Name that Thingy
Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem, because they were related to a famous king, from a thousand years earlier, who lived in Bethlehem. Name that King.
The traditional Christmas carol, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is supposed to contain a comma after a certain word. Name that Word.
When the Wise Men visited Jesus, based on King Herod’s murderous decree, at the most, he could only be as old as a certain age. Name that Age.
- 3 months
- 6 months
- 12 months
- 24 months
Herod gave the Wise Men a false reason for wanting to know where Jesus was. Name that Reason.
- To worship him.
- To hurt him.
- To protect him.
- To feed him lasagna.
Welcome to Christmas at Neighborhood, and to our very special series called Home for Christmas.
Today is part three. We’ve been saying that Christmas means that Christ has three homes.
- His Eternal home in heaven.
- His Earthly home in Bethlehem.
- His Spiritual Home in your heart.
I remember many years ago, talking with one of the kids in my church. His name was J.T. and he was nine years old. I asked him where he thought Jesus lived. J.T. pointed to his chest. “In here,” he said.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“He lives in my heart.”
“Oh, that’s cool,” I said. “What do you mean by your heart?”
“You know. It’s the thing that pumps the blood.”
That’s when it hit me. This kid was totally literal. He was picturing a mini-Jesus, like a G.I. Joe… a G.I. Jesus sitting inside the organ that pumps his blood.
I realized that sometimes we use cliches, and we think we know what we mean, but we don’t do a good job of decoding them, so other people know what we mean. Especially kids.
Today, I want to decode what it means to make this Christmas your first Christmas with Jesus in your heart.
Christ in your Heart
Here is one of the greatest prayers in Scripture. Let its feeling sink deeply into your heart.
As I think of this great plan I fall on my knees before the Father, and I pray that… Christ may actually live in your hearts by your faith. (Ephesians 3:14-17, Phil).
There’s a lesser known Christmas carol from 1864 with these beautiful words:
Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown, When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room, For Thy holy nativity. O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.(Emily E. Elliott, 1864).
It’s a pretty common theme in Christmas carols… that comparison between no room in the inn and no room in your heart for Jesus. It’s a fair question, though, isn’t it?
When my niece and nephew were little, I played Santa Claus for them one Christmas. I didn’t have kids. I had lots of time, and figured it would be a nice part of my Christmas gift to the kids.
I rented a costume, and got to my brother’s house early. I had everything. The suit. The hat. The beard. The bag. The rented big belly…
Amy was four, and Joe was three. I waited in the kitchen while their mom and dad woke them up. I listened as the kids saw the Christmas tree. How they said Wow, and were so excited. That was my cue. From the kitchen, I jingled some bells, and went “Ho Ho Ho.” I heard Joe’s little voice. “Why is Uncle Bill in the kitchen?”
So I straightened my cap and my beard, slung my bag over my shoulder, deepened my voice, marched into the living room…
And I said, “Ho Ho Ho” again, which totally freaked out my little nephew. He screamed bloody murder, hid himself behind his mom, and started shaking.
I felt horrible. I took off my hat and beard and showed him it was just me…your favorite Uncle Bill.
It took a long time, but he finally calmed down. I think I scarred him for life.
A lot of kids have that, don’t they. They love Santa in theory, but when you finally bring them to meet him, fear kicks in
It can be that way for Jesus too.
Christ in your heart
It’s one thing to talk about God in the abstract, and quite another thing to contemplate asking him on purpose to be an everyday part of your life — so close that he’s inside you. That’s when the fear so often kicks in.
I believe God brought you here today for a reason. I believe he brought you here so that today would be the day you make your heart Christ’s home. I want to help you do that.
I won’t embarrass you in any way. I won’t single you out. I will simply lead you in a prayer.
Now, if this whole idea freaks you out a little bit, I want to reduce the threatening feeling for you.
If your heart is going to be Christ’s home for this Christmas, he has to do some renovating.
That might be the scary part. What’s he going to change?
That’s what I invite you to think about with me today. I want to decode that a little bit.
