Christmas Eve 2017
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Joy to the World!
ILL: A small boy was writing a letter to God about what he wanted for Christmas. “I’ve been good for six months now,” he wrote. But after a moment he crossed out “six” and wrote, “three.” After a pause, he crossed that out, and wrote, “two weeks.” There was another pause, and he crossed that out too.
He got up from the table and went over to the little nativity scene. He picked up the figure of Mary and went back to his writing and started again: “Dear God, if ever you want to see your mother again…”
Merry Christmas! I think this little guy was on the naughty list. How many of you were on the naughty list this year? Oh…I see we’re all living in denial!
I think I spent some time on both lists this year—naughty and nice. Anyone with me? I’m never as good as I want to be, and sometimes badder than I wish! Naughty and nice—that’s us and that’s why the Christmas story is such good news! We began by reading the familiar story of the birth of Jesus in Luke 2—and heard that wonderful meditation by Shantell. Let’s look again at what the angel said to the shepherds.
Luke 2:10–11 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: 11 Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord.”
What was the “good news that brings great joy to all the people?” Look at the next five words: “Today your Savior is born.” There’s the good news: Your Savior is born. We need a savior. I know that offends some people. I know some people don’t want to believe that they are on the naughty list—that they are sinners in need of a savior. I know some people insist that we don’t need a savior; we need to fix it ourselves. But have you noticed that there are some things that you can’t fix yourself? Ever been there?
Today your Savior is born. Jesus is our Savior; what did He come to save us from? Here’s what the angel told Joseph.
Matthew 1:20–21 An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Do you know what the name “Jesus” means? It means, “The Lord saves” or “God our Savior”, or as I like to put it, “God to the rescue!” Name Him Jesus—God to the rescue—because He will save people from their sins.
There are lots of things you can fix on your own, but this is not one of them. I just fixed a leaky shower at our house—sort of. I plumb—just saying. There are some things I can fix, but there are others I can’t. Recently, I had to go to the Apple Store—had a problem I couldn’t fix. Apple Store geniuses to the rescue! Well, this is one of those things we can’t fix on our own. I can never be good enough on my own—I’m naughty and nice every year, never just nice, and I can’t fix it on my own. My sin has separated me from God and I can’t get back to my Father on my own. I need a Savior. And that’s why this is good news of great joy for all the people.
Here are three ways we need a Savior—three reasons why this is good news of great joy.
- Today your Savior is born to find you.
Anybody here ever been lost? Have you ever been so completely lost that you knew you needed help? You knew you had no idea how to get home?
ILL: We had recently moved to Lebanon, Oregon, and it was my first day in first grade at a new school. When school let out, I started to walk home. Lebanon is not very big, and our house was fairly close to the school, but I got only a couple blocks away, got disoriented, and had no idea where I was or how to get home. I was lost. Not just a little lost. So I did what any respectable 6 year old would do in that situation: I sat down on the curb and cried! Before long, a black and white police car pulled up. At first I thought, “Oh no, I’m going to jail.” But the policeman wasn’t there to arrest me, but to save me! He got out of his car, knelt down beside me and asked if I was lost. I nodded. Then he asked if I knew my address. I shook my head. Then he asked if I knew my name. I did know that! I told him my name and his face brightened. You see, we had moved to Lebanon because my dad had become a policeman on the Lebanon force. So this officer knew my dad and where we lived. And in a couple minutes, I was home safe and sound.
I was lost and needed a Savior. Here’s why Jesus’ birth is good news of great joy: When you are lost, you need someone to find you.
I needed someone to help me get back home. The Bible says that’s true of all of us. 700 years before Jesus came, the prophet Isaiah predicted His coming and wrote:
Isaiah 53:6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
We all—how many of you are part of “all”? We all like sheep have gone astray. Sheep have a propensity to wander and get lost. And it says here that we’ve all done that. We wander in different ways—“each of us has turned to our own way.” But we’ve all wandered, we’ve all gone astray, gotten lost and have no idea how to get back home. We all need someone who will find us, someone who knows the way back home. We need a Savior.
Here’s good news of great joy: Today your Savior is born. God to the rescue! This is why God sent His Son. We were lost and God came to the rescue! Jesus told this story about Himself and us.
Luke 15:4–7 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
Jesus came looking for lost sheep—for us. I love His image of the 100 sheep and one gets lost. If you were the only one lost—you’re not of course because we’ve all gone astray—but if you were the only one, Jesus would look for you and find you. You are that important to Him. Aren’t you glad that our Shepherd, our Savior doesn’t think, “I’ve got 99 others. It’s your own stupid fault for getting lost. Sucks to be you!” Each one is precious to Him!
