Craig Smith - Christmas Eve (2019)
Well, hey, Merry Christmas. Welcome to Mission Hills. We’re so glad to have you with us for our Christmas Eve celebration. So I tell you what, in just a few minutes, we are gonna do something together and that’s whether you’re in the main auditorium. Those of you who are in the Grove, welcome. We’re gonna do this with you. Those of you’re in the middle, we’re gonna do this with you. All over this building and really all over the world this week and the people of God are gonna do the same thing. And that is we’re going to light a candle and we’re gonna sing a song about light shining in the darkness.
When Christians do this at Christmas Eve, there’s two really popular songs and it’s usually one or the other. And those songs are “Silent Night” and “Oh Holy Night.” Both are great songs, full of meaning and significance. Today we’re going to sing “Oh Holy Night.” And there’s a line in a song that wanna draw your attention to before we all sing it together and maybe put it in context. So Holy Night says this. It says, “Oh, Holy Night, the stars are shining brightly.” And I love that line in part because it reminds me of a truth. See, the thing about the stars is honestly, they might shine bright at night, but they’re really not all that bright. They don’t really shine all that brightly on their own because if they did, we’d see them in the daytime and we don’t. It’s only in the dark that they seem to shine so brightly because when everything’s dark, a little bit of light makes a big difference. And that’s true in the night sky, but it’s also true in the world and it’s true in our lives.
You know, we often look at the darkness and the pain and the suffering around us, and we think, “I don’t really have much that I can do about that.” But the reality is that sometimes very, very small lights make a huge difference. The small words of kindness or grace or generosity or those acts of caring and love in the world of a person who’s really caught in darkness, those small acts make a huge difference. And we can shine very brightly because when everything’s dark, even a little bit of light makes a big difference.
So it says, “O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining. This is the night of our dear Savior’s birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining.” Anybody pined recently? I may not even know what it is. It’s an old English word actually. It means to long for what’s lost. It means to be longing for something that we used to have and it’s gone. And that’s a great line too, because see, we were all made to have a relationship with God. God designed us with this innate deep-seated need to connect with him, to know him and be known by him, but we sinned. We turned away from God and through all of our small acts of sin, which we’ve all done, we have disconnected from him. And you know, whenever you disconnect the light from the outlet, it goes dark, right?
And when we disconnected from God, we moved into a place in a time of darkness. But we didn’t forget this God completely. We didn’t forget this inner ache in us that longs to be connected to something. We’ve lost sight of what exactly it is, but we still feel the ache because the need to connect to God, they need to know God is as deeply seated in the human person as the need for air or water or food. And I think the proof of that is the fact that every culture that’s ever existed on this planet has a religion of some kind. There’s not a single culture that has not had this longing to connect to God because it’s just an expression of this innate sense that we all have. And you might go, “Well, yeah, there’s all these religions, but they all have very different ideas of God.” Well, of course.
Because when we moved away from God into the dark, we lost sight of our Creator’s face. And over time we began to forget what he looked like, what he sounds like and what he is like. And so we’re kind of left going, “Well, maybe it’s this or that, and it’s our imagination, our ideas.” I think really only Christianity explains why every culture has a religion and why there so many different ideas because it’s all of us in the dark trying to remember.
I have a guy that I know that that overheard his granddaughter, she was about four years old at the time and she was talking to her new baby brother that had just come in from the hospital and my friend overheard her say to her baby brother, she said, “Baby, tell me what God sounds like because I’m starting to forget.” And when I heard that, it gave me this kind of shiver, right? I think that’s us. We’re lost in the dark, longing for what we’ve lost this ache in a still longs to connect, but we’re not even sure to who anymore. So, “long lay the world in sin and error pining.” A longing for what we lost. “Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.” Felt that in spite of the fact that we had abandoned God, he had not abandoned us. He came looking for us and so we had this incredibly powerful line.
“Soul felt it’s worth, a thrill of hope. The weary world rejoices.” I love that line. I love that word actually, thrill a thrill of hope because what the writer of that song meant by a thrill of hope was that it’s not a truckload of hope. It wasn’t an avalanche. It wasn’t a floodlight of hope. It was a subtle thing at first. See, a thrill of hope is the, I don’t know, it’s the first time you noticed the first star twinkling in the darkness and there’s a hint of more to come. It’s that little shiver that runs through you when you think, “Did the wind just shift? Is there something new in the air?” It’s really a thrill of hope is it’s a hint of hope. It’s a hope really, that there might actually be hope, but it’s not. It’s not a truckload of hope. It’s a small thing and that’s the Christmas story, right?
