Presents are exciting. Even as a grown man of nearly *cough* years old, it would be hard for me to say that the pile of gifts under our tree doesn’t get me excited, that one of the best parts of the holiday for me is finding out what’s in all those brightly colored packages that have been sitting there taunting me for weeks.
Of course, presents are awesome, but we all know they’re not the reason we celebrate, we talked about that last night as God gave us his Son. We’ll look at that gift again today of course, it’s Christmas! But there’s more to unwrap from God, that’s why we’re all here this morning instead of playing with the new toys we unwrapped. (And I hope you got some proper toys. You’re never too old for toys.) So, this morning, we’re going to take some time and unwrap a few more presents, presents from God himself, presents that truly give us reason to celebrate.
I. Our Gift to God
We all know the expression, it gets repeated year-round, just more often at Christmas: “’Tis better to give than to receive.” So, with that in mind I thought maybe we’d start off at looking not at what God has given us but what we got God this year.
So? What did you get the big guy? Maybe an extra donation in the offering plate? Spend some extra time volunteering for the special services or in the community? Maybe you tried to reach out and make peace with that one family member.
Except… didn’t God give you that money to start with? Isn’t he the one that gave you the time and the strength and the ability to contribute here and out there? And if we’re being honest, wasn’t it partly your stubbornness and pride that caused the family rift to begin with?
I’m just shooting in the dark here with these but we could go on and on. The fact is, we can’t GIVE God anything he doesn’t already have. Everything we have came from him first. And on top of that, we daily ignore him, defy him, and act contrary to him. Our gift to him this year has been nothing…plus grief.
Let’s humbly remember this as we consider God’s gifts to us. We have given him nothing. He owes us nothing. In fact, we ought to be punished for our behavior. Our reading from Romans 3 reminds us of our default state:
Just as it is written:
There is no one who is righteous, not even one.
There is no one who understands. There is no one who searches for God.
They all turned away; together they became useless.
There is no one who does what is good; there is not even one.
Their throat is an open grave.
They kept deceiving with their tongues.
The poison of asps is on their lips.
Their mouth is filled with cursing and bitterness.
Their feet are quick to shed blood.
They leave a trail of destruction and suffering wherever they go.
The way of peace they did not know.
There is no fear of God in front of their eyes.
II. God's Gift: Himself
Between what little we have done for God and the grief we have given him, it’s shocking enough that he would offer us a way out of our situation at all. We committed the crime, we earned the punishment. He should refuse to ever come near us again. And even if God were to offer a way out, you would expect some kind of bargain, right? Rather than the jail time we could pay the fine as it were.
We’d expect that since we made the mess between us and God, his solution would be for us to clean it up. Some herculean effort, some list of labors that we had to perform to get back into his good graces. And that would be utterly fair. But instead of sending a list of demands to us, God does what he usually does, he takes what would make perfectly normal human sense...and then does the opposite.
He does not send a list of demands. He does not send some cruel taskmaster to get us back on track. Instead he sends...his Son. He sends, himself. The all-powerful, limitless God of creation, becomes part of his creation, joins us as a helpless baby and sets in motion the chain of events that will lead to our rescue and freedom from the mess we made. Because he is human, he goes in our place. Because he is God, everything he does can count for everyone. God’s first gift is, quite plainly, himself.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governing Syria. And everyone went to register, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the town of Nazareth, into Judea, to the town of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was from the house and family line of David. He went to be registered with Mary, his wife, who was pledged to him in marriage and was expecting a child.
And so it was that while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
There were in the same country shepherds staying out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified! But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. For behold, I bring you good news of great joy, which will be for all people: Today in the town of David, a Savior was born for you. He is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude from the heavenly army, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward mankind.”
III. God's Gift: A Perfect Life
Of course, God did not come here to walk around, take in the sights, and see what all was going on planet-side. He came here on a mission. You see, God, as a holy being, has two major requirements for anyone to be part of him or in his presence. It’s not arbitrary, it’s sort of like the laws of physics. Because he’s holy, certain requirements have to be met.
And the first one is a perfect, obedient, life. This makes sense. To be in God’s holy presence, you need to be holy yourself. And it’s not like his demands are unreasonable or cruel. In fact, the core of his command is love! Love God first and love each other equally. All his other commands flow from these. And yet as we confessed, we haven’t. We have been selfish and cruel, ignoring God and hurting each other.
We could not live a perfect life, so Jesus did. His entire lifespan as a human was carried out in perfect obedience to his Father. From birth to his march to the cross, he kept God’s will perfectly and when he was finished, he handed that life over to you to wear as a white robe that covers you completely. Your life is perfect in God’s eyes through Jesus’ gift.
We see just one example of Jesus’ obedience during his temptation in Matthew 4:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. After he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The Tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.”
But Jesus answered, “It is written:
Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.”
Then the Devil took him into the holy city. He placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, and he said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you.
And they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
Jesus said to him, “Again, it is written:
You shall not test the Lord your God.”
Again the Devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said to him, “I will give you all of these things, if you will bow down and worship me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written:
Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”
Then the Devil left him, and just then angels came and served him.
IV. God's Gift: Forgiveness
I said before that God has two major requirements to be in his presence. One is the perfect life he lived for us and gave to us, the life that covers us now and makes us holy in his eyes. The other is that we be totally free of sin.
Well, wait, you might say, isn't that just the other side of the same coin? If we have a holy life, aren’t we automatically free from sin? Sure, we would be, if you had actually lived a holy life. But as we’ve established, you didn’t. The holy life you have is a gift, it covers you, it shows you as holy to God, but there’s still the problem of your debt.
You see, God has a justice system. It’s utterly perfect, utterly fair. Every sin is a crime against that system and like any other system of justice, every crime must be paid for. Whether that payment is community service, a fine, or jail time—reparation must be made. In this case, the payment that needs to be made for crimes against God himself… well it’s eternal death. It’s the agony of hell.
That is… a stern penalty. It is not a debt we could easily pay. And so the next gift God gives us through Jesus is full payment for our crimes.
On the cross, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” You see, hell is nothing less than to be completely abandoned by God. And that is what happened to Jesus on the cross. It was there that God abandoned him, that he suffered hell itself in your place.
And when it was done, knowing that your payment was made, he uttered that famous word “tetelestai”. “It is finished” in our reading. Also translated as “paid in full”. Jesus’ work was complete, the debt was paid, and God’s gift of forgiveness is entirely yours. From John 19:
After this, knowing that everything had now been finished, and to fulfill the Scripture, Jesus said, “I thirst.”
A jar full of sour wine was sitting there. So they put a sponge soaked in sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished!” Then, bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.
V. God's Gift: Eternal Life
God’s gifts: giving himself through Jesus, the perfect life lived on your behalf, the sacrifice on the cross to pay the debt for your sins are all leading up to this final gift that we now look forward to. Because of the baby we celebrate today, we have the confidence and peace of knowing our end.
This section from Revelation 7 stands on its own. Know that this is what belongs to you as a gift from God. Without further introduction:
After these things I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing in front of the throne and of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and with palm branches in their hands. They called out with a loud voice and said:
Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb.
All the angels stood around the throne, the elders, and the four living creatures. They fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, saying:
Amen. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and might belong to our God forever and ever. Amen.
One of the elders spoke to me and said, “These people dressed in white robes, who are they and where did they come from?”
And I answered him, “Sir, you know.”
And he said to me:
These are the ones who are coming out of the great tribulation.
They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Because of this they are in front of the throne of God,
and they serve him day and night in his temple.
He who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
They will never be hungry or thirsty ever again.
The sun will never beat upon them, nor will any scorching heat,
for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Did you buy any good gifts this year?
I think that the best way to know what someone wants would be to hack into their Facebook feed. Here’s why – Facebook tracks the things that you do on their platform and (maybe you’ve noticed this) over the holiday season they send advertisements that are specifically tailored to what you.
So – in case you hadn’t gotten me anything yet – here’s a list of some gifts that Facebook thinks a pastor may like:
A mug (because Facebook knows I like coffee).
It says: “May suddenly start talking about theology” Because Facebook must know I’m a pastor.
Also, because I’m a pastor: A T-shirt that reads: “Pastor, because devil stomping ninja isn’t a real title.”
A Kevin Malone broccoli clock. Which is probably on there because I’m a big fan of the Office.
Socks with my face on them. I’m not sure what that says about me.
Tonight, I want to talk to you about the BEST gift ever…
A gift that just so happens to be for you.
Before we begin unwrapping it, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Giver
First, let’s examine who the giver is. Look in John 3:16,
“For GOD so loved the world that he gave…”
When you’re younger, isn’t it true that sometimes the excitement you have for a gift is based entirely on whose name is on the giving tag?
From Aunt Matilda, who always sends a box of chocolate covered peanut butter Bon-bons? Excited.
From Aunt Zelda, who always sends a box of quinoa covered carrot cakes? Less excited.
From Uncle Carl, who sends items from his world travels? Very excited.
From Uncle Merle, who always sends Werther’s caramel candies? Not so much.
From the grandma who always gets you all the Lego toys, and actions figures and video games you ever wanted? Jackpot!
From the grandma who always gets you money for your school trust fund? Not so much.
Who is this gift from?
It’s not an aunt.
It’s not an uncle.
It’s not any kind of measly, old human.
He holds up the planets.
He rotates the earth around the sun.
He has store house after store house filled with beautiful snowflakes – no two are alike!
He knows exactly what you truly, deeply want and need.
TRUTH: There is no better giver than GOD.
You can put anyone up against him.
Rich Uncle Joe.
Even Santa! Cause from what I hear – he’s a good toy maker.
But if you put him up against God?
Santa is pretty good at making toy blocks that you can use to build towers.
God? He put together the literal mountains out in Ashville.
Santa has perfected how to make a model train go by plugging it into electricity.
God has perfected how to make the coal that makes the real 18,000-ton trains go across country.
Santa, if he works hard enough on it, he can produce a lifelike baby doll.
God? He knits together real babies and gives them real life.
