The Letdown of Christmas
Good morning! I trust that you all had a good Christmas and a happy New Year. We certainly had a great time, visiting family and friends down in the Olds area, over Christmas and New Year.
And it was good to have a break from preaching, and having Ross Taylor preach last Sunday. I thought he did an excellent job of closing out the year 2018 and bringing in the year 2019, how we can look back at how God has helped us and how we can face the future with the hope and confidence of Jesus.
But I hope that Christmas was as good for you as it was for us. I know that after Christmas, it can get a little depressing, because Christmas is over, and everything goes back to the way it was, the tree and decorations come down, and you get that credit card bill telling you how much you spent over the holidays.
But in all seriousness, once Christmas is over, it can feel like one big letdown. Christmas is about this build-up and anticipation, where we are waiting and longing for something to happen.
Typically, we spend weeks getting ready for Christmas. I don’t know when you started decorating your house, or when you put up your tree, or when you started to get everything for the Christmas dinner, but my guess is that this was at least a month-long process, for some of you.
And I’m not saying that’s bad. I’m not going to ask you to raise your hand, or stand up, or anything like that. But typically, we have the tendency to spend a lot of time preparing for Christmas.
But then, the day finally comes. And the family comes over, or we travel to family. And we talk, and we eat, and we open presents, and maybe we read the Christmas story, or we watch a Christmas movie, or we play some board games, or we do some kind of family activity.
And then, it’s over. The Christmas dinner has been eaten, the presents have been unwrapped, and the family goes back home, or we go back home. And what took maybe a month to plan is over in a few short hours.
And I’m not saying all of that to depress you, or anything like that. I’m just fully aware that there is the tendency for us to feel this big letdown after Christmas is over, because we have built Christmas up to be this big thing, and it is a big thing, only to have it end so quickly.
And I’m an introvert. There are times when I need to be alone, so that I can recharge after being around a lot of people. But even though I'm an introvert, I still feel the letdown of Christmas, where I’m sad to see people go.
And the reason for this letdown, the reason why we feel like our Christmas was incomplete, is because at the core of who we are, we were waiting for something to happen that never fully happened.
So, what is it, at Christmas, that we are waiting for, that doesn’t fully happen? And the answer is that we were waiting for the return of Jesus.
This is what we looked at, during Advent. Advent, as we stated, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, is both this time of celebration of the first coming of Jesus and this time of anticipation for the second coming of Jesus.
We rightly celebrate Christ at Christmas, because Jesus came once to take away the sins of the world. But in Advent, we also anticipate the second coming of Jesus, where we look forward to when Christ will return to make right what was wrong and to ultimately fix what was broken.
But, did Christ return? And the answer is no. With each passing day, we’re getting closer to Christ returning, but He has not yet returned.
So, what we feel when Advent and Christmas is over is this big letdown, because we were waiting for something to happen that did not fully happen and what won't fully happen until Christ returns to renew and restore all things.
There is an innate longing in each one of us for King Jesus to return to bring to completion what He started when He first came to this world. And if Christmas was not all we wanted it to be, if it came crashing down around us once it was all over, it means that we were wanting Christmas to satisfy that longing in our hearts that only Christ can satisfy.
And so, what I want to do, this morning, is I want to encourage us—that even though Christmas was not fully satisfying for us, it’s what Christmas points to that is truly satisfying.
So, if you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to Matthew 2:1-12. This morning, we are going to look at a part of the Christmas story that maybe gets left out sometimes, and that is the story of the wise men.
And what we will see in the story of the wise men is how Jesus is all-satisfying for us when Christmas fails to satisfy. That’s our roadmap, for our time together, this morning. If you like to take notes, there is some space on the back of your bulletin for that.
So, if you have your Bible opened to Matthew 2, we’re going to begin in verse 1: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6 “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”’
“7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.’ 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.”
1. The first way that Jesus becomes all-satisfying to us is that God creates the longing in us for Jesus.
In our passage, we see that wise men, or magi, from the east, saw this star in the sky that alluded to the birth of the King of the Jews. So, the wise men go to where they expected the King of the Jews to be born: Jerusalem.
But they get to Jerusalem, and the current king has no idea that any such King of the Jews has been born, which I can only imagine was a shock to him. And only after they look at the Scriptures, do they know where this child was to be born.
So, the wise men set off to find this child. And when they get to Bethlehem, by the God-appointed star in the sky, to the house where Jesus was, what's the first thing they do? They fall down and they worship Jesus.
Now, by this time, Jesus was not the baby in the manger that every nativity set portrays. Jesus and His parents were in a house, and Jesus Himself was about two years old.
