Ornaments - Skip Heitzig
Ornaments-- all nations, all people, one message.
I'm going to be sharing with you out of a few different scriptures. One is familiar. A couple of them aren't as familiar at Christmas time. But you know, we have a theme going on, and that is ornaments-- all nations, all people, one message.
And you've heard that a little bit explained during the setup, and I want to explain further. Do you know that Christmas ornaments have a history? And they don't go back that far, actually. It was the 16th century where the first ornaments at Christmastime were even presented. And that is because there weren't Christmas trees until the 16th century, and that was in Germany.
In Germany, they had a practice of putting up an evergreen tree at this time of the year, but to celebrate not the birth of Christ as much as the Feast of Adam and Eve. So the very first ornaments were apples placed on trees, wafers like communion wafers, as well, to symbolize redemption from sin. So all of that has to do with Adam and Eve.
It was Martin Luther who was the first guy to put lights on a tree. He couldn't plug them in. He had to put candles in 16th century Germany. And he put those candles on the tree to symbolize Jesus Christ is the light of the world. Well, those Germans became immigrants. Many of them came to the United States of America. I have that heritage. So they brought with them ornaments.
And it was in 1890 that a store by the name of Woolworth's first sold hand-blown glass ornaments from Germany. That's when they first showed up on our shores, in the 1890s, and they were only from Germany. A few years later, by the 1930s, there were now ornaments from not just Germany, but also Eastern Europe and also Japan. It's only been in the last 90 years that we have seen ornaments from every conceivable country on the globe. And so you can have ornaments that represent all nations, all people, but one message.
Now, we have seen tonight just a smattering of some of the great traditions of how different people celebrate Christmas. Some others you may not be aware of. For instance, in the Philippines in the city of San Fernando, they hold a festival known as Ligligan Parul. I'm sure I'm saying everything wrong in this pronunciation. It means Giant Lantern Festival. It features dazzling lanterns, each holding thousands of spinning lights that symbolize the Star of Bethlehem.
Over in China, they have a celebration among the believers called Sheng Dan Jieh, or Holy Birth Festival. They put up a tree called the Tree of Light. They decorate it with lanterns, flowers, and red paper chains to symbolize happiness. In Japan, you heard this tonight, but this is funny. Because Japan, there's not a whole lot of Christian believers. They're a minority in Japan. And so Western traditions like eating ham and Turkey and Christmas, they don't do that.
They do, however, love to go to KFC and get Kentucky Fried Chicken. It has become a Christian tradition in Japan. Inquiring minds want to know, why? It's because of a 1974 marketing campaign that was very successful that went like this-- kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii, which simply means Kentucky for Christmas. So why not? Go to KFC and have fried chicken.
In Ethiopia, Christmas is called Genna. Christians there go to church, everyone dressed in white to symbolize the purity of the occasion. In Poland, the Christmas Eve meal, known as Wigilia-- it's a word that means "to watch." And a thin layer of hay is place between the tablecloth and the table to commemorate the Christ child being born in a manger.
Over in Spain, tambourines, rattles, castanets, miniature guitars are sold on the street to encourage singing and dancing with joy. And then down in Mexico, they decorate their homes with lilies, evergreens, and they make farolitos, which we know in New Mexico as luminarias, which are there to illuminate the community.
Tonight, what I'd like to share with you is all about ornaments, one nation, one people-- or all nations, all people, one message. And I want you to sort of think of it like a Christmas party. You have the invitation, you have gifts, and you have ornaments. Those are the three things I want to focus on-- the invitation, the gifts, and the ornaments.
Now, the invitation is given to everyone. You remember the angel in the sky outside of Bethlehem in Luke Chapter 2. I'll read that verse. "There were, in the same country, shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them. The glory of the Lord shown round about them, and they were greatly afraid. And the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which will be to all people.'"
That's the universal invitation. "For there is born to you this day, in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." It's always noteworthy that Jesus was not born in a large city. He was borne out in the country. He was not born near Rome, the center of power and influence. He was born in the backwaters of the Roman Empire, Judea of all places, Bethlehem of all places.
