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A Christmas That Matters part 1
Making Christmas Matter In Your Home
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
November 28, 2010

Here we are, less than four weeks away from Christmas. For some of you, that’s shocking. For others, you have been in the Christmas mode for a while now. I know the Mall took advantage of being closed on Remembrance Day and used that time to put up all their Christmas decorations and start playing Christmas music. So some of you have been in that Christmas mindset for a few weeks now. Others of you are just getting revved up and kind of bracing yourself for the next month.

And you know what? It’s going to come and go so fast. It’s going to be over before you know it. We cram so much into just a three or four-week span of time and it just flies by. And the danger of the whole thing is that you end up rushing here and there doing everything you’re supposed to do at Christmas time, and you shift into cruise control, and you go through all the holiday motions… and when it’s over it’s over. You haven’t really experienced Christmas; it just kind of happened. And you’re left wondering, “What was the point of it all?”

I don’t want that to happen to you. I want this to be a Christmas that matters for you… a Christmas that you truly experience… a Christmas that makes a difference in your life… a Christmas when you make a difference in the lives of others. I don’t want this to be yet another Christmas where you get wrapped up in all the trappings of the season; I want this to be a Christmas where you truly discover what Christmas is all about… how it’s the celebration of the day God became man… how Jesus was born as a baby, and how He came to bring up hope, peace, joy, and love… how that little baby that was born that day grew up to become the sacrifice so we could experience the forgiveness of God and receive eternal life.

I also want this to be a Christmas where your relationships are enriched… where your family grows stronger and your friendships grow deeper. I want this to be a Christmas where you get beyond yourself and learn to express love and compassion toward others… where you care about the poor, the outcast, the marginalized… where you reach out to those living in the periphery of society and do something to help those living in desperate situations around the world.

That’s what we’re going to talk about over the next four Sundays beginning today. Making this Christmas a Christmas that matters. And we’re going to start by talking about making this Christmas matter in your own home.

For those of you who are married and/or have kids at home, I think this will be especially relevant for you. But what we’ll talk about today can also apply when it comes to our friendships and coworkers and the people that matter in our lives. How can this Christmas matter when it comes to those relationships?

If you have your notes, you can use them to follow along and fill in the blanks as we go. We’re going to look at four ways to make this Christmas matter in your homes and in your relationships.

How to Make Christmas Matter In Your Home:

1.    Amidst the busyness of the season, carve out time for relationships

Listen, some of the best things about Christmas can also be the worst things about Christmas. There are so many things going on and so many options and so many demands and expectations on our time… there are parades and parties and get-togethers and reunions… there’s the shopping and the decorations and the concerts… there’s all the stuff our kids get involved in and the stuff we get involved in and the stuff our spouses drag us to… there’s just so much busyness that comes with this time of the year.

And it’s so easy to become wrapped up in it all. You’re rushing here and there and everywhere, and while you’re doing it you’re neglecting the most important people in your life. Does that make sense to you?

Here… think about this… what is the most valuable gift you can give to someone? It’s time, right? Because when you give someone your time, that time is gone. You can’t take it back, it’s not going to replenish itself, it’s gone. So if you want to give someone the best Christmas gift you can give them, give them your time.

But here’s the thing: this doesn’t happen by accident. That’s true at any time of the year, but especially at Christmas you need to intentionally make time for the people that matter most. That’s what I say, “carve out time.” You intentionally decide where and what you’re going to cut. You set aside time for your relationships… for your family… for your friends.

If you want this Christmas to count, you’re going to value your relationships… with your family and with your friends. You’re going to invest time into those relationships. You’re going to create memories together.

I think the apostle Paul in the New Testament put it so well in his second letter to the Christians in Corinth…

2 Corinthians 12:14 (NLT)
I don’t want what you have—I want you.

Okay, so what does this mean? How do you make relationships a priority during the Christmas season?

•    Well, you can work on a craft or a project around the house together,
•    you can run errands together,
•    you can go out for hot chocolate together,
•    you can take a drive together to check out some of the Christmas decorations,
•    for your family you can set aside one or two evenings a week when you’ll all be home and you’re not going to compromise that time together,
•    you can go out for brunch on Saturday morning,
•    you can go ice skating together…

There are all kinds of things you can do to carve out time for relationships… all kinds of ways you can create memories together that will outlast the busyness of the Christmas season.

