Sermon title:  HOW LONG WILL YOUR CHRISTMAS LAST?

Luke 2:15-19;  Hebrews 10:32-39  

Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, December 8, 2019

 

 

When I was a child

it seemed that Christmas lasted

as long as the live tree

that my Dad set up in the living room.

 

The holiday began

when he would bring that tree home on the roof of his car.

 

He’d take it first to the back porch of our 3rd floor apartment,

where he’d saw off an inch from the bottom of the trunk,

to expose the living wood.

 

And then he’d set it in a metal base with water in it,

so the tree could draw up moisture, to keep it alive.

 

The aroma of the pine tree filled our little apartment,

and I knew that it was Christmas,

even before we decorated the tree.

 

It was a lot of fun.

But it lasted only a couple of weeks.

 

Of course, a couple of weeks is a long time

in the life of a little boy.

 

For a 5-year-old, 2 weeks make up 3%

of their life experience, so far.

 

But our apartment was heated

by a coal-fired furnace in the basement.

 

My Dad would shovel coal into the furnace

each morning before he left for work,

and would bank it up,

so that it would burn most of the day.

 

A kerosene heater in the kitchen took care of the gap.

 

That heated air was dry,

and so the Christmas tree didn’t last very long.

 

By the end of two weeks

the pine needles were falling off

and accumulating on the floor.

More would fall off as we removed the decorations,

and then my Dad would pitch the tree

off the back porch and into the yard below.

 

That was the end of Christmas.

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How long does Christmas last at your house?

 

Is it all over

when the cookies with the red and green sparkles

are mostly gone, 

and any remaining cookies are stale?

 

Is it all over

when the last of the ribbon candy had been consumed

and the candy canes are gone, too?

 

If the neighborhood being all lit up

with brightly colored lights

is what keeps your Christmas going,

will it be finished

when the neighbors take down their decorations

or quit turning on those lights?

If your Christmas mood depends on

that radio station that plays Christmas carols 24/7,

will the mood be gone

when they return to regular programming?

 

Is there anything you can do

to stop Christmas from slipping away?

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At our house

the Christmas decorations begin to go up

during the week before Thanksgiving.

 

And they don’t come down

until some time in February.

 

I think that’s because Penni and I

were Christmas-deprived for so many years.

 

We didn’t celebrate the holiday at all

during the first decade of our marriage.

 

It wasn’t because we were like Ebenezer Scrooge.

 

Penni was raised in a sect that frowned on Christmas.

 

More than just frowning on it,

they put members on trial

and expelled them from the group

if they celebrated December 25th

in any way, shape or form.

 

The group was the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

 

And those who got expelled

were off-limits to talk to,

even if they were close relatives.

 

We knew a JW man in his 80’s

who had two sons—one a JW and the other not.

 

When he sent a Christmas card one year

to his non-JW son,

his wife turned him in to the elders

and they put him on trial

and booted him out.

 

The others were forbidden to talk to him.

 I was in my early 20’s

when I got involved with that same sect

and met Penni shortly afterward.

 

But I had already lost interest in Christmas years before that.

 

When I was a little boy growing up,

Santa Claus had been the big figure in the holiday,

and I recall a 78-RPM record

playing the tune of Frosty the Snowman.

 

I don’t remember Jesus figuring in it, at all,

even though, somewhere along the line

I eventually pieced together

what I heard in Christmas carols

about the baby born in Bethlehem.

 

I didn’t know Jesus,

and I looked at him as, at best, just an historical figure,

and, at worst,

a mythical figure made up by gullible believers.

 

Each year the holiday came and went,

but never made a lasting impression.

By the time I was in my late teens

I had cast aside all religion

as “the opium of the people.”

 

Christmas was still in the air

for a couple weeks each year,

but it passed me by, like a ripple in the water.

 

If I thought of Jesus at all,

it was picturing him

as an early prototype of a Hippie—

“Peace, man!”  that type of thing.