This gift is from God, so you already know It’s the best gift ever!
II. The Recipient
Right next to the giver’s name on a gift tag is usually the recipient’s name. It’s no different with God’s BEST EVER gift.
For God so loved THE WORLD that he gave…
Did you catch that?
Do you see the recipient?
It’s a quite unique name tag.
God is giving his gift to the world.
TRUTH: God gave to the ENTIRE WORLD.
Did you know that there are currently an estimated 7.7 billion people in the world today?
From Raleigh to Durham.
From the U.S. to Mexico.
From North America to South America.
From Ethiopia to Sweden.
From Russia to China.
From Iraq to Iran.
Even to the scientists down in Antarctica!
God got a gift for the whole world!
Can you imagine doing shopping for that many people?
I don’t want to even guess what Amazon would charge for shipping.
But at the same time this gift is for the whole world, you need to pay special attention.
Because it isn’t just talking about all the people on the other side of the world.
It isn’t just talking about all the other people in Raleigh.
it isn’t just talking about all the other people in this church right now.
This gift is given FOR YOU.
Because while God’s big enough to make a gift for the whole world.
He’s knows you intimately enough to tailor his gift for you.
Especially for you.
Specifically, for you.
Uniquely for you.
This isn’t like a plate of cookies that is given to your whole family. It’s OK. It’s good. But you don’t get all of it.
You must share.
You must give some to your sister.
And she gets to keep the green sprinkled Christmas tree that you wanted!
But not this gift.
It’s a gift that is fully and completely for the world.
At the same time, it’s a gift that’s fully and completely for you.
Only God can do that.
And he did.
It’s his gift.
III. The Why
But hold on one more time…
We’ll have a better appreciation for the gift if we understand the WHY behind the gift.
Why did God get us a gift? Check out John 3:16 again:
For God so loved the world that he gave…
Did you catch that?
God gave because he SO LOVED.
Notice. This is much different than human reasoning for gifts:
“I bought you this new type of coffee, because I know you love coffee.”
“I got you this beautiful ornament, because it reminds me how beautiful you are.”
“I got you a new toothbrush, because…you need to brush your teeth.”
“I got you this five-dollar gift card, because the office Christmas party gift exchange said that I have to.”
God gave because he loved.
Yet… you might get a gift from someone that says, “Because I love you.”
That’s why we need to examine the word even more closely.
Because the word for love here is agape.
It means, “Unconditional.”
And we’ve got to understand that love is UNCONDITIONAL.
That’s good news. Because if someone has been a jerk to you throughout the year, how much do you want to get them a present?
Quick question – how many of you are getting lovely Christmas gifts for someone that has been awful to you?
I’m guessing – not many.
Here’s the truth – We’ve been awful to God.
All he asked this past year is that we follow him.
That we love others.
That we stop being selfish.
That we stop being jerks.
That we worship him.
That we pray to him.
That we spend time with him.
How well did you do with that?
God GAVE because he LOVED UNCONDITIONALLY.
Doesn’t matter if you’ve lied.
Doesn’t matter if you’ve stolen.
Doesn’t matter if you’ve lost friends.
Doesn’t matter if your marriage is ruined.
Doesn’t matter if you yelled at your kids.
Doesn’t matter if you’ve struggled with addiction.
Doesn’t matter if you’ve been in prison.
God’s gift is for you, because God loved you.
And God loves you.
Are you excited to check out the gift?
IV. The GIFT
To find out the gift, we need to go backwards…
About 2000 years ago…
A virgin became pregnant.
Then, she travelled.
To a town.
A small town.
A town called Bethlehem.
Across the desert.
Across hundreds of miles.
While she as 8 months pregnant…
Only to find there was no room.
Not in the Days Inn.
Not in the Holiday Inn.
Not even in the Motel Six.
“I don’t have a room. But I do have a stable.”
And into the stable…
And they hold their noses from the animal’s smells.
And cover their ears from the animal noises.
And Mary sets herself up on some hay.
And she sweats.
And she groans.
“While they were there the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a Son, she wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger...” (Luke 2:6)
Was God’s gift.
TRUTH: God’s gift is a baby.
And you might think: A baby? That’s God’s gift for me.
I’ve had my fill of babies.
I’m not fit to be a daddy.
How can I take care of a baby, if I’m not even old enough to take care of myself?
But look deeper:
Because there in the manger.
Wrapped up in hay.
Wrapped up in swaddling clothes.
Wrapped up in flesh.
Is something more…
For God so loved the world that he gave HIS ONE AND ONLY Son…
Notice the phrase there.
One and only Son.
Because, in one sense, we’re all God’s children.
He created all of us.
He gave each of us life.
God doesn’t have just one child.
The word for Son here.
References one who is begotten.
Some translations even clarify that…
Only BEGOTTEN son.
Just like humans birth humans.
And reindeer birth reindeer.
And elves birth elves.
God births God.
Do you get it?
This is God’s Son.
And since God begets God.
This is God himself!
TRUTH: God’s gift is Himself!
God knew your sin.
God knew your struggles.
God knew your failures.
God knew your pain.
God send Jesus to do something about it.
And when that baby grew up?
He’d live perfectly.
He’d die innocently.
He’d rise triumphantly for the forgiveness of all your sins.
Such that John 3:16 remains true:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that WHOEVER believes in him will not perish but have ETERNAL LIFE.
Do you see why this is the greatest gift ever?
Because in Jesus, we have eternal life.
Because there’s nothing that will ruin any gift more than death.
Like my grandma Jan.
She was one of the best gift givers in my family.
She always knew what I wanted.
Always got me the toy that I wanted.
Stood in line for hours at Toys ‘R Us.
Stayed up late making sure to get the best Christmas goodies ready for our visit.
…There aren’t any packages in the mail from her this year.
There won’t be any goodies.
There won’t be any visit.
God gave Grandma the gift of a Savior.
Grandma believed God.
Grandma now enjoys the gift of eternal life.
That same gift is wrapped up in Jesus for you. Amen.
We’re on the final lesson in our three-part PEACE series. Back on December 1st, Pastor Robin reminded us that, as believers, we have PEACE with God because of what Jesus did for us. Two weeks ago, we talked about how that PEACE with God leads us towards PEACE with our family and friends.
But if we stopped the series there, it wouldn’t be complete.
It’d be like an unfinished Dot-to-Dot puzzle. Ever you seen one of those in a coloring book? You connected dot 1 to dot 2, dot 2 to dot 3, —all the way to dot 57 until there is a completed picture.
But what if you leave 58 to 79 unfinished? The picture isn’t complete. What was supposed to be a cookie ends up looking like the letter “c”.
The same thing is true with our sermon series.
If we forget to connect the final dot in God’s plan for PEACE, the picture ends up being completely different.
Because God’s declaration of PEACE to us and guidance in PEACE with family and friends isn’t just so that YOU have a peaceful Christmas.
God brings us to PEACE with him and guides us to live in PEACE with others so that we can deliver HIS PEACE to them.
Our goal for today is to:
(1) identify the BEST gift you can give anyone this Christmas
(2) understand WHAT MAKES this gift the best gift ever
(3) make a game plan for bringing this gift to people in your life
Before we begin: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Best Gift
The lesson for today comes from the book of Isaiah. It was written 700 years before the very first Christmas, at a time when the people of Judah didn’t have a lot to feel peaceful about.
Recently, the Assyrian army had been conquering countries, devastating cities, and violently tearing apart armies. Now, the army had gotten very close to the country of Judah -- even completely destroying and devastating their sister country of Israel – where many of their relatives and friends resided.
It was a time of war.
People were anxious.
People were concerned.
People lived in fear.
Young men were afraid to walk outside by themselves at night.
Fathers were nervous that a letter may contain news of another relative killed in battle.
Mothers cuddled their children closely, afraid they might not have many days left.
It was to that kind of atmosphere that God brought this message:
Rise up, sit enthroned, Jerusalem.
Free yourself from the chains on your neck…
For this is what the Lord says;
“You were sold for nothing,
And without money you will be redeemed… (Isaiah 52:2-4)
Did you catch it?
God’s message to the people of Judah was that Assyrian would not defeat them.
God would free them from their oppression.
Soon, they would be redeemed.
But here’s what I want you to do.
Put yourself in Isaiah’s shoes.
He just heard from God’s mouth the very good news that the war would end soon and there would be PEACE.
This is where there’s a shift in chapter 52.
Because to this point, Isaiah has been recording what God has told him to tell others.
Now, Isaiah comments on the job that God just gave him:
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (v.7)
Feet aren’t normally that beautiful.
They can be stinky.
They can be smelly.
They can have ingrown toenails.
They can have thick pieces of black hair on the big toe.
If you want beautiful feet, you’ve usually got to work hard at it.
You need to scrub off the calluses.
You need to clip your toenails.
You need to rub essential oils on them to keep them smelling good.
Even at Christmas, if you’re opening up present on your living room floor, you might want to throw on a pair of elf slippers or maybe some socks with jingle bells on them.
Feet aren’t normally very beautiful.
How beautiful on the feet of those who bring good news.
They got to walk to tell the young men; they were safe.
They got to deliver the message to the dad; that their relatives would come home.
They got to tell the mother’s; it’s ok to send your children outside now.
There is no greater GIFT than the gift of GOOD NEWS.
Think about it:
How awesome when a friend text message you, “There’s a 50% off sale down at Kohl’s.”
How wonderful when you get the email: “Your Amazon Prime order has shipped.”
How excited do your kids get when you say: “There’s only 2 more days until Christmas!”
The message of Jesus is also good news.
In fact, the word commonly used to describe the message of Jesus is “the Gospel.”
Did you know that the word “Gospel” literally means, “Good news.”
It’s the “good news” that we have a Savior.
Friends, there’s no greater gift than good news.
And there’s is no greater GOOD NEWS than the GOSPEL.
II. The Beauty of the Gospel
If you believe the Gospel, then perhaps you understand the incredible effect the Gospel has had on you.
But for a moment, I don’t want you to apply the Gospel to yourself.
