Silent night. Holy night. All is calm. All is bright. Sleep in heavenly peace.
Is that usually how you feel during Christmas? Peaceful. Calm. Quiet.
I don’t know about you but I often think that song would need to be rewritten to cover my Christmas:
Busy night. “Things need to get done by next Tuesday,” night.
Not so calm. My heart’s filled with fright.
Because baking, wrapping, and decorating need to be finished before Grandma comes in.
Did I buy the Christmas cheese? I need a break from Christmas please.
I don’t think that’s supposed to be the tone of the season. Yet – it is so easy for Christmas to become so complicated that our hearts are filled with stress and anxiety rather than peace and joy.
How do we stop that?
Over the next couples of weeks, we will be going through a new sermon series called A Simple Christmas. Our goal is to learn from God how to make this Christmas season – the simple, peaceful, reflective season that it’s meant to be. We want to recapture that simple joy of the shepherds, the simple peace of the Mary, and the simple song of the angels.
There’s no better place to start when you’re trying to make things simple, than with your schedule.
I. Schedule Complicators
What I mean is this. Take a look at my Google calendar. Here’s what it looks like around October. I’ve got a good game plain. There’s a few events. But in general, things are nice and easy.
Then, November comes around. I make a few additions here and a few additions there. Then, suddenly….my calendar looks a lot more like this. It’s so loaded and so full that I have to schedule time to interpret my calendar into my calendar!
Check out this warning from Jesus in Luke 21:34 “Be careful,” he says, “or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.”
Anyone here like shopping at the mall? Did you ever notice that you can travel a lot more quickly at the beginning of the mall run than at the end? Once your arms are weighed down by bags from Macy's, Nordstroms, Best Buy, the Apple Store, and Spencer’s – you can’t move as fast as you used to. You may even have to sit down at one of those nice benches and watch the kids sit on Santa’s lap.
The same thing is true spiritually. When we weigh our hearts down with things and stuff – things and stuff that might not even be inherently evil – the things and stuff make it more difficult to prepare our hearts. They slow us down when we’re running to God. They distract us in hearing his Word. In fact, they might even prevent us from ever getting to the peace of God altogether.
Every holiday season there are a few culprits that repeatedly fill up our schedule. Watch out. These things aren’t bad. But when they become more important than seeking God, then there is a heart problem.
I already mentioned this one as an illustration. (And no, dads, this isn’t your excuse to say, “Hey, I don’t have to get anyone any gifts. Pastor said so.”) Gifts are just fine. Gift giving is a godly trait. Gift giving is a fine tradition.
But when scouring through the Toys ‘R Us catalog is more important than scouring the pages of the Bible, when a search of your internet history brings up the Word “SALE” thousands of times, but the name “Jesus” – once — in the form of a cross for sale at Hallmark. Then, isn’t it possible shopping has become a distraction?
I say this with all the love in my heart, because I am a person who loves baking. Not actually slaving over the oven, but eating what comes out of the oven. Baking is not a bad thing.
Yet somehow, somewhere, we got it ingrained into our skulls that a successful American Christmas has gingerbread, pfeffernusse, sugar cookies, peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies, cookies in the shape of Santa, cookies in the shape of a star, peanut brittle, bon bons, pralines cookies, peppermint cookies, and those little pretzels covered in dyed green chocolate to look like a wreath and two little red M&Ms to look like a bow.
Ya’ll – we have to skip Advent devotion tonight because I’ll be too busy baking. Problem?
Again – decorating isn’t bad. But we live in a society where there’s more than a few reality TV shows bent on showing us how real Americans celebrate the holidays by disguising their house as a light up pinball machine. And Martha’s Stewart’s magazine Real Simple gives us article after article of 20 step directions for hanging the perfect wreath next to the perfect garland leading up to the perfect mistletoe.
I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to miss that Advent service at church because the little lights on the ceramic church in my Christmas village aren’t working right.
