Arrival and Invitation
Many of us have Christmas morning traditions, from a certain breakfast to the perfect time to open the gifts under the tree. There is a story about a Grandpa and every Christmas morning, Grandpa would go to his favorite restaurant in his hometown to get his holiday breakfast. Grandpa would always have the eggs Benedict. Just before they would bring out his order, Grandpa would make a special request. He’d hand over the hubcap from his old Studebaker and say, “Would you mind serving my breakfast to me on this?” The waitress always complied. But one year, she said, “I just have to ask. Why do you always have me serve your eggs Benedict on this hubcap every Christmas morning?” “Well,” Grandpa said, “There’s no plate like chrome for the hollandaise.”
It’s always good to be home for Christmas. This year has brought us many challenges. You may not be able to share it with your family because they are out of state and can’t travel or maybe you are just being safe and continuing to social distance. Just know that we are glad you are here watching and spending some time with us this Christmas Eve. I’ve always loved Christmastime and its traditions. I love the special meals. I love the season. I love the lights. I love the music.
Christmas Eve was always such an exciting time when I was a kid. The anticipation grew to almost unbearable levels as Christmas Eve approached. Like most kids as I was growing up, if you asked me what Christmas was all about, I would likely have said, “It’s about Jesus,” but in my heart I’d have been thinking, “Presents.” No matter how hard I’d try, I couldn’t make myself feel as excited about Jesus’s birthday as I felt about ripping into those packages with my name on them under our family Christmas tree. As a kid, I wanted it to be all about Jesus, but the presents had a pretty strong pull on my heart.
I’m not sure if I should admit this to you, being the pastor on Christmas Eve and all, but as I stand here, I’m pretty excited to see what I’m getting for Christmas. I’m really excited to see how my family reacts to what they get. I’m not going to ask you to pretend like there aren’t other things going on in your mind. I’m not going to ask you to pretend that you don’t really care about the gifts, the food, the family time, and the celebration. I know the power of food and presents. I am, however, going to ask you to take this short time we have together to pause with me for just a moment to focus on the Greatest Gift that has ever been given.
Luke 2:6–7 presents the gift to us: “While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
Jesus’s arrival says so much about who He is and how He operates in our lives. The Gift first presented Himself in a similar way to how He presents Himself to us right now. His parents had left their hometown of Nazareth to be registered for the census, and they couldn’t find a place to stay. It’s a remarkable event if you consider who Jesus is. He is the Almighty One. John 1:3-4 says, “All things came into being through him, and without him not thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” He has the ability to peel back the heavens, to stop time, to thunder to the ends of the earth. Yet there was no room for Him when He arrived.
The way He was received—or, more accurately, ignored—speaks so much about how we can respond to Him even at this moment. The manner of His arrival reminds us that Jesus doesn’t force Himself upon any of us. He doesn’t make threats, doesn’t beg, doesn’t make a grand display. Instead, in His arrival that night and in His arrival right now, He offers us all a quiet invitation—a call to be welcomed in and welcomed home in the dark night of our own hearts.
It’s no coincidence that the inn was too crowded for him. How ironic that the One who came to welcome us back home to a relationship with God spent His first night in a barn, lying in a feeding trough, because no one welcomed Him in. The circumstances of His birth show how people throughout the ages would misunderstand and reject Him. More often, though, people simply wouldn’t have room in their lives and would just ignore the great gift and the great invitation that He extends to us all.
For the last four weeks, our church has been looking at this amazing arrival and rescue mission. As we remember each of their responses to Jesus’s arrival, let’s consider our response to the fact that Jesus has arrived right here in this place as well. Jesus is here right now, wanting to be a greater part of your life or to become part of your life for the first time. In fact, if you’ve never responded to Jesus’s invitation and arrival by giving your life to Him, I will give you an opportunity to do so in just a little while. Perhaps you can already sense He is knocking at the door of your heart.
The prophets, angels, shepherds, and Magi all had an important part to play in this wonderful arrival. They all responded to Jesus in a unique but wonderful way. Let’s consider their responses to His arrival as we consider how we will respond this Christmas.
Before we look at those responses, let’s consider a couple of common responses people have to Christmas today. Many people feel that God is primarily concerned with our behavior. We feel that God is pleased with good people and mad at bad people. Many of us look to our own goodness—or maybe I should say our “less badness.” As we consider Jesus’s arrival on earth, many of us hope in the idea that we aren’t really bad people.
Most of us, after all, haven’t murdered anyone. The problem with that approach is that our comparisons of goodness are ridiculous in the light of the goodness of God.
