Matthew 3:1-12

It has been more than thirty years since C.S. Lewis wrote his fantasy “Exmas and Christmas,” but the message behind it is so contemporary that it makes one wonder whether Lewis may have been a prophet.

His story takes place on the island of Niatirb (“Britain” spelled backwards). It seems that every winter the Niatirbians observed a festival called Exmas. They packed the marketplaces in all sorts of weather in order to prepare for the event. They would search out cards and gifts for their relatives and friends, basing their purchases on their guesses of how much those friends were spending on them.
As the day of the festival drew near the strain of the preparations began to take its toll, and many of the citizens would grow pale and weary, looking as though they were enduring a tremendous trauma. This time is called The Rush.
Many Niatirbians actually miss much of the festival day because they are too exhausted to rise until noon. They get sick from over-eating and drinking, then they try to recover from the festival.
In addition to Exmas, there is another holiday in Niatirb call Chrissmas, which is held on the same day. Some citizens try to keep Chrissmas sacred, but it is difficult because Exmas is so distracting.
Lewis’ story is a painfully-amusing commentary on our society’s celebration of Christmas. Lewis’ point comes through loud and clear: There are really two different holidays celebrated on December 25. One holiday is celebrated by almost everyone in the United States; that is Exmas. The other is celebrated by followers of Jesus; it is called Christmas.
Because these two different holidays fall on the same date people often confuse them. For instance, one of the classic holiday television specials is How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In this story a nasty creature called the Grinch steals all the presents, decorations and food in the little town of Whoville. By doing this he thinks he can prevent Christmas from coming. But, of course, he finds that Christmas comes even without presents and feasting. Just like many other people, the Grinch was confused. He did not steal Christmas; he stole Exmas.
If you steal all the presents, there is no Exmas. But Christmas still comes. Take away reindeer and stockings, and there is no Exmas. But Christmas still comes. Exmas is made of greeting cards, trees, reindeer, cookies and office parties. Eliminate these and you eliminate Exmas, but you have not touched Christmas.
It would still be Christmas without any of these things, because Christmas consists of different elements. If Christmas is not presents and cookies, what is it?
Christmas celebrates the coming of God’s Son into the world. When we celebrate Christmas we remember that God came to earth so the world could see Him and hear Him and know Him. And Christmas reminds us that Christ invites you and me to meet Him and know Him, too. That’s an altogether different matter than Exmas.
Now do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that Exmas is bad and Christmas is good. In spite of C. S. Lewis’ rather jaded description of it, Exmas is a nice holiday! I enjoy it. Families get together, kids burst with excitement, houses and stores are decorated. People even talk about love and peace once in a while.
Exmas is great, even if it is a lot of work. But it can be distracting. The danger is that it is very easy to get so busy preparing for Exmas that there is no time left to prepare for Christmas.
Because these are two different holidays, preparing for Exmas is very different than preparing for Christmas. To prepare for Exmas is to get ready for a festival. To prepare for Christmas is to prepare to meet a Person. Jesus Christ entered the world at Bethlehem almost 2,000 years ago. Because He lives today He can enter our lives. But to meet Him we must be prepared.
That was just the point Gordon McDonald made when he observed that many people in the world at the time of Jesus missed seeing Him. They were very anxious for God to send the Messiah, but they were unsure if they knew who He was or how to spot Him when He came. John the Baptizer’s assignment was to prepare people for the Messiah. He was to sensitize people’s hearts so that when the Messiah came they would recognize Him and respond to His call.
To see, hear, and know Christ demands preparation. You cannot see Him if you are not prepared. Preparing for Christmas means preparing our hearts to experience Jesus. And we prepare our hearts through silence and repentance.
Silencing our hearts
Our hearts are like the doors to our lives. Christ said “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” Revelation 3:20). Preparation is the key that allows us to hear and open our hearts so that Christ can come in and have fellowship with us. Christ desires fellowship with us, but He will not beat down the door. He will knock but we must open.
In order to open the door to Christ, we first must hear Him knocking. That sounds basic, but it can be a real challenge.
Our lives are so noisy and busy. We usually have more things to do than time in which to do them. And in those few free moments there are the sounds of television or radio. So often we are preoccupied with thoughts of work or problems to solve. We think this happens because we live in a fast-paced world. In part that is true, but it has always been the tendency of human beings to be noisy and busy.
That is why John the Baptizer went to the desert. Jerusalem was too distracting. Horses were stomping, political debates were raging, merchants were hawking their wares. John had to get away from the rat race in order to get quiet and hear God. So he went to the desert where it was still and remote. And when he had received God’s message, all of Jerusalem came to the desert to hear him proclaim it.
While we live in a noisy world, God speaks in a quiet voice. And He will not lift His voice over the din. We must turn down the volume if we expect to hear Him.
If we want to meet with Him we have to stand still. Calvin Miller said
To meet with the Son of God takes time. We have learned all too well the witless art of living fast. We gulp our meals sandwiched between pressing obligations. The table of communion with the inner Christ is not a fast food franchise. We cannot dash into His presence and choke down inwardness before we hurry to our one o’clock appointment.
It is hard for us to get quiet. We are geared for the fast lane. Sometimes it is almost physically painful to stop and enter into silence.
Richard Foster suggests two concrete ways to help us step into quietness. First, find a spot to retreat. There must be a place in your world for you to retreat from the bustle of life. Maybe it is your bedroom or a corner of the basement. It does not matter where it is as long as it is free from distractions.
Secondly, schedule a few moments each day and quiet yourself. Those first waking moments of the day can be used for this purpose. Do not begin thinking of the day yet. Just quiet your heart and become aware of God’s voice and presence.
Cleansing our hearts
Even if we want to meet Christ and become quiet enough to hear Him, we can still miss having fellowship with Him. John the Baptizer had one basic message: repent. We cannot invite Christ into a heart where sin is also welcomed. The two do not mix. God will not remain where sin dwells.
This does not mean we have to be perfect. It means we have to be willing to obey God’s voice when we hear it. If we become aware of a sin in our lives we have to turn our backs on it.
To repent means to change direction. It is a willingness to hate the things that Christ hates and to love those He loves. We cannot claim to love Christ and refuse to give up the sin that caused Him to be crucified.
Sin in our lives will keep God out as surely as a bolt on the heart’s door.
Overcoming distractions
Christmas celebrates the coming of God into the world. Is it not ironic that Christmas can be the worst time of the year to meet God? To encounter Him requires quietness of heart and repentance. Yet the season is so busy and dominated by unChrist-like values that our hearts may be less receptive to Him now than during other times of the year.
Go ahead, prepare for Exmas. But also prepare for Christmas. For most of the year we plan activities. Maybe in December we should plan times of peace and rest. The true magic of Christmas happens when God comes to us as He came to earth that silent night long ago. The only preparation we need for that is a quiet and open heart.

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