CHRISTMAS CLASSICS SERMON SERIES
AWAY FROM A MANGER
DECEMBER 18, 1994
Well, I can tell Christmas is right around the corner because there is an increase in signage. That’s right. There has to be more signs put up during the Christmas holidays than at any other time of year. Have you ever sat back and just looked at all the different and unique signs you see during the holidays? Cruising down the freeway, you might see a church marquee or a billboard advertising an upcoming Christmas pageant. Or, if you are brave enough, you venture into shopping malls and see signs that say, PreChristmas Sale – 75% off. Wow. Or maybe you tour through neighborhoods and notice houses decorated with lights and they, too, have signs that say Noel, Silent Night, Merry Christmas. You would think that it is impossible to miss Christmas in the United States of America. However, many people, even maybe some of you will go through this Christmas and you will miss Christmas. In fact, as you look back on your life, you may have missed Christmas after Christmas after Christmas without really realizing it.
This morning, I want to talk to you about a very interesting subject. I want to talk to you about signs. Not the kind of signs that I just mentioned but personal signage that we all put up in our lives. That personal signage can either keep us away from a manger or it can draw us close to a manger. God wants this Christmas to be the most meaningful Christmas that we have ever spent. And if we are going to get in on it, we have got to understand and discern signage.
Take your outline and let’s look at the first verse of scripture mentioned. Luke 2:12. The angels are speaking to the shepherds and notice what the angels said. “This will be a sign to you. You will find the baby wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger.” A sign is defined as a mark, a symbol or an emblem. I want you to meet some people, and these people are all individuals with whom we can identify. These people missed the very first Christmas nineteen hundred and ninety-four years ago. As I studied these people, I thought about certain times and certain moments in my life when I was like these individuals.
The first person that we will get up close and personal with is someone known as the innkeeper. The innkeeper was an interesting dude. He was very excited, fired up, into the day. There was a census taking place and thousands and thousands of people had infiltrated the tiny town of Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem to be added to the tax rolls for this event and Mary with great with child. In other words, man, she was nine months pregnant getting ready to have Jesus. Can you imagine a woman nine months pregnant, traveling mile after mile after mile on the back of a donkey? They show up at the Bethlehem Hilton and Mr. Innkeeper tells them that he is sorry that even though they are preparing to have a child there is no vacancy. “There is no room for you in my inn.” No Vacancy.
You see, if the innkeeper could have seen what was to take place and invited Mary and Joseph into his place, he would have had to ask someone else to leave. In other words, to invite the Christ child in, he would have had to displace someone else. And the same is true in our lives. If we invite Christ into our lives, if we make a manger out of our heart, we are going to have to displace something or someone. In other words, something has got to go. Something is sitting on the throne of our lives and that throne is reserved for Jesus.
Every time I see a No Vacancy sign I remember the first Sunday I ever preached here at this church. I lived in Houston at the time. This church was just starting and they asked Lisa and I to come and for me to preach a trial sermon. So five years ago I was to preach a sermon before about 200 people and afterward, the church was scheduled to vote on me. Well, the night before the search committee was kind enough to put us up at the Four Seasons. I was kind of nervous. LeeBeth, our only child at the time, was three years of age. In the morning we were in such a rush that we decided to order room service. LeeBeth had never seen room service. All of a sudden a man dressed in white with a napkin over his arm walked into our room and served us breakfast. LeeBeth thought that was unbelievable.
We went to church. I preached the trial sermon and thankfully they voted me in and I became the first pastor here. We then left to travel to South Carolina to spend a week prior to returning to start the ministry. Here is the funny part. We were driving and driving and beginning to get tired. It was about 11pm when we hit Birmingham. I told Lisa that I wanted to pull over and check into a hotel. I didn’t really feel like driving all the way through. The first hotel had no vacancy. The second hotel, in Birmingham, had no vacancy. The third hotel had no vacancy. The fourth hotel, no vacancy. I though it was unbelievable to have all the hotels in Birmingham filled. Finally, we drove about ten miles outside Birmingham and found what looked like a rugged hotel. In fact, to pay, I had to give the guy cash through a slot under a bulletproof window. It turned out that the room was so dirty that we slept on top of the covers. The classic line came in the morning after we awoke. LeeBeth said, “Mommy, Daddy where is the man in the white coat with our breakfast.” So every time I see a No Vacancy sign I think about that illustration.
