David Jeremiah - Make the Season Bright

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Dr. David Jeremiah: Well, first of all, I should tell you we're not going to sing and dance. That will make your life a lot better. But we just wanted to come out at the beginning of this night and tell you how thrilled we are to be back here. This is our fourth time to be here for this event, and it's just special every year.

Donna Jeremiah: You know, honey, Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year, isn't it?

Dr. Jeremiah: And let's get it all started, honey. Why don't you introduce our wonderful friend and host?

Donna: We are really privileged to have for the second year in a row the greatest hostess there is, Sheila Walsh.

Sheila Walsh: Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year. And would you agree with me that Christmas is also the most timeless time of the year? For generations, we've gathered with loved ones around record players, around pianos, radio or television, sometimes now even a computer to sing heartwarming carols of the season written many, many years before. At Christmas, traditions of all kinds and family come together in one place to celebrate the precious memories of the past, and make new ones for the future. Whether celebrating in 1939 or 2019, there's no time quite like Christmas. And there's no place quite like home for the holidays.

Mike Goodwin: I have great memories of Christmas as a child because my father loves Christmas. Man, he loves it, he gets into the lights. Matter of fact, my father's the biggest fan of Santa Claus. Santa Claus, he would leave out milk and cookies. He even had us write letters to Santa. If you know anything about me, I don't do things by the rules, I kind of break it up a little bit. So, I wrote letters to Santa, but I made them more personal. I used Santa's nicknames. I wrote, like, "Dear Kris Kringle", letters. You know, I wanted to stand out. And that's one thing too about being from the south, we love nicknames in the south. We could try to be funny with nicknames.

I know people nicknamed after food. I know a cornbread, a pork chop, and a collard green. I know this one dude, his nickname is boss, and he ain't got no job. I'm like, "Who you the boss of, yourself"? Yo, but I think Southern white dudes have the coolest nicknames, I really do, 'cause their nicknames go with them their entire life. They have nicknames like Rusty, Skip, Chip. Your nickname could be Chip, you could be the CEO of a bank. You could have Chip on your business cards. The brothers can't do that. Pookie can't be a branch manager at the bank. You don't trust your money with Pookie. Like, "Right this way, Dr. Junebug will see you". I'm like, "No, he will not".

But now, Christmas is much special because I'm a parent, that's a whole different type of joy, I'm a parent now. But it's difficult to buy them gifts now. You know, they're getting a little older, my daughter's in middle school now. And she wants big gifts, money gifts. You know, those days of dollhouses are over. But my son on the other hand, he's simple 'cause my son loves football. And I'll buy him anything that relates to football. Matter of fact, my son played flag football this year, played flag football. Yeah, that was a waste of money right there. Yeah, they went defeated this year. One of the games, they tied. They tied, my son came home super excited, hopping around, real happy. I said, "Hey man, what you so excited about"? My son was like, "Dad, coach said that whenever we tie, it's like both teams won". "No son, score was 0-0. Y'all both lost, son, that's what".

And it's so much different nowadays with the kids. You know, we bought our son and daughter a tablet a few years ago. They can google anything. You know, they just get on wi-fi and google stuff. When I was a kid, I couldn't get on wi-fi and google. I remember when I didn't know how to spell a word, I would ask my mother how to spell the word. You know what my mother would tell me? "Look it up in the dictionary". I was like, "Mom, I don't know how to spell the word". Yo, I spent four weeks in the L's looking for elephant, I was like, "Mom, I don't think that works".

Other wonderful thing about Christmas is spending time with your loved ones, your family members. That's a great time, you spend time with the ones you care about, and you spend time with the other family members. Yo, I have a cousin who was a drama queen. The whole world is her stage. We went out on, like, a holiday dinner, my cousin at the table going off. The server did something, my cousin was like, "When he gets back, I'm gonna give him a piece of my mind". I was like, "Wait a minute, you can't afford to give anybody a piece of your mind. Matter of fact, you need to go get all the pieces you done gave out, bringing them back together like Humpty Dumpty, that's what you need to do". New York, y'all have been absolutely wonderful. Merry Christmas, I'm Mike Goodwin.

Sheila: You know, music, songs, laughter, and family, such are the ingredients of a joyous and heartwarming Christmas. And if we're not careful, we could have missed it. We could have got so caught up and distracted by the chaos outside and confusing world around us, and we could forget the hope who is within us. "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given. And the government will be upon his shoulders. And his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace".

Jordan Smith: You know, as an artist, perhaps one of the best things about the holiday season is the music that comes along with it. As a singer, there's no better music to sing because it's all so beautiful. But it's not just because it's beautiful. Part of it is the message, but the main thing that I think of every Christmas is the tradition that we have in my family, where we go to my grandparents house. And before we have dinner together, before we do anything else, we all sit down, and my aunt brings out these little red booklets full of lyrics of all the Christmas carols.

