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Christmas Wrap Up ()

Rev. Dr. William A. LewisRev. Dr. William A. Lewis, December 31, 2017

Facts about Christmas: The early Church fathers celebrated the birth of Jesus as early as 95 A.D. They believed the “new life” was conceived March 25, and 9 months later Jesus was born December 25th. This gives a different spin on Christmas than the Church taking over the pagan Roman gods holiday during the winter solstice.

Why Evergreen trees? From the Romans to the Egyptians to the Celts, the ancient world used these trees to signify eternal life. The Christmas tree did not come into usage until the 16th century in Germany. It became popular because of a play about Adam and Eve that was put on every December. The paradise tree had apples on it, signifying the forbidden fruit in the garden. The tree was the beginning of a fad. Simultaneously, another tradition in Germany was the Christmas pyramid which was triangular shelving that figurines, fruit and gifts were put on, decorated with a star at the top, signifying the star of the east. Eventually the Christmas pyramid and the Adam and Eve paradise tree merged into the Christmas tree.

We had record numbers at Christmas Eve! 9 out of 10 Americans celebrated Christmas. However, only 46% said they observed the day as primarily a religious rather than a cultural holiday. 81 % of non-Christians celebrate Christmas, 1/3 of Jews and ¾ of Hindus and Buddhists, and 87% of people who identify as non-religious. While we bemoan the secularism of our culture, it is remarkable that nearly everyone in America celebrates a day intended to honor Jesus’s birth. It inadvertently fulfills the scripture in Philippians 2, “Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

On Christmas Eve I mentioned Dan Brown, who writes anti-Christian books, thinks artificial intelligence will replace Christianity. Religion is not going away, and science will not destroy it. Predictions made in 1996 by an anthropologist Anthony Wallace, “Belief in supernatural powers is doomed to die out all over the world as a result of increasing scientific knowledge.” The general thought was western liberal secularity would take over the world view. But the opposite has happened. Even though the number of atheist and agnostics in western society has risen, religion remains strong, and demographic trends predict a future of religious growth. Science has not secularized the culture. The truth is technological advances are not enough for our souls. The US is the most scientifically and technologically advanced society in the world, and yet at the same time the most religious of western societies.

Human’s intrinsically know that this world is not all there is, and that we need more than it can give. I think of the quote by Atheist Voltaire from the 18th century, “If God did not exist it would be necessary for man to invent Him.”
That little baby born in Bethlehem lives in billions of hearts around the word. The creator of our world visited our planet and is still with us today.

The fact is, not everyone appreciates Christmas, like the Grinch who was against it. John 1:5 tells us this would happen: “The light shines in the darkness. but the darkness has not understood it. He was in the world and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him.”

Thus, we have lots of non-Christians with lights and trees and giving presents with a confusion about Christmas. It is Happy Holiday’s, not Merry Christmas. It is season’s greetings, not Christmas season. Lots of Frosty, Santa, elves, reindeer; even polar bears and penguins have become part of the season! Christmas is everywhere, just not Jesus. It is assumed Christmas is about happy feelings.

My wife likes to watch hallmark channel movies. I don’t like the sappy story lines. The plot is usually about a guy and girl who meet and initially dislike each other, then they fall for each other. Then comes an argument, or crises. Then they reconcile in time for Christmas Eve. I ask my wife, “Why do you watch such dribble?” She’ll say, “Better than the Zombie movies you watch.” I explain Zombie movies are good theology: the dead coming back to life!

The world thinks the true meaning of Christmas is to be nice to one another. It’s not a bad message, it’s just not the meaning of Christmas. “Be nice” is all the world has to offer.
It was a dark night during the winter of 1864 at Petersburg, Virginia. The Confederate Army of Robert E. Lee faced the Union divisions of General Ulysses S. Grant. The war was three and half years old, and the glorious charge had long since given away to the muck and mud of trench warfare. Late one evening one of Lee’s generals, Major General George Pickett, received word that his wife had given birth to a baby boy. Up and down the line the southerners began building huge bonfires in celebration of the event. Seeing the lights, the Northern camps got nervous and sent out a reconnaissance patrol to see what was going on.

The scouts returned with the message: Pickett had a son and these were celebratory fires. It so happened Grant and Pickett had been contemporaries at West Point and knew one another well. To honor the occasion Grant ordered that bonfires should be built. For miles on both sides of the lines fires burned. No shots fired, no yelling back and forth. No war. As long as the lights burned there was peace, celebrating the birth of a child. As soon as the fires burnt out and the darkness returned, war began again.

