Now I know this is the week of Thanksgiving. I personally believe that Thanksgiving kind of gets robbed now. Thanksgiving has just been jammed into this section called “Holidays.” Ultimately, everybody gets geeked up about Halloween (or angry), and that goes through New Years. It’s just this clump of time called “the Holidays,” and Thanksgiving is just kind of in there. In fact, I saw a buddy of mine online this week put, “Thanksgiving is like John the Baptist. It’s just the predecessor of something much greater.” That’s so true. We like Thanksgiving because it tells us that Christmas is coming.
Even the old rule that you don’t even go there until the Friday after Thanksgiving is gone. At one time it was morally reprehensible, and now that’s been completely evaporated. You celebrate Christmas whenever you want to start celebrating Christmas now. There are people who have already decorated their houses. What a slap in the face of Thanksgiving. Lights are already up, and Santa is already bowing down to Jesus in front yards. It’s on. Christmas music is playing, people are talking about it and the commercials have started. We are in it. It used to be that that place on Friday, but no longer. I have to believe that if God lets me live till I’m 60, my children will be beginning the Christmas process in August. Because just in my lifetime it has rewound by a couple of weeks. So I’m wondering if it’s just going to keep getting pushed further and further back. “Happy Independence Day. . .and Merry Christmas!”
We’re drawn to it, and culturally we love it. I want to put my cards on the table and say I’m in. I love it. We’re going to do it. Now I’m not full-on Clark Griswold, but we’ll decorate our house, we’ll put up a tree and we’ll hang stockings. We are in. I love it. We have been playing the Folk Angel record on our house. We have Christmas music playing in the Chandler crib right now. The kids are already getting excited. Already there are questions about when I’m going up into the attic to drag all that stuff down. We’re already there, and we’ll celebrate it and have a good time.
But ultimately there is a bit of a dark edge to the Christmas season. You’ll hear words that nobody really gives any time to thinking about, but there are two phrases in particular that I want to throw out to you. The phrase “Christmas blues” is one. There’s this thing that happens to people where the holidays kind of put them in a bit of depression.
Then one that is probably more common is the idea of a Christmas hangover. Now I’m not talking about a hangover after Christmas, because that’s completely different. I’m talking about a Christmas hangover when Christmas presents are open, the stockings are empty and the meal is over. There’s this kind of feeling of “that’s it?” that happens to us. Now very quickly, we press that down, don’t acknowledge it and hurry up an get into New Years that will make us forget all about that emotion or feeling.
So knowing that I need to set up Advent, I began to dig around and read things I don’t usually read. Sociologists have really made the issue very complex when it’s actually pretty simple. Let me explain to you both the Christmas blues and the Christmas hangover. It’s what happens when unbridled expectations slam into reality. When that happens, regardless of what we’re talking about, frustration, depression and a hangover exist when we have built something up in our mind to be something that is impossible for it to deliver on.
So what we’re all going to get sucked into, what we’re already getting sucked into are these cliché pictures of family, of Christmas morning, of what happens when we all get together and when families get together. And you get what you
want or you don’t get what you want but there’s a lesson there that you learn. You will be bombarded with this on your radio, on your television and in your shows, that your loneliness will be turned into joy and that gift you wanted so badly will ultimately satisfy. And all of this is going to be pummeled on you incessantly. It has already started. I’m late with the warning.
And the truth is sometimes the holidays don’t bring families together, or they bring families together just to let a grenade go off among them. Sometimes you get everything you wanted, and still that nagging feeling is there. Sometimes the season is terribly lonely because you have lost a loved one or you’ve been isolated from your family for one reason or another. I could go on and on here. What happens is unbridled expectations slam into reality.
Because I’m for you and for your joy, I want us to get underneath what this is all about. Let me show you something here in Colossians 2:16-17. “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” So the substance belongs to Christ, but Christ (the substance) is casting a shadow. So the apostle Paul is saying to the churches in Colossae, “Listen, when it comes to Sabbath, when it comes to new moon, when it comes to these festivals, yes and amen, they are good, but they’re just a shadow. They’re not the substance.” You can’t get your arms around a shadow. You can’t be comforted by a shadow. It takes the substance to do that.
