Christmas is amazing.  Do you know what makes Christmas amazing?  It’s the story of God who brought heaven down to earth.  There is a reason this entire season just feels different.  It’s the God story.  It’s incredible to think about.  Here is what scripture says.

16 For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it. TLB John 3:16

So why did God enter earth?  Why was Jesus born?  What’s the point of it all?  God came to have a personal relationship with you.  That means your life here on earth is about you getting to know God.  It’s not about your to do list.  It’s not about how clean your house is.  It’s not about how great you are or what you have accomplished.  You exist on this earth to get to know God.  And it would be sad to miss your chance to know God.  Paul wrote about this to Timothy.

Some of these people have missed the most important thing in life – they don’t know God. TLB 1 Timothy 6:21

Have you ever read the Christmas story in the Bible?  I know I have already said it, but I’m going to say it again, it’s an amazing story.  Today, if we aren’t careful, we can read the Christmas story through rose colored glasses.  That means we make it look prettier than it really was.  Actually, it was a beautiful story for us because God entered earth to be in a personal relationship with us.  However, if you place yourself in the story and walked through it as one of the characters, it’s terrifying.

Mary was around 14 years old and was engaged to be married.  She was visited by the angel Gabriel.  Because Gabriel is filled with the glory of God, it’s a terrifying moment and Gabriel has to tell Mary, “Don’t be afraid.”  He continues to tell her that she is now pregnant.  And, oh by the way, your baby is the savior of the world.  Mary’s fiancée, Joseph, finds out and decides to break up with her. It takes a vision from God for Joseph to change his mind.

Around month 8-9 of her pregnancy, Mary gets on a donkey and travels to Bethlehem.  Just for perspective, it was about a 90-mile journey.  That’s around the same distance as it is from here to Allentown, Pa.  When they arrived they didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn.  They didn’t find a doctor in their HMO plan.  They have to stay in a barn.  And it probably didn’t smell great.  To make matters worse, the king hears about the birth of a new King named ‘Jesus.’  He tries to find Jesus with hopes of eliminating the new king.  This forces Mary and Joseph to have to go to Egypt for a couple of years.  It’s a crazy story filled with twists and turns.

What really stands out to me is how God enters this world.  I could think of so many better ways to enter earth if I was God.  So many better ways to get everyone’s attention.  So many better ways to enter this world and live in comfort.  Yet God decides to do it in the most quiet, unimpressive, remarkable way.  Truth is, it was wonderful for us but think about what Mary and Joseph had to face and overcome.  Think about how their lives were interrupted and how much faith it took to walk through the story with no idea how it would turn out.  Think about how quietly God enters earth.

This Christmas, Sam and I don’t want you to miss Jesus.  You know you can celebrate the Christmas season and at the same time you can miss Jesus.  That means you can check off your to do list but not experience the peace and joy that only Jesus can give.

Remember what Sam said last week?  He said one of the reasons we miss Jesus is because we can become so busy, we don’t have room for Jesus.  Our busyness can be louder than God.  He shared the verse from Psalms.

But as I stood there silently the turmoil within me grew to the bursting point. The more I mused, the hotter the fires inside. Then at last I spoke and pled with God: Lord, help me to realize how brief my time on earth will be. Help me to know that I am here for but a moment more. My life is no longer than my hand! My whole lifetime is but a moment to you. Proud man! Frail as breath! A shadow! And all his busy rushing ends in nothing. He heaps up riches for someone else to spend. And so, Lord, my only hope is in you. TLB Psalm 39:2

What a great understanding of life.  Our time here on earth is so short and when we understand how short life is, it helps us prioritize what matters; God.  In all of our rushing around, we can miss Jesus.

This week I want to talk about what was missing in the Christmas story.  No religious leader of Jesus’ day was invited to his birth.  Isn’t that a head scratcher?  Mary and Joseph were ordinary people, they were the key people in the story.  Shepherds, who had terrible reputations, were invited by angels to go see Jesus.  The Wise men searched for Jesus and found him.  They were a part of the story.  But somehow, the religious leaders were not a part of the story.

