What’s Wrong with This Picture?

Title: What’s Wrong with This Picture?

Text: Matthew 2:1-12, Luke 2:8-20

Time: December 25th, 2005

Every year churches put up Nativity scenes in front of their church building; and every year something gets stolen from those scenes. Guess what? The baby Jesus. I heard about one on the news this very year, as I do almost every year. Someone had stolen the baby Jesus from the Nativity scene in front of a church. They interviewed the pastor and he said that he hoped that they would return Jesus in time for Christmas. It was on the national news. It happens every year somewhere around the country without fail. But whenever the baby Jesus is stolen from a Nativity scene it is almost always noticed right away. Why? Because it’s so obvious that the main character in the scene, the main actor in the Christmas story is gone, and that prompts somebody to call the police. It’s not like Joseph. If someone stole Joseph, it might not be noticed for a while, because he’s not the main character, the main character of the Christmas story. Even Mary, it might be possible for her to go unnoticed if stolen, at least for a while unnoticed. Why? Because, she too, is not the central figure of the Christmas Nativity scene. But Jesus, being the center and focus of the whole Christmas scene, He is noticed right away by his absence, if he were stolen. What about the shepherds or the wise men? No, if they weren’t there, there would be no great catastrophe in that. Even the angels could be stolen from a Nativity scene and the story could still be told, even without them. And then of course the farm animals that are always pictured as being there in the scene, the Christmas story could go on without them. But not without Jesus — as everyone would recognize. Now, while we are quick to notice if the baby Jesus were stolen from a Nativity scene, are we so quick to notice if the real Jesus is missing from Christmas, the season we are now celebrating? I raise the question because it seems to me that Jesus is being stolen at Christmas time more and more, and we don’t seem to be noticing it, although we would notice it immediately from a Nativity scene. The understanding and appreciation for the real Jesus is becoming less and less with each passing year. It’s now possible, and is being done more and more, to celebrate the Christmas season without stopping and celebrating the Christ of Christmas. We now have just about as many popular songs that don’t mention the Christ child as do during the Christmas season. What a shame to get excited about Christmas, but not about Christ. What a shame to celebrate a holiday and forget to think about the original reason for that holiday. So today, I’d like to take a few minutes and remind us once again, on this Christmas day, to not forget about Jesus in the midst of all the other things to think about today. Television has turned Christmas day into a sporting day, a football-viewing day. The stores have turned Christmas season into a buying time, and Christmas day into a gift day. Christmas is often seen as a family time, or more specifically a time for children. Employers have made Christmas day into a vacation day. Now all of these things are ok, but let’s not let them steal the Christ from Christmas. Let me mention three things that we should consider in celebrating Christmas today.

First, The picture of Mary and Joseph reminds us of family, but let’s not forget about Jesus. There would be something wrong with a Nativity scene if Mary and Joseph were there but the baby Jesus wasn’t. Mary and Joseph represent marriage and family, and those are beautiful things, but something is wrong with the picture if the baby Jesus isn’t there also. Today, Christmas day, many couples and families will gather to spend time with each other. It will be a time of family. For many families, it will be a time of family reunion. For many families, Christmas is about the only time all year where everyone at least once seriously tries to get along together. So it’s a great family time, where families can visit and share with one another, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, cousins, grandparents, etc. all get together and be together and remain a family unit, and renew family ties. I remember spending time with cousins and relatives and grandparents every Christmas. I’d usually spend time with my immediate family early on Christmas, then my extended family afternoons. Yes, Christmas is a great family time, but let’s not forget the baby Jesus. But if we aren’t careful we can reduce Christmas to family time, and make it mostly or mainly about family, which it isn’t. It’s mostly and mainly about Jesus the baby who came into the world to save us from our sins. As you go about with family, visit with family, remember to include the Lord Jesus into your thinking, into your celebration, into your holiday. Remember to say your prayers to Jesus, remember to take time to reread the Christmas story in your Bible, and remember to talk about Jesus this Christmas season. Let’s not let family time steal Jesus from Christmas. Let’s not forget about Jesus as we spend family time this Christmas. But that’s not all.

