What Jesus Wants for Christmas
We know you mean well. We know you think you know best. But enough is enough. We have suffered in silence for too long. Having shared our pain with each other, we husbands hereby step out of the shadows and open our hearts. This year as you shop for our Christmas gifts, please don’t buy us what we need.
We know we need to smell better and look nicer. We know you like us in warm pajamas and new underwear. But we do not know what to say when we open these gifts. How can you fake enthusiasm over house slippers? How can you look happy holding a nose-hair trimmer? We’ve lied long enough. For the sake of integrity on Christmas morning, we offer this guidance. As you look at any potential gift, ask yourself these questions: Can he play with it? Does it swing, bounce, shuffle, cast, or roll? Can you find a trigger, grip, rip cord, or stick shift? Does it consume oil or dog food? Does it have a big screen and a remote control? If it does, buy it. Doesn’t matter that he already has one. This is no time to be practical.
When considering an item of men’s apparel, ask yourself, is it brown and green and rain resistant? You can’t lose with any garment that is. Realizing that many women prefer to shop anywhere but the gun department, we offer these two questions. Does it make him look cute? Does it make him look like a hunk? If the clothing makes him look cute, drop it immediately. If it makes him look like a hunk, buy two.
When all else fails, ask, can he eat it? Note, the question is not, would you eat it? Or do other humans eat it? Or is it edible? Don’t occupy yourself with trivialities. The question is, can he eat it? Anytime the answer is affirmative, consider yourself on safe ground.
In closing we extend this offer. If you will buy us what we want, we will do the same for you. Without revealing any details we will tell you this. A large vacuum cleaner company has offered us a group discount. (And you thought we were insensitive.)
No need to thank us,
Christmas and gift giving. The two have always been associated with each other for good reason. The magi gave Jesus the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The shepherds gave Jesus the gift of their time and belief. Mary gave Jesus the gift of her womb. The offerings seem practical. The wise men’s treasures could be used to fund the family’s escape to Egypt. The shepherds’ visitation would keep the family company. Mary’s womb would protect the growing child. But there is one gift that might appear a bit curious.
The angels’ gift of worship.
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God:
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,” they sang, “and peace on earth for all those pleasing him.”
When this great army of angels had returned again to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Come on! Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this wonderful thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:13–15 tlb)
The angels filled the night with light and the air with music, and, well, that’s it. They worshipped. Couldn’t they have done something more useful? Mary could have used a bed. Joseph would have benefited from an angelic escort back to Nazareth. Baby Jesus needed a bassinet.
These were angels. Didn’t they know better?
Then again, these were angels. Who knew Jesus better than they? Those who knew Jesus best loved him dearest. Those who had followed him the longest gave him the gift of worship. They placed their love on a pillow of praise and presented it to Jesus. They did that night. They do so still. Heaven at this very moment reverberates with loud corporate worship. “Day and night they never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy.’” (Rev. 4:8 NIV).
The word worshipactually evolved from the Old English word weorthscipe. “To worship, then, is to ascribe worth to someone or something.”1
Worship happens anytime you turn your heart toward heaven and say, “You are worthy.” When you clear your calendar for prayer, turn the radio dial to praise music, or use your morning jog to recite Bible verses or your lunch break to meditate, this is worship.
Worship happens in neighborhoods, in living rooms, in open pastures. And, yes, worship happens in churches. When the people of God make a public and plural declaration of God’s goodness, worship is happening.
God is on the hunt for those who will imitate the angels, for people who will open their hearts and mouths and declare, “Glory to God in the highest heaven.” “The Father . . . is actively seeking such people to worship him” (John 4:23 ncv).
Perhaps you are wondering, But what if I don’t worship?
Oh, but you will. The question is, not will you worship, but where will you direct your worship? We all worship someone or something. Why, I once worshipped a bicycle!
At the age of eight I asked my parents to give me a bicycle for Christmas. Not just any bike but a fire engine–red Schwinn bike with a banana seat and high handlebars. They did! Basking in the light of the Christmas tree, it beckoned me to climb aboard and ride away into the bliss of childhood.
I decorated the handlebars with tassels and bought a reflector for the fender. I attached a playing card to the frame so it would click, click, click against the tire spokes. I was cool. James Dean–level cool. My bike and I explored subdivisions, drainage ditches, and dirt roads. I loved the bike. I worshipped the bike.
But then I wrecked it. I crashed into a curb and bent the frame. My dad and I tried to repair it, but the bike was never the same. It let me down. I was counting on it to carry me, to deliver me, to entertain me, to fulfill me. It didn’t.
