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Staying Focused on Christ during Christmas

Staying Focused on Christ during Christmas

First of all, let us remind ourselves of this Scripture.

Romans 14:4-6 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.

There is a lot of distraction this time of year. The purpose of this message is to help us keep our focus on Jesus Christ. Regardless of how you celebrate or don’t celebrate Christmas, we have a commandment to love one another that exceeds all other commandments. God is our judge.

At least twice a week, I make a 110-mile round trip to be with you, and I do it with joyful anticipation because I love you all very much. However, I confess that I have some fear this morning that I will be misunderstood and you will be angry, resulting in this message being a total failure because your focus will then be entirely off of Jesus Christ. But my love for Christ and my love for you demands that I do not let you remain ignorant of what Satan is doing to distract us from being fully devoted to Jesus Christ during this holiday called Christmas. Knowing fear comes from Satan, who doesn’t want to be exposed, I will proceed in faith that the Holy Spirit will keep us united in the love of God, even if you disagree with me.

Therefore, to prepare our hearts, I hope you can sincerely repeat this, “I love…Brother Jerry.” Thank you. Now that we have expressed our love for one another, let’s learn how Satan is distracting the whole world and how to focus on Jesus Christ during Christmas.

As a child, the expectation of Christmas was exciting. Our house smelled like the cedar we had freshly cut from our pasture. We decorated it with colored lights, tinsel, and ornaments—and placed all our presents under it! The air outside was cold and crisp. And inside, there were decorations and the smell of something baking. I remember taking a drive to an area of town where the people prided themselves on their Christmas displays and lights. The whole neighborhood spent thousands of dollars to light up their front lawns with scenes of snow, Santa, reindeer, candy canes, flashing lights, and mangers. It was pretty, but the manger looked out of place. We said we were celebrating Christ’s birth, but very little of what we were doing had anything to do with Jesus. But I didn’t care; Christmas was fun!

How did Christmas begin? In the third century A.D., Constantine, the Roman emperor, became a Christian. For almost 300 years, the Christians had been praying for their emperor's salvation. Then came Constantine’s royal decree: Christianity was made the religion of the state. Everyone was strongly urged to accept Jesus Christ as their God and only deity. At the risk of seeming uncooperative (and believing that it would be safest politically and socially), almost everyone in the empire made "professions of faith" in the Roman Catholic religion.

Soon there arose a great problem. What were they to do with all their great feasts and celebrations to other gods, especially the winter solstice and the spring equinox? Before Constantine's conversion, the whole empire would lustily celebrate these festivals to their gods and goddesses. It was good for business, too. Although almost everyone outwardly professed Christianity, they were in no way prepared to give up their traditional celebrations.

To solve this dilemma, Constantine declared two major "religious" holidays. They would correspond exactly to the times of the old celebrations. He declared December 25 (for centuries celebrated as Saturnalia, the birthday of the sun) as the celebration of the birthday of Christ (although historians say that Jesus was probably born sometime in October). A great mass would be held in honor of Jesus' birth on that day (hence, Christ-mas). He also declared the old holiday of the spring equinox to be the celebration of Christ's resurrection. (The old emphasis of the festival was the worship of the goddess of fertility, which is where we get Easter eggs and rabbits). The grumbling people were thus quieted when they realized that they could once again merrily celebrate their ruckus holidays. Oh, the festivals might be called something different, and they might have to go to some "religious ceremonies," but for the most part, things could get back to normal, and their traditional festivities could again be heartily resumed.

This explains why we have so many traditions that have nothing to do with Jesus. For this reason, the Puritans outlawed celebrating Christmas. And it remained unlawful to celebrate it in Massachusetts until the mid-19 century. You can find these facts in an encyclopedia.

So what should we be doing? Biblically, we can follow the instructions Paul gave to Christians about the Jewish Passover, which was now obsolete. 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Paul was saying that a little sin spoils everything and we should cleanse sin out of everything we do. Christ changes our traditions. Even the greatest Jewish feast now has a new meaning and should be celebrated differently. Therefore, our celebrations should not reflect the past, which were leavened with sin. Instead, they should honor Christ with sincerity and truth.

This is what many Christians say they are trying to do with Christmas. They are not celebrating the pagan gods, but Christ. Their hearts may be right, but what do their actions say? Many Christians go in for all the trappings and trimmings of the old pagan festivals. They spend days in department stores trying to figure out what to buy for people who already have everything they need. They spend hours and hundreds of dollars decorating with pagan symbols. They throw parties and go to parties. I hear a lot of Christians say Jesus is the “reason for the season”, but honestly, where is Christ honored or celebrated in all the commercialism, materialism, and pagan festivities? Truthfully, it is distracting the entire world from focusing on Christ. The good news I am sharing today is we do not have to do this stuff to celebrate the birth of Christ.

