Christmas EvePastor Jerry Gillis - December 24, 2015
The Christmas Eve service at the CrossPoint Campus on December 24, 2015.
So one hundred and twelve years ago in late December, in a town called Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, there were two brothers - Orville and Wilbur Wright - who on their fifth try got this flying machine that they built to fly for twelve entire seconds. Now, Orville was the one flying the plane, and Wilbur ended up going to an office and sending a telegram to their sister Katharine, and he sent a telegram that said, "We have flown for twelve seconds. We will be home for Christmas."
And upon doing that Katharine received the telegram, was very excited and she went immediately, in her small town, she went immediately to the newspaper editor and said, my brothers have invented a flying machine, and they flew for an entire twelve seconds, and by the way, they're going to be home for Christmas if you want to interview them. So the editor said, well - you know, he kind of brushed her off a little bit - but said I'll make sure that I mention the boys in the paper.
So sure enough, out comes the paper. It's a very small town, and a very small paper, and buried on the sixth page is this headline: "The Wright brothers will be home for Christmas". If that's not one of the greatest illustrations of missing the point, I don't know that I've seen one. They literally changed and revolutionized humanity itself based upon what they invented, globally, and the headline reads they'll be home for Christmas.
You know, it's easy to miss the point when we talk about Christmas, particularly in the culture that we live in. You don't have to go very far - turn on the television, turn on your stereo, anything like that, go to any mall - and you can easily lose sight of what the actual point of Christmas is. Now, I'm concerned about that, but here's what I'm even more concerned about: I'm more concerned if we miss the story of Christmas when we're reading the story of Christmas. That would be the greatest miss in the entire world, and I don't want us to miss the point of the actual biblical narrative, and what it's trying to say to us.
So, what I'm going to do is I'm going to take three snapshots of the story of Christmas, and I'm going to keep those in chronological order, and I'm just going to walk us through so that we may be able to see a common theme in all three of those snapshots in the Christmas story. Now to do that, I've got to back all the way back up into the beginning of Luke, where we are introduced to a husband and wife named Zechariah and Elizabeth.
Zechariah is a priest and they live in the hill country of Judea and as a priest every - about two weeks every year, his group of priests would be called upon to go and serve at the temple in Jerusalem. It was a great honor and they loved to do it, so it was Zechariah's time and he went into the temple there in Jerusalem and he was offering - he was ministering to the Lord and offering prayers as all the priests would do, and certainly he was praying about his people Israel and God being a rescuer of them but he was also praying about things for him personally. You see, he was old and so was his wife and they never had an opportunity to have children. They were unable to conceive. And he always wanted a child.
And so, while he's there in the temple, an angel shows up to him named Gabriel, and here's what he says in Luke chapter one, verse thirteen. Says, "Don't be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous - to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
Man, so he gets this news from an angel that his wife is actually going to get pregnant, and that they're going to have a forerunner for the Lord, somebody to prepare the way for the Lord, and his name's going to be John. And he's going to be a prophet. I mean it's a big deal, right? And so, Zechariah does what many of us would do and say, um, yeah, you know - how is this really... Are you sure? Like, could I have a sign about this or something, you know? And so, the angel says back to him, well, yeah, you can have a sign. It's not going to be the one you want. The sign's going to be that your wife's going to get pregnant, and she's going to have a kid. That's going to be the sign, because it's actually going to happen because God said it's going to happen, therefore it's going to happen. But here's your sign. You can't talk until your baby's born. Zip it.
So sure enough, he gets shut up. He finishes his service at the temple. He goes back, sees Elizabeth. She says, hey, what happened to you. And he's like... Right? He can't talk, but over the course of time, very soon after he got home, guess what? Elizabeth's pregnant. Just as God said it would be. It is a staggering, staggering thing.
Now, Luke then tells us another part of the story that's connected to this story, and he tells us this in verse number twenty-six. In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. So the same angel, Gabriel, who showed up about a hundred miles south of there in a hill country in Judea, now shows up north in Nazareth. Where he did show up to an older woman, to a priest and talking about he and his wife, an older woman, now he shows up to a teenage girl in a town called Nazareth. And while he's there, he says to her some startling news. He says you're going to, you're going to conceive, and it's going to be before you're even involved with this man you're pledged to be married to. I know that you haven't been involved with him in any way, but this is going to be conceived of you and the Holy Spirit, and you're going to give birth to the Son of God and you're going to name him Jesus, because he's going to save his people from their sins.