I want you to apply it to someone you know that doesn’t’ believe it.
Think about it:
What kind of an effect would the Gospel have on them?
A few things:
(1) It brings PEACE
Christmas is a time that a lack of peace becomes very evident.
Kids proclaim STRESS: “You didn’t get me what I wanted.”
Parents proclaim STRESS: “You didn’t get your child what you should.”
Friends proclaim STRESS: “I can’t believe you aren’t spending more time with me.”
Spouses proclaim STRESS: “Christmas reminds me of how terrible of a spouse you are.”
People proclaim stress to each other.
But with the message of Jesus you get to proclaim PEACE. That out of all their relationships that they have…spouse, friend, coworker, parent, child, sibling, 2nd cousin twice remove, there is ONE relationship that they are guaranteed to have peace with and it just so happens to be the one being that they have sinned against the most:
(2) It brings GLAD TIDINGS from God
One thing that has been popular in Christmases past is the Christmas letter. People used to write down all the good things that happened over the past year and update friends and relatives on it. I remember receiving a letter from a nice elderly couple up from North Minnesota that only included the latest updates to their garden: “The colerabi came in good this year.” Even the millennial version of it – no letter; just a picture from Shutterfly – announces some kind of good news; “We’re still a family.”
When you tell your neighbors about Jesus, it’s really like you’re delivering God’s Christmas letter to them. And it’s one of the only Christmas letters with good news for the recipients: “Dear friend, Things are going well in heaven. My Son Jesus is still the Savior. His death and resurrection 2000 some years ago still paid for all of your sins. You are still forgiven. You are still at peace with me. You are saved.”
(3) It brings SALVATION
Particularly verse 7 says that when you proclaim the message of Jesus, you proclaim salvation. (v.7)
It’s kind of like participating in a giving (or angel) tree. We’ve got one in our hallway. If you happen to be the one that delivers the presents, you’ll be deliving to some people who didn’t have enough money to buy gifts for their kids. You’ll be “saving” Christmas.
But how much greater when it comes to the message of Jesus.
They owe a debt that they could never pay.
But when you tell them the message of Jesus?
That big guilt that they feel? They’re saved from it.
That big sin that they did? They’re saved form it.
That terrible death that they’re facing? They’re saved from it.
(4) It says, “GOD REIGNS”
Which is another layer to the Gospel message.
Because if the God who saved them, has good tidings for them, and is at peace with them is also the KING of the universe…
Then, whatever they’re going through…
…estrangement from family.
…their loving God is in control.
…and all will work out for their good.
III. Game Plan
Friends, it is eternally important to share the message of Jesus this Christmas. So…here’s what we’re going to do next. We’re going to game plan.
Because if you are one of the College Football teams you are currently game-planning for their upcoming Bowl game.
If you’re UNC, you’re game planning for Temple.
If you’re Wake Forest, you’re game planning for Michigan State.
If you’re Duke or NC State, you’re game planning for whoever you play in the opening game next year.
If you’re a believer listening to this today, you’ve got to game plan for how you’re going to share the Peace of Jesus this Christmas.
(1) Share TOGETHER
Because look at what Isaiah writes next: “Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy.” (v.8)
Notice it’s a plural. You have more than one watchman so that you can get the message out to the entire city, quickly and efficiently.
It’s the same for us. We share the message of Jesus TOGETHER.
TOGETHER we pool our funds for social media ads inviting people to Christmas Eve.
TOGETHER we work together to put on the best Gospel proclamation service Tuesday night.
TOGETHER we sharpen our skills in sharing faith through Bible study.
TOGETHER we challenge each other to share our faith.
TOGETHER we pray for each others’ efforts.
TOGETHER we plan to follow up on those who join us and connect them with the message of peace.
And it has to be TOGETHER.
Because the effect is larger when it’s TOGETHER.
It’s like going in with your siblings on a gift for mom and dad. If you pool you’re money, you can get the next HD TV. But on your own? You never will.
It’s the same thing.
TOGETHER, we reach North Raleigh.
But only TOGETHER.
On our own, we NEVER will.
(2) Identify your End of the Earth
Verse 10 says, “All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” (v.10) It’s a promise of our God. He died for ALL and he wants ALL to know about their Savior.
It’s kind of hard to invite someone who lives in Australia to worship in Raleigh.
Remember though – Christianity is a team sport.
God isn’t calling you personally to go to the ends of the earth.
He’s just calling you to go to the ends of YOUR earth.
To the ends of your block.
To the end of your cubicle.
To the end of your couch.
Who are the people you know who don’t know Jesus? Look at the bottom of your note sheet. There’s a spot for writing some of those people down. Take a moment, write them down. Plan to share Jesus with them.
(3) Include ALL Nations
Because its’ really, really, really, really, really easy to say, “I can’t think of anyone who looks like me to share the Gospel of jesus with, so I don’t know if there is any one for me to share the message of Jesus with.”
Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
That includes the people who look like you.
And the people who don’t.
The people who have the same culture as you.
And who don’t.
The people who have the same religion as you.
And who don’t.
Do you know someone like that? Don’t be too nervous to write them down. God’s peace is for them too!
(4) Rejoice TOGETHER
The final thing that I want to include is found in verse 9:
“Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” (v.9)
And this is where I think we could do better.
Because, we all agree that many need to hear about Jesus.
And we agree that sharing Jesus is challenging to do.
Let’s celebrate when it happens.
Let’s rejoice when someone invites someone to Christmas via text message.
Let’s rejoice when someone shares a scripture on Facebook.
Let’s rejoice when someone brings someone along to worship.
Let’s rejoice together, because we share Jesus together.
Celebrating these accomplishments, pumps us up.
Gives glory to God.
And motivates us to keep sharing Jesus.
Friends, there is no better gift than the message of Jesus.
May God be with you as you share the message of Jesus.
I love a peace-filled holiday evening.
The gentle glow of the Christmas lights on the tree.
A cup of cocoa warming your hands.
The potpourri filling the air with the soothing aroma of balsam and pine.
A pair of fuzzy Rudolph slippers cozying your feet.
The quiet melodies of Bing Crosby crooning in the background.
The voice coming from your child’s bedroom down the hall, “Mommy! Bobby’s looking at me funny.”
The shrill reply coming right back, “Nu-uh! He’s lying.”
The eye-rolling gaze from your spouse, “You’re turn to deal with it. I’m really into this episode of “The Great Christmas Bake-off.”
Your sharp response, “You never do any of the work around here.”
Your spouse’s reply, “I always do all the work!”
An interrupting DING to reveal a text from your coworker: “Hey loser! I can’t believe you said that about me at work today.”
And the Facebook reply from Uncle Marvin: “I vehemently disagree with your political stance, snowflake!”
All while Bing Crosby’s crooning is interrupted by Alexa: “Phone call from your monster-in-law. Shall I answer?”
Today we’re continuing our sermon series on PEACE and we’re going to talk about the one of the big things that can ruin a peace filled holiday evening: people.
Our goal is to identify types of peace that actually lead to unrest, determine how Jesus’ peace affects our relationship with others, and get guidance from God’s Word for a peace-filled Christmas with people. Before we begin: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. False Peace
The text we’re studying for this morning comes from the book of Colossians. Colossians is a letter written to the church in Colosse. Even though it was a church that existed 2000 some years ago, thousands of miles across the ocean from North Carolina, in a language very different from us, it shared one very important similarity:
People who had arguments with their parents.
People who were estranged from their children.
People who were separated from their spouses.
People who were gossiped about at work.
People who sat on one side of the church because they didn’t want to fight with someone on the other side of the church.
Since they were people, we know the Colossian church didn’t have perfect peace.
In spite of all the sin…
In spite of all the anger…
In spite of all the reasons that people gave other people not to have peace,
Look at what God calls them to do: “Let Peace…rule in your hearts.” (v.15)
It’s written down for us too, so today the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts and says:
“Let Peace…rule in your hearts.” (v.15)
But there’s a lot of different types of peace in the world.
Which type rules your heart?
(1) Avoidance Peace
The person with this type of peace does what it describes…
They avoid talking about difficult issues with his wife.
They avoid that one person at work.
They avoid one person on Facebook
The theory is that if this person causes me unrest, I’ll avoid them so that things are peaceful.
And to be fair, that’s not a terrible idea in some situations. Especially if you’re amped up and emotionally charged,
What happens when you can’t quite avoid that person?
For example, I saw two kids on the playground the other day. One of them thought it was hilarious to follow the other one while making goose sounds in the ear of the other child. The other child didn’t like it. But instead of telling her friend to stop, she simply ran to the other side of the playground.
Until the other kid caught up. “HONK!”
Then, she went to the sandbox.
Finally, she went underneath the slide – the secret lair of the 4 year old playground.
And it was peaceful for a bit,
And suddenly, she stopped trying to hide and shouted, screamed, and generally had a full-fledged meltdown because of her friend.
The same thing happens to adults.
When the avoider can no longer avoid, the peace is disturbed.
And there’s one epic explosion.
Because avoidance peace, isn’t really peace at all.
It just aims to manage the tension.
(2) Substance-Induced Peace
Holiday parties mean that we may have to interact with people that are difficult. That causes anxiety. In anticipation, what can happen is that we self-medicate:
A shot of whiskey.
A six pack of beer.
An entire bag of Doritos.
Anything to distract us from our anxieties and give us peace.
But do substances really lead to lasting peace?
A shot of whiskey can loosen up your tension, and it can loosen your tongue as argue with your friend.
A six pack of beers leads to a calmness on your body – which leads to you calmly calling your coworker names – something they’ll remember on Monday.
A bag of chips can help you feel content when you feel discontent about a conversation with your spouse, but come 7 am? Sluggish and cranky. (And sluggish and cranky aren’t good for fostering peace in a marriage.)
Substances don’t give lasting peace. They simply numb us to the anxiety in our bodies.
Now, understand what I’m saying:
It’s not wrong to have a beer.
And it’s not wrong to eat a cookie.
But it is wrong to try to find peace in those things rather than your God.
