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A sermon written by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
and preached (with some additions) by Mr. John Samuel Cagan
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles Lord's Day Morning, December 10, 2017

“Because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:21-22).

The ancient world “became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” “Vain” means “foolish, empty, profitless” (Strong). “Imaginations” means “reasonings” (Strong).

We live in a time dominated by the computer. How much time do you spend on the Internet? It’s hours and hours and hours, isn’t it? While I do not think that everything on the Internet is “foolish, empty, and profitless” – much of it is nothing but a vain “imagination.” Enough of it is foolish, empty, and profitless that a thinking person ought to be alarmed and wary. You should think about it. What are you doing to yourself when you spend so much time on the Internet? You say, “Well, but it feels very good. I enjoy it.” Yes, and it feels good to take heroin. But think about the consequences. What are you doing to your mind? What are you doing to yourself? Studies show that electronic gadgets can pull you away from the real world. I’m not making this up. Most people know this already. Facebook, Twitter, tablets, smart phones, texting and video games all separate you from the real world and plunge you into cyberspace. I know you have to use these gadgets sometimes, but hours and hours on these devices can suck you so far into cyberspace that you lose contact with the real world.

Now you tell me, “Wait! Wait! I’m a normal person. I haven’t lost contact with the real world.” But the average person is quickly losing contact with the real world because they are only in contact with the Internet. You know everyone is on the Internet. And not just once in a while. They are consuming it like a drug. When you’re eating lunch you’re on the Internet. When you’re supposed to be studying you’re on the Internet. The last thing you do before you go to sleep is the Internet. And that is not the real world! You play video games by the hour, and so you’re in a fantasy world for hours every day.

You say, “But people read books for hours.” But there is a great difference between reading a story and watching a video game. The words in a book describe scenes of a story – but the story comes to “life” on the computer. And that is where the danger lies. In reading a book you visualize scenes in your mind – but while you’re playing video games, the scenes are visualized for you, and now they are so real that you can hardly distinguish what is real from what is not real. And soon the world of the computer, the world of the computer becomes more real than the real world. Don’t you know someone like that? They spend six hours of a day on video games. And they never stop. They only invest more and more time. You say, “Wait a second. That’s almost a full time job. What are they getting out of that computer game?” But they can’t help it. They have lost touch with what is real. And now the real world is boring. You are drawn into cyberspace. Fantasy has become the reality. The mind is so controlled by the computer that you are totally sucked out of the real world into the world of cyberspace. When young people first come to our church it is often almost impossible for them to listen and look at the pastor. They are so used to looking at a screen that they can’t concentrate – they can’t listen.

When I was in undergraduate work, there were forty students in each classroom. And thirty-five of them were on their laptops. Were they taking notes? No, they’re on Facebook. They’re watching YouTube. Nobody was listening. Nobody was asking questions. Even in their classroom, they were not in the real world.

This happens with little kids, who lose the desire to play with real children, because it is more intriguing to play in cyberworld. It happens with adults, who get sucked into the world of fantasy sex on the many porn sites on the Web. They spend hour after hour looking at pornography on the Internet. It’s called a “web.” And you know what happens to small insects when they become caught in a web – a spider’s web! And there is a demonic “spider” behind much of the material on the electronic “web.” It’s behind what you see when you look at pornography for hour after hour on the Internet. The spider’s name is Satan, and in the Bible he is called “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). He controls much that comes over the airways on television, radio, the Internet and other electronic devices. Satan controls much of what you see on the Internet. Much of it is Satan’s “web site” – and, like a spider, he lures his victims into his web to trap them and destroy them!

Many young people think they are entering a beautiful, magical land when they venture into cyberspace. Like Hansel and Gretel, in the children’s story, they go deeper and deeper into the cyberwoods, until they enter a cyber-gingerbread house, which they enter to eat the “good” cybercandy spread before their eyes. Little do they know that a “witch” is lurking nearby – and is out to eat them! That witch is Satan in disguise!

Many children are gobbled up by the “witch.” The Bible says, “Broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat” (Matthew 7:13). Satan takes them away, and their minds are lost in the maze of cyberspace. And they are lost in cyberspace. They never find their way back to Grandmother’s house, where there are real people with which to talk, and real children with which to play.

Many adults are lured into the “funhouse” of cybersex. It is so very easy for them to click a few buttons, and they are alone, having cyber sex with beautiful cyberwomen. But the “webmaster” will not give them pleasure without a price. Oh, no! There is always a price! As they are lured into the “web,” they get so stuck in that web that they are trapped. I’ve talked to many young men who have tried to quit. They say, “No more. I’m not looking at that anymore.” And they might make it one day, or two days. But they don’t make it a week! And then they try again, and they don’t make it a week. And they give up and plunge deeper into the world of cybersex online. No matter how much you try to fight against that web in your own power, you will only get more tangled, until the Devil comes to claim his victim! The Devil always makes you pay a price! You became addicted to pornography. You became desensitized to sex. Pleasure became more and more twisted. And yet you try to convince yourself that there is nothing wrong, that this is normal. But just because everyone is doing it doesn’t make it normal! You cannot attach to other people. You are empty and hollow inside.

