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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Chris Hodges » Chris Hodges - Merry Christmas

Chris Hodges - Merry Christmas

Chris Hodges - Merry Christmas
TOPICS: Christmas

Merry Christmas, everyone. I hope you're enjoying the service. You know, our teams have worked so hard to prepare this for you, and I think they've done an incredible job this year. In a few minutes, we'll get back to another song and our candle lighting time together. But first, let me say to all of you who are here at Highlands for the first time, "Welcome". I'm so glad you're here. You need to know that just over 20 years ago we had a dream to do more than just start a new church. We wanted to create a place where people could experience God and all that God has for them, to help people reach their full potential. Because listen, God has more for all of us than we're currently experiencing. We call it pursuing higher heights.

So, for over 20 years now, we've been leading people to four things that God has always wanted for you and me, and that's to know God in an intimate and real way, to find freedom in the areas of our life that keeps us from being the best version of ourselves, then to discover our purpose, our God-given purpose, the reason God created us, so that all of us can live our lives making a difference in the lives of other people. And I want to personally invite you to join us in that journey. You know, the new year is just around the corner, and there is no better time to get a fresh start on life and go after all that God has for you.

Now, more on that in just a few minutes. But before we light candles together, let me share a thought from God's Word for you this Christmas. I'm sitting here in my living room at my house next to two beautiful lights: our fireplace and our Christmas tree. And by the way, you do know that there are two types of Christmas trees: the fashion statement Christmas tree that looks like it could be on the cover of a magazine, and then the fun tree that doesn't look that great, but it has a lot of great memories on it. Our Christmas tree is the second type. We have ornaments from our first Christmas together for Tammy and me. We have the ornaments that we got when all the kids were born, so their birth year ornament.

I even have one of my most treasured ornaments, and that's the one my grandmother crocheted for me, and I even have a couple that have been sent from the White House from a couple of different administrations. But the most treasured ornament on the tree is the LSU ornament. Go Tigers. Enough of that. But I do love our tree. But notice with me that both the Christmas tree and the fireplace are not only beautiful, but their beauty shines best the darker the room is. Let me say it this way. The light shines best in darkness. In fact, here's the word God gave me for you this year: that he sees the darkness all around you, but the darker it is, the more beautiful his light shines in that darkness.

Now, Lord knows there have been some dark times over the past 22 months and really beyond that. But if we're not careful, we'll get way too focused on the darkness to the point that that's all we see. But here's the thought: that perhaps you're in a dark place right now, but the light shines the best and the most beautiful in that darkness. We just have to look for it so we can see it. And that's why we celebrate Christmas in the darkest part of the year, the winter solstice it's called, the shortest day and the longest night all year long is December 21st. It's literally the darkest time of the year. By the way, my birthday is the opposite of that. I was born on June 21st, which is the summer solstice, and it's the longest day of the year. Just ask my mom.

But think with me just for a moment about that first Christmas. It was marked by darkness, not just in the natural, the night and the darkness, but it was dark in many other ways. And Christmas is a reminder every year that Jesus came in the darkest part of life. You say, "PC, why are you talking about darkness this Christmas"? Honestly, in 38 years of ministry, I have never seen more fear and more darkness in people's lives. In fact, I really decided that this year I would bring a message on fear and darkness after something that happened a few months ago. Back in October, in one of our Sunday services, I felt led to pray for people who are gripped with fear, who are having panic attacks, those who are having sleepless nights because of crippling worry, and I felt like God spoke to me that I needed to bind the spirit of fear off of people and that God would supernaturally set people free in that moment.

Now, I don't usually do this, but I even asked people to stand, if that was what they were going through. And much to my surprise, two-thirds of the room stood for prayer. It was in that moment that I decided that I was going to speak about it at Christmas and develop this little message on darkness and fear. And as I studied for this message, I saw, really for the first time, how many times the phrase, "Fear not" is in the Christmas story. In at least four of the characters in the Christmas story, they were told either, "Do not be afraid," or "Fear not," and I think each of these four characters in the Christmas story represent the kind of fears and darkness that people are dealing with today.

