Greg Laurie - Waiting for Christmas
The title of my message today is Waiting for Christmas, Waiting for Christmas, and it's based on Luke, Chapter Two. So I know you brought your Bibles with you. Grab your Bible, let's go to a very familiar chapter: Luke, Chapter Two. Why don't we start with a word of prayer?
Father, as we revisit this story, the greatest of all stories, the greatest story ever told, it's not a fairy tale, it's not a fable and it's not a myth, it's history and it's truth, and I pray for those of us that know this story well that well, we'll see it maybe with new eyes and hear it with new ears, and for those who have never heard this story really let it resonate with them, let them gain an understanding as to why Jesus came. So, we commit this time of Bible study to you now. In Jesus name. Amen.
Again, the title of my message is: Waiting for Christmas. I don't know about you, but I don't like to wait for anything. You know, if you're on the free way and you see that one guy who's weaving in and out of different lanes trying to get ahead, that's me. That's me. When I'm in the market and I have to check out, I will actually go to the seven items or less line. Even if I need to buy more stuff, I'll not get it because I don't like to wait in lines and, by the way, I'm counting how many items the person in front of me has, because I don't like when people cheat there. But there's a lot of things that we have to wait for in life. Maybe that's one of the reasons I don't love amusement parks all that much. I think my favorite moments of going to an amusement park are: when I first arrive and when it's time to leave, right? And the reason is there's just so much waiting, lines and lines, and whenever I go people say, "Oh it was dead here yesterday. I don't know where all these people came from".
Well, of course, because I am here, that always happens to me. And now when you're in line for the latest attraction they have those little signs that say, if you are standing at this place in the line, you will be on the ride in one month. It's like, you know, I was happier living in oblivion. Did you have to tell me that? And there's things you have to wait for like, well, how shall we say it, when nature calls and there is somebody in the restroom and you have to wait, and it seems like it takes forever and they come out, you're glaring at them, "How dare you take so long in the restroom"? Or maybe when you are in class and you are waiting for the bell to ring for recess. Or the new movie you can't wait to see.
You know, Hollywood rolls out the big films at Christmas time and you saw the trailer and you are so excited to see the film and you finally saw it and, well, the trailer was better than the film. All the good parts were in the trailer. I'm not gonna say that of any film I've seen, Star Wars, but anyway, didn't love it, anyway, that's just my opinion. Or, you know, when you are driving home, bringing the pizza to your family, how hard it is to wait because I always steal a piece or two, and I've burned my mouth out to prove it, right? So, some things are hard to wait for, and some things, well, they are not worth waiting for. Some things are worth waiting for. Some of you can't wait until tomorrow morning to open your presents. You would most likely be children.
Some of you can't wait for Christmas to be over with. You would tend to be the adults, right? So, we're gonna look at two people in this message who were waiting for Christmas. And I wonder what are you waiting for this Christmas. Is it the hope that all of your family will join you for a celebration? Or maybe it's the hope that hopefully not all family will actually show up with all of those weird cousins, uncles, et cetera? But the problem with Christmas is Christmas cannot deliver on all the hype. You know, we get so worked up about it and Christmas can only take us so far. I mean really what is Christmas at its best? Well, it's gathering with family and friends, enjoying meals together, exchanging gifts, worshiping together. These are a glimpse of things to come because in many ways Christmas is a promise, a promise that has not been fully kept. It's really more than Christmas, it's about Christ. That's what we're longing for, not Christmas, but Christ, not merriment, but the Messiah, not good will, but God, not presence, but His presence. We're longing for God.
Gwen Stefani has a new song she put out this Christmas. It's called Christmas Eve and here are the lyrics and I find them interesting. She sings: "Don't know how I got where I am. Hurting so much, I need healing. All I have is what I can pray. Send me your mercy, I need your grace. I'm looking for you on Christmas Eve. All over the world the angels see. But I'm feeling lost, can you save me? I'm looking for you on Christmas Eve". Maybe that's how some of you feel. You're looking for God right now. Maybe for some of you this is your first time to ever come to a church. And if it is, I want to say welcome to your new home and meet your new family, the family of God. You are welcome here. But there are some of you, well, you haven't been to church for a long time, you're one of those CEO Christians, right? CEO, Christmas and Easter Only. And so, it's been a long time since you've been to church and to you I say, like what's your problem? No, not really. I say welcome home. Welcome back home again and you, too, are welcome here.
