There has never been a birthday like the birthday of this baby, Jesus, found by shepherds, lying in a manger.
Welcome to Pathway. Our mission is to help people find and follow God, and our mission at Christmas is to fill your life with a deeper, higher, grander sense of the love, and joy, and peace that God has for your life.
This month, it is all about The Greatest Story… and… today, my message is called The Greatest Birth.
The birth of Jesus was unparalleled. Nothing like it. Not even close.
Think with me about that epic description of Scripture:
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10, 11)
Think with me please about:
- The Feeling of Christmas
- The Recipients of Christmas
- The Event of Christmas
- The Person of Christmas
- The Point of Christmas
Because, hint, hint, the point of Christmas is going to be something about you. It’s going to be that you would do the same thing the shepherds did a long time ago.
What did they do?
They went to find Jesus. In fact, they hurried to find Jesus, and to bow before him, and to honor him for being who he is.
I’m hoping that you would do the same thing today. That’s going to be the point of everything Christmas means.
At the end of my talk today, I’m going to invite you to make this Christmas really personal. Really “real” in your own life. I’m going to ask to you pray a prayer, and to have your very own come to Jesus moment today, right here, right now.
I’m not going to embarrass you. I’m not going to single you out or have you come forward. Just a prayer. A silent prayer.
So that this Christmas can be your first Christmas as a child of God.
So let’s think about the Greatest Birth.
The Greatest Birth
The Feeling of Christmas
The first thing the angel said was, Fear Not. The second thing was, there’s going to be Great Joy.
I love this. The Christmas angel starts with the emotion, the heart, and the feeling of Christmas. It isn’t a dissertation. It isn’t a boring lecture (you’d better not say amen).
It’s this emotional journey from “fear not” to “great joy.” That’s so perfect, because that is Christmas.
I started being a pastor when I lived in Chicago. I was a twenty something, and my church was full of twenty somethings. That meant a lot of really young kids…
One Christmas, I volunteered as the pastor, to be Santa Claus. I volunteered on Christmas morning, to go from house to house, dressed as Santa. The plan was super fun.
The parents would leave a couple of gifts outside the front door. I show up. I load the gifts into a canvas sack. I ring the bell… they let me in. We gather all the kids around. Before I hand out some presents, I read the Christmas story. I made this big cardboard book. Glitter, ornaments, Christmassy looking. I had printed out the same passage from the gospel of Luke that I started with today.
And Santa read the Christmas story to the kids, because Santa knows what it’s really about.
And then I dug around in the big bag, and handed out gifts. And on to the next house. It was super fun, and everybody was happy.
I was going to do that this year, but I didn’t think I’d survive.
So, one of the houses on my route that year was my brother’s house. He and his wife have two kids. At the time, Amy is five, and Joe is three—so a toddler.
I get to their house. I’m all dressed as Santa. I have gifts in my bag. I’m waiting in the kitchen. Bob and Denise go get their kids. I’m excited. They’re excited. They now are standing in the living room, by the tree, so it’s go time.
I jingle some jingle bells. I hear the kids… what’s that? Did you hear that? They’re so excited.
I jingle the bells again… Excited again. Wow! Who could that be? Is Santa still here? The joy is there. The excitement is there. The fun is there. It’s awesome. Santa himself is in our kitchen!!!
At that point, I made a critical mistake.
Remember, the kids have not seen me yet. They’re in the living room. I’m in the kitchen. I make my critical mistake.
I let out a deep Ho! Ho! Ho! From the kitchen.
And I hear Amy say to her mom… “Why is Uncle Bill in the kitchen?” Cover… is… blown.
But! But there’s still hope. That’s my cue. I jump into the living room, dressed as Santa, and let out a hearty Ho! Ho! Ho!At which point both kids start screaming bloody murder. It is non-stop hysteria for the next fifteen minutes.
The kids are freaking out. I’m pulling off the beard. They’re hyperventilating. I’m throwing off my Santa cap. I’m showing, It’s just me! It’s just me!
It was an utterly over the top and overwhelming moment.
May I refer you to the moment when lowly shepherds are covering the night shift, and minding their own business…
And Lo! I love that word. L-O. Lo! The angel of the Lord came upon them…
An in that split second, the shepherds in the field started screaming bloody murder.
An angel of the Lord…It was a spectacular sight. In the blackness of night, the appearance would have been blinding. A sudden flash. A breaching of the veil separating heaven and earth.
Not even a Ho! Ho! Ho! Just BAM, an angel.
