James Merritt - Expressing Christmas
So, God's making this big announcement. And evidently, God thinks it's so important, it's so huge, it's so critical, it's so big, He sends it by way of Heavenly DJ. Right? He gives this angel, and you would go, "Well, that makes sense. If you're going to make the greatest announcement about the greatest birth in the history of the world, you're not just going to give it to, you know, some run of the mill newscaster or news anchor". He sends an angel to make this announcement. OK? So, far so good. But, then, as we talked about last week, who does He make this announcement to? You certainly wouldn't have chosen shepherds. Minimum wage. Lower class nomads. They were nobody's. I mean, here's this angel making this big announcement about the birth of the Son of God. No diplomats. No dignitaries. No mayors. No millionaires. No governors. No senators. None to be found anywhere. Shepherds. And then you think, "Well, OK, well at least He's going to make it in some fantastic place".
So, you think, "OK, maybe He's going to announce it in Rome, which was the political capital of the world. Or maybe He's going to make it in Athens, which is the cultural capital of the world. Or, maybe He's going to make it, at least, in Jerusalem because, at least, to the Jewish people, that is the spiritual capital of the world". And where does God choose to make this announcement? Mayberry. Bethlehem. A hick town. Not even a red light. Not even a stop sign. Not even a Shoney's. You got to be kidding. You got the greatest announcement ever made in the history of the world and you're going to make it to shepherds and you're going to make it in Bethlehem.
Now, the angels, now that makes sense. OK, I get the angels. Great choice. But here's the greatest birth in history. Does Rome know about it? No. Jerusalem know about it? No. Does Athens know about it? No. Does Alexandria know about it? Nobody knows about it. The biblical scholars, they're just five miles up the road in Jerusalem, they don't know anything about this birth. Hey, think about this. How about all the neighbors in Bethlehem. They hear the cry of this little baby on Christmas morning. What are they thinking? "Just another baby born. Wonder who that is? Just another run of the mill, you know, dime a dozen, child". They had no idea the cries of the baby, who that baby was they were listening to. Then all of a sudden, all heaven breaks loose. And this angel appears to these shepherds. And then this gigantic host of angels begin singing the first Christmas carol ever heard.
Now, that has to raise a question in your mind. It does in mine. "OK, so, Lord, you make this announcement to a bunch of nobodies. You make it in a little hole in the wall called Bethlehem. But why do you choose angels to make the announcement? Why is this even in the Christmas story"? And here's what I believe with all of my heart. I believe that God did what He did, the way that He did it, with who He did it with, these angels, to say to us today, "Let Me tell you what Christmas ought to move us to do if we're believers".
If you believe the story of Christmas, if you're in the story of Christmas, if you know the Star of the story of Christmas, the angels teach us, this is what we ought to be doing, not only, of course, at Christmas, but especially at Christmas, this is how we ought to be expressing Christmas to others. Let's do what the angels did. Number one, communicate the good news of Christmas. That's the first thing we ought to do. Communicate the good news of Christmas. Now, when you read this announcement that this angel makes, it looks like something is missing and I'll see if you can figure it out. Here's what the angel said. The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid". He's talking to the shepherds. "Don't be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people".
Now, there's a word that's missing there. And I would have expected that word to have been there. As a matter of fact, there are actually two words I would have, if I'd been the angels what I would have said, there are two words that are missing. I'll give you a clue. The first word starts with M and the second word starts with C. What do you think those two words are? Merry Christmas. Now, if I'd been the angel, here's the first thing I would have said, "Don't be afraid, Merry Christmas". But Christmas is not even mentioned. Well, wait a minute. Aren't you talking about? Well, yeah. But, you don't even say Christmas. You don't even mention the word. Instead, He says five words. "I bring you good news". That's it. That's the Christmas message. Well, it's better than that.
If you can pick up a Greek New Testament, if you had the ability to do that, which is what the New Testament was written in, Greek. If you picked up the Greek New Testament and you were reading this in the Greek language, you're not going to believe this, you see these five words, "I bring you good news," it's one word in the Greek language. We take five words translate one word. That word in the Greek language gives us the word, evangelism. So, in effect, when this angel says, "I bring you good news," you're actually listening to the very first evangelist in the New Testament. Because I want you to hear what evangelism is. There are a lot of people, when you hear evangelism some of you get the hives when I mention evangelism. OK. I'm going to tell you why because you got the wrong picture. Let me tell you what evangelism is. You ready? It's just bringing good news. That's it. That's all it is. It's just bringing good news.
