December 24, 2013
In our over-commercialized world, it can be easy to think that Christmas is all about gifts and presents. 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 understand the difference between our culture’s view of Christmas and God’s meaning for it. And he helps us remember that Christmas is all about Jesus – the ultimate gift, the perfect present.
Merry Christmas, everyone! I know you guys are doing well. Is it just me or do you find that everybody is into hand sanitizers these days? It’s incredible. We’ve got to be the most sanitized culture in the history of the world. Hand sanitizers come in all shapes and sizes, gels, foams, even the towelettes. How many people in here have some hand sanitizers on you? Look at that. Look at that! In the balcony way up there! It’s unbelievable! We carry around hand sanitizers. My wife does a great job at that. And these hand sanitizers promise that if we really use their product we’re not gonna get sick. It’ll keep us from most diseases, and that’s true. But we have been invaded by the flu bug in our household so sometimes they don’t really do what they need to do. But hey, I like hand sanitizers.
ILLUS: When I have a dream, because I dream a lot at night, usually I don’t wake up and try to interpret that dream. ‘Cause that’ll send you to the ha-ha house. It’ll make you crazy. I did, though, have a dream a couple of months ago that I’ve gotta tell you about. This is pretty funny. You know, we have I don’t know how many Christmas services here at all of our campuses. Who knows? Do you know how many we have exactly? Twenty- or 30-something? Anyway, I dreamed that I had not prepared anything to say. And public speaking is kinda weird anyway. I mean, I get nervous every time before I speak. People ask me that sometimes. “Do you still get nervous?” and the answer is yes!
Well, in this dream I’m pushed out onstage, looking at a sea of people like I’m looking at right now. And I did not know what in the world to do. Hadn’t even studied a minute! So I just began to try to buy time, like, “I want to welcome all of our campuses…” And I was trying to talk about the different campuses and the vision of Fellowship Church while all the time I’m trying to think, OK. I’ve got to come up with a message. I’ve got to come up with a message. So I finally stopped and I said, “Today is Christmas and I’m gonna talk about present presence. The ultimate present…” in my dream I said this, “…is his presence.” Then I woke up. I thought, man, I like that! That’s a pretty good title! It’s Biblically correct.
The ultimate present is his presence. That’s Christmas. God walked down the staircase of Heaven with a baby in his arms. So, today that’s what I’m gonna talk about. I’m gonna talk about what I came up with, what God gave me now looking back in the dream. The ultimate present is his presence. The ultimate present is his presence.
Presents. Christmas is a time that we forget the past, forget the future, and think about the present.
ILLUS: When I was a kid I was very well-versed in the Gospel According to Santa. I mean, I knew me some Santa-ology. I love Santa. Santa is the man. Let’s give a crazy round of applause for Santa Claus right now. Because I’m cool with Mr. and Mrs. Claus. My brother and I knew that if we were good little boys, if we were on the Nice List and not the Naughty List we knew our dreams would become a reality. We knew Santa would give us what we wanted. My first brush with celebrity, my first brush with an A-lister definitely happened (not that I know a lot of them, I don’t), when I sat on Santa Claus’ knee, and he looked at me. My mother <kachoon-kachoon> taking pictures. This was long before Instagram. Long before the smart phone. And Santa would say,
“Ho-ho-ho! What do you want for Christmas?” And I would go,
“Well, I want…” and I would name boom, boom, boom. And sure enough, my brother and I, I guess we were good enough, we would wake up, run into the living room, and there, under the tree were these presents. They weren’t everything we wanted but they were pretty good. So I love Santa.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about Santa, and also I’ve been thinking a lot about the Savior. Isn’t it true, isn’t it true that we have sort of santa-tized Christmas?
Isn’t it true that we’ve sort of washed our hands to stay away from really catching the real disease of Christmas? To kind of get rid of those Jesus germs. Because let’s think about it. It’s better if we serve a sequestered Savior. It’s better if we dress him up in a red suit, a white beard, and after all, God is for me, right? That’s what our narcissistic culture says. God is for me. That’s what my me-istic mentality says. So I just invite God in when I need him, and he will give me what I want. But God, don’t get up in my grill. Don’t read my emails, don’t read my texts. No, not my thought life. I’ll just call for you when I want something. We’ve santa-tized, santa-tized Christmas. Now again, I love Santa. He’s coming tonight. He will invade the world. I know that. But I gotta talk to you about the ultimate present, which is the presence of Jesus. So if you’ll just bear with me for a little while because in this dream I didn’t talk very long, so I’m not gonna talk very long today. But if you’ll just bear with me I’m gonna do something that I’ve never done before. I want to compare and contrast Santa with the Savior of the world.
#1, if you’re taking notes. Santa’s presents are based on behavior. The Savior’s presents aren’t. I don’t know about you but I give like Santa gives. If I like you, if you’re good to me, I’m gonna buy you a present! But if you’re bad to me, if you post something negative about me on my Twitter feed or that photo on Instagram, or you stab me in the back, or you spread some rumor about me, I’m not so sure.
