Beyond Christmas
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
December 26, 2004

 

[This "top ten" list was used at the beginning of the service to welcome people.] Well, it’s almost here. Are you excited? Only 13 weeks to Easter. Does it ever stop? How was your Christmas? Was it fun? Did you get to spend some time with family or friends? Did you have lots of good food? Maybe too much good food? What are the chances you overdid it this Christmas? Probably pretty good. But how can you really know? Here are the top ten signs you overdid it this Christmas?

Top Ten Signs You Overdid it this Christmas:

10. Paramedics bring in the Jaws of Life to pry you out of the EZ-Boy.
9. The “Gravy Boat” on your table was 12-feet long.
8. You set off 3 earthquake seismographs on your jog this morning.
7. Your credit card debt could bankrupt a small country.
4. Your address is 29 Earl Drive. (explanation - we have a lady in our church who saturated her yard with 50 strings of lights.)
6. Pricking your finger for cholesterol screening only yielded gravy.
5. The police come to your door due to excessive carolling.
3. Representatives from the Butterball Hall of Fame called — twice.
2. You hear the sound of cranberry sauce sloshing as you walk.
1. That rash on your stomach turns out to be steering wheel burn.

 

Beyond Christmas:

Before we get into the message, I received some rather disturbing news via email that I need to share with you. Apparently there was an accident a couple days ago on Christmas Eve. Let me just read it for you…

There was a perfect man who met a perfect woman. After a perfect courtship, they had a perfect wedding. Their life together was, of course, perfect.

On Christmas Eve, this perfect couple was driving their perfect car along a winding road, when they noticed someone at the side of the road in distress.

Being the perfect couple, they stopped to help. There stood Santa Claus with a huge bundle of toys. Not wanting to disappoint any children on the eve of Christmas, the perfect couple loaded Santa and his toys into their vehicle.

Soon they were driving along delivering the toys. Unfortunately, the driving conditions worsened and the perfect couple and Santa Claus had an accident. Only one of them survived the accident.

Question: Who was the survivor?

The perfect woman survived. Everyone knows there is no Santa Claus and there is no such thing as a perfect man.

By the way, if there is no perfect man and no Santa Claus, then the woman must have been driving. This explains why there was a car accident.

 

Well, Christmas has indeed come and gone. Now what? Jesus has been born… the King has come. Now what? The Emmanuel is here, God is with us. Now what? Over the next couple of weeks decorations will come down, discarded trees will line our streets, credit card bills will start to arrive, and our annual celebration of Christmas will be packed up for another year. But is that it? Is that all there is to Christmas?

One of the most moving stories of the effect of the Christmas season is the story told many years ago by an old German man. He had fought with the German forces in the First World War. In those days warfare was not high tech… it was hand-to-hand trench warfare. Soldiers lived, fought, and died in trenches full of mud and blood and vermin. In those trenches, dug in the fields of France, enemies could actually hear each other talking. They didn’t need satellites to locate the enemy. The enemy was literally just over there.

This old soldier told how on one cold, moonlit Christmas Eve, he huddled in the bottom of a trench. Because of the annual Christmas truce, the fighting had stopped. Suddenly, from the British trenches a loud, sweet tenor voice began to sing “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” and the sound floated up into the clear, moonlit air.

Then the soldier said something surprising happened: from the German trenches, a rich baritone voice joined in. For a few moments, everybody in both trenches concentrated on the sound of these two invisible singers and the beautiful music and the harmony. The British soldier and the German soldier sang praise to the Lord who was their shepherd. Then the singing stopped, and the sound slowly died away.

The soldier said, “We huddled in the bottom of our trenches and tried to keep warm until Christmas Day dawned. Early on Christmas morning, some of the British soldiers climbed out of their trenches into the no man’s land, carrying a football.” – What we know as a soccer ball.

Apparently whenever the British go anywhere, they always take two things with them: their teapots and their soccer balls. So these English soldiers started kicking around the ball, in a pickup game in no man’s land, between the trenches.

