The only people who enjoyed the first Christmas were the people who were looking for it.
What do you want for Christmas this year? If you were to ask a typical little boy, he'd say, "Transformers!" Or, if he were a little older, "An X-box!".
Or perhaps he's like a little boy named Brian. For weeks he bugged his parents about getting a watch for Christmas. Finally his dad told him, "Brian, if you mention that watch again, you're not going to get it. Quit bugging us!"
One night Brian's parents asked him to lead in prayer before dinner.
Brian said, "I'd like to quote a Scripture verse before I pray. Mark 13:37: 'I say unto you what I have already told you before – watch ...'"
Now that is appropriate use of Scripture!
You know, we spend most of our Christmas season searching for the perfect gift, the huge bargain, the ideal decoration, and the last parking spot. At the very first Christmas, many people missed it because they were too busy looking for other things. The politicians missed the first Christmas. The business community missed the first Christmas. The innkeeper missed the first Christmas. Even the religious establishment missed the first Christmas, because they were looking at other things. The only people who enjoyed the very first Christmas, nearly two thousand years ago, were the people who were looking for it.
Angels: "You'll find the baby ... lying in a manger."
Shepherds: "Let's go and see!" (See Luke 2:12, 15)
The shepherds found Jesus because they were searching. They were seeking Him. And later on, another group, the wise men, found Jesus because they were looking for Him, too.
Wise men came from the East, asking, "Where is the baby...? We have come to worship Him." (Matt. 2:1-2)
Now let me ask you: what are you going to find this Christmas? I'll tell you what you're going to find: You'll find what you're looking for.
Seek, and you will find. (Matt. 7:7 (NKJV)
I don't know if you've caught it or not, but in our society today there's a new emphasis on seeking spiritual truth. The media have caught it. Over the past few years Time, Life, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report have all run articles on spirituality. For instance, one had "Life After Death" as the cover story. Another offered a "Clear View of Heaven." Life magazine asked, "Who Was He?" with a picture of Jesus on the cover. U.S. News covered the question of "Who Wrote the Bible?" One magazine even boldly implied that it could answer the question "Who Is God?"
Clearly, publishers don't put these kinds of covers on their publications unless they sell magazines. Which means there is an intense interest in spiritual things in our society.
A Newsweek article "The Search for the Sacred" said this: "Maybe it's just a critical mass of Baby Boomers in the contemplative afternoon of life. Or maybe it's anxiety over the coming millennium, or maybe it's a general dissatisfaction with the materialism of the modern world. For these reasons and more, millions of Americans are embarking on a search for the sacred in their lives."
The bottom line is that people are asking, "Is there any meaning to my life? Does my life count? Is there a God? And if there is a God, can I get to know Him?" That's what Christmas is all about – getting to know God.
In response, God says, "I know everything about you: the good, the bad, the ugly, your past, present, future." He wants you to know Him, so He sent Jesus at Christmas.
Later on the article reported, "A lot has changed in the past century. We've stripped away what once our ancestors saw as essential, the importance of religion in the family, and people feel they want something they've lost; they just don't remember what it is they've lost."
In essence, people have a gaping hole in their souls, and this is a seeker's quest – to fill the hole with a new source of meaning. Why are we here? What is the purpose of our existence? Now, if you're honest with yourself, at least during some time of your life, when you've slowed down long enough, you've probably asked yourself those same questions. At least they've popped into your mind. "Why am I here? What am I here for? Why do exist? Why should I get up in the morning, go to work, come home, watch TV, and go to bed? Is there any purpose in that? Is there a God? Can God be known?"
Where do you think those ideas are coming from? God is putting those questions in your mind because He's creating a desire in you – a thirst to know Him. God knows all about you; He wants you to know Him. And there's no better time than Christmas to become the kind of seeker the wise men embodied. Wise people will seek Christ.
This Christmas God wants to give you three Christmas gifts that you'll find if you seek them. Because whatever you're looking for is what you'll find.
The miracle of Christmas is not on 34th street; it's in Bethlehem. Through Jesus, God offers you forgiveness for your past, peace of mind in the present, and a solid future in eternity.