Let’s say the planet Mars represents the goodness of the average person. Comparatively, your goodness is quite a bit greater—your goodness is the size of Earth, which according to Space.com is about twice the size of Mars. The problem is that, in comparison to us, God’s goodness is closer to the sun. According to Universe Today, you could fit 1.3 million Earths into the sun. You can quickly see that in light of the goodness and holiness of God, the little differences we see between one another aren’t perceptible. We know Stalin and Hitler were evil, but the truth is, our goodness is much closer to theirs than it is to God’s. In Romans 3:23, Paul tells us, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
This is the holiday where we remember that God took a huge step toward us. We were in trouble. Although we were created to be with Him, our hearts had turned far from Him. There was a barrier between us and our Creator that had to be dealt with. If a couple thousand years of Jewish history teaches us anything, it’s that the answer wasn’t going to be found in our own effort and resolve to try harder. God took a big step toward us by coming to live with us, show the way, and remove the barrier through His death for us. It’s not about being good; it’s about being near to God through Jesus!
I know that some of us are here right now because it’s expected or even required. Grandma said everyone has to go to church, so here you are. If that’s where you find yourself—that you’d rather we just be done with all this religious stuff so we can get home and get to the good stuff—I want you to know that I get it, and I’m really grateful and honored that you’re here.
I know as a group often we Christians have given you a few good reasons to consider shutting out the story of Christmas.
This simple story of Christmas isn’t about this church or even a religion. It’s about a relationship with God. It’s about love, life, and freedom. If you’ve already made up your mind or you’re shutting out this simple story, I’d ask you to consider a different response. Try to look beyond all you’ve heard about Jesus and all the things you’ve seen people do in the name of Jesus, and try to find out for yourself who Jesus is.
Before you completely close the door to Jesus, open the Bible to the section titled “Matthew” and read it straight through to the end of the section titled “John”—those pages are all about Jesus’s life, and they are also called the Gospels. It’s only a little more than one hundred pages altogether. If you don’t have a bible let me know, and I’ll get one to you. After you read through those pages you can decide whatever you’d like about me or the music or this service, but don’t shut the door on Jesus until you’ve taken a look for yourself at who He really is and what His birth really means.
This isn’t a question of what church you go to. This is a question of what eternity holds for you. It’s a question of who God is, what God wants, and what your life could mean within the answers to those questions. The stakes are high enough that it’s at least worth taking a serious look.
God had been talking about this arrival for thousands of years before it took place. It’s amazing to think that specific words about Jesus’s birth and death were recorded hundreds and even thousands of years before He was born. Through the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, the prophets knew we needed a Savior, and they spoke of His coming. We can respond to Jesus this Christmas as the prophets responded to Him. We can eagerly and earnestly look for Him!
The best response we can have is to eagerly look for Him and His grace. The prophets have left us a powerful example. They believed in Him even though they never saw Him—even though He hadn’t yet been born! We can respond like the prophets of old who believed that the Messiah would come from God to save us from our sin because we can’t be good enough on our own.
We can also respond like the shepherds. They saw the angels appear before them. (point towards the loft) A great choir joined them, and they wondered what it was all about. I remember when my son was in marching band they would stand in their section of the stands and all of a sudden, they would all start pointing up in the air and looking and everyone in the stands around them would start looking to see what they were pointing at.
Some of us respond to Jesus the same way wondering what everyone was pointing at and looking at. We wonder if we’re missing something, and we feel like we don’t have the inside track or inside knowledge. But there is no special knowledge, and they don’t see anything you and I can’t see. While a crowd can get us to do silly things like look and point at nothing, the arrival of Jesus is personal to each one of us. You don’t have to be anything you’re not or pretend to feel anything you don’t.
An angel appeared to the shepherds, announcing a Savior had come and that He’s nearby in a stable. In their curiosity, the shepherds didn’t just stand there pointing at the sky. They said to each other, “Let’s go see this thing that has happened.” Maybe you’re a little curious. Maybe you’re wondering if there is anything in this story for you or if it’s just people pointing around aimlessly. To you, I would say, just respond to Jesus and engage the Christmas story a little more than you have in the past.
Consider the idea that God is, in fact, love. Maybe you have seen God’s greatness in the beauty of the world and experienced His brilliance and nobility in your own heart. At the same time, you can see there’s something broken in the world, and at some level, even something in your own heart is broken. Allow for the idea that the cross of Jesus is the great intersection of two important truths about God. First, God’s justice demands holiness and payment for sin. Second, God’s love provided the payment through the death of Jesus. He is reaching out to you in love right now.
