Deck The Halls

Exploring the reason why we decorate for Christmas.

George Wright
Dec 8, 2019    41m
In this sermon Pastor George Wright talks about Christmas traditions, and examines the deep reasons behind why we decorate for Christmas. He explains that the beauty and lights are to remind us of the good news of the gift that is Christmas through Jesus Christ our Lord. Video recorded at Columbia, South Carolina.

messageRegarding Grammar:

This is a transcription of the sermon. People speak differently than they write, and there are common colloquialisms in this transcript that sound good when spoken, and look like bad grammar when written.

George Wright: 00:00 I want to encourage you, go ahead and grab your Bible. We're going to be in that great passage of Christmas that helps prepare us for the Christmas season, in Luke chapter 1. But I'm really excited about this, because as we pray about Christmas each year and as we think about how do we present this beautiful message in a way that certainly communicates the good news of Christmas, but also has a freshness and a newness to a very familiar, familiar story. God has given us this great opportunity, in this series that we're calling Christmas Traditions, to look at some of the things that we do at Christmas. And hopefully allow these traditions to remind us of why, why we celebrate Christmas the way that we do, and what God wants to reveal to us as he prepares our heart in this Christmas season to receive the good news of what Christ has done for us.

George Wright: 00:57 So, Luke chapter 1, we're going to be looking at verses 76 and following. And this is picking up in the middle of a prophecy that is being told, actually, of John the Baptist. Luke 1 also tells us about prophecy of the Messiah, Jesus, the Christ child that would be born to the Virgin Mary. But then Luke in his gospel transitions and talks to us about another miraculous birth, the miraculous birth of John, John the Baptist. He was born to Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zechariah was a priest, a religious, devout, Holy man, a good man, a faithful man. But Elizabeth, his wife, had been barren and had not been able to have a child. And so they get a visit from an angel, very similar to the way that Mary and Joseph got a visit from the angel, and they are told that they're going to have a child and that this child is going to be a prophet who would prepare the way for the Messiah.

George Wright: 02:00 And so we pick up in this prophecy that Zechariah then begins to speak over his new son John, Luke 1 verse 76. Let me invite me you to stand with me as I read from the word of God, that we all would be reminded, the word of God is our foundation, the word of God is our authority, and the word of God reveals to us what God says is right and good and true. This is the word of the Lord. Luke chapter 1 verse 76, the prophecy of John the Baptist says, "And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us[h] from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

George Wright: 03:09 As we consider this prophecy about a prophet who had come to prepare the way for the Messiah, let's this Christmas season. Would you pray with me, Father God, as we stand before you here in this room, and as we have some that even join us online now for this service, we are asking you to do a work in our hearts this Christmas season. Lord, we need to hear from you. Christmas is such a joyful time of year, but Christmas is such a busy time of year. And it's so easy to be distracted, and it's so easy to be overwhelmed, and it's so easy to have so much going on in this busy season that we miss out or we forget or we lose sight of that which matters most. And so I pray, Lord God, today and in the days ahead, in the weeks ahead, as we prepare for the celebration of Christmas. I pray that you would show us clearly your love and your grace, that our hearts would be open to receive that which you want to provide for us. So we look to you now, and we thank you for Christmas. It's in Christ' name I pray. Amen. You may be seated, thank you for standing.

George Wright: 04:46 So this morning, as we step into this series of Christmas traditions, we are starting with the tradition of decorating for Christmas. And so I need your help just for a second, I need a little bit of interaction from you if I can get this. How many of you decorate for Christmas before Thanksgiving? Can you just show your hands? Okay, there's a good number of you that decorate before Christmas. Y'all are ambitious, a little overly zealous, ready to get into the celebration. Now how many of you wait until after Thanksgiving? Would you show your hands? Okay, more of you, alright. You want to celebrate one holiday at a time. Now, how many of you on December 8 have not begun to decorate yet? Just be honest. All right, all the procrastinators in the room unite, that's good. All right. Well it's interesting to see when people decorate, how people decorate.

