Joy changes everything. It begins with what we feel about something and becomes how we see everything. True joy is irresistible and uncontainable; it changes us – the way we live, the way we love, the way we worship – and through us it changes the world itself. Join us this Christmas at Mission Hills to unwrap true, God-sized, world-changing joy.

THE SECRET LIFE OF FORGOTTEN PRAYERS

CRAIG SMITH | read his bio

DECEMBER

1/2

Luke 1:5-25

Today is the start of our December series, Joy to the World. Joy is at the very heart of the Christmas story…which means that it’s at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus. We’re supposed to be people of joy. But joy is not always easy. Join us for a powerful message on living with joy, even in hard circumstances.

SERMON TRANSCRIPT

Good morning. Hey, welcome to Mission Hills, including those of you joining us from Church Online. So glad you are with us for our December series “Joy to the World,” which is not just a line from one of the very familiar, famous Christmas songs, but really, it’s a line from the Word of God. When the angel was announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, he said, do not be afraid. I bring good news that will cause great joy for all of the people. So we recognize that joy, it’s at the heart of the Christmas story, but it’s also at the heart of the Christian life. To be a Christian, to be a follower of Jesus really is to be people of joy, but joy is not always an easy thing, right? I think part of that is we often misunderstand what joy is. We often confuse joy with happiness. Happiness is circumstantial. Happiness is how we feel about circumstances. A good thing happens to us. We feel happy.

Joy isn’t rooted in circumstances, though. Joy transcends circumstances. It’s not so much a feeling as it is a decision. Joy isn’t rooted in circumstances. Joy is rooted in a relationship with God that changes the way that we see circumstances even when they are hard. What we are going to be doing in this series is pushing into what we might equal “joy management.” How is it that we can be people of joy? How can we grow joy? How is it that we can rejoice even when things are not always easy? Because we know that God is good even when life is not, right? But how do we live that way? That’s really what this series is all about.

We’ll be taking a look at a couple whose circumstances were very difficult yet still managed to be people of joy. Why don’t you grab your Bible and make your way to the Gospel of Luke. We are going to be starting at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke 1:5 where Luke says, in the time of Herod, king of Judea, and I’ll just pause there for a second and let you catch up to me. What Luke is doing is he’s setting the stage for the rest of the Christmas story. What he’s saying is, during a really difficult period of history, during a hard time. It was a hard time for the Jewish people because at this point they had been under occupations by foreign governments for 600 years or so, and the latest kind of tragedy was that they had a king installed by the Roman Empire. Rome owned Israel at this point. Rome had installed King Herod as the ruler, and Herod was a terrible man. He really didn’t belong on the Jewish throne. He wasn’t from the line of David. He wasn’t even fully Jewish by his dissent, but he had convinced the Roman Empire that he should be put in charge, and so they did that, and he made life very difficult for the Jewish people.

He taxed them heavily. He used the taxes to build extravagant palaces for himself. He controlled not only the politics, he controlled the temple. He would install a high priest in particular. The Jews hated this. He would put a high priest in charge of the temple who was basically one of his kind of lackeys. Somebody who had bribed him or convinced him that he would be on Herod’s side, and so he controlled also the religious institutions, so things are just difficult for the Jewish people as a whole. What Luke is doing, he’s setting a stage saying these are not good times for the nation. Then he says this, In the time of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. And here’s our couple.

And what he tells us about them — they are kind of good. They are good people living in hard times. They have the right pedigree. Zechariah came from the line of Abijah. Everybody goes, oh, yeah, Abijah, right? And if you don’t know who Abijah is, that’s okay. Even if you are brand new to church, don’t feel leave out because almost everybody who grew up in church is like, am I supposed to know that name? You know, Abijah was the son of Aaron. That’s clear now, right? Maybe you don’t know Aaron. Aaron was the younger brother of a guy you probably do know. His name was Moses. Anybody heard of Moses? Yeah, okay. Moses had a little brother named Aaron, and after Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, God basically made Aaron his priest. He was kind of in charge of the religious things.

All of the proper priests in Israel were descended from Aaron. Abijah was Aaron’s son. So what Luke’s telling us, Zechariah was a proper priest. He was descended from the line of Aaron, he was also — he was married to a woman who was also descended from the line of Aaron. Don’t worry, it’s been centuries, so it’s not icky. They are like 84th cousins twice removed, okay? But what he’s kind of saying, they are kind of a priestly power couple, all right? They have the right line of dissent. They are the proper priestly family is what it’s going on, and I think there’s probably a little bit of a hint of tension because Herod was installing improper priests. This is a proper group, but they wouldn’t be able to rise to that point, Zechariah wouldn’t be able to be a high priest because he was not necessarily Herod’s right hand guy kind of guy.

There’s a little bit of tension that Zechariah could have been a high priest except that he was living during times where that wasn’t an option. There is sort of a sense of maybe injustice. These are hard times. He says this about them. He says Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all of the Lord’s command and decrees blamelessly. What he says is, in spite of the fact that the times were hard, they hadn’t grown bitter. They had not grown angry with God. They hadn’t abandoned their faith. They hadn’t drawn away from Him. They were continuing to serve Him. They were righteous. I love the way Luke says this, they were righteous in the sight of God. That’s interesting because understand at this point, Israel has been oppressed. They have been owned by foreign governments for about 600 years.

You know the people have been praying for God to step in, for God to change that, but God hasn’t done it yet. I don’t know if any of you have ever prayed for something and gotten back what felt like silence, anybody? So here’s the thing, when that silence drags on, and for the Jewish people, it had dragged on for 600 years, it’s easy to start to think, well, maybe God’s not paying attention. Maybe God doesn’t see me anymore, but Luke says, oh, He does. He says, they were righteous — what? In the sight of God. There is a little reminder there that even though it may feels like God is silent, maybe you can’t see God working, God still sees you. God is still paying attention.

He says, but, verse 7, But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. Luke’s blunt. Like, it’s not — they were well along in years. Like they are getting up. He’s like, they are old. Very old. They were way past the years of childbearing. He says, they were childless. That was a big deal. Some of you have struggled with infertility. Some of you have struggled with miscarriage. You know personally the pain of being childless. Well, in the ancient world it was even worse. Ta was their safety net. There was no Medicare. There were no assisted living facilities. There were no nursing homes. Your kids were your safety net when you got old, so without kids, they are facing a sort of bleak future as they continue to age. What’s interesting is that Luke sandwiches the statement that they were blameless, they were righteous. They continued to draw near to God even in what felt like silence nationally, but know even personally.

Even personally God has not answered that prayer for a child, and yet, he says, he sandwiched that statement, righteous and blameless that sandwiched between statements of political pain, national pain but also their personal pain. This is a personal thing. They are still righteous. They are still faithful in the midst of that. That’s so important. They hadn’t allowed their circumstances to drive them from God, and that’s so, so important because God is the only one who can ultimately change our circumstances. He says, Once, when Zechariah’s division was on duty, and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of The Lord and burn incense.

Now to be chosen by lot, we don’t know exactly how it does, and we have a couple of different options. One is they may have had all of the names of the possible priests written on a little stone and one was drawn out. But more commonly, to avoid the sense that favoritism was being paid or cheating was happening, they would often throw them into a priest’s lap, and a lot of them would fall off, and they would take the ones that were left, and they would throw those on until only one was left, and that was the one that was chosen, and so that’s how it happened. Zechariah was chosen by lot. I think what Luke is telling us here is Zechariah was chosen by what looked like chance. It looked random. It looked like there was no purpose or plan. It was chosen by lot, but it’s interesting, the Bible, back in Proverbs 16:13, the Proverbs says this, the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

You understand what he’s saying, and what Luke is trying to help us understand is it looked like random chance. It looked like there was no purpose or plan, but the reality is that God is behind a lot of those things that to us look random. I think that’s really important because life sometimes looks random, doesn’t it? Things happen to us. Things take place. We look at them like, God, why would you allow this to happen? God, why did you allow this? God, why did you do this? It looks purposeless, it looks plan less, it looks random. It looks chaotic. That’s because we are looking at it from the wrong perspective. My grandma used to do this thing called “latch hook art.” There we go. Latch hook art. I was always fascinated. You know, she would push these pieces of yarn through a plastic grid and pull it back, this little tool, it would bring — and on the back, the ends would hang out. I would look at it and think, Grandma, what are you doing? That’s not art unless it’s modern art, and Grandma wasn’t into modern art.

It looks chaotic. It looks random. That’s from the backside. When you flip it around, this pattern emerges and you begin to realize that what looked random from the wrong side is full of planning and purpose and what Luke is telling us here that something like that’s going on. It looked like Zechariah was chosen by lot, but God is often behind things that look to us random and purposeless. From our perspective, it looks like there is no plan, but the reality is that’s because we are looking at it from the wrong side. He says, Zechariah was chosen by lot, but there’s purpose in that. Verse 10 says, now when the time for burning of incense came, all of the assembled worshipers were praying outside. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled. No he wasn’t.

Startled is not the right word there. I know he’s a priest, but he said a bad word there. I’m sure he did. When you are in a dark place and an angel shows up. I don’t know how angels show up. I don’t know if it’s like Star Trek, they like materialize — wrwrwrwr — or if they are just suddenly there going, hey. Like either way, that’s terrifying, right? Yes, yes, he was startled at least. The next part I think is a little more accurate. He was startled and he was gripped with fear. The angel said to him, do not be afraid. I’m always like, it’s too late. Like we are so far past that at this point, right? Do not be afraid, Zechariah, your prayer has been heard.

Oh, that’s great, right? God has heard my prayer? If I’m Zechariah I’m going, what prayer is that? Because I have a bunch of them, right? I got a bunch. Which one came up in the lottery? Which one has God heard? He’s old — very old, sorry. My hands are hurting a lot these days. My knees, every time I get up, it’s hard to get out of bed. I have been praying for relief. Maybe God has heard that prayer, or maybe it’s the big one, right? Maybe it’s what the people outside are praying for, because the dominant prayer in Israel, the big one for Israel at this point is that God would destroy the Romans. He would set the people of Israel free. He put a king from the line of David on the throne and Israel would be a sovereign nation again.

That’s probably what they were praying for outside, so maybe it’s some of his personal prayers? Maybe it’s the big one that he’s been joining and praying for, but which one is it, God? Which one have you heard? And the angel said this in verse 14 — verse 13 — he says, your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. Wait, what? A son? What are you talking about? I haven’t been praying for a son for a long time. Oh, I used to. I wanted a son so bad when Lizzie and I were young, the idea of having a kid. That was just — that was what burned in our hearts. We were passionate about that prayer. We were laying that before God many, many, many times every day, and we did that for years, but God you didn’t do anything. God, you were silent.

And the thing is, when God is silent — and I think we all have these prayers, don’t we? We start off. We are passionate. We are fervent about them. We pray them so, so deeply, but when silence is what comes back, over time those prayers move from fresh to faded and eventually we begin to go, I guess silence is the answer. I guess no is the answer, right? So they move from fresh to faded to forgotten. Enough time passes, we kind of forget we were ever asking for that thing. We settle into that despair in that area of our lives. That’s the prayer the angel is talking about. It’s a forgotten prayer, and Zechariah’s going, I haven’t prayed that in years. We are old. It’s way too late. God, you waited too — that’s the prayer?

Understand, this is so incredible. What the angel is telling Zechariah is that God’s still listening to the prayers that we’ve stopped praying. Do you hear me? The prayers that you and I have given up on because we thought God didn’t listen, God didn’t engage because we got back silence for so long, the prayers we have stopped praying, God still listened to. They are still echoing in heaven. They are still reverberating around the throne, and God is still paying attention to them. God is still listening to the prayers that you and I have stopped praying. That’s incredible. Some of us say, praise God and amen. Some of us go, yeah, I’ve got a problem with that. If he’s still listening, why is he still taking so long, right? Why still so much silence, and what the angel says next opens up an incredible, possible answer for why you have gotten silence for so long.

He says this child, verse 14, he — he will be a joy and a delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth. What the angel says is basically, God is still listening to the prayer you are still praying. The reason He hasn’t answered yet is because He’s brewing something so much bigger than you were asking for. He says, this child, he’s going to be a joy to you. And that’s what they were praying for, right? God, would you give us a child. We want a child to care for in our old age. We want a child to love. We want a child to be part of our family. He would be a joy to us, and the angel says, he would be a joy to you, but God’s not done. He will cause rejoicing from many, he well bring many to the point of joy.