We know the song. We know the importance of Bethlehem to us. "O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie, beneath a deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by. Yet, in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight."
But the question is, why there? Well, it was mandated, if you read up into the text a few versus prior, that Rome demanded a census to be taken. And the reason that the Roman government-- or any government, for that matter-- would mandate a census or a registration to be taken is, number one, militarily, find out how many fighting men you have available in case you need to conscript them for war. And number two, to tax them for all the benefits you so benevolently give to them.
Rome offered peace and enforced peace. It came with a price. To put soldiers up at roads, which they built, connecting large population centers, it took a budget. So for military purposes and for the purpose of garnishing taxes, this was done. We, however, know the real reason it was done. It was done because God foretold that it would be done, way back in Micah, in the Old Testament. Chapter 5 verse 2, the prophecy read, "But you, Bethlehem, Ephrathah, though you are small among the cities of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old from everlasting."
It was a prediction that the Messiah was going to be born in Bethlehem. God said that. God foreknew that. God foretold that. And God simply used all that was available to Him in terms of the Roman government to get it done.
So the angel showed up and made the invitation to all people. The first ones to hear it were shepherds. Now, angels, I get. Blazing glory, I get. But shepherds? Now, you wouldn't even care about a shepherd were shepherds not written into the Christmas story. Because nobody cared about shepherds. They were the lowest rung of the totem pole. They were overlooked by society. They were rendered ceremonially unclean, even from a Jewish perspective.
Nobody cared about shepherds. So the fact that the angels gave the message first to the shepherds, but it was to the whole world, is noteworthy. Every society has its shepherds-- those overlooked, those that we know are there but we don't necessarily have personal relationships with. When is the last time you took a cab-- not an Uber, but a cab-- and got the name of the cab driver?
Or the mail person, male or female, who drops your mail off, do you know their name, their first name? Do you regularly speak to them? Or the person who picks up the trash once a week, who is that person? Where do they live? What do they like? Every society has its shepherds, and I would say most of the world is in this category of humble and poor. And often, they feel overlooked.
So it's significant that the message was given to all, but first to the shepherds. Because that was a preview of Jesus' coming life. Jesus hung out with and was attracted by and to that lowest class of society. So often we saw it. The women who wanted to bring their children to Jesus, and the disciples said, keep away, keep away. And Jesus said, let them come. Let them come. Such is the Kingdom of God.
Also, the birth of Jesus is a preview of the cross of Jesus, the death of Jesus. Jesus was not crucified on an altar between two candles. Jesus was crucified on a cross between two thieves. And it was on a crossroads. It was on a place where anybody could come. So why shepherds? Why a manger? Why Bethlehem? One easy, simple word-- accessibility. Anyone can come.
And thus, the angel said, "It is a message for everyone." But now we have the gifts. And you know, when it comes to Christmastime and gifts, this is a source of anxiety to a lot of us. Probably not that we're going to get the perfect gift as much as, what do I get that guy? Or should I give him this gift? Maybe I gave that same gift to him last year.
And so we often struggle to find the right gift, and we often give the wrong gift. And I'm guilty of that. I remember being a little kid one time. I wanted to get my oldest brother something for Christmas, so I got him a book. The problem was, it was his book. But I swore he never saw it. It was stuck in the back of the closet. I don't even think he knew he had it. So I wrapped it up and gave it to him.
Well, predictably, it was a bad move, because he opened it up Christmas morning and said-- opened the front cover with his name in it. I forgot to look inside. And he said, Dufus, you gave me my book. So we often give wrong gifts. And by the way, there are polls taken each year on what are the worst gifts you can get. They include unattractive socks, cheap perfume, personalized handkerchiefs, and executive stress toys. You know, you just squeeze it for hours, like who does that?
But among the worst gifts, according to most polls, is the venerable fruitcake. And I remember reading that in several articles. I thought, amen to that. I'm glad somebody is calling that out. I see a fruitcake as more or less a weapon. So according to the 31%, getting a fruitcake is worse than getting no gift at all.
