The Gifts of Christmas – Significance
©Copyright December 3, 2017 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche
It is easy to feel very alone in the world. I remember vividly standing at the CTA bus stop every morning to go to High School. Nobody looked at anyone else. No one spoke. The bus was often filled with standing room only passengers but no one was noticed. We were anonymous in a crowd.
I remember standing alone at an eighth-grade graduation party. I stood in the corner. I was too afraid to dance and even if I could have worked up the courage to dance, I would have never asked a girl to dance with me. Way too embarrassing. I felt uncoordinated. I wasn’t one of the cool kids. I didn’t have much in common with the kids around me. I felt invisible.
I bet you’ve felt this way too. Maybe you were at a conference all alone. It seemed like everyone else was meeting up with friends. You ate alone or went back to your room to sleep the loneliness away. It can happen in a church, a family, a study group or even an office Christmas party. Sometimes we play our role but we ache inside because we know that we are only pretending. The ache for significance longs for someone to know us and to love us. And I think this is one of the true gifts of Christmas.
Shepherds knew about loneliness. They spent their time out in the fields with their animals. They were considered “undesirable” by the common people. They didn’t smell good, they lacked social skills, and they had a reputation as dishonest. Like many reputations, it may have been undeserved.
Don’t you wonder if Shepherds wished they could “fit in” with the world around them? I think they probably wished someone would see them as brave men skilled in protecting sheep; even at the risk of their own safety. They surely wanted to be seen rather than have people look past them.
Do you ever feel that way? Perhaps
You are advancing in years and you feel people being condescending, as if you had nothing more to contribute.
You had your struggles in your younger years and you can’t seem to get anyone to give you a fresh start or to see you as anyone but that kid who always messed up.
You work hard to be a skilled and honest business person but everyone passes you by for the bigger companies. They don’t even give you a chance.
You are talented and compassionate but you look rather average so no one seems to notice you or show any interest in you.
You’ve spent time in jail and you are labeled forever.
You’ve been divorced and you feel defective and rejected.
Your family does not have the money for fancy things and you feel everyone else is laughing at you.
You are bullied and wish you could become invisible.
You had an out-of-wedlock pregnancy and you have felt the stares and feel the condemnation.
You love Jesus but you can’t seem to find a church where anyone even knows your name.
We know what it is like to feel insignificant.
Now that we have identified these feelings hear these words with the shock and joy which the first hearers must have felt.
When Zechariah met the angel of God in the temple to announce the birth of John the Baptist he said,
“How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”
Do you see the feelings of insignificance in those words? Zechariah and Elizabeth were “used up,” perhaps they felt dismissed by the rest of society because of their age. That is certainly true today. We live in a day when everyone works hard to hide any sign of aging . . . why? Because once you are seen as old you are seen as “out of touch,” “old fashioned,” or even “a drain on society.” People may not say that with their words but they say it in other ways: with the roll of the eyes or with the way people ignore you when you are talking.”
In response to the Angel’s announcement to Mary she said,
“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
47How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
48For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
And then there were the Shepherds.
the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
The angel brought THE SHEPHERDS good news. They could have announced the birth of the Messiah to kings or religious bigshots. That is exactly what everyone expected. Instead the message is announced to lowly Shepherds. What a shot of significance this was. Shepherds were dismissed as dirty and uneducated men. Can you imagine the Shepherds saying to people, “the Angels came to US!”
There is something in common for all these people: the coming of Christ was to each of these people the “gift of significance.” The same is true today.
If you follow the story of Jesus through you see that He gathered around Him not the religious elite or the wealthy givers; He gathered a ragtag group of men to be his inner circle. He was constantly reaching out to the disenfranchised and forgotten. This is good news for you and me.
Christ has come to the world because YOU matter to Him. Don’t miss this! Our world is filled with people who feel insignificant. The gospel is not a message about what God has done for deserving people . . . it is the account of how much you and I matter to the King. Let me show you what I mean.
He Sees Our Need
We all live with a sense of regret. There is not a one of us who even comes close to living the life WE wish we were living, much less the life that God has called us to. We spend our lives trying to keep people from seeing the painful and shameful truth of our lives.
Listen to what we are told about the Lord.
11The Lord knows people’s thoughts;
he knows they are worthless! (Psalm 94:11)
14For he knows how weak we are;
he remembers we are only dust. (Psalm 103:14)
11Even Death and Destruction hold no secrets from the Lord.
How much more does he know the human heart! (Proverbs 15:11)
20Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything. (1 John 3:20
As much as we try to convince ourselves that we can convince God that we are good people (in a sense, keeping Him from knowing the truth), He knows the truth about us. He knows more about our heart that we do! So, he sees the rebellion, the self-serving things we do, the tainted motives, the gossip we start and pass on, the corrupt thoughts, and the manipulative acts that we try to keep from others.