Then the old man said, “Some of the German soldiers climbed out, and England played Germany at football in no man’s land on Christmas Day in the middle of the battlefield in France in the first World War.” (In case you’re wondering, England won.)

Then he said, “The next morning, the carnage began again, with machine guns and bayonet fighting. Everything was back to normal.”
(Stuart Briscoe, “Christmas 365 Days a Year,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 135.)

Their ceasefire lasted for one day. In our society, we’ve stretched it out to the few weeks leading up to Dec. 25. But then, other than returning gifts to the store and packing the decorations away, it’s just business as usual. Is that all there is to Christmas? A bunch of hoopla building up to one day and then it’s over?

The very fact that I’m asking that question implies that I believe there’s more. In fact, I believe there’s much, much more. You see, for the Christian, the birth of Jesus is only beginning. Our celebration of Christmas doesn’t only lead up to His birth; it grows even larger after His coming. The incarnation of Jesus, the coming of Jesus as a human, simply means that Jesus is here. The real question is, “now what?” What are you and I going to do with this Jesus? What are we going to do with the Messiah? What does it mean for you and me today? In your notes…

 

The spirit of Christmas needs to be superseded by the Spirit of Christ.

  • The spirit of Christmas is annual; the Spirit of Christ is eternal.

  • The spirit of Christmas is sentimental; the Spirit of Christ is supernatural.

  • The spirit of Christmas is a human product; the Spirit of Christ a divine Person.

 

Okay, so what does this mean for you and me? What does the coming of Jesus mean to you today that goes beyond December 25?

Christmas Day 2004 is over, but I believe God wants to give you three Christmas gifts that you can take with you throughout 2005 and the years to come.

 

The Lasting Gifts of Christmas:

 

1. You Can Experience Forgiveness

Luke 2:11 (NLT)
“The Saviour--yes, the Messiah, the Lord--has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David!”

Note that word Saviour. Circle it in your notes. That’s what Christmas is all about. But why do we need a Savior anyway? Well, let me just cut to the chase. The Bible describes Heaven as a perfect place. There are no mistakes or inconsistencies there; it is perfect. Because of that, only perfect people get to go there. If God let imperfect people into heaven, it wouldn’t be perfect anymore. That means I don’t stand a chance in a million of getting into heaven on my own effort… and by the way, neither do you. I lost my chance at perfection a long time ago. So God took it upon Himself to come up with another way. So He sent us a Savior so we could get in on somebody else’s ticket. That’s the good news: A Savior has been born, and He’s been born for you!

I read about one little boy wrote a letter to Santa Claus that said, “Dear Santa: There are three boys living at my house. Jeffrey is two, David is four, and Norman is seven. Jeffrey is good some of the time, David is good some of the time, and Norman is good all of the time. I am Norman.”

You know the problem with that? Not one of us is a Norman. None of us bat 1000. None of us are always perfect or always right. That email I read earlier… of course there’s no such thing as a perfect man. There’s no such thing as a perfect woman, either, with the possible exception of my wife. None of us is perfect. In fact, if we had a giant screen up behind us and were able to view everything we’ve ever thought, said, or done, most of us would be extremely embarrassed. We all live with a sense of regret because none of us are perfect. And that’s why we need a Saviour.

“If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent a scientist. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent an economist. If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer. But our greatest need was forgiveness, so He sent us a Saviour.”
~ from a Christmas card

Yes, you can be forgiven. You have a Saviour.

Rags for clothes: $5.00
A manger for a bed: $25
Having your sins forgiven: Priceless

It’s the most priceless gift you can get, the gift of a clear conscience. You can’t even buy that on the Internet; it’s priceless. You can buy grilled-cheese sandwiches with images of Mary, Jesus’ mother, you could have bought the last hot dog served at a Montreal Expos game, I even read about one woman who was selling the ghost of her father. But you can’t buy forgiveness on eBay… if anyone ever tries, it’s a hoax. Yet at Christmastime and anytime God offers you the chance to have your past forgiven and wiped clean, so you can start over, brand new. That’s good news!