Now watch this. I think the first fear was the fear the shepherds were feeling, and it represents physical darkness, physical fear. You know the story. The shepherds were out in their fields working the all-nighter, a tough life, probably not the highest-paying job either. And I think it's so interesting that of all the people that God could've announced his birth of his Son to, he picked people who were working hard that night. He didn't go to the glamorous, or the rich, or even to the religious. He went to people whose lives were hard and physically dark. The Bible says the shepherds were watching their flocks by night. And Luke 2, verse 10 through 11 says, "Then the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.'"

You know, there may be some of you here today who are experiencing physical darkness, physical fear. Maybe it's your job, or school is really, really tough right now. Maybe you fear what's going on in the economy, worried about making ends meet, or maybe you're out of work right now and things are really tough financially. For others of you, you're experiencing other types of physical darkness, perhaps the loss of a loved one, or you're dealing with sickness, or maybe you're just worried about the virus, and fear has gripped you as they keep naming these variants with another Greek letter. Well, you need to know that Jesus wants to bring light into the physical fears of our lives and the physical darkness of our lives that all of us are dealing with.

But there's another character in the Christmas story who had fear: King Herod. King Herod was losing it emotionally, and I believe he represents those who are experiencing emotional darkness. Herod had such a paranoia about the birth of Jesus and fear of losing his seat on the throne that he not only killed all of the boys two years old and under, but history records that he even killed his own sons. And when the wise men came from the east to worship Jesus, the Bible says in Matthew chapter 2, verse 3, "When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him".

Now, I looked up that word "disturbed" in the original language of the New Testament, Greek. Watch this. And the word means to cause one inward commotion (I like that) to take away calmness of mind. One definition said to strike one's spirit with fear and dread. And I think that's where a lot of people are today. There's no calmness of your mind. There's inward commotion. You have emotional darkness. And I am so passionate about helping people who are depressed, have anxiety, crippling worry, emotional darkness, and the message is the message of Christmas, that God wants to help us step into the light, and that's not just a statement. It can become a reality today.

But watch this. There's another character in the Christmas story who is in darkness and afraid, and that's Joseph. Can you imagine how shocked Joseph was to find out his fiancé, Mary, was with child, and she was claiming that it was God who made her pregnant. Now just put yourself in Joseph's shoes just for a moment, and think about the decisions he had to make. And the Bible says he was thinking about putting her away quietly, quietly, to protect his reputation and hers. And the Bible says in Matthew chapter 1, verse 20, "But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David,'" here it is, "'do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.'"

Joseph had fears that so many of us have today, and that's the third area, and that's in the area of our relationships or relational darkness. And to me, it's one of the darkest things you can experience, relational darkness: fear of your family not working out, worries about your kids, struggles with your marriage. And not only that, in Joseph's case, he was struggling with what people were saying about him that just really wasn't true. Now, could you imagine if Joseph lived today, the people on Facebook who would be ridiculing he and Mary for something that wasn't true and how painful that feeling is. And some of you are in that kind of darkness. Some of you are here today with relational pain, and God is here to bring light into that dark place, to dispel the darkness and fear. So, there is physical darkness, emotional darkness, relational darkness and fear, and there's one more, and it's found in the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Now, most scholars say Mary would've been a young teenager when God picked her to be the mother of Jesus. And the Bible says that the angel Gabriel came to her and said in Luke chapter 1, here it is, "'Don't be afraid, Mary,' the angel told her, 'for you have found favor with God! And you will conceive and give birth to a son; and you will name him Jesus. And he will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; and his Kingdom will never end!'" Now watch this. "And Mary asked the angel, 'But how could this happen? I'm a virgin.'"

And I think Mary's fear represents the fourth darkness or fear, and that's spiritual fear or spiritual darkness, one that, by the way, she immediately overcame when she believed God and said, "Well, let it be as you have said". Mary had a fear where God was making her a promise, and she didn't know how it was going to happen. And for a moment, she struggled and lacked faith. Now, some of you are here today, and you're in the same place. Your faith is struggling, it's weak, and it's creating darkness all around you. Do you know that the opposite of faith is fear and doubt? And when we have spiritual fears, our faith struggles; and when our faith struggles, our lives struggle. Now, let's be honest. Some of us are even in sin right now, and you're convicted of it, and you feel the weight, and the guilt, and the shame of that sin, and it's created a darkness for you.

