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James Merritt - Experiencing Christmas

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    James Merritt - Experiencing Christmas
TOPICS: Christmas

For the first 300 years of Christianity, Christmas was not celebrated. December the 25th, just another day. Of course, there were no malls, right, there was no shopping, there was no buying gifts. There were no trees, there was no Rudolph, there was no Santa, there was none of that whatsoever. And so in this old inscription found in a list of Roman bishops, these words appear for the first time in A.D. 336, 25 December, natus Christus in Betleem Judeae. In English, it says, December the 25th, Christ born in Bethlehem, Judeae. So historians tell us that evidently, December the 25th, 336, is the very first recorded celebration of Christmas ever known in history.

Technically, that is true for the church. But, actually, from a historical basis, that really is not true at all because the first Christmas celebration ever recorded is not found in 336 A.D., it's actually found in a book of the Bible called Luke. And if you brought a copy of God's word today, or you have a Smartphone or an iPad you want to look on, I want you to turn to Luke 2, real easy to find, Bible's divided up into two testaments, Old, New Testament. Skip the Old, go the New, it's about halfway through your Bible. You'll find four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. I want you to go to Luke 2.

Now, I know that most of us have heard this story before. Most of us could recite it by memory. Some of you have little grandchildren that know this story by heart, it's probably the most popular story in all of the Bible. But what we're going to do today, is focus specifically on the first human beings that ever got to experience the first Christmas in real time. And the ones that were given that story, and given that privilege, actually, in my opinion, make the Christmas story even more amazing than you might even realize. And let me tell you why. If Jesus were being born this year, or today, in the 21st century, and you were a PR team and you were given the responsibility of making sure that Jesus' birth made the biggest splash of all, there's a certain way that you would do that. I mean, there's a certain way that you would think. Because what you're going to see in a moment, is the group that got to have the first invitation to the first Christmas party is the least likely group you would ever have thought would have been given that honor, and that privilege.

So we're going to pick up the story in Luke 2:8, "And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night". Okay, let's just bring it back up here for a minute. So you're a PR firm and you're getting paid millions of dollars and you've been told, now, the son of God is going to be born on December the 25th, and we want to make sure this goes viral. We want it on Facebook, we want it on Twitter, we want it in the social world. We want everybody that's anybody to know, that the son of God has been born. All right. Well, what would you do? Well, you'd go after the high-rollers, you'd go after the influencers, you'd go after the billionaires. You'd go after the movers and the shakers, that's who you would go after today. If you were living 2,000 years ago, who would you have gone after?

You say, well, let's see, I've got to invite the high priest, he's the religious leader of the entire nation. We really need to get the chief priest and the scribes there because they're the leading Biblical scholars in Israel. Got to have the Sanhedrin, that's the Jewish Supreme Court, only 70 of those and they're the most respected group in the whole land. They've got to be there. And then you would have said, you know, you got to get the Pharisees because they're the most respected teachers of the law in the date. So you've got all of this group of people, they don't make the list. The first group that gets invited, shepherds.

Well, keep reading the story, look what happens. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified. But the angels said to them, do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today, in the town of David, a Savior has born to you, He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you, you will find the baby wrapped in cloth, lying in a manger. Now, here you are. You're in this pitch-black dark night, and you are a shepherd. It's the same old, same old, every night's boring, there's nothing going on. You got the 24-hour shift, you got the midnight shift because every shepherd did. And all of a sudden, the sky explodes in celestial brilliance. And an angel of the Lord comes to you, you're a shepherd, and he makes the greatest announcement that's ever been made in the history of the planet, and he makes it to shepherds.

Now, here's shepherds, think about it, we don't know their names, we still don't know their names. After the story is over, they're never heard from again. We don't know what, you know, we know a little bit about what happened immediately after. Other than that, they're never seen, they're never heard from again. And yet, does the King get invited? Nope. Does the press get invited? No. Do the scribes and Pharisees get invited? Nope. Does the Sanhedrin get invited? Nope. Does the Chief Priest get invited? No. Lowly little shepherds, they're at the very top of the guest list. And they get invited to the first Christmas ever.

Question: why, why would God do it that way? We would never have done it that way. Why in the world would God do it that way? Why is this story in the Bible. I'm going to tell you why. I'm absolutely convinced that what you're going to see today is the way they experience Christmas is the way we ought to experience Christmas. And what they did with the good news of Christmas, is what we ought to do with the good news of Christmas. Because again, you will never enjoy the season of Christmas until you really experience the reason of Christmas. So what did these shepherds do and what should we do? Well, three quick things. Number one, just like these shepherds we should be expecting God's presence. We should be expecting God's presence.

