Greg Laurie — Don't Lose Jesus This Christmas
Let's turn in our Bible to Luke 2. The title of my message is, "Don't lose Jesus this Christmas". It's almost Christmas. Our world is in turmoil. There are riots in our streets. Terrorism continues to rear its ugly head most recently. Yet we think of that message given to us 2,000 years ago from the Angels to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and goodwill toward men". We need some of that peace right now. Where is that goodwill? Were the Angels mocking us or is this something we can actually experience. Especially at Christmas.
There are a lot of great Christmas songs out there. I don't know what your favorites are. Of course I love "Hark the herald Angels sing". I love "Silent night" I love "White Christmas" even. But one of my favorite Christmas songs is, "I heard the bells on Christmas day". You may not know the backdrop to that particular song. It is quite amazing. It was written by American poet henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He was at the peak of his success when he penned that particular song. Abraham Lincoln had just been elected to the presidency and there was a great sense of hope in our nation. Things turned dark for America and for Longfellow personally. Of course the civil war broke out the next year. Then Longfellow's wife died in a tragic accident in her home. She was burned to death. He severely burned himself trying to save her so badly that he was not even able to attend her funeral.
In his diary for Christmas in 1861 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote these words. "How inexpressibly sad are the holidays". He speaks for many even today doesn't he? The holidays are a sad time for some people. Especially for those who have lost loved ones or are in pain or have a broken family. The war continued on with so many dying. He wrote in his diary the next year these words. "A merry Christmas say the children but there is no more for me". In 1863 Wadsworth's son went and joined the Union Army and was severely wounded. He returned home in December. There was no entry in Longfellow's diary for that Christmas. He wanted to pull out of this despair. He decided to express his words on paper, which he was so gifted at. He wrote these very familiar words now. I heard the bells on Christmas day. The old, familiar carols play, and wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth goodwill to men.
As he was working on this he thought about his country. He thought about the civil war. He thought about his wife who had died and his son who was now at this point needing a full-time caregiver. He thought about all of these problems. Then he wrote down these words. "In despair I bowed my head: there is no peace on earth," I said: "For hate is strong. And mocks the song 'of peace on earth, goodwill to men'"! Those words could apply to our world today. Hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men. But then gaining an eternal perspective Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote these words. "Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: God is not dead, nor does he sleep: the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, goodwill to men". That is the only hope. That is the only thing that can change America. That is the only thing that can change the world. People need to turn to God.
Let's go back to that story of the shepherds keeping their watch over their flocks by night. The Angels come with this announcement. "Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth, goodwill toward men". A better translation might help us here. It would better be rendered, "Peace on earth among people with whom God is pleased". That is the key. There is peace on earth when we are living a life that is pleasing to God. There are so many things that divide us as a nation. So many things that divide us as people. One thing that could break through all of those barriers is a relationship with Jesus Christ where we look on one another as more than friends but as brothers and sisters in the family of God. We need to be right with God. When we are right with God we will be right with each other. That is the thing that we need to keep in mind in this particular time of the year.
I think in the Christmas celebration with all of the busyness and so-called celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ we can very easily lose God in the midst of it. I heard the story of a little boy who went down to a church near his home. They had a lot of candles lit. He didn't understand what it meant. He thought it must be a birthday celebration for Jesus like candles on a birthday cake. He started blowing the candles out and singing "Happy birthday" to Jesus. It is kind of cute really. The minister didn't think it was cute at all. He thought it was irreverent. He followed the little boy home. He knocked on the boy's front door. The mother answered. "Yes reverend can I help you"? "Yes your son was just down at the church and he was blowing out the candles and singing 'happy birthday"' to Jesus. I don't think he has enough reverence for God. I want to talk to him". "OK reverend".
She brings her son downstairs. The little boy is looking at this minister and he is a little terrified. The minister looks at the little boy and he squints his eyes and says, "Son where is God" trying to impress on the boy that God is in the church. It is a holy place. The little boy didn't know what to say. The minister again says, "Where is God"? The little boy still didn't have an answer. Finally the minister raises his voice. "Where is God"? Like only a minister can. The little guy runs upstairs terrified and says to his mom, "Mommy they lost God at that church and they are blaming me for taking him".
