“One thing I love about this time of year is the classic Christmas specials on TV. I was so bummed that I missed “A Charlie Brown Christmas” this past week! It is my favorite. I love all of them. One in particular that stands out as I think about this morning’s message is “The Grinch that Stole Christmas.” Who doesn’t love a good Dr. Sues rhyme? The Grinch was more than a “Bah Hum Bug” kind of person that didn’t want to participate in the Christmas festivities. He was the kind of person who wanted to ruin Christmas for everyone else as well. In fact, he snuck into “Whoville” posing as Santa Claus and stole everyone’s presents. He was thoroughly happy with his wicked self when all of the sudden, he heard the people of “Whoville” singing joyfully on Christmas Day, even though they had no presents. He tried to take it all in. Why would they be joyful when all of their gifts, when all of their “Christmas” had been removed from them? In that moment, it dawned on him that “Christmas” couldn’t be bought at a store. It was more than presents, and when he realized there was more that could be experienced and understood, his heart that had been too small grew three times its size. The Grinch got a heart for Christmas!
I love that the Christmas season has the capacity to grow our hearts. Jesus has the capacity to increase in our hearts during this time perhaps more than any other. You see, in order to experience the Christ of Christmas, you have to want more than presents. You have to want more than fudge. You have to want more than mistletoe, eggnog, a few parties and a couple days off of work. You have to want Jesus. You have to want to understand. You have to want to believe. Your heart has to be involved on some level. A sacred Christmas, which is a “real” Christmas will depend on how much room we are willing to make for Christ in our hearts.
I know not everyone here is saved. I know not everyone here believes the Bible is completely true. I know not everyone here is sure the events that took place were documented accurately enough to be historical truth. I know not everyone here believes God coming to earth in the form of a baby, the virgin birth, and a Star in the East are even possible. There may be people here who view Christmas as just another ordinary day. Perhaps there are even people whose hearts are completely turned off to the Christ of Christmas. King Herod’s certainly was. He wanted no part of a worship service around a manger. His heart was so cold, so walled off that he wasn’t just indifferent to Jesus, he was hostile towards Him and wanted Jesus snuffed out . . . Out of Christmas . . . out of his life. . . out of the world.
I also know there are people here who believe it is all true. I am confident there are people who are curious to know more. There are people who have questions, but who are willing to throw their faith into the Christmas belief column in hopes that as they do they will be fully convinced. I believe there are people who are eager to embrace it all. There are those who are in wonder and amazement and Christmas becomes a time of deeper worship and a time of urgency to tell others about Christ. When it comes to Christmas, this is one time a year when we are face to face with ourselves and God and have to answer the question in our own hearts, “How much do we believe?” “How much of our hearts is open to believing more?”
The Good News of the Gospel is this: Christ comes to each of us where we are with one simple question: Will you put your trust in Me? In the characters of the Christmas story we see different people with different expectations, different levels of curiosity, wonder, faith, and trust and for those who allowed themselves to experience the Christ-child, they were propelled farther in their journey of faith. You see, you don’t have to have all of the answers. You don’t have to be where someone else is in their faith discovery. You do, however, have to have a willingness to make the journey to the manger if you are going to find the truth for yourself. Let’s explore the Christmas characters and see if you find yourself, as many of them did, as persons who were developing a heart for Christmas.
Mary-A Willing Heart
Let’s call Mary’s heart, the willing heart. Listen to her story from Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.
Mary was either (A) the super laid back type that could just roll with whatever including an invasion in her body from the Most High God and a life as the mother of the Messiah, something she never told her kindergarten teacher she wanted to be, or (B) she was a person of complete faith. I will have to go with “B.” A life of faith isn’t just a life with faith. A life of faith isn’t like turning a light switch off and on . . . That is, people who live a life of faith are always in a state of faith which puts them in a state of willingness to receive supernatural instructions about how to live a supernatural life. What Mary was willing to experience and open herself to was supernatural. She was a virgin. She hadn’t had a sexual encounter with Joseph or anyone else. God came to her and deposited Himself in the form of Jesus Christ inside her womb. You see, a heart of faith will set you up to live a supernatural life.
Like all the other Christmas characters, Mary had no answers. She only had promises. She only had a little bit of the plan. But because she chose a life of faith, it was enough. That made her willing to go wherever, do whatever, and become whatever God had in mind. Some people call that “blind faith.” I call it a willing heart.
How close to Jesus did Mary’s willingness take her? He was born in her. She held Him in her arms. She taught Him as she learned from Him. And as she put her complete trust for her life into His hands, He was re-born in her. Only someone who was “all in” could have followed Jesus to the cross. Maybe you could argue that a mother’s love is so strong it could endure anything. A mother’s love is strong, but listen, Mary was also human, and the torture she watched Jesus endure, the unexplainable explosion of pain in her heart she had to carry as she saw Him set up, betrayed, rejected, humiliated, beaten repeatedly and whipped to a bloody pulp only then to watch nails be driven into His hands and feet, it was enough to turn the strongest person in this room’s stomach and cause you to lose your lunch, faint or flee. It was far more than a mother’s love that enabled Mary to watch what happened to Jesus. It was a supernatural grace and strength that God gives to willing hearts.
