He thought that Christmas had become over-commercialized. He was surrounded by people who could only talk about Christmas parties, Christmas presents, Christmas cards, Christmas cookies Christmas trees and Christmas decorations and so in a last cry of desperation he said…(Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?)
That was almost 50 years ago and yet the question is just as relevant today. What is Christmas all about? Is it really just about the trees and lights and decorations? Is it just about the presents and gifts and going into debt? Is it about the cookies and the candy and the figgy pudding (whatever that is)? What is Christmas all about and where do we go to find the answer?
When Charlie Brown asked this question it was his friend Linus who said, I can tell you Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about, and this is what he said…
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:8-14 KJV)
And that is what Christmas is all about. The purpose of Christmas was not hidden from the world; it was announced by nothing less than a heavenly host of angels with the full glory of God shining round about them. The purpose of Christmas was announced in song and voice and with a heaven and earth shattering power that terrified a group of hardened shepherds. While the message we hear today may not come with that same heaven and earth shattering power, just like that night in Bethlehem, it is not hidden from us. The purpose of Christmas is not hard to find because it is revealed to anyone and everyone who is willing to listen.
For the next four weeks we are going to rediscover the purpose of Christmas by listening to the message of the angels, but before we can do this we have to first commit ourselves to taking time to reflect on all that we will see and hear and experience. But our lives are pretty busy and the holiday season is just beginning so times of reflection won’t just happen, we have to make them happen and we can do this by being awake, alert and aware of all that is going on.
The shepherds of Bethlehem were awake that night which is why they heard the message in the first place. They were awake because it was their job to be awake. Luke tells us that they were living in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night and keeping watch at night was their job. Being a shepherd was not an easy job and there was not a lot of down time. There were no days off and no paid vacations. During the day you had to make sure your sheep didn’t wander off and get lost or injured, but then at night you still had to work because it was at night that the sheep were the most vulnerable. Wild animals would attack at night when the sheep were sleeping which meant the shepherds were still working when they were keeping watch over their flock by night.
So when the angels first appeared it wasn’t to a group of sleeping shepherds, they were awake and if we are going to rediscover the purpose of Christmas than we also need to be awake. We need to wake up because God still wants to speak to us and God still wants us to know his heart which means God is still working to reveal his heart and mind and love to us and it is right here for us if we will wake up. We need to open our eyes and the eyes of our heart in this season if we want to receive the fullness of God and understand the purpose of Jesus.
So what does it mean for to wake up? It means making the decision to turn back to God. Just as waking up in the morning is making the decision to get out of bed and begin the day, so is waking up to God. We have to make the decision to turn to God and tune our eyes and ears and hearts to God. Waking up means making the decision to start walking with, listening to and looking for God in our lives and in our world. It is a daily task, a moment by moment living of life where we look for the presence of God.
Waking up to God may mean making the commitment to be in worship for the next three weeks so that we can hear the rest of the angels’ message. It may mean joining a Sunday School class to discuss in more depth what the angels have said and what it means for our lives. Waking up may mean setting aside time each day to read God’s word and quiet ourselves in prayer.
Finding this kind of time in our busy schedules won’t just happen – we have to make it happen. If we want to wake up from our spiritual slumber and stop spiritually sleeping through life then we have to decide today to watch and pray. We need to say, OK God, here is when I am going to pray each day. Here is when I will read your word, here is when I will worship you and study with others, here is when I will serve you and how I will do it. We not only need to set aside this time to be with God, but I want to encourage us to do this with our families as well.
My parents are here today and I remember when I was young we would gather every Sunday afternoon during Advent and have our own little worship service. We had our own Advent wreath and each week we would light a candle, read some scripture and a short mediation. We would pray and even sing a song. My sister said she remembers each week one of us would get to pick the Christmas Carol and then one of us would play it on our little magnus organ.
|This is not me, but that is a classic picture from the 1970’s of what we looked like and what our organ looked liked|
Singing is what I remember the most because my Dad has a really low voice and would sing an octave below all the rest of us – I’m sure we sounded great. There may have been times when I didn’t want to do this I can only imagine the chore it must have been for my parents to bring us all together – but looking back, those times were special. They helped teach me that Christmas wasn’t just about gifts and trees and candy but about the gift of Jesus and the love of God coming into our world and into our lives.