Now, listen to this. You ready? Everybody can bring good news. Everybody. Ten-year-old kids can bring good news. Eighty-five-year-old senior adults can bring good news. Ditch diggers and truck drivers and Ph.Ds., can bring good news. Because, see, when I mention the word evangelism, OK, people run for the hills, and here's why. Somehow, you've gotten this idea that evangelism is like buttonholing people, bullying people, forcing your beliefs on people, coercing people, pressuring people to believe something. I've heard people say, "Well, I just don't want to force my beliefs on anybody". Well, get in line. I don't want to force my beliefs on anybody either. When you really experience Christmas, you want to express Christmas by bringing the good news of Christmas to other people. But look what the angel goes on to say. It's better than that. He said, "This is good news that will cause joy for all people".
Now, there's nothing extraordinary about good news. And there's nothing extraordinary about good news bringing joy to some people. But it's very rare when good news brings joy to all people. Let me give you an example. Let's suppose you came up to me, say in April of next of year or May of next year and you say, "Hey, Pastor. You're not going to believe this, man. I'm getting $10,000 back on my taxes". Now, can I be honest. That's not going to bring me great joy. I'm glad for you, but it doesn't put any... now, if you said, "Pastor, I got $10,000 back on my taxes. I'm giving half of it to the church".
Now, you brought me great joy. OK. But, just to be honest, I'm just being, I know you think I'm super spiritual, I'm just being honest with you. I'm not. If you just got the $10,000, well, I'm happy. But, it doesn't make me throw a party. But, now, if you come to me and you say, "Pastor, you're not going to believe this. Have you heard on the news"? No, what? "The government just passed a law. Everybody gets $10,000 back on their tax returns". Oh, now, I'm in the ball game. Now I'm with you. Now, we can all go to Disney World. We're all getting a $10,000 tax return, right? So, this angel says, "I'm not just bringing you good news," he said, "this good news is great joy for all the people".
Now, that raises a question. So, what is it about this good news. I mean, that's a pretty broad claim. He said, "This is good news for everybody. It doesn't matter who you are, doesn't matter where you come, what color your skin is, doesn't matter what your nationality. This is good news for everybody". What is it that makes this such good news for everybody? And what is it that makes it joyful for everybody? Keep reading. He says, "Today in the town of David, a," a what? "A Savior has been born to you". Question. So, why is that good news and why is that such great joy for everybody? It is because in who that baby was and what that baby brought and what that baby was going to do everyone, everywhere, for all time would finally have the one thing that everybody truly needs. And that need can be expressed in one statement that summarizes the central message of the entire Bible.
If you've never read the Bible or you don't understand the Bible, or you don't get the Bible, I'm about to shrink the Bible down into one sentence. If you want to know what the Bible is all about, this is the central message of the Bible. We are all sinners in need of a savior and that savior is Jesus. That's the message of the Bible. That's the truth. Give the Lord a hand. We're all sinners in need of a savior and that Savior is Jesus. Know what that means? That means this is good news for Muslims. It's good news for Hindus. It's good news for Jews. It's good news for Buddhists. It's good news for Atheists. It's good news for agnostics. It's good news whether you're rich or poor or black or white or male or female or democrat or republican and especially if you're a Christian.
This is good news. Because it is the one thing we all need. Because there's one thing that unites the human race. You ready. We're all messed up. All of us. We were born defected. We were born infected. We were born imperfected. And we all fall short of what we could be, what we should be, and what God wants us to be. And here's the point, listen to this. Jesus was born on earth for those of us born in sin so that we could be born again and forgiven of our sin. It took me an hour to come up with that. I'm going to say that one more time. Jesus was born on earth for those of us born in sin so that we could be born again and forgiven of our sin.
And let me tell you why that ought to bring great joy to everybody. Because not everybody in the world is poor and needs more money. Bill Gates doesn't need more money. Donald Trump doesn't need more money. Not everybody in the world is illiterate and needs more education. Ph.Ds. don't need more education. College graduates, college, you know, professors, they don't need more education. Not everybody in the world is sick and needs medication. As a matter of fact, I hope you're so healthy that you'd say, "I'm not on any medication". Good for you. But, listen. Everybody on planet earth is a sinner and needs a savior. And that Savior is Jesus. We were all born in sin. We all live in sin. Without a Savior, we will die in sin. But, because of Christmas, we can communicate the good news. Hey, you know what Christmas tells us? You've got a Savior. I've got a Savior. We've got a Savior who can deliver us from our sin.
And I'm telling you, there's not a better time of the year for you and me who believe in that baby and love that baby and worship that baby to communicate the good news to a world full of sinners in need of a savior, that Savior has a come, that Savior has been born, that Savior has died, that Savior has come back from the grave, that Savior is here today, and that Savior is Jesus. Just like those angels, we ought to communicate the good news of Christmas. Here's the second thing we ought to do. We ought to concentrate on the great God of Christmas. We ought to concentrate on the great God of Christmas.
