Today we begin a Christmas series called “Christmas Through the Ages.” Starting in our current era, we will look back at different periods when Christmas has been celebrated, ending on Christmas Sunday as we examine the very first Christmas . Today we will discuss Christmas in America in 2013 in what I consider to be a hijacked holiday.
What is the international symbol of Christmas? It is NOT a baby in a manger, or Wise men presenting gifts. It is a CHRISTMAS TREE. In 2010 I visited one of our missionary families in Tokyo. We went to a popular shopping area in Yokohama. There were Christmas trees EVERYWHERE, including a 60 foot tall tree in the center of a courtyard, much like the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. Remember that there are very few Christians in Japan – fewer than 2% according to Operation World (http://www.operationworld.org/japa) They have Christmas trees but know almost nothing about Christ.
Christmas has been hijacked! In America a larger percentage of people know at least something about the birth of Christ, but many are almost totally ignorant of spiritual things, and a small but vocal group of religion haters work very hard at eliminating every reference to Christ in our society.
One such effort was recently promoted by a group called the Freedom from Religion Foundation. In Sacramento, CA, and other cities they sponsor billboard advertising the slogan, “Believe in humanity, not in god.” (Billboard slogan in Sacramento, CA, 2013)
This same organization just won a court case from a Federal Court judge in Wisconsin claiming that the parsonage allowance is unconstitutional.
“Freedom From Religion Foundation co-presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker praised Crabb’s ruling in a statement Friday. “May we say hallelujah!” http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/11/25/atheist-activists-big-legal-win-against-the-irs-could-spell-major-trouble-for-clergy-salaries/
It’s hard to miss the irony. A group wanting freedom from religion expresses “hallelujah” when they are happy.
Or, this cartoon of a child in trouble in school for saying the “C” Word – CHRISTMAS.
Here in New Jersay, South Jersey assemblyman Ron Dancer has introduced legislation to settle the issue of Christmas songs and content being used in schools at Christmas. The new legislation sponsored by Assemblyman, R-Burlington, would allow New Jersey school districts to:
• Display holiday scenes or symbols on school property, although they must include scenes or symbols of more than one religion.
• Include musical selections with religious themes at holiday concerts, if the concerts also include secular music or music from at least two religions.
• Teach students about traditional winter celebrations.
• Allow students and faculty to offer traditional Christmas greeting
CHRISTMAS has been hijacked in America.
And unlike the latest Tim Allen movie, “The Christmas Clause 9,” It’s not Santa who needs to be rescued. It’s the very meaning of Christmas itself.
I. How Something Holy Can Become an Idol.
An idol is something you worship. It can be a thing, a person, or even an idea – like a holiday.
Idols often begin with something good. That’s just what happened to Israel during the time of the Divided Kingdom, around 700 BC.
A Biblical Example – The Bronze Serpent. 2 Kings 18
“In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah, king of Israel, Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done. He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).” (2 Kings 18:1–4, ESV)
Hezekiah’s reign began in 715 BC. During this time the people were Worshiping the Bronze Serpent. The origins of this go back 700 years earlier to the Wilderness generation in Numbers 21
“And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” (Numbers 21:5–9, ESV)
The serpent was a symbol of FAITH
The serpent was a symbol of GOD’S POWER
The serpent was a symbol of SALVATION.
JESUS referred to FAITH by reminding his followers, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,” (John 3:14, ESV)
For most of this history, the serpent on the pole was a reminder of Faith and Salvation.
Now, 700 years later, the SYMBOL of healing had become a relic of idolatry.
“Such idolatry would not have been tolerated either by David or by Solomon in the early part of his reign, by Asa or Jehoshaphat.” Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 2 Ki 18:4.
It only takes ONE GENERATION to forget God. Most likely, Israel entered into this kind of idolatry during the reign of KING AHAZ.
Hezekiah acted BOLDLY to destroy something that was originally GOOD but had become CORRUPTED. People were very likely UPSET with Hezekiah!