So it’s time for us to wake up and this season is a great time to do it, but it’s not enough to just be awake; we also have to be alert. The shepherds of Bethlehem were alert and the reason we know this is because Luke tells us they were keeping watch. They were looking for danger and they had their ears tuned to the sounds around them. To keep watch and to listen carefully – to be alert – the shepherds had to do one thing that we don’t do very well, they had to be still. They had to stop moving, stop talking maybe even stop thinking so much about so many things so they could really listen. For many of us, being still is hard.
Our lives are lived at an out–of-control pace. We work impossible hours to try and make ends meet, we feel pulled in a dozen different directions as we care for our children on one and our parents on the other. We try to cram too much into 24 hours a day and 7 days a week and when we do find a few minutes of down time we fill it with sports, news and entertainment. We have forgotten how to be still and the consequence of this is that we are never really alert.
This is not a problem unique to our current generation and culture. Just because we have 24 news, sports and social media competing for attention doesn’t mean that we are the only ones who have ever struggled with being still – all through the Bible God had to call people to be still. Look at Psalm 46:10-11, or Psalm 131 that we heard last week, or Exodus 14:14 or Nehemiah 8:11. So many times God has told us that we need to quiet ourselves and be still so that we can experience His presence. So it’s not enough to just be awake and make the decision to turn to God, we also have to be alert which means slowing down our over-scheduled lives in order to find the peace and quiet we need to hear God.
Stopping to quiet our hearts and minds really can help us hear God. I was talking to a mother of an 8 year old boy recently whose Grandfather died not long ago and one night while her son was saying grace before dinner he suddenly stopped talking and was quiet. After a few moments he said, wow, that was the first time I heard God speaking to me. Somewhat overwhelmed, the mom said, what did God say? He replied, God told me that Pap is ok. God still wants to speak to us, I’m just not sure we are awake and alert enough to hear what He’s saying, but if we can be still, if we can stop all our running around and quiet our hearts and minds and voices – maybe we will hear God’s message and in this season rediscover the purpose of Christmas.
So to reflect on the message of the angels we have to be awake and alert but we also have to aware of what is going on around us and for me this means being willing to act on what we hear and see. This is what the shepherds did, the shepherds didn’t just stop what they were doing and listen to the angels – they acted on the good news that they heard. Look at Luke 2:15-16a: When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about. So they hurried off.. The shepherds discovered the purpose of Christmas because they were aware that this message was for them and did something about it. If we want to rediscover the purpose of Christmas then we also need to act on what we hear because this message is for us.
During the month of December, if we hear that this is a time of great joy, then we need to choose to live with joy. If we hear that there is salvation available for us in Jesus, then we need to accept this gift and allow it change our lives. If we hear that Christ has come to bring peace on earth then we need to work for peace. We will explore these ideas in the weeks to come, but let’s be clear from the beginning that this journey of discovery is not just an intellectual exercise for our minds and it’s not an emotional experience for our hearts, the purpose of Christmas will include our hands and feet and voices as well. The Shepherds walked to Bethlehem, they reached out to touch or maybe hold the baby they found and on their way back the told others what they had experienced. They used the feet and hands and voices and as we reflect on the message of the angels we also need to be aware that is it for us and calls us to use our feet and hands and voices.
Rediscovering the purpose of Christmas begins with God calling us to make this a time of reflection because nothing happens unless we are awake, alert and aware of God’s presence and love.
The Purpose of Christmas ~ A Time To Reflect
1. Awake – Make the decision today to turn back to God.
• Commit 10 minutes each day of December to prayer, set aside that time now & place it on your calendar
• Choose material to read and reflect on this month
• Commit to being in worship each week in December
• Do a family Advent devotion each week (materials are available at the Connection Table)
2. Alert – Be still and quiet
• Which event or activity can you say no to this month
• One day a week take your 10 minutes of prayer to just be quiet and listen
• Reread the following scriptures that call us to be still Psalm 46:10, Psalm 131, Exodus 14:14 and Nehemiah 8:11
• Cut out ALL phones and media for one day, or one hour a day
3. Aware: Act on what you hear from God.
• Ask others to join you on this journey of re-discovery (postcards for the Advent Series and Christmas Eve are available in the lobby)
• Find ways for you and your family to serve God through this season (the Christmas Dinner gives you many different opportunities)
• Choose to be filled with JOY during this season
• Commit to offering PEACE and forgiveness to others.
• Spend one less gift on you and family and plan on how to GIVE one more gift to a person in need.