This Week’s Sermon From The Ranch – Why I Celebrate Christmas (Sorry It’s So Late)
(Each Sunday, This Day’s Thought is blessed to share Eric Elder’s sermons from his wonderful ministry, “The Ranch”)
Why I Celebrate Christmas
By Eric Elder
There was a time when I almost gave up celebrating Christmas. Our kids were young and they weren’t yet hooked on the idea of Santa Claus and presents, Christmas trees and decorations. I had even read that the Puritans who first came to America were so zealous in their faith that they didn’t celebrate Christmas at all. They went so far as to fine their fellow Puritan businessmen if any of them didn’t keep their shops open on Christmas day. The Puritans didn’t want anything to do with a holiday that was conceivably rooted in paganism.
As a new believer and new father myself, the idea of going against the flow of the excesses of Christmas had its appeal, at least in some respects. But then I read an article by a man who simply loved celebrating Christmas. He was both a pastor and one of the strongest Christians I had ever known. To his way of thinking, there could be no greater way to celebrate the birth of the most important figure in human history than having the grandest of parties for Him.
He explained that our word “holiday” came from the words “Holy Day,” and he reminded me that the Bible often encouraged lavish celebrations on various “Holy Days” throughout the year. One such celebration is found in the book of Nehemiah, when the people were tempted to mourn and weep because of the situation in which they found themselves. But Nehemiah helped them to see that this wasn’t a day to be dour, but a day to celebrate, and Nehemiah gave them some ideas about how to do it. The book of Nehemiah says:
“Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, ‘This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
“Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.’
“The Levites calmed all the people, saying, ‘Be still, for this is a sacred [holy] day. Do not grieve.’
“Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them” (Nehemiah 8:9-12).
Sometimes people need to be reminded why they should celebrate something, especially when they’re tempted to break down and cry instead.
So today, I’d like to give you a reminder, too, and encourage you to take some time today and throughout this “holi-day” season to celebrate the goodness of God.
Like the people in Nehemiah’s day, you might not feel like rejoicing today. You might not feel like celebrating and feasting and giving gifts to one another. Things may have happened this week, or this month, or this year, that make you feel like crying instead. But let me remind you of what this day is about. It’s a day that is dedicated to the one Man in the world who has loved you more than any other person ever could. A Man who, like His Father in heaven, wants to pour out His love on you today and every day from now until eternity. A Man who, being born in a barn and raised in a no-name city was able to give life and hope and purpose and meaning not only to people in His generation, but to people in our generation, some 2,000 years later.
His name, of course, is Jesus, and He was not only the Son of God, but the very essence of God Himself, who came to earth in human form to do what we could not do for ourselves: to die for our sins, so that we could live the lives He created us to live.
I remember the night I put my faith in Christ so clearly. You may have heard me tell you this before, but I’d like to remind you of it once again, as it may help to remind you why you can celebrate His coming into the world, too.
It was back in 1987 at a point in my life when I finally realized I had sinned deeply in the past and those sins were very likely to catch up with me soon. When I realized what I had done, I confessed my sins to God and agreed with Him that I was indeed guilty. Then something incredible happened. I heard a man speaking about Jesus in a way I had never heard before. I realized that Jesus wasn’t surprised by my sins, but that He had come specifically to remove them, to wash them away, and to restore me in my relationship with God again. I was overwhelmed by the love that I felt that night. It went beyond anything I had ever known in my life.
I didn’t know what to do. As God’s love washed over me, I reached for a phone to call an old friend. I just felt like I had to express my love to someone. But then three words came into my mind: “Talk to Me.” I didn’t know what to make of them, so I reached for the phone a second time. Then I heard the words again in my mind saying, “Talk to Me.” But a second time I ignored it and reached for the phone again. Then a third time, the words came again, simply and clearly saying: “Talk to Me.” This time, I knew it was God.
For the third time, I put down the phone. I knelt down on my bed and buried my face in my pillow. I called out to God and I cried. And I cried. And I cried. I told God I was sorry for everything I had ever done wrong. I confessed to Him that I had taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way and I didn’t want to go that way any more. I told Him that I wanted to straighten out my life and go His way from now on. I wanted Him to be my Lord. I wanted Him to call the shots from this day forward. I put my faith in Christ that day and I’ve never looked back.