And we sit together and we sing. And it reminds me every year that we all come from different places, we come from different walks of life, we have different backgrounds, and not a single one of us is the same. And yet God, in his infinite wisdom, put something within all of us when he gave us a voice. Even people who don't necessarily have a voice to be able to speak out loud still have something to say, and that truly is a gift from God. Of course it rings true at Christmastime, but always, always it's amazing that we can walk around and have this gift within us. That at any moment, we can open our mouths and we can create beauty, we can speak life. So tonight, I thought if in this moment, could we sing a song together? You'll join me?

Dr. Jeremiah: This year, like most of you, I watched Frank Capra's Christmas classic "It's a Wonderful Life". This year, that film celebrates its 73rd birthday, and it continues to be viewed by thousands each Christmas because there's something universal about its message. The desperate and discouraged George Bailey is about to end his life when his guardian angel intervenes. Clarence, the angel, gives Bailey the chance to see what the world would be like if he had never been born. Bailey doesn't like what he sees. It's a nightmare. In the pivotal scene in the movie, George Bailey stands on a snow-covered iron bridge, the dark river swirling below, and he cries out loud, "I want to live again. I want to live again".

George Bailey realizes the importance that one life can make, and he becomes a new man. What if we were to take this same thought and apply it to the Christ of Christmas? What if Christ had not been born? What would our world be like if no angel had appeared to a Jewish maiden with the news that she was chosen to be the mother of the Messiah? What would our world be like if no angels appeared to the shepherds on the hillside outside of Bethlehem, telling them that a Savior was born? What if there was no Bethlehem, no Bethlehem inn where the weary couple lodged for the night of the baby's birth? What if there never were any wise men? What if there never was a miraculous child born to a couple named Joseph and Mary? What if Jesus had not come?

When we contemplate the implications of such a thought, we begin to see this season of celebration in a brand new light. For if there were no Christmas, we could not know God. Jesus was born into humanity to show us that God was not merely a principle, but a person. Jesus was not an idea of God, not a picture of God. Jesus was God himself in human form. If Jesus had not come to this earth, we could not have a correct understanding of God. We could not know what God is like if he had not sent his Son to reveal himself to us. One day, Jesus was talking to his friend Philip. And Philip said to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father, or show us God, and it will be sufficient for us". And Jesus said to Philip, "Philip, have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known me? He who has seen me, Philip, has seen the Father".

God gave us his Son, and then his Son gave us God. If there were no Christmas, we would not know God, for God is spirit. But God sent himself into this world and entered into human flesh so that we could see what God was like, for Jesus was God walking around in a body. If there is no Christmas, we cannot know God. And if there is no Christmas, we cannot be forgiven. If Christ had not been born, we could not be forgiven of our sins. In one of the early announcements of Jesus's birth, we are told, "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins".

Jerome, an early church father, had a dream one night in which Jesus visited him. In the dream, Jerome had collected all his money and offered it to Jesus as a gift. And Jesus said, "I don't want your money, Jerome". So, Jerome rounded up all his possessions and tried to give them to Jesus. And Jesus responded, "I don't want your possessions". Jerome then turned to Christ and said, "What can I give you? What do you want"? And Jesus simply replied, "Give me your sins. That's what I came for, I came to take away your sins". If Jesus had not come into the world, there would not be such a thing as forgiveness of sins. If Christ had not come, the course of humanity would be one long downward trudge toward the eternal night of despair. If Christ had not come, we could not be forgiven, and we would still be in our sins. And if there is no Christmas, we cannot be understood.

In Hebrews chapter 4, we read these wonderful words, "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin". This is referring to Christ. "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need". Here, the humanity of Jesus is linked to his ability to understand where we are, to sympathize in our troubles and infirmities, to understand us when we pray. When Jesus went back to heaven after his ministry on this earth, he did not lay aside his humanity, but he lives on in his resurrected body. And because he became one of us, he can understand us when we pray.

Jesus came into this world knowing what it would cost him. He bore in his body the marks of evil that we might be pure. He bore in his sinless soul the weight of sin so that we could be forgiven. He bore in his manly frame the hurt and pain of injustice that we might be understood. And we do not pray to one who cannot understand the feelings of our infirmities. He has lived where we live. He has been where we are. He has felt what we feel.

Dr. Maxwell Maltz tells a remarkable story about a man who had been injured in a fire while attempting to save his parents from a burning house. He couldn't get to them. They perished. His face was burned and disfigured, and he mistakenly interpreted his pain as God's punishment, and he would not let anyone see him, not even his wife. She went to Dr. Maltz, a plastic surgeon, for help. He told the woman not to worry, "I can restore his face". The wife was unenthused. Her husband had repeatedly refused any help. She knew he would again. Then why her visit? She said, "I want you to disfigure my face so that I can be like him. If I can share in his pain, then maybe he will let me back into his life".

