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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Allen Jackson » Allen Jackson - A Less Formal Glance At A Familiar Narrative

Allen Jackson - A Less Formal Glance At A Familiar Narrative

Allen Jackson - A Less Formal Glance At A Familiar Narrative
TOPICS: Christmas

It's an honor to be with you today. Our topic for this session is "Weddings, Angels, and Barns". It's Christmastime. You know the story. I suspect you even know the Scriptures. You also know it's a crazy season of the year. I bet your to-do list has more things on it than your hours in the day available. We all feel a little bit of that pressure at this time and even if that's not the case, then we're on the other end of the spectrum and your life isn't busy and there's a whole new set of pressures that come with that. Christmas is the most challenging season of the year. I don't believe that's about a secular culture, and I don't believe it's about the perfection or the lack thereof in your family system. I think the challenge of Christmas comes because we have a spiritual adversary, and he wants to rob you of the joy of the birth of Jesus.

I came today to take just a minute to say, "Don't let that happen". We're gonna unpack the story. It's a familiar story to you, but in the midst of it, there's a message of hope, there's a message of purpose for your life, there's a promise of deliverance that no matter what challenges we face, the power of God is present to bring us through. Don't yield to the despair. Don't welcome the dissatisfaction. Don't allow the discomfort of the season, whatever that may look like to you today, to rob you of the privilege of saying, "Jesus, thank you. I know that you love me, I know that my life matters to you, even in the midst of the reality that I see right now". Grab your Bible, get a notepad, and most importantly, open your heart to the invitation of God this Christmas season. God bless you, and Merry Christmas.

What a privilege to celebrate Christmas Eve together. How many of you were with us on campus last Christmas Eve? Yeah, a little different, huh? You know, I'm grateful for last year. There was a lot of lessons we took from that season, and one of them, for me, was to not be presumptuous around our faith, because I had been very guilty of that. I had done many Christmas Eve services and had helped plan many Christmas Eve services and, to be candid, I just assumed we could always do them when we wanted, how we wanted, wherever we wanted, in whatever manner we wanted. And I was wrong. And one of my takeaways is I don't want to live presumptuously, and I particularly don't want to worship presumptuously. So may I make a suggestion?

Let's treat this Christmas as if it were the last Christmas we were gonna get to celebrate together. I don't mean that in a dark way. Let's just not live with the arrogance that we'll do it however many times we want to. It's a privilege to be together and an honor. If you'll allow me, I'd like to take a few minutes and take just a little less formal look with you at a very familiar narrative. Most of us know the Christmas story. We've heard it many times in many ways in many places, and I would like to revisit a familiar scene with you, but in just a bit more of a casual way and imagine that we were along for the ride, that we've been included in the entourage, that we're gonna hear the messaging in real time, and we're gonna process the instructions as if we were allowed to participate. We're gonna talk for just a few minutes about weddings, angels, and barns.

My father was a veterinarian so I grew up in barns. South Florida and Middle Tennessee, I was pretty comfortable in those places. The God story has a lot to do with a barn. I didn't know as a child that most weddings were gonna take place in barns when I got older. That's been an adjustment for me, but it's okay, I'm comfortable there. But I wanna start in Luke chapter 1 in verse 26. It says: "In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, 'Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.'"

Now, it's the beginning of the birth narrative of Jesus and I would like to start with the most obvious observation. It was God initiated. Mary didn't volunteer. She didn't put her name in a hat. She wasn't a lottery winner. She didn't consciously do anything to qualify. What's about to unfold in her life and through her life and define her entire life was God initiated. And I have a question. You don't have to answer it because it really should require a bit of thought. Would you be willing to have God initiate something in your life that would redefine your imagination of your life? You see, we've had a pretty casual faith in our nation. We have learned the art of attending church. We know the costuming that's necessary. We know how to come and go, and the vocabulary that is acceptable. We know how to sit and stand at the appropriate moments and we can usually get into and out of a public worship service without great embarrassment or humiliation.

