Where Is Your Focus At Christmas?
Where your head goes, your body follows. Years ago I took a driver’s education class. And in that class we were taught that where your eyes go, your body follows. You could be driving down the road and see a deer way off in a field. So what do you naturally do? Naturally, you look over and see the deer. And even though you only look for a second or two, what happens when you look back? You used to be perfectly in your lane. But now you’re swaying to the right of your lane. Or even worse, you can be crossing over into the other person’s lane. Christmas is a joyous and blessed time of the year. But it’s a time of the year when it’s easy to become distracted. And so, this morning God’s word invites us to ask ourselves the question, “Where is your focus at Christmas?” And the place that teaches us the answers to this question is from the last book in the Old Testament, the book of Malachi. In Malachi 4, we read: ““For look, the day is coming, burning like a furnace, when all the arrogant and everyone who commits wickedness will become stubble. The coming day will consume them,” says the Lord of Armies, “not leaving them root or branches.” (Malachi 4:1 CSB17)
So Malachi reminds us what we’ve been talking about for the last several weeks, that Judgment Day is coming. And indeed, it could come at any time. But notice where he goes from there: “2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings, and you will go out and playfully jump like calves from the stall. 3 You will trample the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day I am preparing,” says the Lord of Armies.” (Malachi 4:2–3 CSB17)
Malachi mentions that those who do not repent will be consumed in the fires of hell. But then he speaks those ever-so-important words, “But you.” He let’s them know that Jesus’ righteousness will be their shining sun. God was what they could never be. He was perfect. And sent would send his perfect servant to do for his people what they could not do for themselves. They could not love God perfectly. But about 300 years down the line, when Jesus was born, he could. They could not love their neighbors perfectly. But this coming Savior could. His righteousness would dawn and rise and shine on them. And the healing of forgiveness would be theirs.
But there’s even more. Because Jesus’ righteousness and perfection would be their own, there were effects in their lives. They would be like calves who are let out of the barn. This is the sort of sight that is not too difficult to see at all. You take some calves that are hemmed in and enclosed in barns during the cold winter. And then the spring comes and they don’t just leave the barn. They run and jump around. And if you’ve ever seen this, it’s amazing to watch. For a young calf is not the most graceful animal. If you want to see a graceful animal, maybe a horse might be better to watch. If you want to see joy—pure joy, look at a calf.
Now, my friends in Christ, this is a picture that Malachi paints. And he paints this picture for us. But what does it mean? What is it a picture of? This is a picture of Judgment Day. Judgment Day should be a day of pure, unshaped and unrestrained joy—like calves let out of the barn. But our temptation to sin is that we can can look at the joy in front of our eyes and forget about the better joy in heaven. There is nothing wrong with opening up your Christmas ornaments to put them on the tree and looking to the past to be reminded of your Grandma or Grandpa who gave them to you. There’s nothing wrong with looking forward to the very unique worship that happens a week from now when our Children share God’s word with us or on Christmas Eve when we light candles and sing beautiful hymns. But the joy of the present or the joy of the past wipes away your joy of Judgment Day—your joy of the future, there is where the sin enters in.
But that’s how good and gracious the Lord of the Heavenly Armies is. He brings our focus back to where it needs to be. He reminds us that that shining righteousness was not just there for the sinners in Malachi’s time. Jesus’ perfection is our own. For all the times we lost focus and forgot about the joy to come, his perfection and righteousness forgives us and covers us.It is also here for us. And because of that, joy, unshaped and unrefined joy is waiting for us there in heaven, the sort of joy that you cannot wrap in a present or bake in cookies or decorate on a tree.
So, where’s your focus at Christmas? In these words here in Malachi the Lord reminds us to focus our thoughts and hearts forward to Judgment Day. But there’s more. We read: ““Remember the instruction of Moses my servant, the statutes and ordinances I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.” (Malachi 4:4 CSB17)
Where’s your focus at Christmas? First, focus on the joy of Judgment Day. But, second, focus on the joy we find in God’s word everyday. Here in these words, notice what the Lord encourages his people to do. He encourages them to remember what Moses taught them.1(Malachi 3:22 BHS-T)}} The word here, “remember” does not just mean to remind someone of something. It’s the sort of action that makes a person take action. When you say, “your hair is on fire”, that’s not just a “for your information” sort of comment. We take action if someone tells us this. Here the Lord of heavenly armies is urging his people to remember God’s word by learning, reading and growing in it. And then he follows up by letting them know why they should remember God’s word: “5 Look, I am going to send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.”” (Malachi 4:5–6 CSB17)
The Lord of heavenly armies sends Elijah. In the New Testament Jesus tells us that this Elijah is John the Baptizer. And, as John shares God’s word with the people of Jesus’ day, what happens? The hearts of fathers turns toward their sons and the hearts of sons turn toward their fathers. That is the power of God’s word. It changes people. A guy I once knew, his dad was an unbeliever. And it shouldn’t shock us that his dad acted like an unbeliever. But this son knew his Savior. He knew Jesus great love for him. And that love wasn’t just there for him. It was also there in him. And in that light he was able to look at his dad differently than he did before. And, slowly, as he was able, he shared God’s word with his dad. And then, on his death-bed, his dad confessed his faith in Jesus. And so, through his powerful word the Lord of heavenly armies changed the son’s heart toward his father.
But this too is where we see our temptation to sin. Joy, true, life-changing joy is found here in God’s word every day. But there is such a temptation to replace that joy with different joys. If you find joy lighting candles but find no joy opening up your bibles and finding joy there in reading about Jesus, the light of the world, your focus is in the wrong place. If you study, whether it’s taking out that recipe book to study up and make the perfect Christmas meal or study as you watch Youtube to figure out how to make the perfect Christmas ornament—if you study other books, but find no joy and no time to study God’s word with you pastor, your focus is in the wrong place.
And my dear friends, there is joy, real and true joy there to be found in God’s word. And it’s not just joy that we find at this truly special time of the year at Christmas. It’s joy we find every time we open up our bibles and read them. It’s joy we find every time we sit down with our pastor and go through the details of God’s word. And as we do that, it changes us, for good. But the source of that change is not law. It’s gospel. It’s our Savior Jesus. It’s knowing the great joy he had in taking on human flesh and blood for us, to take away our sins. That is the source of our joy. And the Holy Spirit takes that joy and performs a miracle. The joy that Jesus had for us, as we see that our sins are forgiven, we reach out, forgive and serve others. That’s the only way a man with an unbelieving father could forgive his father and be there for him in his last days. And it’s the only way love will be in our hearts to show true Christian love to others.
And so, my friends in Christ, where is your focus at Christmas? Let your focus be on Christmas on Christmas. But don’t let that be the only place your focus sits and settles. Focus on the joy that will be yours on Judgment Day. And focus on the joy that is yours every day in God’s word. Amen.
1 ”זִכְר֕וּ תּוֹרַ֖ת מֹשֶׁ֣ה עַבְדִּ֑י“