Chris Hodges - Comfort and Joy
Well, Merry Christmas, everyone, and welcome to my home. We decided this year to change the service around a bit and to bring you the message in the middle of the service, and here from my home. And in a few moments, we'll also sing a few more sings, and then light some candles together. And remember, after the service, if you'd like to receive communion, it's available in person at your campus. Or for those of you at home, there will be an opportunity to participate online. You can look for the prompt, and there will also be a link on our homepage. And I would love to lead you through this beautiful sacrament together online.
But I want to take a moment and share a message for you from God's Word. I'm actually sitting here in our family room at one of our favorite spots, and it's especially my favorite place on a cold day in front of the fireplace. It's also the place where we gather as a family and play with the grandkids, with the toys, and where we watch old movies. And here's my favorite, to take a nap. This is the nap spot, cuddled up with a blanket. And I've got a few of my favorite blankets with me to show you. In fact, this is my favorite blanket. Comes from Augusta National Golf Club, isn't that pretty special? And but just I love it, it's the right weight, it covers every part, you know. And just I don't know, I just... it's my favorite, so. And then here's one that's around here, I don't use it much, but doesn't this look like a blanket Dino Rizzo would have? I just, just saying.
So anyway, it's real soft, but I just can't bring myself to cover myself up in that. And but here's the best one, get ready, get ready, get ready. Dun dun dun dun. Now, when I need to be inspired, come on, you got a little go Tigers. Do you feel the anointing just rising in the room right now? No seriously, this was a gift someone gave us, and I love it, but I actually use the other blankets. But here's what I want you to hear. I got a thought for you about blankets. Blankets say, "I see you, and I want to somehow cover you, and support you, and comfort you".
Now, listen to me. While I was in prayer a few months ago, thinking about this service, I feel like I heard the Lord says, "Let the people of Highlands know that I desire to wrap them in a blanket of it's going to be okay". It's going to be okay. So, I actually started to study about blankets, both in the natural and in the spiritual. In fact, I read one study that the reason why blankets are so comforting is because of the physical pressure that they create when they're wrapped around us. And that when that pressure is on our bodies, it produces serotonin. And of course, serotonin is the key hormone that stabilizes our mood. Don't we need that right now? It gives us this feeling of wellbeing and happiness.
In fact, my son Jonathan has this therapeutic blanket, it's very, very heavy. I don't like to have it on me, but man, they say... the science is that when this blanket is wrapped around you, the weight of it releases serotonin and creates a sensation that produces the feeling of comfort. Now, isn't that interesting? Because I think all of us need a little bit of comfort right now. And that's why we made the theme for this year's Christmas service, Christmas at Highlands, comfort, comfort and joy. I don't know if you know this or not, but one of the names of the God we serve is comforter.
And I'm going to come back to that in just a moment. But I want to build this thought by reading you a portion of the Christmas story. You know the story, the Bible says that Mary and Joseph were traveling to Bethlehem to participate in a census, and so it required them to go back to the place where their ancestors were from. And the Bible says in Luke chapter 2, verse 4 that, "Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, to the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. And while they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son".
Watch this, "And she wrapped him in strips of cloth and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn". And then it says it again in verse 12, which that's always interesting to me when the Bible repeats itself. Verse 12 that, "This will be a sign to you". It's a sign that, "You will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger". And that's interesting to me that the Bible says it'll be a sign because a sign is something the Bible's saying, hey, you need to pay attention to this. This is something for you to look for, this is important. It's a sign that Jesus was wrapped in cloths. Some translations say swaddling cloths.
A swaddling cloth actually wasn't a full blanket, it was actually strips of cloth that they would wrap around the baby. It was designed to protect the baby, to keep their arms and legs tight, to keep them from hurting themselves to... so they wouldn't scratch themselves or harm themselves. It also simulated the feeling of still being in the womb, which felt like a safe place for that baby. Some also believe that swaddling bands or swaddling cloths were marked, so it had the name, maybe Hodges or whatever, it put the name to identify whose baby it was. I think that's so powerful. So, let me say it this way. Mary wrapped Jesus in a blanket to keep him from harming himself, to give him the sense of protection like being in the womb, to let him know that he was safe, and to make sure he knew who he belonged to.