I'm not talking about that. Our world has changed. I don't know exactly when or exactly how and I certainly don't know who other than God himself but our world has changed. And the faith that we were familiar with a couple of years ago is not adequate for the world we're in today. We need to know God in a meaningful enough way with enough courage that we would say to him, "I would rather have your purposes for my life than simply demand that you do my purposes". And that requires a bit of a change of orientation because, for most of our journeys, we've imagined that if we could address our God business and walk an aisle and deal with some sort of a prayer and visit a baptismal pool, and I believe in the new birth and I believe in baptism, but at that point we've kind of stepped back and then imagined it was my life to lead and I could just count God's blessings. These are the ways God has blessed me because of the goodness of my soul.

I don't believe that mentality will carry us through what we've begun. I believe we're gonna need to know God in a way where we'll say, "God, I wanna serve at your pleasure. Would you write a story for me? I'll follow your path". Now I don't believe that has to be something that is unpleasant. I don't think it has to be miserable. I don't think God will diminish your life. I believe he will take the ceiling off of your life. I believe that if you were a plumber before you knew the Lord and yielded your life to him, you'll be a better plumber after embracing Jesus as Lord of your life. I believe if you're a neurosurgeon, and you're the most talented in the region, and you experience the new birth, you'll be a better neurosurgeon because you'll have a new kind of compassion that comes from the Lord.

God will not diminish your life. But God intruded on Mary's life. He took her dreams and her plans and he dropped them in the shredder. He initiated that. Are you ready for that? Some of us are still mad about COVID. "Canceled my plans last year. Had Christmas outside". We haven't gotten over it yet. I'm glad we bundled that stuff up just a few minutes ago. It disappeared that way. God initiated it but we're not done with the story yet. Same chapter, Luke 1, verse 29: "Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary; you've found favor with God. You'll be with child and give birth to a son, and you're to give him the name Jesus.'"

Mary's response, this is a God initiated assignment and Mary's first two responses are of confusion and fear. "I don't understand. How could that be? I haven't been engaged in the behaviors that would even make that a possibility. I don't know anybody that's had that experience and nobody will believe me if I tell them. There is no peer group. There's no counseling group. There's no group session for this, because I'm out here, a'solo. And who's gonna tell Joe? And on top of that, it's frightening".

Are you prepared for following the Lord to be frightening? I think most of us have spent the majority of our religious experience doing our best to avoid anything that's frightening. If it's frightening, we withdraw. We wanna stay in our comfort zone, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. We have all sorts of phrases around that. "Well, that's not how I believe. That's not how my people worship". Well then, if your people came out of the brick pits of Egypt and you have pictures of them with Moses, we'll listen. Otherwise, we're all subject to what the Spirit of God is doing today. And I just want to plant the seed that God's invitation in your life will probably bring some sense of anxiety, uncertainty, because you're being asked to trust him, to follow him, to recognize that the stability of our lives and the future of our lives are not fully under our control or our management, that we have submitted ourselves to the King of kings.

That's why we call him Lord. And if there's a bit of fear around that, it's not an unholy fear. It causes us to be focused and yielded and submitted. The fear of God is a good thing. The recognition that if God isn't for us, we will not survive, is not a horrible place, because he is for us. You see, we've imagined as if God were some sort of an ornament. It's like he's an upgrade of some sort. We added a little extra memory so we could think faster. But the truth is, without God we won't survive and we certainly won't flourish. So Mary's a bit confused and she's certainly frightened. Luke, chapter 2 and verse 1, it says: "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register".

Caesar in Rome ordered everybody in the Roman world to go to their home town. This is not the first time a series of authoritarian mandates have disrupted folks's calendars. Mary and Joseph survived and so will we. "Amen" is the word you're desperately searching for. It won't make me go longer, I promise. There's a group coming after you. We have to empty the campus. That's why you came at 3 o'clock, I know you, you had a plan. But this wasn't something that was in Joseph's plan or Mary's plans or their end-of-the-year plan that year. It came from Rome. It seemed intrusive, it was unwanted. Those things aren't new. The disruptions of our lives are not new to the 21st century. We may have had enough stability and there may have been enough security in our world that we're not accustomed to them, but it would really be a lack of awareness to imagine that we're the first generation to have to deal with the struggle with authoritarian ideas.