Yes we can lose God in the church. We can lose God in the culture. In recent years there has been the attempt by some to do away with the phrase merry Christmas and replace it with happy holidays or something else. They have done their best to remove nativity scenes and the mention of Christ. But fortunately there has been pushback on that. A recent survey revealed that 68% of Americans prefer merry Christmas to happy holidays. If I am in a store and they say happy holidays I say merry Christmas. I think we should step it up. Merry birth of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ day.
I want to go to a story now that talks about an event where Jesus was in a sense lost. It is a story from his childhood. This happened after his birth. It is when Mary and Joseph went to the temple with the 12-year-old Jesus and they actually lost him for a number of hours. To get the chronological backdrop to the story Jesus has been born in Bethlehem. Sometime later those magi, those wise men from the East come to bring their unusual gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Now Jesus is growing up. The Bible doesn't tell us a lot about the childhood of Jesus. We know a lot about his birth from Matthew and Luke we know about his public ministry in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But we know very little about his childhood.
Here is a rare glimpse into those hidden years. Those unknown years of the Lord Jesus. I am reading from Luke 2:41-52. I am reading from the new living translation. "Every year Jesus' parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. When Jesus was twelve years old, they attended the festival as usual. After the celebration was over, they started home to Nazareth, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. Is parents didn't miss him at first, because they assumed he was among the other travelers. But when he didn't show up that evening, they started looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they couldn't find him, they went back to Jerusalem to search for him there. Three days later they finally discovered him in the temple, sitting among the religious teachers, discussing deep questions with them. All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. His parents didn't know what to think. 'Son,' his mother said to him, 'Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.' 'But why did you need to search?' he asked. 'You should have known I would be in my Father's house?' But they didn't understand what he meant. Then he returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. And his mother stored all these things in her heart. So Jesus grew in both height and wisdom".
What an amazing story. That God came to this earth to walk among us fully God and fully man. He was not identical to us because he did not have a sinful nature. He did come to identify with us. How did this happen? He was supernaturally placed in the womb of a woman named Mary. By the way, the virgin birth is an essential belief for every follower of Jesus Christ. Christ was God. Not because he was virgin born. He was virgin born because he was God. It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said, "If Jesus Christ is not true God, how could he help us? If not true man, how could he help us"? There has never been a man like Jesus. He was not a man who became God. That is impossible. He was God becoming a man. As a man he grew up like any other man. Without sinful tendencies. But at the same time in a physical body. We know he was the son of a carpenter. Joseph was his dad. He would be taught how to build things. Build plows, homes, furniture. How to chop down trees. Jesus was what we might call a blue collar worker. Just a little sidebar on Joseph.
In my opinion Joseph the husband of Mary is the unsung hero of the Christmas story. Very little is said about Joseph. Much is said about Mary. Rightly so. There are very few songs written about Joseph. There is not a song Joseph did you know? Nothing. In fact, if you are asked to play Joseph in a school play for Christmas don't be excited. You are probably not going to have any lines at all. We don't read of Joseph really saying anything. But we do read of his actions. The Bible says he was a righteous man. So when the Angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her she was going to be the mother of the Messiah when she told Joseph he didn't believe her. They were in what is called the espousal period.
In Jewish culture being espoused was different than being engaged. Being espoused was in a way like being married. It lasted for a year. If you violated your vows, if you were sexually active at that time, it was as though you violated your marital vows. When Mary shows up pregnant and tells Joseph the story, he basically didn't believe her. But the Bible does say he was a righteous man and he loved Mary and decided to put her away privately. He was going to end the relationship. He was broken hearted. Then the Angel of the Lord came to Joseph and said, "Joseph don't be afraid to take to you Mary your wife because that which is in her womb is from the Holy Spirit".
Much to his credit Joseph steps up to the plate. He could have said, "I am sorry God. I can't do this". He knew he would have to go through life telling people a story that most would not believe. That his Son was sent from God, that his wife was the fulfillment of Bible prophesy, and all of the guys on the construction site would just say, "Yeah. Right". Who was going to buy it? But he did what God called him to do. Think about this. While it is true that God in heaven chose Mary to be the mother of our Lord, it is also true that God in heaven chose Joseph to be the earthly father figure for Christ. Of all the men God could have chosen, he said, "This is my man". That is why he is the unsung hero of the Christmas story.
