December 30, 2018
Christmas Chaos – Stuff or the Savior – 12.30.18
I want you to think for a second on what’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever received-whether this year or in previous years? Something you unwrapped or opened up. But turn to the person next to you and answer-What’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever received?
I can think of 2. The first was when I was in third grade I got the Narnia book series by CS Lewis. I had never heard of it-but the pictures looked amazing and so that whole Christmas break I jumped up on my bunk bed and devoured this series. I’m not sure I understood all the meaning-but the stories thrilled me. The other great gift I got was at Christmas of 2005-my first ipod. What an incredible piece of technology! All of my cds fit inside this little thing. I could carry tons of music around in my pocket. Before this all I had was my Sony discman? Who remembers those? It was a little cd player and I had a cord to connect it in the car to play through the stereo-but anytime you drove over a bump or pothole in the road it skipped! But this ipod never skipped, I didn’t have to worry about cds getting scratched or where to store all the cases. It was revolutionary. That Christmas I marveled at the technology as I was in awe of this little device. But now almost 14 years later it’s totally outdated as we have new iphones, ipads and Apple watches that play music wirelessly through Bluetooth in our cars or headphones-no cords necessary. This once amazing thing sits in a drawer. Now maybe for you technology isn’t your thing, but you marveled at the new drill set or tools you got, you marveled at the new sports equipment or the new kitchen cooking gadgets or jewelry or sweaters or toys you got. And let’s be honest, the presents are great! Hopefully you’ve had a wonderful Christmas and received some really nice gifts this year-but the question I want you to ask yourself is whether your heart is captured with the wonder for stuff far more than it’s captured with wonder for the Savior. At this time of year do you treasure the Christmas presents or do you truly treasure Christ Himself? That’s what I want us to consider this morning as we wrap up our Christmas series.
I don’t know about your house on Christmas morning but it’s awfully easy to let the living room become covered in wrapping paper and boxes and candy spilling out of stockings-plus after the presents are unwrapped the kids want them all opened up right away so within moments there’s literally stuff everywhere in a chaotic mess. Now it’s a lot of fun-Christmas Day is hard to beat with the thrill of tearing into presents. But I want to spend one final week looking beyond the presents and all the chaos of gifts, to lift up our eyes from the stuff, and see more of Jesus, our Savior. If you were here last week the sermon was entitled The Message of the Manger-this week it’s called The Stuff or the Savior-as we aim to remember what the season is all about.
To help us do that are two stories tucked away in the middle of the Old Testament-and the first is Job’s story. Turn there in your Bible to the book of Job-it’s just before Psalms. And as you’re turning there-these stories may be very ancient, but they’re still just as relevant as when they took place because human nature hasn’t changed all that much down through the generations. Now I’m sure you remember Job. He was a guy of incredible wealth. Look at the very beginning of his story-Job 1:1-3a. And back in those days wealth wasn’t measured by the size of bank accounts or salaries or stock options, it was measured by livestock-cows and sheep-and Job had a lot. If we transferred this to modern times it would be saying that Job was the guy with a sprawling mansion in the Hamptons or Southern California, multiple vacation homes across the globe, all sorts of expensive cars, boats, a private jet, and hand-stitched Italian suits! He’s the Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk of his day-Job had as much as anybody could have-and the text says so-Job 1:3b. As far as the eye could see across Palestine and the Arabian Desert, Job had the most, he was the wealthiest. Not a bad spot to be in life-until the devil steps in-Job 1:9-12. Before we know it all of this massive wealth is blown away-Job 1:13-19. Wow! In one day-one single day-everything Job has is gone-evaporated, exploded, destroyed, burned up, gone! Maybe there was a day you lost your job unexpectedly-but you still had your house. Maybe you fell into debt or hard financial times but you still had the clothes on your back or resources to turn to-here at this point Job has nothing. This would be like Amazon losing all it’s wealth in one day, like going from a multi-billionaire to a penniless company overnight. Job loses everything-all the possessions and livestock and family that he has, every last bit of it, nothing remains.