What about you? You were counting on that career to carry you, deliver you, entertain you, and fulfill you. But it hasn’t.
You were counting on that marriage to carry you, deliver you, entertain you, and fulfill you. But it didn’t.
You were counting on that retirement to carry you, deliver you, entertain you, and fulfill you. But it hasn’t.
You were counting on that education to carry you, deliver you, entertain you, and fulfill you. But it didn’t.
You were counting on that body to carry you, deliver you, entertain you, and fulfill you. But it hasn’t.
Worship might not be the word you’ve used to describe your passion, yet the term fits. Anytime we trust an object or activity to give us life and meaning, we worship it.
When we make good things the ultimate things, we set ourselves up for disappointment. If we depend on a career or relationship to give our lives meaning, what happens when retirement comes or the relationship ends? The list of impostor gods includes sex, food, money, alcohol, success, and influence. In the correct dosage and context, these can be wonderful gifts from God. But they are dismal substitutes for God. To worship them is to be satisfied, then brokenhearted. Infatuated, then discouraged. Enthralled, then angry.
God-centered worship rescues us from bamboozlers, trompe l’oeil gods who never deliver on their promises. Worship does to the soul what a spring rain does to a thirsty field. It soaks down, seeps in, and stirs life. Are you stressed? Worship God, who could store the universe in his pocket and the oceans in an eyedropper. Are you ashamed? Worship Jesus, whose love never fades. Are you bereaved? Open your heart to your Shepherd. He will lead you through the valley of sorrow. Do you feel small? A few moments in front of the throne of your loving King will evaporate any sense of insignificance. Worship works wonders.
Worship treats worry.
Our stress-laden society has developed many skills for dealing with anxiety. We have breathing exercises and meditation techniques. We have medications and seminars. These tools have their place. But the person who learns to worship has the greatest of resources. The next time a wave of anxiety begins to roll over you, go immediately to the Spirit in worship.
The apostle Paul said:
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph. 5:18–20 NIV)
The apostle contrasts two strategies for facing inner chaos: inebriation and celebration. Many people numb themselves, if not with liquor, with long weeks of work, bouts of shopping, or hours of playing. Anyone who has tried this approach knows its falsehood. Happy hours do not make us happy. We may forget our troubles for a moment, but they are awaiting us as we leave the bar.
The better option? Celebration. Fill the air with “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (NCV). Paul used a verb tense that caused one translation to state: “ever be filled and stimulated with the [Holy] Spirit.” Constant worship clears the debris from our hearts. Praise is the cleansing element that flushes the trash of worry and anxiety.
Paul and Silas modeled this practice. Enemies had dragged them before the magistrates of the Roman outpost of Philippi. Authorities beat them with rods. These rods tore the skin, raised welts, caused bruising, and perhaps broke ribs. Soldiers then imprisoned them in the deepest part of the prison where it was damp, cold, and rat infested. To increase security and misery, their feet were put in stocks (Acts 16:24).
There they lay all afternoon and into the night, in foreign territory, with no local advocates, their backs open to infection, surrounded by darkness, shivering from cold, unable to adjust their position, hundreds of miles from home. What was their response?
Along about midnight, Paul and Silas were at prayer and singing a robust hymn to God. The other prisoners couldn’t believe their ears. Then, without warning, a huge earthquake! The jailhouse tottered, every door flew open, all the prisoners were loose. (Acts 16:25–26 MSG)
Oh, to have heard that midnight song. They sang so heartily that the other prisoners heard them.
Paul and Silas did not know how this story would end. They had not read Acts 16. They were not sure of their deliverance. But they were sure of their deliverer. You can be too.
Rather than panic, you can choose to praise.
Let me show you how this works. It’s midnight. You’ve been trying to get to sleep since ten o’clock, but you cannot. You have a big meeting tomorrow. You need some rest. You try the different sleep-inducing strategies: slow breaths, counting sheep, listening to a Lucado sermon, but nothing works. Your mind won’t shut off.
You begin to envision worst-case scenarios. You will forget your notes. You’ll call your boss by the wrong name. Your thoughts spin around in descending circles, taking you down, down, down until you are in a pit. You pound your pillow, and your heart pounds in your chest. The old version of you might have spent the night staring into the dark. But a new version of you is taking shape. A version that has received the fullness of the Holy Spirit. A version that does not face challenges alone but turns quickly to worship.
