Wednesday, December 12, 2018


Giving, feasting, celebrating, laughing - it's all part of Christmas. And many of you will be gathering together at work parties or home groups or as families to celebrate this wonderful time of year we call Christmas. But if we were totally honest, those themes of togetherness and celebration aren't always the whole story, in fact, there are times when Christmas falls short of our expectations, when things aren't quite what we expect them to be. I mean, we hear the music in the background that says “May your days be merry and bright” but it doesn't always feel that way - sometimes it's not the most wonderful time of the year with kids jingle belling and everyone telling you be of good cheer. Inside we don't feel like it's the hap happiest season of all. It's not always as pretty and perfect as the Christmas cards and the commercials make it seem and I think that's OK. It's OK that we focus in on Christmas and it's OK that we think about the cheering but it's also OK that we realize that it's not always that way, in fact, I think it's both wise and honest to admit that sometimes Christmas can leave us feeling a little blue and sometimes we actually want to cheer when we hear old scrooge say bah-humbug, because it's not always what we want it to be.

Have you ever noticed how most Christmas movies or stories seem to have a serious undertone to them. Kind of a sad, kind of a reflection in the midst of it all, a family in conflict or poverty or illness or a broken romance or a pending foreclosure, or a coming to grips with past failures or with old wounds and we get sucked in by those stories every single year, as predictable as they are, they pull us in and there's something cathartic about them because we can all relate to a less than perfect Christmas. We can relate to things not being what they really should be. We watch those movies and we read those books because part of us is waiting for the resolution to come, we're waiting for the relief to occur, for that relationship to get mended, or the provision to be given.

Christmas is often like a magnifying glass, and by that, I mean that life doesn't stop for Christmas - and so the good and the bad are still there, but they're magnified in an even bigger ways. The good seems better and the bad seems worse. Think about your finances, if financially you're in a situation where you're feeling secure and provided for that's great and Christmas becomes a great season because you can give and you have freedom to do that. But if your finances are in a difficult place it's not so easy, suddenly you're struggling and you maybe even feel guilty or you wish that you could give and you have to make that wise choice not to give as much and that's a reality for some of us. That's a reality for many in our community and that's one of the reasons we gather food and we gather toys and we are generous with our money and we're giving away to partners in our community so that those who have less can have some food this Christmas or toys or a gift and we want to come alongside and provide for them. Think about Christmas when it comes to family - if family is good, if family is a gathering of people who we know are going to be there, then we can't wait for Christmas. It's going to be so good to be together and so good to see each other and we're going to tell those old stories and we're going to laugh together. But if family is strange, if there's some brokenness, if someone isn't going to be there this Christmas, if someone's far away then all of a sudden you can kind of begin to dread Christmas a little bit and may prefer in some ways if you could just skip right over it. The point is that Christmas isn't always perfect, in fact, sometimes it's down-right blue.

It's always interesting to see people who decorate with blue lights around their home. I know in our family there's a little bit of a debate because I love blue Christmas lights but not everyone does. It's not the traditional color of Christmas and often it gets passed over for more exciting and bright colors like white and gold and red and green but I think that blue is important because blue reminds us that there are times when Christmas doesn't go according to plan. I mean we know what the script should be, we’ve rehearsed it so many times that it's been reinforced in our minds, but all of a sudden something or somebody comes along and the lines in the script get changed. There are times when Christmas doesn't feel as cheerful and as upbeat as we hoped and there's many reasons for that. Maybe this is a year when someone we love has passed away and they're not going to be there this Christmas, or maybe a friend moved away, or maybe there is tension in a marriage or in a family between a parent and a child or between siblings, or maybe there is financial worry or job loss or illness and we're struggling to walk through that. Unfortunately, Christmas doesn't take a break for Christmas and so in the midst of all the singing, the bright lights and decorations we can be left with a sense of loneliness and blueness and I think that's OK, in fact, I think that's real life.