Put yourself in his shoes-what would you do if you literally lost everything overnight? If you woke up tomorrow morning broke and homeless on the street-how would you react? Job’s wife told him to curse God and die-clearly encouragement wasn’t her spiritual gift! But what should Job do? What would you do? Should he curse God and die for ruining his life? The greatest man of the East has now become the lowest man in the land. Job’s world has been turned upside down and it’s not easy to deal with. Look at his pain-Job 10:18-21; 23:2-4. Job wants to give God a piece of his mind. To say Lord how could you let this happen. Again, I’m sure you’ve felt that before-God, why me? How could you let me endure this and go through this? Job wants to lament the fact that he has nothing, to wallow in his pain, to have a pity party and say woe is me, I’m empty and poor. He wants God to understand that he has nothing. And yet if you flip to chapter 38 God does show up. He does answer Job and responds to his complaint-Job 38:1-4. And then for the next 4 chapters God gives Job this amazing whirlwind tour of creation, showing Job all of His amazing power and grandeur and magnificence. My favorite is 38:31. If you look up at the nighttime sky, millions and millions of light years away are those huge constellations that God just can lasso up and take away. So Job gets this incredible, once-in-a-lifetime glimpse of who God is, He sees the Almighty in all His glory-and Job says in Job 42:1-6. Job says case closed. He had desperately wanted to plead his case before God, to argue and make his point about how dare God let him lose everything and ruin his life-and yet after seeing God for who He is Job’s arrived at a completely different conclusion. He’s just realized what we all need to realizePt1:Job: even with nothing I’m still satisfied with the Lord.
That’s the part that so challenges me. Nothing’s been restored to him; his problem isn’t fixed; he’s still broke and penniless and yet he’s saying-I’m content, I’m not arguing anymore-in fact I’m repenting. Job is making the remarkable statement that when everything is taken from us, when all is stripped away and disappears-it’s okay because we still have the Lord. In fact, Job would say all those things, all the possessions and stuff that we do have, that we cling to so closely, really only obscure our eyes from seeing what truly matters most-and that’s worshipping God. That’s why we exist, it’s what we we’re created for. Job’s realized that the stuff can be gone in an instant-and one day when life is over it will all be gone-we brought nothing into this world, we’re not taking anything out of it. The stuff disappears, but the Savior remains. He’s eternal-and so are we when we trust in Him. So what matters most is knowing Him and walking with Him-but do we remember that? Or do we go about our days, our Christmas’s year after year, gathering stuff, collecting stuff, treasuring stuff? How satisfied will the stuff actually make us? And that’s the question the next OT story seeks to answer.
Flip ahead a few pages in your Bible to Ecclesiastes-and while Job was the story about the guy with nothing, Ecclesiates tells us about Solomon-the guy who had everything. Now Solomon was the son of David and became the next king after his father David died. The kingdom of Israel reached its height of power under Solomon so his riches continued to grow and grow until they were staggering in size-which meant that he could have everything he wanted, all that his heart desired. And listen to how he describes it-Ecc 2:4-5. Was that on your Christmas list-I want my own park! But that’s what Solomon bought for himself-parks and vineyards. He got absolutely anything he could ever think of wanting-“I think I’ll buy Disneyworld”-Ecc 2:6-10a. Let’s be honest, how many of us dream of this? Solomon is saying-I got it all-everything I ever wanted. You name it, I have it. Could you imagine running into Solomon after Christmas, asking him, “Hey, what did you get for Christmas, Solomon?” and he says, “Everything.” You’d sort of do a double-take. “Okay-so explain that. By everything you mean…?” “Yeah everything-all that I ever wanted. I got it all. How about you-what did you get?” And rather deflated you say, “I got this watch, a sweater, whatever.” How can anything compare to everything? But that’s where Solomon is at-literally everything his eyes and heart desired have become his. Look at how he’s described in 1 Kings 10:23-25 NIV. It’s hard to fathom such a thing-but that’s Solomon-the man who has everything. Quite the opposite of Job-who had nothing-and yet we’ll see how similar their conclusions ended up being, for after Solomon obtains everything he makes a big evaluation. You can imagine Solomon strolling through his opulent palaces and parks and gardens, admiring his giant piles of gold and silver, trying to determine what it all means-and v. 11 is his conclusion-v. 11a-Awesome? Spectacular? Everything I dreamed it would be? No-v. 11b. In the face of all that wealth Solomon realized that he had nothing of enduring and satisfying substance-all he had was stuff that would eventually be left behind for someone else when his life was over. Look at how he continues in v. 18-20. Solomon realized that all of his labors never produced lasting satisfaction-they always left him empty and wanting more. So here’s his answer – Ecc 3:14 NIV. And that’s what our hearts are longing to do-to revere; meaning to praise God, to worship God. That’s what we’re created for. So Pt2:Solomon: even with everything I’m still not satisfied without the Lord. That without knowing Him, without following Him and worshipping Him there’s an emptiness, a meaninglessness, to life. That even if you got everything you ever wanted on every Christmas list you ever wrote-like Solomon did-it won’t ultimately bring you the deep and abiding satisfaction you’re seeking. It might keep you happy for awhile-but something very profound will still be missing in your heart until you find Him.