Now, the story gets off to a rocky start. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shown around them, and they were terrified. Now, wouldn't you be? I mean, you're a shepherd. You're minding your own business. You're out there on this nice, quiet, dark night, peace and calm were everywhere. Just another boring night in the life of a minimum wage worker. And then, literally there's this explosion of light. By the way, that word shone, it's a very interesting in the Greek language. What that word literally means, it means to explode in light. That word's only used one other time in the New Testament. And the other time it's used, it refers to a light that was so bright and so intense, a guy was knocked off his horse when he saw that light.

So no wonder the shepherds were terrified and by the way, one word in the English, five words in the Greek, it literally means they feared a great fear. In other words, they were literally shaking in their sandals, they were terrified out of their minds. And that's why the next words are so important. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people". Now, the way those shepherds reacted was normal. I would have been afraid, you would have been afraid. But it really wasn't necessary. Let me tell you why. On many occasions, we're told all throughout the Bible that if you do refuse God, and do you reject God, and you do ridicule God, you ought to fear God. You ought to fear his judgment. You ought to fear his wrath. But the angel specifically tells them, "Hey, guys, you don't need to be afraid. You don't need to fear".

Now, let me tell you what that tells me. They evidently were very devout men. They evidently had a deep love for God. They didn't have to fear what the angels said because they revered the God that he was talking about. Now, say who do you know? We know this from verse 15. When the angels had left them and gone into Heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this, what's this word, thing". That's a very important word, you wouldn't know that, I'll tell you why in a minute. Let's see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about. Now, if you're reading that in the English language, you're just reading the word thing. That's not what that word means. You know what that word is in the Greek language? It literally means message or word. Here's what they said, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this word, let's see this message that is happened".

Well, what word are they talking about, what message are they talking about? They were talking about the Old Testament, that they'd been taught as children. They evidently, they were Jewish men, they'd grown in Jewish homes, and every Jewish parent would teach their children that one day, God was going to keep a promise that He had made. He was going to send a deliverer for the Jewish people. He was going to send a Messiah to the Jewish nation. Now, this angel has just announced to these shepherds, what your mom and dad taught you is going to happen, what the priest prophesied, and what the prophets predicted was going to happen, has now happened. After hundreds of years and thousands of years, awaiting for God to keep His promise, God has finally kept His promise.

From the time that Adam and Eve sin, and plunged this world into sin, God said, "I will make a promise. I'm going to fix what you just broke. I'm going to solve the problem you just created. You brought sin into this world, I'm going to bring salvation into this world". And for hundreds of years, and thousands of years, parents told their kids, and their kids told their kids, and their kids told their kids, one day, we don't know when, we don't know how, we don't know where, God is going to keep His promise. So all of their lives, these shepherds, just like good Jewish men would, they were expecting God to show up, they were expecting God to keep His promise. Didn't know when, didn't know how, but they knew, I'm going to live every day, really believing that God is going to keep His promise and God is going to show up.

And here's why I say that to you. If you learn anything about the Christmas story, I want you to learn this. God doesn't just show up on Christmas day. God shows up every day. Let me tell this, listen, I don't know you get up every day. I'm going to tell you how I get up every day. I'm going to get up every day, until the day I draw my last breath, I get up every day expecting God to show up in my life. I get up every day expecting, there's a God in Heaven who loves me. There's a God that knows me, there's a God that cares about me. And, God, I'm letting you know, unashamedly, I expect you today to guide me, to direct me, to walk beside you, to walk in front of me, to walk behind me. We ought to get up and go everywhere we go, knowing God will go with us. And I'll tell you why, if you believe in the Christmas story, the angel said, "You will call His name what"? Emmanuel. And that's mean what? God with us.

