By Pastor Glenn Pease
George Mason did not want to be bothered with his brother's kids and all the noise, so he refused the invitation to be with them for Christmas. He planned to just stay home and listen to records. He was a workaholic and had plenty to do. On Christmas Eve after all his employees had left he went into the office vault to get some extra cash. He forgot the large door of the vault had been newly oiled and it soundlessly swung shut behind him and he was plunged into darkness as the click on the automatic lock startled him into panic. He pounded the door and shouted but he knew it was futile. Everyone was gone, and even the cleaning lady. He began to assure himself that he had enough air for the night, but then he remembered that tomorrow was Christmas and no one would come to work. His heart began to pound and in fear he wondered if he could last two nights.
He remembered that modern vaults are suppose to have a safety hole, and so he began to feel in the dark, and to his great relief he found it at the top of the back wall. It was small but adequate for air, and so he knew he would not suffocate. There he sat in the dark through the endless hours of Christmas Eve and all through Christmas Day. He was lonely, hungry and uncomfortable, but he survived. The day after Christmas the chief cashier arrived and unlocked the vault, but did not open it. George just slipped out and was not even seen. He took a taxi home and freshened up and then came back to work. Nobody in the office even knew what he had gone through, and that was just the way he wanted it, for it was embarrassing to have missed Christmas. It was a day of light and love, and he sat alone in the dark. It was not a very wise way to miss Christmas.
There are many ways to miss Christmas, and none of them are wise, but some are more unwise than others. I read of an ocean liner which was sailing for Australia in late December, and it crossed the international dateline during the night of Dec. 24, which meant it was immediately the night of Dec. 25th, and so the next morning it was already Dec. 26th. The passengers on that ship missed Christmas. That was a very unusual situation, but all they really missed was a date on the calendar, and Christmas is much more than that. It is a celebration of the Savior's birth, and this can be celebrated at any time.
People get sick and have accidents and are separated for many reasons, but none of these need to lead to missing Christmas. You can miss the day, but wise men never miss Christmas regardless of the complexities of life that may make them miss the day. Even the wise men in the Bible missed the day of Christ's birth. It was after His birthday that they arrived, and so technically, if you are only referring to a date, they even missed Christmas. But if Christmas is not a mere period of time, but a person we love and worship at all times, then we can see that it is true that wise men never miss Christmas. There are 3 characteristics of the wise men that we want to consider. We want to look at these 3 characteristics with the prayer that we would possess them so that regardless of circumstances we too will never miss Christmas.
I. THE WISE WONDER AT THE GLORY OF GOD.
Christmas begins with wonder. Had the wise men not wondered at the star of Bethlehem they would have missed Christmas. There are many theories about that star. In their book The Return Of The Star Of Bethlehem, Kenneth Boe and William Proctor disgusted 6 of these theories, and then conclude that the star was an appearance of the Shekinah glory-that is the visible manifestation of the presence of God. This theory appeals to me, but whatever you conviction about that star, everyone agrees it was a glorious sight and a symbol of God at work in the world. It produced wonder in those who beheld its shining splendor.
Wise men are those who respond to the wonder of God's glory in the world. The Shepherds were wise men too in this sense, for they could have said after their exposure to God's glory in the presence of the angels, "Boy are we glad that is over, it was scary." They could have gone back to a boring night of sheep watching, but they responded to the wonder of God's glory, and they went to see the Christ child. Everybody who got in on Christmas did so by means of wonder. That is the first step toward Christmas, and those who do not take this first step miss Christmas regardless of what they do on Dec. 25th.
You can have a ball and spend a mint;
You can rent a hall and get in print;
You can buy to the sky and be feeling high,
But if you never wonder at God's glory
You have missed the essence of the story.
You have missed Christmas.
Pastor Samuel Marsden back in the early 1800's was on a ship going to Australia. He met a native from New Zealand who was in a state of awe at the white man's world, and he was open to the wonder of God's love. When he heard the Gospel he gladly opened his heart to receive Jesus Christ as his Savior. He urged Pastor Marsden to come to New Zealand to share this good news with his people. He could not do so then, but he promised he would come. When the New Zealander returned home and told of what he had heard and seen his people thought travel had affected his mind. He told of how the white man rode large animals, but they scoffed and doubted, and they were very skeptical of the story that God had become man.
It was Christmas Eve of 1814 that a ship docked and Pastor Marsden rode a horse onto New Zealand soil, and the people were in a state of wonder. They took advantage of that wonder and the next day heard the first Christmas service in the history of New Zealand. The crowds came and many responded to the wonder of the Gospel because they were already in a state of wonder because of what they had seen. Whatever moves people to wonder, be it the marvels of God's creation, or the miracles of the supernatural, it is the first step toward getting in on Christmas. Without a sense of wonder people will always miss Christmas.