So, can you imagine the scene? You have these magi, these wise men, who were incredibly intelligent. They were astronomers who watched the sky. They travelled miles and miles to get to where this child was. And they see the child, Jesus, and their response is to bow down and worship Him.
Like, if you are observing this, what's your thought process? These are grown men showing reverence and honour to a child. But obviously, not just any child. This child created the stars in the sky, this child created all of the cosmos that the wise men studied. This was no ordinary child, and the wise men knew this.
And the reason they knew this is because God put this longing in their heart for Jesus.
Look at verse 2. The wise men get to Jerusalem, and they start asking around, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
So, God causes this unique star to rise in the sky, and the wise men immediately go to worship Jesus. Why? Because this star is pointing them to Someone truly satisfying. This was no ordinary star and this was no ordinary child.
It’s why, when they set out for Bethlehem, and the star rises in the sky again, the text says, “They rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”
This is a group of individuals who have been impressed with this longing for Jesus. It’s like this star is their lifeline, and without it, they have no hope of finding the child. And so, they rejoice.
Back in the early part of 2010, I was not in a good place, spiritually. I was only going to church every other weekend, I was drinking more than I should have been drinking, I was hanging out with individuals who were not influencing me in the right way, and my life was just heading in a bad direction.
And I just remember God creating this longing in my heart for something more than what I was chasing. I wasn’t chasing after God, but God was certainly chasing after me.
And so, in June of that year, I applied to Nipawin Bible College. I just felt that God was calling me to go to Bible College. And I was only going to go for one year. I was convinced that I knew enough about God and the Bible, because I had grown up with it, being a pastor’s kid. So, one year would be enough for me.
And in the first week of classes, I realized that I knew very little. And from that moment on, that longing that God created in my heart grew and grew until I couldn’t contain it. And I was going to become a pastor.
I didn’t know what that would look like. I didn’t know where that would take me. I didn’t know how long it would take. I was dating Helena at the time I came to that decision, so that was something that we wrestled through, together. But God simply impressed on my heart that this was where He was taking me. So, I went.
I left the former life that I had and the former friends that I had. And I followed where God led me. It was my star that rose in the east, and it led me to a clearer picture of Jesus and how Jesus ultimately satisfies the longings of the heart.
And so, I can, like the wise men, rejoice with great joy, for the star appeared and brought me to the all-satisfying Person of Jesus Christ.
And none of that was of my own making. It’s not like I woke up one day and thought, “You know what? I’m going to turn my life around, today.” No, if it were not for the intervention of God in my life, I would not be where I am today. That’s just the reality. I couldn’t make that happen. I’m too broken for that.
And wherever you are at in your life, or wherever you have come from, I want you to know that God has created that longing in your heart for Jesus. And what we try to do is we try to make things, like Christmas, awesome, only to have it fall flat before our eyes, because it was never intended to satisfy that longing.
And that’s not saying that we shouldn’t make a big deal about Christmas, because it’s still the time of year when Christianity observes the coming of Jesus into the world. But we must put Christmas in its proper place, recognizing that it’s not an ultimate thing for us, but it’s something that points us to the ultimate thing, that is, Jesus.
Verse 11 says, “And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.”
And the question that we must grapple with, is: What is our response to the baby in the manger?
Because here is the advantage that you and I have, today: We have the Gospels. We have Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We not only have the story of the birth of Jesus. We have the entire earthly ministry of Jesus. We have His life, death and resurrection.
You look at the wise men. What did they have? They had a star in the sky. Now, mind you, that was a star in the sky that God put there to let the wise men know that a significant birth had just taken place. So, the wise men, being the wise men that they were, followed that star to where the child was.
But if all they had was a star, and they found Jesus. What's our excuse? If we have the very words of Jesus on paper before us, and our response isn’t one of worship, then what do we have to say for ourselves?
What's our response to the baby in the manger? But more importantly, what's our response to the baby in the manger, who would go on to say things like Him and the Father being one, and who would die on a cross for our sins, and who would be raised from the dead three days later, and who would ascend to heaven where He currently intercedes on our behalf before our heavenly Father?
God is the One who creates the longing in us for Jesus. Do we feel that longing? Is God getting our attention? Are we praying for God to create that same longing in our wayward children, or in our grandchildren, or in our spouse? Do we need to ask God to create that longing in us?
2. The first way that Jesus becomes all-satisfying to us is that God creates the longing in us for Jesus. The second way, from our text, that Jesus becomes all-satisfying is that Jesus is the solution to our need.
