The Tragedy of Missing Christmas

To borrow from Charles Dickens’ famous opening line, Christmas can be “the best of times and the worst of times.” I hope for you and your family it is the best and not the worst. It’s a little hard to believe, but by 12:01 AM, December 26th, Christmas will be a memory.

Often for pastors it is easy to miss the meaning of Christmas because of the busyness of church life. We run around getting special services, readings and sermons done along with visiting as many as we can. There have been years where Christmas lacked the joy it should have had and felt like it was even missed.

Do you know anyone that missed Christmas? I’ve seen numerous people over the years wandering the streets by themselves on Christmas Eve. I must admit I wondered about those people and what Christmas would be like for them. I am convinced that there are many people who miss Christmas every year. It’s not as though they are physically absent. It’s simply that they are oblivious to the real meaning of Christmas.

Frankly, our culture has made a mess of Christmas. We have compounded the holiday with so many traditions, hype, hysteria, and unreal expectations that we have missed the simplicity of the birth of Christ. It is ironic that this blessed day has become the most complex of all of our holidays. It is no wonder so many people miss Christmas.

This is the one thing that hasn’t changed since the time of Mary and Joseph because nearly everyone missed that first Christmas too. Busy and consumed with all kinds of things, nearly everyone missed it. The similarities between their world and ours are striking. In fact, one of the saddest verses in all of scripture has to be John 1:11: “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.”

I want us to look at some of the characters of that first Christmas. Each played a critical and integral part of Christ’s entrance into the world, yet each missed out on what was really happening.

The first character is the Innkeeper. In Luke 2:7 we read “and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

While he is never mentioned in Scripture, his presence is implied. Tradition has not been kind to him. There is no evidence that he was hostile or even unsympathetic. He was simply busy and pre-occupied with what had to be done. It was census time. The city was bulging with everyone whose ancestry went back to the town. Every living descendant of David would have been there plus many others. The Son of God was about to be born on his property but in his pre-occupation he missed it.

He represents millions today who are preoccupied with other things and activities. It is not necessarily sinful attractions. They are simply consumed with shopping for gifts, parties, social events, and even church events – preoccupied to the point they miss Christmas. But it is not just during the Christmas season this happens. Think about Easter – chocolate, candy, bunnies, chicks, eggs… where is Jesus? The cross itself has become an ornament – a decoration to put up or wear. Have we been too busy this Christmas season?

But then there is the negative element in our story – Herod. He was a little king who lived in fear. When the Magi came to him enquiring of the Messiah, he tried to outwit them to reveal to him this new threat. When they didn’t, Herod was troubled: agitated, stirred up, and shaken up. He panicked and gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under. His fear was that someone else would take his throne.

Lots of people are like him. They are not about to let someone else be king of their lives. To accept Jesus as He and the Bible claims Him to be would mean change – in lives, priorities, focus, mission, lifestyle… They see Jesus as a threat, and so they miss Christmas.

People don’t mind taking time off work to commemorate Jesus’ birth – it’s a holiday – and paid to boot. But to make Him King of their lives isn’t really an option because they are as fearful and as jealous 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.

But there were others there who should have known better but really didn’t care. They were the religious leaders of the day. Their indifference was their downfall. When the Magi went to the religious leaders and brought their findings to them, they were ignored. But these “experts” should have known and maybe they did, but didn’t care.

Look at one of the facts they had to work with: Micah 5:2 says, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” The evidence seemed clear.

Their problem was is they were self-righteous. They were the Law Keepers and in their minds, they had it all together. For thousands of years, the prophets had spoken about this coming Messiah, the Saviour, the Redeemer of Israel – the one who would free them from the bondages they were experiencing. In essence, the destiny of Israel was bound up in His coming, yet they paid no attention.

Indifference is a profound sin against Christ today. Most of our world is looking for spirituality, but they think it can’t be found in a relationship with this Jesus guy. Indifference is one of the most common reactions to Him.

People today do not care about the Savior because they don’t understand their need for salvation. They don’t openly oppose Him, they just ignore Him. If you were to talk to most people about Jesus, they would say they respect Him as a teacher, a moral man, a prophet and maybe even admit “Son of God,” but to acknowledge Him in their lives – the answer would be “No.” Indifference or ignorance may be an excuse you can use here, but it will do you no good when you stand before God.

But there were also those there who were too familiar and missed out  and those were the very people of Nazareth. Jesus’ ministry was first to His own, the one’s whom He’d known growing up.  In Luke 4, we read about the time Jesus went into the synagogue in Nazareth. When Jesus read the prophecy of the one anointed to preach good news, they reacted with anger. They couldn’t believe it! The carpenter’s son? In the end, they drove Jesus from the town and wanted to kill Him.

What was the problem? Familiarity – they knew him too well. The most tragic sin of all is the unbelief of a person who has heard all the sermons, sat through all the Bible lessons, know all the Christmas stories but rejects Christ. There are so many in our world who think they have it all figured out. I don’t but if you do, please share the answers with me. It is hard to believe, but sometimes with Jesus, we can become too familiar with Him. We all know of people who have grown up in church, went to Sunday School, youth group, and even sat in church, but are no longer walking with the Lord. I can name names and so could you.

This is something we see all the time in marriages. When our spouses become familiar and predictable, sometimes there is in our nature, a desire for more or different and new. This is when temptations can find their foothold in our lives and can lead to sin. It is the same in our relationship with God. If we merely see Him as “there” instead of “here” in our hearts and lives, we too can become complacent and lose our focus.

Another way this happens is when we think we have Him all figured out. Jesus is God’s Son. He was a good man. He is holy. He is pure. He is wonderful. He is the Prince of Peace… on and on and on. I think sometimes we have labelled Jesus in such a way that we sometimes think we have it all figured out. But to that would be presumptuous.

Figuring out God is in some ways like trying to domesticate a wild animal. We’ve probably heard stories of people who have tried to domesticate wild animals. They think they have their wolf, lion, snake, tiger, whatever it is, all figured out. Everything seems to go very smoothly and then the unthinkable happens – the animal lashes out and someone is hurt or worse.

How can we take God – the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe and put Him in our box? Do we think we have God so figured out that He becomes predictable – like some lab rat running in a maze? In C.S. Lewis’ classic series, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Lion-God character Aslan, is described as the “not so tame lion.”

Like in marriages, familiarity leads to complacency and eventually we take each other for granted. Relationships with our spouses like with God are an adventure. We seek out new things to learn of the other. We do the same with God. He is mysterious. He is knowable to a point, but He is still God.

The Christmas story centers around this truth from John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Eugene Peterson’s, The Message, says it like this: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” That is Christmas – God in the flesh, dwelt among us, revealed God’s glory, grace and truth. May we, in this busyness we call Christmas, not miss out on our Saviour. And as we enter this New Year, may we rediscover who He is and what His desires are for our lives.


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