1 The LORD Almighty says, "The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. The arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw on that day. They will be consumed like a tree – roots and all.
2 "But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.
3 On the day when I act, you will tread upon the wicked as if they were dust under your feet," says the LORD Almighty.
4 "Remember to obey the instructions of my servant Moses, all the laws and regulations that I gave him on Mount Sinai for all Israel.
5 "Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the LORD arrives.
6 His preaching will turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the hearts of children to their parents. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse."
Subject: The Night Before Christmas
‘Twas the night before Christmas
When all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a mouse
The stockings were hung
By the chimney with care
In hopes that Saint Nicolas
Soon would be there.
My brothers and sisters, this is the beginning of a very familiar Christmas poem that surfaces year after year for our amusement and to usher us into the spirit of the holiday season. This poem deals with what is supposed to be a typical American family on the night before Christmas. This poem assumes that Saint Nicolas or the one that we know and refer to as Santa Claus will be visiting the house to deliver presents and to eat cookies and drink hot chocolate or milk while the family is sound asleep. It is a very delightful and entertaining story of the night before Christmas.
But what I’ve discovered, my brother and sisters, is that this poem fails to mention anything that would give the reader any inkling of the real meaning of Christmas. There is no Christ in this Christmas story. There is no mention of a manger or a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. There is no tale of angels performing a late night concert for shepherds tending to sheep in a pasture. Nor is there any reference to gifts being delivered by wise men from the Far East. There is no virgin in this Christmas story. Nor is there a Savior to save a dying world.
This poem, my brothers and sisters, is an extension of the commercialism that has consumed the Christmas message and has left it meaningless and void of Christ. When most people today think of Christmas, their initial thoughts go to all of the shopping that must be done before its arrival. Starting with the day after Thanksgiving, people begin to lose their mind invading the full spectrum of stores – from Wal-Mart to Macy’s – just to find the perfect gifts for family and friends, and even co-workers.
Children begin to fantasize about the latest toy or video game without any cognizance that their wish list must be funded financially. Parents use what is supposed to be a joyous time of year to deal with harassing calls from creditors that they decided to put off until after they’ve completed their Christmas splurge and received their tax refund.
Children become hurt if they don’t receive what they want. And parents will do anything to see their child’s face light up on Christmas morning. Unlike when I was growing up, there is no satisfaction in receiving oranges, apples, and nuts in a red stocking. There is no joy in drinking hot chocolate and watching “Rudolf the Red Noses Reindeer” on TV. Nowadays, we want gifts and we want them more abundantly.
But my brothers and sisters, on this Sunday before Christmas Eve Sunday, I want to invite each of you to take a trip with me back in time. I want to go beyond my childhood when there was still a notion of the true meaning of Christmas, and go all the way back to the day before the Christ of Christmas came to be.
As we travel back almost 2000 years, we find that the Roman Empire had amassed vast wealth and territory throughout the civilized world. It was common practice at the time of Jesus, for the Romans to conquer territory and make the people subjects and even slaves. The people in the land would be governed by officers appointed by Rome for that purpose and in rare cases would they maintain any significance of independence.
Thus the Jews in the days of Jesus were an oppressed people. They were given very little room for independence and fell under the governorship of Herod the Great. On the night before Christmas, they were a people who had gone 400 years since the prophet Malachi had last given them a Word from the Lord. This people that had been accustomed to prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah proclaiming the message of the almighty God, should have been overwhelmed by the absence of God’s presence and the deficiency of a direct Word from Him.
And yet, my brothers and sisters, 400 years after Malachi’s final message, the Jews were still hopeful with anticipation that the Messiah, the Holy One of Israel, would come to deliver them from their oppression.
• They believed the psalmist who so eloquently wrote in Psalm 2:7 that the Messiah would be the Son of God.
• They believed Moses’ Pentateuch writing as recorded in Genesis 12:3 that the Messiah would be a descendant of Abraham, the father of the Jews.
• Additionally they believed Jeremiah’s prophecy that gave the Messiah royal lineage through King David.
• They believed the prophecy of Micah who stated that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
• They believed all of Isaiah’s messianic prophecies, especially those proclaiming the Messiah as part of the new and everlasting covenant.
• Isaiah also prophesied that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. But then later in life he would be betrayed by a friend, sold for 30 pieces of silver, crucified between two thieves, and buried among the rich.
• They even believed the prophetic voice of Malachi as recorded in our text that for whoever fears the name of the Almighty God, the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings.
In all of their beliefs; in all of their hopes of the Messiah coming to relieve them of their eminent oppression, they never left out name, meaning, or purpose of the Christ.