In the very 1st Christmas story we find it as well, despite the 100 Tiffany sets that you’ve seen where everything looks merry and bright, there is a darker side, a sadder side to Christmas. From the Bible, the 1st part of the story is very traditional. We know it's happy, it's filled with joy, it's the story of the stable and Mary and Joseph and 18 jewels and shepherds and it's unbelievable that Jesus is born. They celebrate, it’s good news for all the people and then the night comes to a very happy conclusion where they’re glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen which were just as they had been told. This good news, that was almost too good to be true, was real and they had come and found Jesus and everyone was filled with joy and praise. BUT soon the scene totally changes, fast forward and we see Mary and Joseph bring baby Jesus to the temple to dedicate him. This is when they would give him his official name, this is the public unveiling of the baby, it's a very exciting day and a man named Simeon when given the opportunity to cheer for Jesus, instead takes him in his arms and prompted by God, Simeon says to Mary - this child is destined to cause the rise and fall of many in Israel, this child is destined to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the hearts of many will be revealed and a sword will pierce your own soul too.
Not exactly the baby dedication card I think Mary and Joseph were looking to receive. I mean, think about it, Simeon's been thinking about this for a long time and this is a chance to make a declaration to make a blessing to speak about who Jesus is and yet his message is filled with sad and even hard and bad news. 1st Jesus would lift up and encourage many but he would also humble people, and bring people low. 2 nd Jesus is destined to be a sign that will be spoken against - this child will face opposition. When you think about it as a parent when our children are young and when they head off to school, we know how mean other children can be and we want to protect our children, we want everything to go well for them, we want to speak encouragement over them. Yes, many would love Jesus and follow him but others would hate him and seek to destroy him. 3rd the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed - Jesus was going to expose hidden motives, hidden sins, hidden secrets of men and women. He was coming to be a mirror, he was going to show truth and through God's word he would refuse to turn a blind eye to injustice and unrighteousness. Finally, it says that a sword would pierce Mary's own soul, that some day she would watch her son be beaten terribly, sentenced unjustly and die a horrible death on the cross, so that all could be made right with God - so that we could be forgiven.

So, while Christmas is filled with joy and peace and hope, there is also a serious, sobering and even sad side to Christmas. Unless we see the shadow of the cross falling on the manger, we are not seeing Christmas clearly. Jesus didn't enter the world to be a cute little baby, he came to be a cute little baby that would suffer and die on a cross so that our sins might be forgiven, so that we might be saved. No, the 1st Christmas was not a holy jolly Christmas, but it is the story of a teenage girl, pregnant with a child that was not her husband's. It's about a couple who were far away from home. It's about a child born in a dirty animal stall. It's about innocent boys being killed by a horrible King out of fear that one of them might be a rival to his throne. It's a story of someone sent into the world in peace who was condemned to die. It's about the light come into the darkness and yet the darkness in the world sought to snuff it out. It's about the never ending, self-giving mercy of God which was rejected and ultimately denied. If you look at all the things that went wrong with the birth of Jesus and all that's involved in the Christmas story you could reasonably conclude that the 1st one was really blue. That happens to us as well as we hear the good news because along with it comes the bad. We love the joy, the songs, the gifts and all those parts of Christmas, but then we look at our lives and the lives of those around and we think about what we need to get done and suddenly we find ourselves stressed out, overwhelmed, filled with grief, consumed with sorrow, and blanketed by loneliness. These things are always there but they just get magnified by Christmas.

The world is broken, it’s messed up and it's not the way that it should be. But we still sing Joy to the world because the Lord has come, he’s come to join us, he's come to bring light, he's come to make things right as they should be, he's come to declare the way. The Christmas season isn't a time to turn off the lights and sit in darkness. It's not a time to sing dirges and funeral hymns. It is a time to rejoice, it's a time to sing songs that speak of God's unfailing love and mercy because God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life - that's the plan at Christmas and that's the desire of God at Christmas. Jesus came at Christmas to give life to the world. Relationships and communities can be harsh, people die, move away, marriages fail, families have conflict and strife, people get sick, accidents happen and Christmas is not meant to dismiss those things because those hardships and those tragedies are real and we don't have to ignore them but the message of Christmas is that we never have to face those things alone. Jesus doesn't deny a blue Christmas, the very first blue Christmas recognizes it and joins us in the midst of it. If you are feeling the blueness of Christmas or if you're struggling with Christmas this year, Christmas is for you - it's the exact reason it exists.

