The Arrival and Invitation
I’ve always loved Christmastime and its traditions. I love the decorations. I love the lights. I love the music. And when I was a kid, the excitement of Christmas was so high as we got to this night, Christmas Eve.
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 and His birthday,” but in my heart I’d been thinking about presents and ripping into the packages with my name on them under our Christmas tree. I wanted it all to be about Jesus, but the presents had a pretty strong pull on my heart as it does for most kids.
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 even more 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 right now, or 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.
“While they 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 manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”
Jesus’ arrival says so much about who He is and how He presents Himself even right now. His parents had left their hometown of Nazareth to be registered for the census, get to Bethlehem and they couldn’t find a place to stay. Jesus, the Almighty One, the remarkable event of Him coming to earth in human form, the one whom John says, “Through him all things were made.” John 1:3, the one who has the “ability to peel back the heavens, to stop time, to thunder to the ends of the earth was finally here, and yet there was no room for Him when He arrived.
The way Jesus was received—or, more accurately, ignored—speaks so much about how people tend to respond to Him still today. 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, to be welcomed home, to be welcomed into the light away from all the darkness.
It was absolutely no coincidence that the inn was too crowded for Him. How ironic that the One who came to welcome us back home into 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 all of us.
For the last four weeks, our church has been looking at the cast of characters in this amazing arrival and rescue mission – because that’s exactly what it was, a rescue mission. And as we remember each of their responses to Jesus’ 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. 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. But we have a part in this story too. So as we ponder on their responses to His arrival, let’s consider how we will respond right here, right now to Him this Christmas.
Before we look at those responses though, I want us to consider a common response people have to God. Many people feel that God is primarily concerned with our behavior, that God is pleased with ‘good’ people and mad at ‘bad’ people. So we examine our own behavior and hope that we aren’t considered the ‘bad’ people. Most of us after all, haven’t murdered anyone, so we’re not as bad as those people. But the problem with that approach is that our comparisons of goodness are actually a bit ridiculous in the light of the goodness of God.
For example, let’s say the planet Mars represents the goodness of the average person. Comparatively, your goodness is quite a bit greater—your goodness is like the size of Earth, which is about twice the size of Mars. Well done. Now the problem is that, in comparison to us, is that God’s goodness is closer to the size of the sun. And according to Universe Today, you could fit 1.3 million Earths into the sun. That’s a whole lot bigger than our goodness.
So you can quickly see that once you know and see the goodness and holiness of God, the little differences we see between one another do not come close to God’s goodness. In Romans 3:23, Paul tells us, “For 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 huge 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. So God took a big step toward us by coming to live with us, showing us the way, and removing the barrier through His death on the cross. It’s not about being good; it’s about being near to God through Jesus!
I know that some of you are here right now because it was expected or even required of you to be here. Grandma said everyone has to go to church, so here you are. If that’s where you find yourself tonight—that you’d rather we just be done with all the church 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. So while you’re here, I want you to know something very special.
I want you to know that this simple story of Christmas isn’t about this church or even a religion. It’s about relationship with God. It’s about love, life, and a real freedom. If you’ve already made up your mind about Jesus, or your not so sure about Him, I 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.
Out in the hallway, we have a table with some Bibles on it, and I’d love for you to take one if you don’t already have a Bible. Open the Bible to the section titled “Matthew” and read it straight through to the end of the section titled “John”—those pages are called the Gospels and are all about Jesus’ life. It’s only a little more than one hundred pages altogether so it’s not a long read. In fact, some of those pages are pretty action-packed and you might just find it hard to put it down. But overall, 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 with Him in it. The stakes are high enough that it’s at least worth taking a serious look at.
Like the Prophets
So let’s look at the response of the prophets. Now 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’ birth and death were recorded hundreds and even thousands of years before He was even born. Prophets are in the Old Testament and were chosen people who God spoke to and sent to His people in order to prepare the people to turn back to Him.
Now through the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, the prophets knew we needed a Savior, and they often spoke of His coming. In fact, they looked and longed for His coming. Even though it didn’t happen in their time, even though they never got to see Him in human form, they still believed in God’s promise that He would send a Savior one day. And thanks to the hundreds and thousands of witnesses who saw Him, got to know Him, and recorded all they knew, we get to see that God’s promise was fulfilled.
