CHRISTMAS EVE SERVICE
DECEMBER 25, 2000
The Christmas season is a lot of fun, with a lot of festivity and a lot of action. I think some of the main action in the Christmas season has to do with wrapping. We love to wrap things. We wrap gifts with colorful paper, ribbons, and bows. We wrap ourselves up in warm clothing. We wrap our arms around relatives when we first see them, at least most of them. We wrap our houses with these Griswold-type lights. No one in America wraps their houses like Texans do. You go to other parts of the county and they have little bitty lights, and two or three lights. Everything is bigger in Texas, they say.
We also wrap our mouths, I think, around a lot of food. We love to eat. Usually, after about a week or so of this feeding frenzy, we wrap our bodies around exercise equipment as we try to burn off the weight we have wrapped around our waistlines and hips. Yes, we love wrapping. It’s something about the Christmas season.
This wrapping, though, is not exclusive to the 21st Century. It’s not just for high-tech times. I think if you go back and look at the 1st Century Christmas, you will see a lot of people wrapped up in a lot of stuff. Now, I am not talking about just superficial stuff. I’m not talking about clothes, ribbons, and bows. I’m talking about the deep stuff of life, because those people, during that first inaugural Christmas, were wrapped up in some deep stuff, some stuff that many of us can connect with.
So, over the next couple of moments, I want to introduce you to some heavy hitters of the Christmas story. As we look at these heavy hitters, I think you can identify with them, because you will say, “Hey, I am sort of wrapped up in the same stuff that they were wrapped in.”
The first group of people I want to talk about are no strangers to you and me: The Wise Men. The Wise Men were wrapped up in a search. They were looking for something, and they had traveled thousands of miles, and talked to many people. They were following that star, and the star ultimately pointed them to the Christ child, the babe of Bethlehem, God in flesh.
Maybe you are searching for something right now. I think a lot of us are searching. During this holiday season, we are searching. You can look back and think about the different venues of your life. You have tried to find meaning and purpose through this venue and that—some of the venues pretty, some not so pretty—yet you have this emptiness in your spirit, this longing for satisfaction. You can identify with the Wise Men. If that is you, then I think you have found the answer. If you stay here, test waters, kick tires, and really seek, I truly believe you will establish a vital connection with the living Lord. Who is that star in your life pointing you to Christ? Could it be a neighbor? Could it be someone who invited you to this service? Could it be a situation you are dealing with right now at work? I don’t know.
I talked to a friend of mine several days ago, and this guy came to a point in his life where he bowed the knee and asked Christ to come into his heart. He gave himself to the Lord. This decision happened because of a long process of doing the Wise Man or Wise Woman thing. It happened through a long process of following an earthbound star. Another guy in this church was this guy’s earthbound star who invited him here. After testing waters and kicking tires, after following that star, then he made the commitment.
Do we have any Wise Men and Wise Women searching for the meaning of life? Are you wrapped up in the search?
Someone else is wrapped up in something. This guy was a wild man. His name was King Herod. King Herod was basically wrapped up in himself. He thought about himself. After all, he was the king. He was sitting on the throne of his life and he ran the show. He legislated everything he did. He said, “Don’t talk to me about this or that. I will do what makes me look good, what makes me feel good, what gives me pleasure.”
The Wise Men came to him and they said, “Hey, King, where is this Christ-child? Where is the King?” It freaked King Herod out. In Matthew 2:3, “When King Herod heard this, he was disturbed.” What an understatement. This egomaniac, who thought the world revolved around him, this meistic personality said, “What king? Say what? Hey, guys, why don’t you find this king? When you find him, tell him I will show up and I will worship him.”
Of course, he was lying, this King Herod. But could it be that some of us are doing the King Herod thing? Isn’t it easy to be self-centered? It’s easy for me to be self-centered. I don’t know about you. We’re basically sinners, selfish people. Just think about a baby. A baby is selfish. They think about themselves. We are born that way. We have to fight this battle with selfishness.
