Sermon Manuscript . . .
The People Who Don’t Get Christmas
A little girl came home from Sunday school triumphantly waving a paper. “Mommy,” she said, “my teacher says I drew the most unusual Christmas picture she has ever seen!” The mother studied the picture for a moment and concluded it was indeed a very peculiar Christmas picture.
“This is wonderfully drawn, but why have you made all these people riding on the back of an airplane?” the mother gently asked.
“It’s the flight into Egypt,” the little girl said, with a hint of disappointment that the picture’s meaning wasn’t immediately obvious.
“Oh,” the mother said cautiously. “Well, who is this mean-looking man at the front?”
“That’s Pontius, the pilot,” the girl said, now visibly impatient.
“I see. And here you have Mary and Joseph and the baby,” she volunteered. Studying the picture silently for a moment, she summoned the courage to ask, “But who is this fat man sitting behind Mary?”
The little girl sighed. “Can’t you tell? That’s Round John Virgin!”
So much fantasy has been imposed upon this holiday that people are numb to the real meaning of Christmas–Santa, the Grinch, the baby in a manger, lights, trees, shopping, family, relatives. In fact, it is so confusing, most people in our day actually don’t get it–they don’t get Christmas. We have compounded the holiday with so many traditions and so much hype, we don’t get the utter simplicity of Christ’s birth. It is ironic that of all holidays, this one has become the most complex. It is no wonder so many people don’t get Christmas.
But that one thing has not changed since the time of Joseph and Mary–nearly everyone didn’t get that first Christmas too. Like people today, they were busy, consumed with all kinds of things–some important, and some not important, but nearly everyone didn’t get Christ. And the similarities between their world and ours are striking. Every one of the people in the very first Christmas 2,000 years ago has a counterpart in modern society. As I share them with you briefly now, see if you can discover which first century person you are most like.
First Do you remember the INNKEEPER?
The Bible, the Word of God, does not specifically mention him, but that night in Bethlehem, an innkeeper was confronted by a man and his pregnant wife. He turned them away, saying that he had no room for them. And so he didn’t get Christmas. Not only did he turn Mary and Joseph away, but he apparently did not call for anyone to help a young mother about to give birth.
Luke 2:7 sets the scene. “Mary gave birth to her first born son; she wrapped him in cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” This verse directly implies the existence of the innkeeper, though the Bible is not clear about what kind of inn Bethlehem had. The word for inn can mean guest room, hostel, or simply shelter. So the inn could have been anything from a fully fledged bed and breakfast lodge to a lean-to on someone’s property that was built to house both people and animals.
The innkeeper could have been a landowner whose property included an informal shelter, or perhaps he was the host of a boarding house. In any case, whatever hospitality Joseph and Mary sought, it was unavailable to them–they were turned away. In the hustle and bustle of the season, the innkeeper didn’t get the most important birth in history. But he should have got it–he was so-o-o close to it. Mary and Joseph stood on his doorstep, perhaps even entered his waiting room or stood before his desk. But he didn’t get it. Why?
He didn’t get it because he was preoccupied. His inn, or his guest room, or his lean-to shelter was full. It was census time in Bethlehem (Luke 2:1 to 6) and the city was bulging with everyone whose ancestry went back to that little town. Bethlehem was the city of David, so every living descendant of David would have been there, along with every other family whose roots were in Bethlehem. The town was crowded, the innkeeper was busy.
There is no indication that he was hostile or even unsympathetic. He was just busy, that’s all. That is exactly like millions of people today. Their lives are consumed with activity–not necessarily sinful activity, just things to keep them busy. At Christmas, people are especially busy–shopping, banquets, parties, concerts, school programs, Christmas cards, special meals, gatherings of relatives, trees, decorations, deciding what to buy, fighting crowds, buying gifts, wrapping gifts, worrying how to pay for the gifts and more. All those things compete for our attention.
If that were not the case, there would not be so many grim faces in our stores or so many sleepy people in our churches. And in all the clutter of activity, many pre-occupied people don’t get the Son of God. They’re too busy to think through that which is most important. They are too busy to listen to God as He tries to get their attention. They have not stopped long enough to hear what He has been trying to say to them–through people, circumstances and most clearly through the Word of God, the Bible. Are you like the INNKEEPER?
Second Another man who didn’t get Christmas was HEROD
Matthew chapter 2 tells his story, though it is very different than the innkeeper. You see, Herod was not ignorant–he was very well informed. Matthew 2:1 to 8 says this, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem saying, 2‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east, and have come to worship Him.’ 3And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him. 4And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he began to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born. 5And they said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet Micah.”