This Christmas, You Can Find Forgiveness
"Today your Savior was born... He is Christ, the Lord." (Luke 2:11 NCV)
Note that word Savior. That's what Christmas is all about. But why do we need a Savior anyway? Well, let me just cut to the chase. The Bible says that heaven is a perfect place. There are no mistakes or inconsistencies; it is perfect. Because of that, only perfect people get to go there. If God let imperfect people into heaven, it wouldn't be perfect anymore. That means I don't stand a chance in a million of getting into heaven on my own effort, and neither do you. I lost my chance at perfection a long time ago. So God had to come up with "Plan B." He sent us a Savior so we could get in on somebody else's ticket. That's the good news: A Savior has been born!
A little boy wrote a letter to Santa Claus that said, "Dear Santa: There are three boys living at my house. Jeffrey is two, David is four, and Norman is seven. Jeffrey is good some of the time, David is good some of the time, and Norman is good all of the time. I am Norman."
You know the problem with that? Not one of us is a Norman. None of us bat 1000. None of us are always perfect or right. In fact, if we had a giant screen up behind us and were able to view everything we've ever thought, said, or done, most of us would be extremely embarrassed. We all live with a sense of regret because none of us are perfect. That's why we need a Savior.
Not long ago, I saw a little Christmas card that said, "If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent a scientist. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent an economist. If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer. But our greatest need was forgiveness, so He sent us a Savior."
"Unto you is born a Savior." Yes, you can be forgiven. Now that's the most priceless gift you can get, the gift of a clear conscience. You can't even but that at Nieman-Marcus; it's priceless. Yet at Christmastime God offers you the chance to have your past forgiven and wiped clean, so you can start over, brand new. That's good news!
Now, how do I let Christ save me? It's really simple. Relax, and look at this: "All who believe in Jesus will be forgiven of their sins through Jesus' name" (Acts 10:43 NCV).
Notice that is simply says "all who believe." All means you. You just let go. Do you know how you get Christ to save you? Just admit you need Him to do so.
For three years I was a lifeguard. They fired me because every time I saw somebody raise their hand because they were drowning I said, "Yes, I see that hand! God bless you! Is there another? Yes, God bless you, too!"
Okay, I made up that part, but I really was a lifeguard. And one of the things that all lifeguards know is that you can't save anybody as long as they're trying to save themselves, because they'll take you under the water with them. You swim out to them, and they're flailing around in the water until finally they just give up and collapse. Once they give up, it's really easy – you just put your arm over their shoulder and swim back to shore. There's nothing to it. But you can't save them as long as they're trying to save themselves.
You know our problem? We're always trying to save ourselves. We think we can work our way into heaven. We say, "Oh, God, my good works are so high, and my bad works are so low. Look at the difference!" The only problem is that God doesn't grade on a curve. He says, "Only perfect people need apply for a perfect place." You might say, "Well, I'm better than Hitler." Well of course you are – you're better than me, too. I have no doubt about that. But God doesn't judge you against anybody else. So you need a savior. And that is provided. It's a free gift; just accept it.
The Christmas You Can Find Peace of Mind
Those who love your teachings till find true peace. (Ps. 119:165 NCV)
Peace is a word that our world uses a lot, but most people don't have the foggiest idea of its true meaning. That's worth repeating: Our society hasn't got the slightest idea what genuine peace of mind is all about.
For many, peace of mind means drinking until they're so drunk and numb that they can no longer feel the pain in their hearts.
For some, peace means hopping from one relationship to the next, to the next, to the next, hoping that somebody will fill the void in their life. But nobody ever does.
For some, peace means staying busy all the time so that at night they just kind of collapse into bed and don't have to think. Because any time they're quiet, those haunting thoughts, those fears, and that terrible loneliness come caving in, and they don't like that feeling.
For other people peace means working and working, becoming a workaholic and overachieving, so they can get all these attributes of success to prove to the world that they're somebody! But inside they're saying, "I don't really feel like somebody."
For other people peace means trying New Age gimmicks, like gazing at crystals, or using aromatherapy, or sitting in a lotus position and contemplating lint in their navel and going, "Ommmmm." But that's not peace of mind either.
Let me tell you what real peace of mind is. Real peace of mind is having a relationship with Jesus Christ, God's Son, and becoming friends with God.
Real peace is knowing that no matter what I do, God will never stop loving me.
Real peace is knowing that no matter what happens, God will never leave me alone. He'll always be with me.