(3) “Sneaky” Peace
This kind of peace LOOKS peaceful.
It LOOKS like you get along with others.
it LOOKS like you’re doing fine with your family.
It LOOKS like you enjoy your friends even when they’re planning something that you don’t like at all.
Instead of talking about it with them.
You talk about them with others.
Did you hear that coworker’s idea? It’s awful…
Here’s a funny meme about my brother eating a snack with the words “PIG” plastered over it.
Text, text, text. Everyone thinks I’m having a good time, but really, I hope that the tinsel suffocates them.
Sneaky peace isn’t peace.
Because when the gossip catches up to you, how do you think that goes over?
(4) Exhausted from Yelling Really, Really, Loudly Peace
This type of peace is also known as ‘Professional Wrestling” peace.
Because to these people, the answer to disagreement is simply to fight people!
They let people have it.
They write an angry email.
They blog incessantly – typing as loudly as their fingers can type.
And they get all their anger out and…
…They feel better.
Because they’re exhausted.
But this peace is not peace.
Because while you might feel ok for a moment.
The people you yelled at? Not so much.
This isn’t what people called to peace do.
(5) Selfish Peace
The selfish peace can be one of the trickiest of all. It’s a type of peace that exists, as long as, people agree with you.
Gingerbreads are the best kind of cookie, right? I’ll fight you if you disagree.
I think we should hold the work party on Friday night…, RIGHT EVERYONE!?!!
We should spend exactly $20 on each kid for Christmas. $20 is the right amount. We can peacefully get these presents, if you buy them for only $20.
But it’s even worse if someone disagrees with this type of person. Because instead of entertaining the idea that maybe, they, a sinful, imperfect human being, could possibly be incorrect, they blame all the discord on the other person.
It’s like the Grinch! He hated Christmas. He hated toys. He hated carols. He hated the Christmas feast and the roast beast.
And he hated it because the Whos liked it.
And he was convinced the Whos down in Whoville were all jerks.
And the disagreement was all their fault.
And it had nothing to do with the fact that he went and hid up on a mountain and was generally unpleasant to people all the time.
And so, the night he steals Christmas, he’s at peace, because it was all their fault anyway!
Stealing the toys? They deserve it.
Breaking the ornament? This is on them.
Losing the Roast Beast? Cindy Lou Who is the One to blame!
This type of thinking doesn’t lead to peace.
It just leads to people wanting nothing to do with you.
Here’s the truth:
Any peace other than JESUS’ peace creates DISHARMONY.
Picture your life like this piano.
You have a note.
You play it well – it sounds nice.
When you play well with others – there’s harmony.
When you and your family are at peace – beautiful.
When you and your friends are at peace – wonderful.
When you and your church family are at peace – phenomenal.
When you avoid disagreement and prefer growing bitter– CLANG!
When you self-medicate with substances – WHAM!
When you gossip – BANG!
With you rage – DISSONANCE!
When you stay self-centered – DISHARMONY!
False peace drives people apart.
If you’re in the business of driving people apart.
If you’re in the business of creating disharmony with people that God created…
You’re also creating disharmony with God.
II. The Peace of Jesus
Speaking of disharmony.
Mary was a young woman who was about ready to become harmoniously united to a guy named Joseph.
Like most, it was a day she dreamt of.
A beautiful wedding.
A beautiful ceremony.
A beautiful reception.
All leading up to a beautiful marriage.
As each day got closer to their SAVE the DATE, Mary’s anticipation for a harmonious marriage to start grew.
Standing right in front of her!
And his message to her:
You will give birth to a Son and call him Jesus. (v31)
Talk about something that could ruin a relationship.
Something that could cause disharmony and non-peace.
Mary was suddenly pregnant with a child that wasn’t from her soon-to-be husband!
Do you know what she says at the end of it all?
Do you know what she says after finding out this disruptive news?
“I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (v.38)
Did you hear that?
There’s Peace for her.
And, if you read the rest of the story, peace for Joseph.
And the reason they have peace in their relationship?
It’s because they have peace with God.
Peace that only Jesus can bring.
Here’s a few unique things about the peace of Jesus:
(1) It’s Divine
This is the main point of last week’s sermon. You have peace with God!
Remember this memory verse from Romans 5:1
Therefore, since we have been declared innocent through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Is God’s peace.
Think about it.
It’s not peace with your dog or your cat.
it’s not peace with your two-year-old.
it’s not peace with your sister, your mom, your dad.
Or some random acquaintance that you haven’t talked to for years on Facebook.
You have peace with the ruler of the universe!
There’s no higher level of peace in existence.
(2) It’s Unearned
Note that this is totally different from the people. Usually, you have to earn their peace. If you wrong them by “accidently” eating all of their Christmas BonBons, you might need to…
…send them a humorous BonBon GIF.
…spend hours making your own version of chocolatey, peanut-buttery goodness.
But with God?
You have peace.
Because of Jesus.
Not because of you.
You don’t need to try harder.
You don’t need to do better.
You don’t need to give more.
You don’t need to believe better.
Jesus was born miraculously, lived perfectly, died innocently and rose triumphantly.
Because of him, you have peace.
(3) It’s Complete
That’s important to remember.
Because sometimes in our earthly relationships, there’s peace…but only in certain areas:
You might have peace with your Uncle, as long as you don’t talk about politics.
You might have peace with your spouse, as long as, you don’t talk about finances.
You might have peace with your children, as long as, you don’t ever tell them that they have to go to bed.
But with God? It’s a complete peace.
You have peace with God in the morning and at night.
You have peace with God on a Sunday and a Monday.
You have peace with God during church and afterwards.
You have peace with God when you’re feeling peaceful and even when you’re not.
God’s peace is complete.
And God’s peace is a peace that God has called us to with others.
III. How to Be Peaceful with People
How do you do it?
Look at the text again. Colossians offers some guidance.
(1) Let Jesus’ Peace Rule
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” (v.15)
Focus in on the word “rule”. The Greek word actually has to do with refereeing in sports.
As in, the guy in the striped shirt has the final say.
As in, the guy with the whistle determines what’s legal.
As in, some guy on a power trip gets to determine that the three point basket I shot as time expired to win the Consolation prize at a 6th grade boy’s basketball tournament, didn’t count! (I’m not bitter).
God says to let PEACE be the deciding factor in our hearts.
Let it determine our actions.
Let it determine our words.
But, not just any peace, this is Christ’s peace.
Remember – Christ’s peace is…
…DIVINE! Peace with your parents is a godly thing.
…UNEARNED! Be peaceful even if your someone hasn’t earned back peace.
…COMPLETE! Don’t just be peaceful while other family members are around…be peaceful all the time.
(2) Be Thankful!
Verse 15 ends with the instruction, “Be Thankful.” (v.15b)
Because if you are thankful, it is a lot more challenging to be cranky. In fact, it is scientifically proven that thankfulness releases a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical that is release when you exercise that makes you feel good.
So…when you’re feeling unrest from somebody else, take a moment – and be thankful.
Be thankful to God! He loves you. He gave you life. You are his.
Be thankful to Jesus! He loves you. He died for you. He rose for you. You are forgiven.
Be thankful for that person you are angry with!
If it’s a family member or a friend, there are things that you are thankful for about them.
You might not be thinking about it at the moment.
But when you practice thankfulness for that person, unrest starts to fade away.
For example, I just met someone whose mother gave them up when they were an infant.
The story goes that the mother was too addicted to drugs to be a good mother, so she gave her up for adoption.
But do you know what this formerly abandoned infant – now full-grown adult said?
I’m thankful for her.
Thankful she gave me life.
Thankfulness works against unrest.
(3) Digest a Wealth of God’s Word
This is the obligatory part of the sermon where I remind you to study more of God’s Word. But that’s what God’s Word says about God’s Word. Verse 16 says this, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another.”
Think about it.
The more that you know that you have peace with God, the more peaceful you’ll be with others.
Usually I tell you that you that spending time in God’s Word is a blessing for you.
And it is.
But flip the script today – because your time in God’s Word is also a blessing for others.
You won’t be so irritable.
You won’t react to every little thing someone says.
You won’t let the unpeaceful things of others hurt you because you will find peace in your Savior!
In fact, if you’re wondering whether or not you need more of God’s Word, ask yourself if you’re perfectly peaceful with your family.
If the answer is no, then…you need God’s Word.
Check out verse 16: “Teach And admonish one another with Psalm, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts towards God.” (v.16)
Did you know that God tells us to sing? Because music is a special gift from God. A special gift that can bring peace on its own. It’s why they science tells you that beautiful melodies of classical music can put your brainwaves at ease and help you study more peacefully and efficiently.
Now combine the peace of music with God’s Word.
Joy to the world the Lord has come! I have no reason to be mad at you.
Silent Night! Holy Night! It’s ok, I lost my place in line.
Oh Come, Oh come Emmanuel! Help me stay calm with my brother…Mel!
It’s a real thing though.
Music brings peace.
Music used to teach us the great things our God has done for us – divine peace.
(5) Act in Jesus’ Name
Check out verse 17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Because that’s really the whole point.
We are acting in Jesus’ name.
And if you are going around being a non-peaceful jerk, who’s going to believe that you have the message of peace?
On the other hand, if you’re able to stay calm, stay peaceful, stay joyful.
You’ll bring peace.
They’ll want peace.
You get to show them peace.
That’s really the whole point.
You have an incredible opportunity this season to share the peace of Jesus.
May God give us peace to do so. Amen.
Throughout the Advent season we’ve been focusing on the theme of Light. Today, we’re going to draw that all together and take one broad look at the light that God provides us as his children, from start to finish. We’ll start at the beginning, when light was new and perfect. We’ll see that light lost to sin. But then we’ll see God immediately light a candle of hope in the promise of a Savior. And then, throughout the centuries, that light will grow brighter as God expands on that promise, revealing more and more about the Savior, until at last we see him revealed in the flesh. Naturally we can’t possibly focus on every prophecy of Jesus today. But we’ll look at a select few and see the blessings the light brings for us today and always.