George Wright: 05:37 This year in our household, we kind of were a little bit before, and a little bit after. We were hosting family for Thanksgiving, and so we wanted to decorate the tree, we didn't do the whole house. But we did the tree before Christmas, and it's very appropriate that Bear is in front of the tree because he was our most helpful child in the decoration process. That's actually not true, that's actually not true, Annabeth is an incredible Christmas decorator and did a great job helping out around the house. And so AB, I love you. I'm thankful for your help in decorating, you did a great job, but we kind of split to before and after Thanksgiving. And I actually came across an article just recently in the New York times that was pretty interesting, it was actually a little bit comical, because the article was about people who decorate before Thanksgiving and neighborhood homeowners associations that have had enough of it. And so there are homeowners associations in different parts of the country, that have begun to find families who decorate their houses before Thanksgiving. How's that for some Christmas spirit? Right? And so this article quoted an etiquette expert, and I have no idea how you become an etiquette expert, but evidently that's a real thing. And this is what the etiquette expert said, Sharon Schweitzer an etiquette expert with more than 20 years of experience said, "There are some die hard purists who did not believe Christmas decorations should go up before Thanksgiving. They want to celebrate one holiday at a time." So the question is, are you a purist, or are you not? And you can debate all you want, because it really doesn't matter, it's December 8th and we're ready to celebrate Christmas.

George Wright: 07:26 It is interesting if you research a little bit of how the tradition of decorating began. There's a lot of different opinions of when it began, and some of them goes back really, really far. But the consensus seems to be sometime in the 16th century, people in the country of Germany began to formally decorate their homes, their individual homes, for Christmas. And when they did so, they would bring in evergreen tree into their house and they would decorate it, not with ornaments and lights the way we do today, but they would actually decorate it with fruit. And if they could afford it, they would decorate this evergreen tree with apples. They didn't call them Christmas trees at the time, they actually called them paradise trees. And the reason they did this during the Christmas season is they wanted their household, and they wanted their families, to go all the way back to the garden. To remember that God in his everlasting love for us, an evergreen tree, loves us eternally, loves us through all time. But we in our sin have taken from the fruit, the forbidden fruit in the garden that Adam and Eve took and ate, and we need to be reminded of our need for the savior. Somewhat of a sober reminder, if you will, at Christmas of why the savior has come. These paradise trees began to be decorated around the country of Germany, so that they could be reminded of the love of God, the everlasting love of God, but of our need for the love of God. Because in our sin we need the savior to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

George Wright: 09:22 As you think about your traditions of decorating, and you think about what you have on your tree or your house or around your house in the month of December. The reason we decorate is to prepare our house, and prepare our families, for this beautiful celebration of Christmas. Decorations are all about preparation, they're all about preparing the house, preparing the heart, preparing the soul to celebrate this great gift at Christmas. And as we think about preparation, we come back to this passage of scripture, this prophetic preparation for the Messiah who would come. Again in Luke 1, you see this beautiful, miraculous, visitation of an angel. As an angel appears to Mary and announces to her the immaculate conception that the Virgin would conceive and give birth to the son of God. But there is this second miraculous birth in the Christmas story that if sometimes we don't talk about, or just lose sight of, this birth of John the Baptist. The one who prepares the way for the Messiah. And when the angel Gabriel visits Zechariah, John's father, Zechariah, even though he is a Holy man and a good man and a faithful man, Zechariah at first does not believe what Gabriel says. Gabriel says, your wife Elizabeth, who has been barren will conceive and will give birth to a son who will be a prophet from God.

George Wright: 11:11 It's interesting, this could be a sermon in and of itself, but when this faithful man, Zechariah does not believe what God is calling him to do, and does not believe what God has for his family, the angel says to Zechariah, you will not be able to speak again until your child is born again. That's a whole sermon in and of itself for another day. But here's this man of God, who has been called by God for a very specific purpose in God's redemptive story. And he questions God, and he's not sure if he can believe God, and so he's struck and unable to speak. Within the beauty of God's redemptive story, when John is born, Zechariah regains his voice and he begins immediately to praise God for what God has done in this amazing gift of a son, a son named John. And that praise turns into a prophetic testimony about who John will become.

George Wright: 12:26 That's where we're picking up the story here today, in verse 76. I'll read it again, Zechariah prophesies over his son the prophet, and says, "And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways." Prepare his ways, that's the first thought I want you to consider this morning. Another way you could say this is, he's come to prepare our hearts to receive his ways. Perhaps you are here this morning and you need some work, some preparation, to be done in your hearts so that you can see the good news of what God has done for us. The beautiful gift of the celebration of Christmas is it lasts an entire month. For those who are overly ambitious and decorate before Thanksgiving, it lasts more than a month, right? But all throughout this month we are given this opportunity to prepare our hearts to receive the good news of the gift that is Christmas through Jesus Christ our Lord.