The shepherds quake with fear. They are dazzled and confused. The visitor is bright and beautiful and dreadful all at once. What’s going on?
And so the angel says, Fear not!
The shepherds can barely open their eyes. The shock of the angel’s appearance formed a stark contrast with the pure happiness of the angel’s words.
Good tidings. Great joy. Circuits fried.
What is the true feeling of Christmas? If you really understand, the feeling is fear giving way to joy.
It’s a lot like seeing Santa. Let’s go see Santa, you say. And the kids say Yay!
Because theoretically, and from a distance he’s awesome.
But then you actually show up, and there he is, and now you’re going to personally talk with him…that’s a different story.
Same thing with God. Theoretically, he’s great. From a distance, no problem.
But when it’s go time, when he breaks through the distance, and calls you face to face… that’s a different story.
People are jittery when it comes to God. They don’t like to think about him. They fear him. They innately shy away, and want to hide their guilt and shame. It’s a universal instinct.
It was scary. How do we know?
Because the angel had to say, “Fear not. Do not fear. Don’t be afraid. It’s just an angel. It’s just Phineas, the Ringmaster Angel. No need to be afraid.”
And that, I think, would be God’s message to you today. You heard a preacher say, that my sermon has a point, and the point is you.
Do not fear.
You heard me say that God is involved, and God might give you the jitters. God might bring back memories of harsh teachers, or heartless parents, or a history of regulations and rules.
Do not fear.
You might begin to see that Christmas means you have a choice to make, and you’re not sure if you’re ready to make that choice.
Do not fear.
Why? Why do not fear? Because the message we’re talking about is nothing but good news.
Because the God we’re talking about is eager to give you joy.
And the choice I’ll be asking you to make is the portal to not only a life with true joy, but an eternal life with riches and blessings words can’t do justice to.
The feeling the shepherds felt is the feeling everybody feels when the true meaning of Christmas begins to dawn on you.
The feeling of Christmas is Fear giving way to joy.
In a few minutes, I’m going to show you how you can make this Christmas your first Christmas as a genuinely saved, honestly born again member of the family of God forever.
The Recipients of Christmas
The angel said, Fear not! For I bring YOU good tidings of great joy.
The angel said this good news will be for ALL the people.
For you. For all the people.
Whatever was happening that the angels were announcing was good news of great joy for all the people, and that includes you.
- It includes you even if you think you’re doing find without God.
- It includes you even if you feel you’ve sunk too low, and sinned too much for God to have you.
- It includes you even if you’re wealthy, and successful, and good looking, and smart.
- It includes you even if your body bears the marks of age, and stress, and foolishness, and loss.
- It includes you, even if anything.
Christmas includes you. Your name is on the guest list.
The Bible says the shepherds were out in the fields.
And where did the angel meet them? Out in the fields.
And whether you are a judge in your chambers, or an executive in your boardroom, or a banker in your vaults… whether you are in recovery in the mission, or worn down by little ones in the home…
The grace of Christmas will meet you right where you are, and save even you from the fate your sins deserve.
Today is the day of your salvation.
The Event of Christmas
For unto you is born this day… There is the heart and soul of all of it.
Born. A baby was born. Not just any baby, but the Savior.
His birth was unlike any other birth ever in the long history of civilization.
His birth was a virgin birth…
There’s only one question: is there a God who is greater than the space-time continuum, a God who transcends the created order, and holds in their existence the very laws of nature and physics?
If there is such a God, then miracles are possible, for this God has the power to temporarily suspend the laws that govern our world, and to accomplish whatever he sees fit. Even a virgin birth.
His birth was a prophesied birth, a foreshadowed birth.
Hundreds of prophecies and promises and details, dabbed like paint strokes onto the canvas of a growing profile of a Savior to come.
His birth was an Incarnate birth, in that God became human without ceasing to be God. Jesus, the baby in the manger, was from all eternity the Son of God, seated on the throne.
Peel off all the layers of Christmas, dig through all the traditions, and you will find a birth unlike any other birth.
In an ancient Christmas carol we sing…
Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
From our fears and sins release us. That is a prayer. And that is the prayer I’d like to invite you to pray in just a few more moments.
From my fears, and sins, release me, let me find my rest in Thee.
The feeling of Christmas… fear giving way to joy.
The Recipients of Christmas… you, and me… Christmas means you have a choice to make.
The Event of Christmas… the greatest birth as part of the greatest story as part of the divine saga of redemption.
Which all leads to…
The Person of Christmas
Christmas is the birthday of a king. And not just any king.