We begin at the beginning:
Light Destroyed: Genesis 3:1-8
It didn’t take long for man to ruin what God created. What they had was perfect. Not just the light that shone from the sun but the light that was in them. Adam and Eve did not know pain or suffering. They didn’t know want. They didn’t know anger or jealousy. And they knew their God. They were made in his image. Holy. It was paradise.
But the temptation was that it could be better. The temptation was that they could have even more. The temptation was that they could be like God himself. They did the one thing God told them not to do. “Love me, trust me enough not to do this.” was his command. But instead they loved themselves more. And light within them was destroyed.
Suddenly they did know evil. It was them. Suddenly they knew shame. Suddenly they knew fear. They ran from God. They hid from each other. Holiness was destroyed. Pain and suffering and death would be their lot from then on. God can only accept the holy, those in his image. Adam and Eve were not anymore. And their children were born in that image, not God’s. Down through the generations, everyone born naturally is not born in the image of God. We are born in the image of our fallen parents. That sinful nature meant Adam and Eve were cut off from God and his grace. It was a dark and dreary road ahead, one filled with nothing but misfortune that would end in eternal death.
3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ”
4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Light Focused: Genesis 15:4-7,15
We don’t know exactly how much later it was when God revealed more about the Messiah to a man named Abram. It was a long time. The great flood had come and gone, and the earth was once again being populated. The promise of a man, born of a woman, who would crush the serpent’s head was the gospel until that point. But now, much later, God focused the light of that promise in on one place, and one family.
Abram trusted God. God made him a number of promises. Not the least of which was that he would have a son, born of his wife, and through that son would come a nation’s worth of people. And through that line, all peoples on earth would be blessed. The new news was that the Savior promised would come from his family line. And what’s more, we now had a place. The land of Palestine, which would be known later as Israel, was where this would happen.
It was during a moment of doubt, needing reassurance that God showed Abram light. He brought him out and showed him the stars to reassure Abram of God grace, mercy, and faithfulness. And Abram’s trust in God’s promise of the Savior made him righteous and holy in God’s eyes, just like our own faith that brings salvation.
4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”
18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”
Light Brings Clarity: Numbers 24:15-19
God continued throughout the ages to illuminate the picture of the Savior. He used a prophet named Balaam to teach us what the work of this Savior would be like. He saw a bright star coming out of Jacob, one of the sons of Abram, shining its light on the world.
And then we learn here more about how the Savior would accomplish his task as the prophecy turns… aggressive. Yes, the first promise of the Savior said he would crush the serpent’s head. But here, it seems an even greater battle would be fought. Though the prophet uses the names of real nations at the time, the intent is clear. This Savior would fight as God’s chosen champion. He would wage a battle so fierce that none of his enemies could stand.
Sin itself. The Devil. Our own death that haunts each one of us. These are the greatest enemies we have. And through a fierce battle, God’s chosen would destroy these enemies for us and win our victory. You and I have the benefit of knowing this fight did not take place on a grassy plain with swords and shields but was fought on a cross for us. But the message is still the same. God’s champion will fight for us, and the victory will be ours through him.
15 Then he spoke his message:
“The prophecy of Balaam son of Beor,
the prophecy of one whose eye sees clearly,
16 the prophecy of one who hears the words of God,
who has knowledge from the Most High,
who sees a vision from the Almighty,
who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:
17 “I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
a scepter will rise out of Israel.
He will crush the foreheads of Moab,
the skulls of all the people of Sheth.
18 Edom will be conquered;
Seir, his enemy, will be conquered,
but Israel will grow strong.
19 A ruler will come out of Jacob
and destroy the survivors of the city.”
Light Brings Healing: Isaiah 9:2-7
Having all our enemies defeated is a great thing. But it is not our only problem. Removing all the outside forces does not fix the wound within. It doesn’t fix the darkness we are born in and it doesn’t suddenly make us acceptable in God’s eyes. The devil could not exist, there could be no outside temptation and you and I would still break God’s law every day. We would still be broken inside, born in human image, not the holy image of God.
And so, the prophet Isaiah further reveals the work of the Savior to us. There’s more to his work that just crushing the devil and his enemies. He has something for us too. Isaiah proclaims a light dawning that heals us. The light itself brings us peace with God. It heals us from within. It makes us whole again. The burdens we have within ourselves will be shattered and we will be at war with God no more. Instead we will belong to his kingdom. We are not holy. But the light makes us holy. The Savior heals his people, ends their struggle, and brings them in to his kingdom.
2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
Light Arrives!: Luke 2:8-14
It took a long time by our standards. Not by God’s. Throughout history God taught his people more about what to expect from the Savior. And he worked history until the everything that he promised would happen exactly as he said. When the time was exactly right, the very event we celebrate today came to pass. Jesus was born. God made man, come here as one of us to fight our battle and heal us from within.
This is our good news, our great joy. We do not see him from afar anymore. We know him. All these prophecies would be meaningless if nothing came of them. The angels, God’s heralds, announced his arrival in glorious light to the shepherds. And they proclaimed peace. Peace between God and man because the Savior would restore the light that was lost at the beginning. He would defeat the enemies and bring us healing. The baby born contains every hope we have worth clinging to.
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 that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, 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 heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Light Forever: Revelation 22:21-27
That we know Jesus, that we see him and have watched his work for us does not mean there is nothing left to be revealed. The light continues to grow brighter. There is still more to come for us. Yes, we saw God fulfill his promises. We have seen Jesus grow and live as one of us but not like us. He kept the image of God. He did what his Father asked. He was obedient where we are not. And we have seen him march into battle with death and the devil. We watch the serpent strike him on the cross, but in vain. We’ve seen the empty tomb. We know that death did not hold him. We know the serpent’s head is crushed.
The battle is won. And Jesus took his perfect life, wove it into a brilliant garment for you to wear, and gave it to you. It covers all your wrong and makes you holy to God. The image is restored. The relationship with God is restored. And there is one more promised to be fulfilled: eternal life with him. Yes, our greatest problems are solved by Jesus, but the fact is – we’re still here. We may be healed by the light, but this world is still broken and decaying. And so, we won’t stay.
That is our goal, the city of light. Light better and brighter than even the sun. The light of the glory of God. Where everything will be the way God always meant for us to be, before the fall. The baby born, Christmas, it’s a great thing to celebrate, but today let’s finish by celebrating what that truly means for us. It means paradise restored.
22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Join us as we hear about the very special and important message: the arrival of The Light of the World? What does this mean for me? How does it apply to my life today? Listen and find out!
We are continuing our series called the Light of the World. We have already heard that the Light shines against the Darkness of this world and that it shines into the darkness of our own hearts. But today we want to unveil in Scripture how Jesus’ light shines through you.
Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Why Shine?
The lesson for this morning comes from Matthew 5:14-16. In this section, Jesus says: You are the light of the world… (v.14-16)
In context, the “you” is a reference to the people that were listening to Jesus out on a mountain.
By extension, it is a reference to people that listen to Jesus’ words in the 21st century.
By specific extension, it is a reference to people that are listening to Jesus in a cozy little church building in North Raleigh on December 23rd, 2018.
And Jesus has an important edict for you. He says, “You are the light of the world…Let your light shine.”
It’s similar to putting up Christmas lights. Maybe this happens to you. You put all of the lights up. You intricately string the lights around the tree. You pass over branches and under ornaments. You have it all nicely arranged and then? You gather the family around with a mug of hot cocoa to plug the lights in and…
You might say to the lights “SHINE! That’s what I bought you for. Shine already!” You might turn and twist and prod and poke and replace the little bulb that “I think it looks burnt out.” All along the way you start muttering: “Shine already.”
When you tell a light to shine, you are simply telling it to do what it is was made to do.
And when God tells us to shine, he is asking us to do exactly what he made us to do.
God tells you to shine:
Because that’s what light does.
Growing up, one of my sisters saved up some money and bought a little mechanical sunflower from Radio Shack. The little mechanical sunflower was an alarm clock that when it went it off – it didn’t make one of those loud BEEPING noises. Nor did it make one of those obnoxious CLANGING sounds.
It was worse.
Whenever the alarm went off it began to sing:
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey.
Haven’t you noticed, how much I love you; so don’t take my sunshine away.”
It always sang in this high-pitched chipmunk voice.
It always sang very early in the morning.
It always sang when I didn’t feel like being anybody’s sunshine!
Maybe Jesus’ words strike you like that.
Pastor, I don’t feel very much like shining. I’ve been really cranky this Holiday season.
Rather than jolly, I’ve been “jelly” of all the other mom friends on Facebook who have it together enough to get Christmas photos taken – and in the mail – and with actual words on them!
Rather than merry, I’ve been mercilessly badmouthing my coworker Fred so that I might get the biggest Christmas bonus this year.
Rather than cheery, I’ve been rather dreary. Because Christmas doesn’t distract from the fact that my life isn’t going so well right now!
And honestly…I FEEL like a screw up.
I FEEL like a sinner.
I FEEL like a no good, dirty rotten scoundrel.
I feel like a terrible husband, a horrible mom, and a very bad child.
I do not feel like a light at all.
How can I possible be one?
Do remember this phrase from a sermon or two ago?
“You were once darkness, but now…you are light in the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8)
Do you get it?
You are not a light based on what you do for God; but on what God has done for you.
You are not a light based on how you lived; but on how Christ lived.
You are not a light based on how you feel; but on what Christ felt for you.
And here’s what Christ did.
He lived perfectly when you could not.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly – in a brilliant flash of light – conquering sin and death.
And now He has made you a light.
Like a match that lights a candle, Christ lights the fabric of our hearts.
He calls you forgiven.
He calls you his child.
He calls you HIS LIGHT.
Even when you don’t feel like light.
That is exactly what you are.
Because that is what Christ made you.
But that’s not even the end game. Look at the next point:
“You are the light of the world…Let your light shine before people that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (v.14)
Glorify is an interesting verb. It means to make brilliant. To light up. To exalt brilliantly.