Here’s the issue, if you do not know about the love of God made available to you through Jesus Christ coming into the world to die for your sins, then you will miss the real meaning of Christmas, no matter how many gifts you receive. You will go back to the daily grind of life, unaffected by what Christmas has to offer.

A man went out and bought his wife a beautiful a diamond ring for Christmas. His friend said, “I thought she wanted a new SUV!” “She did, but where am I going to find a fake jeep?” Artificial happiness.

Jesus offers a real new life. When you step into it and stay on it, remain in the conversation, and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, you become different and you experience the living God flowing to you and through you.

All good things come through Jesus. What’s fascinating is when you look at the civilizing turning point of the world. It’s when Christianity began to spread throughout the earth. When people began to love others the selfless way Jesus told us to; human rights, morality, education, health care and women’s rights. They all became the new standard. How? Christians living the life I previously described.
The new world order believes we can be moral without God, but have forgotten Jesus was the initial source of morality. Christian values are what civilized the world. Humanism will now try to step in, first rewriting history so that God was not part of the past, and then lead the world forward with human wisdom (tainted by sin and selfishness). You can’t divorce the soul and source of civilized behavior. It is easy to overlook the source of life because of sin. This is the reason Jesus came, to rectify the problem sin caused all of us. Sin is taking the proper attention off God and placing it everywhere and anywhere else, predominately upon the self.

At Christmas we talk about the shopping, parties and events more than we discuss the prayer moments, biblical insights and spiritual opportunities. The other day was fun because when I compared notes with my wife, she had a spiritual conversation with one person and I did with another. People ask me, “How was your Christmas?” Hmm… it all happened at the Christmas Eve service! The devotions leading up to it, the prayer of thank you, the sharing of the faith with people this past week. Best Christmas ever!

The good news of Christmas is: In the midst of a great darkness there came a light, not just a flicker, but an eternal flame that burns to this day. There are times when the events of the world and challenges in our own lives feel like darkness. But Christmas reminds us: Whatever happens in life, the light still shines.

I think it’s amazing that during the darkest time in the winter solstice, in the northern hemisphere, with the shortest time of day light in the year, is when we celebrate the light of the world.

The lights are one of the most special aspects of the Christmas decorations. We drive around town to see them, or go to Disney to see them. Our house has night owls, everyone goes to bed at different times, usually very late. The other night while I was sleeping, my dog sits of my chest, which is his way of saying, “do you want to take me out, or do you want me to take care of business on one of the four Christmas trees you have in the house?”

So, as I take him out, I notice someone left all the Christmas lights on. At first I was frustrated. But then I realized I was able to navigate through our maze of fences, furniture and boxes. I could see my way because of the lights up in honor of Jesus. I found my self thanking Jesus for keeping me from bumping my shin like I usually do, which opened my mind up to all the other ways Jesus protects me.

Light and darkness are a major theme is the Bible. God’s first command was, “Let there be light.” We all need light. During the winter months in the north, lots of people suffer from light depravation, which results in mood swings and depression. It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder. We used to call it the February “blahs”. They have to set up special light panels in their homes to get heavy doses of light in order to start feeling better. We need light.

All of us know what darkness is like, both physically and spiritually. Most don’t recognize the darkness they live in, because they have nothing else to compare it to. I remember doing ministry in the ghetto and trying to introduce people to different ways of doing marriage and parenting that didn’t include violence and drug habits, but this was all they ever knew. When I suggested alternative ways like forgiving and caring about people, they laughed at me because that would make them weak and vulnerable, upon which others would prey.

It is interesting to listen to intellectual atheist arguments against Christianity. They are dismissing a worldview based on a good God, which they have redefined as a construction of manipulative human thought, a bad deity. They don’t understand how evil gets released when God is removed from the equation. Humans do not do well without God. They haven’t spent any time in the light, so they don’t understand its source.

Christians are putting all our energy into the political debate, when the true source of life is in our faith, Jesus Christ. “Anyone who claims to be in the light, but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light (1 John 2:9-11).” The problem with the darkness is: if left in it long enough, you go blind and lose the ability to see.

