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.
ILLUS: Dr. Richard Selzer wrote a book entitled, “Mortal Lessons”. He said he once performed surgery on a beautiful woman to take a tumor off the side of her face. This brilliant surgeon knew that when he took the tumor out, that this lady’s mouth would be droopy and deformed for the rest of her life. Dr. Selzer said that when the woman recovered from surgery she asked for a mirror. As she looked in the mirror she was shocked. She said, “Doctor, will I always look like this?” He said, “Yes, you will.” Then her young husband said, “Honey, I like your mouth. I think it looks great.” And Dr. Selzer watched as the husband reached down to kiss his wife on the lips. And right before his lips touched hers, he accommodated his mouth to hers. Dr. Selzer bowed his head and said to himself, “That’s Christmas.” We’re deformed. We’re warped by sin. Yet God in his grace sent Jesus to accommodate himself, just for you and just for me. Isn’t it about time that you received the kiss of Christ?
If you looked up the name Jesus you would discover that it means “God saves.” In biblical times it was a common name. I like that, because it shows Christ’s approachability. God, though, perused the baby books and picked out another name for his son; a name the prophet Isaiah penned 800 years before the birth of our Lord. The angel, in fact, repeated this name to Joseph in the gospel of Matthew 1:23, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us”).”
It’s pretty cool to know Emmanuel means “God with us.” But this name begs to go deeper than just the intellectual knowledge of knowing that it means God is with us and around us and by us. Because there’s staggering stipulations to this name Emmanuel. It’s time during this Christmas season that we engage in Emmanuel.
I know some of you are probably on the front end of your spiritual development cycle. You’re sort of pursuing the aisles of Christianity, reading the fine print, checking out the ingredients. You’re saying, “Well, if a virgin did have a baby and the baby was God with skin on, how does this affect my world?” That’s a great question.
Maybe others here have just paused during this hectic holiday havoc as you’ve been moving around at a Nascar type pace just to relax, catch your breath and remember the dynamics of this day.
Some others here probably have a low grade awareness that something is not right, something is out of balance. You’ve got the toys; you’ve got the stuff, the club, the watch, the ring, the status symbols that turn heads and raise eyebrows. But you know something is amiss, something is not clicking, something is misfiring.
Maybe you’re dealing with an addiction. You know it. Maybe a couple of your friends have questioned you, but you know it has a hold on your life. It’s controlling you.
Others here are carrying toxic levels of anxiety, stress, or maybe boatloads of pain. This could be the first Christmas you’re facing without a spouse or family member or loved one. Maybe you look pretty good on the exterior, but in your heart of hearts you know that you’re marriage is on the rocks. Maybe you’ve received a bad report from the doctor and you’re wondering, “Is there an answer to my junk? Any information for me that can change my life?”
During the holiday season, usually we’ll see news clips of beautiful people, the celebrities working maybe in a soup kitchen or helping someone in need. Which, by the way, I think it’s great that we do that. We’re called to do it. But it’s interesting to see the response of the people around them as they help those in need. They try to identify, but that’s impossible. I doubt they’re going to give up the perks and planes and positions and designer wardrobe to live like the people they are helping. To sleep in the homeless shelters, to eat their food. But the people in these shelters like it, even though it’s sort of an illusion.
Jesus didn’t settle for an illusion when he identified with mankind. It wasn’t a smoke and mirrors thing. It wasn’t a ruse or a façade. He didn’t just pose for the cameras and hand out a couple of turkeys and then go back to the heavenlies. God put skin on. In John 1:14, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He lived and breathed and walked and talked among us. He was tempted, tested, tried, tortured and he ultimately triumphed by conquering the grave. Theologians call this the incarnation of Christ.
Think about how Jesus identified with us. Not pseudo-identification. He identified with us.
If you want to talk about keeping it real, Jesus is the only real thing that’s ever hit our world.
Think about the reality of relationships. Jesus – we don’t always think about this – but he totally identified with us relationally. He was involved in them. He had an adopted father. He had a blended family. Mother, brother, aunts, uncles. He had friends, like Peter, James, John, Mary and Martha. He understands what it’s like to be a child, a teenager, a single adult.
So often, we go through relational wreckage; we hit a sticking point and we say, “No one understands what I’m going through.” Add two words: but Jesus.
“No one feels what I feel. No one has the questions and concerns like I do.” Add two words: but Jesus.
He understood the reality of relationships. Also, he understood the craziness of the corporate world. He spent more time in the business world than he did in the ministry. They called him the carpenter. That means he took up the trade. From the excavation work to the foundation work to the finish out. He’s familiar with pay disputes and picky clients. He knows what it means to be rained out.
“No one understands the pressure I’m under at work. No one understands my boss. No one understands delays.” Add two words: but Jesus.
So he understands the madness of the marketplace. He also understands the engagement of our emotions. Holidays are emotional times. We live with large levels of loneliness, even though we’re surrounded by people. Hurts are brought up. Voids in our lives are right there in front of us. Jesus, at his deepest point of need, had his friends leave him. One of his best friends, Lazarus, died. The night before he was arrested he sweated drops of blood.
How about the temptation? He understood the tenaciousness of temptation. Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses…”
I’m glad it says weaknesses. I don’t have one weakness. I have many weaknesses. But we have one who has been tempted, tested, tried, tortured and triumphed.
So Jesus felt the full pull of temptation. He resisted it, and he knows the situation. If you’re going to go duck hunting, you don’t call Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber. You call Willie, Si, and the other Duck Commanders. If you’re going to start a computer company, a company that has to do with technology, you don’t call the government. You call Bill Gates.
Jesus never asked us to remember his birth. He did, though, ask us to remember his death, burial and resurrection.
The Christmas services are even more popular than the Easter services because a baby in a manger is not as threatening as the Christ who has died and rose again.
God is with us. But is he within us? For God to be within you and me, we have to make a decision. We have to know him, not just know about him. I don’t know, for example, the Duck Commanders. I don’t know Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus. I know about them. But I don’t know them. We can know Jesus by inviting him to live within us.
If you know someone, you know where they are. Where is Jesus? Is he just with you? Or is he within you?
Admit. Believe. Receive. And you’ll understand the presence of his presents.