Christmas Presence - His presence is joy
I admit it. I like Christmas presents. But something tells me these presents are out of my price range and yours. It’s not a bike or a trike it’s a Twike and it costs $40,000. Do you like to cook? Well, no good cook would be without a Fissler Gold and Diamond-studded cooking pot. Price tag: $420,000! Do you like pens? Well, don’t ever misplace the Caran d’Ache 1010 pen – considering it will cost you $174,000. I love my $45 Dakota Atomic Timer wrist watch. But it pales in comparison to the Parmigiani Bugatti Tourbillion Watch – price tag - $1,470,000. However, there’s bonus gift with the watch. If you buy their watch – they’ll give you a car! At that price folks, you could buy a fleet of cars.
Those gifts are obviously out of our price range, but the majority of these are not. Here are the top ten selling gifts for 2011. #10: Xbox 360 plus Kinect – you become the controller. #9: 3D LCD/LED TV’s. #8: Apple iPad 2 #7: an Espresso Coffee Machine. #6: Sporting Event Tickets or Concert Tickets #5: Golf Clubs. #4: Clothes. #3: Foot Massager. #2: A Pet! #1: the Amazon Kindle.[i] Book reading at its finest!
Bruce Thielemann came across a collection of letters that children wrote to Santa Claus. Here’s one from a boy named Alfred. "Dear Santa, you did not bring me anything good last year. You did not bring me anything good the year before that. This is your last chance.”[ii]
Alfred is frustrated and obviously disappointed. Maybe his home situation isn’t the best? Maybe his gift expectations are too high? I’m not sure about him, but I am totally sure about this. Gifts often don’t produce what we thought they would. A gift can create temporary happiness, but it can’t provide lasting joy. What can bring us joy? Truthfully, it isn’t so much a “what” as it is a “who”? It’s not a thing, it’s a person! Who can bring us joy? Let’s find out! Turn in your Bibles to Luke 2! Do you need a Bible? Let’s read about the birth of Jesus Christ! (Luke 2:1a)
In those days… Write in your Bible A.D. 60. Luke writes this gospel around A.D 60. Turn to Luke 1:3. Luke is recalling events that took place 64 years earlier. Around 6 to 4 BC. The time when Jesus was born. Luke loves history! Let’s keep reading. In those days Caesar Augustus… Right by Augustus write the number 5. Augustus was one of five key Emperors in the New Testament. There’s Augustus, then Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and then Vespasian.[iii] Why do I point that out? Because one of the reasons I am completely convinced that this is the word of God is that it’s historically accurate! Speaking of history look at verses 1 & 2. Augustus established a continual series of enrollments or census taking. Normally this was just for Roman citizens, but look at verse 3. Jews are now also to be enrolled. Jews were exempt from serving in the Roman army[iv], but they were not exempt from paying taxes and guess what – the Jews hated this!
So Joseph does what he has to do. Find verse 4. The town of Bethlehem has quite the history. I am grateful to both John MacArthur and Dr. David Faust. They both helped me see that Bethlehem means different things to different people. To Jacob Bethlehem was a place of tears! Bethlehem may be the birthplace of Jesus but it’s the burial place of Rachel – Jacob’s wife. She died while giving birth to Benjamin and was buried in Bethlehem. To Ruth Bethlehem was a place of new beginnings. In Bethlehem Ruth will live with Naomi her mother-in-law! She will marry Boaz and give birth to Obed who will be the grandfather of King David himself. For David, Bethlehem was a place of preparation! Before David becomes King; he will serve as a shepherd. Roaming the hills near Bethlehem David will learn patience and courage. How could David write “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” without first being a shepherd? Bethlehem prepared David to be God’s shepherd leader.[v] Now what did Bethlehem mean for Joseph and Mary? Go back to Luke 2:5!  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
That’s the bad news. Can anyone say, “Awkward?” Bethlehem is relief to Mary & Joseph. Do you think even one relative of Mary thought her being pregnant was a good idea? When a woman gets pregnant the announcement usually brings about smiles. Not for Mary (ONLY GLARES) and not for Joseph (ONLY frustration!) His family is astonished – even miffed that Joseph would continue with this joke or a marriage/betrothal. “Joseph, she is promiscuous. She’s loose. You can do better. Do I have to remind you about the birds and the bees, Joseph? She says God just enabled her to be with child. No sperm needed. It’s a miracle. Joseph, don’t mess up your life by marrying her!” Both Mary and Joseph wanted to get out of dodge. We have to go to Bethlehem! Let’s leave now. Why bother packing! No one’s going to miss us. Bethlehem was both a relief and an annoyance for Joseph and Mary. Bethlehem is 70 miles from Nazareth. A pregnant young woman will travel by donkey no less. What a pain!