It's our faith that brings freedom, not governments and politicians. Not parties, not changes of parties. It's our faith in Almighty God who brings liberty to our lives. And he's the one who will lead us through. We need to be very clear where our faith and our hope are anchored. Jesus is our Savior. He is the liberator of the human heart. Human beings do not treat one another well apart from the grace and the mercy of a living God. We have a long history. But Mary and Joseph's story doesn't stop there. Same chapter, Luke 2, in the next verse, in verse 4, says: "Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and the line of David. And he went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child".

This is the newer translation. It's the NIV. Some of the older translations say that Mary was "great with child". That gives a little better image. She was very pregnant. You didn't have to be reluctant to ask her. You wouldn't have gotten in that condition without a child. Have you ever made that mistake? Ooh, I have. I'll never ask that question again. But Mary was great with child and Joseph has the privilege of going to her and say, "Because of Caesar Augustus, Mary, we've got a trip to make". The timing's awful. She's great with child. And the flights are all sold out, and there's no available seats on the buses. And they've got to go, so the last two options are we can walk. It's several days. Nazareth is a sleepy little village in the northern part of Israel, Bethlehem is south of Jerusalem, so it's a several-day trip. "We're either gonna walk or you can ride a donkey".

Don't you know he was popular? It's really bad timing and we all understand timing can be everything. And yet they've got the trip to make. Wait a minute, this is God initiated, God directed, supernatural, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, and the timing's awful and the transportation is less than adequate. Do you think God would do that to us? I thought if it was God directed and God inspired and God initiated, it'd be first class with parades and trumpets and applause and perks, right? Do you ever question God? "God, I thought you were leading me. This is harder than I wanted it to be. God, I thought I was doing the right thing, and the wheels have come off the wagon. God, I didn't expect to say Yes to you and still have to deal with this stuff".

You ever say those... I do. Do you ever stand in the field at night, shake your fist at the stars, and say, "God"! I have and I do. I have learned something: God is able to withstand our rage about his poor job performance. But we're not done yet. Luke chapter 2, verse 6 says: "While they were there in Bethlehem, the time came for the baby to be born, and she," Mary, "gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn".

Poor Joseph, it's going downhill fast. I don't know who did it but somebody mishandled the reservations and if your very pregnant wife just made a several-day journey on a donkey you don't wanna suggest it was her fault. You'd better just own it. It's the safest way from here to there. However you wanna bundle it, there was no room for them and the only option felt like rejection. There's no family. I thought this was Joseph's, the home town of his family. Isn't there somebody you know? Isn't there something better?

The best option we can find is the stable. I know we've romanticized it and many of you have a little nativity scene in your home. We have several of them throughout the church. And they're fun photo-ops and they're reminders of how the story unfolded so we can tell the children, but if you think it was so wonderful, go sleep with the animals tonight and give birth. I'm thinking it could have been just a touch tense. "Tell me again about what the angel said to you, Mary"? "Well, tell me what he said to you, you're the one that withdrew first". "You said you didn't want anything to do with me". This whole thing has been God initiated. It took angelic intervention for this thing to make its way to this point. And now the birth takes place in a stable and they laid the newborn Son of God in a manger, in the trough where the cattle feed. There's just no way that feels comfortable.

It gets better. Chapter 2, verse 15: "When the angels had left them," the shepherds, "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.' So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. And when they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them". In the world of the 1st century, the shepherds were the lowest rung on the social ladder. And they show up as uninvited guests at the barn where Mary just had to give birth. I can see her looking at Joseph, "Did you invite 'em? You did this"? It's a loving glance. Can you see it?

And the shepherds are babbling about something. It's not really clear. "They saw the sky filled with what? The heavenly who? Doing what? And they told you when? So you all came? Have you bathed"? And it wasn't enough that they did not have engraved invitations, "Signed Mary, come to the stable". They just broke into the scene, excited, enthusiastic. "Is that the baby"? What baby? How do you know? Maybe it's not an icy glance back and forth. Maybe it's a questioning glance. I don't think Mary and Joseph have processed this. I think they're doing it in real time. There's lessons for us. You see, I don't think following the Lord is something that feels so packed and so neatly packaged that we understand every step and it feels comfortable and as if we have absolute clarity.