2.    Keep the celebration of the birth of Jesus central to your holiday

We talk about Christmas being a holiday. But do you know where the word holiday comes from? It’s actually a contraction of two words: “Holy Day.” The Christmas holiday is meant to be a holy day. It’s a day set aside for a specific purpose… to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

So the Christmas season is not just a month long party; it’s a party in recognition of a specific event—the birth of Jesus.

Now, let me be clear about this: I have no real problem with Santa and Rudolph and parades and giving gifts and candy cane ice cream and grandmother’s getting run over by reindeer… I have no problem with any of that. (Don’t ask about penguins, though. I have no idea what they have to do with the North Pole.)

I think all of that stuff that is part of our Christmas celebration is fine. It’s fun. I do think, though, that there’s the danger of those kinds of things overshadowing and replacing what Christmas is really about.

You know, if you go out and you ask people what Christmas is about, you’re going to get a variety of answers. Some people will tell you it’s about presents, it’s about family, it’s about the lights and the decorations and the carols, a lot of people will tell you it’s about the kids. The grumps among us will tell you it’s about consumerism and we ‘d be better off if we did away with the whole thing.

But while all of that can be part of our Christmas celebration, they are not what Christmas is really about. It’s about an event that took place in the Judean town of Bethlehem just a little over 2000 years ago. And no, Jesus was probably not born on December 25, but it is the day we have set aside as a holy day to celebrate His birth because we don’t know the actual date of His birth.

Even look at the word “Christmas.” What does it mean? Well, just like “holiday” comes from “holy day,” “Christmas” comes from “Christ’s Mass.” It’s all about Jesus Christ.

So amidst all the other trappings, how do you keep the birth of Jesus central to your holiday?

Well, being here this morning is a good step. Don’t allow all the other stuff associated with Christmas to push Jesus aside on the day of the week we come together as His Church to worship Him.

There’s our Christmas Eve service, too. You can plan to be here for that.

You can also take time on your own to read through the Christmas story in the Bible. Read about the birth of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew chapters one and two, or the Gospel of Luke chapters one and two.

Pay attention to the Christmas carols you hear everywhere you go. A lot of them remind us that Christmas is about Jesus.

In my family, we have a tradition of having a family reunion on Christmas Eve. That goes back to before I was born and it’s one of my fondest memories of when I was a kid. There was always great food and fun and games and food and conversations and food. But at some point during that reunion we’d all settle down, we’d gather in the living room, and we would read the Christmas story from the Bible. Just to remind ourselves that the whole reason we were together and celebrating was because of the birth of Jesus.

But really, who cares? Why is the birth of Jesus important? Well, take a look at what an angel from God told Joseph (who would raise Jesus as his own son).

Matthew 1:20-21 (NLT)
“Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

We don’t continue to celebrate Christmas after 2000 years just because a baby was born. That’d be pretty ridiculous. No, we celebrate it because that baby wasn’t just any ol’ baby. That baby was the Messiah, God in the flesh, who came to rescue us from sin and death. That’s a pretty good reason to celebrate and to remember what Christmas is really about, don’t you think?

How about those wise men? What do you think about when you think about them? Gifts, right? But do you know what was even more important to them? Do you know what they did even before they gave their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus?

Matthew 2:11 (NLT)
They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.

They worshipped Him. They brought their gifts along, too, but the main reason they made their journey from wherever they came from was to worship Jesus.

Will you remember to keep Jesus central to your celebration of Christmas this year? If you want this Christmas to matter in your home, you’ll keep Jesus central.

Another way you to make this Christmas matter in your home, and to make it a Christmas you’ll like to remember rather than forget, is this…

3.    Instead of creating division, discover the peace Jesus came to bring

You know what happens in a lot of homes at Christmas time? People get stressed, tempers get short, words are spoken, feelings are hurt, and relationships are damaged. Of course, when you go out to a Christmas party everyone puts on a happy face. But once you get home, it’s either non-stop yelling or it’s the silent treatment.

And I know that doesn’t always happen, but it CAN happen. And it can happen so easily because of all the extra pressure and stress of the season.

On the night Jesus was born, apart from Mary and Joseph the first people to hear the news were… who? The shepherds. There was a group of shepherds taking care of their sheep in the fields outside of Bethlehem… they were there just minding their own business when all of a sudden there was a bright light and an angel sent by God appeared right there among them. Of course, the shepherds were terrified. But the angel told them to relax and chill out, and then told them about how Jesus had been born and how they could find Him. Then, after delivering that message, a whole group of other angels appears praising God and saying this:

Luke 2:14 (NIV)
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Glory to God and peace to you. Peace. Jesus came to bring peace. Peace between you and God, peace within yourself, and peace between you and other people.