How about Joseph? I’d like to label his heart a faithful heart.
Joseph-A Faithful Heart
Let’s read about Joseph’s experience in Matthew 1:18-25 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us.” When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
I probably identify more with Joseph than the other Christmas characters personally. As a Christ follow who still deals with being strong-willed, in my flesh, I like to think for about two seconds that I actually have options when God speaks to me. There are times when God will say, “I want you to do such and such,” and I can quickly think of ways to partially do it, half do it, or ways to talk God into a softer version of His original idea. While that conversation is very short lived, it still happens. However, people with a faithful heart love Jesus so much that their “want to” motivates their “will to” and they follow anyway. Even though they may not want to do something wholeheartedly because of their wholehearted love for Jesus, they do it anyway. The world may dub it as “doing the right thing” or being loyal.
I have always had the sense that because God sent Jesus to die for me, He had already done more for me than anyone else could. Through salvation He had already given me more than I could ever work to possess, and because of that I owed Him my life. Part of my discipleship process personally involves this sense of commitment to Christ because of what He has done for me. While I could never repay Him, I have a compelling desire to try. Though I am striving for perfection, I know I won’t be perfect in this life. So, if I can’t be 100% perfect, I am going to do my best to be 100% faithful. I figure that through my faithfulness, increasing perfection WILL work its way into my life. I may not like the plan. My heart may have to catch up with my commitment at times, but that’s alright because I am all in it, and like Joseph, I will do what God commands because He is my Lord.
How close did Joseph’s faithful heart take him to the Christ-child? He had a front row seat. He saw firsthand the willingness of Jesus as a boy to study and learn the Scriptures. He observed how he had a voracious appetite for the Word of God and for teaching it to others. His willingness to trust God’s plan and timing and be yielded as a vessel helped him engage with Jesus on a personal, intimate level.
The Shepherds-Responsive Hearts
The ragtag band of shepherds had responsive hearts. When the angels appeared to them to tell them the Messiah had been born, they said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem to see for ourselves this thing that has come to pass which the Lord has made known to us,” (Luke 2:16) and they quickly left their sheep and sprinted to Bethlehem to see what had happened.
Good News sounded good to them. They were tired of the same old hum drum just getting by earthly-focused existence they had lived. They were ready for a change, ready for adventure, ready to know there was more to life than punching a time clock on a hillside. I’ll bet they raced each other to see who could run faster to the bedside of this Newborn-King. They didn’t have to go home and think it over. The angels didn’t have to sweeten the pot with a bribe to get them to go. No one had to beg them to open their hearts to Jesus. No one had to plead with them through persuasive arguments that this was going to be for their benefit. They just took off.
I remember our Good Friday service this past year. It was glorious. I did something I had never done before and haven’t done since. About three fourths of the way into the musical service I put a slide up on the screen that said, “If you would like to give your heart and life to Jesus, come to the altars during this next song.” And even in the darkened sanctuary I could instantly see a young woman stand and practically run forward to accept Jesus as Savior. She was open. She was ready. She didn’t hesitate. She ran towards her Savior.
Not only were they responsive to the news and run to get there, but they ran back home to tell everyone else what they had heard and seen. How close did their responsive hearts take them to the Christ-child? They got to celebrate the first Christmas. They got to become the first evangelists ever in the world! They beat Billy Sunday and Billy Graham to the preaching of the Good News! Perhaps one message from this message for even one person is “Quit hesitating. Don’t wait or you are going to miss an opportunity to become an evangelist. You are going to miss an opportunity to experience the supernatural. You are going to miss an opportunity to interact with the God of the Universe up close and personal and worst of all you are going to miss salvation!” Don’t hesitate. Run to the manger this Christmas.
The Wisemen-Curious Hearts
Finally, the Wisemen had enough curiosity about that bright Star in the East and just enough knowledge to know it meant a King had been born somewhere and just enough desire to check it out to see if it made any huge difference in the world that they were willing to travel 800 plus miles to find out. Now, I am here to tell you I walked 68.9 miles in October across Putnam County in four days and I was done! D-O-N-E, done. In fact, I don’t think I have walked ten miles since! I could not sign up for an 800 plus mile walk-a-thon!
When we think of the Nativity story, we like to put Mary, Joseph, the baby, the shepherds and the Wisemen all around the manger of an infant Jesus. It makes for a pretty Christmas card, but that’s not the way it happened. It took quite some time for the Wisemen to get there. Jesus was learning to walk by the time they made it. That is a long time to journey JUST to see if a King had been born. That is a long way to carry gifts for a King. Each year we celebrate Christmas with my sister during Thanksgiving, and our gifts get smashed almost beyond recognition just driving from here to FL. I can’t imagine the condition of the containers carrying the gold, frankincense and myrrh from such a long journey.
