A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE
DECEMBER 24, 1998
There are a bunch of powerful icons. We sing about them, read about them, and display them on lawns, on our mantles. They are in malls, clothes, candy, jewelry. We see them so much, though, that they have become rather pedestrian, common place, and familiar. I know that all of us have come into this place to hear a message from God, to sing some Christmas carols, to feel some warm feelings inside, and to look at some familiar things. And we have brought up a few of these icons already.
Tonight I want to challenge you to take the zoom lens of your eyes and focus on these icons. Oftentimes, God uses the familiar to speak to us in a fantastic way. And I am going to promise you something. I think if we all look at these icons, our lives as a result of this service together will never, ever be the same.
Now if someone were to take a quick, panoramic view of a crowd like this, kind of eyeball every single person here, they would not believe that anyone here would be dealing with loneliness. “Surely, no one in this suburbanite crowd is lonely. Give me a massive break.” But if the truth were known, if the cold reality was revealed, if we could show the full situation on these side screens, a lot of us are dealing with layers and layers of loneliness. Just ask a divorced mother of three who is spending her first Christmas alone. Pose the question to the husband who just buried his wife. Talk to the young single who just broke off the engagement. Oh, yeah, we might look happy, we might look festive, but a lot of us down deep are dealing with layers and layers of loneliness.
Some here are dealing with soul loneliness. These layers have insulated your spirit and you are trying to find the true meaning of life. And as you look at yourself and take inventory tonight, you say, “You know, I have done many things. I have a bunch of the toys and trinkets. I have got the cars and clothes and, maybe, the corner office. I am moving from fun fix to fun fix, but it doesn’t satisfy or make sense. I am still lonely. I still feel this gnawing pain in the depths of my spirit. Something is not square. Something is not right.
The star that we just looked at is an icon, a symbol that ends man’s loneliness once and for all. God saw our plight. He saw that we were lonely and it broke His heart. It caused Him to do something. It caused Him to commission His Son, Christ, to leave His home in heaven, to be born on this earth in an earthly home, to live a sinless life, to die a sacrificial death, to rise again. And if we come to know Him, open our lives to Him, He will end our loneliness.
The Bible says in Isaiah 59 that our iniquities (mistakes, moral foul-ups, sin) have separated us from God. Isn’t it fascinating that God uses our loneliness to drive us and to get us to think about the claims of Christ? Just for a second, let’s go back. I am talking about, as Chris Berman from ESPN says, way back, back, back, back 2,000 years ago. Let’s just put our feet in the Doc Martin sandals of those wise men.
Can’t you imagine those guys—those lonely, seeking, ancient astrologers? Can’t you just see them sipping some cappuccino from Starbuck’s and looking at the heavens? Suddenly they see something bright and brilliant. They see this star and the star rocks them. It really changes them. And not only do they see the star but they follow the star.
Matthew 2 says these words, “They went on their way and the star they had seen in the east pointed to the Christ child.” It led them to the Lord. I am so happy, and I believe you are too, that God is in the travel business. God is always putting up those stars in the skies of seeking and lonely men and women. In a real way, that star 2,000 years ago was a cosmic travel agent. And it was simply telling the wise men, “Hey, here is the answer. Hey, respond to this star.” And the wise men paved a path to the Christ child.
A bunch of people saw the Christ child. A bunch of people “ooohed” and “ahhhed,” but only a few made their way to Christ. I want to ask you a question. Are you lonely? Are you seeking? Do you feel like your heart is layered and layered with emptiness? If you do, I have got some great words for you. God has put an earthbound travel guide, an earthbound star, an earthbound icon in your life. It could be a friend. It could be a family member. It could be a situation. It could be this service. Who has God placed in your life who reflects Christ? Who has God put in your sky, in your path, who points you to the person of Christ? I ask you who? Assign a name to that star. And I challenge you, over the next couple of days, to engage them in conversation. It is not by accident that they are there.
God always strategically reveals Himself to those who are seeking Him. The wise men followed that star. What great advice, what great words that we need to hear today. So, yes, the star is an icon.
There is another icon out there. You saw it. The manger. What is Christmas without a manger? You have got to talk about the manger, don’t you? By the way. What is a manger? A manger is simply a feeding trough for livestock. It is farm furniture. God, being God could have had His Son be born anywhere. He could have had Him born in the Ritz Carlton or maybe some plush maternity ward of a hospital. But no, no, no. He had His Son to be born and placed in a piece of farm furniture. It was a place where horses, cows, and sheep fed, covered with their saliva and remnants of many feedings. That is where Jesus was born. God didn’t protect Him. We don’t serve some sequestered savior, some detached deity. We serve someone who has been there.
I want you to do something for me. Look at your neighbor. Take a look, OK? Do you know what you are looking at? You are looking at farm furniture because that is what you are. That is what I am. I am just ordinary farm furniture in God’s eyes. But that ordinary piece of farm furniture was made extraordinary. Why? Because Christ was put there. Your life and my life, ordinary? Just basic farm furniture? They can become extraordinary lives the moment that we place Christ there. Isn’t that fantastic.
I ask you again. Are you lonely? If you are, I want to tell you about someone who has been there. Talk about loneliness. Jesus was dissed by His best friends during His greatest hour of need. They turned their backs on Him. He knows about loneliness. Are you in pain? Suffering? Think of Christ. He hung there suspended between heaven and hell, bleeding to death for your sins and mine. Excruciating, indescribable pain. Do you feel that people persecute you because of the color of your skin or where you live, what you drive or what you don’t drive? Do you feel like that?