Why weren’t the religious leaders there?  They were paid to read the scripture and know about the Messiah coming to save them.  They studied the scriptures.  They had more knowledge than anyone else about the Messiah coming.  They were honored as the spiritual elite.  It should make you scratch your head and wonder, where were the spiritual leaders?

I want to share a story that will give you an insight as to why they may not have been invited.  It’s one of the times Jesus confronted the religious leaders.  In this story, Jesus was talking about money.  Jesus ends His story with this conclusion.

13 “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.”

14 The Pharisees, who dearly loved their money, heard all this and scoffed at him. 15 Then he said to them, “You like to appear righteous in public, but God knows your hearts. What this world honors is detestable in the sight of God.” NLT Luke 16:13-15

The religious leaders missed Jesus.  They missed him as a baby.  They missed him as an adult.  They missed him as the Messiah.  Instead of seeing Jesus as the Son of God, they saw Jesus as a distraction, a rival.  So they had Jesus killed.  Why?  They were deeply in love with their stuff.  Their Money.  Titles.  Looking good to others.  Power.  They loved their stuff more than they wanted to serve God.  When Jesus shows up and teaches about God’s kingdom, they loved their money so much they scoffed at Jesus.  Other translations say, they ridiculed Him.

That’s why Jesus said, “You like to appear righteous in public, but God knows your hearts. What this world honors is detestable in the sight of God.”

Like the religious leaders, one of the ways we can miss Jesus during Christmas is our love for stuff.  As Christmas day gets closer and closer, what is it that we think about most?  The stuff we have to buy.  The stuff we have to give.  The stuff we are going to get.  And if we aren’t careful, it can steal our focus away from God.  Our desire for stuff can be louder than our desire for God.

This is what happened with the religious leaders.  They couldn’t see or understand the bigger things of life.  The Messiah was right in front of them and they missed Him.  They were in love with the smaller things of life like money.  And when Jesus points it out, they ridicule Him.

Kids part

Invite kids to come upfront to celebrate a Birthday Party.  Tell the kids, today we will have a birthday party and each child will get a gift.

Pick one child to be the birthday boy/girl.

Have cake and ice cream – maybe even a balloon.

Have kids pick a gift [already purchased and wrapped].

Have the kids give the gifts to each other BUT -NOT- to the birthday boy/girl.

Ask the birthday boy/girl what it feels like to have a birthday party but not receive a gift.

Then explain.  Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’ birthday.  What we can do without thinking about it is celebrate Jesus’ birthday but never give Jesus a gift.  What can we give Jesus?  Our hearts.  Before opening up any gifts this year, invite Jesus to live in your heart.  And every day this year, help people around you.

Remember, the reason for Christmas is that God sent Jesus to us.

Adults, the more we focus on our stuff, the stuff we have to buy, the stuff we have to give, the stuff we will get, the less time and space we have for Jesus.  And in our passion for stuff, we can miss Jesus this Christmas.  Like the Pharisees, we can be so wrapped up in the smaller things of life and miss the bigger, more important things of life.  We can miss Jesus, even if he is right in front of us.

Jesus said:

13 “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.”

14 The Pharisees, who dearly loved their money, heard all this and scoffed at him. 15 Then he said to them, “You like to appear righteous in public, but God knows your hearts. What this world honors is detestable in the sight of God.” NLT Luke 16:13-15

Couple things about money and stuff.

First, you must understand the kingdom you and I live in.  It’s materialistic.  It’s about consumerism.  It’s about satisfying our appetites.  It’s completely self-focused.  In our kingdom, money and stuff is the way to get everything we want.  Comfort.  Safety.  Security.  Happiness.  In the kingdom we live in, money is so intoxicating, if we aren’t careful, we will want more money and stuff than more of God.  And when Jesus teaches about loving God or loving money, it can bother us.

It can bother us so much, like the Pharisees, we can scoff at Jesus’ words or money talk in church.  People can cringe instead of celebrate.  We live in a culture that teaches us to get more.  Jesus confronts us and says, no give more.  In our culture, giving isn’t viewed as one of the ways we worship God.  Giving means something is taken from us.  We think giving 10% back to God means I have less.  Less control.  Less to spend.  In our culture, giving more is in complete conflict with getting more.