In the Spanish language which is directly derived from Latin, the word “mas” translates to the English word “more.” So the combination of the word Christ with the word “mas” gives of Christmas which literally means more Christ.
My brothers and sisters, in celebrating the birth of Christ and calling it “Christmas” we should be adding “more Christ” in the celebration and not leaving Him out. The enemy has used the commercialism of Christmas to distract us from its whole purpose and meaning for us believers.
To celebrate Christmas is to celebrate the rise of the Sun of Righteousness. Malachi records that He will rise with healing in His wings. How many of you know today that our celebration of Christmas should be a celebration of healing. Through Christ, we have been healed of all of our sins and transgressions. Through the coming of the Messiah, we have been restored back to our covenant relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Malachi further emphasizes that we have been set free as calves that have been let out of a pasture. And for that reason, we should all be leaping for joy. In other words, we should be celebrating our freedom during the Christmas season. We should be rejoicing that God loved us so much that He sent to us the Prince of Peace and a Wonderful Counselor.
On the night before Christmas in the ancient city of Bethlehem, there wasn’t much of a celebration going on. There was no freedom because of Roman rule. There was not much for Mary and Joseph to celebrate. They had traveled many miles just to get to Bethlehem, the city of David, so they could register for the census. But there was no place for them to stay. All of the hotels were full. They had no family on whom they could call on in the city. So they did the only thing they could. They resolved to stay outside of the hotel in the area where the animals were watered and fed.
There was no celebration going on because there were no doctors or midwives available. There was no celebration going on because Mary’s water had broken and her labor pains had begun to kick in. There was no celebration going on because Joseph knew that his fiancée, his wife by law, was about to give birth to a child that was not his.
On the night before Christmas in the time of Jesus, there was no celebration going on because the shepherds were stuck out in the field with a bunch of dump sheep and no where to go. There was no celebration going on because a group of astrologers from the East had begun to see a strange star and they realized that they would have to travel a great distance to get to the bottom of its meaning.
On the night before Jesus’ birth, there was nothing to celebrate. There was hopelessness mixed with the bondage of depression. But on that dreadful night, the night before Christmas, almost 2000 years ago, God was preparing the world for a miraculous delivery from a world of despair.
And yet almost 2000 years later, the night before Christmas appears just as hopeless as the night experienced by Mary and Joseph. We have large houses and more hotels available to us than we need, but we don’t have Christ. We have cars, buses, trains, and airplanes to cut down our traveling time to any destination, but we don’t have Christ. We have hospitals, doctors, and midwives to handle all manners of illness and maladies, including the birth of a child, but we don’t have Christ.
Yes, I know that there are churches on every street corner. I know there are ministries springing up what seems like every day of the week. But the reason we don’t have Christ is because we’ve lost the true meaning of what Christmas is all about.
Instead of celebrating His birth and our deliverance from the impending grips of death, we’re stuck on stupid worshipping gifts up under a tree, that are delivered by some fat man in a red and white suit, who travels in a sleigh pulled by some flying reindeer, according to our heretical tradition.
One writer put it plainly in his revision of the poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” In this update version the poet proclaims:
’Twas the night Jesus came and all through the house,
not a person was praying, not one in the house.
The Bible was left on the shelf without care,
for no one thought Jesus would come there.
The children were dressing to crawl into bed,
not once ever kneeling or bowing their head.
And Mom in the rocking chair with baby on her lap,
was watching the Late Show as I took a nap.
When out of the east there rose such a clatter,
I sprang to my feet to see what’s the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
tore open the shutters and lifted the sash.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but Angels proclaiming that Jesus was here.
The light of His face made me cover my head,
it was Jesus returning just like He’d said.
And though I possessed worldly wisdom and wealth,
I cried when I saw Him in spite of myself.
In the Book of Life that he held in his hand,
was written the name of every saved man.
He spoke not a word as he searched for my name,
when He said "it is not here" I hung my head in shame.
The people whose names had been written with love,
He gathered to take to his Father above.
With those who were ready He rose without a sound,
while all the others were left standing around.
I fell to my knees but it was too late,
I waited too long and sealed my own fate.
I stood and I cried as they rose out of sight,
Oh, if only I’d known that this was the night.
In the words of this poem the meaning is clear
The coming of Jesus is now drawing near.
So my brothers and sisters, as I get ready to leave you today, I don’t want you to be confused about the night before Christmas. It’s alright to give gifts unto your children. It’s alright to shine your lights and decorate your Christmas tree. But if you want God to be blessed with your celebration of Christmas, then you need to put more Christ in your Christmas.