It’s a word associated with hosts of angels shining brightly in the sky on the very first Christmas.
With Jesus’ face when it shone brightly on a mountain outside Jerusalem.
With the glory of the light filled resurrection of Jesus.
And the word has a subtle shift when it comes to those who don’t have the ability to manifest actual, physical, visible light:
When we see the amazing thing of our Savior’s birth, we glorify God.
When we see the brilliance of his face on the mountain, we glorify God.
When we hear of the amazing truth of his resurrection, we glorify God.
And when we let our light shine before people, they see it and sometimes – they glorify God too.
It’s like a chain reaction.
God enlightens your heart.
You become a light.
Then, he uses you to share the message of his glory.
He brings them to the light, too.
God wants us to shine, because that’s how the light spread
To put it differently:
God wants us to share our faith because that’s how faith spreads.
II. Tips on Shining
1) Hide it Under a Bushel? NO!
That’s a phrase from a famous children’s song, but I think it finds its origins in this section from Matthew. Jesus says, “People do not light a lamp and put it under a bowl.” (Mt. 5:14)
That doesn’t make much sense does it? I doubt, for instance, that any of you spent hours adorning your Christmas tree with Christmas tree lights only to cover it with a big, black shroud.
Nor would it make any sense to buy ask for a brand-new lamp for Christmas. One from Joanna Gaine’s collection. Open up the present at Christmas, run over to a nearby outlet, plug it in, turn it on, and then place a big old bucket over the top of it.
It doesn’t make much sense to cover any kind of a lamp.
Similar – it doesn’t make sense to cover up your faith.
And yet, it’s so easy to do.
Don’t cover up your light.
Don’t hide it under a bushel.
Or a bowl.
Or a non-Christian everyday life veneer.
Don’t hide your faith.
Let it shine.
2) Put your Faith in a Prominent Place
Jesus says, “People do not light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand so that it gives light to everyone in the room.” (v.15)
We’ve been talking about getting some new LED lamps in the parking lot. And I was talking to the Duke Energy guy and he started discussing with me the amount lumens, the wattages and the shine radius. The shine radius allows you to see where the light of the new lamps will touch. He even had graph paper with little lines to show exactly how far we might expect light to go and the best position to place the fixture on the pole to get maximum exposure.
Why not do the same with our faith?
Why not position ourselves to maximize the sharing of our faith?
Rather than hide it, place your faith in a prominent place of your life.
Talk about your Savior with a family member who doesn’t believe in their Savior.
Make sure your Christmas cards mention the reason for the season.
Tell your kids that Jesus loves them.
Don’t shy away from posting inspirational Bible passages on social media.
Don’t stop asking your spouse to join you for worship.
Don’t remove the Jesus’ background from your computer just because that one guy in the cubicle next to you doesn’t love it.
And let your faith shine through your actions -
Hold more doors than normal.
Make someone else a cup of cocoa.
Give a very generous gift to someone that you know needs it.
Let your light have a prominent place in your life and then…
3) Be Non-Selective in Shining
Because it is so easy to be picky and choosy with whom we want to share the message of Jesus.
Let’s see – I’ll invite that coworker who I know already knows about Jesus. But that one guy – that I’m unsure about? I’ll just wish him Happy Holidays.
And I’ll be sure to give a nice Christmas card to neighbor A. But neighbor B? He’s kind of my enemy. So…no card for him.
I will absolutely share the message of Christmas with my family – except for cousin Bob, because his sexual preference makes sharing Jesus, kinda, uncomfortable.
Jesus says that when someone puts a light on a stand it “gives light to everyone in the room.” (v.15)
Lamps aren’t selective.
They don’t stop shining when they are around someone who makes them uncomfortable is around.
You don’t stop shining either.
So, here’s the challenge. You still have time.
Think about someone that makes you nervous.
Someone that you don’t necessarily like.
Got them in mind?
Cool. Now, go and shine.
Shine the light of your Savior into their heart.
For motivation? Think of your Savior!
He died for you while you were knee deep in disgusting sins.
He rose for you while you treated him like an enemy.
He brought his message of love to you while you were doing the very things that he hates!
Because of his non-selective way of shining on us, we are non-selective in the way that we shine, too!
4) Share in Your “House”
Because it mentions that the lamp on a stand gives light to everyone in the house. (v.15) It doesn’t give light to people outside the walls of the house, because it’s just a small table lamp. It can only be expected to shine so far.
Because it might be impossible for you to let your light shine to someone in China.
it will be really hard to let your light shine to someone in Australia.
It may even be difficult to let your light shine to someone across town.
That doesn’t mean that we stop shining.
We simply shine wherever God has placed us.
That means in your literal home.
…With your spouse.
…With your children.
…With the guests that join you for Christmas meals!
But it also means…anywhere you have spherical influence!
…at the hair salon.
…at the Starbucks.
…in line at the grocery store.
…to your mail person.
…to your UPS guy.
…The FedEx guy.
…to your Amazon Prime delivery guy.
…at the health club
…at the brewpub.
…even with your fellow friends at Raid night!
Whatever your sphere of influence is, be sure to shine!
Show love with your actions.
Share the message of Jesus.
Because we have kind of a big task.
God tells us to shine around the world.
Even when we understand our sphere of influence and we aim to let our light shine in North Raleigh…
But remember – you aren’t shining alone.
You aren’t responsible as one little candle with lighting up the whole city of Raleigh.
You have each other.
You have other Christians.
You have your Savior.
And Jesus? He’s not just another candle.
He’s like one of those gigantic, 10,000 lumen LED spotlights at a football stadium.
He shines brighter than anyone.
He shines brightly with you.
He shines brightly through you.
Last Christmas I took a car ride with my family up in WI. When you go home to family, sometimes you assume the role that you did back when you were younger. Meaning that, on the car trip, I was relegated to the back seat next to my 2-year-old niece named Harper.
And she wanted to watch the Cookie Monster, “C is for Cookie” video on her mom/my sister’s phone. So, my sister passed it back to me and I thought I’d set it up.
I pressed what I thought was the YouTube button.
The screen stalled.
I tried to get to the settings.
It remained stalled.
I swiped up and swiped right.
I was stuck on a screen of death.
I said, “I think I broke your phone.”
I said to Harper, “I don’t think you’ll be able to watch Cookie Monster.”
I held up the frozen screen, “See? It’s stuck.”
Harper shook her head.
She grabbed the phone from me.
Touched a few buttons.
Cookie Monster Video.
Sometimes you can learn from a kid.
Whether that kids is 12, 6 or 2 years old, sometimes you can learn from a kid.
Maybe you’ve had a similar experience – especially with technology or Paw Patrol character names.
But…what about theology?
What about the deep mysterious things about our relationship with the Almighty, All Holy, divine, eternal God?
That’s probably NOT a kid thing…
At Jesus’ time, the religious elite did not think they could learn anything from little kids.
They didn’t think they could learn anything from common folk.
They thought a relationship with God is something that only the best of us (and you probably aren’t the best of us) could accomplish.
They believed in ascetic morality. “I have studied the amount of beard hair necessary to properly please God and I have grown my facial follicles accordingly. Trimming them each at exactly 30 cm – the number of holiness.”
They believed in exponential giving. “Here is my 10% tithe of cash for the church. And here is my 10% gift of seasonal spices – cumin, dill, nutmeg. And here’s 10% of the nutmeg that I bought down at Food Lion. And here’s 10% of the candy cane that my toddler was just licking.”
They believed in master-level scholarship. “I got straight A’s in Hebrew school, studied under Professor Gamaliel, and have been a part of the synagogue’s Torah reading club for 20 years! I think I just barely have enough knowledge for God to kind of like me. You? A plumber? Hmm…Well…I’ll pray for you…”
Essentially, they believed that a relationship with God is something that only the best of the best, the top of the top, the most impressive of the most impressive could ever hope to obtain at the end of an 80 plus year life of impressiveness!
But Jesus spoke differently. He said:
I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden the things of God from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. (Mt. 11:25)
As in, God didn’t make His message some kind of Mensa level puzzle.
As in, God doesn’t need you to buy his love with a Fortune 500 stock investment.
As in, God doesn’t reveal himself ONLY to hermits, who live on some snow mountain in the Himalayas, sipping green tea, fasting, and meditating within himself to remove all sinful urges.
God reveals himself in a message so simple that children can understand it.
A while back one of my little friends was having a hard time with some of his friends. He had knocked down a block tower, called the teacher “stupid” and hit an assistant.
I asked him to calm down and when he did, we talked about how what he did was wrong. And God didn’t like it when we hurt other people that he had made.
And my little friend got very sad. Lip quivering. Tears in his eyes.
And I said to him, “But do you remember what that thing is on the wall?”
His eyes perked up immediately:
“And who was on it?”
A smile formed on his face: “Jesus.”
And what did he take away on the cross?”
He lifted his hands in the air: “Our sins!”
I said, “That means Jesus forgives you. I forgive you. And…”
He interrupted: “And God loves me.”
He was absolutely right.
But here’s the thing: I have sat in the counseling office with adults. Grown men and women – learned men and women – long time Christian men and woman -- who have confessed their sins to me – who have struggled with guilt and shame – who have been in tears over the things that they have done wrong…
And I have asked: What’s that thing on the wall there?
That’s a cross, but…that doesn’t help me?
Sure He’s the Savior…but Pastor do you realize how bad what I did was?
Pastor…I just don’t know if I believe it. Do you have a list of things I can do to make up for it?
Just because a child says it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
Just because a child says it doesn’t mean it isn’t DIVINE truth.
And here’s the divine truth – that those little children are about to teach us:
God looked down from heaven.
God saw our sins.
God sent His Son Jesus to be born as a human.
To live perfectly.
To die innocently.
To rise from the dead triumphantly.
To give us the absolute, complete forgiveness of sins.
And then…because God wanted us to have forgiveness and a peace filled eternal relationship with Him so badly…God made his message so simple, so divinely accessible that even a child could know it.
Even a child could teach it.
Even a child could preach it.
That is what is about to happen.