Allow me a moment to bridge the gap from then to now! My calendar says that Christmas is a week today! Maybe you’re all into that! I love Christmas. It’s so exciting! But for many people this time of year is not fun.
Some of you might be like Jacob. Christmas is a time of tears. You buried someone you love. Or you are reminded about someone who’s no longer with you physically in your life! And that makes you sad! OR Christmas is a time of family frustration. Maybe it’s your spouse! Did you hear about Alyse Bradley? Her husband got so involved in his new video game, Modern Warfare 3, she offered her husband to the highest bidder on Craigslist. The ad read: "Easy to maintain, just feed and water him every 3-5 hours. You must have Internet and space for gaming. Got tired of waiting so he's free to a good home. If acceptable replacement is offered will trade."
She told the newspaper it was just a good-natured joke.[vi] You know that’s not a joke. She’s frustrated and I honestly don’t blame her. Maybe your divorce has made life complicated. You can’t seem to work things out with your ex-spouse and the kids are caught in the middle and it just breaks your heart! Maybe Christmas makes you feel lonelier than you normally do. Maybe someone you love is absent. Stuck in Afghanistan or in the hospital. Either way they won’t be home for the holidays. People are getting together with other people but you’re not! Mary & Joseph were at odds with their family. Are you? And because you are Christmas isn’t so merry and bright!
Something tells me you need a gift and not just any gift! Let’s start with the gift of perspective. (Video-Joy-this the season) And a 2nd gift - you are in desperate need of God’s personal presence! Go back to Luke 2. Find verse 6. (Read 6&7) So Mary actually gives birth! I wonder if Mary recalled how it all began. Go back one chapter to Luke 1:26. (Read 26-28) I don’t doubt that God was with Mary! But I do wonder sometimes if God is with me! Do you? Mary had God’s personal presence. I want that! How do I get? “By taking God at his word” which happens to be the definition of faith.[vii]
Mary had to believe that what the angel said to her was true. She was given a sign. Your aged relative. You know, old, barren Elizabeth is already six months pregnant. Isn’t that freaky cool? The shepherds also had to believe that what the angels said to them was true. It happened this way, go to Luke 2:8. (Read 8-15)
Faith is again taking God at his word. The shepherds did that. Faith involves going and doing and believing. Being God’s servant comes at great personal sacrifice. Just ask Mary, Joseph and the shepherds. But Greg, I’m just not sure! I don’t know if God is with me? OK. Start right here. Have you put your faith in Jesus Christ? God is with you the moment you put your trust is in his virgin born son! God is with you the moment you profess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord! God is with you the moment you go down into the water and come up out of the water! And the result of God’s presence is joy!
But Greg, Mary had a sign. It was Elizabeth. The shepherds had a sign. It was the manger. Who let’s their kid sleep in a feeding through? Mary did! Greg, I need a sign. Truthfully, you don’t. May I challenge you to stop looking for signs and become one instead? I was led to preach this message today and here’s why! I often do not want to choose joy! I let the weather get to me. I let people get to me. I just flat let my circumstances get to me. And what do I forfeit when I do that! JOY! What is joy? Gladness[viii] in my heart that’s not based on circumstances. The $40,000 Twike might be an amazing gift. Not to mention a million dollar watch, a 3D TV, a foot massager, or the Xbox 360! But when it comes to gifts – nothing beats God’s presence. What’s preventing you from experiencing joy today? (Ministry Time)
[ii] http://www.preachingtoday.com/site/utilities/print.html?query=Luke 2:10&searcharea=illustrations&type=scripture
[iii] John MacArthur, MacArthur Bible Commentary, 1276
[iv] John MacArthur, MacArthur Bible Commentary, 1276
[v] David Faust, Big Dreams in a Little Town, Christian Standard, 12/18/11
[vii] Mark E. Moore, The Chronological Life of Christ, Section 11, 52
[viii] Logos Bible Software, Joy, Luke 2:10 (NIV)