 

But then, in my early 20’s,

when I began to re-think the need for God,

a co-worker pulled me into

that Jehovah’s Witness sect.

 

There I was taught that Jesus was

just the first angel that God created,

and that Christmas was invented by the Devil

to lead people astray.

 

But the good thing about my time with the Jehovah’s Witnesses,

was that I met Penni there.

 

We were married in a Kingdom Hall.

and for the first decade of our marriage

we had nothing to do with celebrating Christmas.

 

But then we found Jesus,

and that changed everything.

 

We were head-over-heels in love with Jesus,

and we hung on every word

of the Christmas carols we listened to

as we shared our first Christmas together.

 

So, maybe it’s because we went without it so long

that Christmas means so much to us now,

that we keep the decorations up from Nov. thru February.

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But we aren’t alone

in being without Christ

for the first part of our lives.

For us, it was that JW sect

that kept us from discovering

the meaning and power of Christmas.

 

But, for you, and for others,

it may have been another religious experience

that didn’t center on Jesus.

 

Many religious groups have “Christian” in their name

but focus on other things

besides Christ.

 

Or, maybe you grew up with the Christmas

that centers on Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman

instead of on the birth of Christ,

like I did as a little child in my parents’ home.

 

Finding the real Christmas

involves finding the real Jesus

and having Jesus be a real part of your life.

 

And when the real Jesus

is a real part of your life

you can experience the joy of Christmas every day,

all year long—year after year.

 

The real meaning of Christmas

is the message we read in the Bible at John 3:16.

 

It says,

“For God so loved the world

that he gave his one and only Son,

that whoever believes in him

shall not perish but have eternal life.

 

The baby Jesus was born

on that first Christmas morning

for a purpose:

not just to give us a once-a-year holiday,

but to save us from our sins

and give us eternal life:

that whoever believes in him

shall not perish but have eternal life.

 

Christmas is just the beginning

of the story about Jesus.

 

And Christmas can be just the beginning

of your personal experience with Jesus,

if you make him part of your life.

Just before ascending back to heaven

Christ said at Matthew 28:18,

 

“All authority in heaven and on earth

has been given to me.

 

19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,

baptizing them in the name of the Father

and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

20 and teaching them to obey

everything I have commanded you.

 

And surely I am with you always,

to the very end of the age.”

 

When we become his disciples and belong to him,

Jesus’ promise is to be with us believers always,

even to the very end of the age.

 

He ascended bodily into heaven --and he’s coming again.

 

But in the meantime,

he continues to be with us

as he promised.

 

He showed that by the way

he continued to be active in the lives and ministry

of the early disciples.

For example, Acts 16:17 speaks of disciples

carrying the Gospel message to new places,

and it tells how

the Spirit of Jesus

intervened in what they were doing

and directed their work.

 

And Jesus is present in Spirit today,

wherever believers come together in his name.

 

Christ said at Matthew 18:20 that,

 

“where two or three come together in my name,

there am I with them."

 

But it’s not just in church,

but also in your own personal life

that Christ will be “with” you

if you invite him

to be the Lord of your life.

 

At John 14:21 he promises to make himself known

to believers individually.

 

He says,

21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them,

he is the one who loves me.

 

He who loves me will be loved by my Father,

and I too will love him

and show myself to him."

 

Jesus shows himself to you

in various ways

when he comes to live with you and “in” you.

 

But you have to invite him in.

 

Colossians 1:27 speaks of

    ". . . this mystery, which is Christ in you . . ."

 

Ephesians 3:17 says

". . . that Christ may actually live in your hearts."

 

How does that happen?

 

It happens when you are “born again” as a child of God.

 

Galatians 4:6 says,

"To prove that you are sons,

God has sent into our hearts

the Spirit of his Son,

crying 'Abba! Father!'"

If you don’t have

a personal relationship with Jesus

as your Lord and Savior,

you can do something about it, right now.

 

The invitation is open to everyone.