George Wright: 13:39 But let me ask you something, just make this personal for just a moment. When you think about the month of December, and you think about all that's going on, you think about all the decorations, and you think about all of the shopping and the to do lists, and the activity, and that the busyness of everything that is the month of December, does this month of Christmas, does it distract you from the meaning of Christmas or does it prepare you for the celebration of Christmas? You see, if we are being distracted here in the Christmas season from the story and the meaning of Christmas, we are missing the points all together. And so perhaps what God might be saying to you this morning is just pause for a moment, just stop for a moment, slow down for a moment, and remember what this is really all about. The Lord wants to prepare you to receive his ways. He wants to prepare your heart to receive the good news of what he has done, that we could never do for ourselves, and that's what we begin to see here as we continue in the scripture. How is God using the prophet John to prepare his ways, and prepare the people to receive his ways? Look at verse 77 it says, "to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins," To give knowledge of salvation, to give knowledge of salvation through forgiveness of sins.

George Wright: 15:28 You see, there is a very important message, that is a very difficult message, that is actually essential to the story of Christmas. It's a message we all need to hear. It's actually a message that speaks to every single one of us. It's the one thing that I know we all have in common according to the word of God, and it is that all have sinned, all fall short of the glory of God, all fall short of the standard of God. And this sin that we all have, that levels the playing field, this sin has some very, very specific consequences. This sin separates us from God. The wages of sin, the scripture says in Romans, is death. Please hear me, the good news of Christmas is, that understanding our sin is not the end of the story. Understanding our sin is actually preparation to receive the good news of what Christ has done, the savior has come. That's what Christmas is all about, He's come to provide a gift that you and I could never purchase on our own, we could never earn, we could never deserve, we can never receive apart from the gift of grace that is given to us for the forgiveness of our sins. You know, this is what Christmas is all about, we say this every year in some form or fashion, because we cannot get up to God, God came down to us. The name Emmanuelle, given to the Christ child, means God with us, God among men. And in this divinely uncommon birth of the son of God coming into the world, born of the Virgin Mary, to very common parents. We see the beautiful gift of the humility of our savior, willing to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. To give his life, to die in our place, so that through the power of his resurrection, we can experience the gift that is the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of our sins. Is that a knowledge that you have? Is that something you have received here at Christmas? This good news of what Jesus Christ has done.

George Wright: 18:10 But then the prophecy continues, verse 78, we see something else altogether, that is a gift that our hearts must be prepared for. It says, "Because of the tender mercy of God." Tender mercy of God, at Christmas we are seeing the tender mercy of God. But here's the question, here's the question, is God really tender? I mean, is it even okay to say God is tender? It seems a little disrespectful, does it not? I mean, God is strong, God is mighty, the Lord is a warrior, the Lord is victorious, the Lord is just, the Lord is sovereign, reigning over all. But is God tender? Let me ask you this, specifically to those of you who are parents, is there anything more tender than a new born baby child? You see, in the intentionality of our God, as God becomes man to dwell among us, to live the life that we can never live, to die the death that our sins deserve, so that we can understand the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of our sins. God, in his intentionality, came as a new born baby so that we would not lose sight of the tender mercy of our God.

George Wright: 20:09 I am going to read to you a quote from Charles Spurgeon about the tenderness of God, because this is sometimes a stretch. Is it really true that God is tender? He writes, "If you think of this tenderness and connection with God, it will strike you with wonder for an instant. That one so great, should be so tender, for we are apt to impute to omnipotence a crushing energy which can scarcely take account of little and feeble and suffering things. Yet, if we think again, the surprise will disappear and we shall see with a new wonder of admiration that it must be so. He, that is truly great among men, is tender because he is great in heart as well as in brain and hand. The truly great spirit is always gentle, and because God is so infinitely great, he is therefore tender. We read of his gentleness, and of his tenderness towards the children of men, and we see them displayed to their full in the gospel of salvation."

George Wright: 21:30 But here's what I believe, for some of you here today, you hear about the tenderness of God and you just think, I don't know if I can go there. Because some of you today, I know you have an image of God as this distant being out in the cosmos, who perhaps is involved in some of the bigger things that are happening around the world or around the universe. But this distant being, he can't be involved in that in the day to day needs and concerns of my life, he's far away. And some of you I'm sure today have this image of God as this harsh judge, he's just looking for some reason to strike you down. And some of you today, I know you've been keeping your distance from God. In fact, some of you feel uncomfortable being here today, or even feel uncomfortable watching this message online, because you just feel like God is out to get you, this harsh, harsh judge. And some of you here today have this image of God as a very strong, unemotional, father who's always ready to set you straight, but is never willing to invite you in.

