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Do We Have to Do All This Christmas Stuff?

2021 Advent - Christmas Questions  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Because of Jesus, we have a reason to put "merry" into "Merry Christmas."

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As we continue in our Advent series on “Christmas Questions,” we look into a question that Ebenezer Scrooge would have done well to deal with before he suggested boiling people in their own pudding if they spoke “merry Christmas.”
We all understand from past experiences how Christmas can be so chaotic. As I mentioned last week, this whole season can be such a disconnect between what we hope for and possibly expect, and the reality of what we end up experiencing. For many people, the question comes to: "How we can possibly enjoy Christmas?" Then it really comes down to the real question, which is our title for the message: Do we have to do all this Christmas stuff?
We don’t have to do everything, but there is a good reason to do some things.
Because of Jesus, we have a reason to put "merry" into "Merry Christmas."

What We Try To Do

We all want to enjoy this time of year. We all want to enjoy family, friends, and each other. We all want to have moments of pleasure that remind us that this is a time like no other. We long for a reason to celebrate and forget about all the stuff that has a tendency to take away our joy.
So we often just grit our teeth. We somehow try to muster up some sentimental Christmas-like feelings. We might start watching Christmas shows every evening. We turn on radio stations that play only Christmas music. We might go to a special church service with our family, hoping to insert some singing and reflection into the mix. We often try to recreate what worked in the past. Those are all really good things. Admittedly, some are better than others, but trying to make an attempt to enjoy Christmas. Then we look back and we’re not sure if any of it worked.
I read a comment from Katie Blackburn, that was shared by one of my former students and friends from South Dakota: We’ve all been there. Our expectations for a magical holiday, both for us and for our kids and relatives, turn out to be miles from reality, and we end up living in that space between the two, frustrated and disappointed and, truly, missing the whole point.
I don’t know if I should blame Pinterest or Instagram or just my own heart (probably, definitely, my own heart), but at some point, I bought into the lie that holidays should look a certain way. We should have family pictures. We should buy matching pajamas. We should make cookies/decorate the tree/plan the party/do all the things. Holiday magic should rain down on everyone and bring with it good moods, manners, behavior, and health, because THIS IS CHRISTMAS!
Who did this to us, friends? Who said that the holidays were about an output of some kind, a display to be proud of, a family that photographs well?
Who said the holidays were about us at all?

What Keeps Christmas from Being Merry

There is probably some things that tend to put the bah humbug into our Christmases. Maybe the story I just read describes you. We often tend to get caught up in the wrappings of Christmas, and everything else around Christmas, instead of Christmas itself. Sometimes, we get caught up in the frustration because of that one family member who always brings up something controversial. We can get frazzled by the whole gift exchange: who gets what, and how equal it was, and how pleased everyone was. We can get overwhelmed with the festivities, the food, the timing, and the decor, thinking we have to put on a production like Martha Stewart. Sadly, it is so easy to get caught up with the stuff of Christmas, instead of Christmas itself.
I recently read a story of a woman who was doing her last-minute Christmas shopping at a crowded mall. She was tired of fighting the crowds. She was tired of standing in lines. She was tired of fighting her way down long aisles, looking for a gift that had sold out days before. Her arms were full of bulky packages when an elevator door opened. It was full. So the occupants of the elevator grudgingly moved closer together to allow a small space for her and her load.
As the doors closed, she blurted out, "Whoever is responsible for this whole Christmas thing ought to be arrested, strung up, and shot!" A few others nodded their heads or grunted in agreement. Then, from somewhere in the back of the elevator, came a single voice that said: "Don't worry. They already crucified him."
Some of that can be our reality at times, if we let it. So what are we to do? How can we be the sort of people who put "merry" in "Merry Christmas"? How can we actually enjoy Christmas when we've already experienced a measure of chaos already, and even feel like the same thing is going to happen tomorrow? How can we experience joy at Christmas?
Well, have you ever thought—as Andy Stanley has pointed out—that our chaotic experience of Christmas is why we even have Christmas in the first place? Have we ever stopped to consider that the chaos of our Christmas is the tip of the iceberg for why Christmas even exists?