Herod was so hung up on himself that he had no sense of wonder that a God ordained king was born. He had a chance no other king ever had to be in on Christmas, but he missed it. He not only missed it, he messed it up for others in Bethlehem by his hatred. He could have been a hero of history, and there would have been songs and poetry written about him as he joined the wise men to bow before the baby king. Herod had Christmas in the palm of his hand, but he missed it. He let the greatest opportunity of his life slip through his hands because he lacked a sense of wonder at what God was doing.
The chief priests and the teachers were in the same boat. They even knew the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, and yet when the wise men told them of their experience of the star they merely yawned and went back to their duties devoid of wonder at what God was doing in the world. Had they had any sense of wonder there would have been a marvelous camel chase to Jerusalem to Bethlehem as they sought to out run the wise men to be the first to bow before their king. There was no such race, however, and so the scholars of Israel missed Christmas.
The modern day story of Scrooge is the Herod scene all over again. The crotchety old skinflint is so wrapped up in his own interests that he has none in the interest of others. It only ends happily because the wonder of human love finally penetrates his hard heart. Had Herod been touched by love he too may have gotten in on Christmas, but Herod was not open to love, either human or divine. This is the sad side of Christmas, and it is the main reason why so many miss Christmas. They have no sense of wonder at the glory of God in love. We do not see the star today, and the angels song is still, but love is present everyday for those to see who will.
Our lack of wonder at love, even human love, leads many to miss the joy of Christmas. One wife and mother describes the sterile routine of her Christmas. "On Christmas Eve, I'm in the kitchen cooking while everyone else is reading magazines or watching TV. Then we eat, and then a few people help me clean up, and its back to the TV. The next morning we open gifts. Then I cook breakfast. The dishes are cleaned up and then its more TV and sports magazines. Then I'm back in the kitchen again cooking dinner." Here is a family missing Christmas for lack of wonder. We have all been through Christmas much like her. In fact, this is the major cause for all the negative emotions of Christmas. A doctor in New York concluded that people are depressed at Christmas because of the fear that nothing will happen. He calls it the trauma of eventlessness. Christmas comes and goes and nothing happens. It is just like any other day.
The problem is that we lose the sense of wonder at what has already happened. Dr. Muldwyn Edwards returned to a former church he served for their 100th anniversary. One of the saints came up to him and she said, "Since you left my husband Albert has died and gone to heaven." Dr. Edwards vaguely remembered that Albert only came to church on Christmas and Easter, and his Christian life left much to be desired. His response was, "So Albert died and went to heaven, I must say I am sorry." That did not sound right so he corrected himself and said, "I mean to say I am glad." The widow's expression revealed that his correction did little to help his original blunder, and so in one last heroic attempt he said, "What I really mean is I'm amazed."
It is not only amazing that people like Albert make it into heaven. It is amazing that any of us do, for none of us are saved by our own righteousness, but solely by God's amazing grace. There is always the danger that even as Christians we will take our eyes off the wonder of God's glory and grace and focus on the folly of man. Bernard Shaw saw only the gluttony and drunkenness of the day, and so he organized a society for the abolition of Christmas. After 50 years of campaigning he had to admit it hadn't caught on, for up to that point he was the only member. He missed 50 years of Christmas because he focused on the sin of man rather than the salvation that God had provided in the Savior.
It is no wonder men lose their wonder and miss Christmas if all they see is the gory story of sin. It is the glory story of the Savior that produces the wonder that leads to Christmas. The wise never miss Christmas because the wise wonder at God's glory, in the star, in the song, and especially in the Savior.
II. THE WISE WORK TOWARD THE GOAL OF GOD.
Christmas does not just fall into everybody's lap like it did the shepherds. They had it handed to them on a heavenly platter. You would have to be on a slab in the morgue not to be moved by the wonder they experienced. But the wise men had to make some major decisions to get in on Christmas. We do not know the details of their lives. Were they married? Did they have families? Were they men of leisure, or did they have jobs with the government they may have had to sacrifice in order to leave? We do not know, but we do know it was not a matter of a mere whim that brought them to Bethlehem. It was a matter of work.
No matter how rich they were they had to get provisions organized to make the long journey, and that was work. There were no Holiday Inns along the way, and they would have to give up the comforts of home for the hardships of travel. We do not know the full cost of their journey, but it was work. It was work to go through channels to get a hearing with Herod, and to get the information they needed. The star did not make everything easy and effortless for them. They had to use their reason and the human resources available, or they would have missed Christmas. It took some work on their part to find where the baby king was located. They put shoe leather to their faith, and they worked at getting to the goal they had been called to. Had they not been willing to put forth the effort they would have never been heard of. Maybe there were other students of the stars who had the wonder of it, but they never put forth the effort to learn what it was all about. Those who will not search will not find, and they will miss Christmas. Millions will miss Christmas because they will not do anything to get to where God wants them to be. Wonder not followed by work will seldom lead to worship.
A few years back a Brethren Church in Ohio went all out and built a live nativity scene for Christmas. It was a lot of work, but it was work it as people were impressed with the live sheep and even a real donkey. On Christmas Eve the donkey got loose and the whole cast were chasing after it. The young lady portraying Mary was the unfortunate one to catch up to it first and it bit her. She was rushed to a nearby hospital, and you can imagine the surprise of those on duty in the emergency room as in walked shepherds with straw clinging to them and colorfully dressed wise men with mud on their shoes, and Joseph tenderly leading a young lady in tears announcing that this is Mary, and she has been bitten by a donkey.