With the kids' program, you’ll probably see a couple things.
You’ll probably see a few kids cry.
You’ll probably see a few kids fidget.
You’ll probably see one kid in the back wave to his whole family.
It’ll probably be a bit off key.
It’ll sometimes be too quiet; it’ll sometimes be too loud.
It’ll probably be very, very cute.
It’ll also be true.
It’ll also be divine.
It will also be life changing.
It’ll also be eternal life giving.
Listen to them.
Because you can learn something from kids.
And today… you must learn something from them.
This isn’t just a kids’ message…
It’s God’s message.
It is Christmastime, correct? It’s the holidays! Everyone is supposed to be holly jolly and everything is supposed to be merry and bright.
And maybe you’ve even felt like that!
You wake up with a smile on your face.
Your pumpkin spice latte is already cooking in your pumpkin spiced latte maker.
You put on some sparkly Christmas socks, turn on Bing Crosby, and sit by the fireplace.
Everything is so merry and bright!
You check your news feed.
11 killed in synagogue massacre.
3 killed in roadside bombing in Afghanistan.
KKK numbers rising.
And on Facebook…
Aunt Hilda still struggling with cancer.
Cousin Johnny is getting a divorce.
Your friend Melanie committed suicide around this time three years ago.
It’s supposed to be a bright time.
But life can be so…dark.
How did it get this way?
Today we will focus on how the Light of the World shines against the darkness. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. How’d it Get so Dark?
To find out the answer to that question, we need to go all the way back to the beginning, the very first book of the bible called Genesis. It literally means “beginning.”
And “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (1:1) At the end of it, there is a small little phrase that God utters about creation. He says:
“It was very good.” (1:31)
That’s an important phrase. Because when God says, “Very good,” he means something very different than when I say it.
For instance, when I finish up wrapping a Christmas present, there’s crooked tape here, off-kilter tape there, and a big gap in the back exposing that it’s a box from Target…and I get done and I say, “It’s good.”
Understand. That’s not what God means.
When God says, “It’s good.” God means, “Perfect.”
That means when God created the world, there weren’t any of the “dark” things that we mentioned before.
There was no such thing as terrorism.
There was no such thing as racism.
There was no such thing as adultery.
There was no such thing as addiction.
There was no such thing as cancer, criminal offenses or cattiness in the church fellowship hall.
God made the world good.
There was no darkness.
Before I get into that you need to understand something about perfection.
In God’s mind, the concept of perfection involves love.
And in God’s mind, the perfect concept of love is not coerced, but freely and willingly given.
I think we get that. Case and point: If you have an Alexa robot, one of those Google inspired devices that can be programmed to listen to your voice and do whatever you ask it to do – and it does it. In addition to the Alexa robot, you have an Alex, a human child, who gets his toys stuck in the carpet, forgets to clean up the LEGOs and generally makes messes even when you tell him to clean up.
QUESTION: Between Alexa and Alex, which one would you say loves you?
Alex, of course.
Because Alexa is literally programmed to do whatever you say.
Alex can choose to blow snot bubbles or to come and give you a hug.
And when he chooses to give you a hug – that’s love.
God knew this.
When God created humans, he made them with the ability to love to him or to not love to him.
Specifically, he gave them one specific way to show this unforced, non-coerced love:
God said to them: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (2:16-27)
Did you follow that?
God told them to show love to him by not eating from one specific tree.
No thank you notes necessary.
No finger paint art work that says, “I love you.”
Just don’t eat from the one tree.
It’s like when preschoolers come and give me a hug around the legs so that I can’t move, and they say, “Mr. Pastor, I love you.”
And I say, “Thank you. But do you know what will show you love me even better than this hug? If you line up like I’ve told you to do, about 17 times.”
Adam and Eve had a chance to show active love for God by not eating from the tree.
So how did they do with that?
One day, the two of them are walking through the garden. As they pass by the middle where the one tree that they aren’t supposed to eat from is located, a snake begins to talk to them.
Yes, a snake.
The snake is none other than Satan, the devil, Lucifer. The exact origins of Lucifer are unclear, but a few things to note:
God created him.
God created him in the same way he created humans – with a choice to serve him.
Lucifer chose to NOT serve God, but to oppose him.
And that’s exactly what he does here.
He says, “Did God really say that you must not eat from the fruit of this tree?” The answer is yes.
He says, “...You will not die.” But God said they would.
He says, “You will become like God.” But they already were.
Whom should you believe?
The Holy, perfect God who created you and gave you the whole world?
Or a talking snake?
Adam and Eve look up at that fruit.
They see its faux shine.
They grab it off the branch.
They sink their teeth into it’s delicious nectar.
And, for the very first time, they taste:
Look at what happens:
Then, the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (v.7)
For the first time ever, they experience mistrust. “What is she looking at my 3 pack of abs? Stop judging me. There’s not a lot of exercise equipment in this garden.”
For the first time ever, they experience anxiety: “I wonder if I’m enough for him. He’s been looking at one of the other women…in this garden of so many women.”
For the first time ever, they experience judgment: “He does look like he’s had a few too many blueberries lately.”
For the first time ever, they experience marital disunity: “Leave me alone while I go over here and cover myself. You go over there and cover yourself.”
And then: They heard the sound of the Lord walking in the garden, so they hid from him. (v8)
For the first time ever, they experience fear of God: “What will he do to us?”
For the first time ever, they experience shame: “I don’t want him to see me like this.”
For the first time ever, they experience guilt: “We did the one thing we shouldn’t have done.”
And when they do come out of the bushes to talk to God:
“It was the woman! She did it!” Not my wife. Not my love. That woman.
“It was the snake! He did it!” Not me. Not my fault. I am the victim here! Some animal.
“It was the woman YOU put here God.” Really…the evil is on YOU.
Do you see it?
Darkness is firmly a part of history now.
Sin is here.
Sin is here to stay.
And God responds as only a Holy, Light-filled God who hates sin can respond. By doling out consequences:
Pain. Painful childbirth. Painful toil. Painful slivers and hangnails. Painful arthritis and headaches. Painful diseases and injuries.
Relationship Issues. He’ll be a jerk! Because he’s a sinner now. He’s had a taste of the darkness and it won’t stop him from calling you things that you should never call a woman. And to be fair – you won’t take it sitting down. You’ll tell him that you NEVER loved him and he’s a worth pile of dirt.
Work Issues. Because now it won’t be fun. Now there will be weeds in the ground. Now there will be computer crashes. Now there will be plumbing issues. Now there will be back stabbing, infighting, and gossip that ruins your career.
Death. For “Dust you are and to dust you shall return.” (v.19) This is the origin of cancer, of car crashes, of terrorism, mass shooting, and terrifying nights in the E.R.
And that’s just the beginning…
It’s only gotten darker.
It’s only gotten crueler.
It’s only gotten harder to deal with.
II. The Light Shines against Darkness
Did you know that God didn’t just give consequences to the humans?
He also gave consequences to the snake.
God says he’ll crawl on his belly (v.14)
God says the snake will eat dust all the days of his life. (v.14b)
Some scholars wonder if maybe the original form of the snake had some little tiny legs. (Which is pretty horrifying thing to think of. Long, slithering, disgusting with legs?)
But then – pay careful attention to the final consequence for Satan:
I will put enmity between you and the woman; between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head. (v.15)
Did you hear it?
This is more than just a consequence for the devil.
This is a promise for the people.
One day someone will come who will crush the evil one and destroy all of his power.
One day someone will come to overpower the evil.
One day someone will come to shine against the darkness.
One day…right around the very first Christmas:
In Jesus was life and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)
This is why Christmas matters.
We live in a world of darkness and death.
We needed the Light. We need Life.
And we have both in Jesus.
Because our world is only darkness.
And adding darkness to the darkness to try and get rid of the darkness, doesn’t work.
For instance, no one ever says, “It’s dark in here. Let me get out my sunglasses because I’m sure that will make things brighter.”
Or: “Honey, I know you’re scared of the dark. Let me turn OFF the hallway light. That’ll make it easier to see.”
Adding darkness to darkness only leads to more darkness.
Since we live in a world infected by spiritual darkness, we cannot expect the light to come from that darkness.
We cannot expect the light to come from ourselves.
What I mean is, the solution to the darkness IS NOT and CANNOT EVER be:
“Just try harder.”
“Do your best.”
They are all a version of:
Let’s add more darkness this darkness because I’m sure that will make it brighter.
The light of the world needs to come from outside of the world.
The light of the world needs to come from the place of light.
The light of the world needs to come from heaven itself.
That light of the world is Jesus.
And like a candle coming into dark room…
Jesus shines against the darkness.
And he always overcomes it.
Think about that. No matter what kind of darkness you are dealing with this holiday season, Jesus is the light that will overcome it.
When you’re dealing with the darkness of a relationship that has spoiled, he brings the light and says, “I will never leave you.”
When you’re struggling with the guilt of some kind of sin you committed around this time six years ago, Jesus says, “I forgive you.”
When you’re dealing with the dark effects of racist attitudes to you at work, Jesus shines the light and says, “I love you as you are.”
When there’s nothing but drama and disorder amongst your family, Jesus speaks to you and says, “We are at peace.”
When there’s financial struggles that leave you filled with anxiety, Jesus says, “I’ve got this” and drives the darkness away!
The light overcomes the darkness.
Even in the darkest of times.
There is no greater darkness in this life than death.
There is probably nothing that you will face in life greater than death itself.
Or that of a loved one.
That’s exactly what a man named Jairus was dealing with.
His daughter was sick.
And he had done everything he could think of to fix her.
He went to the doctor.
He went to the physician.
He got medicines and herbs and essential oils.
So, as the darkness of “I might lose her” settled in, he made his way to Jesus.
“Please sir! Help my daughter. Please sir! Do something. Heal her.”
But as Jesus and Jairus made their way to his house, what little life was left in her eyes…went out.
And when Jairus made his way to his daughter’s bedroom, he no longer saw her.
Only a cold, lifeless body.