Real peace means that no matter what happens in the New Year, or in the years to come, I know that God is going to give me the strength to handle it.
Real peace is living by God's Word, the Bible, so I can avoid a lot of the needless hang-ups and hurts and habits that mess up my life.
Real peace is teaching my children God's Word as a foundation for life, so as I see them make decisions, I can say, "Boy, I'm proud of that! I wasn't even there, and my kids made that decision on their own." That's real peace.
There are three things that rob us of peace of mind: guilt, grief, and grudges. First there's guilt. You don't have to walk around with guilt. God said, "I sent a Savior to wipe away your sins so you can be forgiven." Jesus gives us a clear conscience, like an Etch-A-Sketch. If you haven't been cleansed from your sins by placing your faith in Jesus, guilt will rob you of your peace.
Grief also robs us. You may be in major pain right now, because Christmastime brings up all kinds of hurtful memories. You may remember the loss of a loved one, or a parent who abandoned you, or a divorce you went through, or the death of a spouse or child. You have grief that robs you of joy and peace of mind. If that's the pain you're carrying, I want you to know that I'm sorry you're hurting. I really am. But beyond my concern, God cares about your hurt. He sees it, and He knows all about it. You were never meant to carry that grief all on your own. Never! God says to cast all your cares upon Him, and He will care for you. Give Him your worries and troubles, and receive the gift of peace. Cast all your burdens on the Lord.
Then there are grudges – grudges also rob us of peace. Grudges cause us to be resentful. We feel guilty when we hurt others, but we become resentful or grudging when others hurt us. You will be hurt in life, whether intentionally or unintentionally. How you respond to that hurt will determine your level of happiness in life. And for your own sake, your own peace of mind, you've got to let go of those hurts, because resentment doesn't hurt the other person; it only hurts you. You're the one who's stewing while they're living their life.
You may still be letting people from your past hurt you today, and that's not too smart. You've got to let go of your grudges. But you may say, "Rick, I can't. They hurt me too much. I can't forgive them." You're right. That's why you need Jesus Christ, because only He can give you the power to let go. Why? Because they deserve it? No, they don't deserve it; but you need to forgive for your own sake, so you can get on with your life and not stay stuck in the past over a grudge, a hurt, or a resentment. You can find peace of mind if you're willing to do the things that Christ says to do.
This Christmas You Can Find Eternal Life
Here are the facts of life:
First, we're all going to die someday. Now that's not a pleasant thought. I don't think you need to be morbid about it, or always be worrying about it, but the fact is we are all, each of us, going to die someday. Tomorrow, next year, ten years from now – we don't know.
Second, we're going to spend more of our life on that side of death than we're going to spend on this side. You get sixty, seventy, eighty, maybe ninety years here on this earth. But on the other side of death you'll spend the rest of eternity. Now, only a fool would go through life totally unprepared for something he knows is inevitable. It doesn't make sense to know that someday you're going to die and to not be prepared for it. Let me just say that you're not ready to live until you're ready to die. Fortunately, the good news is, that's what Christmas is all about, too: That's why God sent Jesus Christ.
God makes us ready for heaven... when we put our faith and trust in Christ to save us... "The man who finds life will find it through trusting God." (Rom. 1:17 TLB)
God says you can find eternal life by trusting Christ. God says, "I'll take care of your past regrets, your present problems, and your future fears." When you summarize this in one word, do you know what it's called? It's called salvation. And what does salvation mean? It means God saves me. It means Jesus saves me. It means He clears up my past, takes care of my present, and secures my future. That's one gift you'll never get anywhere else. You can't find it under the Christmas tree. You can only find it in the Man of the cross.
You know what our problem is? Too often, we don't know what we're looking for in life. We think we're looking for happiness, and so we go out and we try all kinds of things to give us happiness. We think we're looking for love: "I just want somebody to love me, to fill this void in my life." Or we think we're looking for success, security, significance, or meaning and purpose in life.
We think we're looking for all these different things, but actually what we're really looking for is God. God is what you're really searching for. God is behind all those other things, and He has placed in you a God-shaped vacuum that nothing else can fill. Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Him. But here's the good news. All the time when you were looking, and you didn't know it was God you were looking for, God was reaching out for you, too. He was working on the other end. That's why He sent Jesus Christ at Christmas so many centuries ago.
