It’s been a long year and we’re all tired of a lot of things. Weary, even. But, sometimes, it can help to remember that most of what we’re facing has been faced by people in the past, too. In fact, in the historical accounts of Jesus’ birth, we find joy breaking into a world much like ours, weary from political unrest, social injustice and even disease. Join us as we find fresh insight, hope and joy this Christmas!
Christmas Family Devotional
We know that the holidays are often anything but restful. Our Christmas Family Devotional is a guide to draw you back to what Christmas is all about. Take 5-10 minutes each day over the next 12 days to set aside the stress and distraction and focus on the beauty and hope of Christmas.
Watch each devotional on YouTube or simply download the digital devotional below.
Waiting is never easy, but there are steps you can take as you wait for God’s promises to come true. Join us as we cover keys to unlocking the joy to be found in the period of anticipation and to counteract the resignation.
Craig: Welcome to Mission Hills, so good to have you with us. And if you haven’t heard or been told this yet, let me go ahead and say Merry Christmas. It’s okay to say it now because it’s officially the Christmas season. I’m excited about that because it means that Christmas, which I love, is almost here. And as an added bonus this year, it means that 2020, which I have hated, is almost over. So I’m excited about the Christmas season I hope you are as well wherever you’re watching from. So as our theme for this Christmas series, we decided we were gonna go with “A Weary World Rejoices” and we thought we would do that for a couple of reasons. Number one, we figured we’re probably all a little bit on the weary side of the spectrum, is that fair? In fact, if you’re sitting next to somebody, whether it’s in one of our campuses, or in a watch party or at home, or if you’re watching online, you can tell your host right now lean over or type in the comment box on a scale of like zero to 10, how tired, how weary, are you? I’m hearing some elevens actually going on right there. Yeah, I think we’re probably all living the worst side. We all need a reason to rejoice. And we think that Christmas is that reason, right? We think that Christmas is the reason to rejoice in spite of the fact that we’re weary.
The second reason we chose this particular series, though, is because it’s interesting as our team was talking, we realize it’s very easy to look at 2020 and think this is the worst year ever, right? In fact, can I show you, with my new favorite t-shirt 2020 half a star would not recommend, okay? Yeah. Yeah, it’s easy to kind of look at the season and go, “This is the worst season that there ever has been. It’s the worst year that there ever was.” As we were talking about it, we realized that actually, a lot of the things that have made us weary were going on in the first century when Jesus was born as well. No, they didn’t have George Floyd, but racial inequality and social unrest. Absolutely, they had them. No, no, they didn’t have a pandemic, but diseases that cause all kinds of pain and suffering and even divided families kept them from being apart. They had that. They didn’t have a contentious political election, but contentious politics, check. They had that. And yeah, the birth of Jesus caused rejoicing and so we think if they were able to rejoice from the things that made them weary, they’re so similar to the things that are making us weary, that we should be able to find in the Christmas story reason to rejoice. That’s what we’re gonna do in this series, we’re gonna lean into what the Christmas story teaches us about rejoicing in the midst of the fact that we’re weary.
And, you know, you may be weary of a lot of different things. For me, the number one thing that’s made me weary this year is all of the waiting. Anybody, feel like that? I just feel like I’ve been waiting for so many things like I’ve been waiting for the numbers to go down, and the masks to come off and the vaccine to come out, and the election to be over. And schools and restaurants and gyms and sporting arenas and all those things to open up, and just waiting for things to go back to normal. And it just feels like the waiting is dragged on and on and on. Anybody else feels like that? Yeah. And waiting is it’s absolutely exhausting. And what I’ve realized during the season is, is that I don’t wait real well, and it impacts my life as I’m waiting.
I was actually I was in my garage the other day, and I was doing some woodworking and Coletta came out and she started working on a project of her own. And as I kind of watched it take shape it was shiplap boards that she put together into a big kind of rectangles it was painted all white. And then she put a big J at the top and then a big Y at the bottom and it’s put a wreath in the middle. And I was like, “Oh, I see what you’re doing there. That’s like it’s oh, it’s a joy, right?” These big signs of joy. She put it on our front porch. It’s like this big, bold joy. And I’m gonna be really honest with you, I looked at it and I thought, “I’m not sure that’s appropriate for 2020.” I didn’t say it out loud, but I did think it. I thought you know what? If 2020 had anything, joy, isn’t it, right? 2020 has been full of a lot of things, but joy is not one of them. And I had that thought and then almost immediately had another thought. And I don’t think the second thought actually came from me I think this might have been the Spirit of God in me because it felt kind of accusatory. And then the thought was this. “Hey, Craig, you know why the reason why you don’t think there’s been much joy in 2020? It’s because you don’t know how to wait well.” And it’s true. I don’t know how to wait well waiting well is not something that comes easily to me.
But in that moment, I felt like the Lord actually impressed my heart a principle that I’ve seen in his Word many times. I even taught on it a couple of times. But I think for the first time it really came home that one of the greatest obstacles to our ability to rejoice. One of the greatest obstacles to our ability to experience joy is our inability to wait well. And that may not make obvious sense to you. Let me explain why I say it. In fact, if you wanna grab a Bible and join me we’re in the Gospel of John, Chapter 15, starting in verse 11, this isn’t part of the Christmas story we’ll get there in just a moment. But I wanna explain this principle because I think it’s so important as we come into this new series. In John 15:11, Jesus has just finished explaining to his disciples that if they stay connected to him by faith, then they’re gonna have everything that they need to live fruitful lives. They’re gonna have everything they need to be on mission with him and live lives of significance.
And then he says this, John 15:11, he says, “I’ve told you these things, so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” And I love that he says, “I’m telling you all these things stay connected to me because I want joy to flow from me into you, and not just a little bit of joy, but I want you to have complete joy.”
And then, if you flip over a page, or scroll down a little bit, John 16:33, as part of the same speech as he’s wrapping up the speech that he began with those words, as he’s wrapping it up, he says this. John 16:33, “I’ve told you these things…” exactly the same phrase, he wants us to remember what he said earlier, “I’ve told you these things so that in me you may have peace.” And he’s making a very clear connection here between joy and peace which is interesting because we don’t tend to think about them that way. We think about joy as having pleasure because our circumstances are pleasant. It’s what we feel when our circumstances are pleasant. He says, “No, no, joy is not a feeling it’s an ability, it’s the ability to be at peace.” He says, “I’ve told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.” And then it goes on and he says this, he says, “In this world, you will have what’s that word church? Trouble. Can I get an amen on that one?
Craig: Right, Jesus definitely was right about that, right? “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” And it’s so interesting he makes it very clear that he wants us to have joy, but there’s a very close connection between joy and peace. And clearly, Jesus is talking about a very different kind of joy than we often think. Listen, joy isn’t pleasure, because of pleasant circumstances. It’s what the world teaches but it’s not true. Joy isn’t pleasure, because of pleasant circumstances. Joy is a peace, even in unpleasant ones. It’s the ability to be at peace, even when circumstances aren’t pleasant. And the reason that we can do that is because we’re waiting on God’s promises. Because Jesus said, he says, “Yeah, in this world, you will have trouble but I have overcome the world.” And we haven’t fully experienced that but that’s a promise from him. That everything that comes against us in this world Jesus himself has overcome that’s a promise. And any promise Jesus makes any promise that God makes is the promise you can depend on completely. So even though we haven’t fully experienced it yet, we absolutely will. And so that piece comes because we’re waiting on God to fulfill his promises. And that’s joy, as Jesus understands it. It’s the ability to be at peace because we’re waiting on God’s promises. And I think at that point, you begin to understand why it is that our inability to wait well to wait on God well is such a huge obstacle to the experience of joy.
So, what I wanna do today is I wanna take you to a part of the Christmas story that God has been using to teach me to wait well, or at least, to wait better. I still have a ways to go on this one. But in this Christmas story, that really, we often overlook, because it’s not really part of the Christmas day experience. This is actually kind of the sequel to the Christmas story about eight days after Jesus was born we have the story of a man who knew something about waiting. Waiting is never easy it doesn’t matter what we’re waiting on. Waiting is hard. But in the story, we actually find four keys to waiting well.
This is Luke 2:21. “Now, on the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name of the angel had given him before he was conceived. Now when the time came for their purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord. As it is written in the law of the Lord, every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord and offer a sacrifice in keeping with what was said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of doves and two young pigeons. 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. And 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 he 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 prepared in the sight of all nations, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people, Israel. The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.”
Would you pray with me? God, we thank you for your Word and we thank you for this story of your servant Simeon, who knew a lot about waiting, he had been waiting a long time to see what he got to see that day. I asked that you would give us the ability as we look into your Word today to learn the lessons that are given to us here about what it means to wait on you well, in Jesus name. Amen.
God’s been using the story of my life to teach me how to wait better. And in the description that we have of Simeon, there’s actually four keys that I see to waiting on God well. They’re all kind of tied up in verse 25. Luke 2:25 says, “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.”
Let’s start with that description that he was righteous and devout. To be righteous is probably an easier one to understand. He did the right thing. He did what God said to do. And he didn’t do what God said not to do, we kind of understand what it means to be righteous. It means to be faithful. He is faithful to God, especially in the big things. But then Luke adds this other word is interesting. You don’t really have to have the other words to say his righteousness is enough. But he goes a little bit deeper and he says, “And he was devout.” And that’s not a word that we necessarily use very often it may not immediately give us an understanding of what it means we just rarely use it in the modern world. When we do use it, we usually mean that somebody is very religious, right? They’re really committed to their religion.
In fact, if you go to Google and you type in “What is a devout?” This is what you get. What’s a devout Catholic? What’s a devout Christian? What’s a devout Muslim? What’s a devout person? What’s a devout Jew? What’s a devout Baptist? What’s a devout Puritan society? I don’t know why people are searching on that one so much, but they are. We understand almost all those are religious, right? And so yeah, we kind of understand that’s what it means to be devout means to be really religious, right to be very religious. And it certainly can mean that we often use it in that way. But actually, this wasn’t written in English and the Greek word that Luke uses there doesn’t really mean very religious, it means very careful. It means very careful not just committed but careful.
And what Luke is saying is, yes, he was righteous, but we often think of righteous kind of as the big things but he’s saying he was also careful. Yes, he was faithful, but he was also careful not only in the big things but also in the smaller things that God had called him to do. And it’s interesting to me, we often think that waiting well is mostly about hanging on until the waiting is over. But in reality, what Luke’s helping us to understand here is that waiting well as about what we do in the meantime. It’s about leaning in to being faithful to God while we’re waiting on him. So that we’re found not only faithful but careful in being faithful when he finally moves in the way that we’ve been longing for him to. Stop this let’s just be faithful, but careful. That’s your first key to waiting well. Be careful to be faithful while you wait. You know, we often think yeah, it’s the big things and maybe during the season. If you think about something you’ve been waiting on God to do you know, you’re trying to be faithful, but maybe it’s the bigger things, right? You know, it’s like, yeah, you know, I’m being faithful to my spouse, or, you know, I’m not going after another religion. I’m not getting into sin here and there. But I want you to ask yourself a much more difficult question about being careful. Here’s the question, is there something I know I need to be doing maybe some smaller thing that I know I need to be doing that that I have allowed to, slip during this season of waiting?
Maybe it’s reading your Bible. Maybe somehow that practice of going to God’s Word every day has just somehow kind of fallen into the back burner. I know a lot of people early on in this video they’re like, “I’m reading my Bible so much more.” Now, I’ve talked to a few of them they’re like, “Yeah, that stopped, in fact, I can’t remember the last time I did that, because I wasn’t in church or something.” Well, maybe that’s it for you. Or maybe it’s praying, same thing, a lot of people beginning of this pandemic, they were like, “I’m leaning into prayer so much more, and now not so much.” Or maybe it’s engaging with your neighbors, checking in on them, and praying for them. Or maybe it’s connecting with people that need to hear the good news of the gospel they just need kindness or encouragement from you to set the stage for that. There’s a lot of things that you know, they’re not the big ones you wouldn’t say, “I’m living in sin. No, no, I’m just not doing that little thing.” But God says that one of the keys to waiting well is to be careful to be faithful to all the things that he’s called us to do. So, is there something maybe that you know, you’re supposed to be doing that you’ve allowed to slip during the season?
“Now there’s a man in Jerusalem called Simeon who was righteous and devout. He was faithful and careful. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel and the Holy Spirit was on him.” Since he was waiting, or at least that’s what the New International Version that I’m reading says. Another translation, the New American Standard shows the other way and translations tend to go either way it’s about 50/50. The New American Standard says he was looking for the consolation of Israel. You might go wait which was it? Was he waiting or was he looking? Was he waiting or was he watching? And the answer is, yes. He was doing both of those things. Because again, the Greek word that Luke uses here means both things. It means waiting and watching. And the point is that he wasn’t just hanging out, holding on until eventually what he’s waiting for to happen. It says he was actively looking for it to happen. He had his face pressed up against the window, waiting for. You know how it is with Amazon right now that was that the sound of Amazon, is that my package? Anybody feel like that, right? Because that’s one of the reliefs that we’ve had in this pandemic is they bring things to us and we’re waiting is it now, is it now?
That’s what he’s talking about not just the act of waiting, and we tend to think of waiting primarily as an act. But what we’re being told here is that it’s an attitude. And in fact, when it comes to waiting, attitude is everything. The attitude with which we wait makes or breaks our experience of waiting, and it makes or breaks our experience when the waiting is over. There’s basically three attitudes that we can wait, what I’ve discovered. We can wait with an attitude of irritation, resignation, and anticipation. How many of you have ever waited for something with an attitude of irritation? Online, go and type in admitted, right? How many of you have ever waited with an attitude of resignation? This is just what I’m doing now. Yep. If you ever waited for anything with an attitude of anticipation, huge difference, right? I mean, if you wait with an attitude of irritation, it transforms not only the experience of waiting but the experience of your waiting, being over to. Like, I mean, what happens is we get irritated that we’re waiting so long, that’s how it starts, right? I’m irritated at the length of the wait. But then it eventually gets moved from the length of the wait to the person who’s making us wait, right? We’re irritated with them.
