A Promise Foretold

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church this frigid cold morning.   I don’t know what your plans are for the rest of the day but hopefully they don’t include getting on your roof to hang Christmas lights.  I’d say at least wait until later in the afternoon – when it’s supposed to warm up to a blustery -10 degree wind chill.

I know some of you left your car running out there to keep it warm and that sounds smart to me, so let’s get cracking before you run out of gas…

We on staff here at Journey have wisely all gotten our Christmas lights up already.  We usually have an friendly competition among staff members to see who has the best lights on their house.  Because lights and Christmas – they go together.  So maybe you can help judge our contest this year.

This is Wendy Lopp’s house.  Wendy, our children’s ministry director and her husband Joe do such a great job every year.  Classic, bright. Cheerful.  Everything about their house says, We love Christmas.  Sarah Lindsey, who oversees our Elementary ministry on Sunday’s, believe it or not, she lives right next door to Wendy.  And let’s just say, Sarah wasn’t really feeling up to competing this year.   (Ditto)

Jim and Patti Warren have an unusual tradition.  Every year since Jim was a child, Santa brought him a lighted lawn ornament.  And he has faithfully preserved them and so the day after Thanksgiving every year, he and Patti break them out and set them up.  So one new ornament every year Jim’s been alive – And I think we will All agree that that their lawn looks spectacular.

Kyle Short is our Youth Pastor, and his wife Rachel.  These guys, they love Christmas.  That picture was taken at our fourth of July BBQ – so I couldn’t wait to see what his house looked like, but I have to admit I was a little less than impressed – I guess his hearts in the right place but the execution was a little flat. 

Neil Gilsdorf is a huge Star Wars fan and is really geeking out about the newest Star Wars movie – and so he decided to light up his house in star wars theme – but  I felt he went a little overboard doing his house thing.  And yes I know that’s Star Trek, not Star Wars, but it’s fun to watch Star Wars fans get all indignant.

Now before I show you my house, you should know that my wife Jody is the one who puts the lights up on our house.  She enjoys doing it, but, Jody had total knee replacement surgery a couple of weeks ago, so…  it was really difficult for her to get up and down the ladder.  The walker kept getting tangled up in the lights…  But all in all, I’m proud of her and we can cut her some slack this year…. 

Christmas and lights, they go together.  And they always have.  What was it that the Wise men followed as they traveled from the East?  The light of a star.  When the shepherds were sitting in a field at night, what happens when the angels show up?  It says, the radiance of the Lord’s glory shone around them. 

But the truth is that light and Christmas go together even further back then that!  AS a matter of fact, we are going to read today a prophecy concerning the birth of Jesus, that was given by a prophet from Israel 700 years before the birth of Jesus. 

Who wrote,  in Isaiah 9:1,2

Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory.

More than 700 years later, the writer of the book of Matthew, wrote the Jesus was the fulfillment of this prophecy. 

So what do we learn from Isaiah’s prophecy uttered 700 years before the birth of Jesus?  We learn to expect the unexpected.

Isaiah informs us that this promised Messiah – the promised Savior of the world, will come from an unexpected place.

Notice where this promised deliverer will come from?  Galilee of the Gentiles.

Now this is a surprising claim.  For one ting, it’s surprising that the Messiah will not come from Jerusalem.  I mean Jerusalem was the center of the Jewish universe, right?  The temple was there.  All of the festivals were held there.  So for Isaiah to declare that the Christ would come from somewhere else alone would be surprising – but Galilee?

Every place I’ve ever lived – there was a town nearby that others looked down on.  In Georgia people looked down on those South Carolina Hillbillies.  In Boston they looked down on people from Maine – those country bumpkins.  In Omaha there seemed to be jokes about a place they called Council Tucky.  right? 

In Israel, the town that everyone looked down on was Galilee.  Those hillbillies in Galilee.  Why, that area was filled with so many non-Jewish people, “Gentiles”, that it was barely considered Jewish.  For the Savior to come from there?  C’Mon man!  Obviously, the Savior would come from Jerusalem, right?

Which is why there was a guy named Nathaniel in John 1 – and his brother Philip tells him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

Nazareth was a town within Galilee.  Like Elkhorn is to Omaha, Nazareth is to Galilee.

46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

An unexpected Savior from an unexpected part of Israel.  But when we think about the Christmas story, we see unexpected all over the place.  Born in the lowliest of places – laying in a manger – surrounded by straw, animals, hard working, blue collar shepherds.

From the beginning Jesus is a surprising Savior.  His whole life he lives among the everyday people of the world.  He becomes closest – not with the religious leaders, or the rich or powerful – no – he becomes closest with fisherman, tax collector, people who drink too much, sleep around too much, party too hard.    Jesus is always doing unexpected things.