Christ, God's Son, has come to help us understand and find the true God. (1 John 5:20 TLB)
Do you see what Christmas is? Christmas is really the celebration of an invasion. It's a close encounter of the God kind. God invaded earth nearly two thousand years ago as a human being. Why? So we could know He's not some big force in the sky. He wants us to know what He's really like. The birth of His Son, Jesus, split history into A.D. and B.C. Every time you write a check, it's a reference point. Whether you're a believer or not, you're using Jesus Christ as a reference point every single day of your life: 1998, or 1999, or 2000 years from what? From the time when God sent His Son to live and die on earth.
You see, if God had wanted to communicate to cows, He would have become a cow. If God had wanted to communicate to ants, He would have become an ant. If God had wanted to communicate to dogs, He would have become a dog. But He wanted to communicate to human beings, so He because one of us, a human being. Now I can look at Jesus and say, "Oh, that's how God wants me to live. That's what God is like." By getting to know Jesus, I find out that He's not some impersonal force in the sky.
How did He come to earth? The same way all of us did: through a birth canal. Why? Because nobody is afraid of a baby. God didn't come to scare you, but to save you. So He came into the world the same way all of us did, through birth. The Bible says Jesus came to seek and to save. While you've been seeking, He's been seeking you. The miracle of Christmas is not on 34th Street; it's in Bethlehem. He says, "I offer you forgiveness for your past, peace of mind in the present, and a solid future in eternity." Those are the gifts. You say, "How do I find those gifts?" They're all wrapped up in Christ. Read this aloud: "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13 (NIV).
Now if you don't get anything else, get this. You matter to God. Your problems matter to God. Your pain matters to God. Your potential matters to God.
God came to earth in human form, and He is seeking you while you're seeking Him. What better time than at Christmas to make contact? He says, "Seek Me." Two thousand years ago, wise men sought Christ. And wise men will seek Christ. I challenge you to be a wise man or woman in the new Year, and to seek the Christ of Christmas, because God says, "Seek and you shall find." It's His promise. It's His gift to you.
You may be reading these words for many different reasons. Maybe you bought a book of Christmas meditations because you thought it would be a good thing for you to read on Christmas Eve. Maybe someone gave you this book as a Christmas gift. Maybe you picked it up because a friend recommended it to you. Whatever the reason, I want to say this: Regardless of why you are reading these words, it's not happening by accident.
Thousands of years ago, even before you were born, God knew you would be reading about Him right here, right now, at Christmastime. He brought these words to you so He could get your attention for about five minutes, so He could say to you, "I really care about you! I know everything about you. I saw your birth. I know when you're going to die. I know everything in between. I made you for a purpose, and I have a plan for your life. Life does have meaning when you get involved in My plan and develop a relationship with Me. I love you, and I want you to know Me so badly that I sent My Son to earth two thousand years ago to show you what I'm like."
What I'm talking about is not religion. I'm talking about a relationship. Religion is just man's attempt to get to God. Relationship is when you get to know Jesus Christ in a personal way and He becomes a Friend. I'm not afraid to die, because I already know what God is like.
I don't care what your background is. You may have a Catholic background, you may be a Hindu or a Buddhist, you may have a Jewish background you may be a Protestant; maybe you have no background in religion. That doesn't matter to me. What matters is this: Have you established a personal relationship with Christ? Because those gifts – forgiveness, peace of mind, and eternal life – are wrapped up in Him.
Can you imagine being given a gift at Christmas and never unwrapping it? It would be silly. I mean, if you gave me a gift at Christmas and a year later you came over and I still hadn't unwrapped it, you'd think I was a little nutty.
"Why haven't you unwrapped it?"
"Oh, I love the wrapping paper. I'm sure I'm going to love it. I'm going to get to it one of these days."
And yet, many of you continue to move a little closer to God Christmas after Christmas after Christmas after Christmas. You've celebrated every Christmas for as many years as you are old; you know the songs and the stories, and you know what it's all about, but you've never unwrapped the gift.
Now what gives? What's the logic behind that? God says, "I want to offer you forgiveness, peace of mind, and eternal life," and you haven't unwrapped it? Be serious.
You're never going to be offered a greater gift than Jesus!