Guys. Have you ever waited outside a dressing room while your wife tries on a bunch of different outfits where your friend tries on a bunch of different outfits? And it just goes on and on and on. Eventually, she comes out and she’s looking good, right she’s hot. Like that might be your new favorite outfit. But you’ve gotten so irritated not only by the wait but at her that she comes out and you go and you’re like, “Can we go now?” Well, guess what, you’re never gonna see that outfit again. Or let’s be an equal opportunity offender here. Ladies, if you’ve waited on your guy to do something, you ask them to do maybe fix something around the house? And eventually, he did. But you were so irritated at how long it took. And then you were so irritated with him when he finally did it, you’re like, “Well, it’s about time.” Yeah, that’ll get him off his butt next time you want him to move faster, right? But see it not only changes the attitude of waiting, but it changes our experience, even the fulfillment if we wait with irritation.
If we wait with resignation, sometimes what happens is we kind of forget what it is that we’re waiting on or who it is that we’re waiting on. And we kind of end up doing things we would never have done otherwise. I have a friend who swears this is true that he was waiting outside of a dressing room in a department store. And in his defense, it went on a really long time. And he knew he was missing the Bronco game, he’s frustrated by that. And eventually, he was just like, “I gotta do something else.” And so, he wasn’t getting good cell reception so he moved from the dressing room out by the department store doors because he thought he might get better coverage. And he did. And so he was able to watch like the last 10 minutes of the game. And it’s one of those awesome endings. They didn’t think they were gonna win. And then right at the last minute, they pulled it out, you know, touchdown, field goal “Awesome.” He was like, “Yes.” And then he left. He was so excited. And he forgot what he was doing. He went to the car and he drove home. And as he was driving the phone rang, “Where are you?” Oh, right. Let me tell you when they got home, it was not a joyous homecoming. See sometimes when we wait with resignation, we kind of forget what it is. We’re just like, “I’m so…I guess that’s just what I do now.” We end up doing things we shouldn’t be doing in the meantime.
But if we wait with anticipation, it changes the waiting into a growing sense of I can’t wait and maybe now and maybe now. And when finally, the waiting is over it’s all much better because we’re waiting in anticipation. And that’s what Luke’s talking about. He was watching. And that’s your second key to waiting well, don’t just wait, watch. Don’t just wait. Watch for God, wait with an attitude of anticipation. You know, I’m a pastor, which means that you know, because Christmas Eve is like Super Bowl Sunday for us. I really can’t travel. And so, for the last 27 years of marriage, I haven’t been able to go to my family or to Coletta’s family and they’ve been very gracious. They’ve always come to us. And my parents, they always leave from somewhere in Ohio, and we kind of know when they’re leaving. And we’re anticipating them arriving and for the last 27 years, they have never once had to ring the doorbell at my house. There are already people in the yard ready to greet them like my kids when they were little we’re watching and waiting. And if we weren’t able to do that we put the dog in the front room and she would bark if anything happened that wasn’t supposed to happen. And we’re like, “I know that’s them.” Now, it’s easier now I can track them on my phone. Like they’re in Kiowa, they’re in Franktown, they’re almost in Castle Rock awesome. But we’ve always been on the front lawn ready to greet them when they turned in because we weren’t just waiting. We were watching, we were waiting with a sense of anticipation.
And that’s really what Simeon is doing. And if you think about it, it allowed him to greet God’s Savior, it allowed him to greet the Messiah, and it allowed him to greet Jesus, earlier than almost anybody else. I mean, the only people that really got to greet Jesus earlier in this were the shepherds. And I don’t think they count. They had a huge advantage, right? They were out there in the field doing their own thing, and a choir of angels shows up and start singing. I don’t think that counts, right? How do you miss that? But Simeon, Simeon was watching. And because of that, he was able to greet Jesus here within about a week of his birth. I mean, the only people who were close to that were the wise men. And if I read the timeline, right, that was probably about two years after this before they found Jesus. Everybody else had to wait 30 years, 30 years to see Jesus for who he was. But not Simeon, Simeon was there, and he didn’t miss it. Why? Because he had been watching.
So, let me ask you this question. What can I do to maintain an attitude of anticipation as you’re waiting for God to move? And if you think for a moment, right now, or maybe that thing is you’re longing for God to do things you’re waiting on him for? What can I do to maintain an attitude of anticipation as I wait on him?
One of the things I found helpful over the years is just consistently going back to Scripture and reading the promises of God to see what it is that’s coming. What it is that he has in store when he moves in my life? You can actually just Google Bible promises from God, and you’re gonna get all kinds of webpages and they highlight different ones that I occasionally just I do that I type in Bible promises from God. And I’ll read through a bunch of the promises. And I find that it heightens my sense of anticipation that whatever it is that I’m waiting on, it begins to make me think it’s gonna be awesome. Because I know, because of what God has promised that when he shows up that when he delivers, it’s gonna be even better than I expected. Maybe it’s that or maybe it’s just learning to wake up every day and pray, “Lord, give me a sense of anticipation today.” Or maybe it’s learning to get up and go, “I wonder if this is the day. I wonder if this is the day that God finally moves and does what I’ve been waiting for him to do.” But that sense of anticipation, that attitude will transform not only the experience of waiting but the experience when the waiting is over. And so key number two is, don’t just wait, watch, wait with an attitude of anticipation.
It says,” there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon who was righteous and devout. He was waiting and watching for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.” So he was waiting, watching for the consolation of Israel. And that’s a word that we definitely don’t use very often in the modern world. And when we do, it doesn’t have a positive connotation, right. The only people who get a consolation prize are the people who didn’t win. But we wanna make them feel a little bit better about the loss so we give them a consolation prize. And what we mean by it is we wanna make them feel better, we wanna comfort them. And that’s really what the word means. It means to comfort them. But the Greek word that Luke is using here is a specific kind of comfort. It’s not a comfort that comes from a distance. It’s not because somebody sends a message, or a text, or a Facebook post that says, “Hey, I’m thinking about you and you know, here’s a Scripture verse to encourage you, or just some words that you might find helpful and comforting.” No, it’s not comfort that comes from a distance. Literally, the Greek word means a comfort that is there because someone comes alongside you. It literally means to call or to come alongside someone.
And the point is that Simeon is not waiting for God to do a particular thing. He’s waiting for God himself to come alongside his people. Now, you need to understand that several centuries before this, Israel had left God’s side, they rebelled against God, they stopped obeying his commandments. They began worshipping false gods. They walked away from God. And because of that, they entered into a season, of pain, they entered into a season of suffering, into a season of oppression. They’d been oppressed by all kinds of foreign governments during this period. Their people had been scattered; their temple had been destroyed. Their cities had been raised because they walked away from God. But God had promised that he would come alongside his people, even though they had left him. And that’s what Simeon was waiting, he was waiting for God himself to come alongside his people.
Now, the rest of Israel was waiting on God too, but it’s interesting, the rest of Israel was waiting not so much on God, but they were waiting on what they wanted God to do, what they expected God to do. They were waiting for God to rise up a Messiah. And they believed the Messiah would be a warrior and that he’d collect all the soldiers he’d raise up an army of Israel and they fight back against their Roman oppressors of that season. That was the empire that they were under the authority of. And so, the Messiah would raise up an army and they fight against Rome and they would establish Israel’s independence. Israel was waiting on a what? They’re waiting on what they wanted God to do. Simeon was waiting on a who. He was waiting on God himself. And maybe he was thinking about that very often quoted Christmas verse in Isaiah chapter seven, “That the virgin shall be with child. And his name shall be Emmanuel.” We sang that just a little while ago, Emmanuel, which means God with us. That’s what Simeon was waiting on for God himself to come along to his people. And Simeon had been waiting on a what, what he expected God to do. If he was waiting on what everyone else was expecting God to do when he was led by the Spirit and that subtle way into the temple that day, and the Spirit moved him into that part of the court and the Spirit said, “Hey, pay attention to that couple.”
He probably would have been confused, right? Because he didn’t see what everybody else. If he was waiting on what everybody else was looking for, he would have been looking for a big man, a big strong warrior with a lot of people gathered around him. Because he was giving them an inspiring speech, right? He was going, “They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom.” Braveheart, right? And he would have been really confused by what the Holy Spirit was saying he would have been like, “Oh, is he behind them what’s?” But he didn’t miss a beat. He picked the child up and he said, “This is who I’ve been waiting on.”
Here’s the key. The third key to waiting well, wait on who not what. Wait on who not what. So, the problem is, at least I get so fixated on what you know, you guys know that for a long time we were waiting for God to heal my daughter. She had some chronic abdominal pain. And I was waiting on a what, I’ll be honest, I was waiting for God to heal her pain, and because I was focused on a what, I missed the fact that God came alongside my daughter in that season. And he began to do things in her that I didn’t see because of what I was waiting on. He who began I’m just now beginning to understand honestly, how much I missed. How profoundly he began to move and to grow her heart and her strength, her discernment, her resilience, her passions.
He was at work in her in a way that I didn’t see. I’m just now beginning to understand how profoundly he worked in my daughter’s life during that season that I’m so grateful for. But I’m only now seeing it because I spent a whole lot of time focused on what and when you’re focused on what God’s gonna do this what, rather than waiting on who we don’t see all the other, what’s he’s doing. And we’re frustrated, like, “God, why aren’t you showing up?” And God’s like, “Hey, I’m here. I’m just not doing exactly what you thought.” So, stop waiting on a, what, and maybe wait on a who that’s your third key.
So, let me ask you this question. Think about that place in your life, where you’re waiting. And ask yourself this, am I waiting on God? Or just what I want him to do? Because if you’re just waiting on what you may miss the fact that God has already come alongside you, and God is doing something maybe even better than what you were waiting on.
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, he was righteous and devout. He was faithful and careful. He was waiting, he was watching for the consolation for God to come alongside his people, Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.” Which is an interesting statement, actually, the Holy Spirit was on him. Because in the first century, before Jesus had died on the cross and risen from the dead, most of God’s people didn’t have the experience of the Holy Spirit of God himself, being with his people in a very personal intimate way, every moment of every day. That was something that happened after Jesus rose from the dead. It’s an incredible privilege that we have as followers of Jesus, that when we say yes to following Jesus, God himself and the person of the Holy Spirit comes and takes up residence in our hearts. He is with us in an intimate, personal way every single day. He’s with us, he’s come alongside us. That’s what we have as followers of Jesus. But in the Old Testament era, before Jesus rose from the dead, the Holy Spirit didn’t typically do that. He only did that on some occasions for some people, but Simeon was one of those people. And what I would suggest to you is that almost everything else we’ve seen is part of the reason the Holy Spirit was with him in this way. The Holy Spirit was drawing near to him. God promises that he will draw near to us, when we draw near to him. Well, Simeon had been doing that. And in the person of the Holy Spirit, God was doing that.
Which meant and this is so interesting, that while Simeon was waiting on God, he was also waiting with God, right? He was listening to the power of the Holy Spirit, and he was listening to the leading and the nudging and that’s your fourth key to waiting well. Don’t just wait on God wait with God. If you’re a follower of Jesus, you have what he had. He had the Holy Spirit there every day and what the Holy Spirit does is lead us to make the most of that season while we’re waiting because there are things that need to be done during that season. And Simeon was filled with the Holy Spirit. He was listening to the Holy Spirit. He was he was waiting with the Holy Spirit. And it was because of that, that he ended up in the temple that day he had developed a habit, of listening and responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, which made him more sensitive.
Do you know that’s how it works? The more that we listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, the more we get sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. And it’s because he had done that all along because he wasn’t just waiting on God he was waiting with God. He’s been listening to his promptings, that when the Holy Spirit kind of gave him that little nudge. Because the Holy Spirit doesn’t usually lead through like things catching fire and deep voices speaking out of them. It’s more subtle than that. It’s the still small voice of God that we have to listen to and respond to. And because he’d been doing that, when the Holy Spirit said, “Hey, I think you should go to the temple today.” He got up and he went to the temple. And as he walked into the temple court, something in his spirit, because of the Holy Spirit said, “Maybe you should be right over there, so that you don’t miss it in the crowd. And as you see that couple, pay attention to that couple.” So, he wasn’t just waiting on God, he’s waiting with God.
A few years ago, some of you heard the story. A few years ago, I was in Walmart it about Christmas time at Walmart Highlands Ranch and I had one of those experiences I just came in and I walk right past a couple of guys that were on a bench. And they were in some kind of heavy conversation. I honestly didn’t think much about them I walked right past them. The moment I stepped past them, I had this thought, which is “Hey, you should tell those guys that you know, they’re Christians.” And I was like, “No. That would be weird.” So I ducked into the office supply aisle.
And I had a conversation with God I was like, “God, was that you? Holy Spirit, was that a leading?” And you know, God said, Nothing. There was nothing else. I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe the binders would start flapping or something would catch on fire, so I don’t know. But I’d had enough experiences at this point to realize that you know what, here’s the thing if you think it might be the Holy Spirit, you should do it. And honestly, if it’s a good thing, why wouldn’t you do it? And I was like, “Yeah, but this is a weird thing.” But it was such a clear thought. So, I went back out and they were deep in conversation, I stood in front of them, kind of like this and they had this…they could see my shoes. So, they did one of these. And I was there like, “Hey, ” said, “I feel like I’m supposed to tell you that I can tell you’re Christians, you’re followers of Jesus, are you?” Because that would have been awkward, right. And they both went, “Uh-huh.” And it turns out they were pastors, and they’d been having a conversation right before I came up, one of them had said to the other, “I’m not sure that anybody can even tell. I’m not sure they might even tell that I am a follower of Jesus, I’m not sure it’s making any difference.” And I was like, “Well, apparently it is. The light of Christ is shining out of you. And I just think you need to know that.” And I walked away.
This incredibly encouraging thing for them to experience and I got to be part of it because I listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. It’s interesting when you listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit to do those things. It’s interesting how more sensitive you become. And so, I found that in the days after that, how many times I just had this very clear, more clear than ever since yeah, I need to make that phone call. I need to, I need to send that note, I need to have that conversation I need to lean in, in this conversation. The more we live with God, the more we find that we’re not just waiting on God, but God’s waiting on us. He has things he wants us to do all along the way, while we’re waiting things that we would miss out on if we just wait on God and don’t wait with him responding to those leadings.