And what I want to press on us as a community is not to not enjoy the shadow. Because you should enjoy the shadow. When we were kids, Christmas was magical. And then you eventually hit that age where you pretty much knew what you were getting. And then you have kids, and all of a sudden it’s magical again. So don’t hear me railing against stockings and lights, because I’m not. I’m just saying that stuff is a shadow. It’s not substance. So have fun with the shadow, but ultimately what we’re after is the substance.
So if we get into this season and don’t get more of Jesus, then we have failed our own hearts, we’ve failed our own families and ultimately there’s nothing left except to be disappointed, there’s nothing left except to feel a little hollowed out or there’s nothing left except to busy ourselves to shut that down inside of us.
Now I want to show you how deep this idea of substance and shadow goes. This isn’t just about Christmas. Really the substance of Jesus Christ casts a long shadow. God has wired into almost everything the reality that He is, that He is saving and that we are in need of a Savior.
In fact, let me show you this in Romans 2, starting in verse 14. “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.” Now here’s all he is saying here. Mankind, all of us, whether we know about God, know about Christ or know about the moral law, will instinctively be drawn to the things of God because God has placed eternity into our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
Verse 15 is crucial, and I think I saw this play out yesterday on my television. “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” So all of us know there’s a God (Romans 1), we have a tendency to feel that pull and there are all these things that don’t make sense if there is not. So we have to figure out a way to excuse that pull in our hearts towards things that have deeper realities and deeper meanings. So in that, our conscience becomes conflicted.
Yesterday morning, I got up and watched Game Day for the first time in a while. My team has just melted down like you wouldn’t believe, so I don’t even care. So I turned it on yesterday, and Lee Corso slipped up and dropped the F-word when he was picking the game of the week. So they go to commercial, come back and ESPN/ABC/Disney has already
created a commercial with Corso apologizing and talking about how unacceptable this is. I kind of smiled, because I have watched shows on ABC and even ABC Family, which seems a bit more risque than normal ABC. So talk about a conflicted conscience. Gratuitous sex? That’s okay. Bad language? That’s unacceptable. So this is what happens to the mind. It won’t submit to the reality that there is a God. So we are drawn to rest and we are drawn to celebrations. Behind all of it is the long shadow of Jesus Christ.
I think the place you can most clearly see this is in marriage. So flip over to Ephesians 5. One of the great joys that comes with being a pastor is you get to be a part of people’s wedding days. 99% of the time, that is spectacular. There’s a 1% in there that gets a little crazy. Anytime you get a bunch of family dynamics together there’s always some uncertainty. For most of us, we have that one person about whom you go, “Oh, I hope they behave.” Sometimes, those people don’t behave at weddings, which is really sad for couples and even for the pastor who has to come in and mediate. But you get to join in with somebody’s celebration, somebody’s hope, somebody’s desires and somebody’s joy. So there is all this expectation, there’s all this hope and there is not a hint of what is to come in walking with one another in sanctification. Everything in that day lines up, there are dresses, there are candles , the best singer they know is going to sing and parents are broke. All these things are happening, but the emotion in the air is almost tangible. You get to see people cry who don’t normally cry. Because of how weddings on television have been completely set up, now when the bride comes in, everybody looks at the bride, oohs and then looks up at the husband to make sure is crying or he apparently doesn’t love her. It’s a lot of pressure on the man now. So it’s a pretty spectacular day.
But here’s the thing, and I say this every time I do a wedding. If you don’t get underneath all of that, what you’re celebrating is some sort of weird, Romanian, cupidity that is not based on anything significant but rather some sort of emotional exchange of, “I think you can meet my needs.” And when you find out, probably on the honeymoon, that that person is unable to meet your needs, whatever those needs are, then all you have waiting for you on the long road to old age together is conflict, conflict and more conflict. Because you don’t understand what’s actually taking place when a man says, “I want that woman to be mine.”
