Many years ago I was introduced to a trucker who eventually became my friend. He gave me a little tour of the semi he drove for a grocery chain. I hadn’t seen a newer one up close for a few years so I was quite impressed by his rig. It had a comfortable bunk, an air seat, a nice leather interior, a sound system and a few other comforts I didn’t expect to find in a truck. After he showed me that truck, he showed me a truck that he owned himself and used to put gravel on roads as a side job. It was an old truck – no bunk, a basic radio, no air seat and few comforts. He then said, “When I use this truck, I go back to reality.”
Today is the first day after Christmas and we start going back to reality. One of the times that can be psychologically most difficult is the time immediately following a spiritual victory or a much looked forward to celebration. 1993 was a landmark year for Moosehorn Baptist Church. It was the year the church celebrated its 75th anniversary. There was much to celebrate. Although the church was located in an isolated, rural area, it had been quietly discipling young people who then moved to the cities to become active in serving the Lord in large, growing city churches. It had seen its members serve in overseas missions. It had reached many children and young people with the gospel. The church had gone successfully through many difficult times ranging from nearly closing in the 1940’s to being in an area heavily hit by rural depopulation in the decades after that to the closing of the area’s major employer – the Canadian Armed Forces – in the late 1980’s. We worked for months to prepare our weekend celebration. We had a wonderful corn roast on a Saturday night, a Sunday Morning Service with about 150 people packed into the sanctuary that normally had 60-70 people followed by a fabulous luncheon and then an afternoon service with an even larger attendance than the first service. It was great. We felt on top of the world. Next Sunday, though, only 40 people showed up at worship. It was a bit of a letdown. In fact, it was more than a bit of a letdown. The atmosphere at the next week’s service was downright depressing. It was getting back to reality.
I really wasn’t surprised, though, and that helped me to get through it. I remembered Elijah after his encounter with the prophets of Baal as recorded in 1 Kings. Elijah was a prophet who lived in Israel many centuries before the first Christmas. He lived in a time of great spiritual distress in Israel. Israel’s king, Ahab, had married a pagan woman named Jezebel who had encouraged him to worship the false Canaanite fertility god named Baal. Not only had she done that, she had made it her personal mission to wipe out the worship of the Lord in Israel. She didn’t succeed in doing that but many Israelites were converted to Baal worship. They didn’t entirely abandon the LORD but they were wavering between two opinions. Elijah and the prophets of Baal had a showdown on Mount Carmel. At that showdown, Elijah told the Israelites to make up their mind. Either worship the Lord wholeheartedly or worship Baal wholeheartedly. To help them make up their minds, he proposed a contest. Both he and the prophets of Baal would prepare a bull for sacrifice on an altar and both would pray for fire to come down from heaven and burn the sacrifice. Elijah, ever the gentleman, let the prophets of Baal go first. They prayed, they danced, they shouted, they even cut themselves to entreat Baal to send fire on the sacrifice. But nothing happened. After several hours, Elijah prepared his sacrifice. He even handicapped himself by having water poured all over it. He then quietly prayed a simple prayer, asking God to show his power. Fire came down, consumed the sacrifice, melted the stones of the altar and even licked up the water around the altar. The people shouted that the Lord was God and went about killing all the prophets of Baal. It was a great spiritual victory. Yet, the very next day a discouraged Elijah was running for his life on the strength of Jezebel’s threats. It was getting back to reality.
And so it is not uncommon to experience letdowns after great spiritual victories or spiritual highs. It is not uncommon to be knocked down the mountain. It is not uncommon for this to happen after Christmas celebrations. Perhaps what makes it worse is that after the Christmas holidays we have a long, bleak winter ahead of us. This year, it might be even especially hard. After the first couple of snowstorms we had last month I wanted to do very bad things to whoever wrote that song, “Let it snow, Let it snow, Let it Snow.” And after Christmas, with at least three months of snow, cold, dull, dreary days and even simply the challenges of life, we get back to reality.
What can we do when we have to get back to reality – not only after Christmas, but after any wonderful event in our lives?
I think by taking one last look at the Christmas story, we might get some ideas.
In verse 19 of Luke 2, we read that after all the wonderful events surrounding the birth of Jesus came about,
19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
What is kind of hidden in this verse is the fact that while everyone else was “amazed” at the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, Mary did something that the others didn’t really do – she pondered these events. She meditated on them. She searched for meaning in them and treasured them. I have a feeling that this pondering helped Mary face what the future held. We know that her future as the mother of Jesus wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Mary had to get back to reality too. There were many ordinary days for Mary and there were many difficult days for Mary. The Bible doesn’t give us any indication that Mary avoided the problems of the other Jewish peasant mothers of her day. She probably had concerns about feeding and clothing her family. She probably endured periodic food shortages that plagued ancient life. Perhaps she struggled with rough spots in her marriage to Joseph and the fact that Joseph isn’t mentioned after Jesus turned twelve suggests that she had suffered widowhood. Of course, later on we know that she witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus.
I believe that pondering and treasuring the miracle of her Son’s birth and events surrounding it helped her during the rough spots and down days of her life. Pondering who her son was and the wonderful things God did during his birth would have given her a sense of God’s plan and purpose for her life.
I realize that I am reading a bit into the text here but I still think that I have a valid point – treasuring and pondering all that God does for us and in our lives will help us as we face an uncertain, scary or depressing future.
The author of Psalm 42 did this when he faced the difficulties of life.