Luke tells it this way. He says, “In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken to the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was the governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of David because he belonged to the house in 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. And while they were there, the time came for the baby to be born. And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son, and she wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified,” which I think is a natural reaction, right?
I don’t know how angels appear. I’ve never seen one. I don’t know if it’s like a slow fade-in like a Star Trek transporter or if it’s like bam, here I am. Either one’s terrifying, can we agree? But he said to them, “Do not be afraid.” Which I’m thinking, yeah, that’s way too late. Maybe some advance notice would have helped. “So do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people,” which is a pretty big buildup, right? And I’ve often wondered if maybe what came next actually didn’t feel like a little bit of a letdown after that big buildup. I mean an angel appears, that’s a big deal all by itself. And then he says, “I’ve got good news, which will cause great joy for all the people.” I mean that’s a big buildup. It’s setting the standard pretty high. And I’ve often wondered if what he said next actually didn’t feel like a little bit of a letdown after that big of a buildup. He said this, “Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you, he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Now, so far so good because there’s some big words there, right? Some big exciting words. The Messiah, the Savior, the Lord. And, you know, and I think they probably focused on those words and they probably skimmed pretty quickly over that little word born. And in fact, honestly in the original Greek that this was written in, the word there doesn’t necessarily mean childbirth. It can just mean has appeared or has arrived. And so they probably didn’t pay much attention to what the angel said about how he had arrived. They paid attention to his identity. They’d called attention to what the angel said about who he was. They said he’s the Messiah, the Savior, the Lord. But then the angel went on and he said this, “And this will be a sign to you.” Like, “Hey, do you want to sign? Do you want to see him?” Yeah, we do. “Here’s how you do it. This will be a sign to you. You’ll find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And I gotta wonder if that wasn’t a wait, wait, what moment? Right. I mean the Messiah is in the house. The Savior is on the scene that the Lord has arrived. I mean, this is big, exciting news. We’ve been waiting for thousands of years. “You wanna see him?” Yeah, absolutely. “Okay. Here’s what you do. You go into Bethlehem.” Yeah, we’re gonna do that. “And you’re gonna go to a barn.” Okay. That’s weird. But okay, I’m gonna go to a barn. “And in the barn and you’re gonna find a baby. Yeah, well that’s him.”
Wait, what? I mean, don’t get me wrong. I mean, babies are cute, right? But they’re kind of useless. Can we just be honest about that? I mean, I’ve had two of them myself, okay? And like for a good solid couple of years, they’re basically high maintenance decoration, okay? They’re just not good for a whole lot. And see, they’ve been waiting for a King and now he’s saying, yeah, you’re getting a kid. Some assembly required kind of almost. You’re looking for a war, you’re getting an infant. You’re looking for somebody to do battle against your enemies, well, I’m giving you a baby. Yeah, I don’t get it. That’s weird.
“Suddenly, a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven.'” They’re excited at least. “And on Earth, peace to those on whom his favor rests. And when the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Well, let’s go to Bethlehem. Let’s see this thing that’s happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ And so they hurried off and they found Mary and Joseph and the baby.” I got to wonder if a couple of them weren’t thinking, maybe it was a metaphor, some kind… He’s so fresh that it’s like he’s a baby or something like, “Oh no, you’re talking an actual baby, huh? It’s cute. I was looking for a little bit more than that.” They found “the baby who was lying in the manger. And when they’d seen him, they spread the word concerning would’ve been told them about this child.” I mean, don’t get me wrong. This is obviously a huge deal. It’s a very big deal. God himself has come into our world. The Son of God has become one of us. This is Emmanuel, God with us. This is a very big deal. It’s just a really low-key entrance for the Almighty, right? But this is how God often does big things.