ILLUS: Just a couple days ago I was driving down the freeway and I drifted into this guy’s lane and he gave me the #1 sign. We’re #1! That’s what he said. He flipped me off. And then he did what all drivers do when they’re disgusted. I love this. It’s the universal sign that I am just hacked. Isn’t that funny? You’re in a parking garage and the person pulls out…. Why do we do that? Isn’t that a weird thing?
So we did all that so I just floored it and chased this guy down. I said, man… <waaaaammm-maaammm> and I was like kinda veering toward him a little bit. I said, “Your window!” He rolled it down. I go,
“Man, what’s your name?” He told me his name. Then I said,
“What’s your address?” He gave me his address. And I said,
“I’m gonna go right now to the mall and buy you, like, an expensive Christmas gift!”
I made that story up. You think I’m gonna do that? I’m not gonna do that. You flip me off, you curse me out, sorry. I give like Santa gives. But Jesus comes along and Jesus does not give based on behavior, he gives based on grace. Grace. Grace is something I don’t deserve because the Bible tells me… because you might be going, “Well, Ed, I’m a good guy.” Well yeah. We have a lot of good guys here. “I’m a good girl.” We have a lot of good girls here. In God’s economy, though, good isn’t good enough. But God is God enough.
The Bible says in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Read: We have fallen short of God’s standard of goodness. God’s standard is totally and completely righteous. And even though we’re on the Nice List, even though we high-five Santa, even though he drops off what we want after he scarfs down the milk and cookies and all that, even though we’re cool with the Claus, at the end of the day we fall short. Yet God, and here’s the good news of Christmas, has made up the gap by giving us the ultimate present, which is the presence of God. It’s Jesus.
Here’s another contrast between Santa and the Savior. Santa’s presence is limited. The Savior’s presence is unlimited. In other words, Santa pretty much stays in the North Pole, Santa’s Village, with the elves, doing what he does. One day out of the year he cruises in with his sleigh, flying reindeer, and visits all of our homes, dispersing gifts to those of us who are good, not bad. Those of us who are nice, not naughty. That’s what Santa does.
ILLUS: My mother has been in intensive care for the last 33 days fighting for her life. She is fighting a unique blood disorder. She’s doing OK right now. We’re still not sure what’s gonna happen but I really appreciate your prayers. Well, I’ve been back and forth to Houston. My father is also a pastor. I’ve spoken for him over the last several weeks and while at the hospital, while in ICU, I didn’t get a call from Santa. He didn’t text me, he didn’t encourage me, he didn’t do jack for me. But, my brothers and I, my father, my mother, can tell you they have felt the presence of the Savior all around them.
The Bible says Jesus is everywhere. Everywhere. There’s nowhere that he is not. What was he called? He was called Emmanuel. The name Emmanuel means God with us. His name was Jesus. Jesus was a common name back in the day. The name Jesus means God saves. So God saves and Emmanuel, God is with us. The Bible says that Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us. He’s here. So you might be going, OK, he’s with me. He’s around me. But is he within you? Is he in you?
Every time there’s a big political race for a certain position inevitably the men and women, those who are running for the office, always fall into the identification strategy. It’s a brilliant marketing strategy to secure a lot of votes. You’ve seen it happen squillions of times. The motorcade will pull up to a factory or maybe some plant, the candidate will get out of the car, glad-hand some people, put on a hard hat, safety goggles, and pose for the cameras. Then after about 10 minutes – BOOM! They’re off to the next stop. These candidates give an illusion of identity. They’re not gonna give up their law degrees, the perks, the planes, the houses, they’re not gonna give that up. It’s just an illusion of identification. And what’s so crazy is the people who work in the plants and factors are like, OK, that’s cool. I mean they just came here for a brief moment, that’s great.
Jesus did not settle for an illusion of identification. He didn’t just put on the hard hat and goggles and shake a couple of hands and pose for the cameras, and then bolt back to Heaven. He totally and completely has identified with us. He was born in a manger, he crawled out of the crib, performed righteously, perfectly, died sacrificially, rose bodily, and he offers us this incredible present, which is his presence.
“Ed, hey, man, that’s great and all that, but relationally I’m jacked up. My best friend betrayed me.”
“Ed, this is the first Christmas I’m facing alone. My spouse left me.”
“I’m having this family issue that there’s no way anyone understands. My teenage son, my teenage daughter, they’re so far away. No one understands, Ed. No one understands. No one understands.”
Let me add two words: Except Jesus. Except Jesus.
Jesus spent the lion’s share of his life doing what? Working. He had a job. You know what they called him? The carpenter. That meant he was responsible for the excavation work and the foundation work and the framing, the finish-out, landscaping, everything. Jesus understands what it’s like to face days that have been taken out because of weather. He understands picky clients. He understands the whole scenario of working. You might be here and you might be going,
“Ed, in this schizophrenic economy I don’t know what is gonna take place in this next year.”