In Ephesians 2:10 says that there are good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do even while we’re waiting on him to do what only he can do. So that’s your fourth key. Don’t just wait on God wait with him. And so, let me ask you to ask yourself this question. What is the Holy Spirit leading me to do in this season of waiting? What’s the Holy Spirit leading you to do? Maybe you’re a mom, and you’re just waiting for the kids to go back to school. And if you’re feeling like that, do you know what you are? You are normal. It’s okay. But maybe the Holy Spirit’s leading you to lean in. Maybe there’s an opportunity while they’re still home right now to maybe to go through an Advent reading with them every day. Our kid’s ministry is produced a great one and maybe the Holy Spirit’s leading you to lean into helping them understand what Christmas is really about in a unique way in an opportunity that you haven’t had before. Or maybe you’re waiting for your husband to go back to work. Or your wife or maybe you’re the husband or the wife waiting to go back to work, but you have an opportunity, and the Holy Spirit is leading you to lean into your relationship with your husband, your wife now. Maybe begin praying in the mornings before you head off to your rooms to do your work. Or maybe you’re a student and you’re waiting for school to open, but maybe God is calling you to lean into your relationship with your parents or maybe your brothers or sisters. Maybe he’s leading you to lean into your relationship with your neighbors or that person that he’s put in your heart. What’s that good thing that he’s calling you to do? That maybe it takes a little out of faith it’s a little nerve-wracking, but he’s calling you to do it right now and you know it. Maybe you need to lean in.
Four keys to the waiting on God, well, whatever it is, you’re waiting for.
Key number one be careful to stay faithful. Not just to the big stuff but those little things that maybe you’ve allowed to slide that you need to push back into. Key number two don’t just wait, watch. Wait with an attitude of anticipation so you don’t miss God moving in the moment that it begins to happen. Key number three is, wait on who not what. Wait on God more than what you’re hoping God will do. I’m not saying God won’t do that but waiting on him is so much more powerful. And then number four, don’t just wait on God wait with him, be on mission with him while you’re waiting. Look, waiting is not easy. Can I get an amen on that? But there’s power in waiting.
Isaiah 40:31. “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
Pray with me. God waiting is hard. We’ve done a lot of waiting this year. And many of us are waiting on things that have nothing to do with 2020, we’re just waiting for you to do what only you can do. And our hearts are heavy as we wait. And we’re even wondering why you waited so long. But Lord, we thank you for your servant Simeon in this example, we’re given in your Word. And we ask that you’d help us to take these lessons and change the way that we’re waiting to learn to wait well. To have joy and to be able to rejoice because we’re able to wait well on your promises.
If you’re listening to this, and you’re a follower of Jesus, would you do me a favor would you start praying right now for the people that are listening to this and they’re not followers of Jesus? And if that’s you, let me just speak to you for a moment. You’re waiting on something too, you may be aware of it, you may not be aware of it. But we’re all waiting. And I said that one of the keys to waiting well is to wait with God and I want you to know that that’s a possibility for you too. Whatever it is you’re waiting on; you can wait with God. God wants to come alongside you. It’s really what Christmas is all about. He loves you so much. He sent his own Son to Earth. Jesus lived a perfect life. So he had no wrong that he had to pay for he had no sin that had to be made right. But he died on the cross to make our wrongs right, he died on the cross to pay for our sins. Three days after he died, he rose from the dead. And he offers us that when we put our trust in him when we say yes to following Jesus and putting our faith in him. He gives us the Holy Spirit. God himself comes and takes up residence with us. He comes alongside us and he wants you to have that not just now but for all eternity. That when we begin a relationship with God, it begins now. It changes everything about now. And it does so for all eternity it brings us to eternal life.
You can be forgiven of your sins, have a relationship with God, have God alongside you. You can wait on whatever you’re waiting for with him. And if you’ve never said yes to faith in Jesus, you can do that right now. You can experience everything I’m talking about. Here’s how you do it. Just you’re gonna have a conversation with God in your heart right now. Just say this to him say, “God. I’ve done wrong. I’ve committed sin. I’ve rebelled against you. I’ve walked away from you. Thank you for sending Jesus after me. Jesus, thank you for dying to pay for my wrong, my sin. I believe you rose from the dead. And I understand that you’re offering me forgiveness, salvation, new life, and yourself. You’re offering to come into my life so we can be together forever. I want that. So, I’m saying yes, to following Jesus. Right now I’m committing to put my faith and my trust in Jesus Christ. Jesus, come into my life I’m yours for now and forever. Amen.”
We’ve already had some people make that decision this weekend, can we welcome those who made the decision right now? Say yes to Jesus. I want to you know God has come alongside you, He’s come into your life right now and everything is gonna begin to change. We wanna give you five truths that will help you begin to live in this new relationship with him and experience this new life that God’s given you. Here’s how you can let us know so we can give you those truths. If you’re watching online, you can click the button right below me that says “I committed my life to Jesus.” If you don’t see that if you’re one of our campuses, you don’t have a button below me right now, you can text the word Jesus to 888111. Text Jesus to 888111. And when you do that, whether you click the button or text Jesus, you’re gonna get back a link it’s gonna teach you five truths we just want you to have those that link will take you to five truths about living with God now, for now, and forever. Hey, Merry Christmas. We’ll see you next week.
We continue to lean into our sermon series on rejoicing in spite of our circumstances. This week addresses our relationship with control. Everyone has areas where they are trying to control what they can’t or shouldn’t, which limits joy. But when you trust God’s control, you can experience mega joy.
Craig: Actually, some of the people it’s a little more evident and they’re a little bit more inclined to admit it, but I think all of us actually have control issues. And there’s good reasons I say that. First off, actually, the reality is that that our desire to take control is rooted in what it really means to be human. It’s interesting, I grew up in a church where I was told all the time, you know, “God’s in control. Our job is just to let go and let God. God’s the only one in control. Human beings don’t have any control.” But I actually don’t think that’s a biblical idea. In fact, if you go to the first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1, when God talks about the creation of human beings, he says this, this is Genesis 1:28, or we’ll start back in 27.
“So, God created mankind in his own image. In the image of God, he created them; male and female, he created them, and God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Isn’t that interesting? God said that something is really closely connected to being in his image is that we’re supposed to subdue creation. We’re supposed to rule over it. That’s control. God actually made us to take control. Now, you may have never heard that in church before, but I want you to hear it from God’s Word. God actually created us to take control of certain things. That’s what it means to be human. And so, the reality here is, good news, if you are a self-identified control freak, that’s actually rooted in something that’s fundamentally connected to what it means to be human. Taking control was part of what God made us to do.
Here’s the problem though. The problem is that sin came into the picture. And sin is not creative. Sin doesn’t make up new things. Sin takes things God made and it twists them until they become something God never intended them to be. If you think about almost every list of sins that you can imagine, everything on the list, if you look at it, it’s probably ultimately a good thing that’s been taken outside of its parameters, it’s being used in a way God never intended. And that’s the problem with control, is that sin came in and it twisted it and it turned it into something it wasn’t supposed to be. And so God made us, let me be clear, God made us to take control of certain things that we can and should be in control of.
But sin has come in and it’s pushing us and it’s trying to make us take control of things that we can’t and shouldn’t be in control of. Things that are outside of our control. Things that are only God’s. And so what happens is sin causes us to try to take control of other people. Sin causes us to try to take control of our circumstances, our future, things that we don’t really have any control over, only God does. And sometimes, honestly, sometimes sin actually causes us to even try to take control of God, to manipulate God, to do what we want him to do. So those are the things that we can’t and shouldn’t be in control of. And that’s why I think we ultimately all have sin issues because we were all made to have a certain amount of control, but we’re ultimately all sinful and it’s kind of, it’s working out of whack now.
What I want to do today is I want to take you to a part of the Christmas story that God’s been using in my life to take control of my control issues. And here’s the good news. If you recognize that you have some control issues, here’s the good news, it’s actually connected to something God made you to be. It’s just being used in a way that God never intended it to be. And so, I want to take you to a story that I think shows us ultimately what happens when our control issues aren’t under control, not used the way God intended, but also what’s possible, what good thing is possible when we allow God to redeem our control issues? We’re going to be in Matthew Chapter 2 if you wanna follow along. Matthew Chapter 2, starting in verse 1, it’s probably a familiar story to many of you. And even if church is brand new to you, by the way, welcome. So glad to have you with us if this your first time with us.
But even if you don’t have much of a church background, you probably know a little bit of the story. There’s gonna be some very familiar characters. This is a very familiar part of the Christmas story. Matthew 2:1 says this, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in Judea, during the reign of the time of King Herod, Magi from the East, came to Jerusalem and they asked, “Where is the one who’s been born? The King of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose, and we have come to worship him.” This is the story of the Magi. Okay? Now, by the way, if that’s a new word for you, you may have heard of the wise men, or maybe you sang the song, “We three Kings.” Christians love to change the name of these people. Wise men sounds a lot better, three kings sounds better than Magi.
And the reason is because magi is actually the root word of our English word magician. In other words, and we’re not talking, David Copperfield kind of stuff, we’re not talking David Blaine, okay? We’re talking about people who practiced occult arts. They did divination, they read tea leaves or the entrails of animals to tell the future. They practiced astrology and all these kinds of occult things that the Bible forbids. And so it’s very strange, honestly, that, whereas we’re going to see, they’re kind of the good guys in the story, but they’re not supposed to be the good guys. And so we tend to sanitize it and turn them into the wise men. But in fact, he says, they’re Magi. It’s a Persian word and it’s actually probably the best indication we have that they came from Persia. That was the part of the world that was east of Israel. And because this is a Persian word, that probably means it came from what was once Babylon. That area of the world.
But the main thing to recognize is they’re not Jewish. That’s really important. They’re not Jewish, they’re not Israelites. And yet it says they came “Because we saw his star rising. We saw a star,” and they associated that with the birth of a King in Israel. And they said we’ve come to what? Say it with me, “To worship him.” Now, when we hear the word worship, we kind of naturally assume that, oh, they must be coming to praise him or to bow down to him as God. But the reality is that the word worship doesn’t always have a religious connotation, especially in the ancient world. In fact, it’s interesting. The Greek that this was originally written in the main Greek word for worship is “proskuneo.” It’s two words there.
You don’t need to know proskuneo but it’s important to say there’s two words there. Pros means towards, and kuneo means to kiss. The Greek word for worship means to kiss towards someone or to blow kisses. And that seems like a strange word for worship, but you need to understand in the ancient world, everybody was on a hierarchy. Everybody was somewhere on the social ladder and one of the first things you did when somebody was coming towards you is you kind of assessed who they are and you ask the question, “Do they have some kind of control over me?”
Because if they had any kind of control over you, that changed the way you would greet them. If they were in the same level with you, they had no control over you, then you might kiss them on the cheek as a greeting. If they were a little higher than you, and they had some degree of control over you, you might kiss them on the back of their hand. On the other hand, if they had a lot of control over you, if you were truly under their control, what you would do is you would bow down and you’d blow kisses towards them. And basically, what you were saying was “I submit to your control. I recognize who you are. I know who I am in relation to you. And I submit to your control.” And in the ancient world, this is so important to understand, to worship is to submit to someone’s control. You hear me, church?
That’s essentially what it is, is to submit someone’s control. Now, here’s the good news. That means that we do a lot of things in our worship, that we don’t always associate with worship. We’re actually worshiping God a lot more often than we think we are. When we sing songs to God, we’re recognizing his authority over us. Of course, we’re worshiping, but also when we give, when we give generously and when we help others with the resources we have, God’s called us to do that, we’re submitting to his control, that’s worship. When we read our Bible as he’s called us to do, that’s submitting to God’s control. That’s worship. When we respond to the promptings or the movements of the Holy Spirit in our lives that we talked a little bit last week. When we sense God leading us to do something, whether it’s to say a word of encouragement or make a phone call or do something like that, every time we do that, we’re submitting to God’s control. We’re worshiping. So, the reality is a lot of us are a lot more common worshipers than we might otherwise think we are.
Now, the bad news is, if to worship is to submit to someone’s control, the bad news is we’re probably all worshiping some things that we have no business worshiping. We’re all allowing certain things to control us and we’re willingly submitting to that control, even though they don’t have the right to that control over us. But ultimately, worship is to submit to control. And so these Persians, these occult practitioners, these non-Jewish people come because they heard there’s a Jewish king being born and so they came to submit to his control. And that’s very important to this story. Now, those are the Persian, the non-Jewish people, and now we’re gonna get a chance to talk a little bit about King Herod. King Herod is the Jewish king. He is a Jewish person and the Jewish people at this point had been waiting for hundreds of years for this king to be born. They’ve been waiting for, in some cases, over 1000 years for the Messiah to arrive.
And so when these Magi come and say, “Hey, we’ve seen the signs that the prophecy has been fulfilled, that the Messiah is here,” what we expect is that all the Jewish people should rejoice. But Verse 3 says this, that, “When King Herod, heard this, he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him.” Instead of being delighted, King Herod was disturbed. And this is really the first indication that we get that Herod was a guy with some control issues. So, here’s the thing. I’ve come to understand this in my own life. Maybe you’ve seen it in yours. The more we strive for control, the more we’re disturbed by change. Right? In fact, if you find yourself not sure if you’re a control freak, or if you have control issues, ask yourself this, how do you deal with change? And by the way, I’m not talking about changes that you institute. Like, those of us who love control, we’re happy to do changes. We just don’t like it when other people change things around us.
There was a book a few years ago called “Who Moved My Cheese?” Like, my cheese is supposed to be right there. That’s where it’s always been. I don’t like the fact that somebody came along… Because the thing is, like, when we have control issues, we get things organized the way we like them to be. Whether it’s our family or our kitchen or our desk or our office or whatever it is, we get things to the way we want them to be and when something else comes in and changes it, it’s disturbing to us because we can’t control it. We have to start over trying to get, “How do I get this exactly the way I want it?” Right? And the reality is the more we strive for control, the more that we are disturbed by change. This is our first indication that Herod has some control issues.
Now, it’s not the first indication for the rest of Israel that Herod has control issues. Israel already knew this because the reality is this, at this point in his life, Herod had already publicly executed two wives, a mother-in-law, and three of his sons. Publicly executed all those people because he thought they might not be loyal to him and he was concerned that they might be out to get his throne. Now, most of the ancient historians said there was no evidence for that. He didn’t produce any evidence. He just thought it might be the case and so he publicly executed them. I think if we had a scale of 1 to 10, Herod’s a 15 on the control issue scale. There’s no question he’s a control freak, and that’s probably why Matthew says, “When King Herod heard this, he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him.”
We can sort of understand why it is that Herod was disturbed, because a new king threatens his control. But why was the rest of Israel concerned? And the answer is they’re not disturbed that the Messiah might’ve come. They’re disturbed because they’re worried about what Herod’s gonna do. They’ve already seen what he’s capable of, and here’s the reality. Okay? The more we strive for control, the more we tend to produce chaos. Do you hear me church? The more we try to control things, whether it’s another person or our family, or even our environment or whatever it is, the more we try to control, the more often we end up producing chaos in the lives of the people around us. You’ve probably all experienced that and you may have all done that on one level or another.