Well, there are two people I want to look at in this message that are a part of the Christmas story. They were waiting for Christ. No, it was not Joseph and Mary. These are too often overlooked but very significant people in the Christmas story. I am talking about Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. Let's all sing Rudolf the Red - no, don't. And all the people wearing red started to sing, didn't they? No, I'm talking about two names you may not even know are a part of the Christmas story. Their names are Simeon and Anna. Simeon and Anna. They don't appear in any nativity scene that is on a card or displayed on a coffee table, but they were there, they were waiting for Christmas. And in fact they preceded the wise men who came much later. The truth is the wise men weren't even at the manger, they came later to the home that Jesus was in, not to the manger where he was born. The wise men may have come up to a year to two years later, but Simeon and Anna saw the little child Jesus being dedicated in the temple only eight days after his birth.
So let's get the big picture, sort of the timeline, before we'll talk about Simeon and Anna. We start, of course, with Mary, a young girl, a very young girl, probably in her early teens. And she was living in the little town of Nazareth. Nazareth was sort of a nothing place in the middle of nowhere. And Mary for all practical purposes was a nobody. But God had specifically chosen her to be the mother of the Messiah of Israel and of Jesus Christ who would be the savior of the world. Oh, we all know this story. She was engaged to Joseph, that's the word we use today. Biblical term is espoused, which was a little different. Being espoused was almost like being married but without consummating the relationship, so was a very serious commitment. And of course here's Mary living in Nazareth and who shows up? The angel Gabriel. You know, something big is going down if Gabriel shows up. He's one of those high-ranking angels. He greets Mary and tells her she is gonna be the mother of the Messiah. Understandably, she needs a little more intel here, considering the fact that she's never been with a man before and Gabriel says, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Most High will overshadow you, and the baby born to you will be holy, it will become the son of God". So, Mary agrees.
And now here's Joseph and he finds up Mary is pregnant. Frankly, he is not buying it. Oh yeah, an angel came to you. Aha. And an angel comes to him as well and tells Joseph that Mary is carrying the son of God in her womb and they are to call him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins. And Joseph agrees. Let me just say Joseph is the unsung hero of the Christmas story. We talk a lot about Mary, but Joseph went along with this game plan. Realistically, he had to live with this rumor about his wife being unfaithful to him before they were married which was so far from the truth, Mary was a very pure young lady. But this was the reputation she had to live with because a lot of people didn't believe God had supernaturally touched her. Joseph agrees. And now seemingly out of nowhere a decree is given by Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. So, Mary and Joseph, who both had the blood of King David in their veins, so they are part of the genealogy of David, went to Bethlehem, 'cause that was the boy who had town of David. But it was not seemingly out of nowhere. It was all according to God's plan because Scripture clearly said Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
I don't think Mary and Joseph fully understood what was happening to them. I think it came to them later. So they make the journey to Bethlehem, we all know the beautiful story. They arrive in town. There is no room in the inn. So an inn keeper sends them off to a manger, really well, a cave, a garage we might call it today, very unsanitary place, and that is where the son of God came into this world. Now, when a baby is born, you want to let people know. You call family, you call friends, you know the weight of the babel, baby, or the babel, the baby, you know the time of the birth of the baby, maybe the length of the child, and you tell people you care about. So here's God in heaven ready to give the announcement of the birth of Jesus. Who does he tell first? You would have thought that he would have gone to Caesar Augustus. History tells us that Caesar Augustus was five feet seven inches tall. Now, there's nothing wrong with being five feet seven inches tall. But let's just say that's not a tall man, okay.
So the angel of the Lord announces not to this man who thought he was a god, because that's what Augustus means, of the gods. Caesar was originally the name of Julius Caesar but after he died they took his name and made it a title, and this Caesar in particular added Augustus which means the deified or worshiped one, so he wanted to be worshiped. So, the Lord could have said, "Hey, you are not to be worshiped. The true son of God has been born". But no, the angels didn't go to Caesar, or little Caesar, they didn't go to the religious leaders even, they went to people who are on the bottom of the social ladder, shepherds. You couldn't get any lower than a shepherd. These are hard-working men. These are men that had dirt under their fingernails. These were men that were despised in their culture. And the Lords says, "These are the ones I am going to announce it to".
So the announcement comes to the shepherds that the son of God is born. They are shown a portal into heaven and they see the angels of the Lord saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom God is well pleased". And so the shepherds said, "Let's go and see this thing that the Lord had told us about". Okay, so what happens next chronologically? Well, the wise men, of course, show up on their camels and they ride in - no, sorry. As I said earlier, they didn't come till much later. Here's what happened next chronologically. Eight days later, Mary and Joseph take their little baby Jesus into the temple to have him circumcised and that brings us to the first person who was waiting for Christmas in our story, his name is Simeon. He was a godly man eagerly waiting for the Messiah.
