I was asked by the local primary school to come in the week before Christmas to give an assembly.
This year I called upon some (incredibly excited) young volunteers to come up to the front and help me build and decorate a Christmas tree.
Each child told me what their favourite part of the Christmas tree was; some said the tinsel, others the lights, some said the ball balls, most said the star at the top.
I then explained to the children what my favourite part of the Christmas tree was.
It is often seen as the most boring part of all. It is often overlooked and hidden away, it is ugly and unglamorous. Yet without it, the entire tree, with all of its glitter and gold falls down.
My favourite part of the tree is its base.
I then removed the base of the Christmas tree and to the shock of the assembled classes, it fell (timber), crashing to the floor and was left in a messy pile.
The point I was making became very clear to the children. Without the foundational message of Christmas, the love of God made profoundly tangible in the incarnation of Christ, all the glitz and glamour that the festivities have now become will fall.
Without the Gospel message all the tinsel and bright lights become a meaningless mess of materialism. Without the Gospel message Christmas is an all-consuming catastrophe.
Seeing the felled tree in all of its tragic sadness was the perfect symbol of Christmas without Christ and it made me think of the fallen statue of Dagon in 1 Samuel 4-7.
Dagon, was the god of the Philistines and father of Baal and is believed to have been the god of grain, other historians argue fish, either way Dagon was a god of worldly provision, a god that represents the same consumerism and materialism that ‘Christmas’ has now become in the west.
Like the Christmas tree at the school assembly, Dagon once stood tall on a pedestal in the Philistine home of Ashdod. Like the Christmas tree in our assembly, Dagon was a symbol of plenty and prosperity, with gifts laid at its feet.
But one morning, the Philistines found Dagon face down on the floor, broken and in bits, just like our Christmas tree in assembly.
So what happened?
Well, in 1 Samuel 4 we read of a great war between Israel and the Philistines.
Israel had been badly beaten, so they brought the Ark of the Covenant into battle.
The Ark of the Covenant was a sacred gold covered chest with two cherubim on its lid and resided in the Holy of Holies. It was very precious, no human being could touch it and live.
The chest contained the ten commandments, Aarons rod and a golden jar of Manna and it represented God’s presence on earth.
The Israelites brought their sacred Ark to the battle field, it was their ace card. God’s presence on earth. How could they possibly be beaten with the Ark of the Covenant fighting alongside them?
Even the Philistines believed they were done for, they showed fear at the presence of the living God on the front line (1 Samuel 4:7).
The battle raged on with the Ark leading the charge, but alas, it made no difference. The Philistines beat the Israelites again and captured their precious artefact.
They took the Ark home and placed it before Dagon (their god of worldly provision).
The next day we find Dagon where we began this story, flat on his face, in bits, just like our Christmas tree in assembly.
Before the Ark of the Lord, Dagon (and all that he represents) could not stand on its own, it had to be propped up by mere human hands (1 Samuel 5:3).
Dagon fell like our Christmas tree in the assembly and the Philistines began to suffer for their mistake, they faced plagues of rats followed by tumours. All was taken from them because they valued worldly grain over the bread of Heaven.
Through their suffering they could see their mistake. But rather than give up their materialism, they made preparations to send the Ark away, back to where it came from.
Ironically they used their wealth to build gold rats and tumours to give to God as a guilt offering in an attempt to pay Him off and lift the curse. (Imagine receiving a Gold tumour for Christmas – not nice).
The Philistines put the Ark of the Covenant on a cart and attached two calves who had never been yoked, to it (1 Samuel 6:7).
The calves knew no trails to follow and would naturally seek their mothers breast back home. But governed by the Sovereign Lord, they were directed back to Israel.
In this act God proved once again that He is Sovereign Lord of all and worthy of primary position in our lives.
Like the Christmas tree in our school assembly, Dagon had fallen and with it all the wealth and prosperity he symbolised and the God of the Bible proved Himself as sovereign Lord of All.
So what can we learn from this?
Well God’s people (the Israelites) were guilty of using the Ark of the Covenant in much the same way as the Philistines used their idol Dagon. They wanted God to work for them. They thought if we bring the Ark to battle, God will have to step up and win the day for us.
As Christians we often do the same at Christmas, the festive season has become our ace card. We all know that for one month a year, society welcomes our message and we make every effort to capitalise on it.
We hold carol services, Christmas parties, nativities, dinners and pray that the Lord will bless the outreach because of our efforts. And just like the Philistines who feared the Ark when it was on the front line, during the festive season, the world buys into it to! Many people will be captivated by our message and will claim to fear the Lord. But when they take the Ark home it will sit at the feet of Dagon before being sent on its way again.
Church, we must not make the same mistake as the Israelites did with the Ark and approach Christmas as an ace card.
Yes we must fight the good fight of faith and hold the events and capitalise on the season, but we must do this remembering that God is Sovereign and His supremacy over this world is independent of us and our festive gimmicks to get bums on seats.
The real message of Christmas, the real base that keeps the tree standing, is not simply that God came to earth in flesh as the historic person Jesus of Nazareth to redeem us (as mind blowing as this is). The real message of Christmas is that God is sovereign in all things and we should be utterly amazed and grateful that in His absolute power and supremacy over this world, He had the Grace and love and the desire to come and save us, independent of our efforts.
So this Christmas, I pray that in God’s strength we can keep our eyes focussed on Him in the battle for souls and not put our hope in the excitement of the festivities and the opportunities they bring.
God is Sovereign and He will win the day on His terms, not ours. Pray that it is His will to do so this Christmas.