This Changes Everything

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church.  My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here on staff and it is my great privilege to speak with you today about the good news – and the good news is that God has thrown the gates to a different kind of kingdom -a far better kind of kingdom – to the likes of you and me.  Anyone, in fact, can at any time turn and stumble their way into a realm where God himself promises to provide for our every need.

The good news is that God has not left us marooned in this kind of world.  We can, through faith in Jesus, be united and reunited with a wonderful and beautiful God.

We are entering the Christmas season – indeed I guess it’s full blast now.  We are in the two week countdown.  Christmas is an unusual holiday, isn’t it?  It’s the only Christian holiday that is also, probably, the most celebrated secular holiday at the same time.  Christmas is celebrated by millions of followers of Jesus as the second most important holy day on the calendar, after Easter.   But there can be no Easter – the day we celebrate Jesus resurrection from the dead – without Christmas.   So it’s and important day for us – but it’s also celebrated with great zeal by people who do not believe in Jesus at all.

This of course, leads to friction from time to time between the two groups.

People who don’t want anything to d with Jesus are annoyed by the way Jesus keeps elbowing his way into their favorite winter holiday.  You just want to give gifts to people you love and put up lights and have fun without having to be reminded that Jesus is the reason for the season.

Followers of Jesus want to keep some semblance of holiness to the day – it is, after all, Christ-mas.  And so we struggle with the secularization of the holiday – we want to hear people say, “Merry Christmas!” not Happy Holidays.  I want my disposable coffee cup with my $5 coffee drink – I want that cup to celebrate the birth of the Savior!  I want my cup to honor God!  (Drinks my $5 drink and throws it in the trash)  Go forth and bless the landfill, cup!

I’m joking of course, but even I, who like to poke fun at stuff like that, I like to hear people wish me a Merry Christmas- not a happy holiday.

And so we live with this tension between the two camps.  But I like the way author Timothy Keller put it

As a Christian believer, I am glad to share the virtues of the day with the entirety of society. The secular Christmas is a festival of lights, a time for family gatherings, and a season to generously give to those closest to us and to those in greatest need. These practices are enriching to everyone, and they are genuinely congruent with the Christian origins of the celebration. 

Timothy Keller

Hidden Christmas

It is our claim here at journey that the birth of Jesus changes everything.  It changes everything.  And I want to show us this morning how the birth of Jesus changes the way we think about God.

See, there’s plenty of impressions out there about what God is like that deserves challenging.   And that’s why every week we get together we study the life of Jesus.  Because when we learn what God is like by watching what Jesus was like.  The Bible claims that Jesus is God in the flesh.  He is the exact representation of God.  SO if we want to understand what God is like, then we watch Jesus – and we listen to Jesus explain to us what he is like.

We learn a lot about God by looking at the life of Jesus.  And in that same way, we learn a lot about Jesus by taking a close look at the Nativity – the events surrounding the birth of Jesus.  And what I’d propose to you today is that the birth of Jesus smashes misconceptions of God.  The nativity is the first century version of myth busters – The birth of Jesus smashes two commonly held myths about God.   

The first one is this.   God uses Christmas to bust the myth that He is distant from us.

One of the most commonly held myths about God is that if there is a God- he lives way out there somewhere – detached from what’s going on in this world.  Some people can’t get themselves to look past the evidence of a creator.  They can’t bring themselves to muster the faith required to believe that all this is completely accidental.

But neither can they reconcile the fact that bad things happen on this earth.  So they say, sure obviously there is an intelligent designer of life, but it must have created this and spun it into existence and is sitting now far away – arms crossed – just watching.

They aren’t atheists – they are deists of some type – but they have an idea that if there is a God he lives somewhere out there.  Somewhere on the other side of the moon, but that’s not the message of Christianity.

Others might even have come to faith in Jesus – you are trying to follow him but deep inside somewhere along the way you have come to believe a myth that God is out there, you are somehow too small or insignificant to deserve his personal attention.  To you – God might as well be on the other side of the moon.

Quite contrary to the myth that God is distant, unknowable, uncaring, or removed from the affairs of earth – Christmas teaches us that God is fully immersed in the affairs of man.

It’s like God did a cannonball right into the middle of the pool of humanity.  You can hear the diggadigga of the diving board as Jesus emptied himself of his rights and privileges of the divine life and became one of us.  The Bible says that God pitched his tent among us.

Christianity stands alone among the religions of the world in that it teaches that God is approachable – that he is warm and inviting.

And the birth of Jesus as a baby in a manger?  That smashes any notion that God is standoffish – angry and wrathful.

Did you ever wonder why God chose to come to earth in the manner he did?  He could have come to earth as a fully formed man, right?  He could have walked out of the desert one day as some mysterious and wise teacher.

See if I were God I would walk out of the desert looking hard and leathery, like Clint Eastwood – cigar hanging out of my lips and everything.