Four renovations that Christ makes inside a person when he makes your heart his home.
All life long, we collect labels that tell us who we are. Stupid. Ugly. Fat. Short. Tall. Unwanted. Evil. A mistake.
These labels go deep inside a person. They stick to you. They stick to the deepest place in your heart and soul.
They can mess with you for a very long time.
You could say that one of the main reasons Jesus came was to change people’s labels. He peels off the old labels, and puts on God’s new labels.
A young woman the world labeled a nobody, God called Highly Favored One, and the virgin brought forth a child.
Minimum wage shepherds were labeled heralds of a great king.
And the whole world, alienated from God — hostile and separated — can be labelled RECONCILED — peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.
When you’re frustrated, what do you say to yourself about yourself? It could very well be that you’ve been called names. You’ve picked up labels, and they hurt your life today.
Christ came in part to peel off every evil label that this nasty world has stuck on you, and to give you new labels that are beautiful, and loving, and good.
- You label yourself DAMAGED GOODS, Christmas means Christ labels you starting over.
- You label yourself UNWANTED, Christmas means Christ labels you precious, and beloved, and good.
- You label yourself, SINNER; Christ shouts back SAINT.
- You label yourself, ADDICT; Christ shouts back REDEEMED.
- You label yourself, DIRTY; Christ shouts back, “Washed in the blood of the Lamb!”
- You label yourself, GUILTY; Christ shouts back FORGIVEN.
- You label yourself a fatherless child, and God labels himself Father to the fatherless and makes you his child (Psalm 68:5, John 1:12).
- You label yourself worthless, and he labels you precious (Isaiah 43:4).
- You label yourself hateful, and he labels you beloved (Ephesians 1:6).
See, the first remodeling Jesus does when he makes a person’s heart his home is this: he fixes your labels. He restores your identity. He unburies the real you, the truest you, the most awesome, powerful, beautiful you, and he makes you shine.
It’s not having GI Jesus inside the organ that pumps blood. It’s about having the spiritual presence of Jesus inside the deepest part of your mind, will, and emotions… and having him work every day to make you the person you always dreamed you could be.
If you will receive Jesus today, he will make your heart his home, and he will remodel your sense of self, and let your true light shine. I’ll show you how in just a few minutes.
Christ came to renovate your identity.
This second renovation is:
Shortly after that first Christmas, when Jesus was still a baby, his mom and dad brought him to the Temple in Jerusalem. It’s what they did back then.
When they were are the temple, they met a very old man named Simeon. I talked about him last time. Simeon realized that this child was special. He was the Savior of the world.
Here’s one of the statements old Simeon made to Mary about baby Jesus:
when Simeon gave them his blessing. He said to Mary, the child’s mother, “This child is destined to make many fall and many rise in Israel and to set up a standard which many will attack– For he will expose the secret thoughts of many hearts. And for you…your very soul will be pierced by a sword.” (Luke 2:34, 35, Phil).
It’s not very Christmassy, is it? Not full of joy and happiness. Not at first glance at least.
But it is, in a very somber sense.
The last part, about Mary’s heart being pierced by a sword, is a prediction not of Christmas, but of Calvary. Not his birth, but his death.
And because of that coming death on the Cross, the first part is true: that the child born in Bethlehem is destined to make many people fall, and many people rise… in Israel, and ultimately in the world world.
He is saying that the destiny of every person hinges on what they do with Jesus.
The Bible says that one of the main reasons Jesus came was to once for all take away your fear of dying.
If you will receive Jesus today, he will make you rise.
God guarantees that every person who receives Jesus will spend eternity forever in heaven.
Take another look at the Bible’s most famous verse:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16, NKJV).
- The greatest BEING: God
- The greatest MOTIVE: so loved
- The greatest NUMBER: the world
- The greatest ACT: that he gave
- The greatest GIFT: his only begotten son
- The greatest INVITATION: that whosoever
- The greatest response: BELIEVES in him
- The greatest deliverance: SHOULD NOT PERISH
- The greatest promise: BUT HAVE
- The greatest result: EVERLASTING LIFE
Jesus said there are two ways and there are two gates. One gate and one way leads to life. The other gate and the other way leads to death.
