Christmas Eve at Life Center, 2009

 

Laughing All the Way

 

Welcome:

John Hus said, “Rejoice, that the immortal God is born, so that mortal men may live in eternity.  Rejoice, because the rich Lord of the Universe became poor, that He may enrich us needy ones.”

Scripture reading: Luke 2:1-20

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register.

4 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 line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

 

Introduction:

The Christmas story is full of joy!  The narratives of Jesus’ birth are found in the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke.  As you read the story, you’ll find all kinds of emotions: fear, wonder, disbelief, worship, fury, weeping, concern, astonishment…and joy.  Joy is scattered all through the story.

  • Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, was promised that John would be a joy to them, and that many people would rejoice at his birth. Luke 1:13-15.  Later, after John was born, the neighbors and relatives shared Zechariah and Elizabeth’s joy at the birth of their son.  Zechariah and Elizabeth and all their neighbors and relatives are rejoicing!
  • Mary, the mother of Jesus, visited Elizabeth shortly after Mary learned they were both pregnant. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and said that “the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”  Luke 1:39-45.  The baby John is rejoicing!
  • Mary responded with a beautiful song; we call it the Magnificat.  It begins like this: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”  Mary is rejoicing!  Luke 1:46ff.
  • The magi who came from the east to worship the newborn King of the Jews were overjoyed when the star led them to the infant King.  The Magi were rejoicing.  Matthew 2:1-12
  • The shepherds were told by the angel where they could find the baby, and after they had gone and seen him, they returned to their fields glorifying and praising God for all they had seen.  The shepherds were rejoicing.  Luke 2:8-20

There is lots of joy in the Christmas story.  But perhaps the greatest expression of joy is in the angelic announcement to the shepherds.  Let’s read it again.

Luke 2:8-12 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

This time, who is rejoicing?  All the people!  Everybody!  This good news of great joy is for everyone! 

          We’re celebrating the birth of Jesus, our Savior and Lord.  And the big idea that I want you to take home is the coming of Jesus brings great joy.  The Christmas message is good news of great joy.  And when Jesus comes into your life, when you let Him lead your life, you’ll be filled with joy.  You will live laughing all the way! 

“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”  Let’s break it down.  The angel said “I bring you good news!” 

 

1. Good news!

When was the last time someone said to you, “Hey, want to hear some good news?”  What did you say?  Sure!  We all love to hear good news.  The angel said, “I bring you good news!” He didn’t say, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news—which do you want to hear first?”

ILL: Fred was a golfer—he loved to play golf.  He woke up one night and saw an angel standing at the end of his bed.  “I bring you good news and bad news; which do you want to hear first?”  Fred said, “The good news.”

          “The good news is that there is golf in heaven.”

          “That’s awesome,” Fred said.  “What’s the bad news?”

          The angel said, “You’ve got a tee time tomorrow morning.”

The Christmas story is good news—period. The Christian message is good news—that’s why we call it a gospel—the word means “good news”.  Yet many people don’t think of the Christian message as good news.

ILL: When I was in college in Eugene, a local church had a billboard by the freeway that said in old English script, “The wages of sin is death.”  That’s all—the wages of sin is death!  Is that true?  Yes.  Is that the good news?  No!  I winced every time I drove by it, because that is how some people think about the Christian message.  “The wages of sin is death—you are ally dying and going to hell!”  But they only quoted the first half of Romans 6:23.  What does the second half say?  “But the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”  There’s the good news!  By the way, they got so many complaints about that billboard that they eventually added the second half of the verse…just like it looks here.

The angel said “I bring you good news!”  What is the good news? 

Luke 2:11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 

A baby has been born!  That’s always good news, isn’t it?  Just a couple weeks ago, Laina and I were out to dinner with friends and Laina got a text message announcing the birth of Keaton Curry.  We all rejoiced right there in the restaurant!  A new baby is always good news.  But the good news wasn’t just that a baby was born, but who this baby is.  Notice what the angel says about him: He is a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

He is the Savior.  A savior is someone who rescues from danger and delivers you to safety.  This baby is a savior.  In fact, His name, Jesus, means “God saves”, or “God to the rescue”!  What is He saving us from?  The angel who gave Him that name explained, “Name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”  Why do we need to be saved from our sins?  Because sin is killing us.  The wages of sin is death. 

  • Our sin is killing us spiritually: it separates us from God.   
  • Our sin is killing us socially: it wrecks our relationships with others. 
  • Our sin is killing us personally: it messes us up physically and emotionally.
  • Our sin is killing us all: it spoils the world we live in.

Our sin is killing us!  And we have never been able to fix it ourselves—in fact, it keeps getting worse!  That’s the bad news!  And when you’re dying, and someone says, “A savior is here!” that’s good news!  We need a Savior! 

ILL: In May, we drilled a well in Adiedo, Kenya.  The people of the village were drinking dirty water, and it was killing them.  So we drilled a well, and now they are drinking clean water.  Did you know that when villages like Adiedo get clean water, death rates drop by 50%?  The water is not killing them anymore.