So wouldn’t it be a shame if we allowed the celebration of Jesus’ birth to destroy peace instead of bringing peace? Wouldn’t it be a shame if families were broken and relationships were destroyed just because we allowed ourselves to become overwhelmed with all the added stresses of Christmastime?

4.    Give meaningful gifts, not necessarily expensive gifts

One of the biggest traditions that we have at Christmas time is the giving and receiving of gifts. And really, that can be a lot of fun. Who doesn’t like receiving gifts, right? There’s nothing inherently wrong with giving gifts at Christmas time.

The problem arises when we feel obligated to give, and when we feel pressured to spend beyond what we can afford, and when we start to think that the value of our relationship has to be reflected in the cost of our gift. And so every year, people spend far more than they can afford just to validate the extent of their love.

Listen… The quality of your friendships and your family relationships does not hinge on the amount of money you spend on them for Christmas. Sure, go ahead and buy some gifts. But do it within the constraints of your budget and don’t go overboard. Focus on the relationship, not the purchase. And the gifts you do buy… put some thought into them.

In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, God expressed His displeasure at the Israelites for trying to express their love for Him through gifts. While all the time, they were essentially cheating on Him. They were going through the rituals of worship, offering incense and sacrifices to God, but at the same time they were participating in all kinds of evil. So God said to them…

Isaiah 1:13 (NLT)
Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me!

So basically, He was incensed at their incense. He would rather they gave Him nothing if they weren’t going to give themselves first.

Now, ladies, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Us men… we don’t know how to shop. We don’t. We don’t go shopping; we go hunting. We don’t shop for presents; we hunt for presents. You know those gifts we give you and you open them and you look at them… “Oh, great… a George Foreman grill… just what I always wanted.” Or, “wow… windshield washer fluid. I never would have guessed. Shopping at Canadian Tire again, eh?”

You know, sometimes we’re not the most thoughtful when it comes to buying gifts. I think we’ve all been guilty of that from time to time, regardless of gender.

Have you ever bought a gift just because you had to buy a gift? You were obligated to? You didn’t want them to give you a gift and not have a gift to give them in return? Do you maybe even have a closet at home where you stow away extra gifts just for that time you might forget to buy another gift and you need one right away? So you just pull one out, put a bow on it, slap a name on it, and that’s it?

There’s nothing personal about that. There’s nothing meaningful about that. It’s just a gift for the sake of a gift.

What if instead of that you actually put some thought into it? What if instead of trying to give something expensive you gave something meaningful? And if you can afford it, sure… go ahead and spend some money. But only if the gift is actually meaningful. Meaningful gifts do not always have to be expensive gifts.

And I’m not saying to be cheap, but sometimes the most meaningful gifts aren’t really all that expensive at all. The most meaningful gift might be a coupon for a sleigh ride together, or a photo album of shared memories, or a gift certificate you make for them for a movie night together at home complete with popcorn and a root beer float.

Our Bible includes a couple letters that the apostle Paul wrote to the Christ-followers in the city of Corinth. And in his second letter, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to excel in the art of generosity. He was talking specifically about giving in support of ministry and caring for the poor and being generous in meeting needs. But I think his advice about generosity can apply to our Christmas spending, too.

2 Corinthians 8:11-12 (NLT)
Give in proportion to what you have. Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have.

That’s pretty good advice, isn’t it? And that’s what you’ll find throughout the Bible. Time and time again it encourages us to be generous. God is a generous God and if we want to be godly then we’re going to be generous, too. But that generosity is to be balanced with financial responsibility, where we give generously of what we have but not what we don’t have.

Because think about it… what happens when you do go overboard and spend more than you can afford? You end up going into debt, right? And you might end up spending months or even years paying it off. That whole time, you’re a slave to your creditor, you’re frustrated, you’re limited in how generous you can be in other ways, your options in life are limited because of your debt, and you might end up becoming bitter and resentful because of it all.

And as you probably already know, the leading contributor toward divorce is financial trouble. If you want this Christmas to strengthen your home instead of tearing it apart, spend less but give in more meaningful ways.

Christmas really can be the most wonderful time of the year. But to move beyond all the activity and busyness of the season to the point that Christmas really matters, where your family grows stronger and your friendships are enriched, you’ve got to decide ahead of time what’s important to you.

Will you carve out time for your relationships? Will you keep Jesus central in your holiday celebration? Will you maintain peace in your homes and in your friendships? And can you learn to give meaningful gifts?



Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2010