In other words, what I'm telling you is every single day of your life, not just Christmas day, not just Christmas Eve, not just Thanksgiving day, not just Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and all day Saturday, God goes with us. And just like those shepherds, every day, we ought to wake up every day and expect God's presence in our life. Can I tell you this? If I didn't expect God to be here, I wouldn't be here. I love you, but I don't love you that much. And I don't mean this to be ugly, I'd rather God show up, and you not show up, than you show up and God not show up. Every time I walk up here I, you know, I've told you this before, I walk up to this platform and I'm saying under my breath, I believe in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. And I believe in the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

As I walking out of the green room, coming over here to preach this morning, I said, "God, I don't know what's going to happen, but I'll tell you one thing, I expect you to show up today". That's the way you celebrate Christmas. You expect God's presence in your life. Now, watch this, just like those shepherds, not only should we be expecting God's presence, we ought to be trusting God's protection. Now, every sermon, I have a favorite part, every sermon, I've got one part, I'll say this is my favorite part of the sermon. I know what your favorite part is, is when I said, "Every head bowed, every eye closed". I get that. Okay. That's not my favorite part. This is my favorite part because I thought about something and something came to my mind as I was preparing this message. It's one of those things, I've never seen ever. I've never seen it.

I've read this story a thousand times. And all of a sudden, it just hit me. And I guarantee it's going to shock you, but it's going to teach you about how we ought to be trusting God's provision in our life. So the angel makes this announcement that Jesus has been born, the angelic choir sings this beautiful song about glory to God, and favor to men. But now the sky's gone dark, everything is back to quote-unquote normal, the song of the angels has echoed into silence. What happens next? When the angels had left them, and gone into Heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem, let's see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about". So, they hurried off, big word, they hurried off and they found Mary and Joseph and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

Now, if there's any doubt in your mind that these men were devout men, that they were Godly men, who were looking for the Messiah, this ought to alleviate that doubt, and I'll tell you why. The angel did not specifically command them to go find the child. He didn't tell them what to do next. He didn't say you have to go find the child. He just simply said you can find the child. And yet, we're told here, they couldn't wait to find him. They hurried off. How could they do something that could get them fired, get them jailed, or both. And at the very least, cause them to be absolutely ridiculed and looked down upon, and rejected by everybody in the community for the rest of their life.

There's only one explanation. These shepherds believed that they could leave those sheep under God's protection and they could leave those sheep under God's care. Because, after all, if God can send the savior of the world, and if God can send the Messiah of the Jewish nation, don't you think God can take care of a flock of sheep? If God can become a man in human flesh, don't you think God can take care of your source of income? Don't you think God can protect anything that you might have? See, I want you to hear this, listen. A God that guide shepherds to a manger and guard their sheep, can also guide us and guard us as we go life. That's the great lesson about these shepherds.

See, evidently, these shepherds realize and this is so good. You know why those shepherds took off? Because at that moment, they realized finding Jesus is a lot more important than keeping sheep. I want you to hear me, listen to me. Finding Jesus is a lot more important than making money. Finding Jesus is a lot more important than climbing that corporate ladder. Finding Jesus is a lot more important than seeing how big a car, how big a house you can live in, or how nice a car you can drive, or how much money you can spend. Finding Jesus, there is nothing in life, that's more important than finding Jesus. And when those shepherds threw down those rods and threw down those staffs, and did something no other shepherd would ever, ever think about doing, what they were saying was, I got one priority in my life, and I'm not going to let anything stand in the way. I am going to find Jesus. And here's why. They finally realized while we were keeping watch over our sheep, God was keeping watch over us.

So I want to listen, who is the source of everything you have? God is. Who is the supply of everything you have? Who is the security of everything you have? Who is the safety of everything you have? God is. It all belongs to Him. Job was right. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord, why because it all belongs to Him. And there's some of us right now, you don't believe in Christmas, you know why I know you don't believe because you're worried about stuff. Just find Jesus, he'll take care of the stuff. Just go after God, he'll take care of the stuff. Don't worry about the sheep. When it comes to anything that stands in your way of finding Jesus, forget it, shelve it, put it away.

There's nothing more important because as you're going to see in just a moment, these shepherds were never the same after that night. They never saw sheep the same way. They never saw themselves the same way. They never saw God the same way because here's what they finally realized. All these years, they thought, I've been watching my sheep, no, I've not been watching my sheep, I've been watching God's sheep. They're not my sheep. They belong to God. Listen, the house you live in, it's not your house, it's God's house. The money you got in your paycheck last week, it's not your money, it's God's money. The car that you drive is not your car, it's God's car. Everything you have, everything you own, and everything you are, belongs to Him. And you can trust Him with all of it.

And that's what I want you to learn from these shepherds, they said, "You know what, not only are we expecting God's presence, we are trusting God's protection because they finally got it". Every night they were keeping watch over their flock, God was keeping watch over them. Every night they thought they were protecting their sheep, God says, "You're not protecting the sheep, I'm protecting you, protecting the sheep. I'm the one's that your protector, I am your source, I'm your supplier, I'm your security". See, when you really experience Christmas, you can get up every day and you can say, "Lord, I don't know what's going to happen to me today and I'm not going to worry about it, because I have your protection".

