Yesterday was a great day at Tabernacle Baptist Church. It was the last Sunday of 2007, the Sunday between Christmas and New Years. I preached a message that addressed the problem of the post-Christmas blahs that so many of us feel following the Christmas celebration. I reminded our people that Christmas isn’t about all of the great presents, but about the greatest Presence (Jesus Christ). When the angel proclaimed “good tidings of great joy,” he wasn’t just telling them to celebrate the announcement, but to celebrate the baby. Can you imagine everyone getting excited about the birth announcement and missing the celebration of the baby? How do we make Christmas last? By understanding what real joy is. This was a two part message. You can listen by visiting our sermons page or follow these links:
It Cost …
- It cost Mary and Joseph the comforts of home during a long period of exile in Egypt to protect the little babe.
- It cost mothers, in and around Bethlehem, the massacre of their babies by the cruel order of Herod.
- It cost the shepherds the complacency of their shepherd’s life, with the call to the manger and to tell the good news.
- It cost the wise men a long journey and expensive gifts and changed lives.
- It cost the early Apostles and the early church persecution and sometimes death.
- It cost missionaries of Christ untold suffering and privation to spread the Good News.
- It cost Christian martyrs in all ages their lives for Christ’s sake.
- More than all this, it cost God the Father His own Son—He sent Him to the earth to save men.
- It cost Jesus a life of sacrifice and service, a death cruel and unmatched in history.
Not long ago, a professor of psychology in one of our great universities gave a word suggestion test to his class of 40 students. He instructed them to write the word “Christmas,” and all the class did so. “Now,” said the professor, “right after the word ‘Christmas’ write the first thought that flashes through your mind regarding that day.” When the papers were turned in, such answers were given as “tree,” “holly,” “mistletoe,” “presents,” “turkey,” “holiday,” “carols,” and “Santa Claus,” but not one had written, “the birthday of Jesus.” As there was no room for the baby Jesus in the inn, there is no room for Him today in the celebration of Christmas.
Most of us are familiar with Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. We can recite backward and forward the tale of how the experiences of Ebenezer Scrooge with the three ghosts force him to confront his self-absorbed existence and cause him to realize that the true joy of life is serving others.We read the story of Scrooge’s “rebirth” with a sense of warm contentment that we’re not at all like him. We understand the “spirit of Christmas.” Or do we? While we spend days shopping for that special gift for someone “who has everything,” millions around the world don’t have a clue what Christmas is—they’ve never experienced the hope, love, or generosity that God brought to earth in Christ.
Let’s look at some facts:
According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent over $486 billion on holiday shopping during November and December last year. That’s an average of over $1,600 per person!
By comparison, total charitable giving (which included the disaster relief funds for victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Pakistan earthquake and the Gulf Coast hurricanes) for the entire U.S. population during 2005 was $260 billion (just under $900 per person), according to charitynavigator.org.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the generosity we show toward our friends and family—the Christmas season is one of the few times of year when most Americans take time to think of others—but the numbers above give us a stinging perspective.
What would it look like if Christians stopped thinking about giving as a portion of their income and started seeing it as the purpose of their having an income in the first place? What if we, like the widow of Mark 12:42-44, gave not out of our wealth but out of gratitude for the immeasurable gift of life Christ bestowed on us?
It seems that the Western church has an acute case of myopia in this regard. We seem too often focused only on our own problems and programs instead of on the larger mission of Christ. I would submit that one of the surest ways to solve your church’s problems (financial or otherwise) is to stop worrying about them and focus instead on what God has called us all to do—making disciples, both at home and abroad. Giving away our comfort in order that the world may know Christ is perhaps the greatest form of generosity.
When church members in one of the wealthiest nations on earth are giving less than one nickel out of each dollar of their income to the church, and churches, in turn, give less than three per cent of what they receive to missions (according to Empty Tomb—a church research group), something has gone terribly wrong in our thinking.
Gene Edward Veith pointed out, in his October 22, 2005, column in World magazine, that if all the churchgoers in America actually gave ten per cent of their income to their churches, it would produce over $150 billion in additional offerings—substantially more than enough (by official estimates) to provide food, clean water, and a chance to hear the gospel to practically every person in the developing world!
When the church as a whole (there are many exceptions among local bodies) treats the making of disciples as only a thin slice of the ministerial pie rather than as the foundation of the church, are we saying “Bah! Humbug” to the unbelieving world? I would challenge you to take this message to your churches. Challenge them to begin to think biblically about their use of resources. Challenge them to see the great commission as our daily marching order instead of an abstract marketing goal. Challenge them to let this be the first Christmas that they really seek to understand what it means to give like Christ gave.
What better way to wish the world around us a truly “Merry Christmas” than to introduce them to the ultimate Gift-Giver by meeting their needs out of the bounty of His blessing?
By Justin Lonas
Several years ago I heard my good friend Rand Hummel relay a tradition that his family practices every Christmas. Since then, each Christmas Joanna and I have tried to incorporate the same tradition into our Christmas celebration.
Each Christmas morning we enjoy the time with our family opening our Christmas presents. Before the children are allowed to play with their new toys I’ll say, “Now, let’s wait just a minute. We all got some good gifts this year, didn’t we?” “Yes sir,” they all reply. I asked, “But what is the best Christmas gift?”
Last year, Hannah, our seven-year-old daughter replied last year, “Jesus.” I asked her why. She said, “Because He came to die for our sins.” Joanna then pulled out a stack of Christmas cards from church members, family, and friends from all around the world. That is what Rand said that he and his family did each Christmas. They would read the cards and pray for their friends. Before our children put their gifts away or played with any of them we took time to remember the true meaning of Christmas and to remember our friends who thought of us this Christmas.
We concluded our series on the “Gifts of Christmas” yesterday morning. We have already looked at the “Gift of Fulfilled Prophecy,” the “Gift of Purpose,” and the “Gift of Peace.” Yesterday we unwrapped the greatest gift of Christmas – the “Gift of a Person.” God sent us His only begotten Son to us. He GAVE us His greatest gift. We talked about what is necessary to give a perfect gift. I’m sure there are many things that we could say but we looked at just three: The gift must be 1) Personal, 2) Practical, and 3) Possessed. You can listen to this message by following this link or visit our sermons page.