Maybe during this Christmas season, or maybe during your semiannual moments of introspection as you look through the rearview mirror, you ask yourself, “Could it be that I am doing the King Herod thing?” As you look back, maybe you see a marriage or two you burned through because of your selfishness. Maybe you see a business relationship or two you burned through because of your selfishness, or maybe a friendship you’ve burned through because of your selfishness. In a real way, you have to say, “You know what? I am sitting on the throne of my life. I am calling the shots. I am doing the King Herod thing. I’m wrapped up in myself.”
There is someone else in this Christmas story who is wrapped in something, the Innkeeper. Now this dude was something. He had it going on. Business was flourishing. Mary and Joseph had traveled—check this out—80 miles to Bethlehem. Why? Because of a census.
Ladies, picture this. Mary, on the back of a donkey, nine months pregnant, 80 miles. When they bolt into town, they are trying to find a place to stay. This Innkeeper, whose business was just going gangbusters, said to them, “Hey, we don’t have a place for you. Everything is jammed.” He was so concentrating on the bellman toting luggage and the valet people parking the camels that he thought, “Okay, you guys just go in that stable in the back. Yeah, I see you’re pregnant. You guys just hang out there. That’s cool. That’s fine.” Obviously, he had this mentality. The Bible says this about the Innkeeper in Luke 2:7, “There was no room for them in the inn.”
The Innkeeper was wrapped in busyness. He was busy with the business. Isn’t it so tempting and alluring to get wrapped up in busyness? Most of us have been going at warp speed lately. We have had the throttle to the firewall, haven’t we? Busy, busy, busy, busy, busy. Those of us in the business world are thinking about end of year stuff, the stock market, a new business here, a new venture there, our client base, bonuses, and we are just immersed in all this stuff. We are wrapped up in busyness or business. Some of us who are carpooling and taking kids here, there and yonder, we are just busy. We can be so busy with the business of life that we end up separating ourselves from important stuff, like our spouse, our children, even doing the Heisman trophy thing away from God. “God, I am just too busy for you. God, I’ve just got too much going on. God, my business deals, man….” That’s the Innkeeper.
There is another group of people who are wrapped up in something, the shepherds. The shepherds were pulling an all-nighter. Can’t you see these guys between sips of espresso just checking out everything, glancing at a sheep now and then, but just looking at the stars. All of a sudden an angel appears before them. I love this classic line that the angel said, “Fear not.” If an angel ever appears to me, I hope they say, “Fear not.” Fear not.
“What were they wrapped up in, Ed?” Let’s let the Bible tell us. Luke 2 again, “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shown around them and they were terrified.” In modern day vernacular, we would say, “They were wigged. They were freaked.” Or back where I am from, the Deep South, the angels had rattled their cages. They were fearful. They were terrified. A lot of us are wrapped up in fear right now. We don’t look like it because we are wrapped up in our finest. We just got home from the Gap or Old Navy. We are looking good, you know, Christmas time.
Some of us are fearful of failure. Down deep, you wouldn’t realize it, but we are. We are thinking about trying something new for the New Year, maybe a new thing business-wise, or relationally, or maybe trying to get involved in church. We are thinking, “What if it doesn’t work? What if I fail? What if I fall flat on my face?” Some of us deal with that kind of fear.
Others fear death. The stats on death, folks, are pretty overwhelming. One out of one die. We are all going to die. We live like we are not going to die, though. That is what is so funny, but we are going to die. All of us are slowly rotting away. Some will die next year, ten years from now, twenty years, thirty years, fifty years if you eat bean curd and drink carrot juice. We are all dying. Some of us live protected-type lives. We go, “I can’t take that risk. I can’t fly on that plane, or I can’t drive in that car. I can’t go out at night because what if something happens to me? What if I die?”
