Sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Larry Maley at Dardenne Presbyterian Church on December 20, 2015

“When Christmas Isn’t Picture Perfect”

Scriptures:   Matthew 2:13-23 and Psalm 46:1-11

            To remind us about how Christmas is viewed from different perspectives by people, I’m going to read this fictional Christmas correspondence between Martha Stewart, television personality noted for her craft and decorating ideas, and Erma Bombeck, newspaper columnist famous for her humorous insights about home life. Letter from Martha Stewart:

Hi Erma, This perfectly delightful note is being sent on paper I made myself to tell you about my magnificent Christmas preparations. Since it snowed last night, I got up early and made a sled with old barn wood and a glue gun. I hand painted it in gold leaf, got out my loom, and made a blanket in peaches and mauve. I’m serving my standard Martha Stewart 12-course Christmas breakfast. Unfortunately, I haven’t have time to make the table and chairs this morning, so I’m using the ones I made last year. I did take time to make the breakfast dishes from Hungarian clay, which you can get at almost any Hungarian craft store. Well, I must run. I need to finish the buttonholes on the dress I’m wearing for breakfast. – Love, Martha.

The response from Erma Bombeck:

Dear Martha, I’m writing this on the back of an old shopping list, pay no attention to the coffee and jelly stains. I’m 20 minutes late getting my daughter up for school, packing a lunch with one hand, since I’ve been on the phone with the dog pound – seems old Ruff, our dog, needs bailing out again. Still can’t find scissors to cut out some snowflakes. Tried using an old disposable razor… ended up trashing the tablecloth. Tried making your cranberry thing, but the frozen cranberries mushed up when I defrosted them in the microwave. Oh yes, don’t use Fruity Pebbles as a substitute in your Rice Krispie snowball recipe, unless you happen to like a disgusting shade of green! The smoke alarm is going off, talk to ya later. – Love Erma.

I don’t know anyone who actually participates in a Martha Stewart picture perfect-type Christmas. It seems Christmas always involves kids getting sick, people losing their job, someone getting angry, and people dying. Trouble doesn’t take a holiday – even a Christmas. That should not surprise us as Christians. The first Christmas was far from picture perfect. In the midst of all the miracles and joy which surround our image of the first Christmas, there were plenty of hassles and a lot of hurting. Let’s examine the hassles and hurting which were overcome by the hope which appeared that first Christmas.

Christmas Can Be Full of Hassles

The most infamous Christmas curmudgeon, Ebenezer Scrooge, shared his view about the holiday with these words, “If I could have my way… every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled in his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.” Charles Dickens put those words into his mouth, but I’ve heard numerous real people complain about the hassles of Christmas. They crab about gifts costing too much, too much time spent shopping, and too much stress getting everything done. However, don’t think they were the first people to consider Christmas a hassle. Joseph and Mary also found Christmas to be a hassle.

The first hassle Joseph and Mary encountered was Mary’s pregnancy. Joseph and Mary were betrothed – but not officially married. Imagine the hassle Mary endured as word spread about her pregnancy. Would she and Joseph be getting married? She seemed to be such a nice girl. Joseph was ready to call the whole thing off until an angel explained the situation to him (Matt. 1:19-23).

But the hassles were just beginning. Not long after their marriage (Mt. 1:24), the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, ordered every male Israelite to return to their birthplace and pay a tax (Luke 2:1-4). This was a bill Joseph had not planned on paying. Besides, his wife was ready to give birth so traveling to Bethlehem was grossly inconvenient. (Do the hassles of Christmas bills and Christmas travel sound familiar?) Still, they travel to Bethlehem where the encountered another hassle.

There was no room for Joseph and Mary to stay in Bethlehem (Luke 2:7). They settled for the only accommodation available: a dirty stable full of stinking animals; without a midwife or family members to assist. Mary gave birth to a baby boy and everything seemed okay – at least for a short time.

A little while later, an angel appeared to Joseph with a message: “Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt… for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him” (Mt. 2:13). How would you have responded? I submit that most of us would have replied to God: “Enough is enough! Lord, why don’t you zap Herod with a heart attack or an assassin.” Not Joseph and Mary – they packed their bags and set out for Egypt (Mt.2:14), where they had to start anew. Over and over again, Joseph and Mary endured hassle after hassle for the sake of the Baby. But notice a vital point in the story: for every hassle, God provided help.