God created this longing in the wise men for Jesus, that only Jesus could satisfy. And when they came to Jesus, they bowed down and worshipped Him. But then look at what they do next, in the rest of verse 11: “Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”
Now, on the surface, these look like random gifts, right? Especially for a two year old. Like, Benji’s 3rd birthday was this week. Imagine what he would have done if we had given him some gold. He wouldn’t have known the value of it. He might have even felt a little cheated. But he likely would have set it on the floor and tried to play hockey with it, like a puck. I’m just guessing.
These gifts were not your typical baby shower gifts. They were impractical for a two year old. Sure, Mary and Joseph probably thought they were great gifts, because, if anything, they could sell them and make some money, because they would have been fairly pricey. But why would child Jesus care about them? What is their significance? And the answer lies in what the gifts represent.
In 1857, a man by the name of John Henry Hopkins Jr. wrote the classic Christmas carol, We Three Kings. He originally wrote it for a Christmas pageant in New York City, based off of the story of the wise men. But it gained so much popularity, that it became the first Christmas carol, originating from the United States, to gain worldwide recognition.
And I think the reason for this popularity, in part, is because of the symbolism of the wise men’s gifts that is woven throughout the song.
For the gift of gold, the song says, “Born a King on Bethlehem's plain, gold I bring to crown him again. King forever, ceasing never, over us all to reign.”
The gift of gold was a gift fit for a king. The wise men themselves recognized Jesus as “the King of the Jews.”
And Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, that we worship now and will forevermore, as He sits enthroned at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from where He will come in glory to bring His Kingdom to completion on the earth and to judge the living and the dead in righteousness. Jesus is King. And the wise men’s gift of gold signifies this.
The song continues, “Frankincense to offer have I; incense owns a Deity nigh; prayer and praising, voices raising, worshiping God on high.”
Frankincense is a kind of resin, obtained from a tree. It is highly fragrant when burned and was used for burning incense in the Tabernacle. Frankincense is a symbol of how Jesus would be our true High Priest, who would not simply offer a sacrifice, but who would Himself be the perfect sacrifice for sin.
Only God could do this. And the song is pointing to the deity of Jesus, and how Jesus is the God-man who would rescue His people from their sin.
And then, finally, we have the gift of myrrh: “Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume. Breathes a life of gathering gloom; sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb.”
Myrrh is a spice that was used in embalming. This would be an incredibly disconcerting gift for the child Jesus to receive, because it symbolizes bitterness, suffering, and affliction, and how Jesus would grow to suffer greatly as a man.
And Jesus would eventually die and would be laid in a tomb. But He would also be raised back to life in victory over sin and death. And because of the resurrection of Jesus, we can look at this gift of myrrh, and rejoice, because it means that our God is not dead, He is alive.
So, these gifts were no ordinary gifts. The wise men gave these gifts, because Jesus is the king who would one day, die, to save His people from their sin.
You see, you and I have this problem of sin that we needed to be saved from. Sin distorted everything, every fibre of Creation, so that we chase after anything that will satisfy the longing in our hearts to be restored to right relationship with God. It’s what our hearts long for, but everything in us and around us is getting us to think, otherwise.
And so, we wrestle with our sinful nature, daily, and the fact that nothing in all of Creation will be able to satisfy the longing that only Christ can satisfy. And we look for satisfaction from people, from drugs and alcohol, from the praise of man, from popularity, from everything other than what will truly satisfy us.
And church, Jesus came to this earth to be the solution to our need. We don’t have to chase anymore. It’s been done for us. Jesus lived the life we had failed to live. Jesus died the death that we deserved to die. And the more we try and build on top of that, the more we will experience the letdown of all these other things we’re chasing.
Are our hearts and minds awoken to the all-satisfying, all-surpassing glory of Jesus Christ? Have we responded to the longing in our hearts for something more than what we’re chasing? Have we recognized Jesus as the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice for sin?
The final verse of We Three Kings, goes like this: It says, “Glorious now behold him arise; King and God and sacrifice: Alleluia, Alleluia, sounds through the earth and skies.”
And then, the chorus says, “O star of wonder, star of light, star with royal beauty bright, westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light.”
I have sung this song for years, and it was only this year that I caught the one phrase in the chorus of this song, and that is, that we are still proceeding. “Westward leading, still proceeding.”
And church, we are still proceeding. We are being guided to that perfect light, that is, Jesus. This is a lifelong process. We aren’t going to get it right all the time. But oh the glory that we will see when we reach that perfect light.
And my prayer for us, as we settle into the year 2019, is that we would press on toward that light; that we would not let darkness get the better of us; and that we would be a people who daily recognize our need for Jesus, as He shapes and guides our lives. So, let’s close in prayer…