Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
The Big Three of Christmas
Today I’m going to talk to you about the big three of Christmas. The three things everyone thinks about and really command attention at this important time of year. You’re probably thinking that the Big 3 would be – maybe Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, or the manger, the shepherds and the Wise Men. But no, the Big 3 of Christmas – the things that really dominate our thinking during the holidays are these:
- And Entertaining
Yes, every year it seems the big three get more and more difficult. Neighbor competes with neighbor to see who uses the most kilowatts of power and take up the most realestate on and around the house. Giving is the perennial problem with not enough money and not enough time. Black Friday has now bled into Black Thursday and we fight and claw over each other to see who’s going to get the ginormous 4k 3D monstrosity of a TV. And then entertaining—when we put on a perfect show for imperfect people and hope neither the food nor the guests blow up in our face. We end up dreading the holidays and then spending months recovering financially and emotionally.
So the quest becomes: is there a way to should we redeem the big thee? The good news is, yes. All is not lost. Christmas, as a way to celebrate the birth of the One who saved us can itself be saved. It starts with some bedrock values—lenses if you will on how we view the holidays and all the activities within.
The two values I’d like to suggest we instill into everything we do at Christmas are:
- Be mindful (or intentional)
- Be relational
We had our granddaughters over this year and saved the decorating of our house to do with them. It was really lovely seeing Christmas through the eyes of a young child. They asked lots of questions. One was: why do we put lights on the tree? At first I was thinking, well, they used to use candles but now we use lights to represent candles. But then I realized, for many of the decorations we put up there are perhaps symbols that point back to the first Christmas that can help us transform our thinking about the things we put around our house.
The lights, for instance, probably date back to Martin Luther. It’s said that while walking home from preparing a sermon one winter’s night, he noticed the brilliance of stars above and wanted to bring that feeling to his family. So at home he wired candles to the Christmas tree. Why would this be important at Christmas? I can think of three reasons off the top of my head:
- It was the star of Bethlehem that led the Wise Men to Mary and Joseph’s house to see the coming King.
- To the shepherds, the angels might at first have seemed like so many stars coming together.
- Jesus is the light of the world, so by lighting the night with a symbol for the “bright and morning star” (Rev 22:16) we celebrate His coming.
That’s just one example. I know for some Christians there is controversy about whether we should celebrate Christmas on December 25th and that the tree was really a pagan symbol for the coming spring after winter. But realize that when the tradition started in Germany in the 16th century – it was a purposeful celebration of Jesus’ birth, and not anything pagan.
I think there are a number of things we put around our houses that can really focus in on Jesus. A manger scene is a great example. It invites curiosity from young ones who want to know what these characters mean—a great excuse to preach the gospel.
I’m not saying that everything has to be some overt symbol of Christ—but be mindful of what you are putting up that can remind you of what Jesus did, and if you can, do it relationally, bringing in others to help and help remind you of why we do this—it isn’t to win the neighborhood decoration contest or at least use more watt than your next door neighbor—but to celebrate the coming of Jesus by calling out the day with special decorations.
Boy, this is a hard one, right? The giving of gifts has really become an American tradition of supporting stores and propping up the consumer economy. It’s become focused on “getting” instead of giving and really puts a lot of pressure on people to either give the perfect gift, or if they are financially strapped, to even give gifts at all.
The giving of gifts, of course, harkens back to the Wise Men who arrived in Bethlehem when Jesus was about two years old. They presented gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts were highly symbolic of Jesus as Suffering Savior and Coming King. After they gave, they bowed and worshipped. Over the centuries gift giving has been caught up in various traditions, and with the modern idea of Santa it has become synonymous with giving gifts to each other.
So getting very practical I’d like to suggest two things to reframe the giving of gifts.
- Give a valuable gift, not necessarily a costly one. I like nothing more than seeing something online or in a store that maybe isn’t expensive but really reminds me of the person I’m giving it to or speaks of our relationship in some way.
- Give an expressive gift that is an expression of your love to another—what you think would bless them, rather then just what they say they want on their list.
Again, this is the mindful and relational celebration of gift giving.
This one can be especially difficult with family histories, the need to impress, and the need for everything to be perfect. I know we can’t really control a lot of the pressures of entertaining at the holidays. I guess my reframe of entertaining harkens back to Mary and Joseph, who had the first, however impromptu, Christmas party when the shepherds came calling. Mary’s words of that encounter stand out to me.
Luke 2:19 19 “But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them.”
Can we be more mindful and relational when it comes to entertaining? Yes. Partly we can do that by lowering our expectations just a bit for the setting and increase our focus on the people and our relationship to them. Take time to speak something into a life that they can treasure—a kind word, a shared memory, a compliment, a treasured verse.
So if I were to pick The Big Three of Christmas, not based on our common experiences, but based on the event we celebrate—what would they be? I suggest they are: wonder, worship, and waiting.
The shepherds looked on with fear and awe as the angels spoke of the coming Messiah.
Luke 2: 17 “After seeing them, they reported the message they were told about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”
The word “amazed” means “wonder”. To think that God would come as a Savior—becoming a human for all of eternity just to save us from a mess we created—and for Him to come in such humble circumstances though He is the King of Kings—should instill in us a sense of marvel and wonder as well.
When the Wise Men came to see Jesus it says: Matthew 2:10 “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed beyond measure. 11 Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
The word “worship” there is the Greek proskuneo. The word’s origin come from the idea of a dog crouching before its master and licking their hand. It is an act of reverence and obeisance, yet it connotes a relationship and an intimacy.
Wonder should lead us to worship Jesus as well, as adopted sons and daughters.
Finally waiting. Psalm 4:4 says: “Reflect on your bed and be still.”
Isaiah 25:9 says: “On that day it will be said, “Look, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He has saved us. This is the LORD; we have waited for Him. Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.”
Then Psalm 27:13: “I am certain that I will see the LORD’s goodness in the land of the living. 14 Wait for the LORD; be strong and courageous. Wait for the LORD.”
The word in Hebrew for “wait” means “to hope for”. I think it would be lovely for us to quiet our hearts at some point in this busy season and let the hope of a Savior and the hope for a coming King permeate our being. We’re going to do just that on Christmas Eve this year.
So put these three ideas in your brain as you struggle with decorating, giving, and entertaining—wonder, worship, and waiting.