In other words, God is brewing a much bigger blessing, and what’s kind of behind the scenes here is this idea that God couldn’t deliver that yet because the time wasn’t right. There were things that He had to orchestrate in history and in circumstances and all kinds of things to bring to this moment where this child would be able to do this much, much bigger thing, and what the angel is teaching us here — something I have seen time and time again in my life, and yet it’s amazing how often I forget it. When I’m praying for something and I’m experiencing silence, I forget this truth, but I know that it’s truth. God never delivers an undersized joy. Good enough is good enough for us. Good enough is never good enough for God. He will never deliver joy that is undersized, joy that’s less than it could be, but sometimes delivering a God-sized joy takes time to orchestrate, to bring everything in history and the circumstances of our lives, and the course of things to that point where He is able to pour this God-sized joy. God never delivers an undersized joy.

The angel says, yeah, he’s going to be a joy to you, but it’s so much bigger than that. He’s gong to be a joy to so many, for he — this child — he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink. He’s going to be what we call a Nazarene, a Nazarite. That’s a class of people from the Old Testament that are specially set apart for the Lord God. He’s going to do great things through him. He says, he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born, which is a bit of an intimidating thing if you think about it. Like how do you parent a toddler who is filled with the Holy Spirit? That is intimidating right there. Sometimes the joys God delivers come with their own challenges.

He says, he will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. At this point, many had turned their backs on God because they had been praying for deliverance. They had been praying for God to show up, and they had been getting silence for centuries. They were like, if God’s not going to pay attention to us, then I’m done with Him, but this child is going to bring back many to the Lord their God, and he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and the power of Elijah. The Israelites haven’t had a prophet like Elijah in a long, long time. He hasn’t given scripture in a long, long time through prophets. The angel says your kid’s going to be the return of that kind of prophet that the Lord raises up. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous — to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

He says, Zechariah, you don’t understand. You just wanted a child that would be a joy to you, but God is going to give a child that will bring rejoicing to many. He’s going to be the Herald, the announcer. He’s going to get things ready for God himself to show up. You wanted a king on David’s throne? How about a king who is your God? Your son is going to make things ready for that coming King. Here’s the thing. I think had Zechariah and Elizabeth known back when they were young that, that was the joy that God was brewing, I don’t think they would have been all that impatient at how long it took. I think that’s true for so many of us, listen, if we could see the size of the blessing that God is brewing, we would be ashamed of our impatience.

We get impatient with God. We go, He’s going to be silent, I’m going to check out because He doesn’t care. But the reality is that God all along is brewing so much bigger joys than we ever dream. We would have never thought to ask for them. We are like — this is kind of a silly thing, but I think it’s true. It’s like the little kid that just love, love, loves puppy dogs, right? So he’s begging for a coloring book of puppies for Christmas. He just wants that coloring book. I would love it if I could just color it. And he doesn’t get it. And the reason he doesn’t get it is because his dad got a puppy for him — the best kind of puppy — golden retriever. But the litter is not ready to be released yet, and so he can’t put the puppy under the tree. Besides that, that’s weird, right? When your presents are shaking and doing things like that, that makes Christmas morning awkward.

The puppy’s not ready yet, so he doesn’t give him the comic book and the son pitches a temper tantrum because he didn’t get that one thing he was looking for, right? That’s us, right? God, I was asking for this. Where were you? God, I just wanted this. Why didn’t you show up? God, I was asking, and I just got silence. But I think if we could see the size of the blessing God is brewing, we would be ashamed — ashamed of our impatience. The angel says, oh, you are going to get something so incredible. Zechariah responds in an interesting way. Zechariah asks the angel, how can I be sure about this? In other words, how about a sign? How about some proof? I’m an old man, and my wife — he knows how to say it. She’s well along in years. You don’t ever call your wife old. Husbands, hear me on that. She’s never old. She’s just getting well along in years.

He says, God, it’s too late. There’s been silence for too long. The window of opportunity is passed. I’m going to need a sign before I get my hopes up. You are like, an angel showing up in the temple of God, that’s not enough of a sign? No. No, it’s not — which is really interesting because Zechariah has to know that God is capable of this. He knows that God has the power. He flung the stars across the heavens. He can do this. There’s precedence. The Jewish people only exist because their ultimate ancestor Abraham was given a similar miracle. God gave him a child in his old age. His wife was old. She was very well along in years, so much so that when God said I’m going to give you a child, she laughed at God.

But God did that, so we have power, and we have precedence, so why on Earth is Zechariah going, I’m going to need a little bit more proof? Because he didn’t want to get his hopes up. The reality is that hope can be scary, can’t it? When we have these places in our lives where we have kind of settled into despair. It doesn’t mean that everything about our lives is bleak and dark, but we have these places where we wanted God to do something, and He hasn’t. He’s been silent for so long. Our prayers went from fresh to faded to forgotten. We stopped praying. We have forgotten. We have settled in. This is just the way it is here, and hope can be scary. What if we allow our hopes to start to get up and maybe despair is not our destiny? Maybe in this little place in our lives where we settled into maybe just maybe despair is not my destiny, but what if we let our hopes get up and it turns out to be a mirage.

See hope is scary, but the problem — the problem is that hope is what moves us forward in faith, do you hear me? The problem is that hope allows us to move from where we are to where God is going to meet us and deliver a God-sized joy. And because of that, I have come to understand that one of the greatest obstacles to true joy is the fear of hope. I can’t let my hopes get up. I can’t allow myself to start thinking that maybe God is on the move. We can’t allow ourselves to do that because what if it turns out — I’m just going to stay here. But hope is what moves us, and so the fear of hope is a tremendous obstacle to true joy. And the angel said to him — I love this. What the angel basically says is, no you didn’t? Seriously? The angel said to him, I’m Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. He goes, do you know who you’re talking to? Let me help you out. I’m Gabriel. Remember Gabriel? Gabriel is the one who went to Daniel.

That’s the last time we saw him. 600 years before this, he went to Daniel when Daniel and his people were praying for God’s deliverance and wondering why God had been silent for so long, Gabriel’s the one who came and said, here’s what God’s going to do. So he says to Zechariah, I’m Gabriel! You understand, I’m not the guy God sends out for milk and eggs, right? The last time I was sent on an errand, it was to freaking Daniel. That’s who you are talking to. I stand in the friends of God. I got this directly from the Almighty Himself. There is a little bit of an attitude here — I have been sent to you. Who are you? That’s what I want to know. You want proof? I have been sent to you. I have been sent to bring good news to you. You want proof? Let’s play.

Now, you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens because you did not believe my words which will come true at their appointed time. You want proof? Let’s play. You know, Zechariah’s asking is proof. What he gets feels like punishment, right? I’m sure there is a little bit of that. When an angel shows up and delivers a message from God, your proper response is not — prove it, okay? But the punishment is a very interesting kind of a thing. What you need to understand, the Jews were living in a period of time they called the Silent Years. They said there are no prophets like Elijah. God hasn’t given Scripture. The Silent Years ran from the close of the Old Testament to this period. They didn’t know it was coming in. They thought they were still in the middle of it.

They didn’t know when it was going to stop. They didn’t know if God checked out and left them alone. During the Silent Years between Maliki and Matthew, God’s been silent. So the angel says to him, you’re going to be silent. That’s tough, right? Because he has some pretty exciting stuff to share. He says you are going to have to join God in this secret. You are not going to be able to talk. Not until this child is born. Now, verse 21 says meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and they were wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple because he kept making signs to them and he remained unable to speak. This is like super charades, right?

What is the universal charade sign for “I’ve seen an angel,” right? Like I have no idea. Somehow he got it across. He had to signal to them that an angel showed up and spoke to me. When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. That’s interesting. I mean five months, that’s a very specific number. Why five months? Well, here’s what I think, the human gestation period for a baby to grow until time of delivery, that’s how long? It’s nine months. When Coletta was pregnant with our girls, Rochelle and Lynae, it was four months before we saw any external sign of that. For most women, four months is about when you begin to see the baby bump which means all during that other team there’s stuff happening. There’s stuff brewing. It’s growing, but you can’t really see it from the outside. That’s four months.

Nine months minus four months gives you five months. In other words, the moment she began to show, the moment it was possible for other people to see what was actually happening, she went into seclusion. She joined her husband in silence. Silence is such an interesting thing. You see we have this tendency to take silence as a sign of inactivity, right? If God’s silent, it must mean he’s not doing anything, right? No. Anyone that has little kids knows that silence doesn’t equal inactivity. The minute there’s silence, you need to see what’s going on, right? They are up to something. It might not be good. They have gone silent because they are trying to get the cat into the dryer and they don’t want you to find out until they have time to conduct their little scientific experiment, right? Or it can be really good. My girls would have these times where it got really quiet and what it turned out, they were going to make me a card or draw me a picture or something like that, and they didn’t want me to spoil the surprise, right?

Silence doesn’t equal inactivity. Sometimes silence is the long, slow, deep, inhaling before a shout. God’s been inhaling, and He’s about to do something unbelievable in this thing called the Christmas story, something nobody would have dreamed to pray for. Not just God, would you give us a king, but would you come to us yourself? Would you be our King? Would you give us the Holy Spirit that would live inside us so we are never disconnected? But we don’t need a temple anymore because God is in us. Nobody ever thought to ask for that, but that’s what God is about to shout, and He’s been inhaling for this.

Now, Zechariah and Elizabeth are joining Him in silence for that moment when the shout begins and Elizabeth, verse 25, Elizabeth said, the Lord has done this for me. In these days He has — and I have tweaked translation a little bit. The NIV says in these days He has shown His favor and taken away my disgrace among the people. I tweaked translation a little bit to “in these days He has seen me with favor” because the Greek words mean that literally. It’s not just that He’s done something for me. It means that He’s looked at me with favor. He’s looked at me with kindness. He’s looked at me with love. He’s looked at me with interest. It’s a Greek word that doesn’t get used much in Scripture. It’s only been used a handful of times. One of them, interestingly enough is in the Old Testament in the Greek translation of the Old Testament back in Genesis 16, a woman that God had just announced He was going to do this incredible thing for.

A woman gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her. She said You are the God who sees me. Same Greek word. I have now seen the One who sees me. Not just observed. Not just noticed. There they are. There she is, but seen with favor, stared intently and with kindness, so Elizabeth says, the Lord has done this for me. In these days He has looked on me with favor. He has seen me. See God’s been seeing all along. He saw that they were righteous in His– sight. They have been praying, and they have been getting silence, but that’s not because God has been inactive. He’s been brewing something big, and He’s continued to see them, and now she understands that and she says, He has — He has seen me. What this means, and what we have to come to grips with is that the only source of true joy is the God who sees us. Do you hear me?

When we get silence, when we don’t get what were asking for, when it feels like God has checked out, when we forget that silence doesn’t equal inactivity, when that happens, we often find ourselves settling for substitutes. Well, maybe I could do this or this or have this, and we settle for things that don’t bring true joy. They might make us happy for a little while, but once the circumstances change, the happiness goes away. That’s not joy. The only source of true joy is the God who sees us. My guess is that many of us are struggling at this moment with prayers that we have been praying for a long time, and we have been getting back silence. We all have these little areas where we have settled into despair because it feels like God isn’t listening.

My family has one of these. I got permission from my daughter to share this. My youngest daughter is struggling with a chronic thing. It causes a lot of daily pain. We have been praying for God to take it away or give the doctors — if you want to work through the doctors, figure out a way to take it away. There have been moments of light in that, but the reality is, this is still something we are struggling through. I know what it’s like to pray and feel like we are just not getting the answers we are looking for, and I think you probably are too. Almost all of us have these places. What does the story teach us? I’ll tell you what it’s teaching me. Three things that have to do with managing the joy that God calls us to have in the midst of circumstances that are not what we would want. Three things, the first one is this — know that you are seen — with kindness, with favor. Know that you are seen and that your prayers are never forgotten. Even when you have given up praying them, they are still in God’s ears. He’s still listening, even to our forgotten prayers. They have a secret life long after we thought they have died. Know that you are seen and your prayers are never forgotten.

Number two, remember, God never delivers undersized joy. Sometimes it takes form we wouldn’t have expected. Sometimes the answer is not yet, because it’s not fully developed. I haven’t finished brewing the big thing I want to deliver. Sometimes it’s, no, no, no. I’m going to do something different. You would never have even thought to look for this, so sometimes it looks different, but God never delivers an undersized joy. I just remembered — it’s terrible that I remember this, probably, but when I was a kid, you know how commercials stick in your head — something about he never delivers a wine before its time. Remember that old commercial? God’s like that. His joy is like a fine wine — we are a Baptist church. We can’t talk about alcohol. I’m sorry. But he never delivers an undersized joy. Remember that.

