Nehemiah 8:8-12 (NKJV)
8 So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading. 9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our LORD. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” 11 So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.
Don’t you just love church services during the Christmas Season? The song choices are always familiar old tunes we grew up with. It’s difficult to sing some of them without getting choked up and tears flowing as we remember Christmas past, family, friends… The age-old Christmas story; the familiar decorations and traditions. Christmas services bring us together as a great big family. Look around at your church any church during the holidays, especially that Christmas Candle Light Service; you see friends and family at those services you haven’t seen for years?
In fact, there seems to be quite a few “cultural Christians” among our family and friends. The urban dictionary uses the term “chreaster” for these who only seem to show up for service Christmas and Easter. But there is something quite odd about this phenomenon. It is ironic, churches spend enormous energy to encourage weekly attendance and support by trying to keep things new and exciting and imaginative… when the services that bring in the most attendance and support are the couple that are stating the same old message and playing the same old tunes year after year?
I recall a seminary professor once failing me in “homiletics”; the sermon message. I preferred to expound what the scripture revealed in each message. He said I needed to always bring the people back to the central theme no matter what the scripture subject. I won’t go into our differences about the central theme. But I will say the professor is right with respect to the reason for gathering, hearing the Word, and responding to the Spirit; whether once a week or once a year. This being true, let’s reflect then the central theme of the Christmas service as we read from the Book of Nehemiah.
First, there must be a gathering to God as a people desiring to hear and understand. Without question we all make special efforts to attend church at Christmas. Perhaps it makes mom or grandma happy. Perhaps we look forward to seeing old friends and family. And perhaps we just might realize we have been dry or not heard from God for a long time and we know in our heart we need this message… The people in Nehemiah’s story had not heard the Word for many years. The people in the story in Bethlehem had not heard from a prophet for 400 years. How long has it been since you heard from God?
Next we make a special effort to attend church at Christmas because “momma said so!” Oh, how many complaints I have heard about “I don’t go to church because my parents forced me to go when I was little.” The people in Nehemiah’s story respected the authority of the governor and priests who called the meeting. Everyone in the Christmas story submitted to authority; the governor had called the senses; Joseph agreed to stay with Mary; Mary who submitted to this miracle event body mind and spirit. True enough we do submit to “momma” at Christmas, but how significant is it so many do not respect mom or the God of creation enough to attend church more regularly?
Finally, without a doubt, we all feel something of the spirit of joy during Christmas. We enjoy gathering with friends and family. We enjoy giving to the less fortunate at Christmas. We share tears of joy with one another even when remembering love one’s past or away. The people in Nehemiah’s story where so filled with tears that the preacher had to call their attention to it. No doubt in the true events of the Christmas story there were a few tears; of childbirth; of the newborn baby; of the joy found in the true miracle of that first Christmas.
As you enjoy again this season, the true Christmas story… I pray you understand the message. There is a message every week ya know… I pray this story makes a difference in your life… every story in the Bible reveals life changing truth if you come, gather and listen. And I pray in hearing again this year you will, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our LORD. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” The Christmas message is full of Joy and celebration! God loves you; The Christ child is born; Jesus Christ is our Savior and Lord! I pray this same old message keeps you coming back for more and more!