Second, The picture of the wise men reminds us of gift giving, but let’s not forget about Jesus. Now the three wise men, or the three kings as the Christmas carol goes, gave the baby Jesus three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Now the modern practice of giving gifts was inspired partly from the example of the three wise men, and then also partly because the stores wanted people buying their products. The whole gift-giving craze that we know today is really a rather recent invention. For most of the history of Christianity, there was not the emphasis on gift giving. Maybe a few simple gifts were exchanged at Christmas time, but nothing like the shopping that goes on today. That only came about in the last 50 years, as more and more commercialism and marketing entered the picture. Advertising has convinced most of us that we must buy big, expensive gifts or else we aren’t celebrating Christmas right. People go into debt big time at Christmas in order to follow a tradition and custom that really isn’t a tradition or custom of Christianity. It is fun to buy and give and receive presents, if done with moderation. I always enjoy opening gifts and being surprised. I also enjoy giving gifts and surprising others. It’s a fun way to celebrate the Christmas season. And it does also have a biblical precedent with the three wise men, but again, let’s not let the giving of gifts steal the baby Jesus. We would notice immediately something wrong with a Nativity scene that just had the three wise men giving gifts, yet no baby Jesus. We would immediately know something was wrong. But are we as sensitive when we make buying, giving, and receiving gifts the main thing of Christmas and forget about the baby Jesus? As you buy, give, and receive gifts of many things this year, let’s not forget the greatest gift was given by God when Jesus was given to earth as the baby in the manger. Because that gift from God led to our salvation from sin, and will lead to eternal life for all who repent and believe. Let’s not forget about Jesus as we buy, give, and receive our Christmas gifts. But that’s not all. There is something else.

Third, the picture of the shepherds and angels remind us of a celebration, but let’s not forget about Jesus in our celebrating. We humans are funny creatures. We can do silly things like celebrate something and get so caught up in the celebrating that we forget what it is that we are celebrating. That happens every Christmas season by many or most people. The angels celebrated the birth of Jesus and sang about it to the shepherds. Then the shepherds went to Bethlehem and saw the baby Jesus and celebrated his birth. And if there is one thing Americans like to do, it’s celebrate, from the 4th of July, to every holiday on the calendar, and for any other reason that is possible. We love to celebrate Christmas here in the United States, but let’s not forget about Jesus. Let’s not forget about what Christmas is all about. Why do we need reminding? Because if not reminded we will forget about the reason for the season, we will get caught up in all the partying and celebrating and merry-making, and we will forget about the very reason this is a holiday, or holy day, the baby Jesus. Some people forget about Jesus all season long, and only afterwards think, “Wow, I guess I should have given more thought, reflection, and attention to Jesus during the Christmas season.” Others, even afterwards, still aren’t aware that they forget about Jesus. How odd a Nativity scene would be with angels and shepherds, but no baby Jesus. We would immediately detect that something was wrong. But do we detect something wrong in our holiday season when we forget Jesus in our lives? What can we do to keep Jesus the primary focus during His season, the Christmas or “Christ Mass” season? How about keeping genuine spiritual traditions alive. How about telling kids the real Christmas story (not the Santa story, not the Frosty story, not the Rudolph story – don’t they hear enough of these?) — but the first Christmas, the story found in the Bible, reading that over and over to kids, and reading it over and over during the holiday season? Gathering with other believers to sing the Christmas Carols (not “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” “Santa Baby,” and all the other non-religious songs, don’t we hear enough of them already?) — but the ones that speak of Jesus, who is the reason for the season. It’s good to see you all in church this Christmas day. What a great way to celebrate Christmas, and to honor Jesus with our praises, prayers, and presence. God bless you on this Christmas 2005. Amen.

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