The angel said, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
The City of David was Bethlehem. To say he was of the city of David is to say he was a king.
Then he is the Savior. Before he was born, an angel visited Joseph and said, You shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins. Jesus literally means Savior, or the Lord Saves. What does he save from? He saves his people from their sins…
- He washes away guilt.
- He cleanses away pollution.
- He pulls out the roots of shame.
- He takes our place as a substitute.
- He stretches out his arms.
- He prays Father forgive them.
- He sacrifices his life.
- He pays the penalty in full.
- He sheds his precious blood.
- He endures the wrath of God.
- He balances the scales of justice.
- He casts our sins behind God’s back.
- He buries them in the depths of the sea.
- He promises never will I remember your sins against you again.
- He declares, There is therefore now no condemnation.
- He sits on his throne in glory.
- He radiates a splendor no unequipped mortal can bear.
- He flings wide the gates of heaven.
- He invites, Come unto Me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.
- He stretches forth an open hand with the marvelous gift of everlasting life…
And he announces… whosoever will, let them come!
Believe on me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth.
That is the Person of Christmas. That is the baby in the manger. That is the countdown of the ages of human history. That is the greatest birth in all the long ages of time.
In Jesus Christ, God became human without ceasing to be God, that he might taste death for every human, that he might become the Savior, who is Christ the Lord… and that, by that title, he might himself become the ultimate resolution in the epic battle of good and evil waged since the dawn of time.
The Person of Christmas is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Champion you need in the battle for your life.
And all those stupendous accomplishments, he did for you.
And he did them because he loves you with a boundless love that language can’t begin to describe.
The Person of Christmas is Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord of all. And the point of Christmas…
The Point of Christmas
So, the angel delivers his breathtaking message: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” As if that were not enough, the visitation is suddenly multiplied. Celestial fireworks of majestic angels filled the sky, singing the gospel of God. Luke calls them a multitude of the heavenly hosts—the armies of the living God. Their battle cry is of peace and good will—reconciliation between a world of fallen humankind and an utterly holy God, all centered in the Person and Work of the Baby in the manger.
As fast as they appeared, the angels were gone. The stunned shepherds gathered themselves. When the angel left them, and the shepherds picked themselves up. They dusted themselves off, and the rushed. They hurried, the Bible says. They didn’t waste a second.
To do what?
To get themselves to Jesus.
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger.
And that is the point that so many people miss.
They get themselves to Christmas, maybe.
Or they get themselves to church.
Or to some idea of success, or moral superiority, or a life you can be proud of.
All that is great, but it misses the point.
The point is to humble yourself like those shepherds and bring your heart and your life to the foot of the Savior.
That’s the point.
I said that this talk is called The Greatest Birth.
And the greatest birth of all time is Christmas, the day our Savior was born.
But do you know what the second greatest birth is?
The second greatest birth is the day you are born again.
And that is what I’d like to help you do right now.
You might say, Bill, I think I did this before, but I’m not sure.
Okay… let’s make it sure. Let’s make it official.
You might say, Bill, I’m just not ready.
That’s okay… You don’t have to be ready.
Just be willing, because that’s enough.
You might argue, Bill… just believing in Jesus? That’s just to easy!
Great, because that means you really get it.
Jesus did all the hard stuff, like coming to earth and dying on the cross, so that all that would be left is the easy part of putting your faith and trust in him.
His name is Savior, because he can save you.
You cannot save yourself.
For our prayer today, I’m going to use the words of a famous Christmas carol, called O Little Town of Bethlehem. The fourth verse is a prayer and it goes like this:
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to me, I pray
Cast out my sin and enter in
Be born to me today
O come to me, abide with me
My Lord Emmanuel
And let’s just add this final ABC prayer:
ADMIT. God, I admit I need you there is a gap between me and you. I feel it in my conscience, I feel it in my heart. I am fallen. I am sinful. I cannot reach you by myself, and never will.
BELIEVE. But I believe that on Christmas day, you sent Jesus into the world. I believe he is your son. I believe offered the one sacrifice for all my sins, once for all. I believe he rose again. God, I don’t get how all this works, but I’m telling you as best as I can, that I believe in Jesus.
CHOOSE. So right now God, I choose to trust in Jesus as my Only Hope. I choose to believe in him. I’m telling you God, as best as I can, that I’m believing in Jesus and receiving him as my Savior and my one and only Hope. And I ask you right now, because of Jesus alone, please save me. And please make this Christmas my first Christmas as your child forever.