Theme: Guarding Against Distraction
In this week’s lessons, we examine people in the Christmas story who did not respond to the birth of Christ as they should have.
Scripture: Luke 2:1-7
Yesterday, we concluded our study by saying that even though the birth of Christ happened so near to the innkeeper, he nevertheless missed it, apparently being too concerned about running his inn.
Let me share this dramatized account of the innkeeper’s reasoning with you. It comes from a recent book by the distinguished American writer Frederick Buechner:
“I speak to you as men of the world,” said the Innkeeper. “Not as idealists but as realists. Do you know what it is like to run an inn —to run a business, a family, to run anything in this world for that matter, even your own life? It is like being lost in a forest of a million trees,” said the Innkeeper, “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, the book read? Is there money enough left in the bank? Today we have food in our bellies and clothes on our backs, but what can we do to make sure that we will have them still tomorrow? A million trees. A million things. . . . Finally we have eyes for nothing else, and whatever we see turns into a thing.”1
Am I pressing the point too much to say that the world is filled with such innkeepers today, materialistic men, women, and children who miss the meaning of Christmas simply because their business, parties, Christmas cards, trees, or tinsel seem too pressing? If this were not the case, there would not be so many grim faces in our stores or so many exhausted, sleepy people in our churches the Sunday before Christmas.
Do not think that I am merely speaking to non-Christians at this point. I am probably not speaking to them much at all. Who would berate Caesar Augustus for having missed Christmas? He was too far away. There was no possibility of his having found it. We would not berate the Greeks or countless others. Actually, I am speaking to Christians, for they are the ones who should take note of the birth of Christ deeply and yet often do not do it.
A number of years ago a minister named A. W. Tozer was concerned about the feverish materialism of Christians in our age. He wrote this about it:
Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all. “If we would find God amid all the religious externals we must first determine to find him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity. Now as always God discovers himself to ‘babes’ and hides himself in thick darkness from the wise and the prudent. We must simplify our approach to him.2
1Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat (New York: Seabury, 1966), pp. 66-67.
2A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1948), pp. 17-18.
How do both Christians and unbelievers miss Christmas? In what ways are the reasons similar? In what ways are they different?
In Tozer’s time, he focused on what he called “religious complexity” as the characteristic that kept Christians from pursuing God. How would you characterize church life today? Has it gotten more simplified or more hectic and busy? What is the problem with too much activity and less simplicity?
Application: How would you describe your own frame of mind during the month of December and your celebration of Christmas? Does your approach look more like the world, or does it allow significant time to read, pray, and reflect on the birth of Christ?