Christmas Eve 2021

The Story

Have you grown so familiar with the Christmas story that it’s lost some of its awe and wonder? In this Christmas Eve message, John Elmore shows us how amazing the birth of Christ was, and how the Almighty God intentionally chose to reveal Himself to those who were most humble, lowly, and distant from Him.

John ElmoreDec 24, 2021

In This Series (6)
The Story: Your Next Chapter
David Penuel, Jennie Allen, Blake HolmesDec 26, 2021
Christmas Eve 2021
John ElmoreDec 24, 2021
The Story: Restoration
John ElmoreDec 19, 2021
The Story: Redemption
David MarvinDec 12, 2021
The Story: The Fall
Timothy "TA" AteekDec 5, 2021
The Story: Creation
John ElmoreNov 28, 2021


Have you grown so familiar with the Christmas story that it’s lost some of its awe and wonder? In this Christmas Eve message, John Elmore shows us how amazing the birth of Christ was, and how the Almighty God intentionally chose to reveal Himself to those who were most humble, lowly, and distant from Him.

Key Takeaways

  • When God sent Jesus to the world, He announced the Savior’s birth to the humble, the lowly, and the distant.
  • Mary and Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem for the census (Luke 2:1-5). From “Beth Lehem”—literally “House of Bread”—would come the Bread of Life.
  • Joseph’s relatives lived in Bethlehem. So there was not only no room at the inn (Luke 2:6-7); there was no room with their kin. Their own family shut them out, likely scorning them for being pregnant before marriage.
  • Mary and Joseph were in very humble circumstances, having nothing, and yet were there with God in the flesh, having everything.
  • As it was then, so it is now: the only way to receive Jesus is in desperate humility. The proud have no need for Jesus; they think that they are good and fine, and don’t need to be forgiven by anyone. It is the humble, the poor in Spirit, that Jesus would later say will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:3).
  • God could have sent angels to someone powerful or important—like Caesar Augustus, or King Herod, or the High Priest—to announce Jesus’s birth. But He chose lowly shepherds instead (Luke 2:8-20).
  • The shepherds were lowly and knew they were lowly, which is a good place to be before Almighty God.
  • Regardless of home, occupation, salary, zip code, education, marital status, or anything else we might put our hope or faith or trust in, may we this Christmas realize our lowly state. None of us can boast in the presence of God, but should instead give Him all the glory.
  • The Magi, or wise men, were distant from God’s people and distant from God. But they saw the star and recognized that Jesus was King, and that He was God in the flesh, worthy of worship (Matthew 2:1-10).
  • They gave Jesus gold, a gift fit for a king; frankincense, which was the incense burned to worship God; and myrrh, an embalming spice used for bodies in tombs (Matthew 2:11).
  • No matter how distant you are from God and His people, today can be a day of return. Christmas can be the day you return to Christ, stop worshipping the things of the world, and worship Jesus.

Discussing and Applying the Sermon

  • Who do you relate to most closely in the Christmas story? What similarities do you share with that person or those people?
  • Are you more likely to find yourself distant from God due to drift, distraction, or outright rebellion? What can you do today to draw nearer to Him?
  • How can you go be a “light of the world” this Christmas season (Matthew 5:14-16)?
  • Suggested Scripture study: Philippians 4:11-13; Matthew 5:3; Psalm 18:27; Matthew 23:12; John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 1:28-29; Numbers 24:17; Daniel 9:25-26; Acts 2:39; John 1:4-5
  • Article: Why Christmas Matters

"In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.

And the angel said to them, 'Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.'

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!' When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.'

And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them."

"Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.' When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

They told him, 'In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: "And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel."' Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, 'Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.'

After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh."

Father, you have recorded these things as written by the Holy Spirit for us, that we might behold Christ from when he first came to save us from our sin, God in flesh, Immanuel, God with us. On that first Christmas, we know from Hebrews Jesus spoke, eternally preexistent Son, fulfilling the prophecy of the psalm, and said, "Sacrifice and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me. Behold, I have come to do your will."

The Son of God sent of the Father on a rescue mission for souls, that all of mankind could be made right and reconciled to the Father through the Son. Thank you, Lord, for Christmas. Thank you for sending Jesus. Thank you for today when we can gather together to hear your words, to exalt Christ, that we might know you, walk with you, and worship you all of our days. Thank you, Lord. In Jesus' mighty name we pray, amen.