We lose Jesus if you will at Christmas when nonessentials replace essentials. Let me say it again. We lose Jesus at Christmas when nonessentials replace essentials. When we get busy we cut back on things we don't think are essential. I have to go to this event. I have to do this other thing. I don't really have time to read my Bible. I don't really have time to pray. I have to go out and celebrate the birth of Christ at another thing. Maybe in my finances. There are so many things I have to spend my money on. I don't really want to spend any money on the things of God. Let's not tithe this month. Let's not give an offering this week. We need to spend it on other things. It should be the very opposite of that.
You might say, "God doesn't need my money". It was never about God needing your money. It was about God wanting your heart. He says, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also". We lose Jesus when nonessentials replace essentials. We lose Jesus when work replaces worship. We are so busy working for God we are forgetting the God we are working for. The classic example of this is the story of Jesus coming to the home of Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. They lived in the town of Bethany. It is striking distance from Jerusalem. Jesus would often come and visit them. I wonder if he came unannounced. "Martha we are here for lunch. I brought a few friends. Twelve in all".
Then there are these multitudes as well following us around. Martha was always so quick to whip up a feast for the Lord. I am sure she was a great cook and a great hostess. But on one particular occasion as Martha was in the kitchen getting the meal ready for our Lord she grew frustrated because Mary was not at her side assisting her. She looks out to see what Mary is doing. Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to him. Martha is mad. She bursts out of the kitchen. She probably has her apron on. "Kiss the chef" written on it. Food splattered everywhere. Put her hands on her hips. She says to Jesus, "Master don't you care that my sister has abandoned me in the kitchen. Tell her to lend me a hand". Instead of rebuking Mary Jesus turns to Martha and says, "Martha you are fussing too much. You are getting yourself all worked up over nothing. One thing is essential. Mary has chosen it. It is the main course. It won't be taken from her".
Mary was not letting a nonessential take the place of an essential. There is a place for having a meal. There is a place for doing our work. Then there is a place for worship. Then there is a place for contemplating the awesomeness of God. In all of this noisiness of Christmas it is a good thing to just unplug and be still and know that he is God. The message is not Christmas. The message is Christ. We are not alone. God is with us. If you have lost God, I have got good news for you. God is easy to find. If you feel far from God, guess who moved? Not God. You. He is here waiting for you. He can be found by you right now.
I read a story in the paper. It seems like every year I read a similar story of some guy who had a nativity set in front of his house. I have one of those. As it turns out someone swiped his baby Jesus figure. He was very upset. I don't know why they did a news story on this. He was actually quoted to say, "I have lost my Jesus and I don't know where they have taken him". I was thinking, "Seriously. Just buy another one at target or wherever you bought your nativity set". That is not true of Jesus himself. You cannot lose him. You can lose sight of him. He never loses sight of you. He is ready to enter into your life and change you. He lived. He died. He rose. He is coming. He is standing at the door and he is knocking.
To me Christmas is a lot like a birthday party thrown for somebody and they forget to invite the person they are honoring. Can you imagine if that were you? It is your 40th birthday. All your friends decided they should have a celebration. They had pictures of you blown up and hung on the walls. They even songs written with your name in the lyrics. In all of the celebration somehow in their busyness they forgot to invite you. You show up at your own birthday party and knock on the door. Someone sees you. They are kind of embarrassed. They didn't invite you. So they ignore you. You are trying to get in. That is Jesus at Christmas for many. That is Jesus at the door of many lives right now.
We have so many things going on we say. But there is Jesus saying, "I am standing at the door and I am knocking. If you will hear my voice and open the door, I will will come in". That baby wasn't born to give us a reason to go shopping. That baby wasn't born so we can just sing songs about him. As it has been said today, that baby was born to die. He was born under the shadow of the cross. He was born to die that we might live. That baby died on the cross, rose from the dead and will come into your life now if you will ask for his forgiveness.