This, then, is the dark side of the Internet. Beware! Cyberspace can be filled with many dangers, and many paths that lead to destruction. That is why I greatly prefer books. Many of the dangers of cyberspace are not to be found in books. It is much easier to toss aside a book than it is to come back with Hansel and Gretel through the cyberwoods into the real world! As I said, you have to use these electronic devices some of the time. But when you spend hours on them for no particular reason, they become an evil tool of the Devil. Only use these gadgets for work and school!

The Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions gives this definition of the word “cyberspace”:

Cyberspace is the impression of space and community formed by computers…and their users; the virtual “world” that Internet users inhabit when they are online.

In this sermon, I am using the word “cyberspace” in a broader sense – to include the fantasy world, not only of the Internet, but also of television, radio, and other electronic inventions, the “virtual” world created by modern electronics. And I will describe the virtual Christmas in cyberspace, and contrast that with the real Christmas.

I. First, the “cyberspace” Christmas of our culture.

The “cyberspace” Christmas, created by modern electronics, isn’t really Christmas at all. It is a “virtual” Christmas, but it isn’t a real Christmas! Perhaps that is why they no longer call it Christmas. Today, in our civilization, it is called “the Holidays.” That has come to mean everything on the calendar, from Halloween to New Year’s. They are lumped together as “the Holidays.”

Somewhere in this jumble most of the people in Southern California have lost Thanksgiving, almost completely. Mrs. Hymers went through three party stores looking for Thanksgiving decorations, but there weren’t any. They put up the Christmas decorations right after Halloween. There were no Thanksgiving decorations that year. That was a new thing that happened here in Los Angeles. When Dr. Hymers mentioned that to one of the ladies in our church she said, “You know, this is the first year they banned the word ‘Thanksgiving’ at my work. The boss told us we couldn’t have a ‘Thanksgiving’ lunch together, and said that we couldn’t even use the word ‘Thanksgiving’ at work.” I know that this isn’t practiced by everyone yet, but I wonder if the very word “Thanksgiving” might be banned everywhere in our society in the future. It implies that there is Someone to give thanks to! And many Americans no longer want to be reminded of God. There is even a strong movement to remove the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.

It’s the same with Christmas. The word “Christmas” has the name of Christ in it. Our culture doesn’t want to be reminded of Christ. Fifty years ago, everyone called it “Christmas.” But they changed that, first to “Xmas,” and then to “the Holidays.” They changed it to Xmas, but the X reminded them that there was Somebody who had been “Xed” out! So, they changed it again, to “the Holidays.” First, they Xed Christ out – and then they made it so generic that there was no reference to Him at all!

The ancient world turned away from God in much the same way. Our text in Romans 1:21-22 says,

“Because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:21-22).

All nations once knew about God through the witness of nature. But they “became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” Matthew Henry said,

It has been observed that the most refined nations, that made the greatest show of wisdom, were the [greatest] fools in religion. The barbarians adored the sun and moon…while the learned Egyptians worshipped an ox and an onion. The Grecians [Greeks], who excelled them in all wisdom, adored [worshipped] diseases and human passions. The Romans, the wisest of all, worshipped the furies. And at this day [in the 18th century] the poor [native] Americans worship the thunder; while the indigenous Chinese adore [worship] the devil. Thus, the “world by wisdom knew not God,” I Corinthians 1:21 (Matthew Henry, note on Romans 1:21).

The Gentile world became so vain and foolish in their ideas that the Apostle Paul called their religion, “The times of this ignorance” (Acts 17:30).

The ancient world refused to glorify God. They were not thankful to God. They descended into blind paganism. And I believe that our nation is taking the same steps that the ancient world took on the slippery slope that leads to heathen darkness. Like the pagan world, people today have become “vain in their imaginations” (Romans 1:21). “Vain” means “empty” and “useless.” “Imaginations” means “reasonings.” Dr. Lenski said, “In the New Testament this word is always used in an evil sense as being equivalent to rationalizing…Every man has his little rationalizations about God. But all this thinking about Him is utterly useless, leads to nothing, gets to no real goal. Instead of arriving at God, it only…ends by denying God” (R. C. H. Lenski, note on Romans 1:21).

They “became vain [empty and useless] in their imaginations [reasonings], and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:21). Dr. McGee said, “All you have to do is walk down the streets of Los Angeles to know that man’s foolish heart is darkened” (J. Vernon McGee, note on Romans 1:21).

Nowhere is this more evident than at Christmas. The real meaning of Christmas is obliterated by the false “virtual” Christmas of “the Holidays.” As the old song puts it, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” Homes are shattered. The real meaning of Christmas is all but gone. Our young people wander through the streets looking for something to make them happy – but they can’t find it. For most young people today, Christmas is the loneliest time of the year.