Now I realize that most of us probably won’t be in Solomon’s shoes getting everything we want-so we could be tempted to say his story doesn’t relate to mine-but isn’t there something we all really want, something we’ve convinced ourselves we must have-If only I had that then my life would be complete and I’d be perfectly happy; than I wouldn’t want anything else. But what happens when we eventually get it and that something changes to something else we must have. It’s an endless cycle. Or I realize that most of us probably won’t be in Job’s shoes losing everything-but what’s that thing in your life you’re clinging to, saying-Lord, you can have all this-but don’t take that away from me-if that was gone my life would be ruined. Functionally what are you living for-either desperately wanting to have or desperately not wanting to lose? I think both these men-Job with nothing and Solomon with everything-have a lot to teach us. These guys-from either end of the spectrum-would both tell us that what we need isn’t more stuff or the endless pursuit of stuff, or any other earthly thing we could have, that what we need is the Savior. And Christmas wonderfully says He’s come, that the One you and I need most, the One that our hearts deeply hunger for, has stepped down into our world. I like what Dietrich Bonhoeffer says-God in the Manger, 56. And that’s precisely how it should be.
Our Maker, our Savior, was born to dwell among us and be our rescuer. He’s come to save us from our sins, to give us hope in the midst of our pain and brokenness, to heal our hearts and bring us new life along with a glorious future of eternity in His presence. It’s the greatest gift we could ever receive. Back to our opening question this morning-there’s probably something great you’ve received at Christmas. But over time it fades, it wears out, it goes out of fashion or gets replaced-but the of gift of our Savior never fades. In fact, if we truly come to Jesus in faith all other gifts are laid before Him. Turn ahead one last time in your Bibles to Matthew 2-and that’s precisely what we see happening, gifts being offered up to the greatest gift of all.
Look at what it says-Matt 2:1-2a. These are my favorite characters in the Christmas story-the Wise Men, the Magi. I remember the nativity set my mother had growing up and the Wise Men looked like cool action figures. These are the ancient, scholarly, scientific, star-studying, alchemist wizards of their day-sort of like the Gandalfs of Christmas. You can picture these guys with long beards and robes and pointy hats riding on horses and camels intensely searching for the newborn king. And as we’ve spoken about wealth, they came from all the wealth of the east to do what-v. 2b. They’ve come to do the thing that matters most-to worship. So off they go to Bethlehem-Matt 2:9-11. Those verbs are so key in understanding the text. Despite all the nativity scenes we display which show the Magi sort of stoically or formally standing there before Jesus-like “We’re the Wise Men-this is our job”, these guys fell down and worshipped. Imagine that. There was nothing stoic or formal about it. These highly revered, grown men were on their knees, most likely with their faces bowed to the ground in reverence and awe before Jesus. These Magi were moved in a way they had never been moved before. All their scholarly study and magic and astrology never brought them face to face with something like this. God in His grace had opened their eyes to realize who this child was-the Savior-and they worshipped! Their physical posture needs to represent the spiritual state of our hearts. And notice how their worship included the offering of gifts to Jesus-gold and frankincense and myrrh. And that’s when worship becomes real. Sure we can offer up words and praises and songs, we can take a knee or bow our heads, but like the Magi do we offer up our gifts, our treasures, our stuff at the feet of Jesus? Do we say-Lord, you and you alone are greater and more worthy than all the other lesser things that I cling to and seek. Lord, you are the treasure that I’m ultimately after. In you I find the satisfaction that my heart has been longing for. As you stand before the manger where Jesus was laid, do you come still clinging to all the material things in life, still chasing after and dreaming of all the stuff you want to own and possess-desperately hoping you’ll get a good hoard of Christmas gifts this year, or have you abandoned the stuff for the Savior? The Magi: even with all their wisdom and wealth, never found real satisfaction until bowing before Jesus. How about you? As you’ve come to the manger this Christmas, have you offered up all that stuff which never really satisfies-and bowed before Jesus who forever satisfies your soul? Bonhoeffer, 26.
What is it that you need to lay down before the manger? What is it that’s standing in the way of your relationship with Christ? What’s keeping you from trusting Christ and walking with Him? What’s keeping you from obeying Him and living a life of worship? The Magi were wise men indeed-their worship wasn’t just lip service-they offered up their treasures to Jesus, realizing that He was the real treasure. Will you follow their example and offer up the treasures of your heart to Him? As the Christmas season wraps up and life returns to normal will you continue on in a pursuit of stuff in the New Year or will you lay that aside and pursue the Savior? Ask yourself-what’s your daily focus? What do you spend all your time and energy and effort pursuing? And there’s a lot of good things to pursue in life-your family and friendships, working hard at your job or working hard to get into shape. Maybe your plan for 2019 is to achieve a new goal you’ve been striving towards or receiving that degree or that advancement and promotion you’ve been seeking. All great things-but if any of them become your ultimate thing, then repent of it. If any of those things steal your heart away from Jesus and consume your life then lay it before the manger. Tell the Lord that 2019 is going to be different as you center your heart on Him.