ILL: 19 years ago, when Michael was 10, we did an overnight cross country ski trip into a mountain cabin. There were six of us, and I was bringing up the rear with Michael and Jeff, who was 14. When I stopped again to help Jeff with his skis, Michael begged to ski on ahead and catch the other guys. “Just stay in the tracks,” I told him and off he went. About 20 minutes later, Jeff and I came across a lone set of tracks going off in a different direction. It was cold and getting dark, and suddenly I didn’t know if my 10 year old son was lost alone in the mountains or with the rest of the guys. We skied like crazy and when we caught up, I can’t tell you how relieved I was to find Michael with the group. It was a terrifying half hour for me as a dad.
Moms and Dads, have you ever lost a kid and felt that terror? I think that’s how Jesus feels about you. You matter to Him so much that He came in all out search mode, skiing like crazy, looking for you. It’s why He came. He said,
Luke 19:10 “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Today your Savior is born to find you! Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and like the police officer in my story, Jesus knows our Father and knows the way back home.
- Today your Savior is born to free you.
Anybody here ever been stuck? Have you ever been so stuck that you knew you couldn’t get out on your own, you needed help?
ILL: A number of years ago, Laina and I went on a Sunday afternoon drive in the spring, and I managed to get our car stuck in the mud…deep…up to the axels. I made some phone calls, and then stood by the main road, waiting for my savior. Who was I waiting for? The tow truck.
A friend drove by and asked me, “Joe, what are you doing standing out here in the cold in the middle of nowhere.” I told him my car was stuck, and he was sympathetic, but couldn’t help me. I didn’t need sympathy; I needed rescue! I needed a tow truck.
A neighbor came out and chatted. He told me that I wasn’t very smart to drive off road at this time of year when the ground was so soft. He told me about a couple of other idiots like me who had done the same thing only last week. His comments were well-intended, but useless. I already knew I was dumb; I didn’t need criticism, I needed rescue!
Another guy stopped and actually tried to help. First he suggested I try rocking the car back and forth. I had done that, but tried again, and only dug in deeper. Then he suggested we try breaking up pine branches and putting them under the wheels for traction. We tried that, and sunk deeper. I didn’t need more suggestions; I needed rescue. I needed a tow truck!
Finally, the tow truck came! Good news of great joy! Here’s the crazy part: the tow truck got stuck trying to get us out, and we had to call a second tow truck—and it was humongous—to come and pull us both out! What was that tow truck to me? My savior. Good news of great joy!
I was stuck and couldn’t get out on my own. Here’s why Jesus’ birth is good news of great joy: When you are stuck, you need someone to free you.
Today your Savior is born. God to the rescue! God has come to pull us out of the mud and set us free from our sin. He will do what we can’t do for ourselves. He will unstick us from the sin we’re stuck in. The Bible is very clear that we are all stuck and need to be rescued.
John 8:34–36 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Here’s another universal: everyone who sins—how many of you are part of “everyone”? Everyone who sins is a slave to sin. That means we’re all stuck. We’re enslaved, in bondage, and we can’t get free on our own.
Just like we all wander in our own ways, we get stuck in our own ways too. Some of us get stuck in addictions, some in toxic relationships, some in bitterness or anger, some in lust or greed, some in hopelessness. The list could on—we’re stuck in different ways, but we all get stuck.
Everyone who sins is a slave to sin, and a slave has no permanent place in the family. Slaves weren’t family members. But we weren’t intended to be slaves; we were intended to be God’s children, family members. Enter Jesus: God to the rescue! Jesus came to set us free, and “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Please understand: the Christmas story is not just warm sentimental mush about a baby and a manger, stars and wise men, and angels and shepherds. It’s an adventure story about the world’s greatest rescue operation. It’s about God coming down into the mud to pull us out. It’s about sinners like you and me who are hopelessly stuck being rescued by a God who deeply loves us and longs to set us free.
When I got stuck, I had to do just one thing to get free. What was that? Make a call and ask for help. The tow truck was out there, ready to rescue me, but I had to call and ask for help. Listen to this verse:
Romans 10:12 ”Everyone who calls on the Lord will be saved.”
That’s good news of great joy if you’re stuck! Today your Savior is born to free you. Just call and He’ll come to your rescue. That’s why Christmas is good news of great joy for all the people!