Christmas presents you with a choice. Which gate will you choose?
I hope, and I pray, that today, in just a few moments, you will choose life eternal.
Because if you do, Jesus Christ himself guarantees your destiny in heaven forever and evermore.
There’s everything to gain, and nothing to lose but your guilt and shame, if you receive Jesus.
Do not be afraid.
So, Jesus will renovate your identity. He will renovate your destiny. And he will also renovate:
This room is full of people who will tell you that we have all done things in our lives we wish we could erase. We wish we could undo.
There’s a beautiful story Jesus told, a parable. He has two people go up to the Temple to pray.
He makes one, very, very good. Respectable. Religious. Holy. Never swears. Never cheats. Never litters. Super obedient to God’s laws.
He makes the other one really bad — the lowest of the low. Let’s make him a mobster. Vito. Vito goes up to the temple to pray, and he feels horrible. He’s hung over. He can’t remember who he spent the night with, and all he knows is he needs God.
So he goes to the temple.
The first guy, the moral boy scout, stands there and prays this:
The Pharisee stood and prayed like this with himself, ‘O God, I do thank thee that I am not like the rest of mankind, greedy, dishonest, impure, or even like that tax-collector over there. I fast twice every week; I give away a tenth-part of all my income.’ (Luke 18:11, 12, Phil).
I like how Jesus said, he prayed with himself, because with a prayer like that he certainly wasn’t praying to God.
Is that the prayer of a person who needs God or doesn’t need God?
The second guy, the hungover mobster, extortionist, bad guy… Here’s how Jesus paints his picture:
But the tax-collector stood in a distant corner, scarcely daring to look up to Heaven, and with a gesture of despair, said, “God, have mercy on a sinner like me.” (Luke 18:13, Phil).
The first guy, asking for what he deserved, or the second guy asking for mercy — the opposite of what he deserved — which one do you think got his prayer answered?
Here’s what Jesus said:
I assure you that he was the man who went home justified in God’s sight, rather than the other one. For everyone who sets himself up as somebody will become a nobody, and the man who makes himself nobody will become somebody.” (Luke 18:14, Phil).
Jesus came to do the impossible. He came to revise your history. Those marks on your body. Those scars on your heart. Those careworn creases on your brow. Christ came to undo the damage of a lifetime.
- If you break it, Christ fixes it.
- If you lose it, Christ finds it.
- If you spoil it, Christ restores it.
- If you regret it, Christ forgives it.
- If you’re sick, Christ heals.
- If you’re dirty, Christ cleanses.
- Where you hurt, Christ comforts.
- Where you fear, Christ strengthens.
- Where you doubt, Christ convinces.
- Where you can’t, Christ can.
- Where you’re deluded, Christ brings truth.
- Where you’re addicted, Christ brings freedom.
- For the dysfunctional, Christ brings wholeness.
- For the lonely, Christ brings life.
- For the lost, Christ brings a salvation so far reaching that words can’t do it justice.
You say, God can’t save me, I’ve sunk too low.
No, it’s impossible. Even the lowest of the low, the darkest stain of guilt and shame, is washed clean in the flood of Calvary’s love and the cross of Christ.
And if you will receive him today, he will renovate your history.
He’ll heal your memories. He’ll break the bondage of the past. He’ll give you a new start and a new direction in your life.
Christmas happened for this very reason, that he might wash away your past and give you a new start starting today.
One more, and then we will pray, and you can make your heart Christ’s home.
Four renovations: your identity, your destiny, your history, and…
Before Jesus was born, the angel came to Joseph and said:
“And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21, NKJV).
On Christmas day, Jesus was born. His name means Savior. Joseph, when Mary has that baby, name him Savior.
Because he will save his people. And you can become one of his people today. But what will he save them from?
From their sins.