The strangest Christmas Eve our pastor Dr. Hymers ever spent was on a flight going back East. He changed planes in Las Vegas. It was nearly midnight. People were huddled in front of slot machines, gambling. They put in the coins and pulled the levers like Morlocks – with no expression on their faces – like robots. Everyone was isolated and alone. He got on the plane. It was packed, so they seated him on the very last row. They were showing “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the old Jimmy Stewart Christmas movie. There was a small TV over each seat on both sides of the plane. There were about seventy TVs on each side of the plane, hanging over every seat, down the aisle! They were playing that Christmas movie on seventy TVs in front of him – going down the aisle! Everyone sat alone in his seat, listlessly watching a story about a happy Christmas on those seventy TVs! It felt like he was in “The Twilight Zone.” He shuddered and put his hand over his eyes. It was a cyberspace Christmas! Everyone was alone. Everyone was having a “virtual” Christmas – but the real Christmas was gone!

The world has cheated you young people! They have taken away the real Christmas and left you with a cheap imitation! All they have given you is the false Christmas of cyberspace! No wonder so many young people turn to drugs and alcohol! No wonder suicide is now the number one cause of death for young people between the ages of 18 and 25! Loneliness, meaninglessness, and emptiness fill the hearts of our young people as they wander through the dark streets of our city. “Christmas” in cyberspace is the loneliest time of all for these lost young people.

I say, “Throw out their false, cyberspace Christmas!” Throw it out and come home – to church this Christmas! Why be lonely? Come home – to church! Why be lost? Come home – to Jesus Christ, the Son of God! Throw out the “cyberspace” Christmas of American culture and come on home – to church this Christmas! Don’t let anything keep you from church on Christmas Eve!

II. Second, the real Christmas of the Bible.

The “cyberspace” Christmas of most Americans isn’t the real Christmas at all! The real Christmas is the one described in the Bible! An angel appeared to Joseph and said,

“Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).

That is what the real Christmas is all about! It’s about the birth of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind! God sent down His only begotten Son into the womb of Mary. He was born in a lowly cow stall, and placed in a manger, in the straw that those cows ate.

Silent night! holy night! All is calm, all is bright,
Round yon virgin mother and child, Holy Infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night! holy night! Shepherds quake at the sight,
Glories stream from heaven afar, Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia,
Christ the Saviour is born, Christ the Saviour is born.
   (“Silent Night! Holy Night!” by Joseph Mohr, 1792-1848).

On the first Christmas the Shepherds said,

“Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger” (Luke 2:15, 16).

Let us all come home to church this Christmas Eve! Let us all come, as those shepherds came,

“And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger” (Luke 2:16).

Don’t wish me “Merry Xmas” nor “Happy Holiday,”
Put Christ back into Christmas on this blessed holy day.
Put Christ back into Christmas, like on that silent night,
When the star of Bethlehem gave way to new born light.
Let all the world give glory to Christ, the King of Kings,
Let children hear the story of love our Saviour brings.
Put Christ back into Christmas, while shepherds watch and pray,
As angels sing the glory of our Lord on Christmas day!
   (“Put Christ Back Into Christmas” by Edward E. Unger, 1951).

Jesus was born so that He could die on the Cross. Jesus was born to bring us home to God! Jesus died on the Cross to pay the penalty for your sin. But Jesus’ story is not a tragedy. Jesus rose physically from the dead and ascended back to Heaven – where He is now seated at the right hand of God! Trust Jesus and your sins will be forgiven! Come to Him and you will have eternal life! That is why Jesus was born. Jesus was born to give you real salvation, so that you could have a real life, filled with real Christmases.

So be sure to come home to church next Sunday – and every Sunday – and you will have a joyful Christian life – and a real Christmas – instead of a cold and lonely “Holiday” in cyberspace! Have a real Christmas instead of a synthetic “Holiday!” Be with us for the Christmas banquet at 5:30 PM on Christmas Eve, December 24! Let’s have a real Christmas together in church this year! Why be lonely? Come home to church! Why be lost? Come home to Jesus! Amen! And Hallelujah!

O come, all ye faithful, Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem!
Come and behold Him, Born the King of angels,
O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!
   (“O Come, All Ye Faithful” by Frederick Oakley, 1802-1880).

But if you are not saved, you don’t have the same reason to celebrate, because for you it’s “Christ the Saviour is born,” not “Christ my Saviour is born.” But Jesus could be your Saviour. All that you have to do is trust Him, and He will wash your sins away in the Blood He shed on the Cross. In just a moment we’re going upstairs to have lunch. If you want to talk with us about trusting Jesus, you come and sit on these two front rows, and we will speak to you.

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Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Put Christ Back Into Christmas” (by Edward E. Unger, 1951).



A sermon written by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
and preached (with some additions) by Mr. John Samuel Cagan

“Because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:21-22).

(Ephesians 2:2)

I.    First, the “cyberspace” Christmas of our culture, I Corinthians 1:21;
Acts 17:30.

II.   Second, the real Christmas of the Bible, Matthew 1:20-21;
Luke 2:15, 16.