Mike Novotny - I Feel Overwhelmed
I don't know all of you, or where you come from, or where you've been, but I have a hunch, no matter how hard you try, no matter how intentionally you attempt to plan, Christmas just ends up being crazy. And I bet that's true in one of two ways. Christmas either ends up being crazy busy or Christmas ends up being crazy hard. If you're like me and God has blessed you with a lot of good things in your life, good family, good friends, a good job, a good church, then I don't know if there's any way to get around the fact that Christmas is just crazy busy. Right, if you're dating someone, you fall in love, they probably want to spend time with you, hopefully. They're probably going to want a gift and they're going to shop for you, you're going to wrap the gift.
If you have good friends that God has put into your life, you know, they're going to want to hang out with you and someone's going to say, "We should wear ugly Christmas sweaters". And then you're going to have to do that. And, "Oh, we should all bring the secret Santa kind of thing". So, you're going to have to think about that. If God's given you a good job, there's going to be the holiday party and the dish to pass, and the potluck and the signup genius. Like the more good things God has given to you, the more extended family that you want to be with, the more grandparents that are still alive, grandkids that are still around. The more God has given you the crazier Christmas gets.
It's kind a paradox of the season. Like the better you have it, the harder Christmas ends up being. Or maybe for you, Christmas isn't crazy busy, maybe for your Christmas is the other option, and it's just crazy hard. Maybe you've lived this or maybe you know someone who has. That if you don't have all those good things, the holidays can be the hardest time of the year. And I was talking to a guy just the other day who's going through a separation right now, like all the Christmases of the past with the wife, and the kids around the tree. I know someone who's here tonight, who's lost a spouse this year, and it's the first Christmas that's going to be so different from the decades previously. I know people who are battling addictions this year, who aren't going to go to the holiday parties just 'cause it's too tempting when everyone else is throwing back a few drinks.
I know and love many people who are watching right now from prison, who aren't with a single family member or a single friend because of something they've done. If you battle anxiety and you're struggling with crowds, Christmas can be the hardest time of the year. If you battle depression, the darkness, and the cold, and the season can make it really difficult. It kind a struck me the other day that, you know, there's, there's two paths, but we all kind a end up in the same spot that Christmas is just crazy. It's crazy busy, we're rushed. We barely catch our breath or it's crazy hard and we can't wait to flip the calendar and start a new year. But whatever one of those paths sounds most like your life. There's something really interesting about the Christmas story in the Bible that you should know. And if you're taking notes in your program, I'd love for you to write this down.
When I reviewed the classic Christmas story in Luke 2, I learned this, that the Bible's Christmas is more crazy than baby. The Bible's Christmas is more crazy than baby. It's true. If you'd would read the well-researched account from Dr. Luke. Luke 2 which we read all the time on Christmas, you would find out that there's a lot less baby than you would expect and a lot more crazy. Like when, when Luke dug in and did his thorough research and wrote this story that would be remembered for all of history. He wanted you and me to know that when Jesus came into this world, things were absolutely crazy. And today, I want to tell that story to you in a fresh way. I want to try to prove to you that when Jesus came, when Christ came into our world, he came into the craziness. He did it back then and the really, really good news is that he still does today.
So, if you have a Bible with you, Bible app or you just want to follow along on the screen, we're going to jump in to the classic Christmas story. Luke 2, and here's how it goes. "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria and everyone went to their own town to register". Caesar Augustus, his actual name was Gaius Octavius, issued a decree. Do you know another name for a decree? A mandate. The Christmas story starts with a government mandate.
Now, how many people here love a good government mandate? Yes, ladies? Ladies, you might love a man and you might love a date, but nobody loves a mandate. A mandate is essentially a command. It's a, a decree, it's an order. It's not a suggestion, it's not a think about it. It's you better do it or else. And Caesar Augustus ruling from his throne in Rome, he issued an empire wide decree, that everyone had to be counted. Likely he wanted to see how many people there were so he could tax them, so he could have enough soldiers so he could oversee and control them. Which was a total power play to keep himself in control. And local leaders like Quirinius, the governor of Syria, made sure that everyone complied. Verse four, "So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child".