So, think of it this way. Mary wrapped Jesus in a blanket to comfort him, and then the Bible says that we're supposed to notice that, that that's a sign. I like the way the Message paraphrase says that verse. It says that to you and me, "Hey, this is what you're supposed to look for". So, this is what I want us to look for this Christmas. "This is what you're supposed to look for, a baby wrapped in a blanket, lying in a manger". Now, some of you might think, "Well, Chris, Jesus didn't need to be comforted, he's God".
So, let me teach you something in theology. In theology, there's what's called the doctrine of identification. Simply means that even though Jesus was 100% fully God, Jesus had to go through every aspect of humanity to be as a human so he could identify with us, to understand us. So, he went through life, relationships, betrayal, pain, joy, hunger, temptation, happiness, everything, yet without sin, so he could identify with us, so he could understand how you and I feel. And by the way, that's what qualifies him to be your best friend.
Now, watch this. And in the first human experience he would ever have, so if he was identifying with humanity, the first human experience he would ever have is that he was wrapped in a comforter. And could it be that his first human experience was being comforted so that he could understand and so he could comfort us through the things we would face in our lives? Could it be that he had to experience it so he could give it? And it gets better. Not only was Jesus comforted by his mother, Mary, on that day he was born, but then at the end of his life, on the night before he would go to the cross, the Thursday night before Good Friday, Jesus is at the last supper with his disciples. And the whole conversation was how he would leave earth and send the comforter.
In John 14:16, Jesus said, "I will pray the Father and he'll give you another comforter, that he," the comforter, "may abide with you forever". In other words, Jesus said, "I've been comforting you all this time while I've been on earth. But now I'm going to leave, and I'm going to give you another comforter who will be with you forever". And of course, Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit. By the way, Jesus's favorite description of the Holy Spirit was comforter. So, he starts his life being comforted, and he finishes life on earth giving us a comforter. Let me say it this way. The blanket that comforted Jesus then points to the one who wants to comfort you now. And I think there are so many of us, especially in this year, that need to experience that comfort.
For so many of us, this has been quite a year, wouldn't you agree? Not just the virus, but all the things that happened this year, jobs, school, missed opportunities, weddings, graduations, relational mixups, health issues, emotional issues, financial issues, marriage, kids. And here's what you need to know, there is a person who wants to comfort you now. And today, I want to give you an invitation to get to know that person, the person of the Holy Spirit. You know, so many people only know God the Father. They understand God the Father, we all have a father. We understand Jesus the Son, there's so many stories about him in the New Testament. But most people, even many Christians, are afraid of or don't understand the person of the Holy Spirit. Or some translations say the Holy Ghost. I mean, come on, I'm also a little afraid of a ghost, right?
So, we'll only say his name or sing his name in a hymn, but most people don't know the person of the Holy Spirit. Sort of like in my home, we have of course, like probably like you, on the master bedroom, it's decorated with a comforter. You have it there, it's beautiful. Some say it's for looks, not for use. In fact, just about four or five months ago, Tammy felt like we needed a new comforter. This happens regularly, by the way. She likes to change it up. And of course, men, we see this big, fluffy blanket, man, you think about diving in that bad boy, let's go. This looks great. And of course, you men know what I'm talking about, the things disappears when it's time to go to bed. And if you ever go in there at night, it's all rolled up and put in a corner somewhere, and you think, "I wanted to get in the comforter". And that's when the spouse, your spouse, your wife will say, "Well, honey, it's for looks, not for use".
And I found out, by the way, since then there's a lot of things in my home that are for looks, not for use, things like guest towels. I wiped my hand the other day on the guest towel, Tammy says, "Don't use that, that's for our guests". Well, I think there are a lot of people who treat the Holy Spirit that way. I think there are a lot of people who the comforter is, he's just for looks, not for use. Now, you need to know this, the Holy Spirit isn't just some fancy word to sing in a doxology or in a hymn. He's a person, someone you can know. He can be a functional, important part of your life. I like the benediction found in 2 Corinthians 13, verse 14. It says, "May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ," you know that part, "and the love of God the Father," you know that part, "and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all".
I want you to know that part. I want you to get to know the person of the Holy Spirit. He's the comforter. And here's what will happen when you do. You'll realize that the Holy Spirit will help you and can help you in every part of your life. The Bible says it this way in Galatians 5:25, it says, "Since we are living by the Holy Spirit, let us follow the Spirit's leading," watch this, "in every part of our lives". God puts his Spirit in us for every part of our life, for direction, for confirmation, for warning. He'll show you what to do.
