This sermon on People who Missed Christmas is from a sermon I preached about fifteen years ago. If I recall, I relied heavily on a sermon from my father, Bill Myers, as well as from sermons preached by Dr. David Jeremiah and Dr. John MacArthur.
There is a popular children’s movie that is part of the annual television lineup during Christmas season. They even made a feature movie out of it a few years back, but it wasn’t very good. I’m sure you have all seen the cartoon, however, of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
Somehow, that Grinch thought that if he stole Christmas, the people in Whoville would miss Christmas. But the people of Whoville realized that Christmas wasn’t about the presents and decorations, and definitely not about the roast beast.
And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,
stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?
It came without ribbons. It came without tags.
It came without packages, boxes or bags.
And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.
What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store?
What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?
The people of Whoville didn’t miss Christmas, but there are people all over the world who miss Christmas because they do not recognize the birth of a Savior.
But even today, there are a lot of people who miss Christmas. Now it might seem like it would be hard to miss it here, since every place you turn there is a ton of advertising going on about what you need to buy for Christmas.
It’s not just the advertising either, there are the lights and the Christmas trees and the snow and the parties. So here in America, very, very few people will miss the Christmas celebration, but many will miss Christmas. Even many Christians will miss the real reason for the season.
For those of us who know Christ, Christmas becomes a time to focus on the reality of the incarnation that God became a man. That incredible divine act that brought God into human history.
We know all of this. We’ve heard it all before at church or on Christian radio, or in our Christian publications. But even still, if we are not careful, because of everything that is happening around us, we can miss Christmas.
Today I want to look back in time at those who were actually there in Bethlehem. We want to gain an understanding of how someone can miss Christmas. Scripture tells us of three people who missed Christmas even though it was in their own backyard.
Somehow, with all the commotion, they missed its essence and opportunity. They missed the joy, the hope and the satisfaction is brought.
The greatest event in the world was under way with the coming of the Savior, and these people were absent.
The Innkeeper Missed Christmas
Turn to Luke 2:7 for the first person who missed Christmas.
Luke 2 contains the story of the Birth of Christ, and it contains the first person who missed Christmas.
Luke 2:7, in speaking of Mary, says “And she gave birth to her first born son, and she wrapped him in cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Have you ever noticed those last two words there? The inn.
Now ask yourself, have you ever come across a manger scene , with Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the animals, the shepherds, the wise men… and the innkeeper?
Of course not. Why? Because the innkeeper is the first person who missed Christmas. Christmas was literally out his back door, but he missed it.
He met a pregnant woman with child but he had no room for them.
He wouldn’t make room for them. Surely he could have rolled out a mat on the floor of his own home had he been willing to inconvenience himself. But he wasn’t.
And so he missed Christmas.
Look at Luke 2:7. He missed Christmas by not making room in his inn for them and he missed it by not finding help for Mary when she delivered a child.
Luke 2:7 speaks volumes about a lonely birth…
Quite honestly, Luke 2:7 doesn’t even speak about where Joseph was at the time of delivery of the baby Jesus.
I believe it is only a recent custom that fathers are actually present for the delivery of their baby. Father’s normally always waited outside the delivery room.
So the verse reads “She brought forth her first born son.”
It seems that Mary brought forth her first born son all by herself, all alone.
Mary brought forth her own son. And it also says she wrapped him in cloths. Mary did. Where were the midwives?
Where were the people who were supposed to care for things like this? Where was the inn keeper? Didn’t he know anybody who could help? Couldn’t even the innkeeper’s wife concern herself with this matter?
All this is foreshadowing to the truth of what the prophet said, that the Savior would be despised and rejected. It seems that this was the case even from his own birth.
And Luke 2:7 says she laid him in a manger, which is an animal feeding trough. IF you have ever seen a living nativity, you might have noticed that the manger is a clean little box or basked filled with clean hay. That was probably not the way it was for Jesus and Mary. A feeding trough, if any of you have ever been on a farm, is not the cleanest place to be. It is not the best place for a newborn infant.