But no – he chooses instead to come as a baby.  He shrunk himself down the size of human embryo in order to be Born!  Why would God go down the rigorous road of human development?  Why would he start as a baby?

I’ll tell you why – Have you ever held a baby?  You ever poked a baby.  Aren’t babies the softest things on earth?  Little baby heads sleeping on your chest.   They are adorable!  Can you imagine – doesn’t it almost sound disrespectful to call God adorable?

But God’s willing to go that far to help us overcome our fear of him – to help us overcome this idea that God is rigid, and fearful!  And unapproachable!

No one ever walked into the nursery and said to their friend – hey man, you se the way that baby was looking at me?  He looks like trouble, man!  I don’t like the way he’s been looking at me.  Looks like he’s looking for trouble.  And look – he’s hitting that bottle pretty hard.  Something’s going to go down – let’s get out of here.

Here’s the point.  In Jesus God found a way to relate to man in a way that didn’t involve fear. What’s frightening about a baby?  You might be afraid of responsibility, but you aren’t afraid of a baby.

Through the humility and the humanity of Jesus, God is able to find a way to contain his divinity in a vessel that makes himself completely present and approachable.  He doesn’t lessen his divinity, but he is able to reveal it in a way that is safe.  How safe?  Mary is snuggling with God in a barn in Bethlehem.

At Christmas God busts the myth that He is distant from us by choosing to come to earth in the form of a baby.

Another way God busts the myth that he is distant or unapproachable is by noticing the name he chose for himself.  His name shall be called Jesus.

If you could have chosen any name for yourself, other than the name you have, what name would you have chosen?

What name would you have chosen for yourself if you could have?  Something more regal?  Something more common?  Something easier to spell?

Now in the Bible there are many names used for God.  And many of them are quite august – even the Christmas story includes a section in Isaiah that reads, his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Prince of Peace, Mighty God.

But when God become a man, he intends to close the gap between God and man, so what name does he choose?  Jesus.   Which was in the first century an incredibly common name.

As a matter of fact there were at least five high priests with the name Jesus.  The Jewish historian Josephus refers to about twenty different people named Jesus. What’s the point? Jesus could have been a “Joe, or Jim, or Bob or Steve.”

And though the New Testament refers to Jesus as Lord Jesus and Jesus the Christ.  They refer to Jesus about 250 times using those titles.  But the name Jesus – just Jesus – appears about 1200 times.

What’s the point?   He was just Jesus.   And as this Jesus walked and ministered, one thing stands out about him – people were not afraid to approach him.

Let me share just one more way that God busts the myth that he is standoffish towards us.   Be sure to notice the people he chose to be around him. 

When Jesus comes to earth, he gets to choose his friends, and more than that, he gets to choose his parents!  So who did Jesus choose?  Did he choose parents that were well to do?  Did he choose a family that was well off? Did he choose a well connected family, a socially upscale family?  Nope.

What do we know about Mary?  She was young.  She was engaged.  She was Jewish, she was a virgin.  Perhaps the most telling thing we learn about Mary was the way she responded to the news that she was going to become pregnant with Jesus.  She replied – “I am the Lord’s servant.  May everything you said come true.”

God knew the influence of a godly mother.  He chose a godly servant minded woman to influence Jesus as he grows up.

What do we know about Joseph?  He was a carpenter.  He loved his wife.

he was a good man.  A hard working man.  A man easy to respect.  And God said, that’s the kind of dad I want Jesus to have.  A kind but very ordinary hard working man.

Consider the people who show up on the night of Jesus birth.  Shepherds.  Hard to find more ordinary.   They are the first humans to hear about Jesus – and they are poor minimum wage, odorous and overlooked shepherds.

So average.  So normal.  So me and you.  There was nothing in their job or their personage that would have demanded attention.  And yet, here they are in the story – immortalized as the first worshippers of Jesus.

When Jesus gets older, what kind of people does he surround himself with as an adult?  And the answer is the very normal.  And the very sinful. And the very willing.  Very ordinary people.

I don’t know what you might have though God was like when you walked in here this morning.  I would not at all be surprised if you thought of God as far away, impersonal.  But one thing the Christmas story teaches us is that God is not stand-offish.  He is not unapproachable.   He is not some distant God, aloof, detached and indifferent; cold and unfriendly.

And I’m not sure what you might be going through today.  Perhaps you are going through a season where God feels far away.  Maybe you are in a situation that’s been especially difficult for you or on you and it’s hard not to feel that God has somehow vanished on you.

The truth is that there will be times we feel that – I mean we are dealing with a God who is invisible – we can’t hold him near to us.  Which is why faith is so admired by God.  Trusting one we cannot see –

But if you are going through that kind of season right now I’d encourage you to spend some time meditating on the Christmas story.  Imagine Jesus in the arms of his mother.  And know that God is very close indeed.

Now let’s look at the second myth about God that the nativity crushes.  And that’s the myth that God is somehow ashamed of us.  Embarrassed by us.  The myth of the disappointed God.

