Message 23 of 24

Christmas Eve 2015

Todd Wagner · Dec 24, 2015

Message 23 of 24

On Christmas Eve Todd reminds us of the first Christmas that we may be prepared for the second Christmas, the second coming of Christ. He admonishes us to reflect on the incarnation, Jesus coming to earth, living as a man, and dying for our sins, and to live a life in response to God's great act of love.

Scripture References: Philippians 2:6-11

Todd Wagner

About Todd Wagner

In 1999, a group of friends and I desired to be the same awe-inspiring community that we saw in the Scriptures and to connect God's people with opportunities to know... Read more

Message Transcript
Lord, it is a privilege just to sit and listen to artists deliver the message that 2,000 years ago came crashing into this world. I pray this afternoon it would come crashing into us, and we would get a sense of what it was the angels were singing about, and it would change us, not just for a moment. We wouldn't have some feeling. We wouldn't go through some emotional service or have an experience that we think checks a box this time of year. I pray, Lord, something eternally pivoting would happen just like happened 2,000 years ago. I pray you'd start with me. In the middle of doing five of these, you would help me every time I speak about it, talk about it, think about it, be confronted with the wonder of the story all that much more. Thank you for your kindness and your patience as I try and understand. I pray, Lord, your patience and kindness would be seen by folks in this room who don't really understand Christmas as a means through which they'd be reconciled to you. Would you just use us to keep singing the story that caused the angels to sing? We love Jesus, and we pray we serve him well now and listen well now. In Christ's name, amen. "The First Noel." What is that? Sometimes we hear that, and we're like, "What is a _noel_?" _Noel_ is a French word for a song. "The First Noel" was the very first song the angels did sing when they saw God do something crazy, when they saw God invade the earth, when they saw the One who was with God in the beginning through whom the whole world had been made. All of a sudden, they saw him leave the comfort of glory, the comfort of the perfection that is defined by his presence, and come crashing down into the imperfection that is the world we live in. The angels marveled, "What is he up to? What is God doing on earth? What is he doing in appearance of a man? What is he doing looking like a man? What is he doing as a baby…a baby who comes through a scandalous birth that's not even noticed? He doesn't even make room for himself in the family house, but they put him where the animals are. The crib is a feeding trough for the animals. Somebody explain that to me!" The angels didn't even try to explain it. They just sang, **"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men,"** because they knew God was up to something that was going to shake the destiny of eternity, because something had gone terribly wrong in that world, and all of a sudden Christ had come, the long anticipated Deliverer. Here's the problem. The long anticipated Deliverer didn't look like he had much ability to deliver. He didn't come in power. He didn't come in glory. He came humbly. "Mild he lays his glory by" we sang as the angels harked in that first day. You know, it's funny. The reason we sing "Joy to the World…" Most of us mispronounce that very first sentence. We go, "Joy to the world, the Lord…" What? "…_has_…" That's not the way the song was written. It's, "Joy to the world, the Lord _is_ come," which we go, "That's just bad grammar right there." It's not bad grammar. It is just a way to say the Lord is coming, and it's going to be really good when he comes. You go, "Wait a minute, Todd. I thought we were here to celebrate Christmas." We were, but the Bible speaks of two very distinct comings. Here's the deal. If you don't understand the One who started in a manger, it will not be a blessed Christmas when he comes as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The next time he comes, there will be no mistaking him as a mere man. You will know him for who he is: _the_ man, the Son of Man, the one who was in the beginning with God and who was God. God chose to use him to show us who God was in a way that otherwise we would never understand. When people hear us talk about the fact that the Lord is coming, Immanuel, God with us, the angel are singing, "That's good news," when light comes crashing into darkness… We've had some darkness this year, right? When you start to look back at 2015, we're 2,015 years into this Christmas season. It doesn't look like it's getting merrier and merrier. In fact, the City of Light is now better known for being the city of terror than it is a place to go and hold hands with someone you love. San Bernardino is no longer just this sleepy suburb pushed out a little bit from L.A. It's now a place where we think of terror coming to what was supposed to be a seasonal celebration. My buddy, Tommy Nelson, up there at Denton Bible Church received a letter this week that told them that if they didn't shut down their services, there was going to be a different kind of blast that was had. I heard the way Tommy responded to that. I sent him a little note to tell him I was grateful for the way he responded, and I hoped in his old age he didn't misread my Christmas card, which said, "Jesus is the bomb," not, "I'm going to bomb Jesus." That's neither here nor there. What I would tell you is there's a lot going on and not just stuff over _there_. Some of you guys right _here_ have suffered from an economy you live in that isn't throwing out the kind of return you