Merry Christmas! I truly mean that. For many people the Christmas season is the most difficult time of the year. Certainly family is important, but sometimes the most painful part of Christmas is family. Would you agree?
How about Christmas dinner? We hope it will be good, but it doesn’t always turn out like we hoped! How about great powder on the mountain? Nice! But with great powder goes long lift lines! How about lots of presents under the tree? Fun to unwrap but then what?
The truth is we can have all are Christmas stuff perfectly in place and still feel blue. Why is that? There’s a “homesickness” in Christmas that can’t be cured by anything in this world. The only one who can really make our Christmas merry is Jesus. Let me explain…
You don’t have to be very old to realize that not all Christmas’ are equally merry. I remember Christmas morning as a child. My brothers and sister would wake up and race through the dark to see that tree all lit up and surrounded by those wonderful presents.
We’d bounce around like rubber balls waiting for mom and dad to finally get out of bed. I knew there was a gift under that tree with my name on it, and once I unwrapped it and had it in my hands my life would be complete. Do you remember those days?
A few years later, my dad got sick and lost his job. There were only a handful of presents under the tree. Still, we gathered together, read the Christmas story, sang and prayed and as I look back, we discovered a joy and hope deeper than anything we’d known before.
Perhaps my merriest Christmas happened when I was 25 years old. I was attending Bible School in Seattle. I didn’t have enough money to make it home to Montana for Christmas so I spend Christmas break working as the school maintenance man to earn my tuition. I was camping in a dorm room without heat, eating crackers and cheese and Top Ramen. One night I came back from work to a dark cold room feeling blue and alone.
When I flipped on the light the whole room had been decorated with hundreds of little red gingham bows. A plate of cookies and some hot chocolate was on the desk. I was shocked that somebody knew and cared about me. When I figured out who had done it, I married her. And every year, Grace and I still put those little gingham bows on our Christmas tree.
Christmas is about hope, but not primarily our hope. This is important to understand. Christmas first and foremost is about God’s hope to bring his lost children home again! When our sin prevented us from getting to him, he came to us.
Remember the old song “I’ll be home for Christmas”? Why does that old song still touch us so deeply? Jesus said it’s because what we are really longing for is to be home with our Heavenly Father who loves us - like the story he told of the faithful father and prodigal son.
Another Christmas classic is “I’ll have a blue, blue Christmas without you.” Have you ever imagined God singing that song about you? If you read the Bible you’ll discover that’s exactly what God is saying! He longs to bring us home again. Are you open to that?
The man who recorded the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke was a classically trained Greek scholar, a physician and a historian. He was commissioned by a wealthy Roman to carefully investigate the story of Jesus 20 years or so after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Luke was not a Christian at the time. That came as a result of his investigation. He records the story this way. “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.” Luke 2:1-2
Luke pinpoints Jesus birth between 6 and 4 BC. The more archeologists learn about this time period, the more it verifies the truth of Luke’s account. It drives the sceptics crazy!
700 years before Jesus was born the prophet Micah predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, the birthplace of King David. Now God orchestrates it so that Joseph will be forced to take the 3 day journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem with Mary at full term.
“While they were there the time came for the baby to be born and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:6-7
Luke doesn’t tell us about a stable. But when the mother of Constantine, the Emperor of Rome, went to Bethlehem to investigate Luke’s story 200 years later, she asked the people about the manger. They showed her the cave where Jesus was born. The inn was gone, but the cave was still being used as a stable.
Luke then shifts the story to the shepherds who were in the fields east of town. They were tending to the birthing of the Passover lambs. Because of this messy bloody task, they were considered unclean by the Jewish culture. They were the lowest of the low on the social ladder. The only door in Bethlehem open them would be a cave without a door - a stable where a newborn baby lay in a manger. A baby who was the Savior of the world!
“Suddenly an angel appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified!” Luke 2:9 These shepherds grew up being shunned, ridiculed, rejected as worthless, untrustworthy. I doubt they argued with the place they’d been given. “Why would God care about shepherds?” Maybe you’ve asked yourself, “Why would God care about me?” But God has a special place in his heart for people everybody else dismisses and makes fun of!
The angel said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you! He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:10-12
Remember Luke was a scholar. I don’t know if Luke was an aristocrat, but he certainly was part of their circle. Putting the shepherd in a key role in the story of salvation must have run counter to every cultural assumption he ever had! He must have thought, “Surely not!” But the evidence was indisputable. This God was unlike any god Luke had ever known. In fact, this story of the manger is dangerously revolutionary! No wonder Herod reacted so violently. He understood the ramifications of a king who comes in at the bottom!
Back in the shepherd’s field, the shepherds were treated to the greatest concert in the history of the world - even though nobody else saw it. God did it for them alone!
The sky was filled with angels singing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:14 The shepherds must have asked themselves. “You’ve got to be kidding! God’s favor rests on us? We were told God got his jollies by throwing guys like us in the fire.”
When the concert was over the shepherds said, “Let’s go over to Bethlehem and check it out, even we can get into a stable!” At that point that their lives changed forever. Listen carefully! Rather than running away from God, they began walking toward him!
The shepherds had no illusions about who they were. Spiritually speaking they were homeless and hopeless. They had nothing to bring to the Savior of the world and they knew it. Still they went and they found Mary and the baby just as the angel had said.
The Lord selected and elected these humble shepherds to become the first evangelists. The Lord gave them a purpose and a hope and a joy they didn’t even know existed before. He made a way for them to come home, their real home, their heavenly home.
What happened in their lives is still happening today. When Jesus comes into a human heart, his love drives out our fear and he fills us with an assurance that no enemy, no threat, in this world can ever take away. He forgives our sin and he gives us eternal life.
Are you homesick tonight? Are you satisfied with the trajectory of your life? Do you sense you are headed in the wrong direction? Do you feel you are wasting time, spinning your wheels? Are you ready for eternity? Jesus is the answer. He’s always been the answer.
Are you willing to follow the shepherds? They left everything and begin walking toward Jesus. How about you? Are you willing to come and see what the angels sang about?
The fact that Jesus was willing to leave heaven and be born into a dark and dirty stable is a sign that he wants to move into your heart, whatever condition it may be in. He wants to make your heart a holy place, filled with the light, hope, peace, and joy of his presence.
You see, the Lord misses you. He wants you to come home. He wants to live with you and within you forever. Whether you are admit it or not, you are homesick for him.
Since the time of the shepherds, millions of people have respond to the angel’s message and begun walking toward Jesus. What they’ve all discovered is this. “There is nothing in this world that will give you greater joy than coming home to Jesus.” That’s the true meaning of Christmas! Jesus is what you’ve been looking for and he’s calling you, will you come?