The Radically Normal Christian:
Part XII: A Radically Normal Christmas
December 11, 2011
Scripture reading: Luke 2:1-20 (Sarah)
Q What was your favorite Christmas?
I think one of my favorites has to be when I was 10 and my family went to Victoria. That is a beautiful city during Christmas; it looks so European, like something out of a book.
Because we spent our money on the trip, we didn’t get very many gifts, but I still remember the tin filled with gummy candies. I remember walking the streets, seeing the miniature shop, the horse drawn carriage, the museum, having Turkish delight.
* Since we didn’t have a lot of toys, we spent the morning reading the Christmas story and playing games together.
One unexpected gift was Christmas morning, going to the hotel’s restaurant and being told how much we could spend, only to be told by the waitress that a friend from home had paid our bill, and to get whatever we want.
* Looking back, it wasn’t gifts, it simply the memories that made it the best.
Tying is all together
This is the final part of our series on being Radically Normal and it is also my Christmas sermon, which is wonderful timing.
* Christmas is where we are the most torn between being radical and being normal.
But first, we need to briefly review what we have talked about. Radically Normal is based around five principles that are at the core of everything I have said:
1. God wants us to be mostly normal – the Bible deeply values living our everyday life to God’s glory and our joy. This make our faith attractive to outsiders (Tit. 2:10).
2. The OT tends to emphasize earthly things and the NT spiritual things, both of which God deeply values. If we only study the NT we will have a hyper-spiritual faith.
3. God’s preference is for us to enjoy this life as much as possible without being distracted from him; yet long-term and eternal happiness is his higher priority.
4. God’s rules are for our joy not misery. Obedience brings more joy, not less, though it doesn’t bring instant gratification.
5. This life, these bodies, art, beauty, earthly needs and this planet matter; this is the first chapter of the Great Story, not a rough draft.
These points flow through everything I have to say about having a radically normal Christmas.
Christmas is America’s biggest annual traditions. It isn’t just a day, it’s an entire season dedicated to celebration, “the holidays,” beginning with the Thanksgiving grocery shopping and ending with the New Year’s hangover.
It is also the one of the two holiest days in the Christian calendar, celebrating the Incarnation, God becoming flesh.
* It is no wonder that Christians can be so split-personality about Christmas.
The American part of them wants to go have a great time and buy a ton of presents for the kids. The Christian part of them keeps wanting to bring it back to Jesus.
* CS Lewis as an amusing piece on “Xmas” vs. “Christmas.” (http://www.khad.com/post/196009755/xmas-and-christmas-a-lost-chapter-from-herodotus)
It is normal for Christmas to be all about celebrating the holidays: Food, drinking, gifts, decorations. What’s so bad about that?
It is radical for Christmas to be all about Jesus.
Every time I hear “Jesus is the reason for the season” and “Let’s put Christian back in Christmas,” I worry that “they” won’t be happy until Christmas is nothing but Christ.
* But it is not “this or that” it is “this and that.”
It is radically normal for Christmas to so intertwine celebration and Jesus that we don’t know where one ends and the other begins. Nor do we care.
* A radically normal Christmas will be the most joy-filling, meaningful, wonder-driven, and deeply satisfying Christmas.
Have a Merry Christmas!
One of the most important ways to have a Biblical, God-honoring Christmas is to have a lot of fun. Think about that:
* When you deeply believe that joy is actually from God, it changes your perspective on everything.
And it is in the OT that we learn that. Buried in all of the OT laws about what not to eat and how to deal with mildew in your house is great instructions on how to have a party.
ESV Nehemiah 8:9-10 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
This idea is repeated again and again – Festival after festival, holy day after holy day, are filled with celebration.
* We have 10 legal holiday, plus 4-5 non-legal – they had 28.
Q It makes you wonder, why does God command so many parties?
First, who doesn’t want their kids to have fun?
* Principle #3: God’s preference is that we enjoy this life.
The best part of parenting is not making them do their chores or disciplining them, it is when those things are done, and we get to play with them, or when they are playing with each other.
* Because joy comes from God, happiness, in its own right, is God honoring and has the power to draw us to God.
In Screwtape Letters, it is when the backsliding patient simply enjoys a walk and a good book that he is drawn back to God, because he saw the falseness of his tainted fun.
Joyful by association
Second, the festivals were designed to associate joy with God. As I said, most people think that God is dull and Satan fun. A good radically normal Christmas will dispel that notion.
This is how I see it: God knows that we cannot fathom the eternal joy of heaven, so he gives us earthly joy not as a substitute, but as sample.
* It’s like going to Costco and enjoying all the samples.
A good Christmas celebration will be a good sample of joy in God, not a lack thereof.
I know of one woman who was required, every Christmas, to give away her favorite toy, you know to teach generosity and not to overvalue thing of this world.
* That is a bad way to associate joy with God.
On the other hand, I have watched Christians make it all about the presents for the kids, where the youngest child got so many gifts that her capacity for enjoying them had maxed out.
Q What does your Christmas celebration teach your kids about God and joy?
I think that this is a damnable heresy that removes tangible joy from our faith.
* In our day and age, Satan has led more people astray with this nonsense than better defended doctrines.