Our attempts to make control happen produce chaos in the lives of other people. That’s why they’re disturbed, because they’re wondering what this is gonna do to them because it’s threatening his control. He says this, he says that “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.” And I think it’s interesting. It’s just when he called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he called together all the religious leaders and all of their religious scholars. And it’s interesting that Matthew says he called them all in. Because the reality is at this point, the Jewish people have been waiting for the Messiah for hundreds and hundreds of years. They’re all very well aware of the old Testament prophecies about the Messiah’s birth.
He only really needed one. Probably any of the chief priests could have told him where the Messiah was supposed to be born. Certainly, any of the religious scholars, the scribes could have told them where the Messiah was to be born. But he didn’t call one or two or three. He called them all. Which, it’s another sign of control issues, really. Because control freaks have a little bit of a tendency to overreact. Any overreactors? Any mountain out a molehill people with me? I am. I definitely am. And maybe even more importantly, here’s the thing. The more we strive for control, the more we make our problems everyone’s problems. What we’re upset about becomes upsetting to other people because we insist on involving them. Because that’s part of what it means to strive for control. To call them all.
And they answered, they said, “In Bethlehem, in Judea,” they replied. In Bethlehem, in Judea. “For, this is what the prophet has written.” This is the prophet, Micah, “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.” And it’s such a powerful promise. There’s a picture being painted there, not only about where the Messiah is going to come from, but what kind of a ruler he’s going to be, right? It says, “A ruler who will,” what’s that word? Shepherd. A ruler who will shepherd my people Israel. It’s so powerful because this is an incredible contrast to the kind of ruler Herod was. Herod was a controlling ruler. Herod was driven by controlling people and building monuments to his power.
In fact, one of the things that Herod is known for, one of the good things, is he did all these big building projects. And in fact, during his lifetime, he did a massive expansion of the temple in Jerusalem, all of which sounds like a great thing, except that, and one ancient historian says the reason he did it was so that he could have a capital city worthy of his glory. It’s how the ancient people understood Herod’s leadership. It was all about him. He was about control. He was about power. But the Messiah says, there will be a ruler who will shepherd. And shepherds aren’t about control. Shepherds are about care. Shepherds are all about the health of the people that they rule. I think it’s so fascinating. I love it that later in this Gospel, Matthew records the time that Jesus in his adult life had begun to attract huge crowds.
And in Matthew 9:36, he says this, “When he, Jesus, saw the crowds, he had compassion on them. Because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.” But he was the shepherd. He was the shepherd who came and because of his compassion for his people, he was willing to do whatever is necessary to serve them, to lead them to health. He said, “I didn’t come to be served. I came to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many, for all of the sheep,” so that we could be restored in our relationship with God. See, Jesus was driven by compassion. Herod was driven by control. And I wonder if in that contrast between these two we don’t see a very powerful principle that might help us to begin to deal with our own control issues. See here’s the truth. The more we’re driven by compassion for others, the less we’re driven to control them.
We don’t see in Jesus’s life, a desire to control anyone. To serve them, to save them, absolutely, but not to control them. And I wonder if that’s because he was driven by compassion. On the other hand, we look at Herod’s life and we see a man with very little compassion. Even on his own family, no compassion and yet a huge desire to be in control. And I wonder if what we’re seeing there is that compassion and control, they sit on opposite sides of the see-saw. Like, if you’ve got a lot of compassion, there’s just not a lot of room for control. On the other hand, if you’ve got a lot of control going on, there’s not a lot of room for compassion. Or maybe it’s like, you know, when control jumps in it smashes it down and compassion goes weee. It’s just out of the picture now. Right?
But it might work the other way around too, that the greater we grow in our compassion, the more we fling our desire and our need and our desperate striving to be in control out of the picture too. And so maybe, maybe rather than doing what I think we so often do, which is just praying, “God, make me less controlling,” maybe instead of praying, “God, make me less controlling,” we should be praying, “God, make me more compassionate.” Because I believe that as compassion comes in, it pushes control to the side and it’s only there functioning for those things we can and should control and no longer striving to control what we can’t and shouldn’t. So, if you feel like maybe control is something that you’re struggling with, maybe start praying for more compassion. Very hard to try to control somebody you’re compassionate on. On the other hand, it’s hard to be compassionate for somebody you’re controlling, so pray for greater compassion.
Verse 7 says, “And then Herod called the Magi secretly, and he found out from them the exact time the star had appeared, and he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. And as soon as you find him report to me so that I too may go and worship him.” And even if you don’t know the story, you’re a little suspicious at this point, right? Like, “Yeah. I don’t know about that guy.” I mean, he says, “Hey, I want you to go and find this new king so that I too may worship him, that I too may submit to his control over me.” It’s interesting. As I was preparing for this message, I did some reading about what psychologists have found about control issues. And it’s fascinating to me, one of the clear associations they found in studies is that people who have strong control issues also lean towards using deception.
In fact, the more controlling people are, the more likely they are to be deceptive, to lie on a regular basis. Because the reality is that what’s happening is we’re using untruths to try to control people, to get them, to do what we want, because we know that if they heard our true motives, they saw our true selves, they might not go along. They might not do what we wanted them to do. And so deception is a very natural kind of parallel to this need to be in control. And certainly, we see that in Herod here. He’s lying. “But after they had heard the king, they went on their way and the star that they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. Now, when they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” And if you can, I want to encourage you to underline that word or highlight that word overjoyed. We’re gonna come back to it in just a moment.
“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 they worshiped him.” They bowed down, they submitted to his control. One of the ways they did that, “Then they opened their treasures and they presented him with gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. Now, when they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, “Get up,” he said, “Take the child, his mother, and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill Him.” So he got up, he took the child and his mother during the night, and they left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.” And then Matthew says a fascinating thing, “And in this way was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the through the prophet, “Out of Egypt, I called my Son.”
It’s interesting. About 800 years before these events took place, the prophet Hosea had been given a prediction that the Messiah would be called out of Egypt, to come up out of Egypt. What’s interesting, of course, is that Joseph and Mary and their family, they’re not Egyptians. They don’t know anybody in Egypt. There’s no particular reason to be in Egypt. In fact, historically, Egypt was the enemy of Israel. And so why on earth would they go there? Well, they went there to flee from Herod because Herod was trying to kill them, so they had to get away. And how did they live while they were foreigners in a strange land? Well, they’d just been given very expensive gifts. Through the Magi, God provided everything they would need for their sojourn in Egypt.
And then when Herod had died, they got to come up out of Egypt, fulfilling the prophecy. But this is crazy, I mean, think about this. Mary and Joseph would never have gone to Egypt if it hadn’t been for Herod. So the prophecy was fulfilled because of Herod. Herod’s working against God’s agenda, but he ended up accomplishing God’s agenda. Is that crazy to you? And so, here’s the thing, the control issues that we have aren’t, again, they’re not just about going, “I’m not gonna try to control anything,” because God has made us to control some things. There are things we can and should control, but then there’s things that are God’s and we can’t and shouldn’t try to control them. The problem is that trusting God’s control is hard for us because trust doesn’t come easily for us.
To trust, we have to learn that somebody is trustworthy. To really trust, we have to become convinced that they can be trusted. So if we’re gonna trust God’s control, then we have to trust that he can’t be controlled. And in this, I see an incredible piece of evidence that we can trust God. And it’s this, we can trust God’s control because even the attempts to work against him end up working for him. Do you see that? Herod’s working against God’s agenda, but it ends up just checking off the boxes that God had already planned to have checked off.
And I don’t know about you, but I can say in my own life, I look back and so many of those times that I go, “This is not your will for me, God. This can’t be your will for me. There are things coming against me. There are things that clearly are working against your will.” And yet those become the very things that God uses to grow and to shape me and to make me into the man, the husband, the father, the leader that I’m supposed to be. I wouldn’t trade any of those things. I mean, I wouldn’t go looking for them again, let’s be honest, but I wouldn’t trade them because God was there… They might’ve been working against God’s purposes, but they ended up working for his purpose. How many of you have experienced anything like that in your life?
The Bible is filled with stories of that. And I think it’s for that reason that the Apostle Paul says this, this is Romans 8:28. He says, “And we know,” we don’t guess, we don’t hope, we know we see it throughout the pages of God’s Word, but we’ve also experienced it throughout our lives as we follow Jesus, we know that in all things,” not some things, not most things, in all the things, including the things that seem to be working against God, “We know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, and who have been called according to his purpose.” One of the best ways to begin to surrender our control or our attempt to control those things that we can’t and shouldn’t, is to learn that we can trust God. And in here we see powerful we can trust God’s control because even those things that work against his will end up working for it. Herod has a hard time with that lesson. Herod continues to try to take control of what he can’t and shouldn’t.
And verse 18 says this, “Now, when Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious.” And it’s interesting that Matthew says, “When he realized he had been outwitted.” Different versions translate the Greek word there differently. Some versions say, “When he realized he had been tricked.” The King James, interestingly enough, the King James says, “When he realized he had been mocked by the Magi.” And in that case, actually, the King James actually has the most literal. It’s interesting to me. At different points in time, different translations are more literal than others. People like to say, “Well, this one’s more literal. That’s not…” it actually varies all the way across all the translations. But in this case, the King James has the most literal translation that, “When he realized that he had been mocked…”
Which is interesting because I don’t think the Magi were, like, telling Herod jokes as they went home. Right? I don’t think they were coming up with ways to tear him down. They weren’t coming up with slick burns on Herod, right? They just weren’t. They probably weren’t much thinking about him, but from Herod’s perspective, “They’re mocking me.” From Herod’s perspective, “They’re making fun of me.” From Herod’s perspective, “They’re tearing me down to other people.” And you know what’s going on there? It’s insecurity. I mean, it’s insecurity that causes us to wonder if other people are talking about us. Does anybody else have this? Have you ever walked past a group of people, or maybe even just two people that are talking and you wondered, “I wonder if they’re talking about me.” Is that just me? It’s probably just me. Okay.
That fear that other people don’t think well of you. That fear that other people might be telling other people you’re not so great. That’s one of the most powerful fuels for our control issues. The reality is this, the need for control is often rooted in insecurity. We tend to think that our need for control is rooted in, you know, ego, right? We’re, you know, we’re just all full of ourselves. But it’s interesting, Quincy Jones, who’s a music producer said, and I love what he said. He said, “Ego is just overdressed insecurity.” We look at people and go, “They’re power-hungry. They’re just control freaks. They just want to be in control.” A lot of times, actually, it’s driven by an insecurity. I know in my life a lot of my control issues were driven by insecurity. I want to control this or that or these people or whatever it is so that people won’t get a glimpse behind the curtain and see that I’m not all I’m cracked up to be. And I’m not all that I hope they think that I am.
The reality is the need for control is often rooted in insecurity. And so, I’d like to encourage you to think about something for a minute. Think about a place in your life where you probably, if you’re really honest, have had some control issues. Maybe a place in your life where you’re a little bit more likely to try to take more control than you should. Maybe you’re trying to take control of something that you can’t, or maybe you’re not supposed to, that you shouldn’t. And then ask yourself this question, “What’s driving my striving? What’s driving my need to exert control where I can’t and shouldn’t have it. What’s driving my striving?” And you may very well find that there’s an insecurity there.
And the powerful thing about this is that when you can identify the insecurity, you can begin to ignore it. See, when we begin to understand where the voice is coming from, we can begin to go, “Oh, okay. Yeah, I hear you. I’m just not going to listen to you. I hear you, but I’m not going to give you the final vote in how I behave.” It’s so much easier when we can identify where it’s coming from, to what’s driving your striving in that area where you’re trying to be more in control than you really can or should. He had realized he had been mocked by the magic he was furious, “And he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity, who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.”
And then what was said through the Prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled. “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping in great mourning. Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted because they are no more.” I mean, what we have there is a powerful cautionary tale about what can happen when we don’t get our control issues under control. And again, I wanna remind you that the desire to control isn’t inherently bad. It’s part of what it means to be made in God’s image. The problem is that sin has twisted it so we’re not trying to control what we can and should. We’re beginning to try, we’re striving for control because of insecurity or whatever it is, we’re striving for control of what we can’t and shouldn’t have control of, and what we see here is what happens when that sinful twisting of this natural capacity is allowed to run its full course.
He ends up killing every boy two years and younger in this whole region. It’s a powerful cautionary tale about what happens if we don’t get our control issues under control. It’s interesting. Herod receives word of the birth of Messiah, the birth of God’s Savior, and there was no joy in that realization. There was only fear and anger and struggle and ultimately, pain. And he propagated hurt to more and more people, and yet, there was a group of people who had a very different response, right? I mean the Magi came to worship and they did. And I want you to go back with me. I mentioned it a little bit earlier, but I want to go back there. In Matthew 2, verse 10, we’re told something really interesting about the Magi. It says that, “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” I love that word. They weren’t just joyful. They were overjoyed. And in the original Greek, it literally says, I kid you not, it says, “They rejoiced exceedingly with mega joy.” How cool is that?
“They rejoiced exceedingly with mega joy.” Like, I want mega joy. Do you want mega joy? How do we get mega joy? I was setting this passage and praying about it and I found myself trying to recall a time in my life where I had experienced mega joy. And there were two times that I think I came closest, and both of them were at the birth of my daughters. I remember holding their little bodies and experiencing two, what I thought were contradictory emotions. On the one hand, I felt probably least in control than I ever had at any point in my life because they were just handing me a human being. And they were like, “Hey, good luck with that.” And there was so little I could control. I mean, I couldn’t control the way their bodies developed, I couldn’t really control who they were gonna be, and there are things that I could do and I’m going to do them to try to raise them right.
But at the end of the day, you know, they’re going to make their decisions. And there’s so much that I can’t control. I can’t control diseases that might come in. There’s so much. And I remember feeling out of control and so unable to exert control and at the same time feeling incredible joy. And I looked at the story this week and I thought, “Oh, it’s so interesting.” The man who exerted or tried to exert the most control experienced no joy, and those who consistently submitted to God’s control experienced mega joy. And I thought, oh, I had a light bulb moment. I went, “Huh. I see what you’re doing there, Jesus.” Yeah. See, striving for control limits joy, but trusting God’s control, multiplies it. Striving for control of what we can’t and shouldn’t control, it actually limits our capacity for joy, but submitting to God’s control actually multiplies it. And that’s the key.
