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Turn On The Light. [Luke 2]

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12.24.2023 evening sermon notes
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For the past year, we have been reading through the entire bible together as a church. It’s been absolutely crazy, but also really amazing. Last year, when they were prepping and planning, trying to guess how many people would get involved - I think the first round of bibles was going to be like 50 or 75 bibles to purchase, something really small like that. Now I’m not sure the exact count, but I think we’ve given away something like 300 bibles this year. But if you’re reading the Bible in a year - cover to cover or chronologically or with some sort of reading plan - they all end the same way. The book of Revelation. The last book of the Bible. Pastor Michael had someone from the Midland campus come up to him like 4 months ago and say, “I can’t wait to hear your Christmas Eve message based on the book of Revelation” Now don’t worry - that’s not tonight. Next Sunday, in week 52 out of 52, we’re going to have a sermon called “The End” and we’re going to dive into Revelation. But what’s amazing about the book of Revelation is that people get it all mixed up. It’s about the end of the world, and there’s lots of strange symbolism and confusing metaphors - but it is actually a book that is designed to give us hope and peace.

I mean, if you think about the present moment, this world is SO full of fear. Our society is crammed with anxiety and stress, even in the midst of the holiday season. I think about the War in Ukraine, the turmoil with Israel and Hamas, the struggles with the economy, social unrest. For some of us it’s medical concerns, for others it’s how to pay for those medical concerns, for others it’s just trying to figure out the grocery bill. And that’s not to mention the added holiday stress of parties and food prep, gift purchasing and travel. There’s a whole lot of reasons for stress, a whole lot of reasons for anxiety and fear. Now I’m not going to talk about Revelation, we’re going to save that for next week - and I think it’s going to be amazing - but I just want to give you a little sneak preview, Revelation chapter 1, verse 1 [read v.1-4]. I’m writing a book about the end of the world, and the first thing he says is, “Grace and PEACE to you… from the one who is, who was and who is to come.” They’re talking about Jesus, but that phrase - who was, who is and who is to come - well that’s the past, present and future. And it’s Christmas Eve, and so of course my brain is going to jump to Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol - best represented in Muppet form. But what I want you to realize is that before Charles Dickens gave us the Ghost of Christmas past, Christmas present and Christmas future - God was already there. Whether it’s the end of the world or the middle of your holiday plans - we can find grace and peace through Jesus, who was, and is, and is to come. God’s word to us, amidst the greatest crisis of humanity, his word to us is grace and peace.

 But how do we do it? I mean, I know everything is supposed to be perfect and we’re not supposed to stress or worry or be afraid - because “it’s Christmas” but how? How can we move from Christmas fear to Christmas cheer? How do we transform a Scary Christmas into a Merry Christmas? I’d like to think we are a practical church, and we put our faith into action. And the Christmas story just so happens to give us amazing guidance on how to move from fear to faith - so let’s dive in.

Luke chapter 2, verse 8 [read v.8-10]. Mary and Joseph find shelter in a stable, she has the baby and lays him in a manger - meanwhile over in the fields an angels shows up to some Shepherds. It says the “radiance of the Lord's glory surrounded them” - which is pretty intense. But the angel says, "don't freak out” and it continues, [read v.11-12]. It's a classic story, but it’s also a story of fear turning to joy. An angel appeared in the darkness of the night and gave good news - and so for us, asking the question “how do we move from fear to faith?” - the first step is that we need to look to the light. The shepherds looked to the light, and they went from trembling in fear to trembling with joy! Think about it this way, in the season of thanksgiving there’s a pretty common practice of trying to come up with saying one thing you are thankful for every day of the month. Or sometimes at Thanksgiving dinner you’ll go around and everyone say something you’re thankful for. And the thing is - the process of saying what you are thankful for CREATES gratitude in your heart. You actually BECOME more thankful and grateful for your life. It’s the same when you dwell on good things. If you’re a sour-puss and you always find the thing to complain about - you will have less satisfaction in your life. And if you dwell on the darkness or if you dwell on the light - that will have an affect on your soul. Actions can change your feelings - motion can transform emotion. Looking into the darkness moves you closer to fear. Looking to the light brings you closer to faith. The shepherds look to the light, and after the initial shock of seeing an angel - I mean, wow - they are filled with an incredible, contagious joy. 