Number three, remember the key to experiencing God-sized joy is sticking close to the God who sees us. You see if Zechariah and Elizabeth had given up, if they had abandoned their faith, if they had turned from God, they wouldn’t have been in that place where they could be pulled into the temple by what seemed like random chance, but was actually God’s design, and they wouldn’t have heard about this joy that wasn’t just for them, but was for all of us. The key to experiencing God’s joy is sticking close to the God who sees us. Let’s go to the God who sees us.

God, thank You for Your sight. Thank You that we are seen, and we are looked upon with kindness. We know this because Your Son came. He died in our place. He died for our sin. The stuff that should have turned Your eyes from us, our sin, You took care of in the blood of Your own Son, so we know that You look upon us with kindness. Thank You. We lift up all of those places of despair in our lives. We are like Elizabeth and like Zechariah, maybe we have settled into despair, and the very thought that maybe, despair is not our destiny is a dangerous thought because hope is scary, and yet we know hope is what moves us from where we are to where we need to be to experience the God-sized joy that You have been brewing, so Lord, we just come before You as people who acknowledge our need of You, our desperation for You, and Lord, we thank You that Your Word teaches us that You are looking, that You are listening, even to those prayers that we have given up on, that we have stopped praying.

Lord, we come and we bow before You, the God who sees us with favor, because You are the only source of true, lasting joy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

MIRACLE MANAGEMENT

CRAIG SMITH | read his bio

DECEMBER

8/9

Luke 1:26-38

As we continue through Luke 1, we see another encounter with an angel revealing miraculous things to come. We see that God often starts miracles in unexpected places. And we have a part to play in the miracles God performs. Join us for week 2 of our Christmas series.

SERMON TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to Mission Hills.

So glad you are here. I have haven’t done anything yet — but, thank you. Actually, you know what? I’ll be honest — I’m exhausted. It’s been a long weekend. I know a lot of you were serving and on mission with Jesus at the Colorado Christmas Adventure. That was such an awesome time as Danny said, we had almost 6,000 people come through. The best part for me was — I was playing an innkeeper, kind of close to the door, so I had a lot of conversations with folks from Mission Hills that were so clearly on mission. They would introduce me to a family or neighbors or coworkers. The family would kind of move on, and the Mission Hills person would lean in and they go, I have been inviting them to come to Christmas stuff and church stuff for years, and they would never come. This is the first time they have said yes, and I was like, that’s awesome. That’s why we did it.

To all of you that invited somebody or served at the Colorado Christmas adventure, maybe you did a house or you painted faces, so many different ways you were on mission with Jesus in the community. Just thank you. Let’s give it up for Jesus and what he did this past weekend. That was awesome, and hey, I’ll get to preaching in just a second. Let me just say this, but the ability to do those kinds of things — and that’s why we are at church, right? That’s why God’s got us here. The ability to do those kinds of things is so dependent upon your generosity in serving, but also being on mission with your money. As we come to the end of the year, let me just do this quick reminder. I think this is true for all churches, but I know it’s true for Mission Hills. We depend heavily on end of year giving to make our budget for the year and to be able to begin the next year from a good solid place to be on mission with Jesus for 2019. Think about Mission Hills as you are thinking about end of year giving, or maybe you are watching online, and this ministry has been a huge blessing to you.

We know thousands are watching online right now and we are so grateful to be able to connect with you via this medium. But maybe God would lead you to give to Mission Hills a gift here at the end of this year. I just want to say that and — all right, that’s enough of that. It’s always weird, but honestly, being on mission with our money is a big part of being on mission with Jesus generally. It’s true with my family, and we need to do it every now and then. Let me get to what we are really here to talk about today, which is joy, right? This is week number two in the “Joy to the World,” series. There is a piece of art in my house. It’s in the laundry room of all places. I’m not sure why my place put it here, but she put it up years ago. It says “I choose joy.” I’m not sure, again, why that’s in the laundry room, but it’s kind of interesting. I know when she put it up a few years ago I was like, that’s nice.

I have walked past it for several years, and I don’t really pay much attention to it, but as I have found myself studying for this series on Joy to the World, I have found myself looking at that and thinking some things that I haven’t really thought much before. Two main thoughts I find myself having again and again when I see that, “I choose joy.” I think first, you know, that’s right, actually. It’s a true thing. It’s a Biblical thing. Joy is a choice. Happiness just happens. Happiness is a result of our circumstances, and that’s why it kinda comes and goes with our circumstances, but joy is bigger than that. It’s not based on our circumstances. It’s rooted in a relationship with God, and so because of that, joy is something we can choose to have in spite of circumstances, and you know, that’s right. The second thing I thought was, man, I’m not good at that. Anyone else? I’m not necessarily good at choosing joy. I often find that I allow circumstances to really impact my ability to have joy.

I have been praying a lot this Christmas season that God would teach me to be better at. To get me to that point, to get me to the point where I am actually able to choose joy, and he’s been teaching me a lot about what it means to choose joy, and so I’m really excited to be able to share another piece of that this week. Why don’t you go ahead and grab your Bible and make your way to the Gospel of Luke. We are going to be in 1:26, kind of picking up where we left off last week, part of the Christmas story that’s a little more familiar than what we looked at last week, but a really powerful truth here about making — you know, the joy that came to the world in Christ, making it possible for that to come to our world. That’s really my prayer for today, God, how do we make joy to the world in Christ mean joy to my world, to our world as individuals.

So 1:26 in Luke begins this way, in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee. Let’s just say, Gabriel’s been busy, right? We haven’t seen Gabriel for a long time. Last time we saw Gabriel show up was about 600 years ago. He was talking to Daniel, and now he’s popping up all over the place. I wonder how he feels about this, because his primary duty lately has been baby announcements, which I think is kinda interesting. He’s a warrior angel, but he’s been basically been going, baby’s coming. Baby’s coming. I mean, they are big news babies, I get it, but I wonder sometimes how he feels about it. He’s probably okay with it, but last week he was in a place you expect an angel to be. He was in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Israel is a really important place. Israel is the place of the people of God, so it’s the most important country in the world. He’s in the capital, the most important city in the most important country, and he appeared in the temple which is the most important place in the most important city in the most important country, and he’s in the place where they would burn incense to the Lord, so he’s in the part of the most important place of the most important city of the most important country which is where you expect angels to show up, right? Important places.

But here he says he went to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, and that’s not an important place in anybody’s book. Nazareth in Galilee, that’s a back water, back woods, off the map, off the radar, unimportant kind of place. I think that’s so interesting because what happens here, really, is the most important thing that’s ever happened anywhere, but it’s happened in a place most of us wouldn’t expect God to do something important. And it reminds me, this truth I forget so often in my own life that some of the most important things that God does, He does start — He starts them in unimportant places. The places we would never think to look because who would be paying attention there? I think that’s true, not only geographically in a place like Nazareth, but I think it’s true in our lives too. We have these things that we are longing for God to do, these big things we are praying for, these miracles we want God to do in our lives, and we have in our minds an idea of where something big like that would start.

Well, it’s going to be over here. It’s this place. It’s this place, and we tend to look at the important places, right? The reality is that sometimes what God is doing in our lives, it starts in the places we wouldn’t be paying attention to because we don’t think they are important. I think some of the reasons we don’t see what God is doing until way late in the game is because we are looking for places that we think God needs to move. This is where we think God needs to show up. This is where we think God needs to start doing something, but the reality is if it’s in the world or in our lives, some of the most important things God does starts in unimportant places to us. The reality is, there are no unimportant places to God. The angel shows up in this kinda unimportant place, little bit of a surprise.

Verse 27 says, he appeared to a virgin pledged to be married to a man name Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. We say, oh, that makes more sense. He’s appearing to somebody who sounds kind of like an important person, right? He’s appearing to Joseph. Joseph’s a descendant of David, right? David — he’s a great King of Israel. Joseph — he’s one of the distant descendants, sure, but he’s part of the important family line. He’s got the right pedigree. He’s an important, person, right? The angel appears to Joseph, right? No, no, no, no. That’s not what it said, is it? It said he appeared to — Mary. Oh, yeah, she’s engaged to an important person, but he didn’t actually appear to the important person. Not who we would expect him to appear to. He appears to Mary. Joseph is the man in the middle here, actually. I always feel a little bit bad for Joseph in the story because man, he doesn’t have a big part to play, does he?

He’s the man in the middle here. He’s sandwiched in between two mentions of the important person here, which is Mary. It’s interesting. We are told Joseph comes from an important family. What are we told of Mary’s family? Nothing. Not a word. What we are told about Mary is — twice, interestingly enough, we are told she is a virgin. He appeared to a virgin. The virgin’s name is Mary. You understand what he’s saying here. This is so important, is that God is more concerned with your character than he is with where you come from, do you hear me? God is more concerned with your character than where you come from. You see, Joseph came from the right family line, but that’s not who God’s eyes are on here. His interest is in Mary right here. His emphasis on Mary is on her character. She’s a virgin. It gets mentioned twice. What that means is, she’s the kind of person — she honored God. I’m not saying Joseph didn’t, but the emphasis is on Mary and her character. She honored God. She kept sexuality in the way God intended.

It’s a good thing, but it’s supposed to be done within the boundaries of marriage. She’s not married yet, so she’s keeping her sexuality there. She’s honoring God in that way. That’s a character issue. Twice that gets mentioned. You see God is more concerned with our character than where we come from. That’s not the world always thinks about it, is it? The world pays a lot of attention to where we come from. Pays attention to the color of or skin. Pays attention to the countries we come from. Are you a native in this country, or are you an immigrant? That matters to the world. It opens and closes doors. Pay attention to the families that we come from, the schools we go to, the companies that are on our resume and those kinds of things.

The world pays a lot of attention to where we come from which is pretty frustrating. If you have ever been in a place where you didn’t get an opportunity, something didn’t happen for you because you didn’t come from the right place in some way, that’s pretty frustrating because we can’t change where we come from. You know what we can change? We can change our character. Our character is something we can work on, and apparently, this is really good new, God cares a lot more about our character than he does where we come from.

So he appeared to Mary, and the angel went to her, and he said, greetings you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you. And I’m going to tweak that translation a little bit. I’m reading the New International Version. Almost every other version says the same thing. They say something like “greetings.” But the actual Greek word there is a commandment. It’s a command to rejoice. The first thing the angel says is, rejoice. He says, be filled with joy. He says, choose joy, Mary. Then he says, you are highly favored by God. He says, the Lord is with you, which is great sounding news, isn’t it? How many of us would love to be told, God’s paying attention to you. God’s got His eyes on you, and He’s with you. How many of us would like that? Of course, we would. That’s awesome right, which is why it’s so strange — look what Mary does. Verse 29, Mary was greatly troubled. Mary was greatly troubled at his words, and she wondered what kind of greeting this might be.

That’s interesting, right? He goes, hey, rejoice! Have joy! Well, maybe she’s an Eeyore type personality, right? Maybe she’s just allergic to joy. So, rejoice — oh, it’s going to be really hard. Ahh . . I don’t think so. He says — he says, you are highly favored, right? Like why would that be troubling? Why would that be upsetting? I mean, literally in the Greek, it’s really kind of cool. There is a little bit of a play on words in the original language here because the word for rejoice and the word for favor sound very, very similar here. Kinda what he says is rejoice, God enjoys you. Like why would you be like, oh, no. I don’t know why that would trouble you. He says the Lord is with you. What could be better than that? But actually, that’s the problem. That’s the key phrase there because as good as that sounds, it’s actually a loaded phrase.

She’s heard that phrase before. This is a girl who knows the story of God’s work with the people over the years. She knows her Bible. She knows the Old Testament, and she’s heard that phrase before. She’s heard the phrase “the Lord is with you.” And she kind of know, as good as that is, it also has kind of a downside to it. She knows that the Lord was with Moses, for instance. Moses — God used Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, right? Yeah, God had great plans for Moses, but you know what? Pharaoh chased Moses across the desert. They were attacked. It seems like everywhere they went, they were attacked, and his brother and his sister, they betrayed him. Yeah, see, God had great plans for Moses, but the world had great pains for him, right?

And the Lord was with David, great King David, the greatest King of Israel. He took down Goliath. That’s awesome. Yeah, and his brothers mocked him. His mentor tried to murder him. God had great plans for him, but the world had great pains for him. Or Daniel? The Lord was with Daniel. Mary knows that. The Lord was with Daniel. He was one of the great Old Testament prophets, one of the greatest of the greats. He spent his whole life in captivity in a foreign country. He kept climbing up the ladder of success, only to be knocked back down again when a new king came in. It was success and setback, success and setback over and over again. He got thrown into a lion’s den. Yes, God had great plans for him, but the world had great pains for him. So Mary hears this phrase, “the Lord is with you,” and she’s like, oh no. Because she knows — she knows that to be used greatly by God often means being hurt greatly by the world. Do you hear me, Church? I wish that weren’t true. I really, really — like if I was writing the Bible, I would have had a couple of changes in direction.

