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And so it is Christmas. We begin our Christmas series for this year. Every year seems Christmas seems to come earlier and earlier. American retailers capitalize on our materialism, our over spending, our overeating, and our overwhelming urge for self indulgence. I hope it will be a Christmas like no other for you and your family as we cut through all the distractions of the season.
Is. 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” What does God look like?
We know from Genesis that we are created in His image. We know he has hands and he hears and sees. Would we know God if He walked in or when He showed up? Over the years artists have sculpted God, have painted God, have drawn images of what they think God looks like. Would we recognize God or would be like people in the old west that asked, “Who was that masked man?” Centuries before the Messiah came, prophets proclaimed, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.” (Is. 9:6-7) This soon coming king would suffer, would be rejected by his own people; He would know heartache and pain. This King would hang out with the ones society deemed low class and poor. People had been told about this King and they had different expectations about what he would look like, what he would act like, what he would be like. Some thought this king would be a political leader that would turn the world upside down; someone that would return the world to the time of King David.
When we talk to loved ones or friends on the phone, you have the mental picture of what they look like. When you pray, what mental picture of God do you formulate? Is it the condemning judge that sits on His mighty throne waiting to drop the hammer on you? Is He like that parent that never says no? That never provides guidance or discipline that lets you do whatever you like? Is He a God that rewards obedience with material wealth or physical health? Or is He a God that is present with you regardless of your circumstances? Immanuel – God with us.
When describing God we use adjectives like all-mighty, all powerful, majestic, consuming, liberating, rich, and infinite. And yet, not one of these words would describe Jesus. Jesus was not at all what people expected. His life is a contradiction of worldly values and ideals. He was not born in power in strength, but in weakness. He was born to a poor family in a poor town filled with marginalized people. He spent his early years as a refugee in Africa where He escaped political genocide. He spent his childhood in a blue-collar, working class family. As He grew into a man, he faced opposition from religious leaders. He resisted the world’s obsession with money, power, and recognition. He had compassion and empathy for the weak, the orphans, and the destitute of society. What does God look like? He looks like Jesus – God with us!
Is this today’s Jesus? We often view Jesus as the genie in the bottle. He exists to grant our every wish. We have redefined Jesus into our own image who promises to give us everything we want. He has become an idol of consumption, materialism, and self indulgence. He has become Santa Claus Jesus. We know the familiar song . . . He knows when you are sleeping, he knows if you’d been good or bad. In this same way, we have reduced God to a heavenly watchdog that judges what we do or don’t do and then grants punishment or reward. This is not the God we see in Jesus. He doesn’t come bearing gifts to give to good boys and girls. God’s gift of Jesus cannot be neatly wrapped in a box with a pretty bow on it. If you’re picture of God is distorted, your view of life will be distorted. We have this commercialized idea of Jesus as the magical gift giver sent from above and as a result, we have certain expectations for Christmas, but Jesus doesn’t do magic. Magic is trickery, sleight of hand, it’s an illusion, it’s for our entertainment; our enjoyment not for our transformation. God doesn’t do magic; He does miracles. That magical, wonderful, ideal, storybook Christmas is unattainable. We get all the new and improved decorations, holiday recipes, and latest gifts to create a warm, fuzzy experience and we’re left wanting. The fuzzy feelings pass and we’re left exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed at the shopping, spending, school programs, cooking, entertaining, and wrapping of gifts we don’t need or will never use. In the hustle and bustle of the holiday festivities, we miss Immanuel – the gift of God with us. The idolatry of consumerism is tough to knock down. John Wesley said the wallet is the last thing converted in a person’s life. Jesus said it Himself in Matt. 6:24, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
Get ready for a miracle. Christmas is the celebration of a miracle. A young girl conceived a child without the participation of a man and yet we push the miracle worker out of the celebration. Merriam Webster defines miracle as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.” Every salvation is a miracle of God’s love, of God’s involvement, of God’s desire for an intimate relationship with His ultimate creation. Do you feel like you’re not worth it? In John 7:38 Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” The same Holy Spirit that conceived the Miracle that Mary carried within her lives inside of every ordinary believer. Our Messiah was ordinary too. Is. 53:2-3 says of Jesus, “For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” Not quite the leader the world was looking for. He would not have been one of the cool kids at school. He was from the wrong side of the tracks of an insignificant little town where one person asked, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (Jo. 1:46) He was ordinary looking, probably plain, nothing that would draw people to Him. That’s the way most of us are yet God chooses to use us, to work in us and work through us.
Scripture is filled with ordinary people that God used in extraordinary ways. Moses was not eloquent in speech and had anger issues. Jonah was disobedient. David was an adulterer, a conspirator, and a murderer. Peter spoke without thinking. Thomas was a doubter. Paul was a persecutor of Christians, but God had plans for each of them and He has plans for you. “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11) Are you willing to pay the price? The angel greeted Mary and said, “You have found favor with God.” (Lu. 1:30) Mary faced certain rejection, criticism, and ostracism because of her unwed pregnancy. While grace is free, it’s not cheap. It was not culturally acceptable to be pregnant out of wedlock and Mary had to be thinking, “Wow, if this is God’s favor, I don’t want to be on His wrong side.” What about Joseph? I’m sure life was tough for him too. His wife was pregnant and he wasn’t the father.
Jesus came to this earth not just to die sacrificially on our behalf, but also to demonstrate sacrificial living. How far has our modern Christmas diverted from the original Christmas? We want to be warm and fuzzy surrounded by family and friends with the gentle sound of Christmas carols playing softly in the background. Mary and Joseph were alone in a strange place and of that night we sing, “The cattle are lowing the poor Baby wakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.” Their Christmas was full of poverty and anxiety, not mulled cider, turkey, ham, and peppermint sticks. And let’s not forget the reason Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt was to escape government sanctioned genocide. I’m not sure how Mary and Joseph would describe their memories of Christmas, but it was probably not a silent night where all was calm and all was bright.
Christmas is about the sacrificial gift of Jesus that we want to leave in the manger. But you cannot separate the child in the manger from the message of Christ on the cross. The meaning of life is not found in material possessions or personal comfort. The meaning of Christmas is not found in endless debt and getting gifts not needed. I agree with Paul is saying the meaning of life in found in, “know[ing] Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” (Phil 3:10) Expect God to perform the same miracles in your life that He performed in Mary and Joseph’s lives.