Now imagine Joseph asking a few questions… because he knows he has sins on his record and he would like very much to be saved from them.
Excuse me, Mr. Angel, It’s very nice he will forgive us of our sins, but might I ask some questions?
Go right ahead.
- Which ones? Which sins will he save us from? All of them.
- What about tomorrow’s sins? Those sins too.
- What about big sins? Those sins too.
- What about repeated sins? Those sins too.
- What about self-damaging sins? Those sins too.
- What about public, shameful sins? Those sins too.
- What about criminal sins? Those sins too.
- What about forgotten sins? Those sins too.
It’s at this point that I can imagine the angel interrupting him, and saying, “Just what part of ‘he shall save his people from their sins’ do you not understand?”
When I was a very little boy, I prayed to receive Jesus as my Savior, much like we’re going to pray in about three minutes.
I don’t think I realized what a big deal it is until I learned something else about my salvation.
I learned that my salvation is a permanent deal. Once I belong to God, I belong to him forever. He’s not a give backer. Your salvation is permanent. There is no undo command.
I was always anxious. Always worried. What if I lost my salvation? What if I did a really bad sin? What if I did it again? What if I promised God never to do it again, and I did it again?
How could God forgive me again.
And then I heard somebody say, that I wasn’t saved by the strength of my belief, but by the strength of Christ’s death on the Cross. My shaky, uncertain, on again off again faith is not my Savior, Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, Crucified on Calvary, Risen again to heaven… he is my Savior, and his salvation is perfect, and complete, and permanent, and forever, and secure.
For God has reserved a priceless inheritance for his children. It is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And God, in his mighty power, will protect you until you receive this salvation, because you are trusting him. It will be revealed on the last day for all to see. (1 Peter 1:4, 5, NLT).
Christ has three homes:
- His heavenly home, before he was born.
- His earthly home, starting in Bethlehem.
- His spiritual home, in your heart. And that is the opportunity before you today.
He left his heavenly home, and came to his earthly home, so that he could find a spiritual home in your heart today.
There is no reason to be afraid. Christ will not make you weird. He will not take anything from you but the bad stuff. He will not make you freaky. He will not make you religious — he’s not a fan of religion anyway.
He will make your heart his home, and he will renovate it to suit his tastes. Yes.
But those renovations are the very changes you want most, on your good days, when you’re in your right mind.
So I’m wondering, and many are praying, if you are willing to make this Christmas your first Christmas as a child of God.
And I want to help you do that. I said I believed God brought you here today, and this is why. So you could pray this prayer, and make this Christmas your first Christmas as a child of God.
There’s a beautiful Christmas carol, called O Little Town of Bethlehem… and it contains a prayer. I would like to help you pray this prayer to God right now, so you can make your heart his home this Christmas:
O Holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us today.
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
Be born in us today…
Oh come to us, abide in us,
Our Lord, Emmanuel.
If you pray that prayer today, believing it. Trusting in its message, you can receive Jesus today and the salvation he brings.
Some of you need to pray this prayer.
I’m going to pray this prayer, I’m going to personalize it. And right now, I invite you to pray this prayer.
ADMIT: God, I admit I have been loitering outside the doors of your great feast. You have invited me in, but I have been too busy looking elsewhere. I am sorry for that, Lord. Today, I admit I need you and I want you. I admit I have strayed from you. I have sinned against you. And though I deserve judgement from you, today I come to you for mercy.
BELIEVE: I believe that Jesus is my way to you. He is my golden ticket to your great feast: to heaven, to forgiveness, and to a lifelong relationship with you, my holy God. I believe he is your Son. I believe he died in my place. I believe you punished him instead of punishing me. I don’t know how it all works, but today, on this week before Christmas, I am believing your Son is the Savior of the world, and the savior of me, personally.
CHOOSE: So right now, I choose to receive Jesus as my Savior. I choose to come to the party. Because of Jesus, I know you will let me in. Not because I am worthy, but because Jesus is worthy. So I’m asking you, right now, for his sake, dear God, please save me.