I would have edited some stuff because I don’t like that reality, but it is a reality, and we have to deal with it. To be used greatly by God often means being hurt greatly by the world. To have the mark of God’s favor on you, that’s a really good thing. I have experienced this. I have had a lot of God’s favor in my life, and I’m very glad for that, but I have also learned, you know what the mark of God’s favor looks a lot like? A bullseye. See — see, when God says I have plans for you, what he often means is, I want you to March with me. I want you to lead some people. Maybe it’s — maybe it’s in church, maybe it’s in your business. Maybe it’s in your neighborhood. Maybe it’s in your family. He says, I want you to lead. I want you to march with me, but God often marches against the flow of the world. He marches upstream against the flow of this life and against this world, and the problem is when you are marching against the flow, all of the debris coming down river — guess who it hits? The person out front doing that.

Sometimes in our families, or even in our churches, and certainly in our neighborhoods and in our businesses and other places in life, when God says, I have plans for you, come march with me, we have to recognize that there — there’s often a pain that accompanies that. I think it’s interesting that Mary gets that. But I think the angel gets it too, which is why he said what he said right off the bat. The very first thing he said was what? It was, rejoice. The first thing he said was, have joy. The very first thing he said was, choose joy. You might go, I don’t get that. If he knows what Mary knows, which is having the Lord’s favor on her and being used greatly by God is going to cause some pain, if it’s going to be difficult, it’s going to be hard, it’s going to lead to difficult circumstances, and it absolutely did for her, didn’t it? If he knows that’s going to happen, how can he tell her to rejoice?

Because he understands what we have already said which is, joy isn’t rooted in circumstances. See, happiness is rooted in circumstances, but joy isn’t. Joy isn’t the result of our circumstances, joy is the remedy for them, do you hear me? Joy is not the result of our circumstances, joy is the remedy for them. Joy is what allows us to face difficult circumstances. Happiness is rooted in circumstances. Happiness just happens. It’s how we feel when good things happen, but joy is not that. Joy is rooted in a relationship with a God who promises that your present is not permanent. Do you hear me? That’s where joy comes from. It comes from a God who says, stick with me, and your present is not permanent. So joy is not the result of circumstances. Joy is the remedy for them.

So the angel says to Mary, I know that you know what I know. This is not going to be easy. Here’s what you need to get through it. You need to choose joy. You need to rejoice. Verse 30 the angel said to her, do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. I know that you know what I know, but don’t be afraid, Mary. The God who promises that the present is never permanent, you have found favor with that God. He says you, verse 31. You will conceive, and you will give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus, and he will be great, and he will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descents forever. His kingdom will never end. He’s giving her a glimpse here, right? He’s saying this is what is waiting for you. This is what is on the other side of those difficult circumstances. We don’t always get that glimpse, okay? You and I don’t always get this insight into what’s waiting if we will trust in the God who says our present is never permanent.

You and I don’t always get this glimpse of what happens if we choose joy and allow that joy to take us through those difficult circumstances, but we need to understand is that whether we get the glimpse Mary gets or not, the reality is always the same. There is always a moment coming — listen to me, there is always a moment coming when our joy and happiness, that is our circumstances, when they come together. It may be on the other side of life. It may be somewhere down the line in this one, but there is always a moment where the joy we have in the Lord and the happiness that comes from circumstances, they do come together. He’s giving Mary a glimpse of that moment. He’s saying, here is what is coming. Your child — he’s going to be the one that everyone has been waiting for. He’s going to be the one who does inherit all of the promises that were given to his father David.

He’s going to sit on the throne forever and ever, that’s going to be your boy. You talk about bragging rights, right? Like I don’t know how you put that on the back of a bumper sticker. My kid’s an honor society student. My kid’s the captain, well my kid’s the King of Kings. I don’t know how you do that, but he says, that’s coming, because the reality is that the joy that God is building — we talked about this last week, the joy that God is brewing is always so much bigger than we can to begin imagine, so he says to Mary, hold on. Mary says an interesting thing. How will this be? How will this be, Mary asked the angel, since I am a virgin.

You know, if you were here last week, if you were listening last week, you may remember that Zechariah got announcement of a miracle baby, and he had a question, and it didn’t go so well for him. Mary has a question now, and we are going to see that it goes okay for her. That feels a little sexist, right? How come Zechariah got a punishment and Mary just gets information? Well the answer is because Zechariah ‘s question is motivated by something very different like we talked about last week. Zechariah is motivated by fear. He doesn’t want to get his hopes up. He feels like it’s been too long. God hasn’t moved yet and so he says, I’m going to need some proof before I begin to let my hopes rise. Mary’s not asking for proof. Mary’s just — she’s just curious, and maybe a little bit concerned. She says, I’m a virgin, and not only does that mean she honors God, but it also means that she’s pretty young. She’s not married yet.

There’s a sense of urgency. There is a sense of immediacy to what the angel is saying. I don’t get this. How is this going to play out, right? She was pretty young, by the way. Like we don’t know exactly, but a few years after this some Rabbis set a law in place and they said you can’t marry off a girl too young, and so they put a minimum age for marriage for Hebrew girls, and you know what it was? It was 12. They said you can’t marry off a girl before she’s 12, which means Mary could have been right around there. Of course, you might have gotten engaged a couple of years before that. We know she’s engaged, so honestly, Mary could be 10, 11, 12 — somewhere in there.

So Mary goes, I’m young, and I’m not married, but there is a sense of immediacy. There is a sense of urgency here. So how is this going to play out? And the angel answered her. He said 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. He basically said, Mary, don’t worry about it. God’s got this. See, when God’s going to work a miracle, you know who has to work the miracle? It’s God. You don’t have to worry about the how. Don’t how this thing to death, right? Just understand when God promises He’s going to do something, He’s going to do something. He says, even your relative — even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who is said to be unable to conceive, she is in her six month.

He says not only is got going to do this, he says God is already doing this. This miracle that God’s telling you about now. This glimpse that God’s giving you, God’s already on the move. He’s got pieces in play. He’s already got plans that are in process. He’s already got the gears that are beginning to grind along and they are beginning to spin. Everything’s coming together. I’m just telling you this now, but you are coming late to the party. The reality is that God is already been doing stuff that you had no idea about, and I think that’s so often true in our live, that we are praying for a miracle, and we don’t see it’s happening. We feel — we talked about this last week, right? We feel like silence equals inactivity. Maybe even — like maybe silence means that God’s not paying attention, but so often, God’s going, no, no, no, no. Your prayers have found favor in My ears.

Your desires are things that I long to give you. Joy is absolutely your destiny, but this is a big joy, and I have to get this thing moving. There are things you don’t even know are happening that are happening. And we get to frustrated. We get so impatient. We go, God’s not doing anything, and God’s back there going, man, I’m doing so much more. It’s already happening. Things you wouldn’t even believe are possible are already taking place. Just wait. Then the angel says this, in verse 37, he says for no word from God will ever fail, and I love that. He says, you are going to have a son, Mary. That’s God’s word to you. She says, how? He says don’t worry about how. Don’t worry about when. It’s all in motion. God’s got this thing, but no word from God will ever fail.

That’s a hard thing to believe sometimes, isn’t it? Can we just be honest with each other? You know when — when our family is a mess, when our marriage is falling apart, when our relationship with our kids just feels like it’s constantly tension and strain — it feels like the career is falling apart — our fear and anxiety has us frozen. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that no word from God will ever fail, especially those words about joy, right? Especially those promises that our present is not permanent, and that joy is our destiny, sometimes when things are hard, it’s hard to believe that no word from God will ever fail. One of the ones I think is hardest to believe but so powerful — it’s Psalm 126:5. I love this. It says this, those who sow with tears shall reap with songs of joy. Those who sow — those who plant with tears, will reap — will harvest with songs of joy. That’s a word from the Lord, right?

When we plant things in the ground, and we are weeping over them, maybe honestly, maybe we are not planting them with the hope that they are going to grow into anything. Maybe we are planting them and in our minds, it’s just a burial, right? This is a dream. This is a hope. It’s done. It’s dead. We are planting it, but there is no expectation there is any more life coming out of that. We water it with our tears. When things are hard, when circumstances are difficult, when happiness is not happening, the idea that we will reap with songs of joy — that’s hard to believe sometimes. What does God say? Through His messenger Gabriel when Mary wants to know how? How is that going to happen? The angel says, God’s got this, for no word from God will ever fail. Okay.

But then — then the question becomes, let’s just assume that’s true. Let’s assume that God will do what he says he’s going to do, that my circumstances are not my destiny. My present is not permanent, and joy is in fact what is coming, if that’s true, then the question becomes, how do I get from here to there, right? How do I get from where I am where not only is joy hard to choose, but happiness seems really far away, almost forgotten? How do I get from here to there where joy and happiness collide? How do I get from sowing with tears to reaping with joy? Do I have to do anything? Do I just wait? Is it my job, when God says He’s going to do something, do I just wait?

I don’t think so. I think we have this idea that when God says He’s going to do a miracle, like with Mary, He says, God’s got there. If God’s got this, then I don’t have anything to do. My only job is to wait, and sometimes waiting is the hardest thing in the world, right? But my job is only to wait? I think we get this idea sometime, but you know what? That’s not what the Word of God teaches us. That’s not what the history of God’s doing miracles teaches us. I mean, let’s talk about Moses for a second, right? God says, I’m going to do something like nobody’s ever seen before, and God parted the Red Sea, right? God did that. Moses didn’t do that. God parted the Red Sea. Before the sea was parted Moses was told, you have to raise up out your hand. You have to put up your staff, and only when you have done that will that sea part. And the Israelites, they saw what happened. God did it, but they had to step into the dry seabed with the water piling up on either side.

See God did the miracle, but they had to manage the miracle, right? They had to manage their part in it. God killed Goliath. Let’s just be really clear about that. Adolescent boys with small rocks don’t take down giants. It just doesn’t happen, okay? God took down Goliath, but David, he had to step out on to the battlefield, right? He had to pick up the stone, put it in the sling, whirl it around and put it in the general right direction, right? It would have been weird if he shot it over there and it did this boomerang thing. That would have been cool, but I think he had to be pointed in the general right direction. God did the miracle, but David had to manage that miracle. He had to manage his part in it. Peter — you know, Peter walked on water, right? Jesus made Peter walk on water.

Jesus enabled Peter to walk on water that day, but Peter had to get out of the boat, and the moment he took his eyes off Jesus, the moment he stopped managing the miracle, the moment he stopped managing his part in it, what happened? He started sinking. Zechariah and Elizabeth — we talked about them last week, right? God said, I’m going to give you a baby. You are going to have a miracle baby. I’m going to do that, but — I have to be careful here. Some of you are ahead of me, right? I’m going to keep this “G.” Don’t worry about it, I’m going to keep it all “G.” But see, what God did with Mary is a little different than he did with Zechariah and Elizabeth. In both cases, God does the miracle, only God did the miracle, but God made their baby a little different than the way he made Mary’s baby, right? Let’s just say it this way, God made their baby the old fashioned way, right?

He said I’m going to do this, but Zechariah had to go home, and he had to pick up some flower on the way home, a nice bottle of wine, put some music — I’ll stop there, but you see what I’m saying? God did that, but they had a part to play. They had a role in managing that miracle. You go, yeah, that seems to be true a lot, but not for Mary, right? Mary didn’t have anything to do, right? No, no, no. She had the most important thing to do. Verse 38, I am the Lord’s servant, Mary answered. I don’t know if you understand how powerful that is, how important that is, how foundational that is. She said, I’m the Lord’s serve. You understand what she’s doing, she’s leading with who she is. That’s her first response. That’s how she begins the rest of this. She says this is who I am, I’m God’s girl. I’m the Lord’s servant.

And what you need to understand is this, and I learned this years ago, actually, over the years I have talked to a lot of different first responder, soldiers, police and firemen. One of the questions I ask a lot of times is, how do you do what you do? Like how do you run towards a fire? How do you run towards the sound of gunfire? How do you run towards the sound of battle, and one of the most consistent answers I get back, and it’s such a powerful answer is, they say, I remind myself, that’s who I am. I remind myself, I’m a firefighter, so of course, I go to where the fires are. I’m a police officer, so of course I go to where there is chaos. I’m a soldier, so of course I go toward the sound of the gunfire because listen to me, what Mary is telling us is such an important truth. Who we think we are determines what we do. Who we think we are determines what we do. If we think we are afraid and fearful, we are not going to trust when God says to truth. We are not going to move when God says to move.

