What are you worshipping this Christmas?

In Matthew 2 we read this story of some “wise men” or magi, religious rulers/astrologers from the east, who came to worship an infant Jesus. It says they fell down at his feet and worshipped him.
Now, maybe that is normal to see in a nativity scene, but when you think about it, it is quite odd. Grown men (and rulers at that) worshipping an infant born in squalor as King?
It causes me to question, “Who am I worshipping this Christmas?” Really, It is a question I’ve had to ask myself at different times in my life.
You see, I loved being a kid at Christmas time. Like many kids, it was my favorite time of the year.
There was this sort of routine that developed in my life each year leading up to Christmas.
It actually started in October of each fall, when my family would have a “tag your Christmas tree” day at our Christmas tree farm. People from all over town would come out, ride a wagon hauled by a tractor up to the field, and then using orange markers tape pick their tree which my dad and grandpa would cut later on and bring into town.
As we got into November, the weather would start to change. Since I grew up in Western New York, an area with massive amounts of lake effect snow, most years wet early-season snow would come and blanket the land—giving a picturesque Christmas card worthy view (or frozen wasteland, depending on your perspective). It would even change the smell outside as the air grew more and more crisp. After Thanksgiving, we’d begin to add lights and decorations. We’d decorate at home, at my family’s general store, and at the church. My dad would pull out a big box of Christmas CD’s and we’d have them playing 24/7. While school was out and on the weekends, I’d ride along with my dad and grandpa to the tree farm to cut those tagged Christmas trees and bing them into town. When we’d bring them inside the whole house would smell with the beautiful aroma of pine…mixed with just a hint of chainsaw exhaust. You won’t find it in a Yankee candle, but to me that is what Christmas smells like.
In the evenings we’d watch our favorite Christmas movies like Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer and A Muppet Christmas Carol. I’d take part in Christmas plays and Christmas caroling. Baking delicious cookies and then eating said cookies. My family from Indiana would come to town and there would be family get togethers, and at church we’d sing all the Christmas songs and have candlelight services.
All of these activities, all these items—the sites and smells—they prepared me for Christmas. They built this sense of anticipation and expectation, a longing for Christmas to come, because with every one we inched closer and closer to Christmas day itself.
Like every kid, I loved getting presents and feasting on all the great food. Christmas was awesome. But as I grew older, I began to feel like something was missing. I was probably about 14 at the time that I felt began to feel let down. I was still doing all the same things, but it just felt…sad. I felt kind of like Charlie Brown in a Charlie Brown Christmas, doing everything I should be but feeling more ho hum than ho ho ho. Or like Little Cindy Lou Who in the movie The Grinch, who sings a song which goes, “Where are you Christmas? Why can’t I find you. Why have you gone away?” It was like I couldn’t find Christmas.
Maybe you’ve felt the same at some point in your life. Maybe you feel that way now. Well, my solution was to just try harder to enjoy these things. I thought, “I’ll do more of them and do them better.” So I did all I had before and more.
With everything in me I tried to pour myself into Christmas to get all the love and joy and hope and peace it promises out of it… but it didn’t work.
I remember sitting with all my friends in the back row of our church on Christmas eve at a candlelight service, singing the carols I loved so much—some of which we’ve sung tonight—and feeling lonely and empty.
Realizing my efforts had all been in vain, really made me question and wrestle with Christmas. I was a Christian and for Christians, Christmas and Easter are supposed to be the greatest celebrations for us—the Super Bowls of the church year—but for me it seemed like a huge letdown.
Christmas is supposed to be about celebrating the fact that God himself came down as a man to be with us—we call him Emmanuel, which means God with us.

It is a celebration that out of love he came to walk among us, to experience what we have experienced first hand, the joys the pains, the struggle, the temptation all of it—to live, die, and resurrect for us—so that by having faith in him we might be forgiven of the ways we’ve gone wrong and freed from its hold on us, so we might experience all the love, joy, peace, and hope we see plastered everywhere at Christmas.

What I came to realize, though, was that really wasn’t what Christmas was about for me. When I was little it was about the presents. As I grew it became about the food and fun experiences. Then it became about the family gatherings and people. But it was never about Jesus.
I wasn’t worshipping Jesus, and that is what we were made for.
God created us to worship, originally to worship him and him alone, but now in the broken world we live in, we worship just about everything else.
We might think we don’t, but the American poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will come out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives and our character.”
Everybody worships. We worship with out time, our talents, our money, and our attention.
And what or who we worship often comes out at Christmas.

If we find ourselves feeling empty at Christmas, it is probably because we’ve begun to worship something that can never actually satisfy us. That is what had happened to me.

I’d become so focused on the events, the activities, the presents, but all of it is meant to point us to the one thing that truly does offer hope, and joy, and peace, and love, and it isn’t a thing at all. It is person: Jesus.

In themselves, these things will never satisfy the deepest longing of our hearts. Only Jesus can do that. Maybe that sounds a little cliché, but all of these things were meant to be sign posts that point us back to God, that help prepare us to receive the gifts that God offers us. So let me ask, “What is Christmas about for you?” “Are you expecting your Christmas activities and preparations to fill you up, or are they sign posts that are leading you to the one who can?” I ask because I want nothing more than for you to have a truly merry Christmas.