Y'all, welcome, and Merry Christmas. I love Christmas, all the anticipation and the buildup. My kids have been doing their Advent calendars, eating the chocolate every day. There are the sounds and the smells and the feasts and the parties and the presents, and it's all just such anticipation and buildup to Christmas, to Christmas Eve as we gather here together. As we retell the story of Christmas and we have the movies and the shows and the nativity scenes and the cards we get, I think we lose something.

I think the foe of familiarity has made Christmas so commonplace to us we've forgotten some of the awe and the majesty and the wonder and the shocking grace of the first Christmas. What I hope to do today is that as we walk back through the Christmas story, as given to us by Luke and, later, when the magi would come, from Matthew, that we would see again and be amazed at what God has done as he came on a rescue mission for us.

This is what Christmas is. Christmas is when Jesus, who is God and has always existed, chose to come to earth to save us from our sins. The eternally preexistent Son of God took on flesh in the form of a baby to grow up, live a sinless life, die a death on a cross, be laid in a tomb and raised again, that whoever would believe in him and place their faith in him for the forgiveness of sins would cross over from death to life and be born again. He came to give us life. This is Christmas.

The way we're told this story is he does so this first Christmas through the humble, the lowly, and the distant. So, today, I want to walk us through Joseph and Mary (the humble), the shepherds (the lowly), and then who came late but the (distant) magi. So, that's what we're going to talk about today as we look back to the first Christmas, that it would impact us now in this Christmas.

  1. The humble. As we just read, Caesar Augustus issues a decree for a census, that everyone would return to their hometown to be registered. You know, you always have family around you at Christmas. This is officially the largest family reunion, as government mandated that everyone would go back to their hometown.

So, Joseph, being of the line and lineage of David, returns to Bethlehem. Bethlehem is Bet Lehem, house of bread, from which would come the Bread of Life. It's the City of David because David was from Bethlehem, and the Davidic covenant that was given to him in which God said to him, "A ruler will come from your line who will never leave the throne, from everlasting will reign." So, here the City of David, Christ the King.

So, he must be born in Bethlehem, and Joseph and Mary must go to Bethlehem. But do you know who else went to Bethlehem? It was all of Joseph's family. Some family reunions may be awkward enough, but here you have aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, his mother and father. Even his grandparents, if they were still living, would have descended upon Bethlehem. Massive family reunion for Joseph.

As we tell the story, this is where, again, I say the "foe of familiarity," because we say, "No room at the inn." Joseph and Mary needed a place, and we say, "There was no room at the inn, so they got relegated to the stable." But before, and much more painfully, the "No room at the inn," it was, first, "No room with your kin," because his very family did not provide a place for him and his pregnant fiancée.

You see, they were betrothed, the Scripture says. They were not yet married. So, you can imagine showing up to this family reunion. "Joseph, I see Mary is with child." Full term. No mistaking. No hiding. And you have bad choices. It's a lose-lose situation. First, in their mind, if you don't address the issue, they're just thinking, "Well, she was either unfaithful to you or you both have been sexually immoral."

Both scenarios for which, according to Mosaic law, they could be stoned to death. That's not a good option. The other option is "Hey, let's just share the truth. Let's just say you're pregnant because you're conceived of the Holy Spirit and the Son of God lives in you." Like, "Great. They'll think you're a lying lunatic." It's a lose-lose situation. So, far beyond "No room at the inn" it was "No room with your kin."

"But you can have the animal pen. You go sleep outside." Not a single person in their family would say, "Here, have my bed, Mary. You look tired. No matter what you've done or what has happened, have my bed. Here. We'll make a pallet on the floor. You can have this corner of the room." "Go to the animal pen." The manger… That word is animal trough. They laid Jesus in a trough meant to feed animals.

Now, you have Joseph. Joseph was a carpenter, so you know back in Nazareth that nursery was set. He had likely built some incredible things for his child, for Jesus to be welcomed in, because he was told in a dream… First, he was like, "Well, I'm going to put Mary away quietly as a righteous man," and an angel came to him and said, "Jesus, who is within Mary, will save your people from their sin."