If we think we are insignificant, we are not going to believe that God could be paying attention. If we think we are unimportant to God, we are not going to believe for a minute that God might have a miracle He wants to do in our lives or through us in the world. Who we think we are determines what we do, and so Mary begins. She says, I’m the Lord’s servant. That’s who I am. What do the Lord’s servants do? She says, may Your Word to me be fulfilled. You understand what that is? That’s trust. She says okay. I’m God’s girl. Let’s do this thing. It’s a rough translation.

[Laughter]

You understand what it is. She says this is who I am. I’m the Lord’s servant. What do we do? We trust. She says, let’s do it. I trust you. I think it’s so interesting, last part of the story is this, and it happens immediately. And then, at that moment, then the angel left her. It’s like there is this moment in the story, hey, Lord’s favor is on you. God’s got plans for you. She’s like, oh, no. He says let me give you a glimpse of what’s coming. I know it’s going to be hard, but choose joy, and you are going to get through that, and you are going to get on the other side of it, and you are going to look back on it, and it’s going to be incredible, and he’s watching her. What are you going to do, Mary?

I’m God’s girl. Let’s do it. You see that’s trust. The angel sees that and he says, okay. My work’s done. I’m out of here. You see, it’s in motion. She’s moving. You need to understand that if nothing else, if you remember nothing else from this today, remember this — the first step to experiencing the joy of the Lord is trust in the Lord. Do you hear me? The first step to experiencing joy is trust. It’s the indispensable — indispensable, first step. What does it mean to choose joy? Joy which is not only — it’s not a response to our circumstances, but it’s the remedy for them. What is the first step to choosing joy which takes us through those circumstances and out the other side where we see happiness and joy come together, whether it’s in this life or next, what is the first indispensable, foundational, first step? It’s trust.

The first step to experiencing the joy of the Lord is trust in the Lord. Let me give you a couple of questions to wrestle with this week. The first question is just this, is there a place in my life where the fear of pain is making it hard to submit to God’s plan? Maybe as mom, as a dad, as a husband, as a wife, as an employee, as a boss, as a student, that in some way, you know what God is calling you to do in that sphere in that place in your life is potentially painful, and so you are having a hard time making that first step. Is there a place in my life where the fear of pain is making it hard to submit to God’s plan? First step is to identify that and say, here’s a place I need to trust.

Second question, what’s God calling me to do to manage the miracle that I’m longing for? Understand that only God can do the miracle, but sometimes we have to hold out the hand to raise up the staff to pick up the stone to get out of the boat to get onboard. We have to manage our part in it. Sometimes we go, God, I want you to do this, and He says, I will do that, I just have this little thing — this little thing I’m asking you to do to manage your part in it. Sometimes we know what it is, but we haven’t done it. We are not willing to do it. We get frustrated. We get mad at God. God, why aren’t you doing the miracle? He says, I’ll do something bigger than you can imagine, but I just got this little thing. It’s so little. I can’t even see it — compared to what I’m going to do.

There’s something God is calling you to do to manage this miracle that you are longing for, and then maybe this last question, where in my life is a lack of trust in the Lord, maybe keeping me from experiencing the joy of the Lord? Let’s pray about this. Would you join me in prayer?

God, we acknowledge that trusting You is not only easy. We know that the miracles that You do are insignificant compared to the tiny parts that You ask us to play. Sometimes the fear of pain, the fear of having that bullseye that the world sees — just honestly, Lord, just the struggle to trust You is hard. We ask that You would grow our trust. Lord, we know the fertile ground that trust grows in. We know that the proof of Your goodness, the proof of Your love, the proof of Your commitment to us and to eternal joy is — it’s right there on display for everyone to see. It’s there on the cross, Lord we know that You sent Your own Son to die for us because You loved us so deeply, and we know it’s a fact of history, it’s not a matter of faith. It’s a fact of history that he did not stay in the ground. They buried him with tears and he rose with a shout of joy. They greeted him with shouts of joy. It’s a fact of history, Lord. He rose from the dead, and now he offers new life to those that will simply trust in what he did for them.

Lord, we know that is the proof of Your goodness, and Your trustworthiness. We ask that You would allow us to deepen our trust for You, and our trust in You. Lord, as we trust in You, would You allow us to experience the joy of the Lord that comes from trust in the Lord? I’m going to ask, if you are a follower of Jesus right now, on all of our campuses, wherever you are listening to this, if you are a follower of Jesus, would you begin praying for the people around you, because I believe on all of our campuses right now, and watching online, there are many people — they need to take the first big step of trust. They are hearing a message that God has joy for them that their present is not permanent, and they are longing to experience that, and they are going, how do I do that?

If that’s you, and you are wondering how you do that, let me tell you right now, the first and most important step toward that destiny is trust in the God that loves you so much that He sent His own Son to die for you. And right now, if you are hearing that, and you know that you have never taken that first step of trust, if you have never put your faith in what Jesus did for you on the cross, but right now the Holy Spirit is stirring something in you, and you are going, I’m ready to take that first step. If you are ready to take that first step, if you are ready to put your trust in Jesus to carry you on, not only to forgive your sins, and get rid of everything that would be a barrier between you and this God of joy, but to actually begin moving you towards that joy, if you are ready to take that step, would you just slip your hand up right now? If you are ready to put your faith in Jesus, would you put your hand up? That’s awesome.

I see those hands. That’s great. If you are watching online, just click the button below me. Wherever you are, I’m going to invite you to put your trust in Jesus. Just say to him, this is what you say, Jesus, I have done wrong. I don’t really deserve your love. I know that, but thank you for loving me. Jesus, thank you for coming, and taking all that I have done wrong, and paying for it on the cross. Thank you. I believe you rose from the dead, and you are offering me new life right now, and so I choose to trust you. Right now, I put my faith in you. I put my trust in you. Please forgive my sins. Start moving me toward joy. I give myself to you. I’m yours. Right now and forever. Amen.

Can we welcome those who came into the joy of the Lord for the first time today, and into the family of God? That’s awesome.

MAGNIFYING JOY

KIP NANNINGA | read his bio

DECEMBER

15/16

Luke 1:39-56

During the holidays, we go to a lot of effort to make sure the outside looks great, but inside can be another story. Do we truly feel joy, lasting joy? Today we continue our look at Mary’s story in Luke 1, where Mary shares with us the secret of sustainable joy despite overwhelming circumstances.

SERMON TRANSCRIPT

All right, good morning. Merry Christmas. You Denver Broncos fans, it’s going to get better. It is going to get better. Merry Christmas to all of you guys in the back. Great to see you, and our 700 new seats that are going to be filled up, packed out for our Christmas Eve services. It’s going to be a great time.

Well, I have something in the box here this morning that I thought would probably bring us all together, something that I think most of us can identify this time of year with. And if you notice, some of these are lit, and unfortunately, some of these are not. This brings back interesting memories with my brothers and I because my dad was a little bit obsessive-compulsive about Christmas lights. So the Friday after Thanksgiving, he would take months leading up to that Friday to scheme and plan how our house was going to look for Christmas.

So we would line the house and line the windows and wrap trees and wrap poles. We had two huge wooden snowmen that every year my brothers and I had to touch up. We shot floodlights up on them in hopes that this was the year we would win the big competition in our town. We never won. Awe. My dad would stand back after we got all of the lights lit and everything ready. He would say, boys, we did a good job this year. And us boys were like, all right! We’re done, let’s get out of here. But you know, if you are like me this Christmastime, we can go to a lot of effort to worry and figure out how we look on the outside. Like to make sure the externals all look good, and we go to great effort to make sure everything looks good.

We walk in on Christmas Eve services with our Christmas sweaters, and our Christmas colors, and our family looks the part — but what I have realized over the years is sometimes it can feel like a hundred miles away with joy. There are moments we feel like joy is temporary. We go into this holiday season, and many of us in this auditorium will say, I can’t wait for all of the friends and relatives to gather around the table. It will be a great time. Others in this auditorium will say, this Christmas, we’re going to be missing somebody at the table. This Christmas, we’ll be missing somebody at that gift exchange, and it’s going to be hard.

We have high, highs. We have low, lows. It feels like joy just comes and goes, and we wonder how to find sustainable joy. My mom struggled seven years with Alzheimer’s, and Jesus finally took her home. That Christmas we didn’t decorate the house. It was a difficult time for my dad. And so you wonder, how can we find sustainable joy in this season where we talk about joy. We talk about the light of the world coming in, but it feels dark. What’s interesting is a teenaged girl, a couple of thousand years ago, probably 12 or 13 years old discovered how to find sustainable joy.

Her worship song cries out to us today that if we trust God, we can have unshakeable faith. Let’s pray. Father, I thank You so much for Your Word today. I thank You so much for a teenaged girl named Mary who was so unlikely that You would choose her, but she feared You. She humbled herself, and she said, I am the Lord’s servant. Father, may that be said of us not just this holiday season but this New Year. God, we are Your servants. We will follow You. We will be on mission. Father, we love You. We ask this God, in Your name. Amen.

So take your bibles and turn to Luke 1. We have been in a series called Joy to the World. How to find “sustainable joy.” If you have been with us the last couple of weeks, you remember an angel appeared to Mary. This is the Christmas Story, kind of the Charlie Brown where Linus comes out with his blanket and says here’s the true Christmas Story. An angel appears to Mary and says, greetings, you who are highly favored, Mary. I think the next five words are so important in this text. If you have a Bible or smartphone, you want to highlight those or underline those. But there is something said that again reminds us of God’s faithfulness, and those five words are simply this, that the Lord is with you. And I want to stop a minute this morning and tell you, that God is with you.

If you feel you are going through overwhelming circumstances, and you feel like you heard the news you didn’t want to hear. That someone you put your trust in has bailed or the bottom has dropped out, I want you to know that Mary would tell you today that God is with you, that the Lord is with you. The angel goes on to say to Mary, you will bear a child and you will call His name Jesus and He will be the Son of God. This is Mary’s response; I’m the Lord’s servant. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ this morning, you have trusted in Christ alone for salvation, you trusted in Christ alone for the forgiveness of sin and peace with God, this is our fundamental identity as a follower of Jesus today. That we are a servant of God. That’s our response, regardless of feelings, regardless of circumstance, we follow Mary’s lead in this and we say, Jesus, I am your servant. I will trust God.

In verse 39 we pick it up. At that time it says Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea and entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the Bible says the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Now we know as we catch up on the story, Zechariah can’t say anything. He was muted by God because he doubted God’s promises. And so he’s not saying anything in the story, and he’s not going to say anything until their son is born. Their son’s name is John. He is John the Baptist. Elizabeth is a woman, the Bible says, who’s old. Now because I don’t want to get emails tomorrow morning, I’m not about to put an age on this, right?

I’m not putting a number on this, but the Bible says she’s old and she finds herself pregnant. In fact she finds herself, what I believe, to be six months pregnant and her son is John the Baptist. What is interesting is that this story could read so different because Elizabeth could have got and fallen into the trap of comparisons. She could have said to God, why wasn’t I chosen? Why did I get second best? Why did I get the guy that’s going to precede the Messiah? I got the son that will say, there is one coming that is greater than I. I’m not even about to be able to untie his sandals or tie his sandals, John says. Elizabeth could have easily said, God like why didn’t you choose me to bear the Messiah, but she didn’t.

Elizabeth’s blessing seemed so huge until maybe it was compared to Mary’s because the Bible says this about Elizabeth’s son, John the Baptist, that he would be highly favored, that the Holy Spirit would be upon him and he would be instrumental in turning the nation of Israel back to God, and Elizabeth’s blessing seemed huge compared to Mary’s, but Elizabeth didn’t let that fact steal her joy, and that’s so important. She didn’t allow comparisons to steal her joy. Looking at verse 42 in a loud voice she says blessed are you among women, Mary, and blessed is the child that you will fair, but why am I so favored that the mother of the Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, Mary, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord will fulfill her promises to her.

You see, Elizabeth understood something, that comparing what I have with what could be will steal my joy, and Elizabeth says, who am I, Mary, that the mother of the Messiah is standing in my family room, is standing in my kitchen? I will not compare. I won’t let it steal my joy. What’s interesting is that you will never believe what Mary does next. May it be a spiritual reminder — this is a spiritual reminder to never underestimate the younger generation. I was a high school pastor for almost 20 years, and I never underestimated the impact that high school students and middle school students could make for the Kingdom. Mary writes a worship song. Mary writes a worship song she borrows from the Old Testament scriptures, weaving together some of the most memorable compositions in all of the Bible.