want, and things aren't as they should be. There's debt. Some of you guys don't have debt. You have divorce and treachery in your own lives. Some of you (like three close friends of our Watermark family) in this last week have experienced a very real and present effect called _death_. That doesn't seem like a lot to sing about. It doesn't seem like the Lord has come once. Okay, we get the Lord is coming, maybe, but how do we know he is coming when it looks like the God who was supposed to be here, who was supposed to bring hope into this world, has left this world a very hopeless place? You see, what I don't want to do on Christmas is just move through any kind of little traditional experience where we can ceremonially touch the idea of who God is. I always want to bring us back to who God is and what he wants with us. I was reading not long ago through some stuff that, frankly, had been buried deep in some files. I came across a little play I loved when I read it the first time. It's actually a little play. It's never been on Broadway. This isn't _Cats._ It's something called _The Long Silence_. It's just a short, little playlet that was written by somebody who basically handles the question of, "If the light of the world has come, why is the world still so dark?" If you are somebody who claims to know God and claims to have joy because of your relationship with him, it won't be long before you run into somebody who is going to ask you a question you have to be able to answer. The question goes something like, "Okay, so you believe in God. That's great. You believe your God is good. That's wonderful. You believe your God is powerful. Okay, so wonderful. Your God is great, and your God is good. If your God was good, he would not allow evil to continue. If he was great, he could stop evil. Since there is still evil, either your God is not good or he is not great. Don't tell me you serve a great God, because there's a lot of debt, divorce, death, destruction, and despair in this world and, frankly, in mine. Don't tell me about your little Christmas songs." I think it's a fair question. It's frankly one of the most often asked questions we get presented with as people who believe there's a God who is there who does care and who steps into the darkness. Theologians and people who care talk about the problem of theodicy, the problem of God and justice. Where is justice? That really is what this little playlet is all about (_The Long Silence_). It's about a scene at the end of time before the Lord is come to judge the world and to make the nations prove as they see the glory of who God is to go, "Wow! He isn't just a man. That wasn't just a baby. He did what he said he was going to do. No one took his life. He did lay it back down. He did take it back up again. He really was ascended. He really was seated at the right hand of God. He really does have us in a time and space right now where he is letting others who he loves suffer so people who are going to suffer forever without him can hear about the first Christmas so when the second Christmas comes, it can be a joy to them and not judgment. The second time he comes back, the second Christmas the Bible talks about, the nations are going to prove every knee will bow. Every tongue will confess, 'Okay, you are who you said you were and who those who told the good news of Christmas said you were.'" But there are some people in this story who rejected that. It starts with one little girl, and it goes like this: "At the end of time, billions of people were seated on a great plain before God's throne. Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them. But some groups near the front talked heatedly, not with cringing shame—but with belligerence [toward the idea that God was going to come and judge]. 'Can God judge us? How can he know about suffering?'" "Who is he to take a place of rule over us?" It started with a young, pert brunette little girl. "She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. 'We endured terror, beatings, torture, death!'" "I lost a lot of people dear to me. Who is God to judge me?" "In another crowd there was a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyes [who had been raped]: 'Why should I suffer?' she murmured. 'It wasn't my fault.' Far out across the plain were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering he had permitted in his world. How lucky God was to live in heaven, where all was sweetness and light, where there was no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What did God know of all that man had been forced to endure in this world? For God lives a pretty sheltered life." So reads the narrator in the beginning of this little playlet called _The Long Silence_. Then there are some words that come after that that I have added to that I want to share with you now because what happens next is individuals in the play start to take on different roles. They go, "God wants to judge us? If God wants to judge us, then we need to be judged by a peer. We need to be judged by somebody who understands what we've been through so he can know why we maybe haven't been who he wants us to be." They started this way. As they consulted with each other, they were ready to present their case. They said, "Before God was about to be our judge and qualified to do so, he must endure what we have endured." They decided God should be sent to live on earth as a man. The first person said, "Let him be despised and unnoticed in his birth and largely in his living. Let him be a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Let him often be alone. Let him live as an orphan. Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind when he tries to do it. Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudice jury, and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured. Make him the enemy of the powerful and the pious. Even at the end of his life, let him see what it means to be terribly alone and abandoned. Let him know loneliness. Let him know hatred. Let him know death. Let him die. Let him die so there can be no doubt that he died. Let there be a great host witness his rejection, betrayal, and humiliation. Let his legacy be mocked. Make him the target of scoffers. Humiliate him in life and in history by allowing the world to reject him and associating him with common criminals, uncommon liars, unrelenting fools, and the delusional." As each individual in the play announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval rang up from the throngs of people. Then when at long last all the assignments were given to him, there was a long silence because they realized that's exactly what he had already been through. You see, one of the things that's happening at this amazing moment is God is up to something that is too wonderful for us to get our arms around. That _something_ is God has left the glory of heaven. Even though he maintained his deity, it was veiled incarnate, in flesh. He maintained his relationship with God. That's the only way he could maintain his sinlessness so that identifying with sinful humanity he could give himself for them. He said, "Make no mistake. Nobody is taking my life from me. I'm going to lay it down, and I will take it back up again. I will show you I am stomping on that which destroys people I love. If I just showed you who I was, it would terrify you." That's why every time somebody is confronted with even a servant of God in the spiritual realm, they fall down in complete fear. That's why the most often spoken words of Christ are, "Fear not. Fear not because I've come in love for you. I've come to lead you to the way of life." There's another story I heard a long time ago that every time I hear it, it makes me just stop. I've shared this story frankly for about now almost 30 years as many people have. It's been on the radio for a long time. Every now and then you can maybe catch it on radio stations. They still play it this day going way back, but it started with a voice that welcomes you. It has a truth that will change you if you understand it. It's the story about the wonder of Christmas. Watch this. There's something about that voice that just makes you want to listen, isn't there? There's something about the Word became flesh that's supposed to make you want to listen. It just draws you in. It lets you know that this is not an incompetent God who can't really pull off what he wants to pull off. This is God revealing to you what you otherwise can't understand. This idea of God… "Who is he? What's love? What's justice? What's holiness? What's kindness?" The Word became flesh. It's not just a parable. That's a nice story, but this isn't just a parable. It is _the_ story anchored in history, and you ought to go back and pay attention to the fact that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus. It happened during the reign of Quirinius in Syria where he was governor. It happened there was a despot in the land called Herod. There was a town called Nazareth. His mother traveled to a place called Bethlehem. There was a historical figure named Jesus. They wrote about him. God's story is not a parable. It's anchored in history, and it can be the pivot point of yours. In fact, the way you respond to this story _is_ the pivot point. I'm not just talking about being familiar with it. I was looking at different things this week. I came across the fact that in 2014, the Pew Research forum just looked, and 81 percent of Americans believe Jesus existed and was laid in a manger, 75 percent believe wise men visited him, 74 percent believe angelic heralds sang about him, and 73 percent said they believe in a virgin birth. Two-thirds of Americans believe all four of the above, but I think they believe it like they believe the story of Humpty Dumpty. I mean, they believe the story is out there, and they know the story. They think by knowing the story, their belief in it somehow is meaningful to them. God says, "No. The way you know the story is meaningful to you is if you know it's not just a story; it's history, and it's me invading the darkness with the light of my love. So you can know what my love looks like, see Jesus. So you can know what my wrath looks like, see Jesus. I'm a God full of grace and full of truth. I am a God who is slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness, but I'm a God who by no means will let the guilty go unpunished. Merry Christmas! You want to know who I am? You want to know why I came? I didn't come so you would know a nice story. I came because I'm a God who demands justice for sin. I don't want just anybody to be a sacrifice." It's why, when Abraham was called by God to bring his son as a sacrifice, it wasn't he really wanted his son to be sacrificed. God said to him, "Hey, bring me your son, your only son, the son you love, the son of promise. Offer him for me." Abraham said, "Look, I'll do whatever you want because you're God." God said, "You're right, and that's why you don't need to offer your son, because your son is a sinner. If your son is offered as a sacrifice, that won't be an acceptable sacrifice for you. It's an acceptable sacrifice for him. Because the wages of sin is death and Isaac is a sinner, you don't need to offer your son." Years later, on that exact same mountain, there was another Father who had an only Son who was deeply loved, who was a Son of promise. In the exact same place God said to Abraham, "Do