation we find ourselves in, the message of Christmas is that there is always hope because God is here and God is powerful and God loves us and God is here to save us.
So while the decorations may get boxed up and put away the message of Christmas can’t be put away. Tonight I want to invite you to do something that might help keep the message of Christmas alive all year. Whenever you put your decorations away, don’t put them all away. Leave out one decoration, one ornament, one nativity scene, one snowman… leave out one decoration to remind you and your family and everyone who asks why you have a snowman or a manger scene up in July… that God is with us and that God has come to save us which means that no matter what we are going through – we have hope, hope for our future. Don’t put that message away.
Let me also invite you tonight to say yes to the story we have heard. Say yes to the God who has come to be with us. Say yes to Jesus who has come to save us. Say yes to the God who sees what we need tonight, who sees the deepest longings of our heart and who is ready and willing and able to give us and our families the help and hope we need. Say yes to Jesus and allow the power of God’s love to change you and to save you. I invite you tonight, if you have never done it or if you just need to do it again, say yes to Jesus. Let us all allow the love of this child to forgive us of sin and draw us deeper into a relationship with the God who is with us.
Don’t put Christmas away. This year, make tonight and Christmas day not the end of the season but just the beginning of Experiencing Christmas.