In fact in all of history, it’s called the Magnificat in Latin, and many dominations still sing the Magnificat or Mary’s worship song to God, to this day. And in verse 46 it says this, and Mary says, my soul glorifies the Lord. My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant. That part is so powerful there because Mary says this, look, I’m a nobody. I’m a nobody from nowhere. I’m just this middle school aged girl from a small village in the hill country of Jerusalem, and God, You could choose someone else. God, You could choose someone else, just like Moses back in the Old Testament, back in Exodus when the burning bush is going on and God speaks through the burning bush and Moses is going, oh, no, no, no. Like God, You have the wrong guy. I get so nervous. My hands start sweating. When I get in front of people, there is no way I can speak. I have a stuttering problem.

God, You need to find somebody that’s on a Ted Talk or somebody eloquent with speaking. I’m not your guy, and Mary could have said the same thing but listen to what she says, from now on all generations will call me blessed. Verse 49, for the Mighty One has done great things for me. God Almighty has done amazing powerful things for someone like me. Holy is His name.

Understand, Church, this is what blows the mind of Elizabeth and Mary in the story. Here they are, two obscure women, poor women, absolutely insignificant. One was old and barren, one was young and a virgin, and the greatest three decades in the history of the world is about to launch, and God says, I choose you. I choose you. You may think you are insignificant, but from this point on, the next three decades will launch and change the trajectory of the world from this point on, and I choose you. What’s so amazing is that history would tell us that Jewish men – no lie. I didn’t make this up. Jewish men would start their prayers like this — oh, God, I’m so thankful that I’m not been born a gentile, and then — this is the kicker — they would start their prayers this way. Thank You, God, that I have not been born a woman. Now can you imagine if that was said today? Like that would go viral. People would lose their jobs. It would be all over the news, right? So how does God decide to shift and fulfill all of the promises He’s ever made? Elizabeth and Mary.

From their perspective there is a consistent, how is this possible? How is this possible? How is this possible? Because you remember back to last week the angel shows up to Mary and says blessed are you among women and favored among God. What is her response? God, are You talking to me? Are You sure you have the right person? I’m the favored one of God? Are you serious? Now Elizabeth is doing the same thing. Mary’s showing up, and she’s like who am I that the mother of the Messiah has walked into my home? The mother of my Lord, who am I that you would walk into my house? Who are we that God has done this? This is an overwhelming reality to both of these women.

Mary never forgets this and she responds by saying, again, I am the Lord’s servant. I can’t believe this is happening, but I will put one foot in front of the other and follow You, God. I’m ready to be used. It’s powerful and it happens over and over and over again in scripture, and it’s happening to you and I today. God is using you and I in His plan today to pushback darkness. God is saying, I want to raise up an army to pushback darkness in the Littleton, South Denver area. I want to use you to be on mission across the street, your workplace, at ballgames, play dates and your family, out with your friend, yes, even on the slopes of Breckenridge, you can be used of God.

When we — a couple of years ago, we were in a large church in Omaha, Nebraska. I was part of the teaching team. I would get up in front of hundreds of people, and I would usually pray something like, God, use me today in the lives of people as they hear this message. Holy Spirit, work and move in the lives of people. I had a large student ministry at that time. We would go on mission’s trips. I would just go, God, use these high school students in the life of Your Kingdom to move and to shape and to change the world for the cause of Jesus.

I said these big prayers, and then I began to journal and put my thoughts down on paper. I went back and looked at one Thursday afternoon as I was driving from this big church back home. It’s like the Holy Spirit got on the front seat and tapped me on the shoulder, and he said, I want you to stop going to church, and I want you to start being the Church, because there is a little boy that lives right next to you that you are forgetting about. You are saying big prayers to a big congregation and a big student ministry, and I have placed a little boy named Jeffrey right next door, and you are ignoring him. You see, Jeffrey had a mouth like a sailor and other stuff. His family was just in constant tension, and so he lived with his grandparents right next door to us, and God got my attention about being on mission and simply walking across the backyard and saying to Jeffrey. Jeffrey would you like to come to church with us?

Jeffrey started coming to church with us, and then Jeffrey started coming to Awana, and what we began to see is Jeffrey’s life begin to change, and then Jeffrey’s grandparents began to change, and his family began to change, and I think many of us get so in a crazy schedule that we just keep going, and keep going and we miss people like Jeffrey who God places in our life and says, I want you to quit going to church. I want you to start being the Church right where you live. Next week we have an opportunity to walk across the street, hand little Jeffrey a card and say, would you come with us to Christmas Eve service. That’s Mary’s cry to us today, that God, I’m your servant. I will be used of you to make a difference right where I live. You see forgetting my place in God’s plan will steal my joy.

So verse 50 it says this, His mercy extends to those that fear him from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm. He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their throne but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty. Now, if you spend time studying the scriptures, particularly those whom God exalted and used powerfully, it would read like these folks who didn’t make the who’s who among the most likely list.

God said, you know what? God could have said, I want to use the most powerful people on the planet. I want to use the most self-reliant people. I want to use the people in high positions. I want to use people that have made something of themselves because they would have tremendous influence to speak in the lives of other people. But over and over again in the Old Testament and the New Testament, God uses the unlikely. One of my favorite examples of this is in the Old Testament, I Samuel 16. Samuel the prophet comes to Jesse, the home of Jesse and says, Jesse, God told me that one of your sons is going to be the next king of Israel.

One of your sons, one of your seven sons is going to be the next king of Israel, and Jesse gets so excited. He goes to get his first-born Eliab. Eliab is like this big strapping Alabama football player, comes strutting in as the first-born. He can make something from nothing. He has a high D on his disk test. He does all of the things right. He’s driven. Jesse’s like, this — this is my boy. Like he would be a great king. And Samuel goes, he’s not the one. Jesse says, okay, let me get number two, and Jesse says, huh-uh. He gets number three and number four and number five and number six. The Lord said to Samuel, do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected them. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward external appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

Samuel says, I need to see number seven. Jesse’s like, no, no, no. He’s the runt. He’s the ornery little cuss. We sent him out in the field to tend to the sheep. You don’t want him. Samuel says, I want him because he fears God. He has remained humble. He has chosen not to be proud, and he follows God’s mercy. David is chosen, and God’s mercy extends to him because he feared God. He remained humble regardless of what they would have said, understand and know it’s not by their self-reliance, but by God’s mercy that David was chosen.

In verse 53, the last part of this section of scripture it says this, he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich, he has sent away empty. I think what’s happening there is there is a deeper level of things that Mary is trying to get our attention to. You have men and women in their richness who fill full and satisfied and so they are not pursuing God anymore in their life. They are say, God, I have prayed these prayers, and You have come through, and so in my equation of life, I don’t need You right now. Like I’m filled. I’m satisfied. I’m living the American dream right now. Everything I feel I need, I have gotten. Until the bottom drops out. And like many of us in this room, like myself, we kind of take God off of the shelf and blow off the dust and say, God, I need You.

That’s what Mary is saying in these verses. You can fill in the blank with whatever it is. We have enough love in our spouse. We have enough money in the bank account. We have the right position, the right friends in the right locations. The right toys to fulfill everything we need, and if we need more, we just go out and buy it, right? But here’s what I can absolutely guarantee everyone in this room, your body and your bank account will eventually betray you. From the top down, everybody in this room, you will get a ton of cash and find out it doesn’t satisfy. You have all of the trinkets and all of the toys, and you are still bored, so it will betray you.

Or what will happen is you will put all of your time, your energy, and effort into your stuff, into your bank, into making your body into shape, and guess what? It’s going to betray you. Trust me. I was out playing basketball in the driveway with my son yesterday. My body betrays me. I still think I have the stuff, right? All I can do is talk smack with my middle-school son. I don’t have it anymore. It’s because I have put a lot of time, a lot of investment in sports. Guess what? It betrays me. This is what he’s saying, that the rich, you are eventually going to get hungry. You will never have enough, and what you have will not satisfy the thirst deep in your soul, that all of these things will eventually betray and you will be left with a hunger for more.

Believing my self-reliance is better than God’s mercy will steal my joy. In verse 54 Mary goes on to say this, in the Old Testament, He has helped his servant Israel remembering to be merciful, to Abraham and his descendants forever just as he promised our ancestors. You see over and over throughout the Old Testament, the Nation of Israel would respond to God’s mercy. They would say, okay, God, we are all in. We are responding to you as a nation. We are going to follow Moses. Then they would grow impatient, or the right things wouldn’t match up, and they would go, okay, we are not trusting God anymore. We are going to trust ourselves. It started as Moses began his encounter with Pharaoh in Egypt.

The people of Israel threw up their hands and said, Moses, I think it’s better that we stay here and get tortured. At least we have our lives. Moses, up until the plagues start happening, they are like, Moses, leave us here. At least we have something to do. We can go home to our families at night, and then again, they come to the edge of the Red Sea. Moses, you brought us out of Egypt, like Pharaoh said with the last plague, I release the children of Israel to you, Moses, and Moses has a mass exodus out of Egypt. There is a huge celebration as they all begin to follow Moses out of Egypt. And then the GPS starts going off. Turn right, detour, turn around, right? Because right in front of them is the Red Sea. The children of Israel are going, are you kidding me?

We should just go back. Like Pharaoh’s army is going to be upon us. They are going to wipe us out. They are going to kill us. You brought us all this way, Moses, to show us that we can’t even cross now? What are you thinking? Moses says, watch this, and God opens up the Red Sea and they walkthrough on dry land. You would think that would be enough to get the attention of the Israelites. Moses comes down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments that God directly spoke to him and what does he find the children of Israel doing? Worshiping a golden calf. Time after time again the Nation of Israel would respond to God and then have to be disciplined to be brought back to God, and you know what? We do the same thing in 2018. We do the same thing. Why? Because the human heart has not changed.

In 3500 years, the human heart has not changed. When we feel God is not going to show up, we can’t wait any longer, and so we take it on ourself. We allow insecurity to creep in and fear, and to be able to say to God, I really don’t trust you with my life, and what happens in reality is that we become insecure and fearful just like the children of Israel. God, I don’t trust You with my life and I don’t trust You with my marriage, so I’ll find another way. God, I don’t trust You with my finances, so I’ll do it my way. God, I don’t trust You with my heart. I’m going to make the decision to protect my heart and not open up again to anyone, and the reality is, we can never be handled because just like the Nation of Israel, we are dancing around with counterfeit idols.

You see, if we can control and protect and manage our lives, it will bring us joy. And the Bible says, you are going to be thirsty. The Bible says, it’s not going to quench your thirst. There is only one thing that will quench your thirst. If you want to find and experience sustainable joy, you will find that in the person of Jesus Christ. He is so much better, and you will find what you are searching for when you find him.

Choosing to trust in counterfeit possibilities above God’s promises will steal your joy. It will steal my joy. So Mary has discovered the secret in good circumstances and in the hard ones. I so admire Mary. I so admire her bravery, her courage as probably a 12 or 13-year-old middle-school student. That’s her age. She steps up to the plate, and she says over and over in this worship song, she cries out, guess what? You can find sustainable joy because I have found sustainable joy.

And it comes down to this one drop on the page, Church, don’t miss this — that joy comes from magnifying God and minimizing ourselves. You see, we can get so wrapped up in us, so self-absorbed in us, especially during this holiday season in consumption and get so wrapped up in us and the noise and static of our life that we miss Jeffries. We miss people who need to hear the Good News, who are watching our life, and we can miss that. Mary says don’t miss that. When you magnify God and minimize yourself, you can find sustainable joy regardless of the circumstance, regardless of how you feel. You can bank on this, that when you trust God, you will have unshakeable faith.

So there is a couple of questions I want to ask you this morning. A couple of questions I feel like bring to the surface what the Holy Spirit wants to do through the truth of His Word, the truth of the song that Mary sings. The first one is this, what circumstances have caused you to believe that God cannot use you in His story? If you take stock of your life, if you could go 30,000 feet up and look over your life, like what roadblocks have taken place where you go, I just don’t know if God could use me. As a pastor, I meet with people all the time. The number one thing that gets them stuck is this idea that God is disappointed in them. Like somewhere along in the equation of life, I have done something. From that point on, I have heard that consistent voice that God is just disappointed, that God cannot use me.

That is so not true, but the enemy wants to take you and hold you and get you stuck in that place so you can’t be on mission, so you can’t be used for the Kingdom. Some of us have heard a lie, and we keep replaying that DVD in the same DVD player every day. I can’t be used of God. Or someone what hurt us, and so we only go so far because we want to protect our heart and not be hurt again, so I just don’t know if I can be used of God. God says, I have a mission for each one of you, and you are part of my story, and because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you may feel like God has stamped over your life ” unsatisfied” but Jesus Christ steps in front of you, and when God sees you and sees your sin, God now looks at His Son, Jesus Christ.