It’s learning to trust God’s control over that that we can’t and shouldn’t control. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it actually opens us up to an experience of joy greater than we have had before. So maybe you’re going, “Okay, I get it. I’m a control freak. I’ve got control issues. I understand how it can be really bad. I understand that it could be really good, but how do I get better at it?”
Let me give you a couple of thoughts. Number one is this, start off with just remember what’s at stake. Remember what’s at stake. Our attempt to control what we can’t and shouldn’t causes pain, it produces chaos, and it limits joy. Both in our lives and in the lives of others. So start with remembering why we want to get our control issues under control. Remember what’s at stake.
Second thing is this, is reframe letting go as opening up. We tend to go, “I just need to learn how to let go of control,” but there’s kind of a negative piece to that, right? Instead, maybe we need to be thinking, “What I need to do is I need to get my hands off of that so that I can reach out and take something else.” You’ve probably heard this, this is old, so I don’t even know if it’s true or not, but what they say is that the way they catch monkeys is they get a hollow log with little hole in it. And they put a banana in there. Monkey sticks his hand through the hole, grabs the banana, but then he can’t get his fist out because he’s holding the banana, and he’ll just stay there because he won’t let go. I don’t know if that’s true, but I know I’m like a monkey in that way a lot of times. And maybe you are as well. We get a hold of something and we’re so attached to it that we’re not willing to let it go and what has to happen?
Well, somebody needs to come along with a bigger banana, right? “Oh, I don’t want that banana. I want that one,” right? That’s a weird image. Let’s forget that. Forget that. But here’s the thing, what God is offering is so much better than what we’re trying to seize with our attempt and our striving for control. So maybe what we need to do is reframe it. It’s not so much about letting go of control, it’s about opening ourselves up for something so much greater that God has for us. And the third thing we’ve already talked about a little bit. Third thing you can do is identify and then ignore your insecurity. Identify that voice that’s calling you to exert control, identify what it is that insecurity is because then you can begin to go, “I hear your voice. I’m just not gonna give you the final vote in my behavior.”
And then just really practically, something I’ve been working on, start small and work your way up. Start small and work your way up. Don’t start with, “God, I’m just not gonna try to control anything anymore that I can’t and shouldn’t. I’m just done with all that.” That’s not gonna work. But maybe start with something that you go, “You know, there’s a place here where maybe I could control, but I probably shouldn’t. You know what I’m gonna…I’m gonna let go of that thing.” And what you may begin to find is as you do that, you experience a joy you didn’t expect, and it becomes easier and easier to deal with those other things. Those bigger things that we try to control, even though we can’t, and we shouldn’t.
Here’s a question to reflect on. Is there an insecurity that I can identify behind my control issues? Identify it so you can start to ignore it. And then what’s one thing…? I encourage you to find one thing this week where you can practice trusting God’s control a little bit more. Just one thing. I promise you that as you begin to let go of those things that God never intended you to have control over, you’re gonna experience peace and a joy you never thought possible.
Would you pray with me? God, we thank you for our capacity to control things. We recognize it’s a gift from you. It’s part of what it means to be human. It’s an honor that you would share some of your control with us who have been made in your image.
But we confess that our sin has twisted that capacity into something it was never intended to be, and it causes a lot of damage. It limits a lot of joy, both in our lives and the lives of others. And so we confess to you all the ways that we have tried to control things that we can’t and we shouldn’t. We ask for your forgiveness and we’re grateful knowing that we have it in the person of Jesus. Lord, we invite you to teach us to surrender more control over the things that we can’t and shouldn’t be in control of to you. Give us a greater sense of confidence and as we trust you, Lord, would you give us mega joy?
Just take a moment right now, just pray over the God who is in control of everything. Pray to him and ask him not only to be working in your heart, but to be working in the heart of those that are listening to this message who don’t have a relationship with him. They don’t yet have a relationship that’s rooted in the trust of him. And if that’s you, maybe you’re listening to this. Maybe this is your first time in church in a long time. Maybe it’s your first time ever. And maybe in this message you’ve heard a reality that you can’t ignore in your own life, which is you’ve been striving for control over things and it’s caused damage, it’s caused harm, it’s caused pain for you and for others. And maybe you realize for the first time it’s because you’re trying to control things that you can’t and shouldn’t.
There’s a God who can and should. There’s a God who loves you and his desire for you to surrender control to him isn’t just so that he can control you, but so that he can bring you joy and peace. God loves you so much he sent his own Son to die to pay the price for every wrong you’ve ever done. For all the damage caused by our control issues and every other way that sin has twisted us into being what we were never intended to be. Jesus died on the cross to pay for all of those. That’s why he came. Three days later, he rose from the dead. After rising from the dead, he offers each of us a relationship with God. It’s a relationship that comes by faith in surrendering to God’s loving, shepherding control over us.
If you’ve never had a relationship with God, you could have it starting today. You can have all your sins forgiven, you can be promised a place in heaven, and you begin to live a new peace and joy that only comes from trusting in the God who loves you so much. I want to tell you how to do that. Here’s how you do it. You’re just going to have an honest conversation with God. You’re gonna tell him a couple of things. Here’s what you’re gonna tell him. Just say this after me in your own heart. Say, “God, I have done wrong. I’ve sinned. I’m sorry. But thank you for loving me enough to send Jesus. Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I believe you rose from the dead. I believe you defeated death so you can offer life. Jesus, I’m ready to surrender myself to you. I’m ready to submit to your control over me. Jesus, I’m saying yes to following you. And I receive from your forgiveness, new life. Jesus, I’m yours, for now, and forever. Amen.
We’ve had several people will make that decision already I’m sure we just did in this moment. Can we celebrate with them and welcome them into the family of God? I love this. Hey, if you made that decision for the first time today, we wanna celebrate with you. We wanna give you some tools to help you begin living in this relationship with God. So, I’d love for you to do this. Just, if you’re watching online, click the button below me, it says, “I committed my life to Jesus.” If you don’t see that, just text the word “Jesus” to 888111 wherever you are, whether you’re on a campus or watching online. And when that happens, what’s gonna happen, you’re gonna get back a link and that link is gonna take you to five truths we want you to have about a relationship with God. Five things are true about you now that you’ve said yes to following Jesus. We wanna put those in your hands, so please let us know you made the decision today. Merry Christmas. God bless.
HOPE FROM ABOVE
Why is light so central in the Bible? It’s the first thing God says in Genesis – “Let there be light” – and at Christmas we celebrate the coming of Jesus, the light of the world. This week we’ll look into the importance of light and the good news delivered to humble shepherds on the night Jesus was born.
Reza: Well, Mission Hills, it is so great to be here with you. And I can’t tell you how good it is to be together in this place. It’s always great to be together here. And whether you’re together here with us in this auditorium, and I’m so thrilled that we get to be here, but I also know through technology that we’re connected. And I know we’re connected in living rooms, and we’re connected with small groups and families that are gathered around together at the kitchen table or wherever you’re at, or maybe you’re listening throughout the course of this week, that we are connected, and we are together, and together is always better, and it’s good to be here.
And so here we are in the midst of the Christmas season. The celebration of Christmas, it’s within reach, and we could see it. And I know all the emotions that that could bring. And I don’t know about you, but I love the things that have to do with Christmas. I love the food of Christmas a lot. I love the traditions of Christmas, the songs of Christmas. I love the songs of Christmas. I’m like the dysfunctional one that, like, just waits for all the Christmas songs to start. And, you know, give you a little bit of insight into my dysfunction. As soon as Labor Day is over, I start listening to Christmas music privately. I know it’s not, you know, good to go public with it just yet.
So just privately, I’m listening to Christmas music in the car and on my headphones and all that. But then once Halloween is over, like, it’s on. Like, I don’t care if you’re one of those pre- or post-Thanksgiving people. Like, it is out and it’s public. I’ll even go on the station, like, you know, the first week and second week of November, and I’m going through every radio station finding out which are the ones that I’m gonna save, they’re going to play that 24/7 Christmas music, even though, you know, some of the songs they play are, I’m like, well, I’m not sure that’s a Christmas song. Like, you know, they play my favorite things. Like, I don’t know if that’s a Christmas song or supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Like, I’m not sure that has anything to do with Christmas, but it makes us happy. So it’s good. So we settle with all these other great songs that we listen to.
But, you know, something that I’ve started to totally love when it comes to Christmas is the lights. I don’t know why, but as I get older, I appreciate the lights of Christmas. I am from Northern Colorado. And so that’s where I live. We live in Northern Colorado, and about 20 miles from us, there’s this town called Greeley. And maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you’ve smelled it. Maybe you was, like, seeing Greeley in any way, but there’s this house, and they’re called the Greeley Griswolds. And, like, they do their house up for Christmas. So it’s always a tradition for us to go by and check out the Greeley Griswolds.
And I love the lights, but even as you go into a downtown, then I started to think to myself, why are lights so central to the Christmas celebration? Like, what is it about lighting up trees and lighting up downtowns and lighting up streets and lighting up buildings? Why is light…why does it elicit so much emotion and so much wonder around Christmas? You know, when you think about lights, the first thing that God says, the first communication of God in Scripture recorded for us… Do you know what it is? God said, “Let there be light.” So, light must be pretty important.
I married a woman who was a speech communication instructor at Colorado State University. That’s where we met. So she was teaching speech comm there. And I know this, being married to someone who teaches speech comm, that the first thing you say and the last thing you say are fairly important. And the first thing God said was, “Let there be light.” So, we’ve got to understand why, why is light so central? Why do you think God chose that?
And we’re gonna talk today that I believe light is central to who God is, and to understand light, you’ve got to contrast light to darkness. And so we’re in a series called “A Weary World Rejoices.” And here’s why we’re diving into this series. And it’s not just a line from a Christmas hymn that is sung. The reality is we are living in a world and in a time, in a year, that is incredibly weary, but not just…this isn’t like just, you know, for us. Like, it has been this bad, but sometimes we’ll say, “Man, 2020, it’s never been this bad before.” But you know what? It has been this bad before. And in some parts of the world, even pre-COVID just a few years ago, it’s been worse than what we experience.
But even talking about light and contrasting it to darkness, the people of the first century that encountered Jesus, this first story, the story that we hear that is so familiar to us, that they themselves were living in a land that was pretty dark, and not just dark because there was no electricity, but there was emotionally dark. There was political upheaval that was happening. The government was unstable. There was a lot of control and posturing that was happening. Disease was rampant, and disease would actually separate people from others. There was a lot of uncertainty, and there was a lot of conflict that was happening in the hearts of people. But it was dark, not just because the government was unstable, not just because economically things were just kind of all over the place, but it was spiritually dark.
You see, as you look through the story of God and Scripture, the Scripture is split into two parts. There’s an Old Testament and a New Testament. The Old Testament is basically a very simple way of saying that everything that happened before Jesus and the New Testament starts with what we call the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the story of Jesus, his interactions with humanity, and then the letters and all the things that came out after the resurrection of Jesus.
So in the Old Testament, we are introduced to these characters that are called prophets, and the prophets of God are essentially God’s messengers. So the Holy Spirit would come and he would rest upon certain men that God would choose, and these men would communicate to God’s people. And so for the people, there was this comfort, knowing that the prophets heard from God, had the Spirit of God and would communicate God and God’s standards to their people. There was almost this comfort found in the teachings and the words and the hopes of the prophets.
So there’s one prophet, Malachi, in the Book of Malachi. This minor prophet book that’s the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi was the last recorded prophet that we know of. And then after Malachi, for 400 years, there was nothing but silence. No prophets, no word from God. Generation after generation after generation, centuries went by and no communication from God. Could you imagine the spiritual darkness that was happening?
Like for us and where we live, like not being able to attend church or go to a church for a year has really…we struggled with that, 400 years of spiritual darkness and no communication. Why would God do that? We’ll talk about that in a little bit, but this is the darkness and the weight of weariness that people lived under. And it’s in this darkness that people held onto words like the Prophet Isaiah in Chapter 9, verse 2, where Isaiah says, ”The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” Not a little light, not a small light, but they saw a great light. ”On those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned.”
You know, as we read the Christmas story, sometimes we fantasized it because we sing songs like ”Silent Night,” and it’s a wonderful song. I love ”Silent Night.” I love when we light candles on Christmas Eve and sing “Silent Night.” But do you know the reality, that night probably wasn’t very silent. I mean, even Joseph and Mary, they couldn’t find a place to stay because the city was so crowded. I’ve never been in a crowded city that’s silent. There was a census happening, so people were going back and forth and trying to find a place to stay and trying to figure out where they could go. And I’m sure in the mass of people that were traveling, kids had gotten lost, and parents were screaming, trying to find their kids. And here’s Joseph and Mary in a stable.
I’ve been in some stables. They’re not usually that quiet. And so we’ve fantasized this story, but we’re also so familiar with the story that I wonder if we’ve missed some of the realities of the story. And so that’s where I wanna sit. That’s what I wanna take a look at. I want us to peel back the layers because sometimes we’re so familiar with this, that we miss some of these key elements.
So if you wanna follow along, open your Bible, or open up your device, turn to Luke Chapter 2, or your app, maybe you have the Mission Hills app. Go ahead and turn to your app, go to Luke Chapter 2 and follow along with me. In Luke chapter 2, verse 8, and we’re gonna read, ”And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks 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, I bring you good news…”’ That’s important. ”…that will cause great joy.” That’s important. ”…for all the people.” We’ll talk about that.
”’Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you. He is the Messiah, the Lord, and this is gonna be the sign to you. You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly, a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”’
You know, as we take a look at the story and we’re introduced…we’re gonna look at the story of Christmas from one perspective. We’re gonna look from the perspective of the shepherds. And this isn’t the first time in God’s story that shepherds are illuminated, and shepherds are talked about, that we read the words of Psalm 23. You may have heard it, “The Lord is my shepherd.” All throughout the Scriptures, there’s talk of shepherds that are taking care of God’s sheep, and there’s all these illustrations that are used, but yet there’s something about shepherds that we’ve gotta understand.
And this will give you a little bit of a picture of how shepherds were looked at, because shepherds were not the most esteemed people in society. That if we go back and even in the time when…the David and Goliath story, most of us familiar with the David and Goliath story, that David was a young shepherd boy and his father, Jesse, had asked him as he was keeping his sheep, “Hey, can you go check on your brothers?” Because his brothers were actually out and they were on the battlefield with Saul, the first king of Israel, and they’re about to face the Philistines. And this is where Goliath came from the Philistines.