So let me show you Ephesians 5, starting in verse 22. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ”Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.“ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
So when a young man goes hormonal, when all the rules that he has lived by up until the age of 13-15 change, when it’s not longer about trucks, Transformers and the boys, all of a sudden it becomes, “I want one of those.” And now all of a sudden he’s showering, he wants cologne and now all of a sudden he cares about things that he didn’t care about before. God is doing something in that. God is accomplishing something in that. It’s not hormonally imbalanced science of how we become men, but rather it’s God desiring to write on the canvas of creation that He loves us, that He is in pursuit of us and that He longs to be with us. So He puts it in the heart of man to pursue the woman.
And if we get up higher than just this text and begin to look at what the expectations are on both the man and the woman, we see that they are absurdly impossible. Let me read you some of them. According to the text we just read, the
man would love the woman by sacrifice, by giving of himself to her. So the man loves his wife regardless of her response to that love. How opposite of that is our culture’s view of marriage? The Bible says, “You don’t love your wife because she makes you happy or she does everything you want. You love her because Christ loves His church in an unwavering, unstopping, never-ceasing kind of love. So you love your wife like Christ loves the church. Because marriage is a shadow of My substance, and My substance is unwavering, even in the face of crazy. I saved you, didn’t I?”
It also says that the man would love the woman by romancing her. This is in Song of Songs. Now I know some of you are like, “Easy, Chandler. I can feel my wife looking at me right now. I’m not wired like that and I’m not good at that.” But here’s what the Bible is trying to get across. As a husband, you should be concerned about the emotional/mental state of your wife, and you should engage her at that level. You’re not just a provider; you are a romancer, and God gave you Google. That’s common grace. You need to start worshiping for common grace. Because all the men who were not romantics before you were just in trouble, but you can just type “romantic ideas” and get millions of hits. So now what are you going to say? “My wife will be disappointed I had to Google it.” Well that’s your wife’s issue, not yours.
Let’s keep going. The Bible says that the man would love the woman in gentleness and humility (Ephesians 5). So here’s what’s true about everybody’s marriage. In marriage, there is going to be laughter and there’s going to be conflict. My hope for all of us is that laughter would far outweigh conflict, but sometimes the Lord will sanctify through more laughter than conflict. Whether in laughter or in conflict, whether in joy or in sorrow, the man’s role is to walk with his wife gently and in humility.
The man is to love his wife by covering her, protecting her and providing for her (1 Corinthians 11:3). This list is impossible to do all the time, every day, constantly. No on in this room is married to this man. Why? Because this is a shadow. And here’s the good news as a man who is a husband. I am simultaneously a husband and a part of the church, the bride of Christ. So I can see the difficulty in doing all that God has asked me to do and know simultaneously that it is not difficult for Jesus to love me that way. Which creates in me worship, and which stirs up in me hope. So going into marriage understanding that I am to reflect God’s pursuit of His bride in Christ frees me up to know that that was costly for Jesus and that God sustains what He commands. So I won’t be able to do it perfectly, but I will be able to grow in it if I rely on the Spirit and on His power in me.
The woman is to love the man by respecting him (Ephesians 5). The woman is to love the man by submitting to his gentle, sacrificial leadership. And then one of my favorites has always been Titus 2 that says that the woman is to love the man with a brotherly affection. He basically is alluding to this reality that the two of you should be friends. This isn’t just physical and then you share a checking account. This is you being friends. There are things that you like to do with one another. You genuinely like being with each other. There is a friendship there, not just an agreement.
I find few things as sad as two people living in the same house together but all the joy that they have in one another has long since left the house. How exhausting would that be? For some of you, how exhausting is that? The route out isn’t to go find somebody you can be good friends with. You were at one time good friends with the person in the house. So any attention you’re getting outside of the house is just because they don’t know you. That’s honestly some of the idiocy of affairs. “Well she just treats me like I deserve to be treated.” No, she doesn’t know you. You know who knows you? The person in your house, which is probably why you prefer other people to whisper how great you are in your ears. Because you’ve been outed.