And maybe he’s doing something unexpected in your life now.  Maybe he wants to do something unexpected in your life, but you aren’t so sure.   

Maybe you’re whole life you’ve been against organized religion. 

Maybe you’ve felt the sting of a religion that controlled too much, or shamed you, or embarrassed you, or abused you – and you think – the last thing on earth you’ve ever considered is that there stands a God apart from religion. 

I want you to hear me say that Jesus came to free you from religion.  Religion has always been about control and fear, and shame.  Religion thrives on planting seeds of doubt in your mind that maybe you don’t measure up.  Maybe you don’t make the cut. 

But Jesus’ never does that.  Look at his life.  Look at the people he hung out with.  He is an unexpected Savior doing unexpected things, and what motivates him is love. His tremendous love for you.

Do you have been feeling God tugging at your heart to bring you into a relationship with himself – to invest in the spiritual part of your life?  You know that your life isn’t a cosmic accident.  You know it.  You know deep inside there is a God and the question is – what kind of God is he. 

I’ll get to that – but next – I want to touch on the second thing we learn about Christmas from Isaiah’s 700 year old Prophecy.    Isaiah chapter 9 verse 2

2 The people who walk in darkness

    will see a great light.

For those who live in a land of deep darkness,

    a light will shine.

We learn from this verse two things.  First, We live in darkness by Default,  We’re born this way.  We probably don’t need to point out all the ways this world is filled with darkness.  It would kind of a bummer to walk down that path.

But when Isaiah talks about darkness – it’s an interesting word – he makes a compound word in Hebrew – where it says Deep Darkness, it means literally the death shadow.  People living in the land of the death shadow. 

Sounds creepy, doesn’t it?  Sounds like a Horror Movie:  It came from the Death Shadows….   But the reality is that we were born into this land of death shadows by default.  It’s our natural habitat.

We do our best to try to push death out of our view.  We don’t want to come’s to terms with it.  But this is the land where we live too.  We were born into a kingdom of death shadows.  Merry Christmas!  But Isaiah is declaring that one day – light will be born! 

Light has a name!  We talk about Christmas Lights – but really there is only one Christmas Light.  Singular.  And His name is Jesus.

God looked down at the Kingdom of darkness that we were born into by default and said, let there be light! 

So – did anyone call Jesus the light of the world – sure!  How about John – this is John’s version of the Christmas Story.

John 1:9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 

How about Peter?  1 Peter 2:9 You are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

How about Paul?  Colossians 1:13 For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son,

Well technically Paul doesn’t call Jesus light – he just says that you move from Darkness to Jesus.  Exactly.  Light has a name!  Jesus is the light of the world.  At least, that’s what he told us…

John 8:12   “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Now before we move on, can I just have a word with my friends who might consider themselves skeptics or cynical about the whole Jesus thing.  And there’s plenty of them.  I saw yesterday morning an advertisement for a PBS show titled “From Jesus to the Christ.” 

And I think the title alone betrays the idea that the premise was how did Jesus go from being an ordinary jewish rabbi, to becoming what others later would call the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of the World by others after his death.

But the reality is that Jesus was always the Christ.  He was always the savior- and his own words show it – listen who do you know who has ever walked up to a group of people you were with and said, I am the light of the world?  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life?”  Anyone? 

No one says that about themselves.  Unless they are in fact who they claim to be, or are in fact liars who are out to deceive and manipulate people for their own gain.  Or just plain crazy. 

Which of these do you think Jesus was?  Did he think that he was under a delusion that he was the light of world?  Do you think that? 

You know, at some point skeptics have to be intellectually honest enough to make a call on these first century witnesses of Jesus.  And I don’t think that it’s intellectually honest or feasible to simply say that Jesus never lived.  I know you can try.

I have a friend who recently told me that he thinks man has never landed on the moon.  Sincere belief of his.  He feels, as many others do that the lunar landings were a hoax perpetrated by the American’s to get the upper hand on the Russians.

Neither one of us were there, how do we really know?  Well, if that’s the case, then you are going to have to make the case that many hundreds at least, knew otherwise and yet put this hoax out there for the good of the country.  Because there is no shortage of human testimony.

But let’s say they were lying.  And let’s say that some people grabbed them and began to torture them in order to get the truth out – how many will die for their lie?

Yet this is the reality of Christianity.  People died because they bore testimony to these words.  That Jesus called himself the Light of the world.  And I for one have a difficult time reaching a conclusion that these people knowingly died in order to protect what they knew to be a lie.  Why?  They received no riches for this lie?  Only trouble, persecution, hardship, toil, pain, beatings, torture death.