George Wright: 23:03 But here's the beautiful gift that we're reminded of at Christmas. Is God's strong? Absolutely, God is strong, there is none that rivals his strength. Romans 8:31 says, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" The answer is no one, no one can rival his strength. Is God mighty? Yes, our God is mighty to save. Psalm 24 verse 8 says, "Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty. The Lord, strong and mighty in battle." He is victorious, he will not be defeated. Is our God just? Yes, our God is just, our God is fair, our God is righteous. Psalms 89:14 says, "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne." That's who our God is. Is our God firm in his discipline? Yes he is, but his discipline is always a gift of grace. For Proverbs 3 verse 12 says, "The Lord disciplines those whom he loves, as a father disciplines his son in whom he delights." God is all of these things, strong, mighty, firm, just, and God is tender, as the perfect father holding a newborn child.

George Wright: 24:56 Romans 8:14 and following says, "For all who are led by the spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption as sons, by which or by who we cry, Abba, Father." Abba, Father, this is a term of endearment. A term that would have brought to mind a child looking at their father in love, crying out to their father, hold me dad, I need you, and a father cradling that child in his loving embrace. You see, God is showing us at Christmas, through a baby in a manger, the picture of tenderness, that God is the perfect father who is perfectly firm when correction is needed, but is also perfectly tender when mercy is needed, because he is perfectly loving in all that he does. This is our God, and perhaps this year at Christmas you need to be reminded of the tender mercy of God, who sees you in your need even now and pursues you in your need, that you would know of his mercy and grace.

George Wright: 26:38 The prophecy continues in verse 78, after it talks about the tender mercy of God, Zechariah declares over John the Baptist that he would prepare the people, "That whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high, to give light to those who sit in darkness." I love this image that we're given at Christmas, the light that shines in the darkness. One of my favorite moments every single year happens on Christmas Eve, and actually happens as a part of our Christmas Eve services. At the end of the service, we do this every year, we light a candle and we sing Silent Night. And that candle light shines in this dark room, as the lights are out, and then the candle light is spread to the candles around the room providing this beautiful glow in a room that was dark. Now, there's probably really two reasons why I love this. The first one's just nostalgic, okay? When I was a kid, we would do this on Christmas Eve, and I'd be sitting there with my brothers in church with my mom because my dad was officiating the service. You know, my dad's a pastor, and so my brothers and I would be holding our candle and as soon as that candle would be lit, we'd be trying to pour hot wax on each other without mom seeing, you know, it was awesome. Now, I think back on those memories, but more importantly, I love the candle lighting on Christmas Eve, because through this simple, simple tradition, it gives us this beautiful demonstration of a gospel truth that we all need to hear. The truth is this, no matter how dark the darkness appears, the darkness will never overcome the light. Even the smallest little candle, in a huge dark room, provides light to the entire room. Because no matter how dark the darkness appears, the darkness cannot overtake the light.

George Wright: 29:22 There's some of you this year at Christmas, that's exactly what you need to hear. As we wrap up another year, some of you, I know, have been walking in what feels very dark. Struggling through issues and circumstances that feels so overwhelming, sometimes totally hopeless, or so it appears. And perhaps the message you need to hear at Christmas, is that the light has come. And no matter how dark the darkness may appear, the darkness will not, it cannot, overpower the light. John says it this way in one of his letters at the end of the New Testament, First John chapter 1 verse 5, "This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." The light shines brightly in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. This beautiful declaration of Christmas.

George Wright: 30:42 We then conclude verse 79, one final thought here this morning as we prepare our hearts for Christmas, it says this, "And in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” To guide us to peace, to show us the path of peace. Christmas reminds us that the only path to peace is found in Jesus Christ, He is the Prince of peace. The only way that we can have peace with God is through the son, that has come to do for us what we could never do for ourselves.

George Wright: 31:35 I've shared with you before, and I've said on many occasions, there is a verse in Proverbs that has really become a life verse for me. A verse that reminds me of the mission of God for his church, Proverbs 24:11 it says this, "Rescue those who are being taken away to death, and hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter." There are many in the shadow of death, on the path to destruction. And the good news of Christmas that is proclaimed through the prophet who prepares the way for the Messiah to come, is that the Messiah has come to guide our steps to the path of peace. Please don't miss this church, there is no better time than Christmas to take seriously the rescue mission that God has called his people to be about. Because think about it, all throughout this month, people are decorating their houses, even if they're lost. All throughout this month, people are singing songs about Jesus, even if they've never walked the path of peace. December is one of those times when people are considering spiritual things, perhaps more than they do throughout the year, because of what we are reminded of at Christmas. And so what that means for us is that God, in his infinite wisdom, has given his church, given his people this beautiful opportunity all throughout the month of December to invite others to the path of peace.

George Wright: 33:38 Now, what I'm about to share with you is something that is an opinion of mine, a very strong opinion, not going to try to quote a verse on this, but I do believe this wholeheartedly. If God has given us an invitation to walk the path of peace, and God has divinely orchestrated a beautiful time on the calendar for us to invite others to the path of peace, and we do not do it. We come to Christmas celebrations by ourselves with just our family, we attend Christmas music like what we'll have this afternoon, by ourselves without anyone else. We come to Christmas Eve by ourselves without bringing a neighbor who needs to hear the good news. Is that sin? I would say yes. That God has given us this beautiful opportunity for those who are followers of Jesus, to invite others to the path of peace, and to refuse to do what God has invited us to do at Christmas, could be called sin. I'm not trying to be heavy handed, I'm just trying to remind us all what Christmas is really about.

George Wright: 35:13 So as we close here today, I just would ask you to join me as I pray that God would begin to lay on your heart right now, today, who is it that you know in your life, a family member, a friend, a coworker, a classmate, a neighbor? Who is it that you know right now is on a path to destruction, and needs to be invited to the path of peace? For God has done an incredible work for us at Christmas, to see the good news of the savior who was born to provide the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sin, to demonstrate God's tender mercy toward us for the light to shine in the darkness, and to guide our feet on the path of peace. Someone needs to walk that path with you. Who is it that you will invite, to come and hear the good news of what Jesus Christ has done? We've got those great invite cards, they're spread out all around the church, you may have gotten one already when you came in today. And it just simply says, you're invited, come to the celebration, come to the table. Take some of these, invite someone, send someone a text, give someone a call. Who is it that God is laying on your heart, that you know this Christmas season needs to hear the good news of what Jesus Christ has done? Perhaps today it's you. Perhaps today you are here knowing you need a relationship with Jesus Christ as your savior and your Lord. So as I pray, and as we pray, for others who will perhaps hear this message this year at Christmas. We want to give you the opportunity, if you know you need to step out on faith to receive the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

George Wright: 37:21 Let's pray together as we close. Father God, I thank you for your incredible love, and your divine infinite wisdom, that prepares our hearts to receive this beautiful good news of what you have done for us through Jesus Christ and the good news of Christmas, that the savior has come. And so Lord, right now we are asking you to prepare our hearts. Some here among us today need our hearts to be prepared to celebrate Christmas. We've been busy, we've been running ragged, we've been going in a thousand different directions, and we need to be reminded of what this season, this celebration, is all about. So prepare our hearts, even now, to celebrate the greatest news that anyone could ever receive. This gift of Jesus Christ coming to do for us, what we could never for ourselves, so that our sin could be forgiven, so that we could receive your tender mercy, so that we could walk the path of peace knowing that through Christ, our life is right with you. And Lord, we recognize there are some among us today who have never experienced that peace, they've never experienced the mercy of God in a real way in their life, and today's the day that you are preparing their hearts to receive the gift of salvation. And so I pray, Lord, even now for whoever that may be today in this room, or joining us online, Lord, give them the faith to simply say, Jesus, I'm ready to follow you, I'm ready to give you my heart, my life. Because I know my sin needs to be forgiven, and I know I need your mercy, and so I pray, Jesus, that you would save me and give me the gift of new life. Oh, we praise you for the gift of salvation that has been revealed through Jesus Christ, our Lord. And as we think about that gift, this Christmas season, we know there are many in our lives who have never received that gift. There are many in our lives that right now are on the path to destruction, and they need to be invited to the path of peace through Jesus Christ. And I pray, Lord, even now that you would impress on us through the power of your spirit, who is it that we need to invite this Christmas to hear the good news of what Christ has done? Oh Lord, we pray that you would use us for your glory, and that the celebration of Christmas would grow all the more beautiful because of those that you reveal your love to through our invitation. So give us the courage to invite, the faith to believe you are at work, and we pray that you would give those, that we invite a receptivity to accept that invitation. And Lord, we trust you, we trust you with the rest. Thank you for your love and your grace as you remind us of the good news of what Christ has done. It's in Jesus' name I pray. Amen.

Recorded in Columbia, South Carolina.
Read More
Shandon Baptist Church
5250 Forest Drive
Columbia, South Carolina 29206