The Bible doesn’t tell how to celebrate Christmas because it is a Catholic mass. Unfortunately, we have taken our direction for celebrating from pagan religions. As a result, almost every part of what we do at Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus, which is why it is so easy for unbelievers and those who profess other religions to enjoy the festivities. It has become a vacation from work and school, a time of spending, partying, and economic growth. ‘Merry Christmas’ has been replaced with ‘Happy Holidays’, removing even the hint of Jesus from the holiday. So why do we celebrate Christmas along with everyone else and include ourselves in what everyone else is doing? Is it because it is fun? But, does that honor Christ?

I have struggled with how to honor Christ and focus on Him during Christmas? I found the easiest way to focus on Jesus is to drop the pagan festivities and decorations. But that is the fun part, isn’t it? It can be scary at first to depart from tradition, but it is a great savings and stress relief to not have to do all that stuff. We made the change an adventure for our children and ensured they also had fun focusing on the birth of Christ and doing Christ-centered activities.

Another way to focus on Christ during this season is to give ourselves to the work of spreading the Gospel, giving to missions instead of ourselves. Providing people with bread to eat, then pointing them to the Bread of Life, to fill their hungry souls. I remember one year a poor couple stopped at our church supper at Christmas time. They were on their way to New Orleans and had run out of money. We fed them and Kathy and I let them spend the night at our house. The woman was heavy with child. It was like giving Mary and Joseph a place to stay on their way to Bethlehem. We shared Christ with them and gave them all of our Christmas money. That was the best Christmas ever because we felt like we had done it for Jesus when we did it for them.

Proclaiming the Gospel in carols is another way to share the good news of Christ through music. However, make sure they are all songs about Christ and not secular songs. People may enjoy popular songs like “I Wish You a Merry Christmas” and “Jingle Bells”, but those detract us and others from focusing on Jesus Christ.

Other ways to celebrate include teaching the story of the birth of Christ to children by letting them participate in a play. This can even be done at home and they can direct it. If you want to give gifts, people are more receptive at Christmas to receiving a Bible or book of daily devotions than at any other time. Gathering together with family and Church family can be beneficial, but to stay focused on Jesus, consider the unfortunate outside of the family. Jesus said when we do this, we are doing it unto Him. (Matthew 25:40)

Luke 14:12-14 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

The birth of Christ is one of the most significant things that ever happened in history. God, Himself, in human form, came and initiated the plan of redemption for all mankind. We are here today because of this great event.

Galatians 4:4-5 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.

Remembering the birth of Christ, regardless of what day He was actually born, is important. Parents need to pass on the story with a sense of awe and wonder at what was happening in that stable all those years ago. There was nothing fancy about it, but Emmanuel, God with us, had arrived. It goes so far beyond presents, holidays, food, and drink. The prophecy of the Messiah was being fulfilled.

Isaiah 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Unfortunately, the trees, stockings, Saint Nick, December 25th, and other things have become the focus of Christmas. We cannot say that way people traditionally celebrate Christmas today is Christian because those things have always been a part of a pagan festival.

However, we can say that Jesus is worth celebrating, and we, as people who know Him, can celebrate His arrival and His great plan of salvation all year long.

Galatians 4:8-11 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

Jesus’ virgin birth was miraculous and needful for His mission, but it was not the mission itself. His many miracles gave credence to His mission, but they were not His mission. His perfect life without sin aided His mission, but it was not His mission. Even His ascension into Heaven was spectacular, but none of those things are we told to celebrate. It is His death and resurrection that Jesus told us to continually celebrate in remembrance of Him! Why is that?

Do you realize, that if Christ had been born of a virgin, lived a sinless life full of miracles, and ascended into Heaven without the Cross and resurrection, we would still be in our sins? It is the bloody Cross and empty tomb that separates Christianity from all the "isms" ever known to man. It is this Good News that we should be rejoicing about every day because we don’t have to go to Hell! We can spend eternity in Heaven! And we don’t have to earn it, for we have a Savior—Jesus Christ, who took our punishment and gives us His life! Our life should be a celebration of His death and resurrection, testifying to His return as the living Savior! We should be focused on Him and expecting Him to return at any moment! If He were to come today, what would He find you doing—participating in a pagan festival or sharing the Gospel?

Some will ask, “What can be wrong with celebrating His birth?” Nothing, except that we should do it right and realize that our traditions are not truth.

Mark 7:9 And he (Jesus) said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!

Unfortunately, we are in bondage to our traditions. Traditions are what we have always done. We don’t think about them. We just do them. We’ve done them so long, we assume they are right, but longevity is not the same as truth. Either we don’t realize what we are doing or we like being in bondage to these traditions. I’m not telling you that you have to stop what you are doing. Maybe the Holy Spirit is, and I pray you will obey Him. What I am trying to do is make you aware of what is going on spiritually. Pagan traditions are keeping us from focusing on Christ. And they are keeping the unbelievers blind to the Gospel and on their way to Hell! We can and need to do better than this!