So here is what happens. You climb out of bed and find a quiet place where you can open your Bible and pray. You read the verses that promise peace from the Holy Spirit.
GOD met me more than halfway,
he freed me from my anxious fears. . . .
When I was desperate, I called out,
and GOD got me out of a tight spot.
GOD’s angel sets up a circle
of protection around us while we pray. (Ps. 34:4–7 MSG)
You select a favorite song, either to listen to or to sing. Maybe both. If one isn’t enough, you sing some more. Then you pray. You pray in the Spirit, and the Spirit prays in you. You surrender tomorrow to the care of your loving God. And then, to make sure the devil knows he has failed, you tell him to leave you alone. I belong to Jesus Christ, thank you very much. So you must depart from here.
Indeed, he must. And he will.
Will you fall fast asleep? Probably. But if not, stay at it.
For your own sake do what the angels did: make a big deal about the arrival of the King.
Three ideas about worship.
Worship verbally. Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. (Heb. 13:15 NLT).
In the early eighties Willie Nelson recorded a song that apologizes for unexpressed love. “I never told you . . . you were always on my mind.”2 I’m not sure where the writer of those lyrics learned the secret of romance, but he didn’t consult women. No sweetheart would accept that excuse. “You never told me, never gave me flowers, kind words, or compliments, but I was always on your mind? Yeah, right.”
God doesn’t buy it either. He wants to hear our affection. It is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks,3and when the mouth is silent, the heart is in question. Do you love God? Let him know. Tell him! Out loud. In public. Unashamed. Let there be jubilation, celebration, and festivity! “Shout to God with joyful praise!” (Ps. 47:1 nlt). “Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth!” (Ps. 66:1 nkjv).
John Wesley wrote, “Sing lustily, and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.”4
Speaking of Satan, he cannot tolerate Christ-centered worship. Unlike God, he is not omniscient. Satan cannot read your mind. He is not moved by what you think, only by what you say. So say it! “Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time” (James 4:7–8 msg). Do you want your city to be free from Satan’s grip? Worship! Do you want your home to be loosed from the devil? Worship! Do we want nations to be places of peace and prosperity? Then let the church assault Satan’s strongholds with joy-filled praise. Worship verbally. And . . .
Worship in community. “There was . . . a multitudeof the heavenly host praising God” (Luke 2:13 nkjv). The presence of Christ deserves an abundant chorus. Every generation has its share of “Jesus, yes; church, no” Christians. For a variety of reasons they turn away from church attendance. They do so at a great loss. Something happens in corporate worship that does not happen in private worship. When you see my face in the sanctuary and I hear your voice in the chorus, we are mutually edified. Granted, congregational worship is imperfect. We often sing off-key. Our attention tends to wander. Even so, let us worship. The sincerity of our worship matters more than the quality. “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24–25 msg).
Worship demonstrably. Let your body express what your heart is feeling. And let your heart be awakened by your body. “May the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice” (Ps. 141:2 NIV). “Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands” (Ps. 63:3–4 NIV).
Yes, outward expressions of worship can be used inappropriately. People show off. They strut. They worship to be seen. But don’t let potential abuse preclude appropriate use. Lift your hands, clap your hands, bend your knees, bow your head, fall down on your face.
Something powerful happens when we worship.
When I was growing up in West Texas, my father loved to take me fishing in South Texas. Each spring break we would make the long drive to Lake Buchanan where we would spend a week catching white bass.
Dad owned a Mercury motor. He would rent a boat and attach the motor to the rea of the boat and off we would go.
Spring weather can turn on a dime and I recall one time that it almost turned into disaster. We were in the middle of the lake when we saw a line of thunder clouds approaching. We yanked in the gear, Dad cranked up the motor and off we went, racing to safety. But we were too late. The wind was churning the water into white tops and we were soon lunging from wave to wave. I was single-digit aged, young enough to be very afraid. I recall looking at the waves like they were enemies of our lives. I turned to look at dad and saw something that I still recall. He was not afraid. His face was soaked. His eyes were focused. But he was not panicked.
His courage was contagious. Looking at his face calmed my fears. So, I decided to not look anywhere else. I turned and faced the face of my Father. Why face the storm when you can face the one who will get you through it?
That’s all I am urging you to do. Worship is choosing to set your face toward the face of your Father.
Give Jesus the gift the angels gave him, the gift of praise. Don the robe of grace, soar on wings of faith, and take your place in the heavenly chorus and sing, “Glory to God in the highest.”