Skip to verse 7, “Then Herod secretly called the magi and ascertained from them the time the star appeared. 8And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, ‘Go and make careful search for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, that I too may come and worship Him.’ “
Herod pretended he wanted to worship Jesus Christ, but he actually was afraid of this One who was called the King of the Jews. He did not want any competition for his throne. When it says that he was troubled in verse 3, it means he literally panicked. His supremacy was in jeopardy. He had no use for any other king of the Jews. If the innkeeper’s problem was preoccupation, Herod’s was fear.
Herod was an Idumean, he was not even a Jew. His father, Antipater, had done some favors to Rome, and as payment, the Herod family was given the right to rule Judea, which was under Roman occupation. Herod was a consummate politician–he continued to do everything he could to gain favor with Rome. In return, the Roman senate even gave him an army. Herod was then able to extend his empire from Judea to Jordan to Syria to Lebanon. He even called himself king of the Jews and was known by that title until his death.
It is no wonder Herod panicked when he heard someone else had been born who was being called King of the Jews. He was immediately threatened, even though Jesus was merely a baby and Herod was a full grown man. Yet Herod was not only paranoid, he was also ruthless. He killed at least one of his own wives and three of his sons, for fear of them taking his position away. He wiped out entire families that he felt were a threat to him. Even at his death, he ordered the death of some of the most distinguished citizens of Jerusalem, simply because he knew the people would not weep for him at his death–so he slaughtered a whole group of leading citizens, just so the people would cry, even if it was not for him.
He was so merciless that it is not difficult to imagine how he would choose to vent his rage, when he learned a child had been born who, according to prophesy, was the true King of the Jews. He was furious when he realized the magi were not going to report back to him. So in Matthew 2:16 to 18, it tells us he sent his soldiers to kill all the male children 2 years old and younger, who were living in Bethlehem and the surrounding area–an incredibly horrific scene. In his mad effort to wipe out one child, Herod had scores of children slaughtered. God had already warned Mary and Joseph and they had fled to Egypt with Jesus–so Herod had failed. He didn’t get the first Christmas because of a jealous fear.
Believe it or not, there are some Herod-types in our society. In fact, there may be some here now, sitting next to you. Look out–Herod’s fear was that someone would take his throne. Lots of people are like that. They won’t allow anything to interfere with their career, their position, their power, their ambition, their plans or their lifestyle. They are not about to let someone else be king of their lives. They see Jesus as a threat, and so they don’t get Christmas.
People don’t mind taking time to remember Jesus’ birth. People will embrace Christ as a resource to pray to in times of trouble. People will gladly accept Christ as a spiritual benefactor. People will even add Christ to their lives and call themselves Christians. They will do all that and more, except to submit to Christ as King and as Lord, as their Creator and Master–their Sovereign. That might be a threat to their lifestyle, or whatever else they are hanging on to.
They are as fearful of losing their own self determination as Herod was of losing his throne. They won’t come to Christ if He threatens to cramp their style. They will not accept His right to rule over them, because they still want to run their own show–do their own thing. “No one is going to tell us what to do or how to live our lives.” The world is full of people who cry out, “We do not want this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14).
And so we have a world of kings who are not about to bow to Jesus Christ as King. Such people are governed by the same kind of jealous fear that drove Herod. And like Herod, they don’t get Christmas. If you are like Herod, even in a small way, perhaps you should really hear what Jesus said in Mark 8:36, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” Are you like Herod–afraid of submission, afraid of losing control, afraid of having to surrender to the God who made you?
Third A whole group of people who didn’t get Christmas–the RELIGIOUS LEADERS
Matthew 2:4 to 6 says that Herod, “Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people . . . began to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born. 5And they said to him, ‘in Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet, 6“And you, Bethlehem, land of Judea, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a Ruler, who will shepherd My people Israel.” ‘ “
This is shocking–the priests and scribes knew exactly where Christ was to be born. These were the theologians, the brains, the religious elite of Israel. They knew the Scripture well enough to quote Micah 5:2, which prophesied 700 years before the birth of Christ, that He would be born in Bethlehem. Yet they didn’t get Christmas. Why? They didn’t care. They were indifferent. At least Herod feared Christ’s authority, and the innkeeper could claim ignorance, but the religious leaders had all the facts–they just did not care. Their own Messiah was not important to them . . . “whatever”.
If the truth were known, they felt like they did not need Him. They were self-righteous. They kept all the rules and they believed they were already all that God required. They were okay in their own minds–good enough. And as a result, very proud. The root of indifference is always pride. These men were too busy with themselves to be concerned about Jesus. Engrossed in their own self-sufficiency, they carried on their routine with no time for God. They had a church, but not Christ. They had a system, but not the Savior. They had programs, but not a Person.