          They knew there was clean water deep in the earth, but they had no way to get it.  They needed help—help from outside.  They couldn’t save themselves. In May, villagers heard the good news.  “Someone has come and drilled a well!  We are saved from the dirty water!” 

          In the same way, sin was killing us, and we were powerless to stop it; we couldn’t save ourselves.  So God came to the rescue.  He took our sin upon Himself, and it killed Him.  On a cross, God came to our rescue, dying in our place so we could live. 

          This was the good news the shepherds heard: a savior is born.  His name is Jesus; He will save people from their sins.

We need to be forgiven, and we need to be changed—we need to be saved, and this is why Jesus came.  God to the rescue! 

He is the Christ.  The word “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah”.  The Messiah or the Christ was Israel’s promised and long-awaited deliverer.  They believed that the Messiah would deliver them from foreign oppression and make them a great and prosperous nation.  But God had bigger plans.  The Christ would deliver not only Israel, but all of us, from our sins.

He is the Lord.  This is shocking news.  The angel says that this baby is not only the savior and the Christ, but He is the Lord.  The word “Lord” referred to God.  God Himself has come to rescue us!  This is the miracle and mystery of the incarnation: that God came to earth as a human being.  God became a man and lived among us to save us.  The other name the angel gave to Jesus was “Immanuel”, which means “God with us.”  The baby savior is God with us. 

One last thing about what the angel said: this savior is born “to you”.  When you look in the paper at birth announcements, it says the baby was born “to Bob and Joyce” or whatever the parents’ names are.  This baby, Jesus the Savior, was born “to you.”  This is your baby; this is your Savior, this is your Lord.  This is personal—this good news is “to you.”  Jesus came for you.  This is the good news!

 

2. Of great joy!

          It is good news of great joy!  The Jewish people had been praying for the Messiah to come and set them free from oppression.  He was the answer to their deepest hopes and longings—and now He’s here—good news of great joy!  Imagine being in a German prisoner of war camp in World War 2; what would be your deepest longing?  Freedom!

ILL: Ray Bakke knew an old Glasgow professor named MacDonald who, along with a Scottish chaplain, had bailed out of an airplane behind German lines. They were put in a prison camp. A high wire fence separated the Americans from the British, and the Germans made it next to impossible for the two sides to communicate. MacDonald was put in the American barracks and the chaplain was housed with the Brits.

Every day the two men would meet at the fence and exchange a greeting. Unknown to the guards, the Americans had a little homemade radio and were able to get news from the outside, something more precious than food in a prison camp. Every day, MacDonald would take a headline or two to the fence and share it with the chaplain in the ancient Gaelic language, indecipherable to the Germans.

One day, news came over the little radio that the German High Command had surrendered and the war was over. MacDonald took the news to his friend, then stood and watched him disappear into the British barracks. A moment later, a roar of celebration came from the barracks.

Life in that camp was transformed. Men walked around singing and shouting, waving at the guards, even laughing at the dogs. The German guards hadn’t heard yet, and wondered what was going on. When they finally heard the news three nights later, they fled into the dark, leaving the gates unlocked. The next morning, Brits and Americans walked out as free men. Yet they had truly been set free three days earlier by the news that the war was over.

Good news of great joy!  The angel said that the Savior, the Christ has come, the promised one who will fulfill our deepest longings.

From our vantage point, we understand something the shepherds didn’t, that Jesus didn’t come to set just the Israelites free from the Romans, but to set all of us free from sin.  This good news brings great joy to anyone who longs for a better self, a better life, a better world.  God has come to set us free, to answer the deepest longings of our hearts. 

  • Do you long to be a better person? 
  • Do you long to live a better life? 
  • Do you long live a life that matters, a life of purpose and meaning? 
  • Do you long to see the world changed? 
  • Do you long to see wrongs made right? 
  • Do you long to know God? 

Jesus came to answer those longings.  Can you see why this is good news of great joy?

Jesus comes to bring great joy in our lives.  The Christian life is full of joy; it’s a celebration, not a dirge!  Jesus said to His followers,

John 15:11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!

Jesus must have been a joyful person to say this!  Have you ever seen a movie about Jesus?  How does He look?  Spiritual—kind of solemn, serious, and a little spacey!  I’ve never heard this verse quoted by the movie Jesus.  “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy.”  Jesus must have been a joyful person to say this!  And we are to be filled with Christ’s joy; overflowing joy; this is what Jesus promised His followers.  The apostle Paul wrote:

Philippians 4:4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!

There it is again: full of joy!  It’s all over in the Bible.

John 10:10 I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Jesus came to bring us life in all its fullness, a life of joy, laughing all the way

Unfortunately, this is not what most people in our culture think of being a Christian.  Ask most people what it means to be a Christian and they’ll say, “You go to church”; ask them what they think of church and they’ll say, “Boring.”  Many people think that being a Christian drains all of the color, all of the fun out of life.  I want to convince you otherwise!  “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”  And He is the author of joy, the giver of joy, and wants to fill you with His joy!

