Christmas Eve 2018
Waiting, that's what I feel like every Christmas. I'm waiting on Christmas to come. I don't know if this is just leftover from me being a kid because it seemed like every time Christmas came, I knew in my head that it was 364 days until the next Christmas, but for me that was 364 years. Does anybody know that feeling? And now, I guess it's just leftover for me that it feels like I'm just waiting for Christmas to come. Now, maybe that's because in the world that we live in the radio station start playing Christmas music in like say June. Or maybe it's because the people that want to sell you everything, they start trying to sell you everything and dressing their stores up in like October. Or maybe it's just because that neighbor that you have that leaves their Christmas lights on their house for the entire year.
And the crazy thing about that is it seems like that the more that we try and elongate and lengthen the Christmas season, the farther away Christmas actually feels, waiting for Christmas to come. Now, if you think it takes a long time for Christmas to get here now, and you think this is long, just imagine what it would've felt like before there ever was a Christmas. Before Christmas even was a thing. You see, sometimes when we read the Gospel stories that are familiar to us about the story of Christmas, what we fail to remember is just how long the people of Israel were waiting on Christmas to come. But if we pay attention, we can see it.
In fact, I want to show it to you in Matthew Chapter two and it says this, it says “After Jesus was born”, in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, “Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is one who has been born the king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose, and we have come to worship him.”" Now when you begin to read this, you think to yourself, you're on autopilot, right? And you're just kind of doing your thing. You're reading this because it's super familiar to you. And maybe you just buzz by the fact that there were Magi coming from the east who were coming to worship the king. Now these Magi from the east, they were political kingmakers. That's not always what they were. They were considered kind of Wisemen, people who knew things, who had insights, but they became kind of a political order of king makers. In other words, they would come and put their stamp of approval on kings. They were from Persia, which is kind of modern day or ran or a rack area, and they weren't specifically followers of Israel's God in that region.
Now you might think to yourself where they used to this kind of thing. Well, they kind of were because they were used to seeing babies in a nation that would be born to be a king of that nation. That wasn't new to these Magi. They were used to that and they would go as diplomats and they would give gifts maybe, and those kinds of things to babies who were born, who were headed in the direction of becoming a king eventually of that nation. But one thing that they'd never been a part of is when a king who already exists and who already is sovereign over everything decides to become a baby, who would be the ruler of all of the nations. This was unique indeed for them. And so how did they know to come? Well, we know from 1400 years before the time of Jesus that there was a prophecy in the book of Numbers that we could read that simply said this in Numbers chapter 24 “A star will come out of Jacob and a scepter will rise out of Israel."
Now, here's the interesting thing. How would the Magi have known to even consult the Hebrew scriptures about this star that they followed all the way there to see this king. How would they have even known that? Well, because about 600 years before the time of Jesus, there was an Israeli prophet who was taken from his homeland of Israel and he was carted off to Babylon because the Babylonians had conquered Israel, and His name was Daniel. And Daniel grew in Babylon, was schooled there, and became one of the leaders in Babylon under the one who was leading there and became known as one of the Wisemen because the God of Israel gave him insight and wisdom into so many things. And so as a result, what he started doing is influencing, listen to this, the Magi of Persia. He started teaching them what the ancient scripture had said and prophesied about the king that was supposed to come and he did this so long before.
It's extraordinary really, because even when we continue reading in our story here, this true story, we see other promises that are made. In verse number three of Matthew Chapter two, it says this, “When King Herod heard this”, in other words, that the match I had come to worship another king, “He was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him. And when he called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem, in Judea”, they replied, for this is what the Prophet has written. But you, Bethlehem in the land of Judah are by no means least among the rulers of Judah. For out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people, Israel.” You see this promise that these Jewish wise men were actually quoting to King Herod was a promise and a prophecy from the Prophet Micah who lived 700 years before Jesus was born, 700 years.