Dr. Maltz was shocked. He denied her request, obviously, but was so moved by this woman's love that he went to speak with her husband. Knocking on the man's bedroom door, he called loudly, "I am a plastic surgeon, and I want you to know that I can restore your face". No response. "Please come out". Again there was no answer. Still speaking through the door, Dr. Maltz told the man of his wife's proposal. "She wants me to disfigure her face to make her face like yours in the hope that you will let her back into your life. That's how much she loves you".

There was a brief moment of silence, and then ever so slowly, the doorknob began to turn. The way that woman felt about her husband is the way God feels about us. But he did more than make the offer. He took on our face, our disfigurement. He became a man so that God would become touchable and approachable and reachable. He is Emmanuel, God with us. And for all of us, that will be a useful thought during these next few days. So, if there is no Christmas, we cannot know God. If there is no Christmas, we cannot be forgiven. If there is no Christmas, we cannot be understood. And if there is no Christmas, we cannot have hope.

Jesus came to this earth at exactly the right time. In a world ruled by the sword, this teacher spoke of perfect peace. In a world of violence and retribution, he spoke of loving your enemy. In a world of death, he offered hope of life for now and for beyond the grave. The Romans dominated through the power of terror, lifting a high cross that performed its deadly task with unimaginable pain. Jesus accepted that cross, submitted himself to it, and lifted it high as a bridge from the grief of earth to the joy of heaven. And that bridge he made clear is available even to those who do not believe that he exists.

In just a few days, it will be Christmas, and something incredible will happen. Every store in America will close. Only emergency workers will be at work. Families with small children will get up earlier than on any other day of the year. The streets and the freeways will be empty. And over $730 billion worth of gifts will be exchanged. All of this is explained by something that happened 2,000 years ago in an obscure place which is described in the Bible as "little among the thousands of Judah".

Whatever you may think about Christmas, you have to admit that is an amazing story. Even people who don't claim to believe in God will celebrate an event that happened as described in Luke 2:7, when Mary brought forth her first child and laid him in a manger. The obscure birth of this peasant child, seemingly insignificant in its time, reaches across the years to demand our attention. It suggests importance not just for those who were involved in the events, but for all of the rest of us, even from a distance of 20 centuries.

The story of Jesus is ultimately not a narrative about its own time, but about all time. It is not simply about Mary, Joseph, and the others. It concerns us just as we had stood beside those shepherds that night, knelt by the manger, and marveled at the newborn child. Our response to what he has done must be clear. He has offered us this gift, and the question is, have we received it? We must believe in him because he invites us to a life that makes sense. We must believe in him because he alone can forgive our sin. We must believe in him because, as he said, he is the only way to the Father. He came, as we celebrate at this season of the year, to offer us hope in the midst of a hopeless world.

Christina wanted to leave her poor Brazilian neighborhood. She wanted to see the world. Discontent with a home having only a pallet on the floor, a washbasin, and a wood burning stove, she dreamed of a better life in the city. And one morning, she slipped away, breaking her mother's heart. Knowing what life on the streets would be like for her young attractive daughter, Maria hurriedly packed to go find her. On her way to the bus stop, she entered a drugstore to get one last thing, pictures. That's right, she sat in the photograph booth, closed the curtain, and spent all the money she had on pictures of herself. And with her purse full of small black and white pictures, she boarded the next bus to Rio de Janeiro.

Maria knew Christina had no way of earning money. She also knew that her daughter was too stubborn to give up. And when pride meets hunger, a human will do things that were before unthinkable. Knowing this, Maria began her search: bars, hotels, nightclubs, anyplace with the reputation for streetwalkers or prostitutes. She went to them all. And at each place, she left her picture taped on a bathroom mirror, tacked to a hotel bulletin board, fastened to a corner phone booth. And on the back of each photo, she wrote a note. It wasn't long before both the money and the pictures ran out, and Maria had to go home.

The weary mother wept as the bus began its long journey back to her small village. It was just a few weeks later that young Christina descended the hotel stairs. Her young face was tired, her brown eyes no longer danced. Her face spoke of pain and fear. Her laughter was broken, her dream had become a nightmare. A thousand times over, she had longed to trade these countless beds for her secure pallet, yet the little village was in too many ways just too far away. It seemed all hope was gone. Then one day, as she reached the bottom of the stairs of yet another hotel, her eyes noticed a familiar face. She looked again, and there on the lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother. Christina's eyes burned and her throat tightened as she walked across the room and removed the small photo.

Written on the back was the compelling invitation, "Whatever you have done, wherever you have been, whatever you have become, it doesn't matter. Please come home". And she did. And God the Father has sent his own Son to our world with the same message. Whatever you have done, no matter how far away from God you may think yourself to be, it doesn't matter. God has made his forgiveness available to you, and he is standing with his arms open wide to receive you. This Christmas, isn't it time for you to come home?
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