By the way, there was no small feat at this time historically. Israel had for all practical purposes turned her back on God. The people of Israel had not heard from the Lord for 400 years. 400 years since a prophet appeared. 400 years since an angelic appearance. 400 years since a miracle had been performed. 400 years the last word they had from God was from the prophet Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament. But here with these godly people, Simeon and Anna, and of course Joseph and Mary, really we have a cross-section of humanity. Mary, very young, early teens, Joseph, we don't know his age, maybe late twenties, possibly early thirties, Simeon and Anna both elderly people. So they're all waiting for Jesus to come. Do you ever feel like you're the only Christian in your little world? Even though some people in your family profess faith, they don't seem to really want to practice it. You feel like you are the only Christian in your house. You feel like you are the only Christian in your neighborhood, the only Christian in your campus, the only Christian in your workplace?
Well, that's probably how they felt in many ways. That's why you need to be faithful to the Lord and know this, God rewards faithfulness because God had revealed to Simeon, an older man, that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. What a promise! You know, sometimes Christmas gifts arrive early from people that live out of state. You know how that marked "Do not open until Christmas", right? Sometimes they even come like a month early. You have to wait. Well really, to Simeon, God had revealed this to him: Do not die until Christmas. Here's your marching orders, buddy, do not die, stay alive because you're gonna see the Messiah. He held on to that promise of Scripture that had been given 400 years earlier from Malachi saying the son of righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. Have you ever felt as though you haven't heard from God for a long time? There can be reasons for that. One reason you may not hear from the Lord is because of unconfessed sin in your life.
God says in Isaiah 59:1, listen, "The Lord's arm is not short that it can't save you. The Lord's ear is not closed that it cannot hear you. It's your sins that have cut you off from God". And because of your sins He has turned away and he won't listen to you anymore. If it seems to you as though God is not hearing your prayers and more to the point answering your prayers in the affirmative, it may be because of unconfessed sin. That is why Jesus taught us in the Lord's Prayer to say: Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us. Every day you should pray for God's provision and you should pray for God's forgiveness.
You say, "Greg, I don't think that I sinned today". Oh, yeah, you did. And we sin more than we think we do, right? There's all kinds of sins we can commit. Sins of commission, sins of omission. That's a whole nother subject. But the point is, trust me when I tell you, on a regular basis ask God to forgive you. So Simeon held on to the promises of God. Never let go of God's promises to you. His promises are true. His promises are trustworthy. And a lot of us let go of them, sort of like these gift cards that we give out. You get gift cards for Christmas. I have to say people have been very nice to me, I have more gift cards for Krispy Kreme donuts than I ever want to use in a lifetime. And thank you for those of you who has sent them, but please never send me another one ever. Because if I used all of those cards I would be 600 pounds. Anyway, so the point is, you know, people give gift cards and a lot of them are never redeemed.
Did you know that one billion dollars worth of gift cards are not used every year? I think the people that sold the cards love that. Awesome! You gave us money, we don't have to give you a product. Carry on! But that's how it can be with us and the promises of God. They are there for us but we don't take advantage of them. So here now is Simeon who waited, and by the way his name means "God has heard". He was waiting for Christmas or, more specifically, he was waiting for Christ. And then one day the Lord leads him to go to the temple. Boy, I'm sure he was glad he went that way. Has there ever been a time where you decided to go to church at the last minute and you're so glad you are here? Oh, I'm so glad I'm at church today. Man, you can be sure he was glad he was in the temple that day because he knew one of these days the Messiah is gonna come. I don't know when and I don't know how I'll know. And then one day in to the temple walk Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus.
Can you imagine? How do he know it was them? Well, they had haloes of course. Haven't you seen on Christmas cards? Mary and Joseph have a halo and Jesus has one too, but his is a little small halo, a little kid halo, right? No, they didn't have haloes. They looked like any other couple and, in fact, they would look like an impoverished couple because that's exactly what they were. That's because they brought two turtle doves which was the least you could bring in the temple. So here they come but the Lord reveals to Simeon, because he walks with God, this is the Messiah. So, he is very aggressive, he walks right up to Mary and Joseph and takes the child into his arms, and we read about it here in Luke 2, verse 32. He thanked God. He had seen the Messiah and he prayed, "He is a light to reveal God to the nations, he is the glory of your people Israel"! Mary and Joseph were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, the baby's mother, "This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He is sent as a sign from God, and many will oppose him. And as a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed". And then this powerful statement to Mary: "And a sword will pierce your very soul".
