Sunday, December 23, 2012

Celebrating Christmas Meaningfully

          This is my message preached last weekend. I realised while going for an evening walk earlier that this might be helpful so here is an excerpt.

Celebrating Christmas Meaningfully

My favourite time of the year is Christmas. I love the cooler weather, log cakes and family time. Many of you love Christmas season too.
There is a risk though that in the midst of all the marketing, Christ becomes an afterthought and frequently gets left away in the manger.
In one of his Letters To An American Lady, C. S. Lewis wrote, “ My brother heard a woman on a bus say, as the bus passed a church with a Crib outside it, “Oh Lord! They bring religion into everything. Look--they’re dragging it even into Christmas now!’
That letter was written over forty years ago and since that time things have not gotten much better. For many, Christmas is another holiday. Even those of us who know the real meaning of Christmas have to fight against the tendency to get caught up in the busyness and frenzy. What do diamond earrings and flat screen TVs have anything to do with the birth of Christ?
Christmas can feel like two months of frantic running all over the place, followed by two hours of feasting and two minutes of tearing up wrapping paper. So I remember telling myself, “this Christmas will be different.” It hasn’t quite worked out. 
Thankfully last Christmas was special. Here's the background. Every year I join Dinah’s family here as they celebrate Christmas. Her family is big. Many are Christians.
Our Christmas celebration last year was memorable. It started when my wife said she was tired of celebrating Christmas with the same eating, small talk and carol singing. She asked God for an idea to do Christmas differently and tastefully, without too much of a shock factor.
She got a download to pair everyone for prayer after dinner. So prior to the party, she and our daughter wrote down each person’s names on pieces of papers. Then they began pairing a mature believer with a younger believer. My son and I gave input.  
On the eve of Christmas, we arrived with bags of gifts and food for dinner. We said grace and began eating.  After dinner, the norm was to chat informally until 11:30 pm when we would sing carols. At about 10:30 pm Dinah called everyone together. She explained the idea and people warmed up to the plan.
My daughter came up and read the pairs. People began to pair up as their names were read out. Pairs began sharing. There was spiritual conversation and then praying. There were tears. The atmosphere changed. To our surprise, the younger ones found this especially meaningful. 
The family Christmas photo last year was the most radiant photo ever. It was not people trying to smile after overeating. It was a picture of people who were touched. What a blessing!

Today let's look at how we can celebrate Christmas meaningfully. Before that let's look at two Scriptures on Christmas. 

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:11

Christmas is a momentous point in redemptive history. Christmas is God with us. Christmas is God becoming man so that he might give His life as a ransom for many. Christmas means unto us a Saviour is born!
We can redeem the season. Here are 7 ways to celebrate Christmas. Some will speak to you more than others.

1. Give God one very special gift just from you to Him

Let this gift be something personal that no one else needs to know about, and let it be a sacrifice. David said that he would not offer a sacrifice to God that cost him nothing.
"… I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing…" II Sam. 24:24
Maybe your gift to God will be to forgive someone you've needed to forgive for a long time. You may discover that you've given a gift back to yourself.
Lewis B. Smedes wrote in his book, Forgive and Forget, "When you release the wrongdoer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumor out of your inner life. You set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself."
Perhaps your gift will be to commit to spending time with God daily. Or maybe there is something God has asked you to give up. Make this your most important gift of the season. This is His birthday.

2. Set aside silent nights to read the Christmas story in Luke 1:5-56, 2:1-20

The best way to keep Christ in Christmas is to go to the source -  Scripture - and learn about Christ: his birth, life, death, and teachings. Encountering the life of Christ, especially on a daily basis, will bring Christ into your life, especially at Christmas time.
If the story is too familiar, read it in a different translation, such as the King James Version if you are used to the New International Version (NIV).
Take time to read a passage from the Bible that tells of Christ's coming, and to ask Him to draw you closer to Himself as Christmas approaches. This is your silent night (or morning).
You can keep a Christmas journal expressing your thoughts about what happens throughout the season with your family and friends. Include your reactions to the news, sermons, Christmas events, parties, and gifts, as well as your reflections about Jesus.