So, want to be like shepherds, you want to really experience Christmas. Number one, you're going to expect God's presence, Lord, I expect you to show up in my life today. And I'm going to trust you for my protection, no matter what happened. Whether I live or I die, belongs to you, doesn't matter, I'm going to trust your protection. And then here's the last thing and this is the biggest thing, they were celebrating God's provision. They were celebrating God's provision. Now, watch this. After these, after these shepherds experienced the real deal Christmas, the real baby in the manger, the real God in the flesh, they celebrated in two ways, now watch what they did.

First of all, they celebrated by their witness, now, look, read verse 17, "When they had seen him," this is just natural, just like night follows day, just like the sun comes in the east, and sets in the west. "When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child". So, what did they do when they saw the son of God. I mean, as soon as they saw him and left him, they began to spread this very specific message. We're told they spread specifically, the word concerning what had been told them, the greatest message in the history of the world. Today, in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you, he is the Messiah, he is the Lord.

Now, remember these are shepherds, they're illiterate. They're uneducated, men of few words. They certainly would not be the kind of men, you would think to spread a message about anything to anybody and yet, the Bible says, Luke tells us, they became the first evangelists in the history of the church. Because notice what we're reading down in verse 20, "The shepherds return, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told".

Now, in the Greek language, again, this is in the present tense, it means they did it continuously, did it for the rest of their lives, it's not something they did just on Sunday at a worship service. It means every day, 24/7, they were glorifying God. They were praising God for all the things they'd heard and all the things they had seen. And this is why... it sounds so cliché-ish, but it's true, here's how you can know you truly experience Christmas. When you enjoy it every day of the year. That's how you know you've experienced Christmas, when you enjoy it every day of the year. Can I tell you why? Christmas is more than celebrating the birth of Jesus, it is celebrating the Jesus who was born.

So, every day for me, honestly, every day for me, is Christmas Day. That's why I tell people all the time, I've said to this to you before, my wife and Jesus have one thing in common. I fall more deeply in love with them every day of my life. I love her more today than I loved her yesterday, and less today then I'll love her tomorrow. Multiply that by steroids, that's where I am with Jesus. I fall more in love with Jesus every single day of my life. So, close with this, now, how many of you remember the song, "Here I Am To Worship", we used to do that, don't do it much, you remember that song, "Here I Am To Worship"?

Tim Hughes is the Dove Award winning songwriter who wrote that beautiful song. He said one of the greatest lessons he ever learned about worship, he learned when he was 18 years old. He gave a year of his life to a congregation in Durban, South Africa, it was a congregation called the Prince of Peace. He said, as an 18-year old boy he went there and he said, it was one of the poorest, most poverty stricken, areas he'd ever been in in his life. And it, it was just, I mean, it was just a very, very, bad poor place to be. And he says, I'll never forget when I walked into this makeshift little building they had, they called it a church, it was more like a shack. And he said, as he walked into this building and he said being a musician, the first thing he noticed, there's no drums, there's no guitars, there's no keyboards, there's no amps, there's no musical instruments of any kind. And, God forbid, no sound system, I mean, nothing.

He said as he looked at that empty shell of a building, he said I thought to myself, how on Earth, are we going to worship? He said a moment later, that place was filled with beautiful melodies. And those believers began to sing just out of the overflow of their hearts. He said, I stood up on that stage as a budding 18-year old musician, he said, "I could not believe how rich and how beautiful the worship was without any music whatsoever". And he said, "I'm sitting there thinking, I walk outside these four walls and what do I see? Disease, poverty, despair, discouragement, crime. And here are these people worshiping Jesus like there is no tomorrow". And he said, "I realized nothing can rob these Christians of the joy they have found in knowing Jesus".

And then Tim said something, it's one of the greatest things ever, one of the greatest lessons I've ever learned, one of the greatest theological truths I've ever heard anybody say in my life. Listen to what he said, you ready for this? Listen. Worship isn't about music, it's about Jesus. Worship isn't about music, it's about Jesus. You better tell your kids, and you better tell your grandkids, Christmas is not about trinkets, it's not about tinsel, it's not about toys, it's not about trees. Christmas is about Jesus. And when you realize that, you'll experience Christmas the right way, every day.
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