Some feel the place the place of his birth was a stable, which at that time were just small structures with a little roof. There are a number of these in pastures and farms around the valley. They are used to provide shelter for livestock from the wind, rain, and snow.
Others think Jesus was born in a cave. There are number of caves in Bethlehem, and the church of the nativity where Christ is believed to have been born in built over a cave.
There are others who believe that Christ was born in an open court yard at the inn. Not any mothers here I’m sure would like to give birth there.
But wherever Mary gave birth, whether a stable, a cave, or a courtyard, it was a lonely, despised, and forgotten birth.
And whatever the stable was, it was not the cleanest place to have a child. It would have been full of animals, and their droppings. It probably would have been filled with smoke from a fire built by Joseph to keep Mary warm. It was not a place for any baby, let alone the Son of God come in the flesh.
G. Campbell Morgan writes:
She brought forth. She wrapped him in swaddling cloths. It is very beautiful but oh the pity of it. The loneliness of it. That in the hours when womanhood should be surrounded by the tenderest care, Mary was alone. The method of the writer is very clear. She with her own hands wrapped the baby around with those swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. There was no one to do it for her. And I say the pity of it… yet the glory of it… to the heart of Mary.
I often wondered if Mary began to have her doubts at this point. Wouldn’t she be thinking, “Is this really the King? Why didn’t God provide someplace better for him?”
On the other hand, maybe she felt incredibly shameful that she could not supply something better for the Messiah. Here she was, all alone, with only strips of cloth to wrap the baby in and only a dirty feeding trough to place him in. No royal robes. No warm rooms. No soft beds.
I imagine she was embarrassed and ashamed, but at least she was doing her best to provide for for the newborn King, the long-awaited and hoped-for Messiah.
The innkeeper, however, was not.
What was it about the innkeeper that caused him to miss such an important event?
He was too busy with other things.
The innkeeper was busy caring for his guest and his inn and whatever other things an innkeeper takes care of. He was preoccupied with dirty dishes, mud on the tile floor, animal manure that needed to be cleaned away from the entrance to the inn, the rich customers upstairs who were demanding more blankets and another wine skin.
He wasn’t an evil man, and he wasn’t unloving or unsympathetic. He wasn’t angry or belligerent. He wasn’t even indifferent. He was just busy. Too busy.
He had business to take care of. His family also was a priority to him. He wanted to provide for them and spend time with them. His friend too, were inviting him over for dinner tonight and he just couldn’t take the time to bother with a poor family who arrived in Bethlehem so late. He wasn’t evil. He was just busy.
Frederick Buechner writes as if he were in the innkeeper:
I speak to you as men of the world, not as idealists, but as realists. Do you know what it’s like to run an inn, to run a business, a family? To run anything in the world for that matter, even your own life? Well, it’s like being lost in a forest of a million trees, and each tree is a thing to be done. Is there fresh linen on all the beds? Did the children put on their coats before they went out? Has the letter been written? Has the book been read. Is there enough money left in the bank to pay this bill? Today we have food in our bellies and clothes on our back, but what can we do to make sure that we have them tomorrow? A million trees, a million things. Finally, we have eyes for nothing else, and whatever we see turns into a thing.
There are too many people like that.
The rooms of their lives are filled with busy things.
Filled with interest and hobbies and work and the stuff that doesn’t really matter.
And they miss the Christ of Christmas.
If the innkeeper had known he had a king outside, that he had God in his stable, we can be sure he would have told the rich customers upstairs to move out. But he didn’t know.
And today for the most part, the world doesn’t know who Christ is, or that He is here, among us and among us.
They don’t know why He came and they are just ignorantly preoccupied with the meaningless things of life. With shopping, decorating, and going to parities and pageants that we may not have time for the Christ himself.
How tragic it would be to live a whole life focusing on mundane, meaningless things, and look back at the end of life and realize you’ve lived a wasted it.
Think about your own lives this year. Have you spent more time shopping or decorating or baking than you have loving and serving others? Have you spent more money on stuff, than you have on investing in His Kingdom? Have you given more of your time and energy to the busy pursuits of life than in building relationships with people?