Could you imagine waiting hundreds and hundreds of years to see the fulfillment of a promise? If you think 364 days is a long time, think about generation after generation after generation waiting on the promise to come. Every Jewish woman, every single one of them hoping and praying that she would get the privilege of being able to be the mother of the coming Messiah. This must've seemed like forever to them all, but what we realize is that God works in seasons of his own making. That God does what he does when he does in exactly the time that he wants to do it, and he chooses to work in seasons of his own making even when we feel like the only season we find ourselves in is a waiting winter. Have you ever felt that way?
A great children's story that many of you may have read called The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It captures this idea, this tension, this waiting that has to occur because Narnia, the place, this incredible place that is painted in this book, Narnia is under the curse of the White Witch. And as a result, Narnia is in a perpetual winter. And so they are waiting, waiting, waiting because there is one who is to come. There's one who's promised to come. He is Aslan the Lion and he alone is the one who can release them from the curse of the white witch and the perpetual winter. And it must've seemed like forever to all of them that were there. And in fact, when the Pevensie children were asking about what this was all about, there was a character who was a half man, half goat named Mr. Tamnus. And Mr. Tamnus, here's what he said, and I quote, “It is winter in Narnia and has been for ever so long. Always winter, but never Christmas.” Always winter, but never Christmas.
But do you know what? If you've read that story and you continue to read in that story, here's what you find out eventually Aslan does come. And do you know what we find out in our story? Eventually Christmas does come, but sometimes we need a reminder because it's not always going to be winter in your life. You see in every season, God is working something, even if it feels long to us, even if it feels like winter to us because this disordered world that we live in, it makes us feel like Israel of old. Like we are the ones waiting on Jesus to come and waiting for his promise to be fulfilled to us. We can't help it. See, we know in our heads, don't we? That 2000 years ago Jesus came, but right now we need him to come to our hearts, and we need him to come to our homes, and we didn't need him to come to our country and we need him to come to our world. And so we feel like Israel of old, like we're, we're waiting.
It doesn't help that there's a 24 hour news cycle that seems to be perpetuating hate and despair and tragedy and it's in our face all the time, isn't it? And if that's not bad enough because those are things that at least seem to be happening away from us, we also feel the personal effects and the heartache of all that goes on in our own lives. See, for some of us, we've lost a loved one. Maybe it was a parent or a spouse or a child or a friend. Or maybe you lost your job, or maybe you've lost your health. Maybe you've lost your way. Maybe you've even lost your faith. For you, what it feels like is it's always winter and never Christmas. But to all of us, every single one of us, Jesus gives us an invitation and here it is. Come, come.
You see, we gave you two reminders of this today. One is a tangible reminder, an envelope with an invitation in it that tells you to come. The other is a visual reminder, candles that are in a window, which for centuries has indicated hospitality, an invitation, an invite to come. You See, ladies and gentlemen, Jesus came so you could come. No matter what season you're in, no matter how long it feels to you, Christmas has come, and Christmas is coming. So no matter what season that you find yourself in, you have an invitation this Christmas. Jesus came so you could come. But maybe in your mind, here's what you're asking, come where exactly? Fair question. Maybe I would say it to you. Really simply, Jesus came so you could come to God.
You see this words of Jesus as he grew and as he ministered, this is exactly what he said. In fact, here's how John records Jesus' words. In John 14:6 he says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” You see, you can't come to God unless you come through Jesus. That's because each of us in the world that we live in, we grow up in a broken world and we grow up as disordered people, people who have sinned and come short of the glory of God. We've missed the mark. We have failed at being perfect and living up to the standard of God.
In fact, that's why when the angel appeared to Mary and to Joseph, he said, “You're going to name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” You see, Jesus is the only way that you can even get to the Father, that's why he made that statement so clear because as people who have sinned, we have missed the mark of God's holiness. See, what Jesus does is Jesus forgives us of our sin and Jesus takes upon himself our judgment and Jesus lets us live at peace with God when we put our faith in him. I mean, look at me. Isn't this what everyone wants? Isn't this what everyone actually desires in the deepest parts of your heart? Isn't this what you want? Don't you want to have your sins forgiven?