The godly Simeon had been waiting for the Messiah. The Lord had shown him he would not die until he saw the Messiah. Why? Because he waited with expectancy. Look at Luke, verse 23, Chapter Two. He was a man named Simeon righteous and devout eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. Eagerly waiting. That can be translated "alert to his appearance". You know, sometimes we say I never hear from God. Well, are you eagerly waiting? Are you eagerly listening? You see the thing is, I think, a lot of times we don't hear from God because we're not tuned in. Here's the thought. If you want to hear from God, put down the cell phone. Turn off the cell phone! Turn off the tablet! Turn off the TV! Go outside with a Bible in your lap and listen. I bet God may speak to you.
There's an app out that Apple named the app of the year. You know what this app is called? The name of the app is Calm. Calm. And you know what the app does? Basically it shows you nature scenes: crashing waves, trees blowing with a breeze, a fireplace crackling away. And you're supposed to watch it for one minute, a little timer goes on, watch this for one minute. People say this is so calming. Hey, put this stinking phone down and go outside! It's even better and God made it! You know, just go out and enjoy God's creation. There's something about being out there and being quiet and listening, you'll hear from the Lord. Yes, Simeon was eagerly waiting for Jesus to come the first time and guess what? Jesus Christ is coming back a second time as well and we should be eagerly awaiting that. Hebrews 9:28. I've felt some of you want to clap. Go clap, let it out! Let it out! That feel good? It feels good 'cause it's true. Hebrews 9:28 says, "He will come again not to deal with our sins but to bring salvation," listen, "for those who are eagerly waiting for him".
Are you eagerly awaiting the return of Christ? That's a real test I think in many ways to determine where you're at spiritually. I think if you're right with God, you will long for the return of Christ. I think if you are not right with the Lord, or maybe living in a way you should not be living, you sort of dread hearing about the return of Christ but he'll come again. The first time he came in a manger, next time he'll come in glory. The first time he came in swaddling clothes, the next time he'll come in a robe dipped in blood. At his first coming he was surrounded by shepherds and animals, at the second coming he'll be accompanied by saints and angels. At his first coming there was no room in the inn, At his second coming the door of the heavens will be open to him. At his first coming he came as the lamb of God who would die for the sin of the world, at his second coming he'll return as the ferocious lion of the tribe of Judah. Yes, he is coming back again and like Simeon, we should live in anticipation of that day. Messiah is coming again.
So there's one other person in our story that was waiting for Christmas, waiting for Christ, and it's Anna. She had been a widow for most of her life. She lost her husband after seven years of marriage. She is now 84 years old. Anna, for all practical purposes, lived in the temple as she waited for Messiah. Verse 37 and 38 of Luke 2 says she never left the temple, but stayed there day and night worshiping God with fasting and prayer. She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God, and she talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem. That's interesting, you look at Anna. She just shows us how a believer should live.
When people accept Christ here at Harvest, and many do, you want to hear an amazing stat? Last year, through our church services, through our radio broadcast, our television program, the Steve McQueen film we did in theaters around the country, and of course our crusades, listen to this, 25,000 people made a profession of faith to follow Christ. Think about that. 25,000 people. It's mind-blowing. That's what the Lord did. So we give Him glory. I mean heaven breaks out in applause over one sinner that comes to repentance. 25,000. You say, "Well, Greg, do you think they're all Christians"? Hey, I hope so. I pray so. But I know that even if all of them aren't, many of them are and we can give God glory that we played a role in that here in this ministry.
So, you know, really what did Anna do? She did the four things we tell new believers to do. You know, when people come to Christ and we say we have a Bible for you that looks like this, right, we say go back into this room and we'll talk to you. Have you ever wondered what happens back in that room? Who are these people and what are they saying? It's real simple. We tell brand-new Christians that they need to study God's Word every day, they need to pray, they need to be a part of the church, they need to share their faith. That's exactly what Anna did. Here's a woman that studied God's Word, she worshiped and fasted, she prayed, she went to church, or in her case the temple, and immediately she shared Jesus with others. Now, they had one thing in common. They were both old. As I said earlier, their objective was do not die until Christmas, and once Simeon held the baby in his arms, he said in verse 29, "Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to Your words, because my eyes have seen your salvation". He waited and he died with hope. In fact, Simeon had the privilege of holding hope in his arms when he held Jesus. Hope has a name and it's Jesus. He held on to that hope.
We have that same hope. This might surprise you, might be a little bit of a downer for some, but the fact is death and Christmas are inseparably connected. I know that doesn't fit the cheery holiday image of what we think Christmas ought to be but death and Christmas are closely connected. Don't forget that the angel said to Joseph of Jesus, "He will save his people from their sins". Don't forget that the magi, the wise men, who came later, brought three gifts: frankincense, gold and myrrh, myrrh being an embalming element, and here's what Jesus himself says about why he came. He said, "I have come so you might all go shopping"! Right? I haven't read that verse. "I have come so you might have awesome Christmas parties"! No. "I have come," Jesus says, "to give my life as a ransom for many".