So David takes the supplies and he goes to his brothers, and then he goes to where the armies are. And one of his brothers actually sees David talking to some of the generals, and his brother gets so angry at David, and he looks at him and he goes, “What do you think you’re doing here? Like, who’s taking care of those few sheep,” you know, “little shepherd, boy?” You see, that’s how people looked at shepherds. Shepherds weren’t respected. Shepherds were the bottom of the rung of the ladder of society. Shepherds were not only stepped on, they were typically stepped over. Shepherds were unclean.
I’m not sure there was many moms and dads that would go to bed just hoping that their child would grow up one day to become a shepherd. It wasn’t something that was looked at. And the way that I wanna look at this is, as we are weary, the shepherds were in the wilderness. I wonder if you might feel that way a little bit. Maybe you’re in a situation, a circumstance where you feel stepped on and stepped over. Maybe you feel unclean or outcast. Maybe you’re in the midst of a divorce. Maybe you’ve been divorced, and you just kind of feel like, “I’m just not sure I fit in anymore.”
Maybe you’ve never been married, or maybe you’re losing something, or maybe something is happening where you kind of feel stepped on and stepped over, an outcast from society, then you know exactly what these shepherds were feeling like. Or maybe you’re just feeling tired and weary and almost like this year has been a wilderness.
So, here’s the question, why would God send his very first birth announcement to a group of shepherds out in a field keeping watch over their flocks? Like, what’s so significant about that? Couldn’t God tell more important people because the more important people have a bigger platform to go tell other…? Doesn’t God want his Word to spread, so tell people that have a bigger voice? It’s not the way God works.
As we find them right here, the first birth announcement came to these weary shepherds in the wilderness. Here’s what I want us to take a look at, the shepherds had a posture, not a position. The shepherds had a posture, and because of their posture, they were able to see God in a different way that those of us that may not have the posture might have a, quote, unquote, “higher level of respect in society,” we may have missed some of the things that the shepherds definitely saw because of their servant’s posture in the wilderness. And that posture led them to worship the Messiah, even if they were driven to the bottom of the rung of society in the wilderness.
See, first, we find these shepherds, they’re keeping watch over their flocks by night. They were faithful. They were servants. They didn’t think they were too important for any job. And I wonder if that’s something for us to look at, that a servant’s posture is the first element seeing Jesus as Savior.
Let’s take a look at this, verse 9 and 10. Let’s go back to the beginning. Let’s go verse by verse and see what is being communicating and what’s happening. ”An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.” So imagine they’re in the dark, pre-streetlights, pre-house lights. It is dark as dark can be, and the stars are as bright as they can be. And then, all of a sudden, which was a normal, regular night, all of a sudden, ”An angel appears and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.”
Of course, they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ”Do not be afraid.” Let me stop right there. I think some of the reasons that people are afraid of God is because when God is far away or when God is unattainable, he seems scary to us. I almost think it’s this principle that keeps many people… If you’re not a Christian, you’ve thought about being a Christian, but you’re just not a Christian because there’s just some facts and some things in our minds that we just can’t grapple with or just can’t come to comprehend, I want you to know that’s okay.
I think these shepherds were terrified because they have a lot of questions about God, and then the angel shows up and it’s almost…they see themselves how little they actually are and how big and grandiose God is. So of course, they were terrified, but the angel says, ”Fear not, don’t be afraid, I bring you good news.” I don’t bring you bad news. I bring you good news. And this good news is gonna cause great joy, not happiness. Happiness is emotion that comes and goes. But the angel says the good news that I have for you, it’s actually so good that it goes beyond your happiness emotion, and this good news creates a perspective in your heart that will give you great joy, and this great joy is for all people.
Not just some people, not just the good people, not just the Christian people, not just the Republican people, or the Democrat people, not just the people that think the way that I think or vote the way that I vote or have perspectives on the world or race the way that…for all people. And this good news will cause great joy for all, A-L-L, all people. And he hears what the good news is. The Greek word is euaggelion, the Gospel, the good news of Jesus. And here’s what the Gospel is, the good news of Jesus is all about this.
Listen, if the good news of…if Jesus doesn’t sound like good news, then may I say that I think maybe you’ve been exposed to a corrupt version of Jesus, because Jesus, in himself, in the story of Jesus, is good news. And here’s the good news about the good news. The good news is not get your act together. The good news is not get to church, and the good news isn’t stop sinning. Matter of fact, the good news is gooder than all of those things. And I know gooder is not a word, but English is my second language. So it’s gooder than all of those things. And the good news is this, that Jesus…John calls him the Word, the word Jesus is the Word that you and I, when we communicate, we use words to communicate.
A lot of times, we use verbal words. Some people use sign language. Some people use their hands, but no matter how we communicate, we use words. The way that God, the Father communicated with his creation was through the Word, Jesus, capital W. So, here’s the good news. The good news is the Word became flesh and dwelled among us. That when my kids are scared, they don’t need me to do anything, but yet to come to be with them. And here’s the good news, that God became flesh and he dwelt among us.
The Word didn’t become a religious system. The Word didn’t become a theological checklist. The Word didn’t become a political movement. The Word didn’t become an emotional experience. The Word became flesh. The Word became humanity to come and to dwell and to be with us. And this is the beginning, the cusp of the good news, the Word became flesh and existed within us.
And then the angel communicates the good news and continues this way. Verse 11, ”Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you. He is the Messiah, the Lord, and this is gonna be a sign to you, you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger.” And I wonder if the shepherds are thinking to themselves, “Wait a minute, why a manger? Shouldn’t, like, the Messiah we’re in… And then you’re saying the Messiah came, the Messiah is a baby wrapped in cloth. We get that. That’s what you do to be…but in a manger, shouldn’t the Messiah be in a mansion? Like, why a manger?
And it’s almost as if like as the shepherds are contemplating, this, the angel is saying, “You’re gonna see a baby wrapped in cloth, lying in a manger.” And as they’re confused about this, all of a sudden, the Scripture very clearly says suddenly, so in half an instant, suddenly, a great company of heavenly hosts, the sky lit up, appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ”Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth, peace on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ”Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they’re off to go to Bethlehem and see what has happened.
So why a manger? Why wasn’t the Prince of Peace born in a palace? That’s where princes are born. But I wonder…like, think about this. Like, I wonder if God put Jesus in a place where he was born in a manger, because a manger is accessible to everyone, even lowly bottom-of-the-rung shepherds, or even outcasts or those that feel like they’re stepped on and stepped over.
Like, when my kids were born…and if any have you and your extended family, if you know anyone that has given birth to a baby in the last 10 years or so, 10, 15, this is what happens, when the baby is born, the parents get a wristband, this electronic wristband, and the baby gets a wristband. And I can only go into that room and be with that baby if my wristband matches the wristband on that baby. That people from the outside cannot come in. There’s like five levels of, like, people that you have to go through just to get to a newborn baby in this day and age.
Newborns aren’t accessible, even today. They don’t have to be princes not to be accessible, but yet Jesus was laid in a manger so that everyone would have access to this infant. And so all of these angels appear, and here’s the good news. The good news is the reality of Christmas. There’s this theological term called the incarnation, that Christmas is the incarnation of God coming and dwelling with us in flesh. That God didn’t become sinful, but God, in his deity and in his holiness, came and dwelt among sinful humanity.
See, that’s the good news of Jesus. It’s God with us, not God against us, not God apart from us, not God apathetic towards us, but God with us. And here’s why God with us is so foundational and so needed for us. Because of God with us, we now understand. So, the Apostle Paul, he wrote a bunch of letters to some churches, and he lays out a lot of our theological understanding in the letter to the Romans. And in Romans, he talks very eloquently about our nature. And so when we’re born, we’re actually born with what’s called a sinful nature. That you don’t have to, like, teach somebody how to be sinful.
If you’re a parent of a two-year-old, you know, you don’t need to teach kids how to sin. Like, you don’t have to teach kids. Like, adults, like, we’re experts at it. Like, we sin, like, really good. But, like, kids, like, you don’t have to teach it. Like, here’s an example. Well, my daughter…I have three kids. I have a 12-year-old, a 10-year-old and a 7-year-old. And they’re all wonderful children. And they’re the cutest little sinners you’ve ever seen in your life. Like, they’re wonderful.
And one day, we were sitting here watching…my youngest was two, my middle child, my son, was about five, he was about four or five, and he was laying down on the ground, on the carpet, playing with his Hot Wheels, just like he did it most nights. And my wife and I are sitting on the couch, and we’re just kind of watching our kids play. And we watched this happen. I promise we didn’t know what was gonna happen, or else we would’ve stopped it, but we didn’t. We were just kind of watching them play together. My two-year-old, wonderful, love her, she’s a wonderful little girl, picks up a Hot Wheel, at two years old. She looks at it. Her brother’s laying on the ground playing with his Hot Wheel. She picks up one of his Hot Wheels, and she looks at the car, and she looks at him, and she walks on over and she takes the Hot Wheel and smacks him on the head with the Hot Wheel.
And we were like, “Oh no, this isn’t going well.” And I promise you this, my wife and I, my dear wife, Alison, and I have never gotten down and talked to that little sweet two-year-old girl and said, “Macy, here’s what I want you to do. Next time Owen is down and he’s playing with his Hot Wheels, I want you to pick up a car. I want you to walk, and I want you to smack him over the head.” We’ve never taught our kids how to do that.
See, we have a propensity towards this thing called sin and brokenness. And because of the sin that is in our life, we are separated from God. In Romans chapter 6, Paul writes and he tells us, ”For the wages of sin is death.” That the payment received for the work that we do is death. Now, that doesn’t mean that as soon as you sin, you drop down and die. Because if that was true, let’s be honest, it’d be a lot less sinning happening in this world if that happened. But it doesn’t mean that we physically die once we sin. But when we sin, we are spiritually dead, and not because God’s mad at us and not because God is disappointed in us. It’s not because God’s sending us to our room, because he’s you know, punishing. It’s because of this, because God in himself. He is holy and he is perfect. And yet when we sin, we’re unholy and we’re imperfect, and an imperfect humanity cannot be in the presence of a Holy God. God is too holy for that.
So because of our sin, there is a gulf that separates us. There is a barrier, and that barrier is called sin. And so instead of leaving us in that state of separation, God doesn’t abandon us in our sins. He made a mysterious way for us. It’s almost as if, symbolically, God brought down…the Father brought down an infant in his arms and laid him in a manger, through a normal woman, named Mary, through her fiancé, Joseph, who was a carpenter who actually had some pretty hard decisions to make because his fiancé was pregnant and other people were starting to talk.
And he gives us Jesus. And he brings Jesus under the rule of Herod in a time of upheaval, in a time of uncertainty, in a time of disorientation, in a time of wilderness for his people, in a time of silence and in a time of darkness. That’s when God chose to enact his rescue mission, to break that barrier, to bridge the gulf from that barrier, to make a way, to bust a hole so that sinful humanity could once again dwell with the holiness of God.
See, Jesus was a rescue mission. That’s the good news of the Scriptures. The good news is not get your life together. The good news is that God did the work for us. Listen to how Paul says this in Colossians Chapter 1, ”For he has rescued us for the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.” So he gives us a child wrapped in cloth, lying in a manger, a feeding trough, representing he is the bread of life. He is the one that sustains us, and he’s accessible to everybody.
This Jesus lived a sinless life on this earth, voluntarily climbs on a cross. His body was broken for us. And then once again was wrapped in cloths again, but this time laid not in a manger, but in a tomb. But you see, just like that manger was for everybody, the tomb is for everybody, because the tomb was empty. And the resurrection power that Jesus showed, his resurrection power so that you and I know that whether we’re weary, we’re lonely, we’re tired or worn out, we can still trust in the victory that is happening. That’s the good news that the angel said…you understand now why the angel say, “I’ve got good news of great joy,” and that good news of great joy is for all, A-L-L, all the people, that God actually bridged the distance of that barrier between us and him, himself through Jesus.
You know, when I think about the Christmas reality of God coming in the midst of darkness and weariness, I oftentimes think back to 2010. Do you all remember the Chilean mining accident in 2010? In 2010, if you don’t know the story, 33 miners were at 3 miles… They were trapped. Think about this, 33 miners trapped 3 miles under the earth for 69 days in darkness and in weariness.
And if you think of it, miners, probably a lot like shepherds, they’re not the ones that are the most esteemed in society, yet they do something incredibly valuable for us in society. I’m not sure there’s a lot of parents that are laying awake at night saying, “I sure hope my son or daughter grows up to be a miner.” Maybe own a mine, but not be a miner. But yet these 33 miners just went down into the earth, just like they normally do. And I’m sure they practiced, and they practiced scenarios and everything, but nothing, absolutely nothing could prepare these 33 miners for what was about to happen to them. They go 3 miles under the earth, and an accident happens, and they’re trapped.
Three miles of earth above them. Talk about the weight of literally the world on your shoulders. And they’re trapped, and it’s dark, and there’s no hope. And it’s like they’re banging on the walls. That’s not gonna do any good. Yelling at the top of their lungs isn’t gonna do any good. Can you imagine the weight of weariness that they experienced for 60-plus days? And I wonder just if, in their minds, they thought to themselves, “I sure hope there’s a rescue plan coming.”
Like, of course they thought about their women and their children, and of course they cried, and knowing that there’s probably others that are heartbroken for them. And they’re just hoping that there’s gonna be a way out, because this just seems too unbearable. How can we even survive? Because every day you wake up, you don’t even know, is this gonna be my last breath? Like, our supplies are running out. There’s 33 of us. We’re wasting oxygen in this…under the earth, and everything is too heavy.
And afterwards, some of them were interviewed. And they said that after about, you know, day 40, 45, they started to hear some of the humming. And so hope was starting to arise in their hearts. But the hope for them didn’t do any good, because it was still dark. That some of the mine would shake as they heard explosions and hoping that people were frantically trying to get to them. And yet, on the other side, there was plans in place and there was people doing absolutely everything they could to get to these 33 trapped miners, 3 miles under the earth.
And then, almost miraculously, knowing that their fate was sealed, only by the hand of God or a miraculous work, could they be saved, and on day 62, a light emerged from above as the miners were reached. I just imagine in my heart what went through their mind and in their heads and even their voices, as they cried out, “Here I am, save me. We’ve tried to get out on our own, but we can’t do it. We cannot get out of this darkness by ourselves.” And they were rescued.