Right, here's what we know about Joseph. He was poor, he was a carpenter, he was engaged and suddenly he was about to be a stepfather, right? The Bible says that, "Joseph did not have much, but he got engaged hoping he could make enough to pay for a wedding and to take care of Mary". Then an angel apparently came and said, "Mary's going to be with child". So, he's about to be the stepfather of a baby and while he's processing this incredible news, guess what the local messenger says. "Everyone has to go to their own town to register". There's no Turbo Tax in those days. Joseph does not own a stylish Chrysler town and country minivan. Like some very cool people in this church do. No, he has to go like 80 to 100 miles. That was the distance between Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea, three to four marathons, no motor, no electricity, Middle Eastern heat, and oh yeah, his fiance is very pregnant.
You ever seen a map of Israel before? The road up to Bethlehem, which was in the hill country of Judea, was an elevation climb of 4,000 feet, 4,000! That's double the height of Wisconsin's tallest mountain. And oh yeah, did I mention his fiance was very pregnant? Joseph doesn't have money to begin with, then he gets engaged, then he is going to be a stepfather. Now, he has to leave his carpentry shop up in Nazareth when he travels for what, one week, two weeks, maybe more. What was he thinking when the mandate came from Caesar Augustus? Just the craziness. I mean, have you ever had to provide for someone before and you didn't know if you could? The panic, the fear, the anxiety. What if Mary delivers? Joseph's good with his hands, but he doesn't know how to deliver a baby? What if they can't find a place to stay? What if they can't make ends meet?
And then the craziest part happens. "And while they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and Mary gave birth to her first born, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them". From start to finish, Luke 2:1-7 is a tiny bit of the baby and a whole lot of crazy. And it's good that we tell the story that way in my opinion. We have one of those activity sets on top of the piano in our living room. And I was actually just looking at it before I came to church today. Do you know what we do in activity sets? We make things less crazy. My activity set is this like perfect little wooden stable, like you'd see at a, like a barn wedding or something. Just a little bit of moss and I actually picked up all the little porcelain figurine pieces and I found out that all the animals were smiling. Like perfectly arranged, Jesus is sleeping in heavenly peace. Joseph's not sweating at all. Mary looks beautiful. Like, what?
That is not at all the story how it happened. It was panic, it was fear, it was worry, it was stress. It was like the craziest thing they had ever been through until Jesus. If you're taking notes, maybe we could say it this way. We've talked about a crazy Christmas before, but do you know what's right in the middle of a crazy Christmas? Christ. Jesus was born into the craziest world, at the craziest time, into the craziest circumstances, because Jesus Christ is the kind of God who gets right in the middle of the crazy.
And I don't know about you, but for me, for me that's really good news. 'Cause a couple weeks ago over at a place called Soccer Heaven, things got a little bit crazy and I might have started it. Here's my version of the now controversial events. My team is playing this other team. It's a good match, competitive middle-aged men. I get the ball, I'm one on one with another very competitive middle-aged guy. I'm pretty fast, he's pretty fast, but I shake him, right? I get a step on him. I'm so close to the goal, I blast it. Goalie doesn't stand a chance. He doesn't even move. And I'm going back to celebrate until this defender turns to his goalie and explodes, right? Screams at him, he's berating him publicly for not stopping the shot and it caught me so off guard that I said something. I said something that a Christian should probably not say. I said, "Hey, no, no, no, don't yell at him. That was your fault. You've got to own that". I said, "I just smoked you"! And I said this next. "So be humble, bro". Why are you clapping at the pastor's sin? Right?