Some here are also wrapped in another type of fear. Some of us fear loneliness. This could be the first Christmas season you are spending alone, because of a death or maybe a divorce. It is tearing you apart. Again, on the outside, you look fine. You are packaged. You are wrapped. Everything looks hunky dory. Down deep, it is eating your lunch.
So a lot of people were wrapped up in a lot of stuff during that first Christmas. But someone else was wrapped up in something—God. During this first Christmas, the Bible says God was wrapped in skin, in epidermis. Let me stop here and press the pause button and ask you something. Isn’t this weird? I mean, God packaging his Son in skin. What weird wrapping. What peculiar packaging. That’s kind of strange.
Let’s be honest. Would you expect God to wrap himself up like that? God, wrapped in skin, then on top of that, Mary wraps him in a bunch of old barn blankets, swaddling clothes. On top of that, he is placed in a feeding trough and he is surrounded and wrapped in manure-laden hay? Some of you right now are going, “Ooh, don’t even go there, Ed, come on. I want the Christmas card Jesus. I want the clean Jesus. I want the Rembrandt Jesus. Not the raw Jesus.”
Well, friends, Jesus came to this earth and was born in a dark and dirty environment. We try to sterilize Christmas. We try to westernize Christmas. We try to Martha Stewart-ize Christmas. Jesus was born in a very ugly environment. Peculiar packaging. A weird way to wrap something. Speaking of packaging, we love to package stuff. Have you ever asked yourself this question when you are buying something for someone: “Does the packaging match the product?” Pretty good question. I have some examples.
Wow, an electric guitar. Rocking Rhythms electric guitar, to be specific, plays rock or heavy metal. Pre-recorded riffs from live instruments make you sound like a pro. This package tells me that if I take this guitar out, I can play like Hendrix or Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton, or The Edge if you are a U2 fan. I think I might just try it out right now. What do you think? It’s a beautiful color. I think I have seen one like this on VH-1. What do you think? [Ed plays poorly]
Obviously, I did not sound like a pro. If you have kids, this will last you a couple of days, maybe? I don’t think the packaging and the product go hand in hand. I don’t think they really match. I think the packaging overstated this deal a little bit.
Let’s look at something else. Bubba for President. He is the wisecracking Presidential candidate for the year 2000. All you have to do is squeeze either paw and it’s good for the economy. Are you ready? [Toy talking: “My fellow Americans. I’m Bubba. I am running for President. Come close. I want to tell you something. Closer. Closer. I am your candidate. If elected, I promise to make… so, you’re a democrat.”]
Okay. Once again, obviously, these packages make these colossal claims they cannot back up. God’s packaging is strangely understated, wouldn’t you agree? The question begs to be answered. Does God’s product, the person of Christ, and the packaging go hand in hand? Yes, they do. Jesus was born in a dark and dirty stable. He put on skin because of our sin. Our sin is dark and dirty, isn’t it? Jesus came into a raw existence. He was fully God and fully man. He can identify with you and me. We don’t serve a sequestered Savior. We serve someone who has been there. It’s great to think about the packaging, but the product is the deal.
Speaking of packaging and products and all that, I think it is funny to look at the different ways and different styles of gifts. Some of the gifts we buy this Christmas are giver-driven. A friend of mine loves cars. He gave his wife a brand new car. What is so funny is that this car he gave his wife is a car he wanted. She told Lisa and I the other day, “Ed, Lisa, I have only driven my new car twice.” Have you ever done that before? You bought a gift for someone and you were thinking, “Okay, I’ll buy it for my wife, but really I’m going to use it. I’ll just buy it for her.” Golf clubs. A shotgun.
Other gifts are recipient-driven. We say, “I wouldn’t buy this for him, but my son wants it. I’ll just go ahead and buy it. It’s kind of weird to me, but okay. Here you go, Son.”
The ultimate gift is relational-driven. It does two things. Number one, it reflects the personality of the giver. Number two, it meets the needs of the recipient. That’s the ultimate gift. So you heard it right here. The ultimate gift reflects the personality of the giver and meets the needs of the recipient. If you want to go back this afternoon and take back your gifts and try to get the ultimate gift, you can do that.