As Jairus began to sob uncontrollably, clinging to his wife as if she could soak up the dark sadness that had overcome his soul.
Jesus walked past.
He approached the girl’s body.
He took her hand.
He looked her in her cold, dark eyes and said:
As Jairus watched, her eyes – he saw it:
She sat up.
Jesus is the light of the world.
Jesus is the life that brings light even in the face of death.
Years later Jesus himself faced death on the cross.
He died, but then came back to life.
He is the light of the world.
He is the LIFE of the world.
And the life always overcomes death.
Again – consider that deeply –
In Jesus, you will conquer death.
You will conquer death in all its form.
That arthritis that reminding you of decaying body, Jesus will overcome that.
That pain in your heart from missing a dearly departed loved one, Jesus will overcome that.
That cancer that leads you to a hospital bed, Jesus will overcome that.
That child that you lost, Jesus will overcome that pain.
In fact, Jesus brings LIFE!
To you. To me. To all who believe.
III. What Now?
The only way to overcome the darkness is with Jesus. Make that your number one this Christmas season.
Make sure you tell your kids about Jesus.
Make sure you meditate on your Savior.
Make sure you’re in worship.
Make sure your singing Jesus songs.
If you don’t get all the lights up…
If you don’t get all the presents wrapped…
If you don’t get all the mistletoe hung…
Those things don’t make Christmas bright.
May He shine as a light against whatever darkness you are facing. Amen.
Well, it’s been about a week since Christmas…and it’s New Year’s Eve today now. How’d that week go for you? It’s always a really weird week for me. I feel kind of stalled. Like, Christmas is over and it’s time to move on, but New Year’s is right around the corner, so I can’t really get any traction or momentum going on anything during that time. Maybe it’s a mental block from back when I was a kid and had Christmas vacation between those two holidays.
For whatever reason and wherever it comes from, for me there’s always a tricky mental shift moving between those two. Christmas is over for all intents and purposes. The gifts are mostly given, the parties are attended, and the sweets have been eaten. So much time was spent over the last month or two building up for that, now I have to remember what life was like before and shift back to that.
And at the same time, it’s the New Year, a time when many of us take the opportunity to try to refresh our lives symbolically with resolutions to do things differently once the calendar turns over. That does seem to make an amount of sense, it’s a nice logical flow. Christmastime is over, it’s time to leave that behind and move on to something new.
Maybe though, maybe let’s not do that this year. After all, the story of Jesus wasn’t over with Christmas. It wasn’t like there was this great build-up to the birth of Jesus and then everyone came by and saw how amazing he was and then …the lights went out and end scene. People didn’t turn away, go home and forget all about it after that. Christmas was the start of Jesus, not the end.
And it was the start of something amazing, something wonderful that we would do just as well to not leave behind once December 25th is passed. What began there is something that so many people want, and even more people need without knowing they want. It’s something we need ourselves just as much and the closer we hold it, the better our lives are going to be year-round, and that’s going to pour out and affect the lives of those around us.
Maybe that’s the thing we do differently this year. Maybe that can be the resolution. To not let Christmas be “over”, but to carry that beginning forward into the new year. Like I mentioned a moment ago, that’s really the way it was meant to be. The celebration of Christ didn’t stop after his birthday.
After all, we’re only a week out from celebrating the birth of Jesus. In our account for today, we see that even forty days later he was still being celebrated. (Next week when we celebrate Epiphany we’ll see that even up to two years later he was still being celebrated!)
But for today we turn our eyes to the Temple in Jerusalem. As I said it’s about forty days since Jesus’ was born. Forty days since those shepherds maybe came over from the neighboring town of Bethlehem and ran through the streets telling wild stories about angels and a Savior born. And living in Jerusalem was a man who was waiting: Simeon.
He was a devout Jewish man. And so he was waiting, like all the true Jewish believers, for God to send the one he promised. The one anointed to save his people. The Messiah in the Hebrew language. The Christ in Greek. God had literally been promising this since the beginning of the world and Simeon trusted that this Savior would happen.
Maybe Simeon heard the rumors from the shepherds and got excited, realizing this was really happening. But he was still waiting. See, he had a special insight from the Holy Spirit, “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” That’s what he was waiting for.
And so on this particular day, he is moved by the Holy Spirit to visit the temple. And good thing, too. Mary and Joseph are there to present their firstborn, according to the law. Simeon sees them, sees the baby, and he knows. He knows who that is. He knows what it means for him. And just can’t help himself. He runs forward – at least, as fast as he can for his age – scoops up the baby, and bursts into one of the greatest songs of truth, joy, and praise that we have recorded. So great, in fact, that we hear it every month as part of our liturgy. Maybe you recognize it more like this.
There’s a reason this song is part of our regular liturgy. It so perfectly encapsulates what it means to be a Christian, to be someone who has seen and believes in Christ, though I’m not sure we think about it as often as we hear it. Do you understand what Simeon was saying here? He had been promised that he would live to see the Christ. Now he had. He was ready to depart in peace. And he didn’t mean leave the temple. He meant he was ready to die. To leave this life.
How could he say that? I mean, maybe at one point you’ve said something like, “Well, now I can die happy,” but I doubt you really meant you wanted to drop dead right there and leave this life. Simeon did though. Because he…really understood. Everything he needed from this life, everything he truly wanted, it was here in this infant in his arms. This boy meant he was saved. It meant the world was saved. He was forgiven and at peace with God. Heaven was open to him. What more could possibly happen here that could improve on that? What was left to do here? And so, his response: Take my life or leave it Lord, I don’t need it anymore. I can depart in peace.
That is the kind of peace you can just drink in. I love every chance I get to sing this song because of the peace it reminds me I have in Christ. The kind of peace I think we all wish we could have a little more often. And brothers and sisters, we absolutely can if we just cling to Christ after Christmas as tightly as Simeon did. If we make holding him our resolution this year.
After all, why do we make resolutions year after year? Well, think about them. Very few of us resolve to watch more TV in a week or eat more cookies each night after dinner. We pick things that we think are good for us, things we think will make us better. Either we resolve to do things that will improve our health or we resolve to do something we’ve always meant to or get rid of bad habits or start good habits. Whatever it is, we’re trying to do something to make our lives better, to accomplish something meaningful. Why? Because we don’t feel complete yet, we want to improve, we want to be good enough, we want something more out of life. We just want to be better.
I get the drive. It makes perfect sense. But the resolutions we usually chase to reach that goal are a fool’s errand. Even if we manage to hold on to the resolution (and how many do?), accomplishing those things won’t make the feeling go away. Saving more money, losing weight, quitting a nasty habit…I’m not saying don’t try to do those things – but they won’t make the feeling go away. You’ll still feel like there needs to be more before you’re done, before you’re good enough… before you’re really complete.
It makes sense why we try. You don’t feel like you’re complete or good enough (and you’re not), so that’s where you focus your effort, on yourself. You work on making yourself better. But it doesn’t and it won’t work. We, ourselves are the problem. You can’t save a burning building by using the burning building. You can’t fix the problem with the problem. This internal need to want to do better, to be better, to feel complete, it comes from the fact that we’re not all those things. We’re not good. We’re not complete. We’re broken.
We’re born apart from God. Born in sin. And instinctively we know this. So our default reaction is, as we said, to try to chase whatever in this life we think will fix that, even as Christians who should know better. And maybe the worst part is that on our own, we never really learn. When was the last time in your life you didn’t have some goal in front of you that you thought, “When this is done, when I have this, when I accomplish this, I’ll be happy. I’ll be complete, I’ll be content.” How many of those have you gone through so far? I’ve lost count. I still fall for it.
It doesn’t work. But the Christ. He makes the difference. We cannot be better enough for God. He is. We should be punished for what we’ve done. He was instead. Christ fixes what’s wrong with us, Christ makes us complete, Christ gives us the only thing we truly need from this life: peace with God himself. Christ finishes the work of our life.
Do you get that? Jesus died and rose so that your crimes would be paid for and so that the Father would see you as perfect. You are going to heaven. That’s a done deal. You do not need anything else from this life. That thing you think you have to finish before you run out of time? Don’t need it. All the nagging things that need doing before you can feel rested? Not so much. Look back to the manger and let the peace of these words just wrap you up, “Lord you let your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation.”
I’m not saying this is a license to sit idle, God has given us work to do here while we’re here. I’m saying see the Christ, embrace him in the joy of knowing what he means for you and realize you don’t need this life anymore. He completes your life by bringing you peace with God, and that’s all you needed. Work for God out of joy, not a driving desperation to accomplish. The real work is done.
And what is that work that God asks of us while we’re still here? There are a few things, but one of the greatest is to Give this message of hope to others. And this is not a chore. This is making Christmas our lives. Look again at Simeon. He saw the gift, he saw the hope, and he was complete. He did not smile, embrace Jesus and move on quietly. His heart overflowed with what was done for him and it poured out in song, it poured out in telling the people around him how amazing this gift was. He couldn’t help but share.
We see the same a little further on in our reading with Anna on that same day, who herself saw Jesus and couldn’t help but talk about it. She talked about it anyone who would listen, anyone who was also waiting for the Messiah to make them complete. She didn’t smile, think “that’s nice” and go on with her day. She had to see, and she had to tell.
This is the uncontrollable natural response to the real peace and completeness that the gift of Christmas brings us. Last week we talked about giving the manger another look. Keep doing that. Look in it again to see the fullness of your life. See the baby there that grew to a man, who died in your place and gave you everything you ever need. Feel the peace, the relief that comes from knowing your life is complete, and there’s nothing else you need to chase after or give up or do harder to make it better.
So, take all that time and effort and energy you would’ve used chasing those things you don’t need, and use it for God instead. Use it for something that matters. Give that same message of hope to others this year. Make that your resolution. To not leave Christmas behind but to take that truth out into our lives every day, to keep the peace with you and to let the joy and relief of that peace overflow to those around us.
Keep on giving, long after Christmas. Give the one thing that anyone needs. Give the gift that gives them the same peace and joy you know. Give a message of Hope. Amen.