Oh parties. There are lots of parties. Parties with family. Parties with friends. Parties with coworkers – for your job and your spouse's job. Parties for the kid in PreK with the birthday. Parties for neighbors. Parties at that big old mansion down the street that perhaps you were invited to on accident, but you don’t want to miss that party because you've always wanted to be inside the mansion.
Parties aren’t bad. But when we party simply for the sake of partying (or better yet) simply for the sake of telling people “Look at all the parties I have been to.” Isn’t there something wrong?
Thanks for the invite to Christmas Eve service pastor, but…I’m invited over to “the coolest guy at work's” house. You understand, don’t you?
5) Social Networking.
I put this one up here, because the honest truth is that this is a huge problem in society. We are convinced that we are the busiest people in the history of generations on earth. Why? Because of Social Media.
Tasks that should take two minutes – I’m gonna check to see if that place is still having a sale – become hours. “But as I was looking for the sale, I found a good deal that I felt I should SHARE on Facebook with my friends. Which led me to TWEET about how the sales aren’t any good anymore. And then I saw this video condemning how Facebook distracts us all from the true meaning of Christmas, so I thought I’d share it—on Facebook.”
“No, Pastor, I just don’t’ have time to read through the Gospel of Luke in preparation for Christmas. I’m #TooBusy.”
Read the warning from Jesus again. Luke 21:34 “Be careful,” he says, “or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.” That day? It’s not referring to December 25th, 2015. It’s referring to a Day that’s much more important than that. A day that will only happen once and if you aren’t ready for it there won’t be a chance for you to shape up and try it again next year.
Jesus is talking about Judgment Day. The day when all people are judged. The day when people are sent to heaven or to hell. Not just for a day. Not just for the time it takes to go to a bad office party.
Brothers and sisters, there is nothing more important that you can do this Christmas. Then, prepare your hearts for the coming of the Lord. Today God’s Word says, Be careful. Don’t get distracted.
Don’t be Lot’s wife.
Do you remember the story? Lot was a believer. Lot and his family lived in a city of unbelievers. A city that hated God. A city that proved their hatred for God by acting in defiant opposition to everything that God had to say.
A city that God was going to destroy.
But an angel fo the Lord came to Lots’ family. He warned them. He said, “Follow me. There’s little time. We must get out of the city. We must run outside of the gates. We must run to safety and not look back. God is going to destroy this place with fire from heaven. There is no time. Pursuing God’s command right now is the only thing that should be taking up your time.”
His daughters ran.
His wife ran…and stopped. It was too hard to leave her things, her stuff, her friends. She longed for earthly things more than the things of God.
She turned around…and became a pillar of salt.
II. God’s Simple Schedule
I’m not suggesting that you’ll turn into a pillar of salt. But I am suggesting that if things and stuff keep us from following God, we will be punished.
Repent. Confess your sins of filling your time with things and stuff and dropping God from your schedule. Ask for forgiveness.
And know that he gives it.
How do we know that? Because your forgiveness was a part of God’s simple schedule. Take a look at this passage from Galatians 4:4 “When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” Notice the simple two part schedule that God planned.
Might I add that this has been a part of God’s schedule since the beginning? Did he not say to the devil in the first few days of this earth’s existence – “I will put enmity between you and the woman..and one of her offspring, will crush your head.” (Gen. 3:15)
Romans tells us that when the time was just right. Eve’s great, great, great, great, great, great (many times over) grandson, her offspring Jesus, was born. Born of a woman.
God didn’t get distracted. He didn’t let questions like – “How can your Son be the Savior? He’s God. He isn’t held to the same restrictions as humans. He can’t trade in his perfect life for their perfect life because they aren’t on the same playing field.” “And How can he be God? If he is born of a human, he needs a mommy and a daddy. But then, he wouldn’t be God and your plan wouldn’t work. He wouldn’t be aable to save human beings.”