 

At Matthew 11:28 Jesus said,

"Come to me,

all you who are weary and burdened,

and I will give you rest.

 

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,

for I am gentle and humble in heart,

and you will find rest for your souls."

 

Jesus came to earth that first Christmas morning

and he is alive today

to save you from your sins

and to give you rest for your soul.

 

The Son of God will hear you,

if you speak to him—either out loud or in your heart.

 

Tell him that you repent of your sins,

and that you want to follow him as your Lord.

Then make a public declaration of your faith

through Christian baptism.

 

Jesus will honor your repentance

and will welcome you as his follower.

 

At John 6:37, Jesus said,

 

“I will never turn away

anyone who comes to me.”

 

Do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior?

 

If you don’t know Jesus,

you need to turn to him in prayer

and tell him that you accept his free gift

of salvation from your sins,

and tell him that you will follow him

and obey him as your Lord.

 

It’s very simple:  Trust and obey.

 

Trust Jesus to save you,

and obey him as your Lord and Master.

 

You can speak that prayer in your heart right now.

 

You can just say to him,

“Jesus, I trust you to save me,

and I’ll follow you as my Lord.”

 

It’s a very simple prayer:

 

“Jesus, I trust you to save me,

and I’ll follow you as my Lord.”

 

You can put it as simply as,    “I’m yours, Lord Jesus, save me.”

 

He will accept your simple prayer.

 

At John 6:37, Jesus promised,

“I will never turn away

anyone who comes to me.”

 

Don’t put it off.

 

Do it now.

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But, what if you’ve already

put your trust in Jesus for salvation,

but you no longer feel that initial joy?

 

What if the troubles of this world have got you down,

and you don’t feel that Christmas joy from day to day?

 

There are things you can do about that, too.

 

We find a clue in what Luke Chapter 2 tells us Mary did

after the shepherds came

to see her baby lying in the manger.

 

We read it in Luke Chapter 2, beginning with Verse 15,

where it says,

 

15 ...the shepherds said to one another,

 

“Let’s go to Bethlehem

and see this thing that has happened,

which the Lord has told us about.”

 

16 So they hurried off

and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby,

who was lying in the manger. 

17 When they had seen him,

they spread the word

 

concerning what had been told them

about this child,

18 and all who heard it were amazed

at what the shepherds said to them.

 

19 But Mary treasured up all these things

and pondered them in her heart.

 

So it tells us that

 Mary treasured up all these things

and pondered them in her heart.

 

She needed to do that,

to carry her through the days to come.

 

The rest of her life wasn’t going to be filled

with Christmas carols

and decorations.

 

She was going to have it rough,

caring for her baby in a hostile world.

 

After the visit of the Wise Men from the East,

king Herod would try to kill the baby.

 

Joseph would have to take her and the little baby

down into Egypt

to escape the bloody knives

of Herod’s henchmen

who he sent to Bethlehem

to kill all the boy babies there.

 

Mary needed to

treasure’ “up all the things she knew about her baby Jesus

‘and ponder them in her heart.’

 

And we need to do that, too.

 

We need to keep our focus on Jesus.

That’s how we

treasure up’ the message of Christmas

and ponder it in our heart.

 

The writer of Hebrews encourages us at Hebrews 10:32 to

 

32 Think back on those early days

when you first learned about Christ. 

 

Remember your first love for Jesus.

 

The writer of Hebrews continues in Verse 34

to speak of how Christians suffered persecution,

and then in the latter part of the verse he says,

 

34 ... you accepted it with joy.

You knew there were better things waiting for you

that will last forever.

 

And in Verse 36, he adds,

 

36 Patient endurance is what you need now,

so that you will continue to do God’s will.

 

Then you will receive all that he has promised.

 

The needles may fall from the tree in the living room.

 

The multicolored lights may be taken down and put away.

 

The radio may stop playing Christmas carols.

 

But Christmas can live on in our hearts,

when we let Jesus be the focus of our lives

all year long.