For those of us who live in the northern hemisphere we understand that Christmas and darkness go together. I mean Christmas falls just 4 days after the darkest, shortest day of the year and even now we're surrounded so often by gray skies. It's like 8 hours of gray followed by 16 hours of darkness and sometimes it leaves you feeling like I just wish the sun would shine. And when it does we just want to go outside and bask in it. We in the north understand darkness and light and the beauty of when the light finally comes. But Christmas isn’t talking about a light on top of a tree or the lights that we hang on our homes or even a star in the sky and not even the sun as beautiful as that is - this is the light of the world that has come to rescue us from our Blue Christmas.
Christmas is not a delusion of a reality that does not exist, it's about the hope that comes to us in the midst of our reality. It's not about pretending everything is OK, It's about trusting and knowing that with help that it's going to be OK. Jesus is described as “The Wonderful Counselor” and wouldn’t it be great if we all could have Jesus as our counselor.

Jesus is a wonderful counselor because he hears us, and he listens to us. Sometimes we just need someone to listen to us, someone who we can pour life out to and talk; husbands sometimes your work wife simply needs you to listen to her; parents sometimes your kids just need you to listen to them; kids sometimes when mom and dad or grandma and grandpa are talking listening is one of the greatest gifts that you can give. Even if you've heard this story before, even if you know where the complaint is going, even if you know how wonderful it's going to be and you're already on to the next thing, stop and listen. Getting in touch with a counselor will help more than you know – someone who says, I hear you, I get it, I see you, I know where you are, I've been there. A wonderful counselor will listen, provide advice, guide and speak truth. You don't have to face this situation alone, or walk through this illness alone, or deal with this struggle alone, or hold on to this hurt alone - having a wonderful counselor who is there alongside is important. Isn't it ironic that at Christmas we actually spend so much time being busy, doing our stuff and we so rarely just sit and listen to others and let them talk? The bluer your Christmas the more time you need to spend with a wonderful counselor who will listen.

At Christmas we need to be less focused on the size of our problems and of our complaint. Help is available for you to change what you face when you seek to overcome it. If you're having a blue Christmas or there are blue moments in your Christmas you might simply need to talk to a wonderful counselor or you might need the intervention of Mighty God - in Jesus we find both. Explain what you need and be patient in getting there. I know for some of you what makes Christmas blue is that you didn't have a good family father. You were hurt by him or you were not provided for by your father or maybe your kids don't have the father you wish that they had and so Christmas becomes a reminder of that failure or maybe the opposite is true and you had a fantastic father, a loyal and a loving dad but he's no longer here and wouldn't it be great if he was here this Christmas. This is about more than just the absence of conflict, this is about wholeness, goodness, completeness and satisfaction. It's about establishing the way God wants it to be and he will make it happen. We can trust in Him. He is the bringer of wholeness and completion and satisfaction and he will do that in your life, he will do that in families, he has done that in history and I’m sure you could use a little of that this Christmas - a little more peace, a little more wholeness, a little more joy.

I read a study this week about how stressed out people are in the month of December - stressed out about Christmas. We are up at night trying to figure it out, worrying about it, sometimes feeling overwhelmed by it, Jesus is up with you - just invite him in on it. He doesn't slumber, he doesn't sleep, he's right there - tell him what you're worried about, what you're struggling with and ask him to fill you with peace. Jesus says - I have told you these things so that you might have peace in this world, you will have trouble but take heart, have courage because I have overcome the world. I love this because it doesn't ignore the problem of pain, it doesn't deny that there will be days like these days and moments when we feel blue but in the midst of those days Jesus says, I have come to be with you and to give you peace. This Christmas get hold of the one who is the wonderful counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father and the prince of peace and let him take hold of you and your life

If you're feeling the effects of a blue Christmas this year or you know someone who is, the Lord heals the broken hearted and he binds up their wounds. If you're hurting this Christmas remember Jesus came to be with you to help you and to lead you towards healing. He provides a way through grief in a death, a way of grace in a desert of grief, and he's there waiting for you, so that just like old Simeon we can reflect on the good in the bad, the happy and the sad, and we can come to the conclusion that we have encountered Jesus personally and therefore we are filled with peace.

Don't deny that life's not perfect. There are parts of our life that are broken, parts of our life that are sad, parts where we are frustrated and where we struggle but I think that that's not the whole story. When we start to listen to those around us and we listen to their stories, we demonstrate patience to enter into their world and we become a reflection of the attitudes of Jesus in our actions, and in our words. This Christmas may we each be filled with peace and be instruments of peace to the world around us – for that is the gift of Christmas.

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