- Today your Savior is born to forgive you.
Anybody ever been guilty? Have you ever done something you regret? Something you’re ashamed of? I can think of plenty of things I’ve said, or done, or thought that I’d rather not tell you about. Sometimes I’m guilty—I’m not just talking about feeling guilty, but actually being guilty of doing wrong. True moral guilt that makes you hang your head in shame.
Here’s why Jesus’ birth is good news of great joy: When you are guilty, you need someone to forgive you.
Today your Savior is born. The only remedy for guilt is forgiveness. You don’t someone to tell you it wasn’t that bad—you know it was! You need someone to forgive you. You need a Savior.
There’s a story in Mark 2 about four men who bring a paralyzed friend on a stretcher to Jesus to be healed. Unfortunately, Jesus was in a house, teaching, and the house was packed—no way to get in. But these guys were determined and creative, and they went up on the flat thatched roof, and dug a hole and lowered their paralyzed friend down in front of Jesus. When the people inside looked up, they must have seen something like this: four expectant faces framed against the sky. What Jesus did next surprised them all. He turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” This upset everyone! The Jewish leaders in the room were offended. “This is blasphemy. Who does He think He is? Only God can forgive sins.” And the four friends looking down through the hole in the roof were thinking, “Excuse me Jesus, that’s not the problem! He can’t walk. We brought him to be healed, not forgiven.”
Evidently, Jesus knew something about this man that no one else knew, not even his friends. Jesus knew that he was guilty, that he needed to be forgiven—so Jesus forgave Him. And then to prove that He had the authority to forgive, Jesus also healed him. The man walked home that day whole physically and spiritually. He walked home forgiven.
I’ll bet you have friends like these four—friends who would gladly help you, but who have no idea what really goes on in your heart. They don’t know about that guilt or shame you carry, and even if they did know, they couldn’t do anything about it. But Jesus can. He knows you inside and out, and gave His life on a cross to forgive you—completely.
I told you that I can think of lots of things I’ve done, said or thought that make me ashamed. I’m on the naughty list! Do you know what I do when I think of those things and feel my shame? I turn to Jesus, own my sin and thank Him for forgiving me. I picture Him standing before me, saying, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Thank you Lord; that’s what I need. And that’s what He offers—full and free forgiveness when we come to Him.
Yet so many of us live burdened with guilt over what we’ve done or said or thought. It reminds me of a story we read this week in our Bible reading plan in John 4.
Jesus stopped to rest by a well in Samaria. It was noon, so His men went into a nearby village to buy some lunch. A woman from that village came to draw water from the well, and Jesus asked her for a drink. The woman protested, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan. How can you ask me for a drink?” Jews and Samaritan were bitter enemies, and would not even drink from the same cup. And Jesus answered her:
John 4:10 “If only you knew what God gives and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would ask him, and he would give you life-giving water.”
If only you knew. A little backstory: women usually came to the well together in the cool of the day to draw water, so why was this woman here at noon, alone? It turns out that she has been married five times, and now is living with another man. She has a reputation—she is that woman—and it’s better to come to the well alone, when the other women aren’t there. Better to avoid the whispers, the stares, the snubs, the rejection. Can you imagine the guilt, the shame, the pain this woman carries? So she comes alone. Burdened. And Jesus said, “If only you knew. If only you knew who I am and what I want to give you.” If only you knew that I can forgive you, that I can take that burden, that I can free you and get you unstuck. If only you knew.
Jesus continues the conversation with this woman, and over the course of it, her opinion of Jesus moves from a Jew, to a prophet, to the Messiah. She is the first person that Jesus tells that He is the Messiah. Imagine—this woman—she is the first to know! And she runs back to her village and says, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”
“Everything?” her neighbors asked? “He knew about Bill?” Yes. “And Jim?” Yes. “Larry, Mo and Curley?” Yes, yes, yes. “What about Bob?” Yes, him too. He knows everything I’ve ever done, and still loves me and forgives me. Could this be the Messiah?
Her neighbors were impressed enough to check it out and a couple days later they told her, “We believed at first because of what you said, but now we believe because we’ve heard Him ourselves and we know that this is the Savior of the world.”
If only you knew…
If only you knew who is sitting here and what I want to give you.
I feel that for each of you today. I want you to know that Jesus came to find you when you’re lost, free you when you’re stuck, and forgive you when you’re guilty.
Today your Savior is born. It’s good news of great joy for all the people!