not offer him," God offered him. That's why a little bit later when Moses came down off Mount Sinai (a historical figure in a historical place) and he saw the people who had rejected God because God didn't deliver what they wanted him to deliver in a time they wanted God to deliver it, the people had created for themselves a god they could follow that made sense to them. God said, "Remove yourself from them so my anger might be known." Moses said, "No. Blot out my name from the Book of Life. Let me be a sacrifice for them. You allow them promise." God said, "No, Moses. You're not an acceptable sacrifice for me." It's why a little bit later a man by the name of Paul, when he saw his people reject the story of the Christ child who had come, said, "Father, I pray my friends, my people, would know you. Let _me_ be accursed. Save them." God said, "No, you can't be accursed for them because you're a sinner who needs somebody accursed for you." They need to respect the story and not just know it. Anybody who has ever had somebody they love, who they're dear to, who is sick, always says the same thing. I have an email from a friend whose wife went through an amazingly painful surgery. I pulled it out. When I read it, I just went, "That's Christmas." The email just talks about the fact, "I'd give anything to be able to step into her suffering. I'd give anything to be able to take her place, but of course I can't." Because this gentleman understood the story of Christmas, he continued. "I'm so glad there's a God who could step into the place I deserve for me." You see, Christmas happened because God is a God of grace and truth. He is a God of judgment and a God of love. The Scripture says he came because God wanted to be just, to pour out his wrath completely on a perfect sacrifice which only he could provide, which only he himself could be, and that he could then, having provided a satisfaction to his need to judge sin and not just wink at it, love those who were sinners. You just can't believe in the virgin birth and the angels singing. You just can't believe in the story about a child in the manger. You can't believe only in wise men. You have to not just believe in the idea. You have to understand the purpose, and you have to put your trust in it. When you put your trust in it and really understand what's going on, it changes everything. It makes you sing. That's who we are. If you're a guest here, you need to know we're people who sing. We're really strange people. We bury our daughters, we bury our husbands, we bury our fathers this week, and we sing because we know a story that says death is not the end. We know a story that says somebody has been delivered up for us, so the curse of death, though it's still very real in our world, has been overcome. Just as he was brought forth, those who believe in him will be brought forth. When he returns in all of his glory, it will be joy. Those who have gone before will return with him. Now that's either craziness and you need to feel sorry for us or you need to go back and look at the story and deal with the historical fact of the empty tomb. You just can't know the story; you have to know the Son. I'm going to tell you one more story about the Son. The story about the Son is, I think, captured amazingly and beautifully in a story written by a guy by the name of Dr. Richard Selzer. Dr. Richard Selzer was a surgeon. He is still alive. He is in his late eighties right now. You don't know who Richard Selzer is except maybe you might know him for this quote. He is the man they attribute this saying to, which is basically that a minor operation is any operation done on somebody besides yourself. Any surgery done on you is not _minor_ surugery. That's a big deal! He said that as he was just empathizing with his patients. He did more than just empathize with his patients. He watched them closely, and he wrote a book called _Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery_. There's one story in that book that pops for me. Here's how it goes. "I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on. The surgeon [speaking of himself] had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had cut the little nerve. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry-mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks. 'Will my mouth always be like this?' she asks. 'Yes,' I say, 'it will. It is because the nerve was cut.' She nods, and is silent. But the young man smiles. 'I like it,' he says. 'It is kind of cute.' All at once I _know_ who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works. I remember that the gods appeared in ancient Greece as mortals, and I hold my breath and let the wonder in." Do you know what the first Christmas was? Man, it was a kiss. It's when God distorted his image without compromising his image. He was still beautiful. He was still very God, but it is the moment he bent down. It says in Philippians that even though he existed in the form of God, he **"…did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."** For this reason also the Scripture says, **"…God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue…"** He will make the nations prove. **"…every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."