For me – I think this was the myth that I bought before I came to understand differently.  I personally had this image of God as being very Perpetually annoyed disappointed in me.  That somehow I let God down.

I hear this from others too – I remember inviting someone to come to church with me and this person said, I kind of feel like I need to get my life straightened out before I go to church.  What are they saying?  I’m not good enough for God – he wouldn’t want me in this state.  I’d be embarrassed to go to him – let me get to the point where I feel enough self respect to go to him.

But let me show you an interesting facet of the birth of Jesus that is often overlooked.  And that is the genealogy of Matthew chapter 1.    Genealogies!  Ugh!  How boring!  Or is it?  Anyone interested in taking a DNA test to find out where you came from?

Recently my mother and I worked out our ancestry on Ancestry.com and I was able to trace my ancestry through her families side all the way back to Jacobus DeGroot – who came to America in 1640’s.  And lived in New Amsterdam – AKA New York City!  So when I tell you I was born in New York, I know in these parts it doesn’t mean much, but when I say I’m a native New Yorker – I’m a genuine native new Yorker.  It’s hard to get more genuine than New Amsterdam in 1640.  Four centuries of obnoxious!

But what was also interesting was the more sordid things that popped up.  I found records that my ancestors were slave owners in New York.  You don’t like to announce that kind of thing.

Well, in the first century – genealogies were intended to add credibility to the person that was being written about.  We might hang our credentials from our college on the wall?  But first century people – it was your family – your pedigree that constituted your resume.

And what’s interesting is that many people tinkered with their genealogies – kind of like how people polish their resume.  On our resume we leave those jobs out that we don’t want people to ask about – anything that might not make us look good.  Well, people did that too in ancient times with their resume.  Because the purpose was to impress people.  with the respectability of your roots.

At first glance it might appear Matthew is doing that with Jesus.  After all you find Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – but of course they would appear on every Jewish person’s genealogy.  But you also have King David and Solomon.  That’s impressive!

But Matthew does something that is shockingly different than any other ancient genealogy.  He includes people that, instead of polishing the genealogy, they actually tarnish it.   He includes people who are not even Jewish.  Gentiles, Moabites, Canaanites.  He includes five women – which alone was unheard of in a male dominated society.  And the women he included –  some were famous for doing the wrong things.

Tamar – tricked her father in law, Judah – into sleeping with her in order for her to become pregnant.  Rahab was a prostitute.  Bathsheba is included – not because of the wrong she had done but to remind the readers of why David is included.  David was far more sordid and did all kinds of evil things – the most notorious was that he killed one of his most loyal warriors in an effort to cover up his abuse of power with his friends wife Bathsheba.

Matthew is recalling some of Israel’s most sordid affairs.

I mean, If God is ashamed of anyone – would he not be ashamed of these moral degenerates?  These adulterers, adulteresses, the deceivers, the incestuous, the prostitutes?  The Murderers? All these people that would – at least from a purely religious perspective one would consider outside of God’s love.

If the genealogy was a resume one would think that Matthew would have left these names off – but no!  Jesus says – this is my pedigree.  These are the kinds of people I came from – and these are the kinds of people I came for.

Do you know what that means? We need not worry that we’ve ever done something that would keep us outside of God’s family.  It doesn’t matter what kind of pedigree – what kind of history we bring with us.  It means that God is not ashamed of us.

For me – my life was changed when my perception of God was changed.  And even as a young middle school student, I heard words that forever changed my life.  I heard the preacher say one evening that even if I were the only person on earth who would have placed my faith in Jesus, he still would have come for me.  He still would have been born for me.

He still would have lived as an average Jesus in an average home.  Still would have made friends with everyone who allowed him to be.  Still would have died on the cross and risen from the grave.  Because he knows me and loves me.

And that night I went home and prayed by my bedside that Jesus would forgive me, and teach me what it means to become a follower of His.  That was 37 years ago.  Feels not that long ago that I remembered waking up and feeling in my heart that a new day had dawned in my life.  That from this day forth I was His and He was mine.

So how about you?  Are you ready to make that call and trust Jesus – to ask him to supervise and direct the days of your life?  What better time of year than Christmas time to receive from God the gift of a new kind of life that can be lived by trusting Jesus with your life.

Have you already made that decision?  Then can I encourage you to get baptized?  We will have a baptism service on December 31.  Start the new year off by celebrating the new life that God has brought to you.  Just let us know.

God became a man – born in a manger in Bethlehem in order to smash myths that keep people from him.  Don’t let these untruths keep you from the God who adores you.  He is not far away.

Acts 17:27 NLT

“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him–though he is not far from any one of us.

And there is not need to think that God is disappointed in us.  God is not ashamed of us.  Indeed Hebrews 2 says Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters.  It’s why he came.  It the reason for the season.  It’s why Christmas is indeed merry, joyous, holy and good.

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