Now here is the great news of Christmas: God knows us, and instead of dismissing us, destroying us, or turning away from us, God became man to redeem us! The people who were walking in darkness have seen a great light . . . it is not the light of interrogation; it is the warm light of God’s love! Thanks be to God!
He Paid the Price for Us
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.(John 10:14)
In Romans 3:21-22 we read these wonderful words,
But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. 22We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are
God is Holy. He is also the True and Living God. He calls all people to submit to Him and to do what He requires. We don’t do what He asked. In fact, we are unable to do what He asked. But God saw the vortex of sin in which we were caught, and instead of shrugging and saying, “That’s what they get!” He put together rescue plan: The son would come to earth, live without sin (thus fulfilling the requirements of the Law), and (because of His infinite value as the Son of God) he would die in our place so that we would stand before God as those who were washed clean because we are covered by the blood of Christ.
Paul explains that this was God’s plan from the beginning. This is how even Old Testament people were saved. Those who put their hope in the promised Messiah would be considered to “have put their trust in Christ.” They would be saved (not as some believed) by their goodness, but by faith in the promise of a Redeemer to come. Therefore, God is just (He does punish sin) and is also merciful (because He punished our sin in Christ) even though it may have appeared that God was not punishing the sin of those who had lived before Christ.
Suppose you were someone who was in line to receive a great inheritance. It was yours, you just were unable to receive it yet. Suppose you wanted to buy a home. You have little money to guarantee repayment of the mortgage. However, the banker knew about your inheritance and was willing to take the promise that the inheritance would pay the debt when it came time to disperse it. You would be blessed based on the future promise of payment. The same is true for those who lived before Christ. They were saved on the basis of the promise of payment.
It is staggering to realize that the death of Christ was sufficient and TOTAL payment for the sin of everyone who puts their trust in Christ. Though we look in the mirror and see our sin and failure, the Father looks at us and sees the blood of Christ shed as payment for our sin.
Have you ever played the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes? It is tempting because of the promise of a great payout for the rest of your life. Suppose you were one of those people who were greeted at your front door by a man with a giant check who told you that you won the sweepstakes. You would be stunned. You would likely say, “I can’t believe it.” Then, when it sunk in, you would start whopping and hollering. Unless you were raised as a very conservative Baptist, you might also do a little dance. Get that image in your mind. Dare to feel the racing of the heart that would accompany that day. Now, hear this: That is NOTHING compared to the blessing of forgiveness and new life that is ours in Christ!
He makes us part of His family
In Ephesians 1:5,6 Paul wrote,
Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. 6So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.
Did you hear it? God loved us, chose us, and decided to adopt us into his own family!
It is big thing to be invited to be a full member of a family. Many who are adopted have been rejected by many. They have come to feel that no one would ever want them. They believe they are unworthy and insignificant. Then someone comes into your life who knows your story but still wants you. Not only do they want to show you kindness . . . they make you a part of their family. They assume the risk. They know the potential problems but they love and accept you anyway. That is what God does for us!
10The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. (John 10:10)
Perhaps you sit in the sanctuary today, or are listening on the radio, watching YouTube, or reading a copy of the sermon on the Internet and you feel insignificant. There could even be someone here who is thinking, “You know, if I died, no one would even miss me.” You feel invisible, disposable, and as if no one sees you. Please listen: The message of Christmas is this: YOU MATTER TO GOD!
It is my hope and prayer that this year, every time you see a Christmas light, Christmas wrapping paper, hear a Christmas Carol, or see a manger scene, you will remember that the Christmas story is about how much God loves you! It is the grandest of gestures to show you that you are not only significant, you are loved and valued.
It is my hope that this realization will deepen your sense of gratitude and worship and will bring a new spirit and depth to your singing, gift giving, and enjoyment this Christmas.
Here is something else: I pray every time you see someone and are tempted to dismiss them, slander them, look past them, or bully them, you will remember that this is a person who is also loved and valued by God.
You will quickly come to the rescue of a child who is in some kind of danger; especially if that child belongs to a friend of yours. Your love for your friend causes you to love the child of that friend by extension. In much the same way God wants us to love the people around us (even the annoying ones . . . maybe especially the annoying ones) because He values them.
Here is something to think about: maybe that person who really annoys you, pushes your buttons, and makes you wish they would go away, is a person who feels insignificant and is just trying to get someone to notice them. Even negative attention is better than being ignored and dismissed. Perhaps if you shared with that person the good news of Christmas they would turn to Christ. Hopefully by doing so, they would no longer have to cry out for significance because they will know that they are seen, known, loved, and actually belong to family of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And if you explain it well, they will be reminded of that truth with every Christmas light, carol, or anytime they see the word Christmas.
It is my hope that we can get to the point where anytime we see the word “Christmas” we will hear God whispering to us, “Boy, do I love you!”
©Copyright December 3, 2017 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche