Twas the Night Before Christmas
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas – Part 4
How many of you have ever seen anyone riding one of these or have ridden one yourself? This is a hoverboard. For several Christmases in a row now, the hoverboard has been one of the hottest selling gift items for both kids and adults. One boy recently told his buddy that he knew he was getting one for Christmas this year, and his buddy said, “How do you know you’re getting one for Christmas?” And his friend said, “Because after I go to bed at night, I can hear my dad riding it around the house.” So…you know, you don’t really grow out of these things if you’re a guy. And they sell one of these about every ten seconds online, so they’ve become very popular. In fact, they’re so popular that it’s caused a problem for government officials and for people who are trying to figure out how to regulate them—in airports and parks and malls.
It’s really somewhat ironic that these hoverboards, as they call them, since Christmas of 2015 have become so popular, because—some of you will remember this—the movie Back to the Future II…when it came out in 1989 it imagined the year 2015 in that movie. That 2015 was the future that Marty McFly and Doc Brown went to when they got in the DeLorean. Some of you remember this. They punched in the date of October 21st, 2015, and that’s where they went in the future. And in the movie, they just try to imagine how things would have changed by now—the future that we are now living in. And they had flying cars if you remember that. And they had self-adjusting clothes, where you put them on and the clothes just adjust to fit you the right way. And they had all kinds of things that they had dreamed up. But as people watched Back to the Future II, the thing many people were excited about were the hoverboards. And I remember seeing the video of the…you know, being chased around on these things and thinking, “2015 can’t get here soon enough so that I can get one of these hoverboards.”
And yet what we call hoverboards aren’t quite like what’s pictured in the movie, right? They don’t actually hover; they’re on wheels. They’ve just been called hoverboards. And in many ways, as you think about where things are in 2021 compared to where we thought they might be a lot of years ago, things haven’t changed maybe as dramatically as we thought they would. In some ways things are much different, but in a lot of ways things have pretty much stayed the same. If you study what futurists thought would be our life in 2021 you will see things like… The number one Christmas gift they thought would be trips to space, and they anticipated that our clothing would be much more universal, that we wouldn’t have nearly as much diversity in what we wear. I suppose it’s the silver jumpsuit look of the future. But a lot of things haven’t changed at all. And there are certain things that I think we thought would change…we hoped would change. Maybe you thought by now there would be a cure for cancer. “Surely by 2021.” Or maybe by now there would be peace in the Middle East. You just thought that by now things would be different. I would’ve thought by now racism would not really be an issue in our culture. I would’ve thought by now starvation would be unheard of in our world. Maybe you thought by now there would be no more sickness, no more pain, that we would have some kind of a pill, some kind of medication to take away loneliness and depression. And so most of us, if we’ve been around very long at all, if we’ve thought about the future very much at all, we’re just a little disappointed. I mean, we’ve come a long ways, but in some ways we haven’t come very far at all. A lot hasn’t changed in the last thirty years. In many ways it feels like we’re still waiting for the world to change. We’re still waiting for things to be different in some pretty significant ways.
There is still a lot of sickness and a lot of suffering this Christmas. I saw recently in the news a story about a four-year-old boy named Preston Barnett, and his mom took him to the mall—I think this was in North Carolina—to see the Santa at the mall. He went up…this four-year-old boy went up to Santa’s lap and Santa asked him, “Well, what do you want for Christmas?” And the four-year-old boy asked Santa if he would pray with him for a two-month-old boy that was on life support in the hospital. And here’s the picture. The little four-year-old boy and Santa kneeling down and praying, and they’re asking God to change some things this Christmas. They’re asking God to save and to rescue.
On the night before that first Christmas more than two thousand years ago, God’s people were praying those same prayers, and they were on their knees, hoping and waiting for the Messiah to come. For thousands of years they had heard these three hundred plus prophecies and promises from the Old Testament, where Jesus was foretold where a Messiah would come. They had kept hope alive for year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation; but a lot of time had come and gone, and Jesus still hadn’t come. And so on that…the night before that first Christmas most of the people were not prepared. They were not aware of what was about to happen.
In some ways you can’t blame them because the birth of Jesus was so ordinary. The circumstances around it, in many ways, were just so understated that it was missed. His birth was missed by most of the world. We read about that story. In Luke 2 it just says, “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them” (vv. 4-7).
Okay, yeah…that’s the Son of God’s entrance into this world. It just seems to be easily missed; and, in fact, it was by most people. They didn’t know what had happened. They were unprepared. They were unaware. They had been waiting for Him to come. They had been waiting for the world to change, but when Jesus was born they barely seem to notice.
So here’s the position we find ourselves in this Christmas. Once again we are waiting for Jesus to come. We celebrate His birth on this Christmas, but we are also anticipating His return.
If you study church history, one of the things you’ll see is that very early on in church history the birth of Jesus was closely connected to the return of Jesus. That is to say, you didn’t really talk about the birth of Jesus without talking about the Second Coming, the return of Jesus. Now we, oftentimes, celebrate Christmas a little bit differently. We just remember the birth of Jesus. But remembering the birth of Jesus should cause us to anticipate the return of Jesus. In fact, advent…the whole idea of advent…this preparation for the Christmas season…puts these things together. That it’s not just a celebration that Jesus came; it is an anticipation that Jesus will come. And so this is a very appropriate time of year for us not just to talk about the birth of Christ but to talk about the return of Christ, because they go together. Jesus came; Jesus will come again.
In fact, some of the Christmas hymns that we sing were really written with the Second Coming in mind. Probably the one we would be most familiar with is “Joy to the World.” Sometime when you’re singing the song, “Joy to the World,” just kind of run through the lyrics in your head. There is no mention of Bethlehem or Mary or Joseph or shepherds. It’s because that song was written with the Second Coming in mind, with the return of Christ in mind. Now we sing it and it’s fine as we celebrate the birth of Christ, but really it was about the return of Christ. And so as we are thinking about and as we are remembering that Jesus came, then immediately our mind should also be drawn to the truth that He will come again. And while one causes us to celebrate, the other should cause us to prepare, as we anticipate His return.
And so I just wanted to touch on a few similarities between the way Jesus came the first time and the way He will come again.
For example, when Jesus was born and when Jesus will return—both of those were appointed times. So the Bible says in Galatians chapter 4 that Jesus was born “at just the right time,” or “in (the way it’s translated) the fullness of time,” when the time had fully come; meaning that this was a set aside time (v. 4-5). That from the people’s perspective God had been running late. From the people’s perspective it had been a long time coming for the Messiah. But God…God had the date circled on His calendar. It was an appointed time. And so it will be when Jesus returns. It is an appointed time. It is a time set aside.
And one thing we can see as we look at the birth of Christ is God was preparing the world for the birth of His Son. It may have seemed that God was absent, but what we can see in hindsight is that He was setting the table for the birth of Jesus so that He would come at just the right time.
Let me give you an example of this—talk a little history. I can take you back four hundred years before Jesus was born. The Persian Empire was expanding and its territory started getting a little bit too close to the Greeks, so Philip of Macedon united Greece and led them in battle against the Persians. After Philip’s death, his son Alexander took over, and this was about three hundred and fifty years before Jesus was born. We know Alexander as “Alexander the Great,” because he conquered the entire known world in twelve years. As a result of Alexander’s influence, here’s what happened: The world became Greek in thought and in language. So for the first time since the Tower of Babel the Earth was united by a single language. It’s said in those days everyone spoke a little Greek. And so God was making a way for Jesus to be born into a world where everyone spoke the same language and the good news of His birth could spread quickly.
Another reason this was so important is because the Greeks had Old Testament Scriptures which were written in Hebrew translated into the language everyone spoke (Greek) in 280 B.C. So the whole world now has access to these Scriptures about the one true God and the promised Messiah.
In 63 B.C. the Romans conquered the Greeks and took over the duties of ruling the world. Probably the best known Roman emperor was Julius Caesar. There was a civil war under his rule, but he was assassinated twenty-five years before Jesus was born. And Caesar Augustus, who we read about in Luke 2, came to the throne and peace came to the Roman Empire. For the next two centuries, in fact, there was peace. And this time in history, where there was this kind of unheard of world peace, became known as the Pax Romana. And this all just happened to be during the time Jesus was born and Christianity was established. And because of this peace it completely changed some things. For example, it changed the way people would travel. Roads were built and travel became common. A type of highway patrol was even established. And here’s the point, right? All of this made it just the right time for Jesus to be born, for prophecies to be fulfilled and for the good news of His birth to be spread around the world. The common language, people were able to travel—and so the good news of the Gospel began to take hold and spread quickly. “At just the right time.”
And so Jesus talks about how that will be true when He returns. That God is preparing the world for His Second Coming. And so in Mark chapter 13, when Jesus is talking to His followers and He talks about when He would return, He says in verse 32, “…no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert!” (vv. 32-33, NLT). Jesus says, “Look, there is an appointed time. Just as there was an appointed time for Me to come, so there will be an appointed time for Me to return. It’s on God’s calendar. It’s not on yours; it’s on His. So keep it in mind. Be alert. Stay on your guard.” And what you can know is that in the meantime God is preparing the world for the coming of Christ.
There are a lot of examples that we could point to on this. Maybe a simple one would be Matthew 24:14, where Jesus says, “The good news of the Gospel will be preached throughout the entire known world,” throughout the entire world rather, “and then the end will come.” Jesus says, “The Gospel will be spread. The good news will be preached to every nation, and then the end will come.” And so with the growth of the internet, with the access people have to the Gospel, with the explosion of the Scriptures being translated into languages—this is all just happening very quickly. And for the first time in history, it’s our generation that has the very real possibility of seeing the Great Commission accomplished, fulfilled, seeing the Gospel preached to every nation. Listen, He came; He’s coming again. It is going to happen.
And so we read the news about what’s happening around the world, and there’s a tendency for us not to want to look at it through this lens. We want to just pretend like life’s going to go on as usual and we don’t really need to think about these things. I mean, it’s fine if we want to talk about the birth of Jesus but the return of Jesus…? And I would ask that your prayer this Christmas would be, “God, open my eyes and let me see. Open my ears; let me hear.”
I was…this week I was reading about some of the craziest Christmas presents of the year. So if you’re still looking for ideas you can jot these down if you want but…
The first one that caught my attention was a glow-in-the-dark toilet seat. It seems a little bit… This is legit. This is real, by the way. I won’t ask if any of you have one but… It seems a little bit ludicrous at first, but if you think about it, is there anything worse than having to get up in the middle of the night, use the restroom and you turn on the light and the light is like blinding bright? Right? And you have to turn the lights off, and suddenly you’re wide awake. And so the glow-in-the-dark toilet seat is the answer to your problems. And for those you really care about and want to show your love to this holiday season, maybe the glow-in-the-dark toilet seat is the right product for you.
There’s the Selfie Toaster™, which was one of my favorites. You can pick this up at burntimpressions.com. It’s…again this is legit. It’s really quite a breakthrough in the field of toaster technology. And all you do is you send in an image to this toaster company, and they’ll send you a toaster that burns that image onto every piece of toast that it makes. How can you not want that? It is a fantastic gift.
But the gift I really wanted to draw your attention to, metaphorically, was the Ostrich Pillow®. I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but actually the reviews on it are quite good. The pillow fits over your head and face, but there’s a hole for your nose and mouth, because breathing is important. But it blocks out pretty much everything else. Like, it makes it so that you can’t hear anything; you can’t see anything, and you just…you’re able to just… It’s the Ostrich Pillow. It’s the “ostrich with the head in ground” idea, and you’re able to rest soundly, having no idea what’s happening around you. And when I saw that picture and I was reading about that product, I thought to myself, “That’s not a bad metaphor for how a lot of us approach the Second Coming of Jesus, how a lot of us approach things spiritually.” You know, we just…we want to block out as much of that as possible. In fact, I can tell you from past experience that there are a number of people who do not want to come to a Christmas service and hear about the return of Christ. They want to come and hear about the birth of Christ, not the return of Christ. Because there is something very comfortable and comforting about Jesus being born, but there is something very unsettling about the fact that Jesus could come at any time.
And so the Bible tells us the birth of Christ and the return of Christ are similar and that they both have an appointed date—and also that many people will be unprepared. Peter talks about it. Second Peter 3:10 says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night….” It’s like a thief in the night in the fact that it will sneak up on people. It will seem like just any other day. It’ll just seem like another day at work, another day…you know, another morning at home, another evening watching the game…just another day at work. But then Peter says, “The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.” And nobody will miss the Second Coming. You may be unprepared, but you won’t be unaware. You will know when it happens.
I think there’s a comfort for us in the Christmas Season of associating Jesus with the manger and the stable. There’s really not much to not like about the birth of a baby. I mean, that’s the way many of us are. We’re very comfortable with Jesus as the baby. We kind of have “the Ricky Bobby of Talladega Nights mentality.” We like the Baby Jesus. He’s our…Baby Jesus is our favorite Jesus. That’s the Jesus we feel most comfortable with. But when Jesus returns He will not come as a helpless child. It will be much different. Luke 12:40 says, “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” And so at the return of Jesus, like the birth of Jesus, many people will be unprepared. But they will be different, because on the return of Jesus no one will be unaware.
I was rereading the Christmas poem…children’s poem…this past week, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” We’ve been in a series by that title and I was just rereading it. And you’re familiar with it. “‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house / Not a creature was stirring, not even a…?” Mouse, right? And as I was reading that, I was just kind of struck by the simplicity of this children’s story of how everybody was asleep. Nobody really noticed except for the one who penned it, the author, and that there were some similarities, of course, between that and the real Christmas Story of Jesus’ birth and how the world just wasn’t aware. But when Jesus comes back, everyone will know.
And so it’s appropriate…it really is appropriate for us…as we think about Christmas and as we think about the birth of Jesus…it is appropriate for us to think about the return of Jesus and what that will be like. So can you just imagine it for a moment? It’s in the late evening perhaps and you’re kind of settling in, getting ready for bed. The TV is on, but you’re not really watching anything. Your mind is preoccupied with what you didn’t get done during the day that’s going to have to be done now tomorrow, and then suddenly you hear a noise unlike any noise that you’ve ever heard before. It sounds like…it sounds like a trumpet…really more like thousands of trumpets. And it’s not coming from one place but from everywhere. And so you run outside and people have stopped their cars in the middle of the street and have gotten out of their cars. And you see children and adults have come out of their homes and in the yards, and they’re all looking up. And so you join the rest of the planet in staring up at the sky, and you strain your eyes to open them wider, to try to see what has never been seen before. And though it is late evening, the sky is blinding bright and your eyes adjust to the bright lights and you see angels filling the sky. And then just as suddenly as you heard the trumpets, they are quiet. And the angels are silent and they all turn in the same direction; and the sky… the heavens part with a roar and Jesus has come.
First Thessalonians 4 says that when Jesus returns, that He will descend from heaven with a shout. And in light of the fact that we are waiting for the world to change and that we are waiting for some things to be different than they’ve been…in light of that I was wondering what Jesus might shout when He returns. And I thought that perhaps when Jesus returns…maybe He’ll shout and say, “No more!” No more. No more pandemics. No more Parkinson’s, no more heart disease, no more cancer, no more divorce, no more rejection, no more loneliness or depression, no more casts or crutches, no more wheelchairs or pacemakers, no more radiation, no more chemotherapy, no more terrorist attacks, no more school shootings, no more anxiety medication, no more middle-of-the-night phone calls, no more crosses along the side of the road, no more child abuse, no more rape, no more coughs and colds, no more flu shots, no more acne, no more love handles and no more saddlebags and no more cottage cheese thighs, and no more double chins and no more body odor and no more deodorant, no more deodorant stains and no more shaving or waxing or plucking, and no more yelling or fighting and no more traffic or road rage, and no more addiction or drama, no more hormones or crash diets, no more Spanx®, and no more gossip, no more stubbed toes, no more embarrassing moments, no more concussions, no more autism, no more doctors, no more needles, no more taxes, bills, mechanics, dentists, plastic surgeons, politicians, elections, no more funeral homes, no more orphanages, no more nursing homes, no more waiting rooms, no more animal hospitals, no more treatment centers, no more courtrooms, no more divorce papers, no more pink slips, no more foreclosure notices, no more motionless ultrasounds, no more tiny caskets. I just can’t help but wonder if when Jesus returns that’s what He’ll shout: “No more! I’m making everything new!” It’s all going to be… It’s all going to be new. And so we remember the birth of Jesus, but we anticipate the return of Jesus when He will finally say, “No more. Things are going to change. It’s going to be different now.”
Jesus came; Jesus will come again. But it will be different. Because the first time He came, He came in weakness; when He comes again, He will come in strength. The first time He came, He came as a servant; when He comes again, He will come as a ruler. The first time He came, He came as a baby in a manger; when He comes again, He will come as a mighty king. The first time He came, Jesus came to die; but when He comes again, the dead will rise back to life. The first time Jesus came, He came as a lamb; when He comes again He’ll come as a lion. The first time Jesus came, He came silently; when He comes again He will come with a roar. And the first time Jesus came, the world barely noticed; but when He comes again—and He will come again—every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
First Church of Christ
December 19, 2021