I pray that our children will not be among them. But if they don’t find it in God and his channels, they will go elsewhere.
* And Christmas is the best place to teach our kids that God and joy go hand in hand.
It would be silly, and dishonest, of you or me to pretend that every part of our celebration is God honoring. It is the sin that we add to joy that makes is wrong.
* Eating to the point of gluttony (and discomfort).
* Getting plastered.
* Flirting with the boss’ wife at the company party.
* The jealousy, bitterness, and otherwise unpleasant interactions with your family.
* The unrestrained materialism, teaching our kids that stuff = happiness.
The Biblical to restraint, to contentment, to holiness, aren’t meant to decrease joy, but increase it (Principle #4). Think about the downside to the holidays:
* Getting the credit card bill.
* The hangover.
* The fights with your spouse over your behavior.
* Children that just want more and more, and are less grateful for what they have.
Going back to the biblical festivals: They were more than just fun, they are also teaching opportunities. The holidays intentionally blended joy and meaning, giving meaning to the joy, and joy to the meaning.
Jewish festivals are filled with symbolism and fun traditions that point back to God:
* They live in tents and party for seven days to celebrate God’s provision in the desert (this is what is happening in Neh. 8).
* At harvest time they hold a huge party thanking God for his provision, bring their crops and waving them before God.
* Passover was (and still is) filled with traditions designed to engage the kids and tell the story of the Exodus.
Think about that for a moment – does that have any application for us at Christmas? Look at the traditions waiting to be used, for you, your friends, and family:
1. Christmas Lights: Jesus is the light the world. One Christmas light is dim, but hundreds of them are brilliant
2. Decorations: The beauty of the season is a great way to teach our kids that beauty is a good thing (Principle #5).
* Look at those lights, isn’t’ that creative?
* Look at that snow; isn’t it amazing how God decorates the world?
3. A nativity set: Show the story – I vividly remember ours.
4. The Christmas program
Bring your kids and other people’s kids to the Christmas performance. It will help them understand the story. It will help you too.
* Help us create snack bags: Need oranges and mixed nuts.
5. Receiving gifts – God’s gift to us
Talk to your kids about how amazing it is that Jesus became one of us. Personally meditate on that. My favorite Christmas passage is not one of the standards:
Philippians 2:5-11 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
It gives us a sense of just how generous our God is.
6. Saying thank you – gifts are unearned.
Any of you watch Futurerama? Remember the Santa? His standards are so high that everyone makes it on the naughty list and he goes around exacting vengeance every Christmas.
* That is theologically accurate to an extent; all of us deserve coal, but God gives us an xBox Kinect.
New pet peeve: What do we say to kids? “Have you been a good boy or girl?” We hope to use the threat of coal to motivate our kids. Do we mean it? Of course not!
* In reality, we give our kids gifts because we love them, because they are ours.
Strike that from your language. Make Christmas being about gratefully receiving undeserved gifts. Teach them that is what grace means; God gives us gifts we haven’t earned.
* You think about that too.
7. Giving gifts.
Jesus’ gift and all of God’s good gifts are an example of how to treat each other, with radically normal generosity. Don’t let it
denigrate into an expensive white elephant exchange.
* Teach your kids to think in terms of generosity.
One of the best ways is to give to those who can’t give back:
Luke 6:32-35 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
* Think at your work or at their school, who are people in need that you can be generous towards, and do it together.
This passage is challenging my tendency to base my giving on how effective it will be.
· Story of King’s Kid’s performance on Christmas and the “needy” kids who got more stuff than we had.
Sure, we must be good stewards of what we have, but God is kind to the greedy, ungrateful, and those who use the system.
8. Christmas Eve service – wonder and beauty, and fire!
9. Have a short “church” service on Christmas, or join us here. There are handout you can use.
Create memories with meaning
I am not saying that every Christmas tradition must have a meaning pointing back to Jesus’ birth. Rather the elements of fun, joy, and meaning should flow so seamlessly that all lose track of which ones are “fun” and which are “meaningful.”
We are doing very well if our kids think of Christmas as being about toys, candy canes, and Jesus born, the taste of the candy canes become the taste of the Incarnation.
The tangible joy of toys and candy will lend joy to the (as yet) intangible joy of the Incarnation. And all the time, we must be demonstrating (not simply teaching) that “Jesus born” is most important.
* Your children are already collecting memories, are they memories that will guide their souls as well as warm hearts?
One encouragement: The sooner you can start these things with your kids, the more naturally they will become a part of their Christmas memories.
* EG: Our Christmas hospitality.
A radically normal Christmas
Now think about the principle #1: God wants you to be mostly normal. How you celebrate Christmas has tremendous power to “make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Tit. 2:10).
* Celebrating joyfully will silence the foolish talk that God is a kill-joy.
* Celebrating responsibly will probably increase respect, even if they give you a hard time.
Giving gifts without going overboard will be respected. Generosity to those in need will be respected.
I wish you all a truly merry Christmas. I hope that this season is filled with joy and reflection, wonder and delight, that you give and receive good gifts, that you create wonderful and meaningful memories for your family.
* PPT: Please text Marilyn; service is almost over: 421-5543
Q & A