And you could imagine this teenage girl and what she's thinking. She's thinking how can this be? And she says it. She verbalizes it to the angel. How could this be? I've never been with a man. I don't know that that's even possible. How could this be? And the angel takes it easy on her. She's a teenage girl. She doesn't quite understand what's going on and he says this to her in verse thirty-five.
The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit is going to come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail." (Or other translation, for nothing is impossible with God).
Now, you think about this for just a moment. Mary just gets the news that she's going to have this miraculous pregnancy, and she doesn't know what to do with and it's hard for her to believe. But do you know what the angel does? He shows great compassion by giving her a confirmation. He says, I know this is hard for you to process, but guess what? You might think that miraculous deliveries are hard to come by? But you know your relative Elizabeth, who's really old? Uh, yeah, about that. She's pregnant. Mary's like, what? Yep, she's six months along. And Mary's probably going, I didn't even know she could conceive. I thought she couldn't. She's old, she's past her child bearing age, and how did that even happen? So what do you think that Mary is going to do? If Mary just got this news about this miraculous pregnancy she's about to embrace, and then she finds out her relative Elizabeth, also in a different way though, in old age is now pregnant, what do you think she wants to do, ladies? She wants to go see Elizabeth, right? Man, that's the first thing you'd want to do. I want to go see her. Well, she does.
She takes a really, really long journey and listen to what it says in verse thirty-nine. It says, "At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth." Now this was a long journey. It was a hundred miles. She might have jumped in with a caravan of people that were going that way, because oftentimes teenage girls didn't travel alone those distances, so she probably jumped in with them. But that's a long haul - probably takes her four days, maybe even a week at best, and this is a hundred mile journey on foot predominately.
But she makes it there, she's got time to think and then she enters into Zechariah and Elizabeth's home and listen to what transpires in verse forty-one. "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!'"
You know, of all the things that this particular scene represents, in all of its beauty, and all of the relationship that we see there with family, and how just beautiful that is, don't miss the point of what this whole thing is sweeping you up to tell you about. It's about Jesus. This is what the story is about. When Mary comes into the house, Elizabeth had probably not yet heard about what had transpired with Mary. She knew what had happened to her but she may not have known what happened to Mary. And Mary comes in and greets everyone and then the scripture says Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, says I can't believe that the mother of my Lord is here!
Do you know the concentration there is not on mother? It is on Lord. You see, Elizabeth knew full well who was walking in. That this was the one who was going to be bearing the Son of God. And guess who was in Elizabeth's belly? A six month old prophet named John. And do you know that John's very first prophetic act was silent but active? He jumps. When his mom hears that Mary is here, and inside of Mary is the Son of God, he jumps in the womb. Very first act as a prophet, and even Elizabeth knew very clearly that although her son John was special and loved, she knew that Mary's son was Savior and Lord. This for John, and this for Elizabeth was all about Jesus.
So, Mary stays with Elizabeth for three more months, and then John's born, and Mary makes her way all the way back to Nazareth. And upon returning to Nazareth, her pregnancy has progressed as you can imagine, and Joseph, who is thinking about going "Whaaat??? I'm out!", decides to stay with her because an angel showed up and talked to him and said this is of God. I know that you're not the father. I know this is going to be socially awkward, but I want you to stay with her and Joseph does the noble thing, the honorable thing, the godly thing, and he stays with her.
Very soon, there's a Roman census that's called upon in all of the Roman empire where every citizen has to go back and register in their lineage hometown. And so what happens is, now Mary has to make another journey, going back the same direction. She has to head south. She's back in Nazareth now with Joseph, but they've got to go all the way back to Bethlehem, which is probably seventy or eighty miles or so. Now she's even more pregnant. And now she's having to make that journey, and she makes that journey, and it was less than accommodating circumstances in a less than accommodating place, and it is there that she has a son, and his name is Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
Now, after the birth of the child, shortly thereafter, within a number of days, the responsibility of a Jewish couple was to take their male son and take him to the temple where they would offer offerings, and there were special rites that they went through so, they made their way to the temple and that's where we see the second picture that I want to show you. That's when they meet a guy named Simeon.
