December 24, 2018
Pastor Jeff Struecker
We’re going to spend just a few moments looking at two passages of Scripture: One from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament. I was heading in a totally different direction this morning until I had a chance to see this headline on a news channel. It was basically an internet research firm that was checking out what everybody in America was looking at on the Internet last night and this morning (Christmas Eve). Then it showed this map of the United States from Satelliteinternet.com. This map shows you wherever you are in America the most searched topic in your state. The number one searched item in the state of California is, “Is Starbuck’s going to be open tomorrow?”. If you’re in Wyoming, you want to know what the Kardashians put on their Christmas card. If you’re in Delaware, you’re looking at Tender right now. If you’re in Rhode Island, you’re checking out NFL scores. If you’re in Georgia, you’re trying to figure out, “How do I get my last-minute shopping done?”. For those of you who live on the other side of the river in Alabama, y’all are much further behind because you’re still trying to figure out what to buy on Christmas. It’s the night before Christmas, and you don’t know what to buy.
I was going in a totally different direction until I saw the state of Alaska. Because in the state of Alaska, the number one searched query is, “What is Christmas all about? Why do people celebrate Christmas?” That’s pretty bad. But you know, they’re way on the other side of the country, so maybe it’s just those crazy folks up in the Pacific Northwest, ‘cause in Washington state they’ve already moved past Christmas. They’re already thinking about the day after Christmas. They’re asking questions about Boxer Day…until you look at North Carolina. Can you read what the number one searched question in the state of North Carolina is? “What is Christmas, and why do people celebrate Christmas?” That map is pretty funny, but it’s also pretty sad when you stop and think about it for just a second.
What I’m going to try to do for all of us today is answer this question, “Why is Christmas such a big deal?” Why is this the number one holiday in America? Why is this the one time that everything shuts down, and everybody comes back together as a family? Why do churches celebrate this holiday? I’ve got a couple of thoughts for you. The first thought comes directly out of the Old Testament. Here are the two answers to the questions, “What is Christmas? Why is it a big deal?”
I. Christmas turns failure into victory
Christmas is God’s way of turning failures or epic mistakes into victory. If you want to talk about maybe one of the greatest failures recorded in the Scriptures, this would make the not top ten list. This would be number one on Come on, Man. This is when Israel gets delivered out of slavery from Egypt. Even though God took Israel out of Egypt, apparently there was still some Egypt left inside the hearts of the Israelites because Hosea chapter eleven describes what happens inside the hearts of people when they’re tempted in the desert.
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2 Israel called to the Egyptians even as Israel was leaving them. They kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.
This is the height of failure. This is as big as it gets. God does this supernatural series of miracles to rescue his people out of slavery in Egypt. God delivers them from the hands of the most powerful army, the most powerful leader on earth. When Moses stands before Pharaoh and says, “The Lord has decided that he is going to rescue his people. Pharaoh, let God’s people go,” God does all of these miracles In Egypt. God parts the water and turns it into dry ground. God gets Israel into the desert. But according to Hosea chapter eleven, even though Israel had been rescued from slavery and rescued from sin, they’re still tempted by the gods of Egypt, and they continue to rebel against God. They continue to turn back to those pagan practices that they learned while they were in Egypt.
This prophecy from Hosea chapter eleven definitely looks back to what God did in ancient Egypt when he rescued his people from slavery, but it’s no question we’ll see this in Matthew looking forward to the ultimate rescue. See, the bottom line is, everybody, when you’re tempted, ultimately you will at some point in your life give in to temptation. When you give in, it’s called sin. That sin is now punishable by death. So, in order for God to rescue, it’s going to cause him to go on a suicide mission to rescue people from their sins. God alone has the power to take human sin and turn it into salvation through the birth, pure sinless life, death, and resurrection of his Son. The Christmas story is a vivid example of God’s love. You want to know how far God is willing to go to show you that he loves you? Go look at what he did for ancient Israel in Egypt. Go look at what he did for you. Go look at what he did for me when he sent his Son to leave Heaven and to come to Earth in the form of a baby.
I want to ask you as a family, before you start getting into gifts and tearing open wrappings, would you make sure that this year you keep the love of God and Jesus at the center of your Christmas traditions? Because Christmas is God’s ultimate example of taking failure and turning it into victory. Then when you get to the New Testament, God takes it a step further. You see, in the New Testament, God does something to supernaturally protect his people. God takes danger, and he turns it into security. The exact same verse that you see from Hosea chapter eleven is going to show up for us again today in Matthew chapter three.