And friends, this mining accident and the story of these 33 miners is precisely the story of Christmas. The people walking in a land of deep darkness, the people walking in a land that are weary, that are tired, that are sick of things being closed and shut down and canceled and being separated from families and masks and all of the stuff, elections and racial stuff and all of the things that we see happening in the darkness. I’m not sure there’s much hope, but these minors saw hope coming from above. And that hope showed himself in a light.
Are you seeing the reality of Christmas? Let me read. Let me continue on with what happened with these shepherds. In verse 15, “The angels heard and left him and gone into heaven. The shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has told us about.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told to them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherd said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which was just as they had been told.”
These miners, who thought they were outcasts and stepped on and stepped over, the ones that were set aside by society, were so confident and so excited about what they had just seen. They came back and they mimicked… Remember, the angels were praising and glorifying God. And the shepherds themselves came back, glorifying and praising God and telling everybody what they had just seen.
You see, here’s some main points for us. The more we see ourselves as servants, the more we take a posture of a servant, the more we have the opportunity to witness the miraculous work of Jesus and to tell the weary world about that work. So that brings us to Jesus. Isaiah told us that people walking in darkness will see a great light. When Jesus shows up, there’s a metaphor that is used of Jesus. He even said of himself in John Chapter 8, ”I am the light of this world. Whoever follows me will never, ever walk in darkness ever again.” But if you follow him, you will have the light of life.
See, it was a land of darkness that light shines. Light shines brightest in the dark. Now, do you get a picture of why God set up 400 years of silence? He didn’t abandon his people. He was setting up for Jesus to be that light. And that light is the light of all mankind. And then if we follow him in his teachings, guess what? We become light. We need light, but we become that light. So there it is, again, that theme light.
Let’s go back to the very beginning. God said, “Let there be light.” And it was. I went back and I did some research on light. Light’s pretty foundational to the universe. Einstein’s theory of relativity, guess what it’s based upon? Based upon light. Wavelengths are used to measure distance or going light speed or how far away something is, that is used by light. The atomic clock is positioned due to light.
That farmers and ranchers, even here in our region and around the world, they know that without light, there would be no farming industry. Without the farming industry, there’d be no livelihood for them, but there’d be no food for us. That light is essential for how things work. That even the light that we see in this room or whatever room you’re in right now, that, right now, the light rays in this room, they’re spread way out so that we can see things.
But if you take these exact same light rays and you condense them, then the same light that allows us to see, when condensed as a laser, can cut through metal, and even do brain surgery with. That a couple of my kids, two of my kids, when they came home from the hospital as infants, their skin was yellow, and they had this thing called jaundice. Do you know what the simple remedy was that the doctors told us? Put the baby in sunlight, and the natural sunlight of the sun will heal your child.
That even basic biology, you don’t even have to be a biology major. You just have basic biology tells us that plants use a process called photosynthesis, that takes poison, carbon dioxide, mixes it with light, and we get oxygen. That because of light, you and I can breathe. Light sustains life. Light is a healing agent. Light orients us with time and distance. Light is the foundation of all of this creation. Without light, we’re disoriented, we’re cold, we’re lonely, we’re weary. We’re scared. We’re lost. And just like the trapped 33 miners, we desperately need light.
Now with all of these things that light is, now, did you think that God knew all this stuff about light when he created it and he said, “Let there be light”? Go like this. God knew. Light is God’s signature upon his creation. And that creation has come to us through Jesus. The light of Jesus is the antidote to the darkness and the weariness that we experience in this world. So, here’s the story of Christmas, to be wrapped up in this statement. That the most brilliant of lights came to the most lowliest and darkest of hearts. That’s the beauty and the brilliance of Christmas.
He is so perfect, and we are so weary and broken, but he became broken so that we might become perfect and stand before God. That how bad we are or how bad we’ve messed up is not at the forefront of his mind, but how lost and weary we are is that God’s so desperately wanted his family back, that he put a plan in place that no devil can frustrate.
I want you go listen to the words of Paul as paraphrased by an author and pastor named Eugene Peterson in the message paraphrase. Listen to these first three verses of Romans Chapter 8 in this paraphrase that was written. ”With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemmas resolved. Those who enter into Christ being here for us no longer have to live under a continuous low-lying black cloud. A new power is an operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a faded lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.”
And listen to how he puts it here. I love this. ”God went for the juggler when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problems as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity and ordered to set it right once and for all.” Friends, I’ll be very honest with you. This message, for me, was pretty important because 2020 was book-ended by some pretty tragic events for me, my family and my dear friends. That at the beginning of 2020, back in January, we got word that a dear family that we have worked with, we’ve served in ministry with, were going through yet another tragedy.
That I had to officiate a funeral for a 21-year-old girl, the 21-year-old daughter, whose family was missionaries. Fourteen years ago, the father passed away from a rare type of leukemia. Twelve years ago, their eldest daughter passed away from the same leukemia. Four years ago, the remaining two children, their son and their youngest daughter, both got diagnosed with the same leukemia. The son’s in remission right now, but, unfortunately, little Izzy passed away. And that was how 2020 started for me, officiating this funeral. Just yesterday, here in Littleton, I stood and officiated a funeral for a 21-year-old girl who was a cheerleader at CSU, on the women’s soccer team at CSU, was involved in our campus ministry for athletes there. And two years ago, she had a liver transplant, and she was waiting for a bone marrow transplant at Children’s and, unfortunately, got sick, and she passed away.
So, I officiated this funeral yesterday. And I’m sitting here thinking, “God, two 21-year-old girls, one at the beginning of the year, one at the end of the year. How in the world are we supposed to celebrate Christmas in the midst of so much grief and despair and brokenness and darkness?” But remember those who are living in a land of deep darkness have seen a great light. It doesn’t matter how dark something is. When light shows up, the darkness flees.
And that doesn’t fix everything. That doesn’t stop people’s hearts from being broken. But here’s what it tells us, in the midst of brokenness, in the midst of weariness, in the midst of heaviness that we experience, there is hope, and that hope’s name is Jesus lying in a manger, available for everyone, even bottom-of-the-rung outcast shepherds, and weary people like you and me.
Let’s pray. Father, thank you. Oh Lord, thank you so much for who you are. And even in the weariness of this year, and sadness of knowing that there are celebrations that are not gonna happen, that typically happen every year and families that are separated and just stuff. Thank you that you are the light in the darkness. Jesus, you are so good, and we thank you that even weary people like us can find hope, solace, in light and life. More importantly, we find life in you. We thank you, Lord, for coming to us in the form of a baby, and we wait for you to come back. And Lord Jesus, please come, and come quickly, Jesus. Restore all things. Amen.
Luke Ch. 1 + 2
Joy is a choice. If the angel commanded Mary to rejoice, then that means that joy is actually something that was under her control, no matter what her circumstances. That’s good news for us because it means that joy is always an option, regardless of our circumstances.
Craig: “And 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, and the virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored. The Lord is with you.’ And Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of a greeting this might be.”
The first thing that always grabs my attention about the beginning of Mary’s story is her reaction to the angel’s greeting. It says she was greatly troubled, which is not a strange thing to say. I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was greatly troubled to the fact that there was an angel there, right? But that’s not what she reacts to. She reacts to what he said to her. It’s his words that greatly troubled her. And I think really to understand that we probably have to understand that the first word he said to her was kind of strange.
Most English translations translate it as “greetings” or “hail” or something like that, but literally, in the original Greek this was written in, what the angel said to her is a command. He says, “Rejoice.” He says, “Rejoice, you who are highly favored.” It’s not really hello that he’s saying. He’s telling her that she’s supposed to have joy. It’s a command. And maybe Mary is a little bit like me. I don’t know if you’re like this, but when somebody tells me, “Hey, you know, buck up,” I’m a little suspicious at what’s coming next. Probably isn’t the kind of thing I would naturally get excited about. It almost feels like I need to brace myself, and maybe she feels a little bit that way.
But I’m actually really grateful for what the angel said to Mary here, because it’s an incredibly important reminder of something that I forget so, so easily, which is that joy is a choice. Joy is a choice. If the angel can command her to rejoice, then what that means is that joy is something that’s under her control, it’s something she can choose to do, regardless of what’s happening around her. It’s not something that happens to her. It’s something that she chooses herself. Joy is a choice and that’s good and its bad news, right? The good news is this, if joy is a choice, then joy is always an option. That’s good news, right? Joy is always an option. It’s not a matter of being at the mercy of whatever moment we happen to find ourselves in. Joy is not dependent upon what’s going on around us, good or bad. It’s a choice that we make. And that means that joy is always an option, no matter what’s going on and that’s great news.
The bad news though is this, is that if joy is a choice, that means that my joy is my responsibility. My joy is actually my responsibility. It’s not my wife’s responsibility. It’s not my boss’s responsibility. It’s not my kid’s responsibility and my employee’s responsibility. It’s not my boyfriend or my girlfriend’s responsibility or my teachers or my coaches or my neighbors or the government. It’s not even God’s responsibility. God has actually done everything that we need to be able to choose joy, but ultimately picking it up is up to us. My joy is my responsibility.
Now, I know this might seem a little bit of a strange way to talk about joy. And I think that’s because we tend to think that joy is kind of like happiness on steroids, right? Like, if I get a bonus at the end of the year, I’m happy. If I win the lottery, I have joy, right? It’s kind of an over-the-top version of happiness. But in fact, the Bible actually says that joy and happiness are not really the same thing at all. Happiness is an emotion. It’s what we feel. It’s really, it’s the pleasure we feel when our circumstances are pleasant. And there’s nothing wrong with happiness. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be happy. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have pleasant circumstances that give us pleasure. God actually wants us to be happy.
There’s nothing wrong with happiness, but this is so important to understand, we can never let our desire for happiness trip us up in our pursuit of joy, because joy is powerful in a way that happiness never can be. Joy has the power to make a difference in a way that happiness doesn’t. The more I study the Bible and the more I study what God has to say about joy, the more I realize joy isn’t a product of our circumstances. It’s the power that carries us through them. Do you hear me? It’s not what we feel because of our circumstances. It’s actually the power to carry us through our circumstances, both good and bad.
And I know it might seem strange to think about being powered through good things, but the reality is that sometimes we have a moment that makes us happy and we’re just like, that’s good enough. I like this moment. I’m happy in this moment. So I’m gonna cling with everything I can in this moment, I’m gonna hold onto it. And the reality is that we’re never able to move forward into much better things that God has for us because we’re clinging to happy rather than joy. And of course, if our circumstances are bad and we don’t wanna stay there, joy is the power that gets us through those to the better things that God has for us. Joy isn’t the caboose at the end of the train. It’s the engine at the front, that’s pulling the whole along.
Okay. So if joy is so powerful, how do we choose it? How do we do what the angel told Mary to do, which is to rejoice? Well, the first thing we probably pay attention to is the very next thing that he said to her. He said, “Rejoice, you are highly favored. The Lord is with you.” And that’s the foundation for being able to rejoice. It’s that she’s not alone. It’s that God is with her. There’s an incredibly important truth that we celebrate at Christmas, maybe more than any other time in the year, and yet at Christmas, what we really should just be doing is remembering something that we have forgotten so much of the year, which is that joy is always an option because God is always with us.
Joy is always an option because we are not alone. God is with us. That’s what we celebrate at Christmas. And the reality is there’s no circumstance so bad that it can’t be made worse by facing it alone, right? And there’s no circumstance so good that it can’t be made a little bit better if it’s shared with the right person. Being alone is a really hard thing. And I think honestly, in 2020, some of what has made this year so difficult for so many people is that there’ve been a lot of people feeling very much isolated and alone. But the reality is is that we are never truly alone because God is with us.
There’s power in someone, sometimes there’s power in anyone being with us. Years ago, we were kind of new to Colorado. I’d moved out to go to Denver Seminary. And it was late in the fall semester. It was coming up on Christmas. I think we only had a couple of days probably until we took a break for the Christmas season and there was a snowstorm coming and so they let us out of class early. And so I got on I25, was headed down the road to Castle Rock where we live. And I came up over Surrey Ridge. Some of you may know where that is. It’s kind of down around Castle Pines. And as I came up, I kind of entered into a fog bank in addition to the snow. And I really couldn’t see anything.
And I had just barely, kind of, crested that little peak there when I realized that there were cars all over the place in front of me. And I don’t just mean like a line of cars. I mean, like they were every which way. There were cars facing me. And there were cars sideways, and there were cars spinning as I watched in the ditches. And I realized what had happened was there was a semi-truck that had jack-knifed and then fallen over, and everybody was trying desperately to avoid it. And it was just this nightmare situation. I hit the brakes and I didn’t stop. It was icy enough, I just kept going, but I started spinning. I know I did at least one, 360. And I was like, Ooh. And I saw cars coming up.
And then by this, I don’t know what to call it other than miraculous, there was a car right in front of me and I came towards it. But as I did, I spun around it and I slipped into this spot between him and another car. And I didn’t hit either of them. And then a car behind me slid in and just, you know, missed me by a couple of feet and stopped and kind of like gave me a little pocket of protection. And I was looking around for angels, let me tell you. It was a crazy move. I was like, I can’t believe that happened. And then I heard the first of the sounds. I heard…just car after car after car began to pile up on the cars that were just behind me. It seemed like it went on forever.
I don’t remember how many, I think it was like 67, 70 cars, something like that. I know it was enough that it made the national news. My parents in Ohio heard about and called me to go, “Hey, did you hear about that crazy accident near you?” I was like, “Yeah, kind of.” And eventually, the sounds began to fade away or at least to get more distant. And I jumped out and I ran to the car behind me and that person seemed to be okay, but the car behind her, there was a woman, she was on the steering wheel and there was just blood everywhere. I’ve never seen anything like it.
And so, I rushed over and I opened the door and she wasn’t moving and I kind of reached in and she’s just beginning to stir. And I said…I said the dumbest thing, I said, “Are you okay?” And as I said it, I was like, she’s not okay, but what else do you say in a moment like that? Have you ever felt helpless? And I was like, “Are you okay?” Of course not, you’re not okay. And she couldn’t really answer. And so I put my hand on her shoulder and I said, “Stay here.” Also a dumb thing, right? She clearly wasn’t going anywhere. But I said, “Stay here, I’ll go get help.”