He knew full well. He would have prepared that room, but they get called to Bethlehem, and now it's like, "I could have prepared, and now a manger…lying in a manger." Such humble beginnings for Mary and Joseph, having been rejected by the self-righteous, frankly. "Go stay in the animal pen. Lay your baby in a trough."

The humble beginnings… It couldn't have been any other way, because Jesus' life was marked with humility all throughout. God himself… This was no accident. There was no other way. It began with humility and ended with humility upon the cross. He left heaven to enter into our lives in such a state of humility. Isaiah 53 says, "He was despised and rejected by men. We considered him smitten by God, but our sins were laid upon him." It was such humility.

I think as we think about Christmas, so often we remember the nostalgia in the movies and the music and the cards, and we want to get back that feeling. I remember longing for it, what I felt as a child, now as a grown-up, like, "Oh, Christmas." We try to recreate it and fabricate it, and we long for it, but all of those things are just shadows of the goodness of God and what makes his fullness in Jesus. That longing we have for that nostalgia and to make Christmas all it could and should be… It's all in Jesus.

So, there in that animal pen with a baby in a manger, though Mary and Joseph had nothing, they had everything. Their Christmas was so good, as they were there with God in flesh, Mary holding the Light of the World, the Savior of all mankind. It looked very different from what they ever would have hoped for or wished for, but they had everything.

I know at Christmas it can be hard. Even as I mentioned gathering with family, I know… I spoke to someone earlier today who was like, "No, my family is not here." Christmas can be a time of ache and longing, like, "I wish I had a spouse to celebrate with, but I don't." "When I hear the story about Mary being with child, I long to have a child, but I'm struggling with infertility." Or maybe, "I miss a loved one who is at home with the Lord who I can't be with anymore," and there's the longing and the ache.

Today, I just want to remind you that when you have Jesus, he will fill and comfort that ache and longing. In Philippians, Paul writes and says, "I have learned the secret of being content in every circumstance, whether hungry or well fed, clothed or naked. I can do all things through Jesus who gives me strength."

So, today, no matter what you're wrestling with or the longing or aching or loss, know that Jesus loves you and came for you. He came for the humble, just as he did for Mary and Joseph and all the humble who would receive him. For God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but whoever humbles themselves will be exalted. So, humbly this Christmas come to Jesus. The self-righteous weren't there. The humble were there with Christ the King.

  1. The lowly. I think about who God announced it to. We've already read it from Luke, chapter 2, when God announced through the angels the birth of the Messiah, the long-awaited King. I think, "God, that's such a strange thing. If I wanted to reach the whole world… And I know you do. I know you want to reach the nations with the gospel. Just tell Caesar Augustus. He already got the entire world to be registered for your census. He has the power. He has the infrastructure. He can get this done. Tell Caesar." But he didn't.

Oh, probably because he could tell Herod. Herod, king of the Jews, could tell all of Israel. Certainly, he wanted to tell Israel first, and then the Gentile nations. He could tell Herod, and Herod would get that done. He would spread the word through Israel. He didn't tell Herod. Oh, probably because he was going to tell the high priest who was there in the temple offering incense day and night, longing for the Messiah, who knew all of the Scriptures. Surely, you would announce to him, and then it would go through the religious. Nah. Not God.

God, in this kingdom upside-down way, where he just longs that he receives glory alone… He says, "No. I'm telling shepherds. I'm telling nameless, 'forgotten by history' shepherds." Here's what was said to them. The angel says this: "…I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths…"

The angel says you four times. Why does he keep saying you? "You will find a baby. This will be a sign for you. Unto you a child is born." You know these shepherds. The shepherds in this day and age in Israel were the lowest of the low. They were societal outcasts and lepers no one wanted anything to do with. "You're the animal keepers." They were on the same level as those who shoveled dung from the animals. It was the lowest of the low, yet God said, "That's who I'm sharing this good news with that will be for all the people."

He says you because I think they, in their lowly state, were keenly aware, "I'm a nobody. I'm a nobody who watches animals so the other people can go to temple and do what's right." He chose the lowly, knowing that if it was for them, then it is for all. The elite of that day would have said, "Well, it's for us" and shunned, just as they were in that time with the Pharisees, pushing people away, heaping impossible loads upon people.