Sadly, that’s a common reaction today–indifference. There are many today who think they are alright just the way they are. They have just enough religion to think they are right with God and ready for Heaven. But that is a very dangerous attitude. You see, Jesus’ primary ministry was to people who were horrific sinners and would admit it. Jesus said in Matthew 9:13, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” In other words, those who are indifferent, who don’t realize they are sinners, cannot respond to His call and won’t turn to nor depend on Christ alone.
There are more people in our nation who ignore Christ because they don’t realize how sinful they are, than there are people who reject Him because they think faith in God is only for the ignorant. Everywhere you look, you can see indifferent people who don’t care about Christ, because they don’t understand their need for salvation. They don’t openly oppose Christ, they just ignore Christ. They don’t care about the remedy, because they don’t believe they have the disease. Such people don’t get Christmas. Are you like the religious leaders in their indifference? But this gets even worse . . .
Fourth The entire CITY of Jerusalem didn’t get Christmas
Apart from a lonely group of shepherds who were watching some flocks, no one from Jerusalem came to see the Savior. Now here is Jerusalem, the center of worship, the place where the coming Christ would be most hoped for. This is where the Temple was. This was the place of all the festivals and feasts, and this city was the place where the Messiah would be most talked about and longed for. And note, this was a city within walking distance of Bethlehem, only a few miles away–you can see it. Yet the city didn’t get Christmas.
Even when the magi came and asked where the King of the Jews was, the Bible tells us that it was not only Herod who was troubled, but every single person in Jerusalem was concerned. It says in Matthew 2:3, “All Jerusalem was troubled“–the entire city was panicked, yet no one came to visit Christ, not one person from the city came to worship Him. Why? The answer may surprise you–religion.
The people of Jerusalem were very religious. The city was the hub of religious activity for the entire nation. People were so busy with the ritual that they didn’t get the reality. Consumed with their minutiae, they didn’t get the message. They were caught up in the externals of religion, but they had abandoned the heart of faith. Jesus did not fit their system. They were looking for a Messiah who would be a conquering hero, not a baby in a manger. They hoped for a leader who would support their religious system–and yet Jesus opposed everything it stood for.
Jesus offered truth that would free them from the oppressive and legalistic religion the scribes and Pharisees had hung on the nation. But the majority of the people were so established in their religion, they would not listen. People like that are the hardest of hearing when it comes to the truth of Jesus Christ. They are so determined to earn their own way to God, to prove they can be righteous on their own, that they do not see how spiritually poor they are. Religion can be a deadly trap. Rituals and rules enable people to feel spiritual when they are not.
I have talked to countless people who were active in churches for years, though they never knew Christ–they were not right with God. They were not saved. They were not on their way to Heaven, though they thought they were. Church attendance, giving to others, good deeds, right theology, and other religious activities cannot save you–it cannot give you a relationship with God, and cannot get you into Heaven. Religion can damn people to Hell as surely as immorality.
Don’t be deceived into thinking that you are right with God simply because you have some religion, or you belong to a denomination, or have a church membership somewhere. Religion kept an entire city of the most dedicated, moral, upright, God-fearing and religious people the world has ever known from Christmas. Don’t let it keep you. Are you like the city of Jerusalem, lost in your religion?
Fifth An entire EMPIRE didn’t get Christmas
All of Rome could have rejoiced in the Savior’s birth, but they didn’t get it either. Most of you know that the Roman Empire ruled the world during the first century. The emperor at the time of the birth of Christ was Caesar Augustus. He was the grand nephew of Julius Caesar, and took over after Jules was assassinated. He was a benevolent ruler and brought a great deal of peace to the world during his reign. But what he is most remembered for is, right in the middle of his reign he ordered a worldwide census, that the Bible talks about in Luke 2:1 which says, “Now it came about in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.”
So Jesus was born in the heyday of the Roman Empire. Yet nearly all of Rome didn’t get Christmas. Roman soldiers were everywhere in Bethlehem and the surrounding area, overseeing the census, registering people and keeping order. But they didn’t get Jesus’ birth–why? Idolatry. They had their own gods–they were even willing to let their emperor pretend to be god. Christ did not fit into their concept of many deities. So the Romans totally ignored His birth and Jesus became just one more number in their census.
Idolatry has a strong grip on our world today and millions don’t get Christmas because of it. I am not talking of the dark idolatry of distant lands, but a subtler form of idolatry in our society. And millions here don’t get Christmas because of it. Most people in America don’t worship carved idols or view our president as a god, but nevertheless they do worship false gods. Some worship money, others sex. I know people who worship cars, their body, power, sports, prestige, beauty, popularity and fame–those things are pagan gods.