The innkeeper missed Christmas. Let us not miss it as well.
King Herod Missed Christmas
Another individual who missed Christmas is found in Matthew 2.
This individual wasn’t ignorant. He was very well informed. His name is Herod.
Herod is the second person who missed Christmas.
Matthew 2:1-3 says, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born [now note this] king of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east, and have come to worship him.’ When Herod the king heard it, he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him…”
Matthew 2:7-8. “Then Herod secretly called the Magi, and ascertained from them the time the star appeared and he sent them to Bethlehem and said “Go, and make careful search for the Child; and when you have found him, report to me that I too may come and worship him.”
Notice first that the Magi, being wise, thought that if a king had been born in Judea, the place to find him would be in the royal palace of the capital city. So, although they knew Jesus had been born in Bethlehem about two years earlier, they went instead to Jerusalem, to ask King Herod if they might see the King of the Jews.
And Matthew 2:3 says Herod was troubled. He was agitated, stirred up, shaken up. Some translators believe it actually conveys the idea of total panic.
Let me tell you why. Herod wasn’t even a Jew. Herod was ruling the land because his family were friends of the Romans. Rome trusted Herod and they liked Herod because he and his family had learned how to play the political games necessary to gain favor. The Roman senate appointed Herod King in Judea. And he wasn’t even a Jew.
They gave him an army. And Herod took the title “King of the Jews.”
So, when foreigners come and Herod hears that there was one born who was called the King of the Jews, he was afraid.
He had ordered his life around political appointments and glory and praise.
The rumor or another king threatened him.
So Herod was afraid.
Herod was also an evil man. He was very efficient in collecting taxes from the people. In fact, he overtaxed them.
And he murdered many people. He slaughtered the people called the Maccabeans.
Herod had 10 wives. His most notable wife had a brother who was a high priest, and Herod was afraid of him, so he had him murdered. Then he had this wife killed and had her mother murdered. But he had had two sons by this wife, and was afraid that they would take the throne from him because he murdered their mother, so he had his two sons murdered.
Herod was suspicious of everybody and so it is recorded in history that almost his entire life was spent with plotting and executions.
When we was about to die, he went down to Jericho to die there. And he knew that since he had been such a bad king, no one would mourn for him when he died. But being proud and arrogant he wanted people to be mourning on the day of his death. So, he commanded that all of the notable citizens of Jerusalem be put in prison. Then he commanded that when he died, these people would be killed so that there would be weeping and mourning at his death. Thankfully, this last command of his was not carried out.
Herod was a wretched and evil man. We could probably call him the first Scrooge.
So when he hears that a child has been born who was king of the Jews. Matthew 2:16 says that when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its environs, from two years old and under.
So all of these young innocent children were slaughtered in order that Herod might kill Jesus.
We know, of course, that God had already warned Joseph and Mary, and so they had fled to Egypt.
So why did Herod miss Christmas? What is the reason?
Fear. Jealous fear.
Herod wasn’t about to let this little child interfere with his career, with his position, with his plans, and his life style.
Don’t we see that today everywhere we look? Stores and businesses are afraid that a nativity scene might cause them to lose customers. People at offices are afraid of being a witness because their boss might not like it.
People today are afraid of what Jesus might do to their business and their business practices. Just like Herod.
Herod liked being king, and was not about to let anybody else be king. If not even his own sons, then surely not some baby born in Bethlehem.
You know, if Jesus had come as another wise man, or as a counselor with some good advice, we can bet Herod would have welcomed him gladly.
Haven’t we seen that? There are people who want Jesus as a nice spiritual friend. They believe he was a good man or a good teacher or someone with some wise counsel.
And they treat Jesus as just another part of their life. He fits into a neat little compartment reserved for Sunday morning. The rest of the week is filled with work and family and entertainment. Jesus is taken out on Sunday, but he has no impact or place on the person’s career and position and treasures.