Listen to what it says in Luke chapter two, verse twenty-five. "Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God saying: 'Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.'"
This is an incredible thing, because when they meet this man Simeon, an old man who had been around Jerusalem for a long time, you have to understand that Simeon was at the temple all the time, and this was a big deal.
You see, Simeon lived during the time of Herod the Great, and Herod the Great was a great builder. If you remember back in biblical history, there was a temple that was built for the people of Israel so the presence of God could dwell there. This was under the reign of King David and King Solomon. But eventually, the enemies of Israel came in and basically destroyed the temple. Seventy years there was no temple, but seventy years later, when the people of God were getting out of captivity, they rebuilt a temple but this temple was nowhere near as grand and as beautiful as the first temple. In fact, it looked kind of small.
Well as ages passed by, Herod decided, in about 19 BC, that when he came into power - he was a great builder - he was going to restore the temple to its glory and to its grandeur, and he started doing that. And Simeon was watching this all the time as a devout man, one who loved God, and I'm sure he appreciated the temple being restored to its former beauty. But do you know what Simeon's great desire was before he died? It wasn't just that he could see the temple built, even though you would think as a Jewish devout man, who would blame him if he was saying in his heart, the one thing that I want to see before I die is the temple re-established in all of its beauty. No. Simeon wanted to see Jesus before he died.
The point here is not about the beauty of the temple, because the temple is only a picture of what was to come. The temple represented the place where the presence of God dwelt. Simeon's eyes were not on that. Simeon's eyes were on the hope of Israel and the glory of Israel and the hope for the world - Jesus - the one who is God with skin on, the place in humanity where God dwells. This is what Simeon wanted before he died. So you see, ladies and gentlemen, he knew that Jesus was the point.
Now, whether it's Mary and Elizabeth or whether it's Simeon, they all knew the same thing. Jesus is the point of this story. See, we can lose that. We can lose that at Christmastime sometimes, can't we? In fact, maybe at Christmastime, we work so hard and we give our kids everything that we could possibly give them, except Jesus. I'll tell you what Elizabeth would say. She would say your kids are precious and your kids are special and your kids are loved, but your kids need a Lord. They need Jesus. That's what the story's about.
Or maybe at Christmastime you've had in mind, kind of your hope before you die, is that you get to spend a Christmas with a grandchild. Maybe you're younger and you thinking boy, I hope I get to see, you know, maybe have kids or watch my kids grow up, and maybe get an opportunity to see them and have Christmas with them. Or maybe you're hoping I want to have a Christmas with a great-grandchild before I die. That's a precious thought. That's a wonderful and noble thing. But it's not THE thing. What you should want is what Simeon will tell us. You should want Jesus. You should want your kids to know Jesus. You should want your grandkids to know Jesus. You should have, in your heart and in your mind above all things that what you want before you die is that you lived and you died seeing and loving and serving Jesus. This is the point of the story. So, whether you are living, or whether you are lonely, or whether you are dying, what you need is Jesus.
So that's the point of the story that I don't want you to miss. That this is about Jesus. He's the one we long for. He's the one we need. He's the one we want.
So shortly after Mary and Joseph are there at the temple with Simeon, they go back to Bethlehem after performing what they performed at the temple. They go back to Bethlehem and they find some temporary housing, no longer living out in a stable or a cave, and while they're there something extraordinary happens. Matthew records it in chapter two.
It says this: 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 the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had 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.'" Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him." After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
This is an extraordinary thing, because these Magi show up, and you have to understand who these Magi are. They're king-makers from the place that they came from, Parthia. Parthia is a place in modern understanding, or modern geography would be Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan - that area would be what we would refer to as Parthia. And they were there - they were the only kind of people, the Parthians, who gave the Romans a little bit of a shiver. The Roman empire was a dominant force but they were a little bit scared of the Parthians and these Magi who were coming from that direction, what they were was kind of an aristocratic and political class of people who were king-makers. They basically helped to anoint kings and upon their introduction to the scriptures back when Daniel was there, and had pointed out to them the Old Testament scriptures and what it said, they were searching for the King who was to come as prophesied in the scriptures. When they came ultimately to Bethlehem, they talked with Herod but they knew that Herod was not one to be trusted, and they ended up coming, and they saw the baby Jesus with his mother Mary and Joseph was there and they began to worship him and they brought with them all kinds of treasure.