II. CHRISTMAS Hijackers. Defeating these hijackers will keep Christmas from turning into an idol.
1. People fighting for “Black Friday” specials.
2. Debt. “In 2012, it is expected that the average American will be spending $854 in gifts for friends and loved ones. American Parents Spend $271 on Christmas Gifts Per Child. (“Average Cost Of An American Christmas,” Amanda C. Haury, November 26, 2012, http://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/1112/average-cost-of-an-american-christmas.aspx)
3. CURE: The best cure for GREED is GIVING.
a. Nehemiah 8 – gifts given when the people read the law and celebrated TABERNACLES for the first time in many years.
b. Esther 9 – gifts given when HAMAN’S PLOT was foiled.
1. For some, the traditions surpass worship.
2. More concerned with maintaining traditions than worshiping Christ.
3. CURE: Create traditions that focus on CHRIST.
a. One family celebrates every Christmas eve with a birthday cake for Jesus.
b. Our family reads the Gospel story on Christmas Eve.
c. Some take the kids shipping for needy families.
C. Electronics. Parents will win the affection of their children with electronics. But those devices often destroy family unity and communication. CURE:
1. Don’t confuse Privacy and Secrecy. Your children’s electronics are open for inspection at any time.
2. Set limits on all electronics.
3. Don’t allow children to isolate themselves from the family.
D. Obligation. We feel under pressure to give gifts.
1. We feel an obligation to give a gift when one is given to you
2. This creates giving with the wrong motives, poor stewardship, DEBT
3. The root of this is a LIE from Satan! For example, we may believe that the person gave this gift in order to get something in return, or that they will think less of me if I don’t give something in return. These are lies that we allow to take control and direct our actions.
4. The CURE for this is that we believe God’s Word. The specific truth that can help us in this situation is to remember that receiving graciously is just as important as giving graciously. The Lord wants me to bless others by graciously accepting a gift. This was Paul’s exhortation to the believers in Macedonia. These believers begged to be a part of the relief efforts for the saints in Jerusalem. “begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—” (2 Corinthians 8:4, ESV)
E. But the biggest hijacker of Christmas is that jolly old elf – Santa. I remember getting a phone call from my son’s kindergarten teacher. She wanted me to reprimand my son for spoiling Christmas for all the kids. My five year old announced to his friends that Santa was not real and that their parents were lying to them! I encouraged my son to be more gracious in the way that he spoke, but I also commended him for telling the truth. I had little sympathy for the kids or their parents who followed this Christmas stealing myth, drawing attention away from Christ. I know for some this is a sensitive issue. Some Christians find the Santa fantasy as an important tradition. Some of us promoted Santa and our kids turned out OK. Some of us grew up with Santa and we turned out OK. But let’s discuss the spiritual merit of mixing up fantasy and spirituality.
1. We put FANTASY and the BIBLE on the same level
2. We DISTRACT from Christ at Christmas
3. We create doubt in our children’s mind regarding our truthfulness
4. We PERSONIFY Santa with attributes given only to GOD. Notice that the attributes assigned to “Santa” truly are attributes that belong to God alone. Note this in the lyrics of the song, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town Only JESUS is coming to town! “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”” (Acts 1:11, ESV)
He’s making a list Only JESUS is the one making a list of our actions! “Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.” (Revelation 20:12, ESV)
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out Who’s naughty and nice Only GOD knows our actions and whether they are good or evil. “But, O Lord of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.” (Jeremiah 11:20, ESV)
Santa Claus is coming to town
He sees you when you’re sleeping Only GOD watches over us while we are sleeping! “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” (Proverbs 15:3, ESV)
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good Only GOD knows if we have been good or bad. “for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” (Ps 1:6)
So be good for goodness sake!
O! You better watch out!
You better not cry, Better not pout , I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
Santa is an impersonator!
My advice for new Christians and young families…. Don’t invite Santa!
We cannot escape the enormity of what Christmas has become in American culture.
But we CAN Worship Christ and not Christmas