Jesus was Jewish. People made fun of that race. They made fun of Him over and over again. So we serve a sympathetic figure. We serve one who has been there. We serve one who cannot wait to walk with us and talk with us and deal with us.
The manger lies in sharp contrast to our materialistic mentality, doesn’t it? A lot of us get so immersed and enmeshed in materialism with the malls and the meals and the trimmings that we miss the message of Christmas. We miss the manger. I saw this week that one out of every three hours in the holiday season is a stressful hour. Would you agree with that? I would. A lot of us are dealing with boatloads of stress. I also saw that it takes the average American couple six months just to pay for Christmas.
Christmas is a manger thing. Christmas is a manger thing. And it is awesome to realize that Christ’s birth and death both entailed wood and nails. Christ was placed in a manger, a simple piece of farm furniture held together with nails. Then, at the end, He was placed on another wooden structure and His body was held there by nails.
I love that furniture thing. I had a great experience with furniture recently. For years my wife and I have known a very prominent family in Houston. To put it in Texas vernacular, they are loaded. They are rich. They have got a lot of stuff. We used to house-sit for them and baby-sit their children. This past summer I was fortunate enough to spend a day on one of their ranches in the Northwest. Words cannot describe it.
I took a tour of their little farmhouse. It is a quaint little house. I was with a friend of theirs. When I walked into the farmhouse and saw the furniture, to be frank, I thought it was ugly. I am talking about U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi, ugly. It was art deco looking, the kind of stuff that didn’t really fit. I would never, ever have bought that furniture for my house. The lady said, “Ed, do you see the furniture right there?” They bought the furniture 30 years ago and recently found out that furniture like this is being auctioned off at Christies and is really valuable. I replied, “Really. To me it looks kind of ordinary.” She said, “Let me tell you how valuable. The furniture that you are looking at cost over 2.4 million dollars.” This UGLY, art deco, western furniture cost 2.4 million dollars.
I wondered why it was so valuable since our friends just sit on our furniture and drink coffee while sitting there. No big deal. Why is this particular furniture so extraordinary? I will tell you why. Years ago, this artist, this genius craftsman named Robert Muls took nails and wood and paint and leather and made this stuff. It is extraordinary. Well, that spoke a lot to me. Because Jesus Christ can take ordinary farm furniture and in His hands, He can take you and He can take me and make us extraordinary. But it only occurs when we allow Him to be born and to live in the manger of our lives. So yes, Christmas is a manger thing but it is followed by a cross thing.
You can’t talk about just the manger. The next icon I want to address is the cross. For a lot of us we would rather keep Jesus in the manger. Who is afraid of a baby? No one is ever challenged by a baby or convicted by a baby. “Goo, goo, ga, ga.” We all love babies, no problem. Yet, Jesus did not remain a baby, did He? He grew and became a man. For the first thirty years of His life, He was a carpenter. He was a man’s man, not some pale figure like you see in some classic paintings. No, no, no. We are talking about a carpenter, someone who did the foundation work all the way to the finish out. And at thirty years of age, He began His public ministry and His hands and feet were pounded to the cross for your sins and mine, something we don’t deserve. So Christmas, yes, is a manger thing followed by a cross thing. When we look at the manger, we have got to have an eye on the cross.
So the question is, what have you done with the star, the manger, and the cross? You either embrace it, receive it, and bow the knee to it or you can spin on your heels and go the other way and reject it. What is it going to be for you?
A couple of years ago someone asked me what was my favorite Christmas of all time. I said that was a no-brainer for me. When I was in the seventh grade, my brothers and I ran down the steps and we were looking at everything that we had gotten for Christmas, playing with this, playing with that. And then my parent’s said, “Ed, look outside in the front yard.” And they drew the curtains back and I looked and to my amazement, there it was. A K-Mart special, 12-foot aluminum fishing boat. I said, “Mom, Dad, thank you so much.”
My favorite thing in the world to do is fish. We lived about a nine iron away from a beautiful lake. So everyday I would come home from school, jump in my boat, paddle out and catch those large mouth bass. One day though I walked down to the lake, got ready to push the boat into those coffee black waters and the boat plug was gone. If you know anything about fishing or boating, it is a bad thing when the boat plug is gone. So I wigged out. I went home and told Mom and she and I jumped into the station wagon and looked all over that little city of Columbia, South Carolina, for a K-Mart special boat plug to fit my aluminum fishing boat.
Three weeks go by and we still had not found the plug. Did that stop me from fishing? No way. I am a hard core angler. I used socks, I used Hubba Bubba bubble gum, I used sticks and Playdough and tried to stop up that hole in the boat. I would get everything OK and paddle out about 50 yards and then realize that the boat was sinking. Then I would paddle back, dump the water out and do the drill over and over again. It was bad. I hated it.
Then one day I heard some words that really fired me up. Echoing off those Carolina pines I heard my mother’s Mississippi-accented voice say, “Eeeeed, I have found a boat pluuuuug.” I ran, grabbed the boat plug, put it in. It fit perfectly. I paddled out and started to catch those large mouth bass.
We have a hole in our hearts the shape of a cross. Yet many of us are trying to put different things in the hole and none of them fit. We try to put power there, possessions there, fun fixes there, toys and trinkets there. It doesn’t work. We are paddling furiously and we look around and our lives are sinking. So we paddle back to the bank, turn the boat over, empty the water out, try something else. It is not working. This hole in our hearts is in the shape of the cross and the only thing that will fill it is Jesus Himself.
Respond to the star, to that earthbound travel guide. Make a manger out of your life. An ordinary piece of farm furniture will become extraordinary if you choose Christ. And allow Jesus to fill up the hole in your heart in the shape of the cross because then and only then will you really know what life is all about.