And when asked, how do you dispose of bad gifts that are given to you, 30% said, hide it in the closet. 21% said, return it. 19% said, give it away. Which, to me, explains why fruitcakes taste the way they taste. I think it's just the same cake recycled year after year after year. Might have been in somebody's closet for the last couple of years.
But when it comes to the gifts that we're referring to here, this is where you come in. I don't know if you ever thought of yourself as a gift. In fact, I bet you have read this passage, but you've sort of overlooked what I'm about to point out to you. In John, chapter 17, that's when Jesus prays to the Father in that very, very intimate prayer before his crucifixion. 17 times, Jesus uses a word give, gave, or given.
But listen to this. I won't read all the verses that speak of this, but I'm reading out of John 17, verse 6. Jesus said to the Father, praying to the Father, "I have manifested or shown forth Your name to the men whom You have given me out of the world. They were Yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept Your word."
According to the Bible, you're a gift to Jesus. Now, from an earthly perspective, we say, I've given my life to Christ. On this day, at this place, at this hour, I gave my life to Christ. That's from Earth's perspective. From Heaven's perspective, when you come to Him, God gives your life to Christ. That's why you're so safe, because God gave you to Jesus.
You know, sometimes people will chide you and kind of get in your face and say, what do you think you are, God's gift to the world? Next time, answer that by saying, no, I don't. I actually think I'm God's gift to Jesus Christ. And you are. It's called His church. God the Father thought His son should have a very special gift. So every redeemed person is a gift the Father gives to Jesus. And He can because Jesus paid the price for that gift.
In a parable that Jesus gave, he said, "The kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man finds it, he hides it again. But then, in his joy, he goes out, sells all that he has, and he bought the field." In that same section, Jesus uncoded the parables by saying the field is the world. There's only one person in history that could buy the world, the field, and that is Jesus Christ, who purchased it by his own blood.
And those who are redeemed individuals are those special gifts that the Father gives to the Son. And like I just said, because God gives you to Jesus, you're safe. Christ said, "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish." Can't get any safer than that.
So we have the invitation to everyone. We have the gifts-- those that receive Christ. I want to take you to the end of the story, literally. And that is the Book of Revelation, chapter 5, a couple of verses, where I'm calling this really the ornaments. This is Revelation chapter 5. This has not happened yet. This is yet future. This will take place in Heaven.
In that chapter, beginning in verse 8, we read, "Now, when he had taken the scroll--" that is, the son, the lamb, had taken the scroll-- "the four living creatures--" these are special angelic beings-- "and the 24 elders--" representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ on Earth-- "each having a harp and golden bowls full of incense--" which are the prayers of the saints. "And they sang a new song saying, you are worthy to take the scroll and open it seals, for you were slain, and you have redeemed us to God by your blood, out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation."
All nations, all people, one message. "And you have made us kings and priests to our God, and we shall reign upon the earth." Notice that the lyrics of this future song are all about redemption. The setting is the future. The theme of the song is all about the past-- redemption.
All the people, all the nations singing about one thing, the same thing, and that is Jesus save me. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. I am redeemed by Him. Listen, if you want God to anoint songs, you songwriters and worship leaders, always have songs that center on the blood of Jesus Christ. Never be afraid to sing about that.
There is a tendency in churches today to be super cool and leave out all the gospel songs about the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. If you want God to get behind songs, sing about redemption. That is what they sing about in Heaven, and one day, we will be gathered there doing that. All nations, all people, one message.
So once you're saved and given as a gift to Jesus Christ, now you have a future with Jesus Christ. And in a sense, you become His eternal ornaments. Ornaments from every tribe, every nation, every tongue, all gathered together in Heaven, adorning His house. You've given your life to Him, but He gave your life to Jesus, and Jesus keeps you in His father's house as ornaments forever. That's the future.
Back to Bethlehem. I couldn't resist this. In Bethlehem, when the angel showed up, what were they doing up in the skies there? What were they doing? They were praising him. How were they praising him? They're worshipping him. OK, so you're kind of afraid to answer, because you don't want me to call you out, so here, I'll just-- you know what most people would say? They were singing. They were singing.