But it is frustrating to try to enter a place and find a No Vacancy sign posted. Jesus wants to enter your life in a real way. Do you, though, have a No Vacancy sign up during this season? Are you doing the innkeeper thing?
There is another sign. This sign is put up by the second group of people we are going to talk about; the religious leaders. The religious leaders put up a Detour sign. Here is the situation. The wise men traveled to Jerusalem which was the epicenter of religious faith at that time and still is. They asked King Herod where the Messiah, the king of the Jews, was. They wanted to know where they could go to worship him. King Herod was clueless. He was a very paranoid person. He calls in all his religious leaders, the scribes and the Pharisees and questioned them. The religious leaders told him that Micah 5:2 said the Christ child was to be born in Bethlehem. So King Herod relays the message to the Wise Men. They cruise off to worship the Lord. The astonishing thing, though, is this. Not one religious leader showed up at Christ’s birth. All they had to do was make the five-mile journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem with the Wise Men and just check it out. But they missed it. They were on a detour. They were so off in this information thing, in knowing the law, ritualism and religiosity that they missed one of the most profound moments in history. The moment when God sent His Son to be born and live and to die for all of our sins, they missed it.
Could you have a Detour sign up in your life? Could you be kind of off the main highway? In the United States of America people tend to worship information. Some people actually worship the Bible. The Bible is God’s word to us and it is our authority. But we should not just worship just the information and the knowledge. If you do that and miss the person and the power, then you are off on a detour. And these religious people detoured their way away from the manger.
But there is a third group. One person represents this group. I just mentioned him. Herod. You see, Herod put up the old Caution sign. He was fearful, scared. I have listed in your outline the references which you can look up when you get home. Kind Herod, when he found out that a king was born, thought that he might lose his throne. He ordered that all the male children two years of age and under in Bethlehem be killed. King Herod also had his mother-in-law killed, his wife and his sons because he thought they might take the throne from him. The guy was more than a little paranoid. And as I have said before, paranoia will destroya. And it did for this man, old King Herod.
A lot of people, I am talking about people in 1994, keep the Caution sign up. We are fearful of becoming Christians. And the evil one loves to whisper this to people, especially in cosmopolitan Dallas/Ft. Worth. “Hey, don’t become a Christian. It might turn you into a fanatic.” He will kind of point to some of those people on TV. I call those people granola Christians; fruit, flakes and nuts all rolled into one. People say, “If that is a Christian, I don’t want to be one.” Then Satan says, “Not only will it turn you into a fanatic, you will lose your freedom.” “Hey, you are a smart guy, Satan, I don’t want to lose my freedom.” Satan goes on, “God is a cosmic killjoy. There are just a bunch of rules to keep. You will also lose your fun. You see, Christians don’t have fun. They don’t have a good time. They don’t know how to enjoy life.” And we put up this Caution sign and it keeps us from knowing the secret, the answer to this life which is having an encounter with the Power Manger.
These are the signs that will keep you away from the manger. Now, let’s look at the good news. The good news of Christmas is this. If we put up three quick signs, we can experience Christmas like we have never known it before. We can have a Power Manger encounter. Here is how we do it.
We have got to be like the shepherds. Luke 2:8. “And there were shepherds…” They were the lowest of the low. Talk about lower class, they could not even enter into the temple. They were unclean. BO and SO. Body odor and sheep odor. They smelled awful. In a couple of weeks a group of us from the church are leaving for the Holy Land. And the shepherds still operate the same way they did thousands of years ago and still have the same stench about them. One would wonder why God would choose the shepherds to speak to of all people. Why not a king or a princess or a major power player, a real Biblical hitter? “…living out in the fields.” You know why God chose the shepherds? Because they were living out in the fields. They listened to Him, they were responsive. They knew what it meant to stop and be still and as Psalm 46:10 says, “know God”. Let’s use a Stop sign to illustrate this. The shepherds stopped.