Jesus loves you! And I love you! That is why I risk your anger to tell you this.

Therefore, let’s take a breather and I hope you can still say, “I love…Brother Jerry.”

Thank you. Now that we have reaffirmed our love for one another, that love is about to be tested some more, as we look at a couple of big traditions that don’t logically or scripturally focus on Jesus, but I believe our love will endure the test. Are you ready?

If it is Jesus’ birthday we are celebrating, does He get any gifts? More often than not, He will get a nod of assent that it is His birthday. However, we don’t focus on Him while we party with each other and swap gifts. We may point at Him now and then, use Him as the "reason for the season", but then we tell stories of another eternal god-like being who knows all things, can be everywhere at once, can do supernatural acts, judges us, and brings gifts to us.

Indeed, we lie to our children about one such being and then wonder why they have a problem later in life believing what we tell them about the real God and Giver of gifts. We adults think it is cute to see their faith in this mythical character, but it is misplaced faith. There is nothing cute about deceiving a child and being responsible for them not being fully devoted to loving Christ and celebrating Him.

Jesus said in Luke 17:2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.

Just because it is fun seeing children wide-eyed with excitement about some fat man in a red suit, that doesn’t make it Christian. On the contrary, the story is satanic and very effective in taking our focus and worship off of Jesus. I don’t think that is describing it too strongly, for I know of no other spirit who is disguising himself as a benevolent god and trying to take worship from Christ? The story of Christ’s birth is fascinating enough to children without telling them a lie. They will respect you and have good behavior, if they know that you are always honest and you have the power to bestow or withhold a gift to them.

Let’s be honest. The presents are the premier focus of Christmas—not Christ, even to adults. Isn’t that what everyone is looking forward to and focused on? We are often asked, “Are you ready for Christmas? Have you got all your gifts purchased?” The topic of conversation the next day is “What did you get for Christmas? What did Santa bring?” Hardly anyone mentions Jesus.

Examine yourself. Do you emphasize what a person means to you by the amount of money you spend on them? Is it really love you are sharing or are you fulfilling an obligation by purchasing a gift? Do you judge another person’s love for you by the value of the gift they give you? How much joy would you have if there were no gifts? Would it still seem like Christmas? Probably not, because something would be missing from the celebration. It doesn’t bother people to miss Jesus during Christmas, but they would be depressed if they missed getting a gift for Christmas.

1 Peter 2:16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 

You are free to do as you please at Christmas. You don’t have to please me to keep my love for you. I am not your judge. What you do is between you and God. You are to live as God’s servant. Therefore, you better find out what He thinks about it—if He considers what you are doing is good or evil. All of us will have to answer to Him for what we do. Again, I’m just making you aware of what is happening spiritually so you can be led by the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 10:31-33 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

The first century Christians, whom we in this Restoration movement say we emulate, would not eat the food offered to idols because they did not want anyone to think they had anything to do with idolatry. They were free to do so (just as you are) but they chose to limit the freedom they had "under grace" to glorify God. They chose to come out from among the pagans to show that they were different and worshipped the true God. As a result, they were persecuted for what they believed and practiced. Nevertheless, the way they lived and died was a powerful testimony to the truth of Jesus Christ.

I know Christmas celebrations are fun and very emotional, but we are supposed to be people of the truth who reflect Jesus Christ. Therefore, a good question to ask ourselves is, “what would Jesus do?” Let the Holy Spirit lead you in this area as in all areas of your life and you will be greatly blessed as you honor Jesus Christ.

If you truly want to wish Jesus a Happy Birthday and give Him a party, then give Him gifts of your heart, your time, and your lives. Do needful things for others in His Name that will last all year, all decade, and all eternity? Better yet, celebrate His birth all year long by devoting your life to Christ and sharing Him with others through everything you do and say, thereby, making every day a holy day! Above all, stay focused on Jesus and the things of this world will diminish in importance. You will have less stress and more peace and joy by walking after the Holy Spirit instead of the spirit of Christmas.

Finally (I’m sure you are glad to hear that word), if you are not saved today, celebrating Christ’s birth will do nothing for you unless you become related to Him. Briefly, the Good News about the birth of Jesus Christ is this: God created Adam and Eve, and they sinned, and death entered into the world. Because of them, we all have the sin nature and we all have willfully sinned against God. Our sin calls for us to suffer the death penalty. Jesus died for our sin on a Cross so we would not have to pay that penalty. Therefore, believe in Jesus and what He did for you. Confess to Him that you are a sinner and repent of being your own God and of living in sin. Ask Jesus to save you, take control of your life,   and change you. Die to yourself in baptism and you will be born again of the Holy Spirit. You will be a new creation, a child of God, and have a good reason to celebrate every day because Christ has been born in you.