Christmas Eve Message
Again, Merry Christmas friends, may the Lord of Jesus be born in your heart tonight – prayer
I don’t know if you know this…but you are kind of an outlier tonight
Outlier? Formal definition comes from the world of statistics and I’m not smart enough to attempt to explain it to you…
But the informal definition is something that was popularized last year by a NY times bestseller book by Malcolm Gladwell
- Gladwell examines highly successful individuals
- Success not just about personal talent – but some weird idiosyncrasies that add to a person’s natural abilities
- Genius being a factor but there are many other factors
- g. disproportionate number of Canadian hockey players born in the first three months of the calendar year
- 10000 hour rule – you do anything for 10K hours and you’ll most likely be successful
Gladwell explains that successful people are outliers – not the norm – book explains what that means
Well, you are an outlier tonight – because just as success is far from the norm – so is being invested in some sort of faith community these days
Here you are – sitting in a local church for God knows what reason…like I said, not necessarily the norm for our culture today
That might surprise you so let me explain one of the reasons why I say that…
- In fact, this one might surprise you – the reason why worship attendance even on special days like Christmas is NOT the norm has to do with the fact that Jesus followers have lost something…something important
- Someone I know put it this way, “the good news isn’t sounding like good news these days”
Fictitiously line up a bunch of people at random and ask them about Christians
And here are some of the adjectives that you most likely will hear:
Illiterate, greedy, psychos, racists, stupid, narrow minded, bigots, idiots, fanatics, nut jobs, screaming loons, delusional, simpletons, pompous, morons, freaks…that that’s just a partial list
USA – has gone through an incredible change in our attitudes about religion
There was an article that came out several years ago, “10 surprising reasons kids are leaving the church”
The blogger who wrote it expected to have some hits to his website but man was he surprised when the post went viral and got over ½ million hits
Now, most of the people who are a bit hostile toward some religious experience aren’t those who necessarily come from a churched background…in fact, most people who haven’t had an experience of church are mostly pretty open minded and receptive about being involved in some faith community one day…
The hostility is seen when we get to the vastly larger group, those who have been around the block before with this Christian thing
A lot of people are hostile primarily because they have memories…LONG memories of wounds sustained while doing Christianity with supposedly loving, Christian people
There are vivid memories of wounds, splits, abuse, domineering and egotistical leadership and condemning fundamentalists
Wouldn’t surprise you that people feel judged…they feel inadequate especially when sometimes even well-meaning believers start throwing around things like the trinity, atonement, original sin…most of which are incomprehensible to most people
What’s frustrating about that – is that on a night like tonight when people like you and me want to focus on some good news, we discover that despite the fact that Jesus granted his followers the HUGE privilege of dispensing God’s love and grace and acceptance to a thirsty world…most of the churches that I know have dropped the ball…the only thing they have for a thirsty world is that which adds to thirst, doesn’t quench it
Now Jesus never did say that people who follow him are going to score well on every opinion poll…but I wonder what has happened that has gotten our culture so darn negative about anything that has to do with Jesus
Another example – did you know that when you ask people from around the world the question, “is religion a force for good in the world?” how many will say “yes it is?”
- Over 50% across the globe think that religion does more harm than good
- Crazy isn’t it?
In fact, here is the good ole USA, the sum total of all people who claim that they are part of the NONE group, those who claim NO religion in their lives…is a bigger group than all the Presbyterians, Methodists and Lutherans combined
Now why all this tonight on Christmas Eve? Well, go back to what I said a couple of moments ago…
“The good news isn’t sounding like good news these days”
I don’t think you would get much debate from people if you talked about some of the realities that ail our society
Most people would agree that we have a rapid sense of despair, emptiness and a gnawing sense of a lack of personal fulfillment that is pervasive in our culture
Some people call it depression…loneliness…even a loss of one’s soul
But I think we would all agree that every person we know…is looking for the same things in life – personal meaning (we want to know that our lives matter) and community (we want to know that we are loved)
It is interesting to me about how all of us intuitively sense that there is a problem with people in today’s 21st century culture but how most of us disagree on what might be a good cure
Turn the clock back a few decades and most people would have agreed on the fact that people would have almost unanimously said “God”
But now, with churches driving more people away from God than turning people to God…the cure for what ails people is a hard one to pinpoint
And that’s what brings us to Christmas Eve…
In a small manger bed…in a pretty bleak atmosphere despite stories of angels, and singing and wandering/worshipping shepherds…there is a word that God has spoken that IS the only cure for what ails the human heart
This gift of Jesus is just that…a gift – a gift of love and grace that continues to inspire and dramatically change lives despite the passage of the centuries
God wants for no other reason for you and me to experience tonight a reminder of what has always been on the top of God’s agenda for you and me to experience – and that is love
For what more can a newborn baby bring than a heart of love…what more can a miraculous birth into our world be than that one expression of God’s love for you and for me that we so desperately need and long for
We need another good dose of good news in our day…in these moments
Maybe we’ve screwed it up a lot over the years…maybe we put the wrong foot forward when it comes to really letting people around us know about what God is up to…
But make no mistake about what God wants us to hear loudly and clearly again this Christmas Eve night – you and me are loved
How do we know that?