** That's the story. Don't be mistaken by this beautiful One who distorted his image to kiss you in the nerve that was cut from righteousness so you look like sin and no longer like the image of the One you were created to be. Christmas, gang, is him kissing you and me in our disfigured state. It's completely unexpected, and anybody who understands the story can only but sing and follow. If your life doesn't sing and if your life doesn't follow, I think you might know _about_ the story, but you need to really take a look at the Savior and decide if you know you need a kiss in your disfigured position. See, God demonstrates his love for you in that while you were yet a sinner, Christ died for you. There's a Christmas carol we're about to sing that talks about this love. Just like "Joy to the World" is probably inappropriately sung during this Christmas season, here's a song that inappropriately is _not_ usually sung during this season. But those of us who know about the kiss sing it all the time. I invite you to sing it with me, and I invite you to listen. If you've never known this before, God is not here because you're beautiful. He is not wanting you to act like you're beautiful and present to him a life of beauty. He wants you to bow before the manger as wise men still do and say, "I need the kiss of Christmas. I need you to love me though I'm very disfigured by sin." Father, I pray as we sing this song that somebody out there could hear the story freshly, powerfully, beautifully in a way that would be a pivot to their eternity and then their very life. I pray those of us who know this story wouldn't just sing it in the song right now, but we'd sing it always. Lord, will you open the eyes of our heart? Would you open our mouths and sing it now? May our lives sing it all the more as we leave. We thank you for Christmas when you kissed us. Oh, how you love us. Let us sing. Amen. Anybody who understands that this was the beginning of the love story revealed knows the night this story began with the coming of the kiss was a holy night. Just like Dr. Selzer believed he observed a holy moment when love was made known in human form between a husband and a wife, those of us who understand this is a story of love know that being near it is a holy moment. In a moment, one of the things we want to do as we reflect back on a song that talks about the holiness of that night when heaven met earth with an unforeseen kiss is we're just going to give you a little picture of what it should look like when light goes forth as God intended from this moment into the world. That is, from this center of the Advent wreath, that big white candle is called the Christ candle. It's from that candle that light goes forth into a world. It goes forth when those who know the story of the manger, who respond to the story of the Messiah, tell the story and live the story. Jesus says, "You're the light of the world." If you suffer right now during this season between the two Christmases like Jesus suffered on the first Christmas, it's for a reason. I love people who still are in the darkness, and I want you in this world where joy hasn't completely come but joy has been made possible to speak of that joy others can have. As you wait for the light to come, don't let a rogue gospel start up there. It has to start right here and go forward. It will come when people who know him share it. If you know the truth of the song, sing it with us. If you don't, listen one more time and know that by the grace of God, the light is still going forth from the manger through his people, as imperfect as we are trying to be the hands and feet that kiss you still with the truth of Christ and we pray the love from our lives. "O Holy Night." Wasn't it awesome? I mean, there are some people who are up there right now, some kids who are like, "Mom! I didn't get to light my candle!" They're stuck in the darkness because the light didn't get to them. There are some people who aren't going to be just disappointed they didn't get to play with fire for a few, short moments but who are going to experience separation from God, which he uses that same word _fire_ to describe what that is like. He said it's the job of those of us who understand the story to say, "Hey, this is the story." It's not just a myth. It's not just a fable. This is anchored in history. Caesar Augustus was real. Quirinius was real. Herod was real. Nazareth is real. Bethlehem is real. This kiss of God who loves you is real. I'm here to kiss you and to be an example of that love and grace in your life in word and in deed. That's who we are. That's the church. That's what Jesus said. You're the light of the world. You don't just get to tell people. We have 4:00, 6:00, and 11:00 still happening here. When you go out and run the errands the rest of your day, you're people who don't need them to come here. You're people who go, and you tell them. You're lights in your city. You're lights in your neighborhood. You're lights to your family, some of whom who are hearing with you. You haven't done a great job yet of just saying, "I'm going to tell you. I don't just believe in the story and sing the songs. You need to know, Mom and Dad… You need to know, kids… You need to know, Brother, Sister, this Jesus is my Savior, and he has kissed me. This is my story. This is why I need him." There are people who need you to sing that song. It's why all year long we pour into you to equip you and develop you. If you're here tonight, it's why we say, "Come. Come and talk to us." We'll linger here as long as anybody wants to talk to understand how they can personally receive an understanding and make a decision to bow before the first Christmas, the story of Christ. If you know that story, I pray you'd sing, and you'd be fully devoted to him as is a right and proper response to this holy night. Would you please come? Would you let us know how we can serve you? If you already know the song, would you go? Would you please blow out your candles so you don't burn the place down so we can meet here at 4:00, 6:00, and 11:00? Know we love you, and we want to serve you. You have a great week of worship. Merry Christmas! God bless you all.