Some of the biggest things God has ever done have started really, really small. I mean, think about the creation itself, the universe, right? It’s vast in a way that you and I can’t even begin to imagine. I think about this a lot. Some of you heard me talk about this because I can’t get over this, but if you have the best eyesight possible and the best possible viewing conditions, sometimes at night you might be able to see as many as 10,000 stars, which seems like a lot until you realize that there’s 100 billion stars in our galaxy, which means you gotta take the most stars you’ve ever seen, multiply it by 10 and now you’ve got 100,000. We’re gonna need 10 of those 100,000 to get our first million. We’re gonna need a thousand millions to get our first billion, and then we’re going to need a hundred of those to get the number of stars in our galaxy. And it appears that there’s between 100 and 300 other galaxies, each with a hundred billion stars in them, and they’re thrown across an expansive space so vast you and I can’t even begin to imagine the tiniest fraction of it.
And yet when God began that entirely like uncomprehensible, incomprehensible thing, he did it this way and maybe you know it, the first thing he did was he said, “And let there be light.” And I don’t even know what that was like. And maybe it was a flood of light, like it was. Maybe it was like a let there be like… Or honestly, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was just a little spark in the dark. But see, when everything’s dark, when everything’s always only been dark and a spark in the dark suddenly seems like a really big deal, right? So many things that God does begin very, very small. So maybe they were a little disappointed. It’s a baby in a barn, in a feeding trough wrapped up in whatever rags they could scavenge, but God often does really big things from very, very, very small beginnings.
We’re in the series at Mission Hills this Christmas. It’s called All is Bright and early on somebody said to me, “Isn’t that a little optimistic?” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, like I get it, Jesus born. I mean, that’s a big deal in all, but there’s still a lot of dark, I don’t know how you can say all is bright because there’s still a lot of dark.” And I thought that that’s a fair statement. It’s a fair question, but I also think that the coming of Jesus has brought more light. It has driven back more darkness than most of us recognize. We kind of take for granted how much light we actually live in today because of the coming of Jesus. In fact, I know that for some of you, in fact for a lot of you, you’re here today because you’ve experienced the coming of the light of Christ into your life.
You’ve personally experienced what it means to have a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. You know what it’s like to have his light in your life and to see the darkness being driven back. And I know a lot of you are here for that reason. If you’re here for that reason, could I get a hallelujah? That was sad. I don’t know. I caught you off guard. We’re not really that kind of church. We don’t do a lot of that, but I think this is that kind of night even if we’re not that kind of church. So here, if you’re here today because you’ve experienced the light of Christ coming into your life and driving back darkness in your soul, can I get a hallelujah? That was better? That’s right. That’s the way it is. But see, here’s the thing. That’s not just true in our personal lives.
Here’s the thing. Jesus said this. He said, “I am the light of the world,” which is not a big surprise. Of course he is. “I am the light of the world.” He said, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” In other words, he said that I’m gonna give my light to you. And then he went on and he said this, he said, “You are the light of the world. If you have my light in you, then you are now the light of the world.” A town built on a hill cannot be hidden neither do they… People put a, you know, they light a lamp and they put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house, in the world. So in the same way he gave us this command, he said, “Let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
And so for thousands of years, the followers of Jesus haven’t just experienced the light of Christ coming into their lives. They have worked hard to obey that command. They stepped into darkness, they’ve held up the light and they have driven back the dark. And the world is a very different place because of that. And I think we often lose sight of how different it is because of the followers of Jesus obeying that command. Let’s just talk about a couple of the highlights. Number one, hospitals. You know hospitals exist because the followers of Jesus in the middle ages look to people who were sick and hurt and dying and nobody cared about them. And they said, “Well, God cared for me when I was sick and hurt and alone and so I need to do the same for others.” And so we invented hospitals. That was the followers of Jesus.
Universities. How many of you have a university education? The followers of Jesus invented those because they believed that education would drive back darkness. How many of you can read? You can thank the followers of Jesus for that because it was the followers of Jesus who believed that every human being should be able to read so they could read God’s Word and understand about his light and his love. They invented literacy and public education for the masses. Representative governments in the modern world driven by the followers of Jesus. The belief in civil liberties, driven by the followers of Jesus. The abolition of slavery in the modern world, driven by followers of Jesus.