The Bible says this. Psalm 39:6. “All of man’s busy rushing ends in nothing….” How many of you have been into busy rushing recently during this holiday season? Parties, gifts, travel. All of man’s busy rushing ends in nothing. And the evil one again wants to get me so busy, you so busy that we miss the essence of Christmas. “…he heaps up riches for someone else to spend.”
As a friend of mine says, people get so involved in making a living that they forget to make a life. Man is busy rushing. The shepherds weren’t busily rushing from here to there. They were looking up to the stars. They were still. That is why the Bible says be still, and know God. The tragedy is, when God calls, this is usually what happens. “Hello, Ed, God calling.” “Thanks for calling, God. My family and I are out for the moment. Leave your name, number and address. I will get back to you as soon as possible. Wait for the beep.” An answering machine. We are just so, so busy.
I want to get some confession going now. How many of you, when you are driving your car late at night and arrive at a stop sign, look around and coast through it if no one is coming. You don’t allow the vehicle to come to a complete stop. How many of you have done that? Of course, you know I never have. No, we have all done that, haven’t we? We have just coasted through. God tells us throughout His Word. Stop. Stop your busy rushing. Be still and know that I am God. We say we will stop but we keep kind of coasting and moving on. Isn’t it sad to look back at our lives and know that God wanted to connect with us but oftentimes we have missed it because we don’t know how to stop.
Here is some homework for this Christmas season. I want you to take 30 minutes of time on evening to walk outside. No TV, no CD player, no one with you, not even that special someone. You are alone. Look up to the heavens like the shepherds did and just stop and take an inventory on your spiritual life. Look back briefly over 1994 and ask yourself this question. “God, what do You want to say to me? What message do You want to communicate to me?” And I promise you something. He is going to speak to your spirit. He will talk to you. He will reveal things to you that you have been suppressing and staying away from. So God will do that. Do the shepherd thing and stop.
The next group of people is made up of two icons, Mary and Joseph. They put up another sign, the Yield sign. I will be frank with you. I do not like to yield when I am driving, do you? You are going at a comfortable speed and all of a sudden you see that sign, Yield. Well, you have got to slow down and surrender and let another car kind of ease on in. What if we decided that we were not going to yield to anyone for the next week? What would happen? Most of us would be in the hospital. And we all come in contact with people who are not going to yield to God. They are going to decide that they will do it their own way, drive their own vehicle, forge their own future. They especially decide not to yield to God. If that is done too long, what will happen? It is just a matter of time until they crash and burn and find themselves in the deep weeds.
Mary and Joseph knew what to do, though. Luke 2:19. “But Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Talk about having strikes against her. Mary was female. She was pregnant outside of marriage. And she was dirt poor. In fact, if you could list the least likely people to be used by God, you would say from a humanistic perspective that it would have to be Mary and Joseph. God chose them however, because Mary yielded herself to the Lord.
Let’s jump down to Matthew 2:24 and talk about Joseph. “When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him to do and took Mary home as his wife.” Now think about Joseph, guys, just for a second. He is engaged. He has given Mary the ring. Mary walks in one day and says, “By the way, Joe, I am pregnant and God is the father.” What would you say? What would you do? Joseph still yielded himself to God. That is not going to happen to you. I can guarantee you that, something that counter-cultural. But God will ask you to do things. He will lead you into adventuresome areas that you will not believe. The key word, the key sign that you have to put up is Yield. Don’t grit your teeth and grasp your steering wheel and put the pedal to the metal and say that you will not yield. Tell God that you want to be like Mary, like Joseph. Just think what God wants to do in your life if you will just yield to him.