The penalty paid at the cross on your behalf, God stamps over your life, “satisfied.” He is satisfied with you because of His Son’s death and resurrection. The second question I have is how soon do you invite the Holy Spirit in to be your counselor in difficult circumstances, or are you trying to take that on yourself? How soon do you invite the Holy Spirit in who is called the Counselor, to be able to talk with you and draw you to the truth of God’s Word? How many of us take it upon ourselves and call up a friend, and call a counselor. Again, those things are not bad, but the Holy Spirit is just consistently knocking on the door of our heart saying, let me in. Let me help you. How many of us invite the Holy Spirit in soon? And the last question is this, what counterfeit possibility are you replacing with God’s mercy that is not going to satisfy?

What’s going on in your life that you are beginning to turn your heart just a little bit toward following a counterfeit idol? From the beginning of time Satan slithered down on the tree by Eve and began to whisper in her ear. It’s not going to be enough, Eve. What God has planned for your life is not going to be enough. You need to take a bite of this apple. You need to taste this because this will really satisfy your life, and ever since then, the Enemy has tried to get us off, and so I’m asking you today, what is it coming to the surface right now in your life that you are saying, I’m trusting in a counterfeit idol. I’m trusting in a lower-case God that’s not going to fulfill my life. What is that? What’s going on? Sustainable joy comes when we magnify God and we minimize our self. Let’s pray.

Father, today we just say to You, we love You. We thank You, for using an unlikely young girl to get our attention a couple of thousand years later. Father, as we go into one of the busiest times of our lives, we can get tripped up over the static and noise of all of the stuff, and we can forget the song from Mary that says, God, my soul magnifies You, God, I thank You, today for what You, have done. God, I thank You, for what you will do. Lord, I am thankful for what You, are about to do. God, we step back, and we just say, look what You, have done. Time after time again You, chose unlikely people to further Your Kingdom. God, look what You, have done.

CHRISTMAS EVE

CRAIG SMITH | read his bio

DECEMBER

23/24

SERMON TRANSCRIPT

Merry Christmas. Welcome to Mission Hills, Littleton. We are so glad you are with us today. I want to give a shout out — we know there are thousands of people watching online right now from all over the world. I thought it might be fun if we did a shout out from the Littleton campus to all of the people watching online, so I’m going to do three, two, one, and we are going to yell Merry Christmas as loud as we can. They are all online, so you are going to need the mics. I get that, but let’s try to make it so loud that they would hear it even if we didn’t have microphones and we were broadcasting. Ready?

Three, two, one —
Merry Christmas!

Yeah, no matter where you are in the world, we are here at Littleton love you, and we are so glad that you are with us in Littleton as well as online for Christmas Eve. How much fun was that moment just a second ago? How much fun was it to be part of that? Was that cool or what? Yeah? We have had nine of those minutes throughout the nine services that our three campuses are doing here in Denver. Every one of them has been awesome. We did them for two different reasons. One of them was, I don’t know about you, but I can find Christmas just the tiniest bit stressful. Anyone else? It’s possible to get to Christmas Eve and honestly, with all of the business and everything, my heart feels a little bit constricted and tight. I watch a moment like that, and I feel like my heart starts to loosen up a little bit, maybe even grow, one, two, three sizes this day, right?

And I know my heart needs to be bigger to receive the joy that Christmas is supposed to be because it’s so much bigger than anything else we experience. It’s good that we take a breath, and we expand and make room for what Christmas is all about. The second reason we wanted to do the Joy Moments is, we thought it would be a good reminder to everybody of what Christmas is all about, and Christmas, as everybody knows, is all about getting, right? I don’t know why — like every service has laughed about that. I know what’s happened. You bought into the lie. This is one of the few places that the world tries to out spiritualize the Church and the world loves to say things that sound super spiritual like — ’tis better to give than to receive. Every kid knows, no, it’s not, right?

And here’s the crazy thing that when it comes to Christmas, honestly, it really isn’t about giving. Christmas really is all about getting. Not the latest tech or the hottest toy. It’s about getting joy. It’s about receiving joy. And we actually — we knew we were taking a risk with the Joy Moments. We call them Joy Moments, but in the back of our heads we always knew, honestly, they are not Joy Moments. What we were doing there wasn’t giving joy. What we were doing there was giving happiness. Happiness is great, but it doesn’t hold a candle to joy. Happiness is rooted in circumstances. Happiness just happens. It’s how we feel when something good happens to us — when our circumstances are good. It’s great. It’s fine. The problem is, happiness doesn’t last — because the circumstance change, and how we feel about our circumstances changes, and happiness goes away, but what the Bible calls joy is something completely different.

Joy isn’t actually the result of our circumstances. One thing we have seen throughout the study of joy throughout the last month here at Mission Hills, joy is not the result of our circumstances, it’s actually the remedy for them, do you know that? Joy is not how we feel about our circumstances. Joy is what actually allows us to go through bad times to better ones. It’s the engine that keeps us moving forward when things are hard and happiness isn’t happening, so my question for you tonight here on Christmas Eve at Mission Hills is, do you have joy. I would like you to actually ask that for just a second. Do — I have joy. Or? We are going to fix that, then. We are going to take care of it. He’s taking me seriously. I love that. Everybody else, ask yourself, do I have joy or am I at the mercy of my circumstances? That’s the question I want you to ask. Do I have joy or am I at the mercy of my circumstances?

Because the reality is, our circumstances aren’t always good. No matter how good things might be right now, every one of us has a place in our lives where we feel like happy isn’t happening, don’t we? A few places in our lives we are going, man, I hope it isn’t always going to be this way, and so this question of do we have joy or not is really important because joy is what moves us through bad times to better ones. My hope is that a lot of you are here today because you can answer that question with, yes. Yes, I have joy. I know the joy you are talking about, and it is what enables me to move through bad times to better ones. I know that. In that case, you are here to celebrate, and that’s awesome, but I also believe a lot of you are hearing that and you’re going, I don’t actually know. I’m not sure that I do have that kind of joy.

For a lot of you, this is the first time you are hearing that joy and happiness is not the same thing. Because I think we have a tendency to think that joy is just happiness on steroids, right? You win a Chick-fil-A sandwich, you are happy. You win a thousand Chick-fil-A sandwiches, and you have joy, right? And here I am standing up here telling you, no. That’s just a big happy. That’s not joy. Joy is something else entirely. And maybe you are here today saying, I don’t think I do have that joy. In that case, you are in the right place because Christmas is all about getting joy. I want to make sure you don’t leave today without the gift of joy.

But whether you are here to celebrate or to search, the question we need to wrestle with is where does joy come from? Where does that joy come from? If it’s not from circumstances, where does it come from? I would love for you to grab your Bible, or if you have a phone, pull it up on your phone. I would love to have you join me in the Gospel of Luke. We are going to be picking up in chapter 2 of Luke. We are going to talk about a familiar story. Somebody asked me, what are you going to be preaching about on Christmas Eve? Baby Jesus. No big surprises here. I would love for us to unpack this story with this eye toward what does this teach us about where joy comes from? Luke says this, In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.

This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was the Governor of Syria, and everyone went to their own town to register. We need to understand that Luke is telling us that for the Jewish people, for the nation of Israel, happy wasn’t happening, times were hard, circumstances were difficult, and there wasn’t a lot of happiness going on. The possession of the Roman Empire, and really, the Roman Empire is the latest in a long line or foreign empires that possessed them and treated them like — possessions. I mean, they are counting them like you would count cattle or sheep, right? And of course, they are counting them for the purpose of collecting from them. It’s all about taxes. They want to make sure they extract every last penny out of this people. This isn’t the first census that’s happened. It’s not going to be the last one. It’s just the most recent one, but it’s all a reminder that the circumstances Israel is facing, they are difficult. They are hard.

But even in the midst of these hard times, there is this hint of hope. Verse 4 says, So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and the line of David, and that’s the first hint of hope. You see, Israel was in hard times, in bad circumstances because of their own choices. They had rebelled against God. They had said in a certain point in history, hey, God, thank You for all you have done for us. We really appreciate it. It’s been great, but from here on out, we’ll take care of it. We’ll handle the decision making. We’ll design our own destiny. They turned their backs on God, and they walked away from Him.

That’s what led them into their difficult circumstances, because that’s the way it works, right? If you walk away from light, where do you end up? You end up in the dark. If you walk away from light, you end up in the — let’s all say it — you end up in the dark. They had walked away from the light of God, and they ended up in these hard circumstances, but God hadn’t turned his back on them. They had turned their back on God, but God hasn’t turned His back on them. He continued to love them, and He continued to pursue them, and He had given them a promise. He said, one day, I’m going to send you a Savior. I’ll send you a Messiah. I’m going to send you a King who will descend from the line of David. The greatest King of Israel, he will sit on the throne of David, and so suddenly Luke tells us, even though times are hard, we have a descendant of David going to the town of David, and we go, Aha. I wonder. I wonder if this is it. I wonder if this is when our circumstances change.

And he went there to register with Mary who was pledged to be married to him. She was expecting a child. Can we just agree that, that’s what we call and “understatement,” right? I mean an angel has said, I know you are a virgin, but you are pregnant because the power of the Holy Spirit has overshadowed you, and the child is going to be the Son of God. I’m thinking her expectations were high. While this were there the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manager, because there was no guest room available for them. There is an important lesson in that. I don’t know if you make this mistake, but I know I make it a lot.

That is that I fall into the trap of believing that if God loves me, if God is involved in my life, if God is paying attention to me and caring for me, then my circumstances should be easy, right? Anybody else feel like that? It feels like that’s how it should be, right? If God is paying attention, if God loves me, then God should be making all of my circumstances smooth sailing, but what I see in Mary’s life really puts that notion to the test because there is no question that God is moving in Mary’s life. She’s pregnant as a virgin. The power of the Holy Spirit has overshadowed her. He is bringing the Son of God to Earth through her, no question He is moving in her life, but her circumstances are not easy. I mean, she delivers this incredible child in where? A barn. I don’t know about you, but I think most of us at some point had moms who asked us this question — hey, were you born in a barn, right?

We leave the door open. We track in, were you born in a barn? Jesus is the only one I know that was like, yeah. I don’t know if Mary ever asked him that when he was a kid, but he was like, yeah, mom. You were there, right? It’s not a pleasant place to give birth to a baby. It’s not pristine. It’s not sterile. It’s difficult. It’s rough, and she laid this incredible child in a manager which is a feeding trough, you understand that, right? Which means there’s like donkeys and horses and cows — they are like, that’s not supposed to be in there. That’s not what I was expecting. This is not comfortable. This is not pleasant. This is hard.

And there’s an important thing we need to understand that I think we lose track of is this, our circumstances are not a good indicator of God’s presence, do you hear me? Our circumstances are not a good indicator of God’s presence. We have a tendency to think that our circumstances tell us whether or not God is paying attention, but the reality is, our circumstances are not a good indicator of God’s presence. Sometimes the more difficult our circumstances are, the nearer God draws to us, but our eyes are so fixed on the circumstances that we can’t see Him because we are not looking in the right place.

And there were shepherds, Luke says, there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, and they were keeping watch over their flocks at night. I think that might be my favorite line in the whole thing. Because you understand what’s happening is the most important thing God has ever done in the world is being announced to some of the least important people in the world. Shepherds were at the bottom of everybody’s list. They didn’t get invited to any of the good parties. Because they were kind of the bottom of the social ladder. You know what Luke says, he didn’t say they visited the fields, he said they were living in the fields. You know what happens when you live in the fields?

The fields get on you. You get dirty. You hang out with sheep. You get smelly, and you don’t develop what we call refined social graces out in the fields with sheep and other shepherds. They are kind of at the bottom of the social ladder. I love what happens here, because what this tells us is that God’s best isn’t reserved for the world’s favorites. You hear me? God’s best isn’t reserved for the world’s favorites. You don’t have to be someone that the world thinks really highly of to receive God’s best. I don’t know where you think of yourself on the spectrum. Maybe you think of yourself as being able to relate to the shepherds. You look around, and it seems like the world’s best is always for someone else. The best opportunities, the best promotions, the best finances, the best families. It just feels like, other people get those and you never do. Maybe you go, I get it.