I remember how much I leaned on the person of the Holy Spirit in the worst year of my life before 2020 was 1999. I was in the darkest place, I'd gotten really depressed. I really didn't know what was going on in my life. And our church always started the new year with 21 days of prayer and fasting, so here we are in the 21 days of prayer and fasting in January of 2000. And I just kind of went all-in with God, and that's something a lot of you need to do. I just said, "God, I'm so desperate, this year was so bad. I really need, I need something more than human ability and human power". And I'll never forget, some of you know this story, on the 17th day of that fast, the 21 days starting January 2000, I had a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit.
And I'm telling you, he spoke to me about planting a church in Birmingham, Alabama. And of course, the rest is history. I'm so grateful that I had him in my life to pull me out of really one of the darkest times in my life. And some of you are in that dark place. And Isaiah 30, verse 21 says, "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, 'This is the way, walk in it.'" That's the Holy Spirit. And not only direction, watch this, but power. Jesus said in Acts chapter 1, verse 8, which by the way, this is the last thing, the last line that comes out of Jesus's mouth before he goes into heaven, that, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you".
And I think we're living in an age where we need the power of God more than ever. I don't want us to be a church that doesn't know and experience the power of God. You know, we're getting ready to have our 20th anniversary as a church. And our church was built on prayer, and it was built on the belief that the Holy Spirit was as relevant today as he was in the book of Acts. But listen to me, we can't forget that. So next year, I'm going to bring messages and series around, several of them around the person of the Holy Spirit. In fact, we're even going to do a verse by verse study through the book of Acts. And I'm believing for an outpouring of his power, his miracles, and the comfort that a lot of you need right now.
I was reading about this family who had a little child, who was attached to his blanket, his security blanket. And they get attached to them, and a lot of times when it's time for them to give it up, it's hard to get that blanket from that little child. And I heard about this family, this was so funny to me, that used this technique. And that is that instead of taking it away, they just cut off a little bit one day at a time, so just get the scissors and cut the corner off. And then slowly just till all that was left was just this much, to which the child didn't want it anymore. So, just little by little wean them off of the comforter, making it smaller and smaller, where they didn't want it anymore.
Now, that's probably not a bad thing to do with your child in reality because you really don't want an adult walking around with a blanket. But I think it's happened in the church. I think little by little, we've stopped relating to God, we don't know the person of the Holy Spirit. And then we get to a year like 2020, and we're away from God and away from church, and we're discouraged, and we don't know the person of the Holy Spirit. We've been weaned off of his comfort. For some of us, we said, "You know, God, I got this. I think I can handle this". And here you are at the end of this year feeling more helpless and hopeless than ever before. Many of you feel that way, especially this year, you feel without a blanket. You feel exposed and unhealthy and even sad.
Now, listen to this. Ezekiel prophesied that there would be a generation who would be uncovered. Listen to this verse in Ezekiel 16, verse 4. It says, "As for your nativity, on the day you were born, your navel cord was not cut," so you didn't sever your ties from the world. "Nor were you washed in water or cleansed," so you didn't get saved, you didn't let Jesus forgive you. "You were not rubbed with salt," watch this, "nor were you wrapped in swaddling cloths". The Bible prophesies that there'd be a generation who were not wrapped or comforted. They were uncovered, exposed by the elements. But you don't have to be. You can know the comforter, and that's my Christmas prayer for you this year.
In fact, I want to give you an invitation to take the journey with us at Church of the Highlands in 2021. The way we say it is give us a year of your life, whether you're here in person or still watching online, and let's take the journey, and explore the Bible, and get to know the person of the Holy Spirit. Give us a year, go all-in, do everything we do. Get in the groups, go through the growth track, go through the messages, and I promise you that you'll experience the comfort and joy that only the Holy Spirit can give. And it will be a sign unto you that the blanket that comforted Jesus then points to the one who wants to comfort you now. Let's bow for prayer.
Father, only you really know what every person is going through, whether they're in one of our services or online. God, the loneliness, how they feel exposed, how they feel like they're uncovered. And I pray right now, Lord, that they would open their hearts to you, that they would know the grace of Jesus, the love of the Father, and know the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit. God, I pray that you would give people the courage to take not only the steps that are needed today to know you better, but also into 2021 as we dive deeper into a relationship with you that is meaningful and real. And I pray, Lord, right now wherever they are, whatever they're going through, that you would comfort them in this moment. You are the God of all comfort. And I pray, God, that you would touch them and let them sense your presence and your power right now, in Jesus's name, amen.