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? 3 My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, "Where is your God?" 4 These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. 5 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and 6 ¶ my God.
The Psalmist made a deliberate effort to remember God’s works in his life. We may need to as well. I have discovered that I have a very poor memory. I discover it time and again occurs when I go through our old family pictures and mementos. Again and again I am reminded of events and even people that I have completely forgotten about. Yet, as I get back to reality I must never forget what God has done for me, never! In dark times, I must remind myself how great my Christ is – how wonderful. I must remember His former deeds and continue to have faith for the future.
And pondering helps that. Pondering helps me to remember later on that the God who has done wonderful things for me in the future will not abandon me now. Pondering helps me to find meaning in events that might cause me to struggle.
II. And as we get back to reality after the Holiday season, we might find that Praise helps us.
We notice that when the angels visited the shepherds, wonderful things happened.
8 ¶ And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
This incident of hearing angelic praise livened up the Shepherds’ lives. Later on we notice that when they left Jesus, they left praising God as well.
An Attitude of praise can help us as we get back to reality.
I once heard a true story about a youth pastor of a large church in San Diego. One day he got into his Volvo and started the engine. Immediately, he heard a strange noise and his oil light lit up on his dashboard. Quickly shutting his car down, he got out only to discover that his oil filter had come loose and all the oil in his engine had come blowing out onto his driveway. The first words out of his mouth were, “Thank you Jesus for this opportunity to trust in you.” I suspect that for most people those would not be the first words out of their mouths. In fact, many people would think that he was crazy. Yet, who would end up healthier? Who would end up with a better mental health? Him! No doubt about it! Praising God can do many things to help us as we get back to reality.
I believe that praise is a key component to resisting the devil as James tells us to do in Chapter 4:7-8 in his letter.
The Psalmist also writes in Psalm 100:
1 ¶ A psalm. For giving thanks. Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. 2 Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. 3 Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. 5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
When this psalm was written, there was a physical temple that people could enter. There were real gates and real courts in the house of God and people were encouraged to praise and thank God as they entered his presence. We can’t physically enter the Temple’s gates any more. The temple no longer exists. Yet, turning this around a bit, I think that we can safely say that when we praise God, we enter into his courts. In other words, when we praise God, we enter into his presence. And in God’s presence, we find peace. One of the most famous Scriptures is Philippians 4 verses 6-7:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
The apostle Paul was a real hard-nosed guy. He had no shortage of trouble in his life. Paul had been stoned, beaten, whipped, and thrown in jail. His readers in Philippi knew first-hand that Paul and Silas responded to being whipped and locked up in jail by singing and praising God.
Paul and Silas demonstrated big-time faith (Acts 16:16-32). And God rewarded them big-time, but not just for Paul's sake. God rewarded them for OUR benefit, so we would know the truth of His promises.
I realize that praising God in the midst of difficulty is counter-intuitive, yet that is the response that will lead to blessing when we have to go back to reality. I think we all have to admit that it is better than complaining.
III. Proclaim – Get back our sense of mission and purpose.
17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2)
During that Holy night, the shepherds found a new mission and purpose. They took it upon themselves to PROCLAIM what they had seen and heard about Jesus. They didn’t see this as a duty – it was something they wanted to do! When Canada won the gold medal during the Olympics this year, everyone PROCLAIMED the wonderful news. And the news brought great joy which was only to the Canadian people. People weren’t forced to do it. They wanted to. And they found joy even in the act of proclaiming the victory.
When the shepherds proclaimed the birth of Jesus, they were doing what God wanted them to do. They had a divine PURPOSE. As we get back to reality, it will be good to remember that we too have an important purpose – that of PROCLAIMING the Gospel of this once infant King.
It is important to have a purpose in life. It is important to have the right purpose. It is important to know what that purpose is. If we don’t have the right purpose, it will be no surprise that getting back to reality might be difficult. Rick Warren puts it this way:
“Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning. Without meaning, life has no significance or hope.”
In trying and difficult times, it is important to remember that our lives have purpose. Indeed, they have a divine purpose. Therefore, we matter and we have significance. At times when we are feeling down and hopeless, it is good to remember that. As we get back to reality, remember that.
As Rick Warren says:
If you have felt hopeless, hold on! Wonderful changes are going to happen in your life as you begin to live it on purpose. God says, “I know what I am planning for you .... ‘I have good plans for you, not plans to hurt you. I will give you hope and a good future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11 NCV) You may feel you are facing an impossible situation, but the Bible says, “God ... is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of – infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes.” (Ephesians 3:20 LB)
We have eating our Christmas dinners, given and received gifts, visited with family and friends and watched, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Most important, we have celebrated the Incarnation – God becoming a human like one of us in Jesus Christ. Today we will start getting back to reality. It doesn’t have to be depressing, though. Something that we celebrate should have significance all year through and Christmas certainly does. Pondering its meaning helps us through the difficulties of life. Praising the God who sent us the Saviour not only brings God glory – which is the most important thing – but it also brings us into his presence where we find peace. Finally, proclaiming and living the gospel bring our lives a divine purpose that helps us through any difficulties we might find.
And so, as you get back to reality, ponder the meaning of God becoming a person in Jesus Christ. Praise God, even in difficult times. Remember your God given purpose. Reality will be a whole lot more meaningful – and even joyous -- if you do.
C. 2010 by Rev. Steven Brown. You are free to use portions of this message but please do not pass this off as your own.