II. Christmas turns danger into security
After they were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Get up! Take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt. 15 He stayed there until Herod’s death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: Out of Egypt I called my Son.
There’s this precarious moment in Jesus’s life where now Herod, the king of the land, realizes that his throne is threatened by this baby. Herod is so willing to stamp out this threat to his throne, that he annihilates every child that fits the description of the baby that he just heard about from these wise men. He killed scores of children. God supernaturally steps in and protects his Son by waking Joseph from a dream. He sent an angel saying, “Joseph, stop what you’re doing. Forget everything. Grab a backpack. You and your wife grab your baby, and you go right now. Don’t you hesitate for a second. Get on the road and head straight to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you to leave and come back.”
Why Egypt? Why did God send Joseph and Jesus to Egypt? Well, Egypt is out of Herod’s jurisdiction. Egypt, at this point in history, has a population of about a million Jews. Joseph would have fit right in to a community just like his own. Joseph and Jesus were safe. That’s really why Jesus is safe in Egypt. Joseph has to sit and wait in Egypt until the man who would do anything to kill his son is dead. Only after Herod is dead, is Joseph able to move back to Israel. This time, instead of going back to his home town of Bethlehem, he takes up root in Nazareth. Jesus will be a rescuer that comes out of Nazareth, out of Bethlehem. But ultimately, he’s a Son of God who’s coming out of Egypt.
When you read this verse in the Bible, I want you to keep in mind how dangerous and precarious this was. Every parent knows the desire to protect their child. True story: I just read this not long ago from a lady by the name of Nancy Dahlberg, Nancy said, “Many years ago, my family and I were on a Christmas vacation. We lived in Los Angeles. We’re going to see my grandmother in San Francisco. We were spending a couple of days there, but my husband had to work the very next day after Christmas, December twenty sixth. It’s a four-hundred-mile drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles. So, we had no choice but to leave grandmother’s house early to drive the long drive down to Los Angeles. While we were making this drive on Christmas afternoon, we stopped in a little restaurant in a city called Rock City, California. In that restaurant, there were just a couple of people working and my family.”
Nancy had a young daughter and a one-year old son named Eric. The family decided to sit down and have a meal together before they finished the rest of the journey to Los Angeles. As they’re eating this meal together, a guy came in. Nancy didn’t notice him, but Eric starts to yell across the restaurant to this guy. The guy starts to talk to Eric. They strike up a conversation. Nancy doesn’t think anything about it until Eric keeps talking to this man. Then Nancy and her husband look over their shoulders. They noticed that the man who just walked into the restaurant is a homeless man. In vivid detail, Nancy describes the way that this man was dressed, the way that this homeless man looked, and the way that this homeless man smelled. But for Eric, he didn’t notice it. Eric just keeps talking to the homeless man.
Now Nancy and her husband are starting to get very uncomfortable because it’s just them and the homeless man. The homeless man comes over to the table. They’re trying to finish their meal as fast as they can to get out of there. The homeless man asks a question of Nancy, and she said, “I’m ashamed of the way that I felt when he asked me the question.” He said, “Ma’am, can I hold your child?” Nancy started to try to make some excuse about why he couldn’t hold that child until Eric almost jumped out of her arms and into this homeless man’s arms. Here’s how Nancy describes what happens next. She said, “My son buried his face in this homeless man’s clothes and hugged him and wouldn’t let go.”
The homeless man closed his eyes for a few moments, and then tears started to run down his face. He really couldn’t say anything. Finally, Nancy had to pry Eric off of this homeless man. Nancy said, the last thing that she heard from this homeless man was, “Thank you and God bless you because you just gave me today one of the greatest Christmas gifts that I’ve had in a long, long time. You see, people don’t want anything to do with me. They don’t want to touch me. This child just gave me a Christmas gift.” Nancy said, “The rest of the trip back to Los Angeles, I felt this big because that man was a man that was loved and had an infinite worth in God’s eyes.” As a mother, all she could think about was protecting her son and keeping her son safe.
Christmas is really just page one in the story of how far God is willing to go to rescue you or to rescue me back for my sin. I realize most of you in this room probably grew up in church. Most of you know the Christmas story by heart, but maybe somebody in this room stumbled in the doors, and you’re wondering the question that they’re asking in North Carolina. What’s the big deal? Why do people get so worked up about Christmas? Well, here’s the answer to that question. Christmas points to a cross, and a cross points to an empty tomb. Ultimately, Christmas describes how far God is willing to go to rescue you and to keep you safe, to secure you from your sin and to protect you and keep you in the palm of his hand.