And she made a noise. She was like, “Huh?” And leaned and, I said, “I’m sorry, what was that?” She is like, “Huh.” And I said, “I’m sorry, what was that again?” And I realized what she was saying was, “Don’t.” Not don’t get help. It was don’t go. It was don’t leave me. She was hurt and she was scared and she did not wanna be alone. She wanted me to be with her. So I did. I held close and I was like, how do I get help? Because this was before everybody had cell phones, I didn’t have a cell phone. I had a pager. Do you guys remember pages? Anybody remember pagers? You know what you can do with a pager in a situation like that? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. So I had to call for somebody to go get help, to get some paramedics. And then I just stayed with her.
And I remember as I sat there with her feeling just so utterly useless, honestly. I mean, I could be close and that mattered to her obviously. Someone being with her was good. And I could certainly care. I could communicate that I cared. I just wasn’t very capable of doing anything beyond that. I didn’t know if I should move her. I did not know how to stop bleeding. I just didn’t know. I just felt so utterly useless. And eventually, the paramedics got there. And it’s interesting when the paramedics came in and they took her, she was happy to let me go. Like, as they took her away, she wasn’t like, “Come back.” No, she was like, “I’m good now.” Because see, in that moment, she had people who were close and who cared and who were capable of doing what I couldn’t do, what she couldn’t do.
And listen, close is great. Caring is awesome. But capable, capable of actually making things better, now that’s the best. And that’s what Christmas is. It’s God coming close because he cares, but it’s also the arrival of a God who is capable of doing something about the mess that we’ve made of things. It’s interesting. Almost 700 years before this moment, God gave a man named Isaiah a glimpse of this moment. I don’t know exactly what it looks like. Maybe he actually got to see 700 years in advance this moment in this young girl’s room, as this angel appeared and had this conversation with her. But as Isaiah records and he reflects on what God let him see, he wrote this. He said, “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and we’ll call him Immanuel.”
He said, “The Lord himself will give you a sign.” It’s not gonna be a sign from a preacher. It’s not gonna be a sign from a prophet. It’s not gonna be a sign you got from God because you read a good book or you listened to a great podcast. It’s a sign from God himself, directly from the Almighty. And actually, probably we should adjust that just a little bit and say, it’s not that it would come directly from him. The sign is him. The sign is God himself because that’s what the word Immanuel means that they’re going to name this child. In Hebrew, Immanuel literally means God is with us.
And see, that’s Christmas. The God who cares coming close and was capable of doing for us what we could never do for ourselves, of actually fixing what is broken. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son and you’re to call him Jesus,” another of his names. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever. And his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I’m a virgin?” Which is the natural question, I think, but it’s the wrong question. It’s the natural question because I’m like, maybe you’re not this way, but for me, how is what I almost always focus on. When I’m in a difficult place, what I wanna know is how. You know, okay, how are you gonna fix this relationship, God? How are you gonna fix this circumstance? How are you gonna fix my finances? How are you gonna fix my health? How are you gonna fix my kids? How are you gonna fix whatever it is? It’s how, right?
But you notice the first thing the angel said to Mary had really nothing to do with how, it was all about who, right? Not that God’s gonna do a particular thing, but God is with you. See, how’s not the right question. The right question is who. Who matters way more than how. The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you and so the Holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. And even Elizabeth, your relative, is gonna have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month of pregnancy. For no word from God will ever fail.”
And notice, he really doesn’t answer her question. He doesn’t really answer anything about the how. If anything, he raises more questions than he answers. She says, “How’s this gonna happen?” He says, “Well, you know, the Holy Spirit will come upon you.” Well, for a 1st-century Jewish person, wait, the what? Well, what does that mean? Oh, he’ll overshadow you. That doesn’t sound pleasant. Well, what does that mean? Well, and because of that, the one will be called the Son of God. God has a Son? Seriously? I mean, there’s all these questions, but what the angel is basically trying to get her to do is, hey, don’t worry so much about how, the only thing that really matters is who. If God is with you, the how is not really all that important because God can do anything. Nothing is impossible for God. So that’s all you really need to understand.
But Mary has to make a choice. Yes, God cares. Yes, God longs to draw close. And yes, God is capable. Nothing is impossible for him, but she has to make a choice about whether or not she’s going to trust him because it’s when we trust God that everything he’s capable of really begins to get into motion. So she makes her choice. “I’m the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” And then the angel left her.
It’s always struck me that it’s kind of abrupt. She makes her choice. She says, “Okay, I’m God’s girl. Like, yeah, let’s do this thing.” And the angel is like, good enough, gone. And I’m sure Mary was like wha.., “Can we not just one more question? Okay.” I mean that’s all he was looking for. He was looking for her to make her decision to trust him. And it’s interesting, you know, his first word to her was rejoice and we haven’t seen that happen yet. She hasn’t rejoiced, but she has done the only thing that makes choosing joy possible. She’s made her decision to trust God.
So, here’s the thing, the foundation of joy is trusting God, because here’s another way to think about joy. We talked about that a bit in the series of the last few weeks, again, joy isn’t the pleasure we feel when our circumstances are pleasant, joy is the peace that we have even when they’re not. Joy and peace are very, very closely linked. And how do we have peace, especially when circumstances aren’t pleasant? Because we trust God to be in control of what we can’t.
I remember when I was little, we’d go on these long car trips sometimes, and we’d be coming home late at night. And sometimes crazy…you know, it’s raining or it’s snowing or the traffic’s insane. And you know what I was doing in the back seat? I was falling asleep. I didn’t have to worry about all that because I trusted my dad. And then, you know, I grew up and I had kids. And I remember those days of being out on the road with my two girls in the back seat and it’s late and the traffic’s bad and snow’s falling or whatever it is. And my kids, they’re falling asleep because they trusted me, and that trust brought peace. But the reality is I could make a mistake. I could screw it up. They trusted me, but I’m not quite worthy of their trust in the way that God is.
God makes no mistakes. Nothing is outside of his control. And so, the foundation of joy is trusting God, and that’s what Mary does. She trusts him and the angel immediately departs. And I love what Luke says next. He says, “At that Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.” That was the relative that the angela had told her was pregnant. And Luke, earlier in his Gospel, says that she was well along in years, which is his way of kind of saying in code, she was old. Like, really, really old, but you never say that about a woman, but she was way past the years where she could bear children.
And so, it’s interesting that Luke emphasizes how quickly Mary went. The angel, like, jets off and Mary immediately…in fact, in the original Greek, what it says in this moment is literally, “And arising on that day, she hurried to find Elizabeth.” There’s a very strong sense that she did it as quickly as possible, which is interesting. And I think this is for a couple of reasons. For one, I think she probably was looking for a little confirmation she wasn’t crazy. Mary hadn’t had a lot of conversations with angels.
She didn’t know anybody who had, and in the moment when she’s talking to an angel, she’s probably going, is this really happening? And then once it’s over, there’s a part of your brain that goes, did that really happen? Did I really just have a conversation with an angel? So she’d like a little confirmation she wasn’t crazy. And the thing is, the angel told her that her cousin Elizabeth is pregnant. She’s six months along, which means she’s gonna be showing. So if Elisabeth’s pregnant, then that means that Mary isn’t crazy, this actually happened. So I think there’s a little bit of that, but maybe most importantly, I think what Mary’s looking for here is community.
She’s looking to spend some time with somebody else who is choosing to trust God. Somebody else who’s had an experience with a God who can be trusted, who cares and draws close, and is capable of doing what we can’t. She’s looking for somebody else who is looking for peace and joy in the same place. And there’s something very powerful here. Listen, one of the keys to choosing joy on a regular basis is who we hang out with because the reality is it’s much easier to trust God when we’re connected to a community, seeking joy in the same place.
We tend to seek joy. We tend to look for peace and assurance in the same things that the people around us are looking to. And so if we’re gonna choose joy, if we’re gonna trust God and have the peace that comes from that, it’s important that we lean into connections with people who are looking for that same peace, that same joy in the same place. And that’s what Mary is doing. And it’s interesting to me that it’s only after she comes in and finds her old cousin six months pregnant that Mary says this, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.”
Now, finally, she rejoices. Now, finally, she does what the angel began by telling her to do. And I think it’s so important to understand that just because she shows joy in this moment, just because she rejoiced, it doesn’t mean that her life suddenly got easy. She had all kinds of difficulties. Her family didn’t believe her story about why she was pregnant. Her village certainly didn’t believe it, or her fiancé, Joseph, didn’t believe it either. In fact, an angel had to come talk to him to tell Joseph not to put Mary aside and to go ahead and marry her. Being an unmarried pregnant girl in 1st-century, Israel, that’s not a picnic. And yet, because she had chosen to rejoice, I believe that she faced that very differently, along with all the other difficulties she faced.
She’s almost at the end of her pregnancy and the Roman emperor decided, I wanna make sure I get everybody counted so I can make sure I’m getting all the money that’s due me. So, he sent every…he completely disrupted society, sent everybody back to their ancestral home so they could be counted so he could make sure he was getting every dime he could out of them. And of course, they got into Bethlehem, which is Joseph’s hometown. And of course, as they get in, Mary’s like, “Hey, Joseph, I think tonight might be the night.” And Joseph’s probably like, “Of course it is. Why wouldn’t it be? We’ll just go to our relatives’ house.” Well, okay, last, he says, “We’ll go to…the inn is full.” So what did they do? They bed down in a barn. It’s a great place to deliver a baby, right? And they deliver this child. And as Mary holds him and wonders over everything that God’s already said about this child, shepherds come in. And you know how new moms love strangers in the delivery room. Like, that’s a thing, right? They come traipsing in like, “Angels told us to come,” and she’s like, “Angels, don’t even get me started.”
And Luke says this. He says, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” She treasured up all these, and not just the shepherds, not just the manger, not just the census, but everything all along. She’s storing up everything that God has done. And in other words, what Luke is telling us is that Mary is a hoarder. She’s a hoarder of God sightings. She’s a hoarder of what God has done. And by treasuring these things up, she’s setting herself up to continue to be able to choose joy as she goes forward from this point, which leads me to ask you this question.
I know 2020 has been a hard year, but it’s not been a year without God moving in our lives. We’ve seen that as a church. I’ve seen it in my own life. And my hope is that you’ve seen it as well. But let me ask you to ask yourself this question. What things has got done this year that I need to treasure up? Some of them you may immediately think of and some of them, you may need to take some time and look back on this year with a different lens, a lens of choosing joy to see things that God has done. You need to treasure those things up, but you need to ask yourself that question, what things has God done this year that I needed to treasure up so that I can choose joy in the next one?
Like, I really hope 2021 is gonna be better, but I can guarantee you there’s gonna be some hard times, but it is possible to continue to choose joy if you’ll treasure up what God has done even in this past year. Mary continued to face difficult things, but she faced them with joy. She saw her husband die and she became a single mom. She saw her family split apart as Jesus began his ministry. His brother and sisters thought he was crazy, and they wanted to go and get him and lock him up. There was that schism in the family. She had to deal with that. And then ultimately, of course, she saw her oldest son falsely accused, beaten, nailed to a cross, and thrown into a borrowed grave. And yet through all of that, she chose to rejoice. She chose joy.
And I think it’s important to understand this, trusting God doesn’t mean the end of pain. I wish it did, and one day it will. I promise you one day it well. In heaven, trusting God, it will be the end of all pain. But in this world, it doesn’t necessarily mean that. Trusting God doesn’t mean the end of pain, not now, but it does mean the birth of new possibilities for joy, even out of what looks like pain. Because see, Mary’s child didn’t stay in the manger. He grew into, you know, a young man who amazed everybody with his insight and wisdom. But he didn’t stay a young man. He grew into an adult who amazed everybody with his power. He made the lame walk. He made the blind see. But maybe more than anything, he amazed people with his love. He loved people far from God that everybody else thought was completely unlovable and unworthy of love, he loved them back from the brink, back into a relationship with him and a relationship with God, by love.
But he didn’t just stay a man with amazing wisdom and amazing love, he became a sacrifice. He willingly chose to die on the cross in our place to pay for all the wrong that we’ve done that separates us from God and has made such a mess of things. He became a sacrifice, and he didn’t stay in the tomb. He burst out of it three days later to prove that he had defeated death and could offer a new life. Those are new possibilities that Mary got to experience and that so can we, so can we. Because at Christmas we celebrate that God cares and he has come close in our own flesh in the person of Jesus, his own Son who is capable of doing for us what we could never have done for ourselves, and so it is that we can choose joy.
Some of you are here today to celebrate that joy because you know him, you have a relationship with her. You’ve said yes to following Jesus. You’ve experienced God coming close because he cares and doing what you were not capable of doing, forgiving your sin, giving you salvation, entering you into eternal life with him forever. Some of you are here and maybe you’re not exactly sure why, but if you’re honest, you’d say I’ve never experienced that. It’s a gift. It’s what Christmas is. It’s God’s gift to us. It’s his gift of himself coming near because he cares, and he wants to do what we’re not capable of doing. That’s his gift to you, but like any gift, it has to be accepted. And so if you’re listening to this, if you’re here and you’ve never accepted the free gift of God’s love that washes away our sin and gives us new life, you can accept that gift right here, right now. You can receive it.
I’m gonna ask everybody close their eyes and bow their heads. If you’re here tonight as a follower of Jesus, then please celebrate with me as we think on this incredible gift. And if you’re not a follower of Jesus yet but there’s something stirring in your heart that says, I need to accept that gift, the gift of Christmas, here’s how you do it. You’re just gonna have a conversation with God in your heart right now. Just say this to God after me. God, I’ve done wrong. I’m sorry. I know I’ve made a mess of things. Thank you for loving me. Jesus, thank you for coming to be with me. Jesus, thank you for dying for me. I believe you rose from the dead and I understand that you’re offering me the gift of forgiveness, salvation, eternal life in heaven, a relationship with God. Well, I’m saying yes. I’m accepting your gift. Jesus. I’m saying yes to following you, to trusting you. I’m yours for now and forever. Amen.
If you made that decision for the first time today, I am just so excited. So excited for you. That’s what Christmas is all about. It’s that gift of God, draw us close because he cares and is capable of doing what we never could, and we receive it as a gift. If you made that decision, we would love to celebrate with you. We’d love to rejoice with you. So would you do me a favor before you leave today? Would you just do this, text the word Jesus to 888111? When you do that, you’re gonna get a link back. That link is gonna take you to some five truths, actually five things we want you to know about following Jesus and beginning to experience the joy that comes from being with God. Merry Christmas.