It’s been twenty-four years since I made that decision, and I’ve never regretted it, even when the days are hard or things don’t go my way. I’d rather follow Jesus any day than my own way, because I know that whatever He has in store for me will ultimately work for good. Why? Because I know that He loves me, and because I know that He has a purpose for my life that goes beyond just what happens to me, but affects many other people around me as well. I know that God has a stake in my future that’s bigger than whatever stake I might have in it. And as long as I’m surrendered to Him, I know that I can trust Him to guide me and direct me in the way that He wants me to go.
So why do I celebrate Christmas? Because it’s a day when I can remind myself again of all that God has done for me through Christ–and to praise Him for it. I’m so thankful He came into the world. I’m so thankful He showed me the way to live. I’m so thankful He’s given me a reason to get up in the morning, if only to breathe in and out and praise Him for giving me the breath to do it. When you’re in love with someone, it makes you want to celebrate them.
I love celebrating the birth of Christ, just as I love celebrating the birth of other important people in my life that I love so dearly. My wife’s birthday happens to be on Christmas day, and when I think about what she’s meant to me in my life, believe me, it makes me want to celebrate! It makes me want to have a huge party and give gifts and let everyone know how much I love her! (She doesn’t want a huge party like that, but the love in my heart for her makes me want to give her one!)
In the same way, the love in my heart for Jesus makes me want to celebrate His coming into the world, too. There’s no better way for me to spend Christmas day than by remembering what He’s done for me.
And if Christ has come into your life in a meaningful way, too, then you have a good reason to celebrate this special “holi-day” as well. And I hope you’ll do it with gusto, whether you celebrate it by yourself, on your knees or with your head in your pillow, or whether you go to a full-blown party with family and friends or co-workers or even strangers. Praise God with your heart and praise Him with your voice. Sing out to Him with a joyful spirit for all He’s done in your life, even if you can’t see the fruit of all He’s done yet. He’s still your God. He’s still your Creator. He’s still the one who gives you life and breath and a purpose for living every day that He keeps you here on this earth.
Let God have His way in your life today. Let Him remind you of His great love for you today. Let Him come to you and be with you on this special “Holy Day,” this day that has been dedicated by Christians worldwide to celebrate the birth of God’s Son, Emmanuel, which means quite literally, “God with us.”
There’s a time for crying and mourning what’s been lost. But today is not that day. This is a day to celebrate what’s been found. As the angel told the shepherds on the day that Jesus was born:
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for coming into the world to be with us, and for saving us from our sins. Help us to celebrate You in a meaningful way today, whether alone or with others, whether in pain or at peace. Help us to know that You haven’t left us alone, but that You always have been and always will be Emmanuel, “God with us.” In Jesus’ name, Amen.
P.S. I’ve posted a special Christmas song on our website for you to listen to today. It’s called “What Child is This?” from a CD called “Tenderly” that I helped my super-talented sister to record on the grand piano. I hope you enjoy the song, and the rest of this holiday season. Click the link below to listen. I’ve also included the words below in case you’d like to meditate on them as you listen to the song. Merry Christmas!
“What Child is This?”
by William Chatterton Dix, 1865
What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
P.P.S. And if you’d like to get a copy of the whole CD “Tenderly,” whether on CD or as downloadable MP3’s, I’d love to send it to you for a donation of any size to our ministry this month. Your gifts really do help us to reach out to people every day throughout the world with the message of Christ, and I’d love to send you this music as an appreciation of your support. The CD features the soft and soothing sounds of the grand piano, played “tenderly” by Marilyn Byrnes, and is sure to lift your spirits, not just at Christmastime, but throughout the year. Songs include: The Prayer, Greensleeves, What’s New, Tenderly, Over the Rainbow, The Wind Beneath My Wings, Get Here, I Can Read Your Mind (the Love Theme from Superman), I’ll Only Love You, Canon de Noel, The Way We Were, Somewhere (from West Side Story), and Faithful. Again, I’d be glad to send you a copy of the music anywhere in the world, either on CD or as downloadable MP3’s, for a donation of any size to our ministry. Click the link below to make a donation and get a copy.
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