What Jesus Did Makes Christmas Merry

Think back to Luke 2. It’s easy for us to just read through this as a tradition, yet not even think about it.
Luke 2:1–20 (NASB95)
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.
The imperial edict went out that the whole inhabited world of the Roman Empire was to register. Rome wanted an accurate head count for tax reasons, so everyone was to go to the town of their ancestors to register. That meant Joseph had to go to Bethlehem, because he's from the royal line of David, whose hometown was Bethlehem.
Joseph could have gone by himself to register. But Mary was really pregnant; she was on the verge of giving birth. Even then, Joseph could have left her, but evidently thought it wise for her to come with him to Bethlehem. Maybe she wanted him there because he gave her strength, or he wanted to be there for what would be the firstborn of his family. It could have been a protective measure for Mary and the child, who would be born the Son of God. So Joseph and Mary made the approximately 70 mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem—which was only more difficult with Mary being so pregnant.
But eventually, they arrived. However, to find a place to stay was difficult. Bethlehem is a small town that was packed out with all the families there registering for Caesar. Hospitality was really only for the very well-connected, or the very important. Joseph and Mary were neither, especially with what whispers might have been circulating about Mary's pregnancy. So, they land themselves in housing for livestock. Maybe it was a cave, like some traditions say. Maybe it was a stable connected to an inn, like some modern, popular conceptions have it. Or maybe it was a lower part of the traditional house in Israel, because they were already packed out with guests in the upper part, like some scholars believe. I tend to lean toward the traditional cave where livestock would have been. Whatever the exact place was like, after the baby was born, Mary laid him in a manger—more commonly known as a feeding trough.
That's how we get to that famous Christmas scene that's been in art and on the front of greeting cards. That's how we arrived at the songs we sing during this Advent season.
But look! Consider that picture again. That isn't a simple picture of peace and tranquility. There was chaos for this couple, if you think about all they were experiencing. Yet, amidst that, God brought peace.
When heaven announced this scene to some shepherds, the angel said this was good news come to our world. It wasn't advice. It wasn't an additional perspective. It wasn't even another religious option. It was news of joy for all people because of what God has done in history and reality by sending that child as Savior, Christ, and Lord.
Then, when all of heaven gave its commentary on the scene, they sang out in celebration, saying, Luke 2.14:Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” That special, heavenly scene, was not a normal birth announcement, even as happy and thrilling as the birth of any child is.
This birth is God's glory come to light, where he was visibly on display in sending Jesus Christ for us. Here, we see the One sent to rescue us as Savior, to rule and reign in our lives, to bring order to what was chaos, as the Christ, and to be God in the flesh as the Lord. As a result, here we see God's invitation to genuine peace, because this One would heal the broken connection between humanity and God. The sin, the muck, the mess that we've made between us and God: This One who was laid in a manger would one day be laid on a cross to pay for our sin and sweep it away so that peace and wholeness would be left.
Peace between God and me, peace between God and you; that would be ours, by accepting Jesus Christ in faith and what He did in coming to live the life we should have lived, to die the death we should have at the Cross. Peace has come, and it's right there in a manger. We have it by faith and resting our hearts in Him.

What Can We Do to Make Christmas Merry?

So do you see what this means for us to enjoy Christmas? This means embracing Christ in faith. This forms the basis for enjoying Christmas. Having Christ means we can look at all those peaceful and happy moments during this whole season and even tomorrow, and we can say, "That's it!" That's a picture of my life with God that Christ made possible by coming at Christmas. There's peace, joy, and wholeness between me and God, and he's giving me a glimpse of it with this reminder.
That's only an appetizer to the peace, joy, and wholeness we will know in eternity, with God and everyone else who has put their faith in Christ, in His presence. So enjoy those special moments as mere glimpses into what you have in Christ, laid in a manger and eventually laid on a cross, and what will be and more in eternity with God.
But having Christ also means we can look at all the chaos and confusion during this special time of year and even tomorrow, and we can say, "That's it!" That's a picture of what my life with God was like without Christ come and laid in a manger at Christmas. And so that's why he came; to heal me when He was laid on a cross. So enjoy even that chaos and confusion as mere reminders of what has been calmed and stilled between you and God through Christ.
That's how we put "merry" into "Merry Christmas." That's how we can enjoy Christmas with the good, the chaotic, and the downright ugly. Because, if you know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, than you can truly be merry even in the worst situations.
Because of Jesus, we have a reason to put "merry" into "Merry Christmas."
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