So, he goes to the lowly and says, "This message is for you that's for all people." Then the angel gives them the equivalent of what would have felt like a riddle. "This will be a sign for you." "Okay. We're listening." "You'll find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths…" That would have been super normal. "…lying in a food trough, in a manger." At that, the shepherds, knowing exactly what a manger was… "A food trough? What? In Bethlehem?" But it says they made haste, and they ran to go and see what the Lord had made known to them.

I'm guessing out of all of Bethlehem they didn't hit it right off the bat and find them. I'm thinking they threw open gates, looking at startled animals that would have gotten to their feet to the food trough. "No. No baby." Run to the next one, people shouting, "Who are you? Get out of here? What are you doing?" Just running from animal pen to animal pen to animal pen until, finally, they swing open the door, and there's a woman and a man and a baby in a trough.

At this point, I think Mary and Joseph are likely startled as well, seeing shepherds, thinking like, "Oh, you're here for the animals. I'm so sorry. We mean you no harm. We just needed a place. My wife was pregnant and had a baby. I'm so sorry." They would have said, "No! The glory of the Lord just shone around us, and he said he has good news of great joy for all the people, and they told us to come find a baby in a manger, in a food trough, that this would be a sign to us."

It says Mary treasured these things in her heart and pondered them. Why? Because she was told as a virgin, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and you will become pregnant and give birth to the one who will save the people." Joseph had heard in a dream, but it was just them. Now God was making it known. "I'm telling everybody. I'm letting everyone know," as these shepherds burst in and told them, "We've been told too!"

Can you imagine the delight, as they've just been rejected by the family, lying there in hay, shepherds upon the scene? "He told us too. He told us too." And they went praising God and telling everyone they could. I think also as the shepherds, like, wise shepherds… John would later say, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."

It says in 1 Corinthians 1:28-29, "God chose what is low…" Remember the lowly shepherds? "…and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are…" Why? Why, God? Why choose the lowly? He tells us. "…so that no human being might boast in the presence of God." I think at Christmas, with all the spending and the gifts and the "put on your Sunday best," and all of this, we can forget our lowly state before God.

We can forget who we were, where we've come from, what lies within our souls, the sin, and start to elevate ourselves by zip code and house and marital status and children and education and job and the parties we're invited to and all of the Christmas cards that are hanging on our wall, and we start to elevate. God is reminding us, "No. I chose the lowly so that no one might boast before the presence of God."

So, this Christmas, I just think it's right for us to remember those first shepherds who heard the announcement and that we would remember also our lowly state before this holy God, that we're just sinners in need of a Savior, and it's precisely why he came. It was announced to the shepherds. It's announced to you again. Lowly, in our state of sin, Jesus is for you.

  1. The distant. The distant, those far from God. We read in Matthew 2 about the magi. I know you're thinking, "The magi weren't there on Christmas. The nativity scene is wrong." You're right. They weren't. But the star rose that first Christmas, because Herod said he ascertained from them when the star arose and then later would say, "Kill every child two years or younger." He knew exactly when the star rose coincided with the birth of Christ.

So, when that star rose, the magi… Who were these magi? Well, the word magi is from where we get the word magic. It's a Greek word magos. They're sorcerers, dream interpreters, astrologers, and astronomers, those who studied and worshiped the stars. Think zodiacs, trying to interpret the times and give counsel to kings. These were the ones Nebuchadnezzar called to him. In the Septuagint, it says he called the magi to him and said, "Tell me what this dream means."

These were not worshipers of Yahweh. These were pagan people in a pagan land. It makes me love God so much that he not only called Mary and Joseph, the humble, not only called the lowly shepherds, but he was like, "I'm calling those bad pagan magi who are worshiping stars in Persia. I'm calling them too," because no one is beyond the reach of God's salvation.

So, as they're studying and worshiping stars, they would have seen this star arise in the east. They would have noted it and looked back to their charts and all of their scrolls. "What is this? What is the star we're seeing right now?" Finding nothing, it seems they would have gone to the Hebrew Scriptures that would have been carried to them when the Hebrews were sent into exile to Babylon.

