December 24, 2013
In our over-commercialized world, it can be easy to think that Christmas is all about toys and trinkets, clothing and cash. Everywhere we turn this time of year, we are overrun with advertisements and bombarded with commercials.
In this special Christmas message, though, Pastor Ed Young helps us distinguish the difference between God’s meaning for Christmas and the world’s message of it. And we remember that Christmas is all about Jesus – the ultimate gift, the perfect present.
INTRO: Hand sanitizers are the rave. Many preparations are available, including gel, foam, and liquid solutions. It seems as though hand sanitizers are everywhere. Their claims are pretty startling. They say the sanitizers prevent the transmission of dangerous diseases. I think we’re the most sanitized we’ve ever been in our lives. We love hand sanitizers.
I would argue, though, we’re also the most Santa-ized culture in the world. I would argue that we have Santa-ized Christmas. Now, let it be known, I love Santa. I’m pro-Santa. I’m cool with Mr. and Mrs. Clause. I think they’re amazing people.
I remember standing in line as a kid, waiting on Santa, looking at him while sitting on his lap, and him asking me, “What do you want for Christmas?” And I would go through the list, and it was so impressive being next to a celebrity, next to someone like Santa.
ILLUS: My brother and I were pretty familiar with Santa-ology; that he would come to our house once a year from the North Pole on a sleigh with flying reindeer. He would give us toys. Because Santa-ology says; the books, the songs, everything said that if you were good, then Santa would bestow gifts upon you. So Ben and I felt that we were good enough, and sure enough, we would put out the milk and cookies. And sure enough, Santa would show up. And sure enough, the next morning we would have the gifts that we wanted.
Again, Santa is great and all that. But our culture has become Santa-ized. Isn’t it true that Christmas has become more about Santa than the Savior? Christmas is fun and festive. It’s a time for friends and family and generosity.
Could it be that maybe just maybe we have Santa-ized Christmas because we want to sort of clean it up? We want to make it sterile, so we won’t catch the real disease?
T.S. Again, I’m pro-Santa. Don’t let it be said that I’m against him. But I’ve been thinking about the differences that distinguish Santa from the Savior. I’ve been thinking about how we’ve tried to Santa-ize, and how we do Santa-ize the real message of Christmas.
When you think about Santa and the Savior, there are obvious differences. There’s a very obvious difference that I will not tackle in a crowd with so many differences in ages. But I do want to talk about some of the differences.
One difference is that Santa’s presents are based on behavior, whereas the Savior’s presents aren’t.
Santa gives gifts to those who have been good little boys and good little girls. Someone said Christmas is a time that we forget the past and forget the future, and concentrate on the present.
We’ve Santa-ized Christmas, because we say that Christmas is predominantly about exchanging gifts; it’s about giving and receiving gifts. And most of us do this based on Santa’s view of Christmas. We’ve Santa-sized this.
The majority of us obviously think that Christmas is about the giving and receiving of gifts. And those of us who give gifts give them like Santa. We only give gifts to those people that we like, who’ve been good to us. Those who’ve been bad to us don’t get a gift. They’re not on my Christmas list, and they’re not on yours either.
On my list, I only have people that I like. I’m not going to buy a gift for someone I don’t like or someone who has done me wrong, or someone who has betrayed me, or someone who has put a negative post on my Twitter feed, or someone who has flipped me off on the freeway. I’m not going to do that.
So Santa has convinced us not only that Christmas is about buying and receiving gifts, but most of us give like Santa does. We’ve Santa-ized it.
Jesus’ present is not based on behavior. It’s based on grace. The present is his presence. In God’s economy, good isn’t good enough; but God is God enough. God sent Jesus as the ultimate present. Jesus was born and had a presence on planet Earth for 33 years. At the end of his life, he died. Then he rose again. If God’s gift was based on goodness; if it was based on behavior, we’d be in trouble. I’m glad it’s not, aren’t you?
So that’s a difference that distinguishes Santa from the Savior. Santa’s gifts are based on behavior; Christ’s gift isn’t. Christmas is about the ultimate present, which is Christ’s presence.
Another difference between Santa and the Savior is that Santa’s presence is limited; Christ’s presence is unlimited.
Isn’t it true in our Santa-ization of God that we’ve cloistered him away? We’ve sequestered him to the North Pole. We’ve put God in a red suit and beard, and we like to keep him out of our daily lives. When we need him, he gives us what we want.
Santa comes one day a year. He flies in from the North Pole on a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, then he flies back and holes up in this arctic environment. Santa is sort of soft and sterile. His belly jiggles like a bowl full of jelly. He’s jolly. I don’t know if we would call Jesus jolly. We want Jesus to be jolly. Jesus, though, is real. He’s authentic. He’s a man’s man. He’s not just there for our whims and our wants.