The Bible says in Romans 2:4 that “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” So, if you’re curious like the shepherds, I want to encourage you that you can respond by opening your heart to Christmas and allow in the possibility that the first Christmas was simply God’s expression of love and kindness toward you. God showed that love by sending His Son, Jesus, to remove judgment and guilt from your life.
Take a moment to respond to Him right now with what you’re really thinking and feeling about it all. It may just be a simple prayer, where you say, “God, I really do want to know who You are; please start showing me.” God cares about the pain and brokenness that you’ve seen and felt—and even that you’ve caused. Because He cares about you, He took a giant leap toward you on Christmas when He lowered Himself as a man. All He wants in return is for you to take a step in His direction.
Some of us are here right now like the Magi who were waiting and watching for God to move on their behalf. When they saw a sign in the stars, they traveled hundreds of miles from the east and said, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).
Like the Magi, some of us are waiting expectantly for God to move in our lives. With great faith, we’ve come here tonight just as they did to worship Him. They brought gold, spices, and perfume. You may be wondering what gift we can possibly bring in response. I want to encourage you that what you have is enough. The whole reason Jesus came was so that He could be with you. The point of Christmas isn’t really gifts as much as it is connection. God is pleased to just have your heart and your affection and build a relationship with you. Your response is a gift more precious to God than gold, frankincense, or myrrh. You can bring a wonderful gift by allowing God even more space in your heart. Your response is simply to give more of yourself over to Him, to tell Him thank you, and in that thanks to give Him a little more devotion and space in your life. When you do that, it will be met in a joyful communion of God giving more of Himself to you—because that connection and closeness to you are what God desires.
We’re going to look at one more response to Jesus’s arrival that we can all make together, no matter who we identify with from the first Christmas. Before we do that, I want to give everyone a chance to respond in your own way to Jesus’s reaching out to you right now. If you have never given your heart or life to Jesus but you want a relationship with God, you can begin that right now. If you feel the need for a renewal of your belief and relationship in God, you can do that right now. This year has been tough and so many people I’ve talked to have lost their faith. They don’t understand how the events of the past year have happened and why God is healing us and stopping the unthinkable. This is a good time to begin or renew your relationship with God. What better time than on Christmas Eve to make our hearts and minds right with God. We’ll start with a simple prayer together. I’ll lead you in it, and you can pray by repeating after me.
I want you to understand that this prayer is not the end—it’s the beginning. It’s a place to start a relationship with Jesus, and it will change the rest of your life. If you decide to respond to Jesus in this way, you are making a decision to do things His way rather than your own. You’re admitting that you have sinned, that you have strayed, that you have doubted the faith that you had and that you need the forgiveness that comes only through faith in Jesus’s death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.
You’re deciding to live for Him and to give your life to Him. In return, He will meet you, transform you, fill you with His Spirit, and never ever leave you. You will come into salvation and live by His Word for the rest of your life.
If you desire to respond to Jesus in this way, repeat this prayer after me.
Dear God, I admit I’m a sinner and a doubter. I need a Savior. Please forgive me of my sins. I’ve decided to follow Jesus and to put my faith in His death and resurrection from the dead. I give You my life. Please come into my heart and fill me with Your Spirit, restore my faith and wipe out any doubts I may have had this past year, In Jesus’s name, amen.
Whomever you most identify with in the first Christmas, all of us can close our service like the angels! On the night when Jesus arrived, the angels praised God and sang, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those on whom he favors” (Luke 2:14).
We can wrap up this part of Christmas by carrying our praises out into our Christmas celebrations. Give Him glory in the way you treat one another. Give Him glory in the way you celebrate. Give Him glory in the way you sing. Give Him glory in the way you live. When we are looking to anything other than Jesus for our fulfillment, we are guaranteed to be disappointed. You can have the experience of a lifetime. You can go to a restaurant on the moon—but you’ll still be disappointed. Have you heard, by the way, about the restaurant on the moon? The food is terrific, but there’s no atmosphere. See, even that disappoints. There is nothing better than Jesus. There is no other who deserves our praise! Wherever the simple and remarkable story of Christmas finds you, I am so glad and thankful that you decided to share its remembrance with us. I’m so honored that at this special, holy time, you chose to be here. Now that it’s finally here, I pray that your Christmas is calm, quiet, and full—and that it brings you one step closer to the One who came to be with us so that we can be with Him forever. Amen
Father, we declare Christ has come. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests. For the light now shines in the darkness, and darkness has not overcome it. We want to respond to Your arrival by drawing closer to You. Please don’t stop drawing near to us until You are our everything. Praise You for coming to rescue us on Christmas, and praise You for coming to rescue us today. We glorify You, and we love You. In Jesus’s name we pray, amen.
‒ Pastor Pam