The prophets have left us a powerful example of how to look for, and wait, and most importantly believe in Jesus. We can respond just like those prophets by first preparing our hearts by repenting. Repentance in its simplest definition means “to turn,” to change your approach, to reconsider how you think about things, and begin to think and act differently.
Is this Christmas going to be like all the rest? Rushed? Stressful? Overwhelming? And before you know it gone? Or will we take our cue from the prophets of old who were waiting and preparing for His arrival, who were believing in the promise? Will we allow this holiday to be one of reflection, adoration, and repentance? Because first off, there is no better way to Jesus than when we fall flat on our faces with humility, understanding of our need of Him, and repentance.
“The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.”
“If you declare with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
The prophets believed that the Messiah would come because we can’t be good enough on our own. We too can believe. We can believe that He has arrived, the time has come, and He’s ready for us. He is ready to save us from our sin.
Like the Shepherds
Now we can also respond like the shepherds. They saw angels appear before them filling up the sky announcing that 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 in wonder. They said to each other, “Let’s go see this thing that has happened.”
They were desperate for joy just like the rest of us. Not just happiness, as happiness is only temporary. Joy is so much deeper. And when the angels announced the very first Christmas present was here, that the Savior has finally arrived, the shepherds couldn’t contain themselves. They had to go see Him. Then when they did, they just had to tell everyone they could about what they just experienced.
This Christmas present was so different. The problem with stuff and things we receive under our trees is that the hope and joy we look for in them just doesn’t last. It’s only temporary.
The shepherds show us that encountering Jesus though is a different sort of experience altogether. It had such an impact on the shepherds that they had to spread the word after they had seen Him. This was a lasting hope and joy that they could not contain. After telling everyone they could that night, they went back to the fields, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.”
The shepherds’ joy was a result of what God had done. Watching sheep at night I’m sure had its merits. But the hope that the angels were right, and the wonder all the way to the stable, and the life-changing joy for them began when they first heard of Jesus, and then it grew even more, more than words can describe, as they met Him.
Joy begins for us in the same way it began for the shepherds. It begins with us hearing about Jesus and then meeting Him. Without that foundation and faith, how can we hope to have lasting joy? Very few things last forever. But an encounter with Jesus, remains and grows through all eternity. Meeting Jesus never stops impacting and shaping our lives! It never stops giving us hope and opportunities for joy.
We have been given a hope and joy through Jesus Christ and should embrace it, knowing that it can absolutely never be taken away from us, and therefore we should absolutely never settle for anything less, never trying to fill it with anything else or letting anything in to steel our joy.
Like the Magi
Some of us are 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 to the Savior coming.
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. 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 is what God desires.
A Chance to Respond
So just like each of these characters have a part in the Christmas story, I want you to know you have a part in it too. Jesus is inviting you into the story 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. It starts with a simple prayer.
But I want you to understand that this prayer is not the end—it’s just 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’re admitting that you have sinned and that you need the forgiveness that comes only through faith in Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. You’re deciding to live for Him and to give your life to Him. You are making a decision to do things His way rather than your own.
In return, He will meet you, He will transform you, fill you with His Spirit, and never ever leave you.
If you desire to respond to Jesus in this way, repeat this prayer after me.
Dear God, I admit I’m a sinner. 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. I give You my life. Please come into my heart and fill me with Your Spirit. In Jesus’ name, amen.
I want to encourage you that if you just said that prayer for the first time or you said it as a renewal, to keep pressing in to that decision. We invite you to be part of the life of this church so you can grow in that commitment. If for some reason you aren’t able to go to church here, please make sure you follow up by getting involved in a local church. I can promise you, God will use your church to continue the transformation He wants to do in your life.
There’s another way we can respond to Jesus’ birth. We can respond by remembering what Jesus did on that cross. After all, if Jesus’ birth didn’t happen, the cross wouldn’t have happened and we wouldn’t have this gift of grace and forgiveness.
Like the Angels
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 to those on whom his favor rests” 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. 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.
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. We 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’ name we pray, amen.