Have you seen that meme from the movie ELF? I saw it back on December 26th last year -- where Will Ferrell’s character is panicking with excitement because "There’s only 363 more days until Christmas!?!"
But now it’s not funny anymore. Now we are into the holiday stretch. Now we’re on the clock.
And there’s a lot of things that will be vying for your attention this Christmas season.
Macys’ will be wanting you to shop their sales.
Amazon will be wanting you to surf the net.
ABC Family will be wanting you to watch Christmas movies.
Your friends at work will be wanting you to attending an Ugly Sweater party.
Church will be wanting you to do “churchy” Christmas things.
And you’ll be wanting to wrap presents, drink some spiked egg nog, and curl up to some Bing Crosby at around 5pm.
There’s a lot of ways to prepare for Christmas. But are all of them good?
And I checked – you can find all kinds of Google articles on the “10 Most important Christmas things to spend time on” this holiday season.
But as cool and awesome as the internet is – maybe there’s somewhere else we can look for guidance on the holiday season.
Something that’s been around a lot longer.
Something that’s been around for every Christmas ever celebrated – and even a few before Christmas even happened.
Today we are going to start our series from God’s Word called Old Fashioned Christmas. We are going to look at how people prepared for Christmas – before there was Christmas! As we take a look at these Old Testament (before Jesus) Scripture readings, we’re going to get some divine guidance on our holiday season. Before we do that today, please join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Time Without God?
We’re going to start this week in Isaiah chapters 1 and 2. Isaiah is a prophet who lived about 600 some years before Jesus was ever born. That means – he lived hundreds of years before anyone ever heard of Christmas – thousands of years before Walmart ever put their first Christmas tree display up in July.
At the time of Isaiah, the scene wasn’t exactly the peaceful, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire situation that we think of today.
Look at what Isaiah writes about the state of Israel:
Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness—only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged…your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers. Daughter Zion (that’s an ancient phrase meaning “Jerusalem”) is left like a shelter in a vineyard, like a hut in a cucumber field…” (1:6-8)
Ever been to a cucumber farm before? Me neither. But I love that illustration. Because during the peak cucumber season, the little cucumber storage huts are completely full. They are filled with vitamins and minerals – and big, plump juicy cucumbers that just can’t wait to be pickles.
But at the end of the harvest – after they’ve all been sold, and the left overs have been given to the local food shelter and the deer have found the mushy remains and eaten them up, there’s not much left. Just dirt. Bugs. A few rotten pieces in the corner. It’s desolate.
That’s how Isaiah describes Israel. They are dirty. They are bug ridden. They are desolate. There isn’t anything nutritious or beneficial about their existence.
But this message would have been strange to the Israelite people.
It says in 1:1 that this was written during the reign of Uzziah. You can learn more about the specifics of his reign in 2 Chronicles 26, but the general impression of his reign is that things weren’t all that bad when he was in charge. In fact, he probably had a good approval rating. He rebuilt Elath – a city that had been destroyed in southern Judah. He defeated the fierce, terrorist like enemies, the Philistines. (v.6) He worked a trade agreement where the Ammonites brought taxes and tribute (v.8) to him. He built towers, and walls, and cisterns (v.9); he had plenty of livestock (v.l0) and he had a well-trained army. (v.11)
The description in 2 Chronicles doesn’t match the description of Isaiah.
But Isaiah wasn’t commenting on the economic state.
He wasn’t commenting on the power of the Israelite drachma.
He wasn’t commenting on the scope of Israelite political power.
He was commenting on Israel’s spiritual condition. Isaiah 1:2 says, “Israel is a sinful nation. They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy one of Israel and turned their backs on Him.”
As in, they didn’t have time for God.
As in, they were too busy.
As in, he was last on their To Do List.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
I think this is a good time to stop and ask that question. How much time are you allotting for God this holiday season? You know – the One who created you, gave you life, has been taking care of you for years and sustains you each day so that you even have enough money and strength to celebrate Christmas in the first place…
How much time are you going to give Him?
An hour a Sunday – because I can use a lot of the service to write down my shopping list plan for the rest of Christmas!
A minute to skim through a Bible passage or two on social media – because it makes me feel better about lingering on angry political posts for an entire lunch break!
Hours at church each week – because To God Be the Glory! And also Me! I hope people see how awesome I am at Christmas – and to Me be the Glory!
We just had Black Friday. Hundreds of thousands in Raleigh hit the shops and the malls -- many of them at 4am! They spent all day shopping and even continued shopping into the night on their computer. Invigorated and excited by the deals that they found online.
But think about it:
4am is no problem for shopping, yet 10:30am on Sunday is too early for God?
An entire day is no problem devoted to parking at Crabtree Mall, but an hour is too long for God?
A weekend of shopping takes months of planning and couponing and mapping out the right area that I should go to at just the right time to get the best deals on the best items at the best times...but I’ll only consider mapping out my time with God, because Pastor said so.
It’s an epidemic in America. It can get us too! Even if you aren’t into shopping. Even if you’re only into Holiday marathons, party planning, wrapping, Christmas concert going, hunting, watching football or just making money to pay the credit card bills in January, it’s so easy to make God the very last One to spend time with.
And that’s where it gets serious. Even though Isaiah was only speaking of the spiritual condition of the Israelites his first prophecy, he was also offering a warning. If the people didn’t have time for God, eventually God wasn’t going to have time for them. And if He didn’t have time for them, then this spiritual destitution, would become very real. It would become very physical.
It would become eternal.
The same warning is true for you. If you don’t have time for God, why should He have time for you?
Eventually – He won’t!
It’s kind of like if you got into a Thanksgiving spat. Ever had one of those? You have some relatives and friends over to your house. You eat some turkey. You talk about the recipe for the dressing. But then, you start talking politics. Suddenly, your good friend is a big enemy. And you argue – crudely and rudely—for the entirety of the Halftime show.