- God actually looks happy to be with us
You know how you can tell whether a person really does love and care about you?
When those other people want to hang out with you
I’ve always felt a bit sorry for people who wallow in the waters of loneliness…can be very devastating…
But what I like to tell people who are battling with loneliness is this – be the type of person that others would love to hang out with and people will start showing up
I’ve never had a problem not wanting to hang out with people who care about me and actually look like they are happy to be around me…just the way it is
Here’s God – God could have chosen any way in the universe on how to communicate his love to people…
What He did decide to do was hang out in our world and actually look like He was enjoying himself
If there is something we know about the Christmas story is that it was full of joy
- Angels singing, shepherds running to see what this Jesus is all about…Mary and Joseph and a baby cooing in a manger bed
- God didn’t wisk the baby away to some secret spot as if he were trying to keep him concealed or hide him from the average folk…God put him right out in public
- Let everyone who wanted to see Jesus get a chance to see – God’s actually happy to be here
Make no mistake about it…if the truth of tonight is that Jesus loves you there is also another truth that is just as important for you to hear…Jesus likes you and wants to hang out with you
Incarnation – big word that says Jesus moves into your life…pokes around…looks where you want him to and where you don’t want him to and he still comes to the same conclusion, He says, I love you..astounding
- He’s taken the initiative to seek us out
Ever sense that feeling of being lost before?
A lot of us have…a lot of us would admit that we have lost our way in life more times than we can count
- Some of us set out in life to be happily married and got divorced
- Some of us set out to be healthy and got sick
- Some of us set out to live in a sunshine filled, warm climate and ended up in McCall/Cascade Idaho
- Some of us set out to do something really significant with our lives and ended up with an important but publically insignificant job, living our lives influencing dozens instead of millions
God does his best work with those who are lost…
We are lost…and Jesus was born in our backyard as if God were to say to us personally, “hey, found ya”
Bono, famous U2 singer and front man once wrote, “I went looking for spirit and I found alcohol; I went looking for soul and I bought some style; I wanted to meet God and they sold me religion”
Religion never can deliver because it is not something that seeks you…it isn’t personal…it is a system…a cold, organizational, dogma laddened system
But Jesus, this is God looking for you…
You never have to worry about whether Jesus really does want to find you
- Oh you may have wondered if people really cared enough to look for you and find you when you were playing hide and seek as a kid
- You may wonder even now if when you look at your life, I mean really honestly, if people were to know the real story…if they would care…if they would love
- You never have to worry with Jesus
No matter who you are…no matter what you have done…no matter what’s going on in the deep recesses of your heart, Jesus will be born unto YOU this night
- In the eyes of a child, the Jesus child, there is nothing more than love and acceptance and grace for you
Ever looked into the eyes of a newborn baby?