After all, the Christmas carol says, "Hark the Herald Angels sing." Doesn't say they were singing. In fact, in the entire Bible, there's only two times it is said that angels sang. And at Bethlehem, it's not one of them. What it does say is the angel said-- that's speaking-- "Do not be afraid. Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy to all people."
Then down, in verse 13, and suddenly, with the angel, the multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying-- not singing, saying-- "Glory to God in the highest. Peace on earth. Goodwill toward men." But that would mess up the Christmas carol, wouldn't it? Hark the Herald Angels Speak? That's just sort of hard. Meek? What rhymes with that?
So we've always thought that the angels were singing. Now, I mentioned there's only two times in the Bible where it says angels sang. Number one, before the fall. Before creation, actually. There's this cryptic text in the Book of Job-- I think chapter 38-- where it talks about the morning stars singing together, and the sons of God rendering praise. Those are a euphemism for angelic beings. Before the creation, before the fall, they were singing.
The second time we see angels singing is in Revelation Chapter 5, where you have four living creatures-- that's a type of angelic being-- along with the 24 elders singing. Now, that's after the curse on the Earth has been removed. So if you want to really be biblical about it-- and you should always want to do that-- the only time the angels are singing is before the fall and after the curse is lifted.
It's as if they are restrained from singing while the curse is on the Earth. And they minister in silence, though they can certainly speak in their praise, until that curse is lifted. Well, then where does the singing come from? You. You are redeemed. You are not angels. Look, you look good, but you're not angels.
And the Bible tells us over and over and over and over and over again that we should be singing songs of redemption. You say, well, I don't have a good voice. I had a camp leader. I love this. He always told me, sing. And a little kid said, well, I have a bad voice. He goes, give it back to God. If God gave you a bad voice, give it back to Him. Sing.
So I'm encouraging you, let this Christmas Eve-- for some of you, it's going to be the start, where you break the silence. You break the silence. And you say, every time I get together with God's people and those songs start, I'm going to do my hardest to learn the lyrics and sing from the bottom of my heart.
You are God's ornaments. You and I are meant to adorn His house for all eternity. What a privilege. You are a gift that God the Father gave to His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, because He so loved the world. He gave His only son. So God gave His son. You gave your life to Jesus. God gave you to Jesus. And one day, God will give you to His house to adorn eternity with for the ages to come.
By the way, the angels said, peace on Earth. Goodwill toward men. It always baffled people, because we don't see a whole lot of peace on Earth going on. That's a poor translation. A better translation is peace to the people that God is well pleased, or on whom His favor rests. When you come to make peace with God through Jesus Christ, He fills you with the peace you cannot get anywhere else.
That's offered to you as a gift this Christmas. If you've not received Him personally, I encourage you to do so. Let's pray together. Father, we want to thank you for this incredible celebration, all the creativity, all the hard work that has gone into staging this, lighting this, the sound, the different elements. But Father, we want to thank You most of all for the great gift of giving us Jesus.
Because the great theme of Christmas is that God became human and suffered as a human and died as a human, taking on Himself our very punishment for sin. But then rising from the dead victorious, that we who believe in Him would never perish but have everlasting life. It is not a yearly event. It is a lifestyle.
I pray, Father, for those that don't know the Savior, that in a simple but contrite manner, right now, they would receive Jesus into their lives. If you're here at this service and you've not personally done that-- you've been asked to come by a friend, you like Christmas for what it stands for but the Savior is not in your heart-- why don't you just pray to Him right now where you are?
And say this to Him-- Lord, I give you my life. I admit I'm a sinner. I admit I need help. I turn from my sin. I turn from my past. I turn to Jesus as Lord and Savior. I believe He died on a cross. I believe He rose from the dead. I believe He's alive right now. Help me. Fill me. Help me to live for You. In Jesus' name, amen.
Let's all stand together, shall we? We're going to close in song. And we invite you, if you did pray that prayer silently, to vocally let us know who you are. The leadership will be well identified around this place. And we'd like to place something in your hands and get you on your walk with the Lord. God bless you. Merry Christmas.