Too many people have the same attitude that Herod had. They want to be king of their own little Kingdom and feel threatened by a baby born in a manger. The world is full of Herod’s who cry out “We will not have this man to rule over us.”
Herod is the second person who missed Christmas, out of fear for what King Jesus would mean for the power and prestige that King Herod enjoyed. There are many such Herods today, who refuse to bow to Jesus out of fear for what He will do to their power.
Religious Leaders Missed Christmas
Finally, a third group that missed Christmas.
This group is the most shocking. The innkeeper we could understand, he was ignorant of what was happening in his own backyard and too busy to take notice. Herod knew what was going on, but was too evil and power hungry to give up his rule. But this third group of people should have never missed Christmas.
In Matthew 2:4, not that after Herod finds out from the Magi that a King has been born, he want to find out where this King was born. The text says he gathered “together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he began to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born.”
And they said of Him in Bethlehem of Judea for so it has been written by the prophet
And you Bethlehem, land of Judah
Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah
For out of you shall come forth a ruler
Who will shepherd my people Israel.”
Herod called the experts together: the theologians, chief priests, the captain of the temple police, the best of all teachers with great speaking skills, the pastors and elders, the seminary-trained professors with their Ph.D.s and Doctorates of Ministry.
And they all knew the Scriptures. They said: “Oh yes, we know where the Messiah is to be born.” And they quoted Micah 5:2, “He will be born in Bethlehem.”
They knew where the Messiah was to be born.
Does that surprise you? It doesn’t surprise us that they knew, for God made it very clear in Scriptures. What astonishes us is what they didn’t do. They didn’t go there. They didn’t go to Bethlehem.
Since the time of Moses, they taught that there would be a Messiah. They longed and hoped and prayed for a deliverer. It had been the great hope of the ages.
And the ones who knew, the ones who were the intellectuals, the leaders, the religious teachers, they never even bothered to walk the 2 or 3 miles south to Bethlehem to check it out for themselves.
We look at them as say “If I were them, and I knew, I would have camped out in Bethlehem. I never would have left. I would have made sure that I did not miss the coming of the Savior.”
But would we have? They knew more of the Old Testament then we could ever hope to know, and yet they missed Christmas.
The Spiritual leaders at the time of Jesus Christ missed Christmas.
The fact is, out of the entire population of Jerusalem and Judea, only a few shepherds came to see the Messiah. And do you remember what they did? After encountering Him, they joyfully told everyone about their experience until everyone in the Judean countryside heard about the birth of the Messiah. But even then, there is no record that anyone else, including the religious leaders of the day, came to see Jesus.
You know, he probably lived in Bethlehem for about two years. It was only after the Magi came and left that Joseph received the instructions to escape to Egypt. The religious leaders had two whole years to go visit their Messiah, but they missed him.
And so we have to be honest with ourselves. I have to be honest with myself. The prospect here is chilling. I too am a spiritual leader. All of us are spiritual leaders in some respect.
Maybe some people at work know you are a Christian. If so, you are a spiritual leader.
If you are a father or a husband, you are called by God to be the spiritual leaders in your home, both to your wife and to your children.
Mothers also are called to be spiritual leaders to their children, to other women, to neighbors and the people they interact with on a daily basis.
Even children can be spiritual leaders to their friends who don’t know Christ.
We are all spiritual leaders and so this group of people who missed Christmas hits us right where we are. And we can miss Christmas just as they did.
Why did they miss Christmas? I’ll tell you why. One word. Indifference.
Indifference. They didn’t care. Of all three people who missed Christmas, this group is the worst.
Having a Messiah was really no big deal to them. At least the innkeeper didn’t know because he was too busy. At least Herod feared Jesus.
But the religious leaders just didn’t care. Why not?
They were already self righteous. They were already perfect. They were proud.
You could call it proud indifference. Wrapped up in their own pride and indifference, in their own self righteous system., there was no room for the son of God in their lives.
They thought they had all they ever needed. They were God’s chosen and that was enough. Who cares about developing an actual relationship with the Messiah?