Finally, this good news of great joy is…

 

3. For all people!

In the ancient world that Jesus entered, there were deep divisions of race, age and gender.  The angel announces up front that this good news of great joy is for everyone—for all people. This is good news is for everyone who wants it, regardless of race, background, age or gender.  It is the most radically inclusive message in the world—it’s for all people! 

Who does “all people” include?  Pretty much everyone.  But just to clarify:

It includes you!  This good news of great joy—a Savior has come—is for you.  He has come for you! 

  • You might think that you are too bad, that God wouldn’t want you, that you’ve messed up too much.  I’ve got good news: He came for you!
  • You might think that you are too good, that you really don’t need a Savior, that you’re doing pretty well on your own.  I’ve got good news: He came for you too!

ILL: Have you seen the collections of letters kids wrote to Santa?  Here’s one of my favorites.

“Dear Santa, there are three little boys who live at our house. There is Jeffrey; he is 2. There is David; he is 4. And there is Norman; he is 7. Jeffrey is good some of the time. David is good some of the time. But Norman is good all of the time. I am Norman.”

“For all people” includes you, if you are Norman or if you are not.  Jesus came for you! 

Of course, you can self-select out—you can say no thanks.  You can choose death over life, sorrow over joy, self over God.  But why would you want to do that? 

ILL: If I told you that I was going to be at the door giving $100 bills as Christmas gifts for all the people here tonight, what would you do?  How many of you would come see me? 

You wouldn’t say, “Well, I’m not a member here.”  I didn’t say it was just for members; I said it was for all the people. 

You wouldn’t say, “I don’t deserve it.”  I didn’t say it was only for the deserving; I said it was for all the people! 

You might say, “I don’t believe it.”  But once you saw all the people getting their $100, I think you’d get in line!

The good news of great joy is that God is offering a free gift, the gift of abundant life, eternal life in Christ—for all the people.  It’s for you!  And if you’d line up to get $100, I don’t see why you wouldn’t rush to receive this gift!  All the people includes you.

          It also includes your neighbor…and your enemy.  He said all the people, not just all the people like you, or all the people you like.  All the people…period.  Including those different from you and those you don’t like.  It’s for all the people.  For anyone anywhere who longs for real life, Jesus came to bring it…for all the people.

          (I’m still looking for a good closing story to illustrate this point.  Currently, I have this one.)

ILL: There was a church in the northern part of the United States that had held a Christmas pageant for 47 years with the same director. Perfection was her goal—nothing less. For years the church’s pageant ran like clockwork: perfect lines, perfect pacing, perfect everything. Then one year, something even better happened.

The director’s commitment to perfection had been much greater than her commitment to children. Her reasoning was: “When there are too many youngsters, there is no control.” As a result, many children in the church were excluded from being in the pageant. Only the “best” kids made it. This particular year, however, the Christian Education Committee passed a resolution: “All children who wish to be in the Christmas pageant may do so. Parts will be found for them.” This was more than the longtime director could handle. She resigned in anger and disgust.

The pageant didn’t fall flat without the former director, but it was different. There must have been a dozen shepherds and at least 20 angels and probably more than two dozen wandering sheep.

The real climax of imprecision came when Mary and Joseph entered. Joseph walked solemnly beside Mary. The narrator was to read the Biblical story about Joseph going to Bethlehem “. . . to be taxed with Mary, his espoused wife, being great with child.” One mother realized that the children didn’t really understand the Elizabethan English of the King James Version about Mary being “great with child.” At the last minute, she switched to the Good News Translation. As Mary and Joseph entered, the narrator read, “Joseph went to register with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him. She was pregnant.” As the last word echoed through the P. A. system, little Joseph froze in his tracks. This is not how he had heard it in rehearsal. He gave Mary an incredulous look, then looked out at the congregation and said, “Pregnant? What do you mean, pregnant?”

Needless to say, this brought the house down. The pastor’s wife, wiping tears from her eyes, said, “You know, that may be exactly what Joseph said.” The former director wore her triumphant “I-told-you-so” look.

Later, when they sang Silent Night, a couple of magical things happened. First, the sheep bleated their way down a side aisle and sat in the pews to watch the conclusion of the pageant. This meant the former director was suddenly surrounded by the children she had once excluded! Second, snow began to fall, and the entire church became very quiet. It was so beautiful; no one stirred for some time—not even the sheep. Then, Minnie McDonnell—hard of hearing, and always speaking too loudly—broke the spell when she “whispered” to her husband in a voice that all could hear, “It’s perfect! Just perfect!”

And it was perfect, only not in the way previous pageants had been perfect. It was perfect in the way God makes things perfect—the way he accepts our fumbling attempts at love and fairness, and covers them with grace.

It’s for all the people, not just a select few, and that means it’s messy in a perfect sort of way!