Now, how do I let Christ be my Saviour? How do I allow Him to save me? Look at this… read it with me:

Acts 10:43 (NLT)
“…Everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”

Notice that is simply says “everyone who believes.” Underline that. “Everyone” means you. You just need to admit you need Him to do so.

One of the things that all lifeguards know is that you can’t save anybody as long as they’re trying to save themselves, because they’ll take you under the water with them. You swim out to them, and if they’re flailing around in the water you just wait until finally they just give up and collapse. Once they give up, it’s really easy – you just put your arm over their shoulder and swim back to shore. There’s nothing to it. But you can’t save them as long as they’re trying to save themselves.

You know our problem? We’re always trying to save ourselves. We think we can work our own way into Heaven. We say, “Oh, God, I’m a good person. I’m a much better person than they are. Look at the difference!” The only problem is that God doesn’t grade on a curve. You might say, “Well, I’m better than Hitler.” Well of course you are – you’re probably better than me, too. But God doesn’t judge you against anybody else. And since you’re not perfect, you need a Saviour. And that Saviour is provided. Jesus is there offering you forgiveness. It’s a free gift; just accept it.

 

2. You Can Discover Peace of Mind

What did the angels proclaim?

Luke 2:14 (NLT)
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to all whom God favours.”

Psalm 119:165 (NLT)
Those who love your law have great peace and do not stumble.

Peace. It’s is a word that our world uses a lot, but most people don’t have the foggiest idea of its true meaning. For many, peace of mind means drinking until they’re so drunk and numb that they can no longer feel the pain in their hearts.

For some, peace means hopping from one relationship to the next, to the next, to the next, hoping that somebody will fill the void in their life. But nobody ever does.

For some, peace means staying busy all the time so that at night they just kind of collapse into bed and don’t have to think. Because any time they’re quiet, those haunting thoughts, those fears, and that terrible loneliness come caving in on them, and they don’t like that feeling.

For other people peace means working and working, becoming a workaholic and overachieving, so they can be a success and prove to the world that they’re a somebody! But inside they’re still saying, “I don’t really feel like I’m a somebody.”

For other people peace means trying gimmicks, like gazing at crystals, or using aromatherapy, or sitting in a lotus position and contemplating the lint in their navel. But that’s not peace of mind either.

Real peace of mind is having a relationship with Jesus Christ, God’s Son, and becoming friends with Him.

Real peace is knowing that no matter what I do, God will never stop loving me.

Real peace is knowing that no matter what happens, God will never leave me alone. He’ll always be with me.

Real peace means that no matter what happens in the New Year, or in the years to come, I know that God is going to give me the strength to handle it.

Real peace is living by God’s Word, the Bible, so I can avoid a lot of the needless hang-ups and hurts and habits that mess up my life.

There are three things that rob us of peace of mind:

 

The Robbers of Peace:

A. Guilt.

You don’t have to walk around with guilt. God tells you, “I sent a Saviour to wipe away your sins so you can be forgiven.” Jesus gives us a clear conscience, like an Etch-A-Sketch. If you haven’t been cleansed from your sins by placing your faith in Jesus, guilt will rob you of your peace.

This is powerful…

Romans 8:1-2 (NLT)
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. For the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death.

You don’t need to be a slave to your guilt anymore. Trust Jesus to forgive you, and believe that He’s done it.
 

B. Grief.

Maybe for you, Christmastime brings up all kinds of hurtful memories. I always hate hearing about a tragedy that happens at Christmastime, because I know that for some Christmas will always be associated with those sad memories. So you may remember the loss of a loved one, or a parent who abandoned you, or a broken relationship that threw you for a loop. You have grief that robs you of joy and peace of mind. If that’s the pain you’re carrying, I want you to know that I’m sorry you’re hurting. I really am. But beyond my concern, God cares about your hurt. He sees it, and He knows all about it. You were never meant to carry that grief all on your own. A terrific verse to memorize is found in 1 Peter… say it with me…

1 Peter 5:7 (NLT)
Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about what happens to you.

Give Him your worries and troubles, and receive the gift of peace.
 

