Christmas Eve 2017

Christmas Eve 2017

Dave: What we’re going to do now is we’re going to read through the Christmas story. The birth of Jesus.

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. 36 And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:26-38

Whenever I read this passage of Gabriel’s words to Mary and her response, I’m struck by two things. The first, the obvious one, is Mary’s submission to God’s will for her life. She didn’t argue. She didn’t complain. She just said, “Yes, Lord.” This is the attitude that I hope you and I have when God calls us to do something. When we know the Lord is asking us to do something, we read something in His Word, I hope that’s all our attitudes, “Lord, your will be done.” It’s the same attitude Isaiah had in chapter 6 of Isaiah where Isaiah said, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.” I really hope for you this coming year that you don’t miss anything that God has for you. That like Mary you would look past any inconvenience, hardship, cost, and say, “Here I am, Lord. Use me.” The second thing that strikes me is the words of Gabriel of “Nothing is impossible with God.” Many of you here this morning have situations in your lives that you or other people have called impossible. Or maybe a situation that you consider hopeless. It may be a broken relationship. Maybe financial. Maybe a job, a task, a loved one who is far from God. I love what God tells Jeremiah in chapter 32 of Jeremiah. God says to the prophet, “Is anything too difficult for Me?” The obvious answer is, “No.” God is God. Christmas always reminds me that there’s always hope in every situation. There isn’t anything that can’t be overcome or accomplished. No mountain is insurmountable. We really can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Christmas, the birth of Jesus, reminds me and I hope it reminds you that there’s always hope because God is a God of the impossible.

Mark: Our reading continues with Matthew 1 beginning with the 18th verse.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” 24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25

Mary was pregnant. What shocking news that must have been to Joseph. All of his plans and all of his dreams seemed to be completely shattered. As long as Joseph lay awake that night his mind was filled with distressing thoughts and anxious worries. It wasn’t until he finally fell asleep that an angel of the Lord appeared to him and let him know what God was doing. God was behind it all. God was working to bring about His magnificent purpose. And what was His purpose? It was to enter into our world, to become one of us, to join us in all our struggles. Remember Isaiah the prophet said, “His name shall be called (or His title shall be) Immanuel” which means God is now with us. Not just for us but with us. Now when Joseph understood God’s plan, he got up and he joyfully became a part of what God was doing. Now, let us all learn from this Christmas story. Even when things look bad, even when you can’t figure out what is going on, remember God is present and God is always at work, working to bring about some good purpose. It wasn’t until Joseph entered into rest that he was able to hear God and understand what He was doing. The Christmas story reminds us all that we all need to trust God. We all need to be able to rest in God even when we don’t understand what’s going on because only then will we become a part of His great story.

Dave: Continue reading Luke 2:1-7.

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Luke 2:1-7

Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth. Nazareth is in northern Galilee and it’s a long way from Bethlehem. But the prophet, Micah, prophesied that Jesus was going to be born in Bethlehem. And as the time for Jesus’ birth got closer and closer, Mary was in Nazareth. What’s interesting to me is how God got Joseph and Mary to the small little town of Bethlehem before Jesus was born. He used the emperor of Rome, Caesar Augustus, to get His Son born where it was prophesied that Jesus was to be born. What that tells me is God’s plans are always going to take place. The Bible says that the hearts of men are like channels of water in His hand—He leads them wherever He wishes. This world really is under God’s authority. Whether we want to admit it or not, God is sovereign, even over the mighty emperor, Caesar Augustus. If God said something, if He said He was going to do something, He’s going to do it. As Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 1:20 “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him (Jesus) they are yes.” When you and I trust God, when we trust Him with His promises, we are trusting in a God who keeps His word, who does what He says. If that’s you, Christmas should be filled with hope for you because you’re trusting in a God who does not disappoint.

Mark: Let’s pick up our reading at Luke 2 beginning with verse 8.

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 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 the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” 15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.

Luke 2:8-18

You know, the shepherds weren’t at the temple. The shepherds weren’t praying. In fact, the shepherds weren’t doing anything religious or spiritual. They were just some shepherds working the night shift doing a hard job. And what we know history tells us about these people who did that job was they were hard luck people. They were among the most profane and irreligious and roughest of people. And yet God broke through for them anyway and gave them a great surprise. Now first they were frightened but then after they came to understand what God had told them, then they were excited. They were filled with joy and they went and ran to see the baby for themselves. Do you know that one of the names for God in the Hebrew Old Testament is Baal-Perazim. And it literally means “the Lord of the Breakthrough” because God broke through. He certainly broke through for those shepherds that night, didn’t He? And He breaks through for people today. He’s still the Lord of the Breakthrough. Do you know why? Because He’s faithful. He’s a faithful friend and He’s merciful. God’s greatest breakthrough of all time is Jesus Christ and He’s for everybody. Even for poor shepherds who have got to the place where they have to sleep out with sheep at night. No matter our background or pass failure or difficulty, Jesus Christ came for us. He is the God of breakthroughs. If you need a breakthrough in your life, remember that God has forever committed Himself totally to us when He came in the form of Jesus Christ, His own Son.

Dave: Continue reading in Matthew 2 starting with verse 1.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’” 7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared.