3. Plan a project of goodwill this Christmas

Agape is the pure love of Christ and it means to love others unconditionally. Loving others is one of the ultimate ways to keep Christ in Christmas because that is what Christmas is all about. Through the Atonement, Christ served each of us on a level we cannot fully understand, but which we can emulate by serving others.
Practically, we can drop off a new toy at the Boys Brigade Share-A-Gift (formerly Sharity gift box). We can  find someone with a genuine need, involve your family and see how you can bless someone this Christmas. For example, replace a broken down washing machine.
Invite a low-income family to your home for Christmas lunch then give their children Christmas gifts. If your budget permits, give the parents gifts as well. It’s like welcoming Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus into your home. 
Andrew and Grace home is a shelter for teen girls who are juvenile delinquents that are beyond parental control or are victims of sexual and/or physical abuse. This is their homepage 
Bring gifts to the babies and mothers there. This way you are like the Magi who offered gifts to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. 
Mother Teresa said, "It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you…. Yes, it is Christmas every time you smile at your brother and offer him your hand."

4. Give a surprise gift of service to each member of your family

Jesus taught us to serve by washing the disciples feet. He also taught us that it is "more blessed to give than to receive" Acts 20:35  
The idea of giving an unexpected gift of service to members of your family is to demonstrate Christ-like love and service. You might consider giving a back rub to your spouse or running an errand for your brother. There was one year when I cleaned out the store room for my parents.
Make it personal and meaningful then watch the blessings multiply.

5. Set aside a time of family devotions on Christmas Eve or morning

Before any gifts are unwrapped or holiday meals consumed, say a prayer of thanks for His blessings and love. And above all else, thank Him for the gift of Christmas!
 Read a few Bible verses aloud and discuss as a family the true meaning of Christmas. Here are some themes and corresponding Scriptures. 

The Birth of Jesus - Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 2:1-14

The Visit of the Magi and Shepherds - Matthew 2:1-12, Luke 2:15-20

Immanuel - Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23

The Birth of Jesus Foretold - Isaiah 40:1-11, Luke 1:26-38

Dedicate the occasion to Jesus.

6. Join a Christmas worship service together with your family

If you are alone this Christmas or don't have family living near you, invite a friend or a neighbour to join you.
We have two very powerful tools in our hands - the Bible and the mobile phone. One is the way God speaks to us. The other is how we speak with our friends and family.
Text a friend: “Christmas is coming and I thought of you. I was wondering if you would like to join me to a Christmas-Eve service at church.”

7. Write a Christmas letter to a missionary

For a church planter, receiving a letter feels like opening a priceless gift on Christmas morning, no matter what day it is. Many missionaries are unable to travel home for the Christmas holidays, so it can be a very lonely time. Write a special Christmas letter to a missionary of your choice, thanking them for giving their life in service to the Lord. It will mean more than you can imagine!

        In summary, a great way to ensure Christ is the centre of Christmas is to put Him first. Today we have looked at 7 ways to celebrate Christmas meaningfully. Some of the ideas need more lead time than others. We can put some into practice tomorrow. I do hope that Christmas will be meaningful for you.
Christmas celebrates the good news that God demonstrated His love for humankind by giving us his only Son, Jesus at the very first Christmas.  Although Jesus never did anything wrong, He willingly paid the penalty for our sins when He was crucified and buried.  Then, Jesus confirmed that He was God by conquering death as He resurrected from the grave.  Now, He is our advocate in Heaven at the right-hand side of God preparing for His future return. 
Because of these actions, we can receive forgiveness from our sins, restore an intimacy with our Creator, discover our life purpose on earth, and reserve an eternal home in Heaven. This is why we celebrate CHRISTmas!
The number one way to keep Christ in your Christmas celebrations is to have him present in your daily life. If you're not sure what it means to become a follower of Christ, we'd love to speak with you. We'll be here at the front after the closing prayer later. 
If you’ve made Christ the centre of your life, keeping Christ in Christmas is more about the way you live your life. Keeping Christ in Christmas means daily revealing the character, love and spirit of Christ that dwells in you, by allowing these traits to shine through your actions. Christ came to give Himself to others. Choose to build and nourish those you love in new ways.
So have a worshipful Christmas this year. Celebrate Jesus. Then go shopping.
As for me, I’m going to try and live simpler.  I’m going to prepare my heart to seek the true gift of Christmas – the peace of Jesus. Amen.