What happens if you don’t apologize and make up before Thanksgiving is over? If they pick up their coat and leave without an apology for you, because you didn’t want to talk to them? Well…The sin festers. The bitterness intensifies. A friendship is ruined.
If you don’t return to God. If you don’t come back to your Savior. If you prepare for Christmas without God, eventually it will be too late.
And He’ll be gone.
II. God’s Time for Us
But don’t think that God wasn’t ever at work for you. Inside these harsh, scary, challenging words of Isaiah is one of the greatest promises of God’s love in the Old Testament:
“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” (1:18)
I used to be up in Wisconsin. Here’s the thing about living up North—sometimes you don’t get all of the leaves raked up before snow comes. Because -- it snows sometime in early September. Regardless – when that snow melts in mid-March, the ground is a mess. There’s mud, decayed leaves, an old McDonald’s Happy Meal bag, and a brownish, grey apple peel on the grass.
But then – it snows again. The next morning you wake up and there isn’t an inch of grass.
There isn’t a hint of trash.
You can’t see any of the mud.
Just this brilliant, sparkling, scene of fluffy, white snow.
God says that is what he would do for Israel.
God says that is what he would do for you.
Those filthy disgusting sins – the stuff that will ruin a Christmas celebration:
Rude words spoken.
Sex had…and lingering on your heart.
A past filled with yuck! and gross! and God could never love me.
Covered by God’s love.
Covered by divine forgiveness.
Covered by Jesus Christ.
Understand: God was always at work to do this for you. From before you were born – from Ancient times – from times long before the First Christmas ever took place – God was planning to send a Savior. God was spending all of his time working for you. He was keeping a small group of Israel alive from whom the Savior would emerge. He was maintaining promises in His Word. He was working miracle after miracle in the Old Testament to prove that He means his promises and keep faith growing.
At just the right time, He set up a Roman Government that would ask for a census at just the right time to move a young man named Joseph and his bride to be named Mary into the town of Bethlehem – long promised to be the home of the Savior. The Bible says this, "When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law – that’s us – that we might receive the full rights of His Children.” (Galatians 4:4-5)
Talk about incredible! God used all of His time for you.
And when the Savior did finally come…
He dedicated every hour of his life to you.
He dedicated the last moments of his breath to you.
He gave up his time on earth for you!
He rose triumphantly from the grave to offer you an eternity of time with Him in heaven.
III. What now?
(1) Go to His Mountain
The next chapter says this, “In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains…and all nations will flock to it.” (2:2)
That’s because things that are lifted high are easily seen.
Think about it -- how many times have you been driving down I-40 – it’s late in the day. You’re tired. You’re hungry. It’s late. You’re about to pull over and give up, but then, in the distance, you see it: The Golden arches. They mean delicious is on the way.
That’s why churches had steeples. So that no matter what’s going on – no matter where you are – no matter what kind of awful is going on in your life, you can look up and see – a cross. See the place where you can go and find God.
So -- Go to His mountain. Make sure that you have time to be in church this Christmas preparation season. Put it down on your Google calendar as a can’t miss event of the week. In fact, I think you can even lock it into Google calendar as an “unchangeable time.”
But we’re not open all the time. Does that mean God’s mountain is only open on Sundays? Of course not! You can go to God’s mountain without even leaving the comforts of your home. Pick up a Bible. Open it up. Use the Advent reading suggestion that is stuffed into your bulletin this week – Go to God’s mountain.
And please keep in mind that simply having this advent planner, doesn’t mean you’ve actually made it to God’s mountain. That’d be like assuming that once Google Maps is fired up, you’re at your destination. It doesn’t work like that. You’ve got to actually get in the car and drive.
And you’ve got to get into God’s Word to arrive at his mountain.
(2) Walk in His Footsteps
What do you do there? Look at what Isaiah says,
“Let us go to the mountain of the Lord to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths.” (v.3)
Because when you get to God’s mountains, that’s what you see: Footprints! And just like when there’s a fine dusting of snow and you walk outside, see your dad’s footsteps and try to follow them, that’s what we do on God’s mountain. We follow his footsteps. God’s footsteps lead to some incredible truths.
You see his steps throughout history to ready for the coming of the Savior.
You see his steps throughout prophecy to prepare for saving you.
You see his steps toward the cross – to take away all your sins.
You see his steps off the cross – with a tiny hole in each footprint – showing you just how much he loved you!
This means when you’re at God’s mountain – you don’t just chill. You’re active. Actively listening. Actively learning.
Not playing games on your iPhone.
Not looking up fantasy scores.
Not getting distracted by text messages.
Actively coming up with a plan to put God’s Word into your life.
(3) Live in Peace
Isaiah talks about this on God’s mountain: God will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords and make them into gardening tools. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore!
Which is something that happens during the holiday season. Supposedly, people lay down their differences and stop hating on one another.
Then, come December 26th it’s right back to hating on one another.
Calling people racist names on Facebook.
Gossiping about that coworker on the day back to work.
Leaving a nasty message for your parents about why you’ll never go to their house for Christmas again.
It’s funny. Things and stuff and gifts and cookie and garland and mistletoe and Santa – can make you happy, but they can’t bring peace. Deep down – the problems you have before Christmas are still there during Christmas – and still there after Christmas.
But Jesus deals with those problems.
The mountain of God brings peace.
The mountain of God brings you peace with God.
If you’ve got peace with God, it’s a lot easier to have peace with other.
So what do you do this Christmas season?
It just started. You’ve still got plenty of time. Add “Time with God” to your holiday list. Make it the most important part of your list. Listen to the words of Isaiah:
“Come, descendant of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”