Matthew 2:1-7

This part of the story has always been important to me because God is letting the world know that everyone is important to Him. This theme keeps coming back and back as you look at the Christmas story. He cares about everyone no matter where they’re born, no matter what the color of their skin, no matter the language they speak, no matter the continent they’re on. Jesus really is the Savior of the world. No matter the language, the race, the culture, Jesus’ gift of eternal life and an abundant life is a gift for every man, woman and child on the earth. As John 3:16 reminds us, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” These magi came from a far distance. It probably took them a month or two months just to get there. And it seems obvious to me that our God wants to send humanity a message and that is—there’s no partiality with God. Whether you’re rich or poor, no matter what family you came from, no matter what you’ve done in your life, you’re important to God. He loves you and He wants to have a relationship with you. As the Apostle Peter said in Acts 10, “…in every nation, the man that fears Him (God)… is welcome to Him.”

Mark: And now Matthew 2 beginning with verse 8.

And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” 9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.13 Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.” 14 So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. 15 He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” 16 Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi.

Matthew 2:8-16

Herod was a powerful king and he was ruthless and he would stop at nothing to hold on to that power. And yet he was defeated by two simple dreams given to people who had no power. How foolish it was for Herod to think that he could go up against God being just merely a man. And how foolish it is for some of us to pit our own will and desires against God. You see, we’ll never truly succeed or have peace or fulfillment as long as we’re living as rebels, as long as we’re living outside of God’s will and against His Word. We’ll only earn frustration and emptiness and heartache for all our trouble. On the other hand, how wise of the wise men to go out and seek for the Messiah. Christmas cards still say it today, “Wise men still seek Him.” And the Bible promises if we seek Him we shall find Him because the Bible says He’s not far from any one of us.

Today we celebrate a baby who was born in a feeding trough in a barn filled with animals and manure. And do you know what that tells us? It tells us that there is no situation that is so low or so hopeless or so dirty that Jesus Christ isn’t willing to come into. Do you know Him? Do you follow Him? Have you accepted Him as your Lord and Savior? Is He guiding you in your life?

I want to lead you in a prayer and it might be for some of you the first time and for others it might be the 10,000th time. But I think this is a good time for us to take just a moment and to invite the Savior into our life, to yield ourselves to the Savior that was given to us by our Creator. Let me just lead us in a prayer and you can join in if you would like.

Father, we want to thank you for sending us a Savior. We want to thank you, Lord, for giving us a guide and a friend. We want to thank you that no matter what the situation, You are the champion that we need. We thank you on this day for the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Let His light come in and illuminate each and every one of us. Amen.

Well, most of us today are looking forward to today and tonight gathering with friends to exchange gifts. There are a lot of people who are very sad today. You hear about it. In fact, some of them didn’t join us today because they feel so sad because they’ve lost loved ones or because they’re living far from home or because families have broken up and they cannot gather with families and friends to exchange gifts. But you know, the first Christmas was nothing like that at all. The first Christmas was not friends and families gathering together to exchange gifts. It was rather a bunch of strangers being brought together. Joseph and Mary in a strange town being turned down by an inn keeper they didn’t know. Then meeting the person that owned the stable. And then the shepherds showing up. And then later, the wise men. Not friends gathering together to exchange gifts but strangers brought together to celebrate and to receive the greatest gift that has ever been given—a Savior who is Christ the Lord. You see, Christmas is about thanking God for His great gift. And each one of us can do that even when we’re far from home, even when we’ve lost loved ones. We can do it by ourselves. Or even better, we could reach out to strangers, to new people, make new friends and extend our joy and our love to them.

Remember what Gabriel, the angel, said? He said, “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Great news for all people because all people need a Savior. You know, if we did not need a Savior, God would not have sent us one. He would not have sent His only begotten Son to be born in a manger and to die a cruel death on a cross. If in fact we human beings could truly live out all of the challenges and temptations and hardships of life and do it in a way that was truly righteous and gain heaven, how many of you know there never would have been a Christmas morning? But Jesus brings us forgiveness, eternal life, and He brings us one more thing. He brings us peace. Remember the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men….” God brings us first peace in our own heart and then because we have peace in our heart, it flows out to others; into our marriages, into our families, into our communities and it begins to bring peace among different classes and different races. In Isaiah 9:6 the prophet said Jesus would be called the Prince of Peace. And the Hebrew word there for peace is a word many of you are familiar with. It’s shalom. Now we don’t have an English word that can translate shalom. Because shalom is far more than the absence of conflict. The Hebrew to English dictionary defines it with a whole bunch of different words including: wholeness, well-being, rest, prosperity, peace, security. One Hebrew expert defines shalom this way. He said, “Shalom is the wholeness that the entire human race seeks.” Where can a person find such peace? Taking another drink? Buying a bigger house? Getting a new job? Entering into a new relationship? Will that give you shalom? Shalom lies beyond the ability of anybody to produce for themselves or to give to another. Shalom belongs to God. Shalom is the well-being and the blessing that only those who are made right with God through Jesus Christ can experience. The truth is we’re forever restless and anxious and empty and unfulfilled until we know the shalom that only Christ can give us because He alone reconciles us to God who is the source of shalom. Do you know that peace? Jesus offers Himself to you if you would just open up your life.

In just a moment, we’re going to sing some songs holding candles. Jesus Christ said, “I am the light of the world.” And the Bible says one more thing. It says that when we invite this light into our hearts that we, too, then become the light of the world because He shines in us. The way the light of Christ spreads in the world today, in the darkness of the world, is that each one of us takes the light that we have and we pass it to another person. And pretty soon we’re going to turn the lights down and you’ll see how much light there is when every person is willing to share their light. Then afterwards we’ll go out into the world and let your light shine.