So ultimately here, in this text, we are to have a friendship, and that requires time, effort and work. It doesn’t necessarily mean that she hunts and he shops. Just so I don’t go too broad, it doesn’t mean that he hunts and she shops. Because I know there are women who like to kill stuff and men who like to shop. Ultimately, there is a comradery, a friendship
and a “I want to share this with her/him. I want my heart to be known by this person.” And guys, sometimes that is work. Sometimes that’s risky, but it’s always necessary.
And then Proverbs 31 says that the woman would love the man by doing him good and never harming him. All of this is absurdly impossible outside of the Holy Spirit of God. Why? Because it’s a shadow. It’s not the substance. The substance is found in Christ. You can’t get your arms around a shadow, you can’t confess to a shadow and you can’t cry with a shadow, but you can with substance. So for the woman, you will very quickly learn that your husband, no matter how awesome he is, is not enough to fill all that you desire. Do you know why? Because he’s a shadow. He’s not the point. Christ is the point. He has just given you a picture of what He’s like.
So on that wedding day and moving forward, if you can get underneath it all and remember this is a shadow of a greater reality, you’re not doomed to the shallows, but you can actually know with your heart and mind exactly what you’re walking into. So when difficulties do arise, you understand that what you’re doing is mirroring and reflecting God’s love for His church in Christ. Which will bring conviction, reliance upon the Holy Spirit and grace in the relationship. All of this is the long shadow of the form of Jesus Christ.
So let me get this back, because I know you’re going, “Hey man, it’s Christmas. Why are you doing this?” Despite that fact that marriage is a shadow, I’m married and I like the shadow. But I keep ever before me and my arms wrapped tightly around the substance of the shadow. So here we go, commercials have started, music has started and we’re fullbore into it. It’s only going to get worse, and everything you’re about to listen to, look at and be pulled by is the shadow, not the substance. I know some of you are going to have manger scenes in your lawn. Some of you are going to put “Christmas” on your roof with “Christ” in one color and “-mas” in another, just so Christ stands out. I get all that, but we’ve got to get deeper and get underneath all of that.
So we have tried to wire a season where every weekend when you come in here, we’re going to press hard into and on the fact that God has made promises, God has kept those promises and that Christ has put on flesh and dwelt among us. We want to get our minds, our hearts and our arms around the substance, not at the expense of the shadow but what’s casting the shadow so we don’t get robbed of the actual joy that this season should bring about. So we’ll be preaching through it. We’ve given you the Advent Guide that contains all you’ll need for personal reflection for family devotions. There are all sorts of resources for this season and are all sorts of activities for families and/or roommates too. We’ve given you all that we can give to you to help you make your house, to make your mind, to make your heart about the substance and not about the shadow.
So rejoice in the shadow and have fun in the shadow, but don’t forget the substance that casts the shadow. By turning your attention onto the Word made flesh, I think you’ll be able to handle the weight of this season. There is a lot to do in this season, isn’t there? It’s crazy how much more there is to do in this season. So by getting your eyes and heart fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, by agreeing with the writer of Hebrews who says, “We have seen Him,” all of a sudden the stress of the holidays is lessened because our eyes and hearts are where they should be. I don’t think you’ll go in the kind of debt that you normally go into, because you realize everything you’re buying is ultimately going to end up in a landfill. You don’t feel the weight to buy affection from your kids, but instead you’ll feel the weight of imparting to them what’s actually glorious. You begin to understand that that longing and that eager anticipation
for Christmas morning is what we should feel but do not feel for Christ and His return. You begin to get drawn into the substance that will never disappoint like the shadow does.
Let’s pray. “Holy Spirit, help us with the the task of keeping our eyes fixed on You in this season. As an organization, I know it’s impossible to press upon Your covenant people enough that this would occur, but it’s not impossible for Your
Spirit. So would You simultaneously let us enjoy the shadow while fixing our eyes on You? For those who have come in here this morning and just aren’t convinced that You could love them, aren’t convinced that You would pursue them or aren’t convinced that salvation could be theirs, my hope and prayer is that, through this walk through the long shadow of Jesus Christ and what He shows us about Himself in marriage, what He shows us about Himself in this season and what He shows us about Himself in rest, would You draw our hearts up into You? Thank You that You put on flesh and dwelt among us. It’s for Your beautiful name. Amen.”