Finding those Scriptures, they perhaps found Numbers 24 that was from Balaam, who was a Persian prophet from their land. Here are his words: "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near…" Y'all, Balaam is seeing Jesus in this prophecy. He's saying, "I see him, but not near. I behold him, but not now." He's seeing Christ, knowing that the coming of Jesus was far off. Then this is what he says: "…a star shall come out of Jacob…" Meaning, the nation of Israel.

"…and a scepter shall rise out of Israel…" A scepter is what the king would hold for his rulership. The scepter, the star. So they came to Herod and said, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?" Not "Where is he of this random star?" They knew exactly who it was they were looking for. "We're looking for a king, specifically the King of the Jews. For we saw his star…" They attribute possession of it to him…his star. "…when it arose."

Then it says that when they came to the house… This is now two years later. They're still in Bethlehem. They're living in a house. It says they came to the house, and they found Mary and the child. It says these magi fell down and worshiped him. Worship is given to a deity. They were worshiping a 2-year-old child, knowing Immanuel, God with us, God in flesh. These magi were worshiping Jesus. Distant from God, and God called them.

"I'm calling you from a distant land, the Gentiles who live in darkness. I'll call you, those who are near and those who are far, because no one is beyond my salvation." They fall down and worship him, and then they give him gifts: gold, gift for a king; frankincense, a burnt offering of sacrifice of a high priest; and myrrh, the strangest of all of the gifts. Myrrh, an embalming spice. The women would later bring myrrh and aloe to wrap Jesus' body after the cross.

It's a really strange gift to give to a young mother of a young child. "Here. This is for when he dies." It seems they maybe knew from the Scriptures, "This child is born to die. He has come to take away our sins, to die in our place," and they would have known, perhaps, from Isaiah 53. It says in Acts 2:39, "For the promise…" What is the promise? The promise is that in Christ you can be forgiven of your sin and receive the Holy Spirit.

"For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." The magi were there, and they were worshiping Jesus, but do you know who weren't there? The religious. The religious who told Herod, "Where's the Christ to be born? Here. Micah says in Bethlehem." The magi go, and the religious stay.

Friends, you can have religion, you can have Christmas tradition, and you can miss Jesus. I think all of us, to some extent, were distant from God. We need to be humble and know that our fullness is found in Christ, our lowly position before the Lord of our sin, that he came to save us, but there are degrees of distance that all of us have. For some, it's just one day of distance, just in the busyness and the stress of getting to church on time. "I just feel distant, God." He's not mad. He loves you.

Or maybe the distance has been a little longer, like it was for me. I'm a recovering alcoholic. I was drunk from 18 to 30. Very, very distant from God. He wasn't mad at me. He loved me, sent his Son for me, that I could be reconciled to him. Maybe that distance is even greater. You, like the magi, are like, "I've never heard this. I've never wanted God. I've never needed God, but I'm hearing today what he is saying."

Today, you can worship Jesus. You can be forgiven of your sins. For all will die once and face judgment, but if you trust in Jesus, that distance collapses in him, Christ, who was born, died, and rose again that you might have eternal life. So, will you receive him? As the Christmas hymn says, let every heart prepare him room. Don't shut him out. Receive him. Receive him today…Jesus, your Savior and Lord.

It says also in one of the hymns, "Long lay the world in sin and error pining…" Meaning, just longing. Like, there has to be more than this futile, painful, broken existence. "…until he appeared and the soul felt its worth." We were made for more, to trust in Jesus, be indwelt by the Holy Spirit and made new, to break forth in newness of life. This is Christmas. It's why we worship.

So, as the angel said 2,000 years ago, so I say again in your hearing. This is good news that will bring great joy to your soul, and it's for all people! No matter what your struggle, no matter what your sin, no matter what your past, no matter what your family of origin or your ethnicity or how much brokenness you brought through these doors or how much longing you have for more, it's for all people, and it will be for great joy. Jesus, the Son of God, for you! This is the good news, the gospel of Christmas.

And there's Mary, humble, beholding the Light of the World in her arms in that manger. I want to invite five or six people from the front row to come and light their candle. As Mary beheld the Light of the World, it says she treasured these things in her heart and pondered them. Now as this, the candle that represents Christ, spreads out, just as it has through the millennia and through the world into your receiving, as you look at that light and you sing this song, I want you to treasure Christ in your heart and ponder anew the wonder and awe of Christmas as we worship him.