That’s good news. It’s good news that God’s best isn’t reserved for the world’s favorites. Maybe you are on the other end of the spectrum. Maybe you feel like one of the world’s favorites, I don’t know. There’s a lot of people here. Anyone here feel like you were mom or dad’s favorite? Oh, hands went up. Wow, okay. No. That wasn’t supposed to happen. I just messed up a whole bunch of family Christmases. I’m so sorry. Whoa. Okay. If that’s you, maybe you do feel like the world’s best, that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that, but understand that if you hang your hopes on that, if you hang your hopes on your standing in the world’s eyes, you may find out you don’t have a leg to stand on in God’s.

Don’t hang your hope on that. God’s best isn’t reserved for the world’s favorites. He announces this incredible thing to the shepherds. Verse 9 says, An angel of the world appeared to them. The glory of the Lord shown around them and they were terrified. That’s what happens when angels show up in the middle of the night in the dark field, right? Like an angel doesn’t pop into the place and you go, huh. Interesting. No. Like terror is the appropriate response for that. Then the angel says the most useless thing ever. He says, do not be afraid. You are like, too late, dude. We are way past that. He says, I bring you great news that will cause you great joy for all of the people. I want you to pay attention to that.

He says, I bring you good news that will cause you great joy. He doesn’t say I bring you joy. He says I bring you good news that will cause joy. He’s not announcing a change in their present circumstances. This is really important to understand. He’s not announcing a change in their present circumstances. He’s not saying, hey, the Roman Empire is gone. He’s not saying the social standings have been reorganized, and you are no longer at the bottom, guys. He’s not announcing a change in their present circumstances. He’s promising a change in their future ones. He’s saying, God has done something that will change everything, and it will bring joy to everyone.

It’s still to come in the future. He’s not announcing a change in their present circumstances. This is what God has done, in verse 11, Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you. He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you. You will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manager, and suddenly, a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel praising God and say, glory to God in the highest heaven, and on Earth, peace to those on whom his favor rests, and this is so interesting because he didn’t announce a change in their present circumstances, but he is announcing peace in the midst of their present circumstances.

He is not saying everything has changed, but he’s saying something has changed that can change your experience of the present. Peace is now possible even in a painful present. That’s something I feel like I need to push into a little bit more because the idea that you can have peace even in the midst of a difficult presence, hard circumstances, I need to know more about that, don’t you? I don’t know about you, but peace is not my natural response to difficult circumstances. My natural response is the opposite of peace. It’s panic, right? The problem with panic when things get hard is that panic makes things worse. When was the last time you panicked and said exactly the right thing? You panicked, and you made exactly the right decision and made everything better. No, panic makes things worse.

Hard things make us panic and panic makes things worse, so I’m desperately interested in this statement from the angels that God has done something that is peace to you right now, not a change in your circumstances, but peace in the midst of them. I go, how is that possible? How is it possible to have peace in the midst of a painful present? The answer is, you need to make sure you understand this, the answer is, it’s impossible. Unless one thing is true — and that one thing is this, that you know that the present is not permanent. You hear me? That’s the only way to have peace in the midst of a painful present is to know that the present is not permanent.

It’s not always going to be like this. I’m not talking about hoping that maybe the present isn’t permanent. I’m talking about knowing it. This is the joy that the angel has announced. It is a the joy that is the peace of knowing that the present is not permanent. That’s the engine that moves us through bad times to better ones, into a future where there is joy. And maybe you are here going, okay, how? How do I get that? Well, the angel told us on one level. He said today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is the Messiah, the Lord. What God has done allows you to know that the present is not permanent.

Maybe you go, how? Let me give you four ways that the birth of that child in a barn, in a small middle eastern village almost 2,000 years ago allows us not to hope, but to know that the present is not permanent. One way is that the birth of Jesus means God loves you. God loves you. See, in the same way that Israel was where they were because of their choice to turn their backs on God, the Bible is very clear, we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, every one of us. We all have these moments in our lives, this trajectory that we are on that we basically say to God, hey, I appreciate life and everything else, but I think I’ll be in charge of everything from here on out. I don’t really need You, and so we sin. When we walk away from the light, we end up in the dark.

The dark is a hard place to live, and because we are there because of our own choices, God didn’t have to do anything for us. He didn’t have to send a Savior. He would have been perfectly just to leave us in the consequences of our own sin, but He didn’t. He sent a Savior. Why? Because God so loves the world that He gave His one and only Son and said whoever believes in him will not perish but have life eternal. Why did God do it? Because He loves us. Understand that, that child who has laid in that feeding trough, whose hands were working their way out of the swaddling clothes and reaching to the rough wood of that feeding trough — that’s the hands of God, reaching out for you and I. He is Emmanuel. He is God with us, reaching out for us. The birth of Jesus means that God loves us, which means that the present is not permanent.

Or maybe this one resonates for you. The birth of Jesus means our sin is not our sentence. You see, the Bible has some bleak things to say about this. It’s just telling it like it is. The Bible says the wages of sin is death. Not the punishment of sin. Understand that. This is not God going, you sinned. Okay, you are going to spend eternity separated from Me in a slow fade. No, that’s not it at all. He says the wages, meaning the natural payment. What just happened? If you walk away from the light, you end up in the dark. If you walk away from life, you end up in death. The wages of sin is death. Understand that the hands that were reaching out for the rough wood of the feeding trough, those are the same hands that were nailed to rough wood of a cross. Jesus lived a perfect life.

The Son of God lived a perfect, sinless life. He had no sin to pay for, no penalty to pay. He said, since I have none of my own, I’ll take yours, and he went to the cross willingly in order to take our sin upon his own shoulder and to pay for our sin with the price of his own blood with his own death. For God so loved the world that whoever believes in him, puts his trust in him and what he did on the cross will not perish but have eternal life. See the birth of Jesus means that our sin doesn’t have to be our sentence, which means that the present doesn’t have to be permanent, or maybe it’s this.

The birth of Jesus means that we are not alone. The birth of Jesus means that we are not alone. Those hands that reached out for the rough wood of the feeding trough were the same hands that were nailed to the rough wood of the cross. They are also the same hands that knock on the rough door of our hearts. Jesus himself said, behold, pay attention, look. Don’t miss this. I stand at the door and I knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into them. You see Jesus wants to come into our lives. God longs to enter into our lives, into the present even as is painful and to walk with us through that, and to lead us out of it into joy. I saw an incredible reminder of that this year.

It brought it home to me in a way I had never really seen. It was a hard lesson. It was about this time last year. There is a woman that is really special to me. She has become dear to Coletta and I. She is my assistant here at Mission Hills. Her name is Judy. Between two of the Christmas Eve services last year, we got word that Judy’s husband Kelton had collapsed and died. It was really hard. Walking with Judy through the loss of her husband this past year, it’s been — it’s been heartbreaking. It’s also been amazing. Because I have seen a woman who has grieved hard. She has gone through difficult circumstances. There is not a lot of happy, happening, but there has been a hope.

There has been a peace from knowing that her present is not permanent, and she’s moved forward. So many people have asked her, and I have heard her answer multiple times. They said how are you doing this? How are you moving forward? And her answer is, because I know I’m not alone. Jesus is with me, and as hard as this is, I know that we are walking this together, and he’s got a very different future, and a very, very different eternity. You see the birth of Jesus means that we are not alone. Which means our present is not permanent, no matter how hard it is.

Or maybe it’s this, that the birth of Jesus means that even our pain has a purpose. You see, we look at pain and we go, it’s random. It’s meaningless. How could a good God allow this, and a good God doesn’t want it. It’s the result of our sin, and the world that we made by our rebellion against Him, but the good God longs to come into us and walk with us through pain and not just to get us through pain but to redeem it. He offers a joy that invades the present, and it redeems the past in ways you and I couldn’t even begin to imagine.

The pain is not meaningless. It has a purpose. This year is a hard year, but I saw this in an incredibly powerful way. Just a few days after we got word that Judy’s husband Kelton had died, we also got another hard phone call which was that deputy Zach Parrish was killed in the line of duty here in Littleton. I see a lot of nodding heads. Zach and his wife Gracie, they are part of the Mission Hills family, and Gracie’s parents Tim and Michelle, they are part of the Mission Hills family, and several of their family member, so that wasn’t just a community tragedy. For us, that was a family tragedy, and walking with Gracie through that grief and through that heartache, it’s been devastating, at the same time, it’s been amazing — because she knows Jesus. She has a hope and joy that comes from the peace that knowing that the present is not permanent.

She walked with Jesus, and as she’s walked with Jesus, Jesus has begun to do something that nobody expected. She began to get phone calls, and people would stop her, and they would ask her questions, and she began to realize that an awful lot of those were first responder wives. They wanted to ask, how are you doing this? How are you moving forward? How are you not only surviving, but how are you moving forward with peace and with hope, because you are living through my worst nightmare. You’re living through the thing that keeps me awake at night. I can’t sleep because I’m afraid what happened to you could happen to me, and you — you’re more at peace than I am, and it hasn’t even happened to me yet.

How are you doing that? And because of that, Gracie has ended up in a place where she’s leading a huge Bible study with first responder’s wives, and she’s helping them. She’s allowing so many of them to come to understand what it means to trust in Jesus in a way that gives you peace and joy knowing the present is not permanent no matter what the present looks like. So many of those women are making decisions to say, yes to following Jesus, to invite him into their hearts, and to find that same joy, that same peace. It’s been a hard year for Gracie.

I’m sure she would love to not have to have gone through it this way, but she also finds herself, she tells me, in kind of a strange place where she wishes she hadn’t had to go through this, but what God has done through has been so good, so powerful that she doesn’t even know if she would take it back, hard as it’s been. You see, the birth of Jesus means that even our pain can have a purpose, and so this joy invades the present and redeems the past because we know that the present is not permanent. So I’ll ask you again on this Christmas Eve, do you have that joy?

Do you have the joy that comes from knowing that your present, no matter how hard it is, is not permanent? If you do, we need to celebrate that tonight. That’s why you are here. In fact, let’s do that right now. Would you just pray with me? Jesus, we thank you because you are so good to us. We thank you that we as your followers, those of us that have put our faith in you and what you did on the cross and your resurrection three days later, because of our trust in that, we have a joy. Lord, sometimes we can let joy get slippery. We ask that you allow us to hold on to it, hold on to it tight, no matter what circumstances we are facing because we know because of your birth and your death and your new life after the cross, we know that the present is not permanent.

So we are here tonight as your followers to say thank you for coming for us. Thank you for dying for us. Thank you for rising for us. Thank you for being with us. Thank you for leading us into a future that is full of joy. If you are a follower of Jesus, if you have that joy tonight, if you are here to celebrate, I’m going to ask you to do something. I’m going to ask you to start praying. Would you begin praying for the people around you, for the thousands of people that are watching online right now because I believe, when I ask that question, do you have joy, or are you at the mercy of your circumstances, there are an awful lot of people here today and watching online who honestly said, I don’t. If that’s you. If you know that you don’t have that joy, that peace that comes from knowing that the present is not permanent, you can.

You can have that right here, right now. You have it by putting your trust in that child who was born, who grew up and who died and rose from the dead three days later. That child, that man, that Savior, that Messiah, he is offering you new joy right now, new life, hope and peace. Not only for the future, but a joy that invades the present, and if you don’t have that, but you would like to have it, if you are ready to receive that joy, if you will just put your trust in Jesus, if you are ready to do that, ready to receive that joy, to put your trust in Jesus, would you just slip your hand up right now? I see those hands. That’s awesome. Fantastic. If you are watching online, just click the button right below me. That’s so exciting. I’m so glad that I have this opportunity to allow you to receive the true gift of Christmas tonight.

If you are ready to do that right now, wherever you are, would you just in your heart to God, say God, I have done wrong, and I’m sorry. Thank you for sending Jesus to rescue me. Jesus, thank you for coming and dying on the cross for me. Jesus, I believe that you rose from the dead, and that you are offering me new life right now. You are offering me forgiveness. You are offering me hope. You are offering me peace. You are offering me joy. I accept it. I accept you into my life. I’m opening the door. I put my trust in you, right here. Right now. I receive you, and I receive joy. Amen.

There were a lot of people in this place and around the world that gave their lives to Jesus and received that joy. Can we just welcome them to the family of God? That’s awesome. Hey, if you made that decision to say yes to Jesus for the first time tonight, I’m going to ask you to do something.

In the seats in front of you, there are little cards that say, “I said, yes.” I would love for you to grab one of those cards, fill it out, and if you made that decision tonight, I’m going to be out in the lobby after the service under the big sign that says “prayer,” over there by the main door. I would love for you to come and hand me that card and say, I said, yes, today. I have a gift I would love to give you, some resources I would love to give you to help you begin this journey of joy with Jesus. Merry Christmas. God bless.

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