Now, watch, the angel's not finished. The sermon isn't done. The message is not over. This Jesus is more than just the Savior of the world. He is the heart of the entire message. Now, listen to what this angel says, "Today, in the town of David, a Savior has been born". Now, had he just stopped right there. I'm good to go. That's what I need. I'm a sinner in need of a savior. Thank you for coming. He says, "Oh, I'm not done". "A Savior who is born. He is the Messiah, the Lord". Now, this is the only time anywhere in the Bible where those three terms are used together. Savior, Christ, Lord. Before Jesus was even born, you remember, the angel told Joseph, he said, "You will call His name, Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins". Make sense. The name Jesus is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Joshua, which means God is our salvation. But, now the angel comes back and He doesn't even mention the name Jesus.
Now, He's talking to these Shepherds and He doesn't even tell them what His earthly name is. He said, "Boys, here's what I want you to know. He is the Savior, who is also Christ, the Lord". First of all, He's the Messiah. He is the Christ. The word, Messiah, is the English translation of the word, Christos, give us Christ and it literally means anointed or the anointed one. Anointing was what you did to kings. Kings would get anointed. Whenever they would start to reign they would take, before they would put the crown on the king's head, they would anoint his head with oil and they would crown him as king. And the reason why they anointed him, it was their way of setting him apart and saying to everybody else, "Now, he's not like us. He's not here to serve us. We're here to serve him".
So, if you want to know what the real heart of the real message of real Christmas is, it's this, "Jesus Christ is Lord of Christmas". That's the central truth. He is Lord of Christmas. We ought to concentrate on the great God. He is a Lord, who will direct us in the right way. He is the Lord who will protect us as we go His way. He is the Lord who will correct us when we go the wrong way. So, let me put it to you this way. Jesus is not special because of Christmas. Christmas is special because of Jesus. And I want you to listen to me, listen. Before I say this. I'm not on a crusade against anybody. OK. I want you to hear this. All moms and dads here this, OK, because I don't want to get any ugly e-mails or bad texts or anything like that. I am not on a crusade against anybody or anything.
Hear me. OK. Santa Clause is not what makes Christmas special. Rudolph and Frosty and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen and all the rest of those crazy-named sheep and reindeer, they are not what makes Christmas special. Jesus is what makes Christmas special. OK? So, we ought to communicate the good news of Christmas. And we ought to concentrate on the great God of Christmas. This was no ordinary run of the mill baby, whose diapers needed to be changed. This was the Messiah of the Jewish race. This was the Savior of the world. This was the Lord and is the Lord of the universe. Then one last thing. We should celebrate the glorious hope of Christmas. We ought to celebrate the glorious hope of Christmas. Lot of talk right now about hope. You probably read in the paper about it. Oh, we had hope. Don't have hope. Had hope. Don't have hope.
Let me tell you something. Read my lips. Don't you ever put your hope in a President or a party or a pop-political leader. Don't you ever do that. Don't you ever do that. Hey. Do not put your hope in a preacher. You give me enough time, I'll fail you. Right, Theresa? Am I right? Yeah, you're right. You give me enough time, I'll fail you. You put your hope in Jesus. Jesus never fails. I have made promises I have not kept. I shouldn't have made them and just didn't keep them, I forgot to keep them. We've all made promises we haven't kept. Jesus makes a promise, Jesus keeps it. I've said things I was going to do and I didn't do them. Sometimes I forgot, sometimes I wasn't able. I didn't do them. If Jesus says He'll do something, He'll do it. So, we need to celebrate the glorious hope of Christmas.
Now, God knew something from the very beginning. You know why we have Christmas carols? I don't know if you know this or not. I don't know, you maybe think, "Well, this is just a traditional thing". I don't think it's a traditional thing. It goes all the way back to the first Christmas. Because they had a Christmas carol at the first Christmas. The angels sang at Christmas. And somehow, it was God's wonderful way of saying, "Hey, by the way, if you're going to have Christmas, you have to have Christmas music. If you're going to have Christmas, you have to have, you know, Christmas carols". Right? Now, I don't think He ever envisioned we would sing, "Peter, the Red Nose Disciple," or anything like that, right? But, I do believe He meant to say, "Yes, we ought to celebrate and we ought to celebrate through music".
So, we're going to listen now to the first Christmas carol ever sung in history. Here it is, "Suddenly, a great company of the heavenly hosts appeared with the angel, praising God, and they were actually singing, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rest.'" So, who does God choose to sing this carol? No, not Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. He chose Gabriel and the Rocking Angels. He said, "Guys, I want you to sing and, you know, it's a free concert". And, I want you, listen, go back, because this is one of those times I want you to let your imagination run a little bit wild.