ILLUS: When politicians are in a campaigning mode, they all do something called “the identification strategy” where they’ll go to a plant, don a hard hat and goggles, shake a couple of hands, pose for the cameras, and then they’re off to the next stop. What’s so amazing is, the people settle for this illusion of identity. The candidates are not going to give up their degrees and their portfolios, their houses and cars and planes to work in these plants; to eat in these lunchrooms, to live where they live. Yet, the people settle for an illusion of identification.
Jesus didn’t come to earth and just pose for the cameras, put on some safety goggles and bolt. No. He totally and completely identified. He spent most of his time in the marketplace. He was called the carpenter.
You might be thinking, “Well, no one understands the pressure I’m dealing with at work, or this or that. No one understands.”
Add two words: except Jesus.
You might think, “Well, no one understands what I’m dealing with in this relationship or this family dynamic. No one understands.”
Add two words: except Jesus.
Maybe you’ve lost a loved one or someone is sick, or you’re going through depression or doubt or uncertainty. “No one understands. No one understands.” Except Jesus.
Jesus was called “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” In Matthew 28:20 Jesus said, “…surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
There is not anywhere where Jesus is not.
ILLUS: My mother has been in ICU for the last 29 days, fighting a rare blood disorder. My family and I have been in Houston, back and forth. And I haven’t received a call or a text from Santa. Santa hasn’t visited in the hospital. On the other hand, though, I don’t think there’s been a time or a moment when we’ve not felt the presence of the Savior. That’s a difference. We’ve Santa-ized Christmas. Santa’s presence is limited; God isn’t.
Another difference is Santa’s gifts are what we want; Christ’s are what we need.
Santa-ology; the Santa-ization of Christmas is about wants. What does Santa ask? “What do you want for Christmas?” It really plays into our narcissistic nature, telling God (because remember, we’ve Santa-ized God) what we want, what we want him to do. We think God is there for us, as opposed to the fact that we are here for God.
There’s a difference between needs and wants. Some things we want, but we don’t need. I need some things, though, that I don’t want. For example, when I disobeyed my parents as a kid I didn’t want discipline. I needed it, but I didn’t want it. But inevitably, as I got disciplined, Dad would get patriotic – he’d put on stripes and I saw stars. And looking back, I see that I desperately needed that.
Jesus does not always give us whatever we want. We Santa-ize God and think, “Hey, if I’m good enough, I’ll get good things. If you follow Christ, everything will be great!” Well, ultimately it is. But it’s not an easy ride.
Jesus became like us so we can be like him. Had our greatest need been knowledge, he would have sent a teacher. Had our greatest need been technology, he would have sent a scientist. If our greatest need had been laughter, he would have sent a comedian. Our greatest need, though, was forgiveness, so he sent a Savior.
It’s sort of interesting that our wants really are about things that are temporal versus things that are eternal. That’s another difference. Santa’s gifts are temporal; Christ’s are eternal.
If I asked you, “What did you get for Christmas last year?” most of us couldn’t recall what we received. Yeah, if you got an engagement ring or a car, you would remember that. But it’s interesting how quickly things fade and rot and rust and go out of style. Once we get it, then there’s another it and another it and another it.
The first ‘it’ in my life was a tank called “Tiger Joe”. I thought if I just got it, that would be the ultimate. My ‘its’ have changed over the years. They’ve gotten more and more expensive. What is it?
Long after the other stuff is faded away, Christ’s gift will still be working. The ultimate present is his presence ultimately.
Another difference is Santa’s presents are under the tree; Christ’s was on the tree.
It’s all about the tree. That’s where my brother and I would converge after a restless sleep. We’d see all the stuff from Santa. But we’ve Santa-ized Christmas. We’ve limited it to that. Jesus, though, was on the tree. He moved from a cradle and ended up on a cross. It started with the birth and then death; then he burst through with resurrection power. The present is his presence.
Santa says that if you’re a bad boy you get coal and switches. Instead of coal, Jesus gave us the cross. Instead of switches, Jesus gave us riches in heaven.
When we Santa-ize Christmas, we sanitize ourselves from it, from getting the real disease. When we Santa-size Christmas we minimize it, and we do it without thinking. There’s something much more significant than Santa; it’s the Savior of the world.
The present is his presence.
ILLUS: Lisa’s birthday was just a couple days ago. She just turned 32. We celebrated it with just our family. Something strange, though, happened while we were celebrating Lisa’s birthday. Instead of giving the birthday girl presents, we exchanged presents amongst ourselves.
Obviously, that didn’t happen! But what if it did? Well, it happens regularly. We exchange presents and the birthday boy, Jesus, is left out. The ultimate present is his presence. Let’s receive the present, because then we’ll understand what Christmas is all about.