Exploring…looking…searching and then locking in…when that happens, there is a smile
Jesus has the uncanny ability to look at everyone with grace-filled eyes
Not only seeing the beauty of who you are but what you could become…your sacred potential
One of my favorite authors once wrote, “turn around and believe that the good news that we are loved is gooder than we ever dared hope and that to believe in that good news, to live out of it and toward it, to be in love with that good news, is of all glad tidings in this world the gladdest thing of all”
A lot of us have been exposed to toxic faith
Hypocrisy and prideful people squelch any possibility of us encountering anything but toxicity
Good news – God wants you to thrive – this isn’t a meaningless universe and you are not here out of random or accidental processes that you and me will never understand…
God entered our world and demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is NOTHING that can separate us from God’s love
That’s why Jesus is important…He’s close…He’s very close…that’s what baby’s do…they snuggle in close
God isn’t out there…He isn’t on some throne of judgment looking to axe you as soon as He has an opportunity…what he is saying from a manger bed is I LOVE YOU
You know, there was a survey done by a sociologist not too long ago…asked the question, what are the words that people long to hear
And no, it isn’t “you just won the lottery”
- Number one – “I love you”
- Number two – “I forgive you”
- Number three – “supper’s ready”
That’s what God says to you through Jesus – I love you, I forgive you and come to dinner with me
NO one needs to tell you to “get religion”
Religion is a system of rewards, blackmail, calculation and aggrandizement in which people only come off better or worse
You see, Jesus never bullies…the manger doesn’t coerce
- When you feel like you are at the end of your rope…God’s love runs up to you and embraces you with tender arms and a loving heart
- When you feel like your heart is broken and there’s no hope left, God takes that broken heart and gives you HIS
Right at the point of your struggle…God meets you with a miracle
“I don’t want a Christmas you can buy. I don’t want a Christmas you can make. What I want is a Christmas you can hold. A Christmas that holds me, remakes me, revives me. I want a Christmas that whispers, Jesus.”
Let me close like this – Ever heard of the Voyageur 1 space program?
The twin Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft are exploring where nothing from Earth has flown before.
- More-than-35-year journey since their 1977 launches, they each are much farther away from Earth and the sun than Pluto.
- In August 2012, Voyager 1 made the historic entry into interstellar space, the region between stars, filled with material ejected by the death of nearby stars millions of years ago.
- Right now you can go to the Voyager website – voyager 1 is 12.3 billion miles from earth
Not too long ago, the Voyageur 1 spaceship, snapped the picture of who we are. A picture of who we are from 4 billion miles away, as the spacecraft turned around for one final glance back at its home before it drifted forever out of our solar system.
The photograph initially seemed inconsequential — black, dark…. empty.
- But as men leaned in, looked at the picture with painstakingly focus they noticed it, the earth — and there we are.
That is who we are: the entire planet is an infinitesimal 0.12 pixel in the photographed scheme of space.
- It almost looks like nothing, Pale Blue dot is Earth, in a shaft of sun light, taken from 4 billion miles away
- And there we float, captured in a ray of light, suspended in the lonely black of space.
That is who we are on Christmas Eve.
On Christmas Eve, the whole of the world sleeps and rises and waits and worships and we are a pinpoint.
We are a pinpoint and the astronomer Carl Sagan, deeply moved by that photograph of who we are in this universe, he said,
- “Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”
Carl Sagan, he looked at that pale blue dot in all that dark…. And said, there’s “no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”
- No hint of help?
- No sign of saving?
- No rumor of relief?
Our God doesn’t buy that assertion…our God isn’t buying into any of our sense of despair or lostness or feelings of insignificance
Our God breaks in…and as He does, His presence stuns reality across the heavens Angels broadcast it and shatter the skies with the tidings. Our God is a God who breathes stars, He breathed Bethlehem’s Star, then took on lungs and breathed in stable air. Our God who formed and delivered the heavens, He waited patient like an embryo in a womb and delivered Himself to free all humanity. Our God who cradles whole galaxies in the palm of His hand, whom highest heavens cannot contain, He folds Himself into our skin and He curls His newborn fist in the cradle of a barn feed trough — and we are saved from ourselves.
- We are saved from our hopelessness — because God came with infant fists and opened wide His hand to take the nail sharp edge of our sins.
- We are saved from our pain — because God pierced the dark and came to the pinpoint of us in the universe and He took the nails.
- We are saved from our loneliness — because God is love that can’t stand to leave us by ourselves, to ourselves.
The entire cosmos sings it on Christmas Eve: We are not alone.
Out of the dark, out of the black and right into the land of the shadow of death, a great Light has dawned, and God comes and God is with us, Emmanuel… God on the pale blue dot.
- We are not alone.
God can’t miss this pale blue dot, and God can’t leave you in your pain, and God can’t and the King comes, God comes — Love come down to you…
God’s with us on this pale blue dot, God whispering realest Christmas miracle into this dark:
- “I am here and you are not alone.“
I tell you – that’s good news!