Now, for the record, for the record saying be humble right after you say I smoked you is not, is not cool with Jesus. And as you can imagine, what happened next was not a scene from Paw Patrol. Alright things, things got crazy. This dude erupted; he came at me, I walked away, I went to the bench. Of course, we ended up on the field together. I shook him again, he tried to backhand me. I walked away. The game actually ended, I went in to shake his hand and say, "Hey man, I'm sorry for getting fired up". He came back at me again, said that, "I was a chump, that he had been schooling me all night". Until one of my teammates got into it, things got physical, punches almost thrown. The owner of Soccer Heaven shows up, the ref is there, grown men in getting walked to the parking lots.
So, please know you are welcome here, alright? So I mean, my conscience kicks in and I apologize to the other team and I apologize to my team. I apologize to the owner of the place. But I went home that night and I'm sitting in bed and I can't fall asleep until, until two in the morning. Just thinking, "Come on Mike, you're a pastor. Everyone knows you're a Christian. 'I smoked you, bro.'" Right? And it's kind of funny, but it's kind of not. 'Cause people who follow Jesus are supposed to act a little bit like Jesus. Jesus was humble and I was proud. Jesus was patient and I was not. And I know better, right? If you've come to this church for a while, you know, this is not the first pastor Mike did something stupid on the soccer field story, right? And it kind of hit me that the craziest part of my life is not the calendar, it's not the Christmas season.
The craziest part of my life is actually here. That there are just some really simple things I know that I should do, but I don't. Or I know that I shouldn't do, but I do. How about you? Hey, you don't have to be a pastor. You don't even have to be a Christian to realize just how crazy it is that we humans have such a hard time doing the simplest things like loving people, like not picking and choosing the people, just being good people to all people. I think that's what we all want. You know, but then he annoys us, or she angers us, or he rolls his eyes, or she stomps her feet, or she starts it, or he begins it. And our values and our principles, even our faith just seems to like, push pause for a bit. It's the human struggle and you can only imagine how crazy it must seem like to God. That he gives us these simplest commands, just love me and love each other. But it's hard to go a season, it's hard to go a week, it's hard to go a day, that there is something crazy that exists within the human heart.
And I think that's why I love Christmas. I think that's why I love the fact that Luke told me about Caesar Augustus, the government mandate, Quirinius and no room in the inn. I love the fact that Jesus didn't just show up at a place that was neat and tidy and sanitary and predictable. He showed up in the craziest place because maybe, maybe, maybe that proves that he can show up in this place too. Like Jesus could've kept his distance. He could've looked down from heaven at this dumpster fire here on earth and stayed, but he did not. He could've picked a more peaceful place to be born instead of this squabbling feud between Jews and Romans, between tax collectors and Pharisees, but he did not. He could have kept his distance from complicated people like Mary with her dark past, and Peter who was as arrogant as I am, but he did not.
What did Jesus do? He got right in the middle of it, right in the middle of people, angry people and greedy peoples, sinful people, prostitutes, tax collectors, religious hypocrites. Jesus was Immanuel, God with us. He didn't keep his distance. He got right in the middle of it. I love the fact that Jesus was born into this crazy world because it was his first step to something even crazier. But Jesus Christ born with flesh and blood would later give his flesh on the cross and shed his blood for sinful people like us. He came not to just grow up and be a good teacher, to give us some good advice about being more patient, and nice on the soccer field. He grew up and gave his life on a cross so that guys like me could be forgiven for what happened on the field. And so that you, whatever your story and whatever your baggage, whatever the darkness of your past.
You could bring that to Jesus and you could hear him say, "It's finished". That you could worship here on this Christmas Eve and you could hear the angels say, "There's good news". And it brings great joy that there is a savior and he has been born for you. Not a teacher, not a rabbi, not a guide, not a guru, a savior. One who can rescue you from the danger of your own crazy heart. His name is Jesus. And so, you and I can come with all of our brokenness and believe that he will bless us. We can come with all of our craziness, because we know he responds to our crazy with his mercy. Today, Jesus is inviting you and he's inviting me to come to him with all of it. To lay it has his feet and believe that he is the kind of savior that can handle it. He's Christ.