The modern science. How many of you have a Smartphone? You can thank Jesus for your Smartphone because it was the followers of Jesus who said, “Well, we serve a God of order.” So it shouldn’t be surprising that the university created displays that order and he’s made us as his image, which means maybe he’s given us the capacity to understand something of that order. And that was the foundation of all modern science. So the next time you pull out your Smartphone, thank Jesus for your Smartphone, you can thank Apple and Android second.
The elevation of women in modern culture, driven by the followers of Jesus. The idea of charity. Charity as a concept doesn’t even exist apart from the Gospel. In parts of the world where the light of Christ is not yet gone, the idea of charity is incomprehensible. Why would you be generous? Why would you give your limited resources to people that are not related to you and are never gonna be able to pay you back? Why would you do that? That is a Christian principle. It’s driven by the followers of Jesus. The high regard for human life, the idea of inalienable rights for every human being, the elevation of arts and music, that’s all driven by the followers of Jesus stepping into dark places and holding up the light of Christ in order to drive back darkness.
If the baby hadn’t been in the barn, we would live in a very, very different world now. We live in a world where so much darkness has been driven back that we no longer even recognize what happened, what caused it, what brought about the change, because we’ve never lived in a world apart from that. But listen, it might have been a thrill of hope. It might have been a small beginning, but the life of Jesus, the birth of Jesus led to the life of Jesus. And the life of Jesus is very important because it was a perfect life. He didn’t commit any sin, and this is really significant because see, the problem is that we’ve all sinned and the result of sin is death. See, in the same way, if you walk away from lights, you end up in the dark. If you walk away from life and God is the source of all life, if you walk away from God by sin, you end up in death.
The Bible says the natural consequence, the wage of sin is death. It’s just an inevitable result for every one of us because we’ve all sinned except for Jesus. Jesus lived the perfect life, which mean he had no reason to die. Well, that’s not true. He had a reason to die. You were that reason. It was his love for you that put him on the cross. It was a voluntary death. He didn’t have to go. He had no sin to atone for, no sin to pay off, but he loves you so much that he went to the cross to pay for your sin. He died in your place because of his love for you.
The death of Jesus led to the resurrection of Jesus proving that he had defeated death and darkness and that he had forgiveness to offer. And thing is in the resurrection of Jesus, we don’t have a thrill of hope. We have a truckload of hope. In the resurrection, Jesus in the empty grave, in that fact of history, we have a title wave of hope, and we have the proof that God loves us. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” That’s not a thrill of hope. That’s a truckload of hope right there.
Sin leads to death, but Jesus offers another way, salvation by faith, by simply trusting and what he did for you because of his love for you. And I know a lot of you are here today because you’ve experienced that and you’re here to celebrate that. But I also know that there are many people here listening who have never experienced that. They have never experienced the light of Christ in their lives. They’ve never experienced the freedom of forgiveness in a relationship with God. But that’s what Christmas is all about. If you’re here today and you don’t have that relationship, if you’ve never experienced that, if you’ve never received that gift, then you can have it. It’s what we call the Gospel. People are very simple things. Number one, God loves us. Number two, we haven’t loved him back. We’ve sinned and that sin separates us from him.
God loves us so much, he sent Jesus to die on the cross in our place. Three days later, he rose from the dead and he offers us salvation as a gift. But as with any gift, we have to accept it. We have to take hold of it and bring those things together. And so grab a hold of forgiveness and new life. And if you are listening to this and you do not have that relationship with God, if you’ve never experienced forgiveness, salvation, and the beginning of eternal life planted in you, you can have it right here, right now. Here’s how you’d do it.
I’m going to ask everybody to just close their eyes. And if you’d never received the gift of salvation, the gift of forgiveness of every wrong you’ve ever done, today is the day. Jesus is offering it to you and here’s how you take hold of it. You just have this conversation with God in your heart. You just say this. You say:
God, I’ve done wrong. I’ve sinned. I’m sorry. I know that the darkness in my life is not your fault. It’s mine. It’s ours. We created it by our sin. God, thank you for loving me enough to send Jesus. Jesus, thank you for dying in my place to pay for my sin. I believe that you rose from the dead and I understand that you’re offering me the gift of forgiveness and salvation. I’m ready to receive it. So I’m putting my trust in you, Jesus. I’m putting my faith in you. Jesus, come into my life, be my Lord, my Savior, and I’m yours for now and forever. Amen.