C. Grudges.

Grudges cause us to be resentful. We feel guilty when we hurt others, but we become resentful when others hurt us and we hold a grudge. Let me tell you, you will be hurt in life, whether intentionally or unintentionally. But how you respond to that hurt will in no small measure determine your level of happiness in life. For your own sake, your own peace of mind, you’ve got to let go of those hurts, because resentment doesn’t hurt the other person; it only hurts you. You’re the one who’s stewing while they’re living their life.

You may still be letting people from your past hurt you today, and that’s not too smart. You’ve got to let go of your grudges. You may say, “I just can’t do that. They hurt me too much. I can’t forgive them.” You’re right. That’s why you need Jesus Christ, because only He can give you the power to let go. Why? Because they deserve it? No, they don’t deserve it. But remember, you didn’t deserve to be forgiven either but God still forgave you. Plus, you need to forgive for your own sake, so you can get on with your life and not stay stuck in the past over a grudge, a hurt, or a resentment.

Leviticus 19:18 (NLT)
“Never seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD.”

 

3. You Can Receive Eternal Life

Here are the facts of life:
“You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the Facts of Life.” Okay, bad joke. Let me give you two facts of life…

  • We’re all going to die someday.

    Now that’s not a pleasant thought. I don’t think you need to be morbid about it, or always be worrying about it, but the fact is we are all, each of us, going to die someday. Today, tomorrow, next year, ten years from now – we don’t know when. But we will die.
     

  • We’re going to spend more time on the other side.

    We’re going to spend more of our life on the other side of death than we’re going to spend on this side. You get sixty, seventy, eighty, maybe ninety years here on this earth. Maybe even a bit more than that. But on the other side of death you’ll spend the rest of eternity. Only a fool would go through life totally unprepared for something he knows is inevitable. It doesn’t make sense to know that someday you’re going to die and to not be prepared for it. You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. Fortunately, the good news is, that’s why God sent Jesus Christ.

    Romans 1:17 (NLT)
    “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”

    John 3:16 (CEV)
    God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die.

God says you can find eternal life by trusting Him… by trusting Jesus. He says, “I’ll take care of your past regrets, your present problems, and your future fears.” When you summarize this in one word, do you know what it’s called? It’s called salvation. And what does salvation mean? It means God saves me. It means Jesus saves me. It means He clears up my past, takes care of my present, and secures my future. That’s one gift you’ll never get anywhere else. You can’t find it under the Christmas tree. You can only find it in the Man of the cross. In Jesus.

You know our problem? Too often, we don’t know what we’re looking for in life. We think we’re looking for happiness, and so we go out and we try all kinds of things to give us happiness. We think we’re looking for love: “I just want somebody to love me, to fill this void in my life.” Or we think we’re looking for success, security, significance, or meaning and purpose in life.

We think we’re looking for all these different things, but actually what we’re really looking for is God. That void in your life… It’s God that you’re craving. It’s Him that you’re really searching for. God has placed in you a God-shaped vacuum that nothing else can fill. Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Him. But here’s the good news. All the time when you were looking, and you didn’t know it was God you were looking for, God was reaching out for you, too. That’s why He came as Jesus Christ at Christmas so many centuries ago.

1 John 5:20 (NLT)
And we know that the Son of God has come, and he has given us understanding so that we can know the true God. And now we are in God because we are in his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the only true God, and he is eternal life.

Do you see what Christmas is? Christmas is really the celebration of an invasion. It’s a close encounter of the God kind. God invaded earth nearly two thousand years ago as a human being. Why? So we could know He’s not just some big force in the sky. He’s more than that. He wants us to know what He’s really like.

If God had wanted to communicate to cows, He would have become a cow. If God had wanted to communicate to ants, He would have become an ant. If God had wanted to communicate to dogs, He would have become a dog. But He wanted to communicate to human beings, so He became one of us, a human being. So now I can look at Jesus and say, “Oh, that’s how God wants me to live. That’s what God is like.” By getting to know Jesus, I find out that He’s not some impersonal force in the sky.