And if you need a reminder of that, let me leave you with what happened to me just last week. I'm also so excited to have people here to hear the good news of the birth of Jesus, the Savior who forgives us for all of our worst sinfulness that I was texting, I was calling, I was emailing family, friends, soccer teammates, neighbors, trying to invite as many people as I could. And I wanted to invite my friend that I hadn't heard from in about nine months. I won't tell you his name 'cause he struggled with some pretty, pretty heavy drugs. 'Cause of his addiction, I like see him for a while and then I don't see him for a long while. And then he touches base and then he is off the grid. And when I opened up my phone to text him, I realized that I had, I texted him back in April, no response in May and no response the summer, no response the fall, no response. I was just staring at the phone and I thought, "well, why not try again"?
So, I texted him, "Hey, it's Pastor Mike, Merry Christmas". And I'm eating my lunch out in the church lobby about 15 minutes later and who calls back? My friend. I answer, "Hey, great to hear from you". But the voice that's speaking into my ear is not the voice of my friend. "You, the pastor that keeps texting me"? I think so. It's like, "Yeah, I got this new phone and you keep texting me". "Like hey, sorry about that man. That was my friend's phone". I'm about to hang up and he says, "Wait, you're a pastor"? "Yeah". "Where's your church"? "Appleton, Wisconsin". "I live in Appleton". "Pastor, you're not going to believe this, but I'm an addict. And I couldn't sleep last night. I was so tempted to relapse, I was up at like two in the morning and I was praying, praying, praying, begging God help me, help me. God, I need something. Would you help me? And I wake up the next day and a pastor's texting me. Pastor, can you pray for me"?
He said, "For sure". "Pastor, I'm going to be gone for Christmas when I'm back, can we get together"? "For sure". "Pastor, I got like a whole bunch of family members and friends who need to hear about Jesus. Can I bring them too"? "No you can't". Yes! I said, "Oh my goodness, yes, I'll buy coffee for all of them, you need to bring them"! And I was thinking, what are the odds? What are the odds that when my friend can't pay his phone bill, the random Verizon employee gives the number to this guy? What are the odds that I pick up the phone on that random day to text him hours after he was praying, begging God for help with his addiction? What are the odds? The answer is there. Very good.
If you believe in a Jesus Christ that gets in the middle of the craziest moments, a good shepherd who walks to the valley of the shadow of death to find a loss sheep. The odds are actually great. My friends, it is no accident that you're here today. God wants you to know, no matter how crazy, how busy, how broken, how messy, how many questions, how many sins, how many doubts, how much shame. You show me the craziest story and I will show you who is right in the middle of it. His name is Jesus. So, brothers and sisters, saints and sinners, you have a very merry, probably busy, undoubtedly crazy Christ centered Christmas. Let's pray:
Jesus, thank you for your unfailing love. Thank you that this Christian faith is so different 'cause it's not about us, it's about you. It's about you reaching out to sinners, and shepherds, and Mary and Joseph. It's about you working through relationships to connect us to the church, through doubts, and pain, and loss to connect us to your word. God, you use all of it for one great purpose that we would know you, and know the depth of your love. I worship you Father, for everyone who is here today. Some people knew all of this already, some people are hearing it for the first time, but it is really good news. Help us to see it, to realize it, and to come to you with all of it. Thank you, Jesus for your love. I can't imagine being born in a manger, running from a murderous king, being misunderstood by family and friends, being slandered and accused, being tortured and abused, dying on a cross for the sins of the world. You knew all of it and yet you chose it for us. Thank you, Jesus for loving sinners like me, like us. We're so grateful to you, Father, that you love the world so much you gave your one and only son. And we worship you today, Holy Spirit, for giving us eyes to see that this is not just some story or fable to make us feel warm during the Christmas season. This is history, this is true, and this is really good news. We celebrate and worship you today God. We thank you for your love and we pray this all in Jesus name. And all God's people who agreed joined their voices and they said, Amen.