Now I know when you see the post cards and the Christmas cards you see three dudes - which we don't know if there were three or not - you see three dudes who've got little boxes, right? Well, think more in terms of they came with camel caravans with saddlebags on them full of stuff. You see, when they came and they brought this treasure to Mary and Joseph and Jesus, they had just hit the mother lode. This was like Mary and Joseph winning the lottery. It was a tremendous amount in terms of its value as a treasure.
But you know what's interesting? After hearing about the gold, frankincense, and myrrh - this treasure? We really don't hear much about it at all in the rest of the story, in the rest of the Scripture, you don't hear anything else about it. You know why? You don't hear Joseph going home and saying, Mary, I'm going to build us a ten thousand square foot pad, and we're going to be on the cover of, you know, Forbes magazine. It's going to be incredible. Or, you don't hear about Joseph building a yacht so he can just chill out on the Sea of Galilee. This is not what he did.
In fact, Joseph, while he is sleeping has a dream and an angel comes to him and says, Joseph you've got to take your family out of here because Herod is going to try and kill Jesus. Now you understand Herod already was disturbed that there were king-makers coming in, and wanted to anoint someone as a king, that would be a competing king to him, and he was already nervous and disturbed about all of that, and so he decided he was going to kill every child two years old and younger in Bethlehem. And so the angel said, get out, so they did. And they went to Egypt.
So think about this - they already you know don't have very much money and you could have seen that when you read the text of Scripture when they went to make their offering at the temple, when they were meeting Simeon. They don't have very much, they're poor. But now they've got all of this treasure. How do you think that they afforded to go to Egypt to stay there for some time, and then ultimately from Egypt make their way all the way back past Bethlehem a hundred miles or seventy miles all the way back up to Nazareth? They cashed in some of that treasure. Here's what they did. They didn't use it for themselves. They spent it on Jesus. Why? Because it was his. He's the King. It's his.
It's a beautiful picture that we're reminded of when we begin to look at this because we're all going to get presents here at Christmas time in some way, shape, or fashion. And by the way, you shouldn't be grumpy about it, you should be grateful that somebody's cared enough to get you something. We're all going to get them, and I'm going to be grateful and you're going to be grateful, but here's what we need to remember when all is said and done: that really everything that we have and everything that we get can be stewarded well, not only to enjoy, but somehow maybe to leverage for the glory of the King, because it's all his. This is something for us to remember.
You see ultimately, ladies and gentlemen, the Scripture reminds us that Jesus left heaven to come and be born of earth. In other words, it says it this way: He who was rich left his riches to become poor for us that through his poverty, we might become rich. Not just with stuff, ladies and gentlemen, but with life, real life. What it means to know peace. What it means to find relationship with God. This is what we can know and this is what we can embrace. You see all of these stories ultimately - the Christmas story itself - is telling us that it's all about Jesus. He's the one that we're concerned about. That ultimately he is the one who left everything to come and die on a cross for us, and to raise from the dead, showing that he's overcome our sin and our baggage even though he was sinless. And that through his resurrection we can now be reconciled to God by putting our faith and trust in Jesus. That this is the story of Christmas - God came to rescue us when we couldn't rescue ourselves.
So you see, ladies and gentlemen, that's what we don't want to miss. Man, there's stars and there's shepherds and there's mangers and there's livestock, and all that's cool. But that's not the point. The point is Jesus. And what the Christmas story reminds us of is that nothing can compare to Jesus. That no one else will do in place of Jesus. That it is always and forever about him because he is God with skin on and he is the only way that we can be reconciled to the Father.
So, we've got to be reminded that just like Elizabeth learned, Jesus is our great Lord. Just like Simeon told us, Jesus is our great hope. And just as Mary and Joseph with the Magi taught us, Jesus is our great treasure. Whatever else you miss about the Christmas story, don't miss this. Jesus is all you should want and Jesus is all you will need.