How did He come to earth? The same way all of us did: through a birth canal. Why? Because nobody is afraid of a baby. I mentioned that at Christmas we’re celebrating an invasion, but God didn’t come to scare you. He came to save you. The Bible says…

Luke 19:10 (CEV)
“The Son of Man came to look for and to save people who are lost.”

Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. While you’ve been seeking, He’s been seeking you. And He says, “I offer you forgiveness for your past, peace of mind in the present, and a solid future in eternity.” Those are the gifts. You ask, “How do I find those gifts?” They’re all wrapped up in Christ. Read this aloud with me:

Jeremiah 29:13 (NIV)
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Now if you don’t get anything else out of this morning, get this. You matter to God. Your problems matter to God. Your pain matters to God. Your potential matters to God.

God came to earth in human form, and He is seeking you while you’re seeking Him. What better time than at Christmas to make contact? He says, “Seek Me.” Two thousand years ago, wise men sought Christ. And wise people still seek Christ today. I challenge you to be a wise man or woman and seek the Christ of Christmas. Because God says, “Seek and you shall find.” It’s His promise. It’s His gift to you.

Thousands of years ago, even before you were born, God knew you would be here at Sunrise this morning hearing about Him, right here, right now, at Christmastime. And He brought you here in His providence so He could get your attention for long enough to say to you, “I really care about you! I know everything about you. I saw your birth. I know when you’re going to die. I know everything in between. I made you for a purpose, and I have a plan for your life. Life does have meaning when you get involved in My plan and develop a relationship with Me. I love you, and I want you to know Me so badly that I sent My Son to earth two thousand years ago to show you what I’m like.”

What I’m talking about this morning is not religion. I’m talking about a relationship. Religion is just man’s attempt to get to God. Relationship is God’s way to get to us. It’s when you get to know Jesus Christ in a personal way and He becomes a Friend. I’m not afraid to die, because I already know what God is like.

I don’t care what your background is. You may have a Catholic background, you may have a Protestant background; Perhaps you’ve even explored Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism… I know of a few people who investigated all the different religions. Or maybe you have no background in religion at all. That really doesn’t matter. What does matters is this: Have you established a personal relationship with Christ? Because those gifts – forgiveness, peace of mind, and eternal life – are wrapped up in Him.

Can you imagine being given a gift at Christmas and never unwrapping it? That would be silly. My father’s done that. My brother and his wife have given my father the same chainsaw I think three times now. He’s never opened it, always forgets about it, and they give it to him again the next year. It’s actually kind of funny and sad at the same time.

If you gave me a gift at Christmas and a year later you came over and I still hadn’t unwrapped it, you’d think I was a little nutty.

“Why haven’t you unwrapped it?”

“Oh, I love the wrapping paper. I’m sure I’m going to love the gift. I’m going to get to it one of these days.”

And yet, many people… maybe you… continue to move a little closer to God Christmas after Christmas after Christmas after Christmas. They’ve celebrated every Christmas for as many years as they are old; they know the songs and the stories, and they know what it’s all about, but they’ve never unwrapped the gift.

What gives? What’s the logic behind that? God says, “I want to offer you forgiveness, peace of mind, and eternal life,” and you haven’t unwrapped it? You’re never going to be offered a greater gift than Jesus! So receive Him today!

If you’d like to do that, then here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to ask everyone here to close their eyes and pray. I’ve you’d like to receive Jesus today, then in silent prayer, from your heart, right now, tell Him thanks for coming as a baby so you could know Him. Let Him know that you’re sorry for the ways you have hurt Him. Tell Him you’d like to receive His gifts of forgiveness and peace of mind and eternal life. And tell Him you want a growing relationship with Him, starting today.

 

 

Message adapted primarily from "What Will Your Find at Christmas?" by Rick and Kay Warren.

 

 

 

Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2004 SunriseOnline.ca