Now, I get this because that's where I was 43 Christmases ago at 15 years old. I have told this story every year at our Christmas services, because I can so relate with this time of the year. At 15 years old, I was in about as a dark place as a 15-year-old could be. I was in trouble with the law. My parents were horribly mad at me. My friends had rejected me. But I had a buddy who invited me to a church service just like the one you're in right now. And honestly, at first, as they were giving me message of hope and light, I resisted it. I didn't respond. But that night, I went back to my house in my bedroom; and honestly, I felt like I couldn't take it anymore, and I let God into my life. And I have a word for you this Christmas: that God sees your darkness, and he sees your fear, and he wants to bring light to your life.

And you say, "Well, how is that gonna happen"? Well, let me show you the first words God ever said. In fact, you could even argue that what I'm getting ready to show you is the message, the main message of the Bible, because they are the first words out of God's mouth. Genesis 1, verse 1, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was formless and empty," watch this, "and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering," like he is today, "over the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light". And about 4000 years after God spoke those words, Jesus was born. He came to the earth, and he defined his own mission this way, John 12:46, Jesus said, "I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark".

Now listen to these words again. "Let there be light," and there was light. I looked up the word "let" in the Webster's dictionary. You ready for it? And it literally says, "To permit to enter". When I read that, I wanted to give Webster an amen, because that's some good preaching right there, because that's the secret to having light in the middle of our darkness. We have to permit it to enter. And if we do, here's what's gonna happen. 2 Corinthians 4:6, "For God, who said, 'Let there be light in the darkness,' has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ". And that's my Christmas prayer for you this year. It's my prayer, honestly, because I don't think the world is gonna get any brighter. But don't be afraid of the darkness because God's light shines best in the darkness. We just have to permit that light to enter. So how?

Well, again, the opposite of faith is fear; and the opposite of fear is faith. And I think it's time we become people of faith. What do I mean by that? I mean it's time to go all-in with God, to give him your best, to be a person of faith. And here's what I know: if you do, you're not gonna believe the difference that God will make in your life. In fact, I want to say something to you that I've been saying to people for more than 20 years now. Give us a year. Give us a year of your life. You say, "Chris, what do you mean by that"? Give us a year and go all-in. Attend the services, go to our conferences, get involved in small groups, find your purpose, serve others, let us take you on a spiritual journey and watch what God will do. I believe the New Year's gonna be amazing, and we're gonna start it with a brand-new series. We're gonna have our 21 days of prayer, and I'm inviting you to go all-in. And I'm not just saying that to those who are hearing it for the first time. I'm talking to all of us. Let's make 2022 the greatest faith year of our lives, and watch what happens.

You know, one of the things I like to do at our Christmas services is to announce the focus for the new year in our Christmas services, and I have prayed and prayed for God to give me a word for all of us in 2022, and here's what I believe it is. 2022 is going to be the year of great faith, not just average faith, not half-hearted faith, but great faith, a faith that trusts, a faith that believes, one that will impact our attitude and make us stronger, no matter what the darkness is around us, great faith. You know, the Bible says that faith is the substance of things hoped for. Faith is our spiritual attitude, the belief that God is not only able, but he's willing. Faith is the opposite of fear. Faith is the thing that paves the way for joy, possibilities, and hope, and it cultivates the call of God in your life.

Faith is the thing that empowers you to be who you were called to be. Faith is trust, trusting in the knowledge that in spite of my current experience, good things are coming. Faith is clinging onto God instead of clinging onto clarity. Faith is clinging onto God in the midst of darkness when things are not going the way I thought. When it seems like life is falling apart, we can hang on to the faithful God. And I believe that's what God is calling us to do, to be the kind of person that hangs onto the Lord instead of the news. In circumstances, in our letdowns or betrayals, we're gonna hang onto God; and as we do, I really believe he's gonna bring light into our life. In 2022, the whole focus of the earth will be great faith, a new attitude, a passionate pursuit of God. And I want to invite all of us, all of us to give God a kind of an all-in kind of a year, and let's do it together.

So, let me close with this. A lot of you know I've grown up in church, and my dad played organ, played the organ in the church, and mom sang in the choir, and I played music my whole life, and I absolutely love the old Christmas carols and the old hymns. And there's one we want to sing to you today, "Angels We Have Heard On High," and the old hymn, "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You". Now, listen to the words. "Joyful, joyful, we adore you, God of glory, Lord of love. Hearts unfold like flowers before you, opening to the Son above". Now watch this. "Melt the clouds of sin and sadness. Drive the dark of doubt away. Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day".
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