Have you ever thought about what that looked like and what that sounded like? I mean, you're out there. You're shepherds. You've never heard music of any kind, hardly, in your life. And all of a sudden, out there, in this dark Palestinian night, you're enjoying the highest state of the art, angelic concert ever heard. The curtains of heaven are pulled back and there's this heavenly tabernacle choir. By the way, the word, host, there. You know what that word literally means in the Greek language? It means, 10,000. Now, can you imagine, can you imagine what it looked like and what it sounded like? Ten thousand angels singing in perfect pitch, divine harmony, hitting every note right in the button on the first Christmas carol in history.
You say, "Wow. Pastor, that must have been something else". But, you know what made the song so great? It's not how it sounded, it's what it said. Because these angels sang that Christmas means that God has offered to planet earth the two greatest gifts the entire world needs. Know what they are? Peace and favor. Now, just listen. Hang with me. You say, "Why is that"? Well, first of all, He said, "There will be peace on earth," except for radical Islamic terrorists and people like that. Everybody wants peace on earth. Australians want peace on earth. The French want peace on earth. The British want peace on earth. Americans want peace on earth. Canadians want peace on earth. Mexicans want peace on earth. I mean, everybody, we all want peace on earth. However, the peace that we're looking for is not the peace He was singing about. The peace He's talking about was not, referring to peace of mind or rest for the stressed or even peace between nations.
You say, "What does it mean"? I want you to learn a lesson about peace. Peace doesn't even mean the absence of trouble. Because any peace like that is simply temporary. What these angels were singing about was peace with God. I've said this to you many times before, it's one of my favorite things to say. I love to say this. Peace is not the absence of trouble. Peace is the presence of Jesus. It's not the absence of trouble. It is the presence of Jesus. I read this the other day.
Somebody said, "God takes life's broken pieces and gives us unbroken peace". You think about it. Peace treaties, they've been signed. And peace treaties have been broken. You think about the peace that people try to find today. They're trying to find the peace that money can buy. They're trying to find the peace that alcohol and drugs can bring or drugs can deliver. But, you know what, it eventually wears off. All of that kind of peace is just temporary. But, I want to tell you this, when you finally have peace with God, when you're finally right with God, you know that you've got the peace of God that will always be with you, even when trouble is all around you, there's no peace like that. And let me tell you this, you will never have... some of you are looking for it.
Let me just kind of help you and get ahead of you and save you a lot of time, a lot of heartache, and trouble. You will never, ever have complete peace in this life until you are complete peace with the One that brought you into this life. Other than that, you're just barking up the wrong tree. And the only way you'll have that peace is to receive it from the Prince of Peace, who was born in that manger 2,000 years ago. He said, "There will be peace on earth". But then He says this, "There will be peace on earth, peace to those on whom His favor rests". That's the other great gift God give us, His favor.
Now, that doesn't mean a whole lot to you, so let me tell you what that word literally means and translate it another way and then you'll get it. The word there means grace. The angel said, "Because of this baby, we have peace with God and we have the grace of God". Now, I'm going to make a statement and if you don't agree with it, it's because you don't understand peace and you don't understand grace.
But there is nothing like going to bed at night and laying your head on your pillow and know, "I'm at peace with God. If I die in my sleep, I'm not going to be dead. I'll be more alive than I've ever been. And to know when I get up every morning, whether you get in your car and drive to work or you go to Starbucks and have a cup of coffee, whatever you do, I have the grace of God on my life. I've got the grace of God in me. I know I'm right with Him. I know I'm at peace with Him. And I know His favor rests on me".
And here's what so beautiful. What makes it so special is to know I've got those things, not because of anything I've done for Him, but because of what He's done for me. To know that it's not based upon my performance, it's not based on my position, it's not based on my personality, it's all based on Jesus, and to know it's all free and all I had to do was just simply accept it, just because of a little baby that was born 2,000 years ago. And that's why when I get into the malls like you do, and by the way, don't tell the mall I said this. I went last Sunday, don't go to the mall on Sunday. Not, don't do it. I'm telling you right now. Go to war, but don't go to the mall on Sunday. But you go to the mall. It's interesting, you're watching people and you're watching all the hustle and the bustle and, you know, you've been there, and all the things are going on.
And I can't help but think sometimes when I'm in that mall, so many people in there are spending money they don't have, to buy things for people that don't even need what they're buying, and some of them don't even like them. And then you've got this angel, and He's saying, over here in the corner, "You don't need to go to Macy's. You don't need to go to Belk's. You don't need to go to the mall. I got the peace of God and I've got the grace of God. And it's because of what that baby did and who that baby is, it's absolutely free". That is experiencing and expecting and expressing Christmas the way it ought to be done.