Why did you come, Jesus? Why were you born in that manger in Bethlehem? Why did you walk among us as a man? Why did you die on that cross and rise again from the dead? Jesus says, "I came to give my life as a random for many". Because we're all separated from God by our sin and he has come to forgive us. He came to this earth because we're sinners that need a savior. But it's hard for us to admit we're sinners sometimes, and it's hard for us to jump into his open arms.
The other day I was in my house, I was watching something on television, and I heard the voice of my wife say, "Greg"! And I looked around, I couldn't see her anywhere, so I went back to my program. She yells again "Greg"! even louder. I'm like, where is she? I'm walking round trying to find her. I go out to my back yard, I'm not making this up, Cathe is up in a tree. She's up in the tree. I'm looking up at her in the tree like, "Uh, why are you in the tree"? Well, what happened was she went out to put something in the trash can and we have a little wall right next to our garage, and the door is locked on the outside, they didn't know, so she went off, the door is shut behind her, and she was locked in this tiny little space. So she climbed up on the trash can and then she climbed up in the tree but couldn't get down from the tree. So she yelled out to me, "Greg, help me"!
So I come out and there she is. And I looked up and I said, "Here, Cathe, jump into my arms". She said, "No way". "Come on," I'm trying to be, you know, the prince or something, I don't know. "Jump into my arms, I'll catch you". She says, "No, get a ladder"! So, I don't think she trusted me. I think she was afraid I might drop her. And so I got her a ladder and she got down safely. So Cathe was in a tree, there you go. But you know what, I love the way grandchildren, they'll just jump into your arms. Sometimes they don't tell they are coming, right? They just decide they're gonna fling themselves at you. Whoa, you have to catch them at the last second. So the Lord is standing there and saying, "Kids, jump into my arms right now". We're like, "Get a ladder"! No. You need to surrender and let go, and Christ will catch you and Jesus will not drop you for sure. God can forgive you of all of your sin and none of us have the promise we'll be here next Christmas.
You know Simeon didn't have that promise. The Lord showed him he would live until he saw the Messiah. We have this Christmas. We don't know is we'll be here next Christmas. But we are here this one. So listen, don't let this opportunity go by because God is offering you the greatest of all gifts. You know, I love the fact that when you give gifts to children, they'll let you know if they like the gift or not. They haven't learned to lie like adults. You ever get a gift that's like the worst gift ever? By the way, when I give a gift to someone, I'll say this, "I got this for you. I don't know if you're gonna like it. If you don't like it, here's where I got it. Here's the gift receipt. Please return it and get what you want". There are people that give you the ugliest sweater ever made and then they'll see you two weeks later. "Why aren't you wearing the sweater"? 'Cause it's ugly.
And so, you don't want to hurt their feelings. Just don't be that person! But with a kid you give a gift, we gave gifts to our grandchildren last night, we do it a little earlier than Christmas, and our little Christopher, I gave him something, he's like, "Huh"? It's a really, I thought that was a good gift. Well, they'll tell you what they think. God's giving you a gift. Don't push it aside. Accept it, enjoy it. The gift of eternal life. I'd like to close in prayer. And some of you need to make a recommitment to Jesus. A lot of people are here, a lot of people are watching, others are listening, you need to make a recommitment to Jesus. You are not ready for the Lord's return. You are not looking expectantly for Christ to return.
You are doing something right now you should not be doing as a follower of Jesus. Make a recommitment to Christ. Turn from that sin. Recommit yourself to him. There're some of you here that well, you've never even asked Jesus to come into your life. You've always thought highly of Jesus. But you've never understood he came on a rescue mission for you. Yes, to be born in the manger, but yes, to die on the cross and to bury your sins and mine, and then to rise again from the dead, and he'll come into your life right now and you'll never be alone again. If you need Jesus in your life respond as we pray and you can pray this prayer with me. If you want Christ to forgive you of your sin, if you want to commit your life to Jesus, or recommit your life to Jesus, just pray this prayer right where you sit. You can pray it out loud if you like but pray this with me wherever you are. Just pray:
Lord Jesus, I'm sorry for my sin and I turn from it right now. Thank you for being born in that manger. Thank you for dying on the cross. Thank you for rising from the dead. Thank you that you're coming back again. I choose right here right now to follow you as my Savior and Lord, as my God and friend. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.