The third group, my favorite, are the Wise Men. I love to talk about the Wise Men, the Magi. The Wise Men put up another sign, the U-Turn sign. Who were the Wise Men? They were individuals who lived either in India or China. There were probably more than three Wise Men, there could have been as many as fifty. They did not visit the manger the night of the birth. Most scholars believe that it took them a year to two years to get to Bethlehem. After Jesus was born in the manger, Mary and Joseph, along with Jesus moved to a house in Bethlehem. Matthew 2:1-2. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked where is the one who has been born king of the Jews.” Remember, Jerusalem was the hot bed of religion. These people were truly seekers. The Wise Men didn’t have any preconceived notions. They had never heard of the Old Testament. They had open minds. And they sought the truth. And when you seek the truth with an open mind, you are way ahead of the game. We have a lot of seekers here and we welcome people who have an open mind. What is sad to see is people who have doubts, who have questions about Christianity, but they never check it out. That is just dumb. I hate to say that, but it is just dumb. “Well, I heard a lecture one day at A & M about evolution, and I just rejected God.” “I read an article one time in the Wall Street Journal about Jesus and I just don’t believe the claims of Christianity. I think Jesus was a good guy, but that is all.” That line of thinking is not very wise. Christianity is worth dedicating four to six weeks of your life to study. Christ was either the Son of God or He was the biggest con man in history. If He is the biggest con man in history then I guess billions of people are lying. And if He is the biggest con man in history what am I doing here and what are you doing here and why are a billion people celebrating Christmas during the next seven days? I know He is real. I have never seen Him. I have never touched Him but I have seen what He has done in my life and in the lives of thousands of other people.
If you are an honest seeker like the Wise Men, He will reveal Himself to you. How did He reveal Himself to the Wise Men? Matthew 2:1-2. “We saw the star in the east and have come to worship him.” God sent a travel guide for the Wise Men and God used this travel guide to point them to the Christ child. If you are seeking, God will put in your life an earthbound travel guide to point you to Christ. It could be the person who brought you to church today. It could be me. It could be this service. It could be a neighbor. It could be something that you hear on the radio. God will make sure that, if you have an open mind, you will have an earthbound star to guide you to the Christ child.
During the Christmas season won’t you get in touch with this? Won’t you begin to really seek and discern what the message is all about? I am not talking about Churchianity. I am not talking about religion and rituals. I am talking about a relationship. The Bible says in Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart.” Have you had a doubt before? I have. There are some things that I don’t understand in the Bible. But just because I don’t understand everything does not keep me from benefiting from it. I don’t understand internal combustion. But it will not keep me from hopping in my car and driving home today. I don’t understand all the chemistry of digestion. But it did not keep me from having breakfast this morning. I don’t understand the laws of aerodynamics, but I am going to jump on a plane on December 29 and fly to Israel.
So just because you don’t understand every little thing does not mean that you can’t benefit from it. That is where faith comes in. God, though, wants thinking Christians. God wants you to use your mind. Christianity is the most logical way to live in the world. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be a Christian. But most people have never checked it out. You think you know about it because you were baptized when little and belong to some denomination. Oftentimes, you are detoured instead of doing what the Wise Men did. Here is what they did. Matthew 2:11-12. “And they bowed down and worshipped him. They returned to their country by another route.” Once you come into contact with the power manger, once you know Jesus Christ personally, once you truly worship Him, you will always return by another route. Always. I am not talking about fake worship. I am talking about real worship.
The Bible says that we have to do a spiritual U-Turn, a 180. And the word used throughout the pages of scripture is repentance. Not a 360 but a 180. The picture is the Prodigal Son. After he had come to his senses, he retraced his steps and came back to the father. That is our part in salvation. God cannot repent for you and for me. My part of salvation is to turn from my sins and the moment that I do that, then God’s part is forgiving me and saving me.
Do you have this U-Turn sign up? Think about 1994. What areas in your life do you need to make a U-Turn on? Maybe you need to become a Christian. Maybe you are already a Christian and you need to get out of a relationship that is causing you hurt and pain and also causing you to miss what Jesus wants for your life. I don’t know. But I pray that you learn how to put up these signs and that you understand what it means to have an encounter with the Power Manger.