I think I achieved this recently. I really do. My wife turned forty years of age a couple of days ago, and I gave her several gifts. The first gift I gave her—and I took some serious grief over this by one of my friends—was a series of pictures of myself. One of my friends in particular was going, “What is this, Ed, Glamour Shots? Where is your boa and your make-up, I mean, come one. What a gift to give your wife on her 40th birthday. That’s it?”
I think it was a good gift, because, obviously, pictures of me reflect my personality, the giver. Number two, it meets Lisa’s needs. Why? Don’t laugh now. She has always wanted pictures of me. She does not have a lot of pictures of me and now she has this series of pictures of me. I think that is a pretty good gift.
That, believe me, pales in comparison to the ultimate gift. God has given us Jesus. It reflects who he is. Why? Because he is God. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, three in one, one in three. It also meets our deepest needs. We need a Savior. We need a Savior. We can put a band-aid over our problems. We could put a band-aid over our loneliness. We could put a band-aid over our fear, a band-aid over all this stuff, but only Jesus will meet our deepest needs. We are not going to find it in a new spouse. We are not going to find it in a new car. We are not going to find it in a new house or a new gift. We are not going to find it there. We are only going to find it in Christ.
Every year when we tear open our gifts, and we don’t usually spend a lot of time looking at the wrapping, but every time we tear open our gifts, we usually leave one gift under the tree. We don’t mean to, but we usually leave one gift. Is it that way for you? If it is, great. When that gift is finally recognized, we say, “Oh, we forgot one. There it is, by itself, under the tree.” There is nothing like a wrapped gift. It just kind of begs to be opened, doesn’t it? It’s just kind of sitting there, “Open me, open me, open me.” We run up to it. We see who it’s from, “Oh, it’s to me. Cool!” We unwrap it, and then, “Yeah, alright!” Then we try it on, or do whatever.
God has left the ultimate gift under a bloodstained tree outside of Jerusalem. That gift is Jesus. We can’t keep, though, the Christ-child in the manger scene. We can’t keep him wrapped in skin and, on top of that, wrapped in a bunch of barn blankets and surrounded by manure-laden hay. We want to do that because we are more comfortable that way. After all, who is afraid of a baby? We like Jesus in that little room, in that little house because he will not invade our lifestyle. He will not invade our spending habits. He will not invade our thought life. He will not invade our marriage. He will not invade our business. He will not invade the way we treat people. He will not invade our temper. He will not invade our hang-ups.
“Oh, I’ll just keep Jesus right there over in the manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes.” Well, let me tell you something. If that is your deal with Christmas, you are missing Christmas. Don’t just give him a quick glance, a westernized, Martha Stewart-ized glance. You’ve got to understand that Jesus left the cave, he left the stable, he grew into a man, he lived a perfect life, he was tempted yet he remained sinless. And he died on the cross for everything you have ever thought wrong, done wrong, committed wrong—past, present and future. The work has been done. Christmas is the total package of Jesus Christ. He is under that bloodstained tree and he is saying, “Open me. Open me. Open me.”
Several weeks ago, we were having a communion service. One of our six-year-old twins was seated beside my wife, and Laurie turned to Lisa and she said, “Mommie, let’s pretend like that they didn’t have to kill Jesus.” Powerful words from a six-year-old. Let’s pretend they didn’t have to kill Jesus. Large blocks of people live their lives that way. “Let’s pretend like my sins did not have to nail Jesus to the tree. Let’s pretend like they didn’t have to kill Jesus. Let’s just keep him there sequestered in that nice little stall.”
But you have got to respond to the gift. You have got to respond to it. Jesus wants to wrap you in love, in grace, and in tenderness. I don’t care where you are, what you are involved in, right now, he wants to do it. The moment you ask him to come inside your life, he will clean you up.