The flip side of that is the way expectation shapes what you’re looking at. Big loud scary noise at night and the Shepherds are very scared - but when it’s an angel, they should have expected good news! I think about when I was little, I slept on the top bunk of a bunk bed with my brother, and my head would be in line with the door, and if the door was left open I could actually see down the hallway. But I always hated it when my parents left my door open, because in the darkness of the hallway there were usually piles of laundry. And to a little kid, in the middle of the night - I can’t really see clearly, and the shapes of the clothing always managed to look like a monster. And I knew it was laundry, but peering into the darkness freaked me out. I was expecting monsters in the dark, and so that’s what I saw. At the same time, on Christmas morning, in our house the bedrooms were upstairs, and the living room with the Christmas tree was at the bottom of the stairs. And my parents had some very strict rules about how Christmas morning was going to work. Rule number 1 - you are not allowed to go downstairs without mom and dad. Rule number 2 - you are not allowed to wake mom and dad, until 7am. I know, it’s basically child torture. So what we would do is gather in the hallway at the top of the stairs, crack of five AM, and peer down the stairs into the darkness. And it was pitch black in the living room, but we could kind of make out shapes in the dark. And we would whisper loudly, because maybe if we whisper loudly we might “accidentally” wake mom and dad up early. I don’t think we ever actually made it to 7am, I’m pretty sure most years they took mercy on us. But peering into the darkness searching for monsters made out of laundry Vs peering down the stairs into the darkness searching for gifts - your expectation shapes what you see.  And this applies to your life too!  This isn’t just the life and stories of JJ’s childhood. If you want to move from fear to faith - from scary Christmas to merry Christian - look to the light and expect good news.

 That’s step 1, step 2 of how to move from fear to faith - we keep reading, [read v.12-15]. The angel is joined by a multitude and they are singing praises to God. Now I know that most of the time we are picturing the sky being filled with white robes and halos and people with wings singing like a choir sings. But when I was reading it this past week, this one phrase stuck out to me. “A vast host of others - the armies of heaven.” Armies of heaven - what if the picture is not a choir in silky robes singing a cantata, what if it is the gathered armies of angelic warriors giving a battle cry? Step 2 in moving from fear to faith is to sing songs of praise. And maybe that sounds silly, but this is how we fight back against the darkness. Praise has power. Praise will replace panic. Worship overcomes worry. I think about when my kids are scared of the dark. When they call me into their bedroom and they’re all worried - the first thing I tell them is don’t be afraid. Just like the angel, it’s silly to be scared of the dark - there’s nothing to fear. But most of the time that’s not enough, they’re still freaked out. And so sometimes I will tell them, “I want you to tell the darkness you’re not scared of it.” I’m not scared of you. And then say it again. I’m not scared of you. And the first time they say it - it’s a lie. But the second time they say it - it’s only half a lie. And if they’re still struggling, I want them to yell it. I’m not scared of you, silly darkness. It’s always fun when Dad says you’re allowed to yell. Because yelling it and repeating it and speaking it helps their little hearts to overcome. Sing songs of praise to move from fear to faith. And if you’re not convinced because it's a little weird - look at how many people praise in this story. Luke chapter 1, verse 46-55 - is known as Mary’s Song, when she visits Elizabeth - she just bursts out in praise. Verse 67-79, they call it a prophecy, but it’s kind of like Zechariah’s song. He sees his son, John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin and he just bursts into praise. Obviously the angels are praising God, but then the Shepherds do it too, chapter 2 verse 20, [read v.20]. Simply put, singing makes the night less scary. And maybe you’re not a singer, or whatever, that’s not my point. Praising God, recognizing how awesome he is and naming it, reminds your timid heart who is really in charge. And it nudges us just that much closer to faith, and nudges you just that much further away from fear. Worship overcomes worry, praise will replace panic - so sing songs of praise.

