I’ve never looked so out of shape—fat, bloated, heavy in the middle, legs like tree stumps, arms like sewer pipes. The next minute, I faced an opposite set of problems: I looked like a ten-foot pole with big feet. My kids laughed, and we all had fun in the hall of mirrors at the county fair. The thin, flexible mirrors, called distortion mirrors, were curved, twisted, and bent so as to warp the images and reflect a distorted sense of reality.
If you want to see real distortion, aim the mirror of our popular culture at the Christmas story in the Gospels. The “holidays” no longer reflect the true meaning of Christmas. John MacArthur, in his The Incarnation of the Triune God, wrote, “Christmas has really become a hopeless muddle of confusion. The humility and the poverty of the stable are somehow confused with the wealth and indulgence and selfishness of gift giving. The quietness of Bethlehem is mingled with the din of shopping malls and freeway traffic. The soberness of the Incarnation is somehow mixed with the drunkenness of this season.”
The paradox of Christmas is heard in the sounds—the honking of car horns, the jingling of bells, the laughing of children, the strains of the carolers, the “Ho, Ho, Ho” of department store Santas. It’s all a part of the frenzy of the season; yet the best Christmas moments are the quiet ones, and the best reflection of Christmas takes place in the mirror of our own hearts.
One verse in the Bible tells us exactly how to celebrate Christmas, and who better than Mary herself to set the example. Luke 2:19 says, “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
Pondering is a word worth pondering. According to the dictionary, it means “to weigh in the mind, to think about, to reflect on. . . .” This describes a biblical pattern, for the psalmist wrote: “Reflect in your heart and be still. . . . I will reflect on all You have done and meditate on Your actions . . . I reflect on the work of Your hands” (Psalm 4:4; 77:12; 143:5, HCSB).
“Sober reflection is good for the heart,” says Ecclesiastes 7:3 (NET).
There are lots of ways to practice the art of personal reflection during the holidays. The final moments of the day are often the best when the kids are in bed and we walk through the house a final time to turn off the lights and lock the doors. In the darkness with only the twinkling glow of the Christmas tree lights, it’s fun to sink into a chair, hand curled around a cup of cocoa, and ponder the ageless wonders of Christmas.
It’s also wonderful to gather the family around the tree for a traditional reading of the Christmas story, perhaps on Christmas Eve. I grew up hearing the Christmas story told in the classic language of the King James Version, and to me it’s still beautiful: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed . . .” (Luke 2:1). Reading those words to my grandchildren can still bring a tear to my eyes.
How wonderful to arrive early for Christmas Eve services and sit quietly in the pew listening to the strains of the organ, or relax at our desk as a candle flickers in the darkness, or to get up early on Christmas Day to watch the sun rise briskly in the east. How wonderful to reflect on the timeless story of Jesus, keeping it in mind and pondering these things in your heart.
It’s one of the best ways of Christmas.
Have you ever celebrated a holiday named Memas?
Some people observe it every December 25. For them, the Christ of Christmas has been replaced by a Me-centered worldview. This is a celebrity generation in which everyone wants little flashes of fame and fortune. One of the reasons the average wedding costs $25,000 is because so many couples want to experience for at least a day the kind of endless glamour enjoyed by celebs.
Even Christmas has been affected; and if we aren’t careful, it becomes all about us—our schedules, our diets, our budgets, our wish lists, our time off, our vacation, our parking spaces, our gifts to enjoy or return.
I love the trappings of Christmas as much as anyone; but the truths of Christmas trump the trappings of Christmas, and too many people get trapped in the trappings and forget the truth. How can we enjoy Christmas if we’re the reason for the season?
In a sense, of course, Christmas is all about us. God loved us, became flesh for us, died to forgive us our sins, and rose to give us everlasting life. Christmas is the celebration of what Jesus did for us. But in return, we should make it all about Him: loving Him, serving Him, praising Him, and emulating His attitude of humility.
Here are three words to remember during December. You might write them on a piece of paper to keep in your pocket or purse through the holidays.Fear Knots
You know the feeling well. The hair on the back of your neck stands up. You get goose bumps on your arms. Your mouth feels like it’s full of cotton. Your palms are as damp as wet sponges. That’s what FEAR does!
You certainly felt it as a child. Fear and childhood go hand-in-hand, especially at night—monsters under the bed, strange noises in creaky houses, branches scraping against window screens. We’ve all been there and remember those feelings. But, as you and I know, fears don’t disappear when we grow older—they just change shapes and names. Adults wrestle with fears like heights, the dentist, and identity theft. Those fears keep adults up at night and even make people ask their doctors for something to “calm their nerves.” Fear is real and powerful.
Here’s what happens in a nanosecond: Our five senses send a message (“Danger!”) to the brain’s thalamus, which sends the message to the amygdala. The amygdala does two things: One, it sends a message to the prefrontal cortex (“Help!”), which initiates the “flight or fight” response. And two, the amygdala sends messages to glands to start releasing chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol (the STRESS hormone). Those chemicals raise our heartbeat and blood pressure so we’re ready for the choice: Flight or fight?Fall, Family, and Friends
I can’t prove this, of course, but I think God made fall just for family and friends. Anytime is a great time for being with those we love and appreciate, but fall seems special. Think about the reasons why this time of year is a great time for relationships and reunions:
•School. This is a huge one. As much as kids imply that they don’t like school, most kids love the social reunion that returning to school brings. But it’s not just the kids—parents enjoy seeing each other again at school and sporting events.
•Church. Because of travel and vacations, some churches make adjustments to their regularly scheduled programs during the summer. But after summer is over, everything gets back to normal. Suddenly, you’re seeing friends at church and in small groups that you’ve not seen consistently during the summer.
•Thanksgiving. If there’s one event where families and friends connect, it has to be Thanksgiving. It seems people like to celebrate Christmas—at least Christmas morning—with just family. (It’s hard to travel with all those presents, right?) But in America, Thanksgiving is the day we fling open the doors, tell people to bring a dish, spread it all out, and thank God for the blessings we enjoy.
•Christmas. If Thanksgiving is the holiday of food and fun, Christmas is the holiday of love. In spite of the commercialization of Christmas, we can choose to focus on making memories year after year that remind us of God’s amazing gift of love to us. As we attend special events and celebrate the Lord’s birth, we are inevitably drawn closer to those we love as family and friends.
Lump those four dynamics together—school, church, and the two holidays—and fall arrives with more reasons to celebrate than any other season of the year.
Of all people, Christians ought to be the most generous and enthusiastic givers. After all, God is the greatest giver who ever existed! Dr. David Jeremiah illustrates this truth with examples of the priceless treasure that God has given us. Discover why you really can’t outgive God.All Sermons by Dr. David Jeremiah