A man driving through a mining region noticed a large number of mules in an open field. When he asked about them, he was told these are work mules brought up from the dark passages below to preserve their eyesight. Christians also need to spend time in worship and prayer to keep from losing their spiritual vision. This is why I’m hoping your New Year’s resolutions include a chapter of the Bible every day. You get to see the love of God and how life with Jesus positively changed your every day.

Seeing the light is not always a pleasant thing. It has a way of making visible what used to be hidden. The light of Jesus can reveal some areas of brokenness and sin that make us uncomfortable. Like when you clean the living room and thought it was clean, until you pulled the shade and the light reveals all the dust in the air.

A mom went to visit her son and his roommate, who turned out to be a female. They were living in a two-bedroom apartment. During the course of the meal, the mother couldn’t help but notice how the two of them had eyes for each other, and wondered if there was more between them. The son, as if he could read his mom’s thoughts, assured his mother that they were merely roommates. Two weeks later his roommate came to him saying, “Ever since your mom came to dinner, I’ve been unable to find the silver plate. You don’t suppose she took it, do you?” He said, “I doubt it, but I’ll email her, just to be sure.” He wrote, “Dear Mother, I’m not saying that you did take the silver plate from my home, I’m not saying you did not, but the fact remains it has been missing since your visit.” Mom emailed back, “I’m not saying you are sleeping with your roommate or not, but if she was sleeping in her room, she would have found it tucked into her covers.”

Jesus shines light upon our lives not to condemn us, but to reveal the areas where He wants to bring healing and wholeness. Jesus tells us in Luke 15:8, “Suppose a woman has ten coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?” First, she needed the light, then she got rid of the dirt, and then she found her coin.

Jesus came so we can look upward to receive God’s guidance. We look backward so we can process our past with a spiritual lens. We look inward so we can see where else the Lord needs to take up space to make us whole. The light of God’s truth shines in our lives so we can get everything set right: relationships, self-esteem, our purpose.
We are called to be light givers, to shine the light of Jesus to others. A nine year-old boy went with his parents to Europe one summer and visited all the great churches. In each cathedral he saw the stain glass portraits of the disciples and other saints. Upon return, his Sunday school teacher asked, “What is a saint?” The little guy‘s mind went back to the massive beautiful stained glass windows and said, “A saint is a person the light shines through.” Jesus told us “Let our light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).”

Sadly, too many Christians merely shine the light for themselves. We need to take our Christianity to those in the darkness. I want you to consider another New Year’s resolution: a prayer list of people you fight for, intercede for and initiate conversations with so that they might have an encounter with Jesus.

A visitor to an electric generating station once asked the chief engineer, “Where do you store the electricity?” “We don’t store it, we just make it. When a light switch is flipped on in a city a hundred miles away, it places a demand on the system. It registers at the generating plant and prompts a greater output.” The light of God cannot be stored, it can only be used as it is lived out in the world. As we flip the switch of our faith on, the spirit of God releases the power needed in that moment. We can then reflect the goodness of God, extend the touch of Jesus and empower others with the words of God.

I’m noticing, as the media portrays an increasingly secular and anti-God stance, the spiritual interest of the people I bump into remains high. People need a conversation with a Christian.

Realize the people in your life are curious about spiritual matters, and you are God’s appointed person in their life.
C.S. Lewis commented, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance. And if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” Let’s take our faith a little more seriously in 2018. Your experience of abundant life and other’s invitation to eternal life are on the line.

“I said to the man who stood at the gate of the new year, ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ He replied, ‘Go out into the darkness and out your hand in the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’” (Miss Minnie Louise Haskins – “God Knows”)

There was an interesting moment when we were opening presents and one of them didn’t have a tag. Who’s is it? Nobody remembers who’s it is. It is unclaimed. Is it for me? There is one gift I do not want you to leave unclaimed this season: the Gift of God Himself to you!

Rev. Dr. William Lewis

Sources: Stephen Sheane, Jim Denison,

About Rev. Dr. William A. Lewis: Rev. Dr. William Lewis has been the Senior Pastor of Community Presbyterian Church in Celebration since 2009. Whether at a traditional service, praise service, or the more casual Thursday night service, you’ll find that Pastor William’s preaching brings the Word of God to life D.Min. McCormick Theological Seminary Th.M. Princeton Theological Seminary M.Div. Fuller Theological Seminary B.A. University Colorado
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