Really what I’m trying to say here is that Buddy the Elf was right - The best way to spread Christmas Cheer is singing loud for all to hear. If you don’t know what I’m talking about - there’s this classic kids Christmas movie called Elf, and one of the themes in the film is that singing is the way you spread Christmas cheer. And towards the end of the movie, they’re sort of desperate - they NEED to spread Christmas cheer because Santa’s sleigh is getting chased by the police or something and it needs Christmas cheer to fly. Whatever. And so to spread Christmas cheer this woman gets up, and she doesn’t like to sing in front of people, but she gets up and starts singing. And she's like this incredible singer. But the best part of that scene is not the professional singing movie star, but the second singer. It’s the mom character, and she’s not that good a singer. She’s kind of hitting the notes, but she’s clearly stretching her voice - but it's not about what it sounds like, it’s about what it does to the group of people. There is power in song - and that’s just a Christmas movie. How much more does singing songs of praise to the almighty God in heaven move our hearts in the real world.? 

The third step of moving from fear to faith to have Christmas Cheer instead of Christmas fear is to rehearse God’s promises. What I mean by that is that you need to repeat the good things that God has taught us over and over - because our hearts are forgetful. I say this all the time, but that’s because it’s so important. You have to build repetition into your life because naturally we forget, and naturally we drift. It is not enough for me to tell my wife, “I love you” one time at the wedding and then never say it again. I probably am one of those who says “I love you” too much. I’m sure it’s very mushy and annoying being married to me - but I don’t ever want her to forget, I don't want her to doubt it for one second. And you see this all over the story of God throughout the Bible. God’s people set up rituals and tell the stories of their family history over and over so that it will carry through the generations, and so that their hearts can be reminded. Israel is SO forgetful, and they have to be reminded over and over, “No, seriously - God really loves you.” And I think it's the same in our lives - we need that reminder, “No, seriously - God really loves you.” Luke 1, verse 54, this is Mary talking [read v.54-55]. Mary’s talking about God’s promise to their ancestors. With the shepherds in chapter 2, [read v.15b], and then again at the end of the section, [read v.20]. Back up two verses and it’s Mary again, [read v.18-19]. Rehearse God’s promises - over and over remind yourself of who God is and what God has done. In a couple minutes we’re going to take communion, and that’s a huge part of what that is all about - reminding ourselves of the moment that God said, “You are worth dying for. I will save my people.” 

It reminds me, sorry I keep referencing movies, but did anybody ever see that movie The Help? It’s not a Christmas movie, it was about these women during the civil rights era. But there’s this woman who takes care of a little girl, she’s kind of like a servant or a nanny or whatever. She takes care of this little girl and over and over she makes the little girl repeat this phrase. She says, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” Because for the rest of her life the rest of the world is going to try and convince her that that is wrong. And so by repeating it, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important” - hopefully that will get down into that little girl’s spirit, and she’ll remember it in later years. This is what we need to do as Christians. Rehearse the promises of God, remind our timid hearts just how loved we are. I wish I had a cute phrase like that little girl from the Help for you to repeat. Trying to capture the gospel in a couple of clever phrases. Let’s try these reminders - there's a thousand ways you could put this, but here’s a few: You are safe with Jesus. You are loved by Jesus. You are forgiven through Jesus. And when you are alone in the darkness, repeat those words - rehearse God’s promises. You are safe with Jesus. You are loved by Jesus. You are forgiven through Jesus.

Next Sunday we’re going to dive into the book of Revelation - it’s the end of the year and the end of the world. But even when everything seems terrifying and uncertain - the story of Christmas hands us the tools we need to leave fear behind. So I’ll leave you with this. May you look to the light, and expect good things from God. May you sing songs of Praise, because the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear. And then may you rehearse God’s promises - repeat them over and over so that your forgetful heart will remember how good God is. You are safe with Jesus. You are loved by Jesus. You are forgiven through Jesus. Let’s pray.


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