God did what he did. He sent his Son. Born of a woman. Born of to a woman who had never had sex. Born to a husband who knew that she had never had sex. Born of God’s miraculous power.
2) Save the World
And he was born, to save you. It says, “to redeem those under law.” That’s us! We were the ones who were to be punished for not putting God first. We were the ones who had missed the boat because we were spending our time pursuing our own fleshly desires.
But God came to save you. That was part two of his simple plan. Live perfectly. Die Innocently. Rise triumphantly. Save you.
God didn’t get distracted. He didn’t get distracted by our wants. He’s not like Santa Claus who gives us what we want. “I want a New Transformer toy that I’ll play with twice and then get bored with and leave in the bottom of my toy closet.” Nope. God gave us what we needed. He didn’t come to get us a million dollars. He didn’t come to get us a challenge free life on this earth. He didn’t come to make sure that our Christmas trees are fully decorated with hundreds of gifts beneath it.
He came to save us from sin, death, and hell.
Scripture says, he came to “redeem us who were under law.” To buy us back from the punishment we deserve. He came to win forgiveness. He did this to “give us the full rights of sons.” We have the right to have peace with God. We have the right to have joy this holiday season. He gave us the right to heaven.
He gave me the right to say “You are forgiven.” And for it to be true.
III. A Sample of a Simple Schedule
Peace, joy and God’s love must be what predominates our Christmas schedules. We do that in three simple ways:
Specifically. Meditate on his word. Read Romans 13:14 “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.”
There are a lot of ways to dress for Christmas. When I was younger, my mom insisted on dressing me up in a matching velvet suit coat to my sister’s matching velvet dress. Some people love wearing Christmas sweaters.
Jesus reminds us to dress up in Him. In his righteousness. In his purity. In his forgiveness. You do that by meditating on his Word.
It’s so much easier to dress, of course, when it is the only thing you are doing. It’s hard to dress when you are doing the dishes OR to dress while you are hanging tinsel.
It’s the same thing with studying God’s Word. Set aside time to put it on your schedule. Make it as a part of your day as getting dressed is. Put on the LORD Jesus Christ. First thing in the morning. Do it in the afternoon. Do it in the evening. Literally go into your schedule and mark it in permanent marker. Make it the one part of your schedule that you will not and cannot give up.
In the section we were reading from Luke earlier, Jesus offered this is a second way to prepare. He said, “Be always on the watch and pray.” (Luke 21:34)
Can you imagine what it would be like if we spent as much time in prayer as we do on our iPhones?
“This is exciting. Rather than post it on Facebook, I’ll say a prayer of thanks.”
“This is challenge. Rather than complain via mass text, I’ll say a prayer asking for God’s help.”
“I feel terrible. Rather than soothe my conscience with pictures of dogs dressed up in Santa costumes, I’ll ask God for forgiveness.”
Pray brothers and sisters. Know that God hears you. It is a “right of sons” to talk to their dad and it is a right that God has given you through Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 63:7 says, “Tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is praised.” This is probably the hardest one for us. It’s the one part that we dread.
But it’s so important.
Think about it. There is no better gift than the message of salvation. Salvation doesn’t get old. It doesn’t wear out. The batteries don’t die. It is one size fits all. You don’t need to take it back to the store. There isn’t a salvation 3.8 set to come out next year – so why bother on it this year?
Salvation is one of kind because it comes from our eternal Lord. There is no better gift than that.
We need to do that together this Christmas. We need to invite others to come hear this message – it’s why in the back of the bulletin you have a worksheet to help you determine who to invite. Please read that. Please partake. This is one of the MOST important things for you to do this Christmas! So important that God promises to go with you as you share.
IV. The Time is Now
Jesus told them this parable. “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” (Lk. 21:29-31)
God's kingdom is near, but we don't know how near it is. Share His message with others and keep it a SIMPLE Christmas. Amen.