But they stuck to their word.  Jesus is the Light of the world!  They saw Jesus they knew him – and they knew he was amazing and wonderful and truly, the light of the world. 

He was everything that Isaiah predicted 700 years earlier, who went on to describe what this Christ, what this deliverer, what this light of the world would look like.  And he used four amazing titles to describe what this Jesus looks like.

For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.

And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

You know, sometimes I think about Isaiah, and he’s this prophet and he’s writing down stuff he is receiving from God, and I just gotta wonder what he’s thinking.

Okay – a child is born to us…  a son –  uh huh  got it- go on!

Government on his shoulders – sweetness –

And he will be called mighty God. – Hold up a second Lord – I think I must have a typo – did you say a child is going to be born who will be called mighty God?   Maybe you meant – Mighty Good.  Would you kindly check the copy… maybe – you left off an O.   

He’s going to be a mighty good king!  No – Mighty God.  One more thing Lord – am I or am I not, presently communicating with the Mighty God?  Oh I am, right?  ten four.   I don’t get it.  But it’s your message, I’ll pass it on.

Okay – what next?  Everlasting Father.  Okay.  Normally I’d perhaps circle back around to this one later – no? Okay we move on…

We’ll talk more about this on Christmas eve, where we will celebrate the birth that delivered on a seven hundred year old promise.

But for now, I’d like to take just a bit closer look at one of the four titles.  Because I think it shows just how invested God is in making us whole and healthy.

This God-child who will one day be born will be a wonderful counselor.

Last week, I asked two friends, both licensed professional counselors, to tell me what makes a counselor, wonderful.

My friend Claire from Cunningham Counseling in Omaha said, “A wonderful counselor creates a safe place – Someone that you can share your craziest thoughts to without fear of them saying – you’re insane – get out of my office. 

Instead they respond by sitting there, drinking their coffee, and say “ok…, I don’t think you’re crazy….let’s talk about it.”

A wonderful counselor is someone who you can be truly real with and not be concerned about damaging your relationship with them, because you know they’ve heard it all before.

My friend Laurie Bendy, from Greater Oaks counseling, also wrote me, and she said, “A Wonderful counselor helps clients to see that their identity is NOT in based on what has happened to them or in who people say they are. 

I work with a lot of clients who have had much trauma in their life, and they live a life that is “defined” by their trauma.  They believe that false beliefs about themselves are true.  I believe it is the most important thing I can do is help them to see what God sees in them.”

This is what Jesus has come to do.  He has come to earth to help us see ourselves the way God sees us.  And surprise surprise.  God sees us as valuable, and treats us with dignity and honor. 

Grace means that you are not defined by your past.  You are not defined by your mistakes.  You are a human being, created and loved by God.  A Jesus, being a wonderful counselor, invites you into the safe place of a relationship with Him, where he can restore and reshape your identity. 

Though faith in Jesus you are a child of God.

Such a precious gift.  How fitting that we exchange gifts on Christmas.  Because Christmas is a gift to us from God.  The gift of new life – a new outlook on life.  A fresh starts with Him.

But there is a beginning point to the process.  Just as there is a first visit with the counselor to get the ball rolling, there is a starting point in our relationship with God.

Our relationship begins when we turn over the government of our lives to Jesus.

Isaiah predicted that The government will be on his shoulders.

Now certainly, he is speaking of an actual government, and this part of the prophecy is yet to be fulfilled – we read about the second coming of Christ one day, where Jesus will actually rein and the government will be his,

But I’m thankful that you and I don’t have to wait to see Jesus’ government at work in our life.

Right now, through faith in Jesus, we invite him to govern the days of our life.  We surrender to him the control of our days, we turn it all over to him, the whole deal.

We surrender control of our days, our health, our careers, our dreams, our finances – it’s Yours’ lord, and we start asking, how would you like me to use what you have given me? 

We invite the most beautiful, most intelligent, wisest, most noble man who ever walked on the face of this earth, to givern our lives.  And in return we are promised that He will never abandon his post.

So as we come to a close, I’d just like to invite you to do just that.  Maybe you are a long time believer – you’ve been following Jesus all your life.  Are there areas in your life that you have been struggling allowing Jesus to govern?  Will you even as I speak – pray to the Lord and confess with joy in your heart – Lord, the government of my life is on your broad shoulders. 

I think this is what Jesus meant in Matthew when he said that if you are carrying a heavy burden – go to Jesus, and he will give you rest. 

Again, who can say this kind of thing, unless he is the mighty God, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 … I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

And for the one who is just now ready – will you receive this greatest Christmas present of all?  A Gift Promised to mankind 2700 years ago,

A gift Delivered and laid in a manger 2000 years ago,

A gift ready to be opened by grace through faith in Christ – If you are ready, then pray a prayer like this.


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