“Ed, my boss is about to drive me flat out crazy.”
“This person I work with, they’re the most toxic person. No one understands the stress. No one understands the anxiety.”
Add two words: Except Jesus.
“Ed, I’m depressed! I have this anger, this hurtful habit has me with this substance.”
“It’s got a hold on me. This lust. This exaggeration.”
“Ed, I’m basically living a lie. No one understands what I’m going through. No one understands the pull. No one understands.”
We don’t serve a North Pole savior. We serve One who has walked, who has lived, who was tried and tempted, and tested and ultimately triumphed. Call out to him. Talk to him. Walk with him.
Here’s another contrast. Santa’s presents are basically what we want. The Savior’s presents are what we need. Isn’t that the truth? Some things we want but we don’t need. Some things we need but we don’t want. Is that a fact?
As a kid I was like, I don’t need discipline. I don’t want discipline, I don’t need it. I don’t want it. I didn’t think I needed it. I would mess up and dad would get patriotic. He would put on the stripes and I saw stars. If our greatest need had been information God would have sent a statistician. If our greatest need had been comedy he would have sent a comic. Had our greatest need been our businessman he would have sent somebody who really understood that whole game. But our greatest need was a Savior and is a Savior, because of our sin situation. And that’s what God did. God saves. He’s Emmanuel. He’s with us.
Every time I think about Christmas I always think about it. You know what I’m talking about? It. What is it for you? We all have an it. We’re thinking about it on Christmas. What is it? It. It might be that watch. It might be that coat. It might be that car. It might be that engagement ring. What is it? What is it? It. Now think back to the first it in your life and you thought once I get it that’s gonna be it.
ILLUS: The first it, and I thought about this a couple of days ago, in my life was something called Tiger Joe. It was a toy tank. I grew up in the dirty south, Canton, North Carolina. Population 6,300 people, right outside of Asheville in the beautiful Smoky Mountains. Mother would take me to Smathers’ Supermarket. Mr. Smathers, a giant guy, was the owner, a part of our church, and every time she would take me through those aisles I would go,
“Tiger Joe. Mom I want Tiger Joe. Tell Santa I want Tiger Joe.” She goes,
“You’ll have to tell Santa.” I told Santa. I told everybody. That’s the man. Tiger Joe. Tiger Joe. That tank, the guy in the tank, Tiger Joe! Sure enough. Christmas came rolling around, I had to be 4 years old, maybe 3, I don’t know. Tiger Joe was in the house! Whoo!! I got it! Yeah!!! I got it!!! But after a couple of weeks I lost some of the parts and the batteries didn’t work and all that. You know the deal. The shine wore off and it’s like, OK, Tiger Joe. What is your it? And once you get it, is that it?
“Well, if I make a certain salary.” OK, you’re doing that now, so that’s it?
“Well if I drive a certain model and make of car, live in that neighborhood or that club or go to that school or whatever…” It isn’t it. I mean it’s cool if you’ve got it, good for you! But it ain’t it. It will lose its shine. It will have parts that break. You might think it is a person. If I marry that person. I’m telling you, the shine will wear off. That’s great and all that. Some of the spouses are like, “Yeah! You better believe it!” but I’m talking about something much deeper than it. I’m talking about a God thing. I’m talking about Jesus Christ. Because it’s fine to shop and to think about things and to peruse the aisles but the only thing that satisfied you and me is in the shape of a cross. And that’s Jesus.
One more contrast and then we can do something else. Santa’s presents are under the tree. Christ’s present is on the tree. I’m happy about Santa. He’s gonna show up, I know that. But what I’m really joyful about is this indescribable gift. It’s something I can’t do for myself, nor you can do for yourself. And the book of Romans 6:23, says, “For the wages of sin is death…” In other words, if we got what we deserved it would be eternal separation from God. “… but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.” We were separate from God because of our behavior.
Remember, good isn’t good enough. There was nothing we could do. God didn’t do anything based on our behavior, he commissioned his son, Jesus, as I said earlier to live righteously. Let me say it again. Tried, tested, tempted, and he was triumphant as he rose from the grave. He was totally righteous. God cannot wink at sin so what happened? Jesus did all this and now he offers us this gift. When you give a gift, a gift demands a response. We either receive it or not. It reflects the personality of the giver and meets the deepest need of the recipient. If we receive and when I receive the gift of Jesus, his righteousness is imputed into my life. So now when God sees me he sees me (and you if you’ve received this gift) through the lens of the righteousness of his Son. I mean it does not get better than that! That’s Christmas! That’s Christmas, the ultimate present is his presence. So Jesus, don’t miss this, Jesus has taken this whole thing to a Ho-ho-holy ‘notha level!
Let’s bow our heads…
[Ed closes in prayer.]