  • God sent angels to warn them and explain what God was doing;
  • God secured a space in a stable for Jesus’ birth;
  • God sent Wise Men who brought gifts to fund their rescue from Herod and journey to Egypt.

Repeatedly the story reminds us that God always provides help to enable us to deal with our hassles.

God does the same thing for you and me. No matter what our hassle, God offers us His help. God is not Santa Claus, but God will give you what you need, if you ask Him. God will not save you from every pothole in life, but God will give you grace to keep going (2 Thess. 2:16). God will not disable every mean-spirited person who threatens you, but God will guide and protect you (Psalm 91:14).  When Christmas is full of hassles, remember God is full of help.

Christmas Can Be Full of Hurt  

Most people think of Christmas as a time of happiness and celebration. But Christmas can also be a time of pain and heartache. The truth is Christmas has been full of hurt ever since Jesus was born.

The particular pain of Christmas started the moment Joseph and Mary left for Egypt. King Herod had attempted to fool the Wise Men into showing him where this new-born “king of the Jews” (Mt. 2:2) could be found, so he could eliminate any competitors to his throne (Mt. 2:7-8). When Herod figured out that Wise Men had fooled him, he went into a rage and ordered all boys living in Bethlehem under two years of age to be killed (Mt. 2:16).

Perhaps when Herod’s soldiers arrived in Bethlehem, they rounded up all the families with small children. The families would not have known what was going to happen. Then the soldiers sorted out the small boys and carried out Herod’s gruesome orders. Can you feel the horror and agony of the parents the moment they realized what was about to happen? How many of them were killed as they attempted to rescue their innocent infants? How many of them called out to God to save their sons? It made no difference – innocent children were slaughtered like lambs, and horrified parents clung to their lifeless corpses. The rest of their lives, those parents would mark that day as the worst in their lifetime. Nobody even told them why their sons were murdered.

But we know why: because Jesus got away. Why didn’t God send an angel to warn the Bethlehem residents about the approaching killers? Why did God allow such devastation and death at the birth of His Son? Probably you never asked those questions, but those grieving parents did. And we know grieving people – some in this church – who wonder why God allows such pain and suffering and death – especially at Christmas! Lord, why did you take my husband, my wife, my son, my mother, my father, my friend? Why do I have to suffer through another Christmas alone?

            I don’t claim to have all the answers to their excruciating, heart-wrenching questions. If I did, I’m not sure any words could heal your hurts. All I really know is that God makes this promise to anyone who is in pain: God promises His presence! The Psalmist says, “God is our refuge and our strength, and ever present help in times of trouble“ (46:1).

            Whenever you are crying out, “Lord, why do you allow me to hurt so bad?” God replies, “My beloved child, if I told you, you couldn’t understand. But trust me, you never suffer alone. I will always hold you. I will always comfort you. I will always be there until the day I take the pain away.”

            Christmas cannot assure no hassles or no hurting. What Christmas Does Promise to Everyone is Hope.

            Millions of people live without hope. When you say that a situation or a person is hopeless, you are slamming the door in the face of God. As a result of Christmas nobody has to live without hope. The Child born in Bethlehem, snatched from the jaws of Herod, offers you hope beyond your wildest dreams. Because He lives, you and I can have hope today and tomorrow.

Matthew 2:19 tells us that the baby Jesus outlived the wicked King Herod who tried to kill Him. After Herod’s death, an angel told Joseph it was safe to return to Israel (2:20), so once again, the family packed up and hit the road. They returned to Nazareth where Jesus grew up, waiting to fulfill His mission. His mission was why Jesus did not die as a baby. Thirty-three years later Jesus would complete His mission by purposefully laying down His life on the Cross to offer us hope.

The baby born in a manger grew up to be the Man on the Cross. The Cross is what brings hope to the hassled, hurting people who need the hope of knowing God cares about them; who need hope that God can erase the past; who need hope of eternal life. That is why you and I can celebrate Christmas. We celebrate the hope God gives us through His Son. God doesn’t provide us with a hassle-free or hurt-free life. But God offers us a hope-filled life through our faith in Jesus Christ.

This morning, Jesus Christ invites you to come to Him and find hope again (Jeremiah 29:11; Isaiah 40:31; 1 Corinthians 13:13; Hebrews 6:19). Christmas is about finding in an unexpected place… everything you could ever want. Won’t you come today and find hope in Him?