I think that's a myth. I think that comes from people that try to convince us of a spirituality that isn't in the real world 'cause the characters I know in my Bible don't seem to lead lives like that. They just continue to say Yes to the Lord. I wanna be one of those people. Not because I always feel like it. Not because I always understand. Not even because my circumstances always look like I would have preferred, but because I prefer to follow the Lord. We're not done yet. One more passage. In Luke chapter 2, says that "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they'd heard and seen, which were just as they'd been told".

The shepherds were kind of voyeurs on this. They're messengers. They've got a role to play. They're invited to a party that they'd have been left out of if the king or the priests had been in charge. God invited them. I like that. But Mary took a different tack. It says that "she treasured up all of these things in her heart, she pondered them". She considered them of great value. She highly esteemed them. She thought about them. We have to care about the things of God. One of the interesting parts of the Jesus story to me is after the birth narrative, almost completely this Jesus goes dark. There's only a brief hint or two for 30 years. We just lose sight of him, and when he's 30 years old he steps back onto the stage. Supernaturally initiated journey, virgin birth, the whole drama, you understand the story and for 30 years, that's a big block of time.

There's not really any public interaction, there's not much to say. We've got this little nugget that Mary treasured up all these things. When he's 30, Jesus begins his public ministry, he's baptized and he begins to travel through the villages of Israel. And in John chapter 2, there's the story, Jesus's first public miracle was at a wedding. He took his disciples. That was a miracle: 12 guys going to a wedding voluntarily. It needed Jesus to make that happen. They were friends. And the host of the wedding hadn't planned appropriately and they were about to be humiliated, and Mary comes to Jesus and says, "They're out of wine". And Jesus said, "Why is that my problem"?

This is the Living Bible. You can check me, it's in John 2. Jesus says, "Why is that my problem"? And Mary doesn't interact beyond that. She simply turns to the servants and says to them, "Do whatever he tells you. You just do whatever he tells you to do". It makes you think between Bethlehem and that day, Mary had been making a journey. Maybe she's privy to some things that didn't make the story that we have. "You just do whatever he tells you to do". I want to get to know the Lord that way. I want to be able to respond to him that way. See, most of the time, I'm telling God he needs to do whatever I want him to do. I'm trying to make some adjustments to that. "God, I want to do whatever you want me to do".

You know the end of the story. The people who were about to be humiliated become heroes because of what Jesus did that nobody was aware of. He's still doing that, making heroes out of people. If you'll trust him with your life, he'll make a hero out of you. He will. Following God is not a diminishment. God is moving in the most of dramatic ways in our earth. The circumstances in many respects are less than satisfactory. They were true in Jesus's life. He had a borrowed Dad. Your family doesn't have to be perfect. Your family story doesn't have to be perfect.

In fact, the reality is there are no perfect families. If our personal plans and dreams get pushed aside, God will give us something better. Government mandates that interfere with our plans, God will lead us through. If your Christmas looks like a hot mess, you'd fit in Bethlehem. So was theirs. Yet in the middle of that, we find Mary learning, treasuring all that's happening around her and growing. That's my Christmas objective. I brought you a proclamation. It's a little prayer I'm gonna ask you to say with me. It's a proclamation over our own lives and ourselves. It's on your bulletin there, behind, at the end of your Scriptures. If you didn't get one of those, they'll put it on the screen. If you're joining us online, you can download it, you can say it off the screen. We're gonna talk out loud in church on Christmas Eve, crazy people. Are you ready?

I'm a child of the King. Jesus is Lord of my life. I have submitted my will to Him. Through the blood of Jesus I have been forgiven, justified, sanctified and delivered from every evil attack. My body is a temple of the Holy Spirit: redeemed, cleansed and made whole, through the blood of Jesus. I am not alone, I am not defeated, I need not fear, the one who called me is faithful. This Christmas Eve I choose to lift my heart and my voice in thanksgiving for His grace and mercy to me. The joy of the Lord is my strength! In Jesus's name, amen.

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