Don't you want to actually ... listen to this, be at peace with God of being a hostile with God? Isn't that the deepest need that we all cry out for, peace with God? Isn't that why the angels, when they appeared to the shepherds and said, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth”, peace. Goodwill towards men? Why? Because Jesus is the only way to the father. Jesus came so we could come to God. But the invitation is not just for Jesus' birth for us to come, it's for every season of our lives in Jesus even demonstrated that because he gave this invitation to come to him on numerous occasions in his ministry.
In fact, if you look at what Matthew says in chapter number 11 Jesus says these words “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” Jesus invites you to find rest for your soul in this passage of scripture. Have you ever felt like the pace of this life, the stress of this life, the anxiety of this life is overwhelming? Have you ever felt like this is just too much for me to be able to manage? I mean, we have responsibilities, don't we? Bills to pay, mouths to feed, papers to write, jobs to accomplish. But we don't just have responsibilities, we've also got liabilities. People that don't treat us well, decisions that we hoped would turn out different than they did, baggage from our past that keeps nagging us in the present. Into all of this, here's what Jesus says, “Come and find rest for your souls.”
But He gives you another invitation. John Records it in John Chapter six it says, “Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”" See, Jesus not only invites you to find rest for your soul that Jesus invites you to find satisfaction that you can't find anywhere else. Have you ever kept taking a bite out of something in your life thinking that it was going to satisfy you but it kept leaving you hungry? Or you took a drink and it left you thirsty?
Maybe it's jumping from bad relationship to bad relationship because you think that the only satisfaction is found in someone else's arms and you keep coming away empty. Or maybe you think that retail therapy can somehow fill this gaping hole inside of your heart and it feels good for a season to be able to buy and consume and take, but then that goes away and the satisfaction and the hole is still there. Or maybe because you have longed for having a hundred or 500 or a thousand or 5,000 followers on social media because you felt like that would somehow fill up some of the empty spaces. But yet when you got to that place and you had a hundred or 500 or a thousand or more, you still realize that there are a whole of empty spaces that didn't get filled.
You see into all of that, into all of the empty spaces and to all of the empty places, Jesus gives an invitation to come and find satisfaction that actually lasts. You see, these invitations that Jesus gives us, that we could come to God so we could find peace, that we could find rest for our souls, that we could find satisfaction, that we could actually find life. That's the invitation of Christmas. So just like the Magi came, and just like the shepherds came, you and I, we can come. But we're not coming to a manger. Jesus actually does something even greater. He invites us to his table in his home.
And in fact, if we say yes to the invitation to come to him, Jesus said, “I'll even pick you up. I'll come and get you.” Listen to what he says in John Chapter 14. Jesus says, “Don't let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house, it has many rooms, and if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me. That you also may be where I am." Listen, you are invited like you're one of the family to sit at Jesus' table in his home. This is an invitation that I can't imagine anybody wanting to say no to. So what about you? Have you received that invitation from Jesus?
Not that you know that it exists, but that you've actually received it, and by faith you've acted on it. Because when we trust in ourselves, we're saying, “No, thanks Jesus. I've got this. I'm my own piece. I'm my own satisfaction. I can make my own way to God.” You see, to deny that invitation is to deny the only hope that you and I have to actually come to God and that's Jesus. That's the invitation to you this Christmas. And so I wonder, is that something that you have done? Have you received that gracious gift?
I'm going to ask you maybe just in the quietness of our time here. Just close your eyes for just a minute. I know there's kids that are here and doing their kid thing cause this is a family service. But as best you can just close your eyes. And if you have that need of receiving Jesus than maybe in your heart right now, you might simply say in your heart, “Lord Jesus, I know that I need you. I accept your invitation to come to you. I realize that I've sinned and I can't save myself, but I put my faith in what you've done for me. That you came, that you died on a cross for my sins and that you rose from the dead, conquering my sins. So come into my life. I say yes to your invitation.”
Father, I pray that you would give us a sense for what it means to say yes to your invitation. And that we don't have to dress ourselves up, we can come just like we are. We don't have to put on a front. We don't have to look pretty at Christmas. We can take all of our stuff and all of our baggage and we can say yes to the invitation to come to Jesus and you Jesus will do the work from there. You will clean us up, you will forgive us and heal us and give us peace. So I pray that you would help us to sense and to know that with all of our hearts in Jesus' name, Amen.