There is a price to pay to portray Christmas. There is risk and there is work, but only those who are willing to work and walk toward God's goal will ever get there. Those who will not work at it will, like Herod and the scholars of Jerusalem, sit in darkness and miss Christmas. Even the shepherds had to put forth some effort to get to the stable. It was easy compared to the wise men's efforts, but still it was effort. Christmas would not come to them, they had to go to it, or they too would have missed Christmas.
The Christ child came into the world by labor.
Joseph and Mary came to Bethlehem with effort.
The shepherds came to the stable with effort.
The wise men came to Bethlehem with great effort.
Everyone involved in Christmas had to put forth some effort or miss Christmas.
Carl Sandburg wrote a poem called God Is No Gentleman. It sounds like a slam, but it is really a compliment. He wrote:
God gets up in the morning
And says, 'Another day!'
God goes to work every day
At regular hours,
God is not gentleman, for God puts on
Overalls and gets dirty running the
Universe we know about and several
Other universes nobody knows about,
God is ever at work, and those who want to be in on reaching His goals must be at work with Him.
III. THE WISE WORSHIP THE GIFT OF GOD.
Back in the early 1800's Lewis and Clark explored the Northwest. They came within forty miles of what is now Yellowstone Park, but they missed it. It was so close, but they never saw the wonder of this unique part of Gods creation.
There were many guests in the Inn of Bethlehem. They were only feet away from the greatest event in human history, which was the incarnation, the Word becoming flesh, but they missed it. God was doing wonders under their nose, but they were not looking, and they missed it.
Those who sought found, and the clear objective of all their wonder and work was to worship the one God sent into the world. It was the gift of Jesus. When the wise men came to Jerusalem they announced that they had seen His star in the East, and they had come to worship Him. When they saw the child the first thing they did was to bow down and worship Him. This is the bottom line, for all the wonder and work in the world are worthless that do not lead to the worship of Jesus. He is the Gift of Gifts. He is the Present of God's Presence. He is Emmanuel-God with us.
They worshiped Him and then opened their gifts and presented Him with what they had. Christmas is not giving first. It is receiving the gift of God and acknowledging that gift by worship. The shepherds, as far as we know, did not bring any gift to the stable, but they went away glorifying and praising God. They worshiped, for they had received God's gift. Henry Bosch wrote,
To find Him like the shepherds,
As Savior, blest, adored,
To own Him like the wise men,
As Sovereign and as Lord;
To bring Him first my worship
And then my gifts display,
This is the highest blessing
Which can be mine today!
You can't miss Christmas if you worship and adore God's Christmas gift, for that is the essence of Christmas. Wise men never miss Christmas because they never cease to worship their Savior and King. Herod was too busy worshiping himself to come and worship the Christ child. Even the religious leaders were too caught up in their own self-centered world to come and worship. There are only two kinds of people when it comes to Christmas: those who worship God's Gift, and those who miss Christmas because they do not worship the Gift. I saw a new sculptured form of Santa Claus who was in a pose on his knees before the newborn child, and he was worshiping Him as Lord and Savior. This was a restoration of Santa to his original place as St. Nicholas. This is where every wise saint will be, for wise people never miss Christmas, for they know that the essence of Christmas is the worship of Christ. If you love and adore Him you cannot miss Christmas, for that is Christmas.
The wise men were scholarly, cultured and rich. The shepherds were lowered class uneducated and poor. They all came to the same place of worship, and that is why they did not miss Christmas, and that is the only way there is to not miss it. There are many ways to miss it, but only one way to not miss it, and that is the way of worship. There are those who worship the sun, moon and stars, and some worship the angels, and others worship other people. There are many forms of worship, and many objects of worship, but all of them lead to the missing of Christmas but the worship of God's gift in the Lord Jesus Christ. Wise men worship Him, but foolish men worship lesser gifts and miss Christmas.
Dietrich Bonhoffer was the pastor that the Nazis held in prison and then executed just before the end of World War II. In his letters from prison he wrote this just before Christmas in 1943: "For a Christian, there is nothing peculiarly different about Christmas in a prison cell. I dare say it will have more meaning and will be observed with greater sincerity here in prison than in places where all that survives of the feast is its name. That misery, suffering, poverty, loneliness, helplessness, and guilt look very different to the eyes of God from what they do to men, that God should come down to the very place which men usually abhor, that Christ was born in a stable because there was no room for Him in the Inn-these things a prisoner can understand better than anyone else."
He and many other Christian prisoners were so limited. They had no decorated sanctuary, no tree, no lights, and no music. They had no family and yet they never missed Christmas, for they loved and worshiped Jesus as Lord and Savior. Christmas will come to all, but many will miss it because they will not worship. Let us not be among that crowd, but be instead among the wise who never miss Christmas.