And besides, God’s servant wouldn’t be caught dead in a stable with a woman who gave birth out of wedlock. Let the government take care of them.
Well, maybe most of God’s servants wouldn’t be caught dead there, but the greatest servant, God’s son, was born there.
In fact, what happened when Jesus did show up later as a man? They ridiculed him, hated him and plotted his murder. They didn’t need him. They didn’t want him.
The ultimate crime against Christ is indifference. They were just not interested.
Today, many people miss Christmas because they don’t realize their need for Christ.
Oh, they may have eternal life if they believed in Jesus for everlasting life. They may be going to heaven. They most likely “go to church.” They observe religious traditions. But that’s where it stops for many. They think they know what they need to know about Christ and who He is and what He did. They don’t really want to have a relationship with Him. They don’t really want to meet him daily in His Word and come before Him daily in prayer.
The definitely don’t want to follow Him into the world, to serve the poor and homeless, to look after orphans and widows in their distress, to live among “the least of these,” to show love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness to the outcast, the rejected, and the abused, to make friends with the “tax-collectors and sinners” of our day. Oh no, that’s too radical. That’s too dangerous. What will your good Christians friends say if you befriend a homosexual, a Muslim, or a homeless drug addict?
Throughout this Christmas season the bells of many churches will be ringing all over the world. Great cathedrals will host Christmas services, pageants and nativity scenes. Millions will pour into churches, but how many will be just like the priests and scribes of Matthew 2 who wouldn’t travel 2 miles to see Jesus? They possess all the knowledge, but it really makes no difference in their lives or in the way they relate to the one whose birth they celebrate.
They are indifferent about developing their relationship with Christ. They are indifferent about following Jesus into the world, even if it is across the street to take cookies to a neighbor lady, or across town to serve a meal to the homeless?
If we go through all the outward expressions of the Christmas season and yet fail to focus on its center, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, we’ll miss Christmas as surely as the scribes and the chief priests. And if we miss Christmas, we’ve missed Christ.
Today let’s be sure we savor every bit of joy and meaning in Christmas. The Innkeeper, King Herod, and the religious leaders missed out, but we can keep the blessing of Christmas.
By eliminating the hurried moments, by focusing on others and their needs, and remembering to keep Jesus as the center of our planning, celebrating and activity, we will emerge in the New Year full of Christ-centered joy.
Activity is synonymous with Christmas, hosting relatives, buying and wrapping gifts, decorating the tree, all these activities take our time and energy. Sometimes our house can feel like an inn. Sometimes we start treating our relatives like Herod did., thinking murderous thoughts about how they are ruining our Christmas plans. Sometimes we focus on the knowledge of Christmas rather than the relationship like the religious leaders.
While all this activity and celebration is part of our tradition and we wouldn’t want to miss out on any part of it, we can work to keep it in its proper place. Activity can’t be avoided at Christmas, but the important thing is to be active with Jesus, following Him into the dark and cold world to bring peace, light, and love to those who need it most.
When we humble ourselves and seek to serve him as He humbled himself to serve us, we will not miss Christmas.
None of us are ignorant like the innkeeper. We know what time of year it is, and Who this season is about. But like the innkeeper, all of us are guilty of adding too many activities into our days. We get so busy, we miss out on what this season is all about.
Maybe some of us are like Herod. We are afraid of what Christ might do to our business if others knew that He was our king. We must bring Christ into our workplaces and homes and workplaces and among our friends. And we must not just say we will worship him, but actually worship him, and be proud to be associated with Him, to follow Him into places that might ruin our reputation and cause us to lose face with our peers.
Finally, and most importantly, we need to recognize our need for Christ. Not just our need to receive eternal life through faith in Jesus, but recognize our daily need for fellowship with Him and to follow Him wherever He leads. Not just into our Bible study and prayer meetings, but into the sinful and dark world where people need to hear about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only then will we not miss Jesus, but will enjoy the true blessings of Christmas.
[Note: To learn more about Christmas and how we can celebrate it as followers of Jesus, try my book, Christmas Redemption.]