The idolatry of the 21st century is selfishness and materialism. If that is what you worship, then you won’t get Christmas either. If you took the opportunity, to go to a store during the last two weeks, not to shop, but just to watch people–to sit quietly and observe behavior, facial expressions, words, attitudes, and dealings with others. You too would come to the conclusion that selfishness and materialism are the gods of our age. Are you like the Romans, who didn’t get Christmas cause of Idolatry?
Sixth The city of NAZARETH didn’t get Christmas
Nazareth was an uncultured town, quite a distance from Bethlehem. Yet Nazareth was the home of Mary and Joseph and the boyhood home of Jesus. Although He was born in Bethlehem, he grew up in Nazareth and lived His perfect life before all the people there to see. About 28 years later, Jesus returned to His hometown to reveal to the Nazarenes just who He was. For the first time ever, He told them publicly in Luke 4:16 to 21 that He was the Messiah–that He was God in the flesh. And what was their reaction?
The Bible tells us they tried to kill Him. The people who knew Jesus best–those with whom He had grown up and among whom He had lived, tried to kill Him. That is what I call not getting Christmas. John 1:11 says, “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” The people of Nazareth, who knew Him better than anyone, had no idea who He really was. Jesus Himself marveled at how they didn’t get it. What was their problem? They knew Him too well. They knew Him so well, they couldn’t believe He was anyone special. Familiarity mixed with unbelief is a deadly thing. Familiarity does breed contempt.
This is like those who were raised in Christian homes, but who have now rejected the faith. I believe the most tragic sin of all is the unbelief of a person who has heard all the sermons, sat through all the Bible lessons, knows all the Christmas stories, occasionally comes to church, but rejects Christ. There is no good news for such a person, because he already knows and rejects the truth that could set him free. What a sad way to not get Christmas.
Are you like Nazareth, who didn’t get Christ because of familiarity? Don’t be one who doesn’t get Christmas through ignorant preoccupation, jealous fear, prideful indifference, religious ritual, false gods, and even contemptuous familiarity–all are merely different expressions of the one main reason people don’t get Christmas. The main reason is unbelief. Jesus has been called the ideal man, an example of love, the highest model of religion, the foremost pattern of virtue, the greatest of all men, and the finest teacher who ever lived. All of those descriptions capture elements of His character, but they all fall short of the full truth.
The apostle Thomas expressed it perfectly when he saw Jesus after the resurrection and exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Are you one who doesn’t get Christmas? Oh you like presents, eat a big dinner and decorate a tree–but you know in your heart you are no different from the innkeeper, Herod, the religious leaders, the people of Jerusalem, the Romans, or the citizens of Nazareth. You must not remain as you are–you must act today!
Don’t start acting religious–Jesus Christ hates religion. Don’t try to live good enough–no one can be good enough to stand in the presence of our perfect, sinless God. Don’t invent a relationship with Jesus on your terms–you’re not in charge, you’re not running the show, you are not God. Don’t compare yourself to others . . . saying, “Hey, I’m better than Hitler, I am not that bad a sinner.” Only one sin will actually keep you out of Heaven.
Jesus Christ is eternal God, your Creator. And out of love, He became a man, was born as a baby, God in a body, lived a perfect life–then by His choice took care of the sin which separates you from God, by paying the price, dying on a cross. Then three days later, rose from the dead and lives today to give abundant life now and eternal life forever. But you must exchange all that you are for all that He is. Depend upon Him alone for your salvation and turn from living life your way, to follow His way found in His Word. Turn from your sin and unbelief and receive Christ as Lord and God.
He will forgive your sin, change your life and give you the greatest Christmas gift anyone can receive. John 1:11 to 12 says, “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”
Some years back, a newspaper told the story of a christening party, in a wealthy Boston suburb. The parents had opened their home to all their friends and relatives. As the party moved along, everyone was having a wonderful time until someone asked the mother, “By the way, where’s the baby?” The heart of the mother jumped as she instantly ran to the master bedroom, where she had left the baby sleeping. Upon her arrival, she found a huge pile of coats where the baby had been, and after pushing them aside found her child underneath–dead from suffocation.
The very purpose of the celebration had been ignored. The very reason they threw the party had been lost in the celebration. I pray you do not miss the reason for the season. We celebrate Jesus Christ and He calls you to celebrate as well. It is time for you to surrender to your God, your Lord and King. If you want to know more about what it means to be a Christian, please check the card where it says, “I would like to know more about what It means to be a Christian.” Also, I want to invite you to come back to church if you really want to know what God is like and what He says to us.