That is the same tension the Pharisees faced.  That battle between two kingdoms.  The kingdom they lived in vs. the kingdom of God.  Jesus was in front of them.  Jesus was talking to them.  And they missed Him.

Do you feel that tension?  That internal conflict?  That tension between giving and getting?

Secondly, the reason we focus on money is because we can clearly see how it would help us today, right now.  What we struggle to see is how God will help us today, right now.  Money seems to be so practical and helpful.  More of God seems spiritual and fuzzy.  Maybe we don’t mind having a belief that God exists, but we struggle believing that God will care for me today, right now, this week.  I have 3 questions for you.

Question 1: If you consider yourself a Christian and you attend church, Do you believe God removed your sins, and when you die, God knows your name and will place you into heaven for eternity?  If the answer is yes, I have a follow up question.  Those things are spectacular.

Question 2: Do you believe that the God who can do the spectacular, who knows your name and will place you into heaven for eternity, will struggle to take care of you today?

Question 3: Do you realize how silly it sounds to say that God of the universe who knows my name can put me into heaven for all eternity, but I don’t believe He will take care of me today?

Jesus stands in front of the religious leaders.  He is the Son of God.  He is the Messiah.  He says, you can’t love God and be enslaved to money.  The religious leaders scoffed and ridiculed him.  They couldn’t see that God would care for them.  They could only see how money would give them what they wanted today.  There was no belief or understanding that if I give my life to God, He will care for me today.

Do you feel that tension?  Do you feel that conflict?  Do you wonder, if I give my life to God, will He care for me today?

Third, we must understand that money is a tool.  And when used well, it is a good and helpful tool.    Have you ever met people who are angry or frustrated when the church talks about money?  They quickly assume all the church wants is your money.

Let’s talk about what the Bible says about money.  The Bible teaches to save for retirement.  That sounds awful [sarcasm]!  The Bible teaches about saving for a rainy day – terrible [sarcasm]!  God wants us to stay out of debt – that’s over the line [sarcasm]!  Imagine living in financial freedom!  Who could ever serve a God who wants us to live in financial freedom [sarcasm]?

Money is good when you understand it’s a tool.  However, the love of money is different.  That’s evil; it’s called greed.  Money is never the problem.  The real problem is our misunderstanding of money.  It’s a tool, not a love affair.  So, make as much money as you want, but always remember, only God is the source of life.  No matter how well off you are, you are completely dependent on God for your source of joy and peace.

This is why the religious leaders missed Jesus.  They viewed money as a love affair.

Do you feel that tension?  Do you feel that conflict?  To you, is money a tool or has it become a love affair?

Real quickly.  If you are in debt, work two jobs to get out of debt.  It’s okay to work and work hard.  Stay out of debt.  Have a rainy-day fund.  Save for retirement.  Again, money is a tool, not a love affair.  Money is a good thing as long you understand how to use it.

I don’t want you to miss Jesus because of money or stuff.

To close today, I want to ask you, do you feel tension about this issue?  If you do, it’s not a surprise.  There are two kingdoms clashing.  The kingdom we live in vs. the kingdom of God.

Imagine Jesus standing in front of you saying,

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” NLT Luke 16:13

How would you respond?  Would you scoff at Him, ridicule Him?  Walk away and think He just doesn’t get it.

If you feel tension around this issue, I want you to think through these questions.

How do I view money?

Ask yourself, is money a tool to live well?

Ask yourself, is money a love affair – the one thing I need more than anything else?

Is it possible, like the religious leaders, that I could miss Jesus because I scoff at money talk in church?

Ask yourself, if I have tension about money talk – why?

Ask yourself, if I have tension about money talk – what does it reveal about what is in my heart?

Ask yourself, if I have tensions about money talk – what does it reveal about my trust and faith in God?

Ask yourself, in this past year, am I closer to God?

Christmas is the story of God – God bringing heaven down to us.  The point of your life is to get to know God.  Please don’t miss the love God has for you because you love money more.