I wonder how many times Wiseman one turned back to Wiseman two and said, “Do you think this is really worth it?” only to hear Wiseman two say, “If we don’t get there we will never really know.” You know when they finally got there they fell to their knees; not from exhaustion but in adoration and worship. They opened the gifts they had brought, and they worshiped the One who had made the journey more than worth it!
Perhaps the message for someone this Christmas is follow your curiosity about Jesus. Make the journey. It is worth it. You won’t get it all over night. It is a process, but if you will commit to finding Him, two years from now you will be a completely different person than you are this minute.
I read something on Facebook this week that stopped me in my tracks and made my heart leap for joy. In fact, I shouted “Hallelujah” out loud because I knew what I had just read was a Christmas season miracle. Someone who had had a curious heart who had given Jesus a piece of his heart, who had given Jesus a try had been led step by step to a crises of belief and has been completely transformed through a life-changing event in which he discovered the grace of God in a new and profound way. He is one of our church members, and his name is Jon Grueser. He is here to tell his story:
This week we witnessed a live nativity scene performed by members of Word of Light Church. 2 days prior the rest of my life was in a surgeon’s hands. You see 5 days before I went to the hospital I was woken up in the middle of the night by pain that cannot be described. The most pain I have ever felt in my entire life. My wife, Janelle begged me to get checked out. I declined. This pain lasted for 3 hours and then I passed out.
I woke that morning still in a lot of pain, but not as bad. Over the next five days I went about my normal routine hoping it would eventually go away. Over those days I wasn’t able to eat or hold down much fluid. Thanksgiving came, and we went to my mother-in-law’s. I ate like a bird and got sick. We then went to my family’s house, and I slept in a recliner the entire time. When I got up Friday, still in pain, Janelle asked me again to go to the ER. I went to work that evening. I started sweating and was dizzy, and I couldn’t think. My brain was not working.
When I got home, Janelle drove me to Cabell Huntington Hospital. They asked me a few questions and immediately put me in a room. They took a urine sample, and it was tested immediately. I was quickly being admitted. When my wife told the doctor this had been going on for five days, the doctor told her, “Ma’am, your husband is dying. His liver and pancreas have shut down and his gall bladder has exploded. If you hadn’t gotten him here, he would have died by tomorrow.”
It took 3 days of around the clock IV heavy antibiotics just to get my body stable enough to do surgery! Last Monday I had a 3 hour surgery that typically takes 20 minutes. The blockage of the liver and pancreas was removed and the exploded pieces of my gall bladder were removed. 30 minutes after I was out of recovery I was walking around and eating. I felt better than I had in 10 years.
This story is not about how tough I am. It is about our Heavenly Father and is a true testament of His glory and power as well as the persistence, strength and immeasurable love my wife has for me. If she hadn’t kept pushing me I wouldn’t have gone to the hospital, and I wouldn’t be here today. I don’t ever want to put her through that again.
The Lord laid His hands on me in reassurance that I would survive so I could continue to serve Him and continue to be the best husband and father that I can be. I have been called upon through this experience. It is time for me to return the favor and get more involved with my relationship with God and take my marriage and family to the next level.
I have taken a lot of things for granted in my life. I couldn’t imagine leaving my wife and kids behind all because I was too selfish to take her thoughts and feelings into consideration. I have a new lease on life. It is high time that I ensure my wife and kids know that. I want to walk closer with God. Without Him it is plain to see I wouldn’t be here. My wife and children are my whole world, and I am sorry I didn’t express that to them the way I should. I thank my Heavenly Father for allowing me more time with my family. I feel different on the inside. I am changed. Amen!
The change John testified to is different from the change that took place at his conversion. There has been an awakening deep in his spirit that caused him to take this story to Facebook and make sure everyone knew what God had done for him and how his life had been changed as a result. Not at all a typical post from John. It all started with a curiosity about God, and because he has stayed open during these couple of years he has given God the wiggle room needed to work in his heart and life, and look at the result. The man you just heard from is completely different than he was just a few weeks ago. Jesus came to earth in the womb of a virgin and was laid in a manger. He only needs to occupy a little space in order to make an impact, to make an impression, to change a heart, a mind and eventually a life, but you have got to give Him some room to work!
Maybe you identify with the willing heart of Mary or you want to. Invite God to teach you about the supernatural things of God this Christmas. Maybe you identify with the faithful heart of Joseph or you want to. Ask God to increase your commitment and desire to be faithful even when the task comes with a price tag. Maybe you identify with the shepherds. You are jazzed and ready for Christmas. You can’t wait to see what God has in store, and you won’t be shy about telling everyone you know about how awesome He is! Maybe you identify with the Wisemen or you want to. You are curious, but you know there is more. Make the journey. It is SO worth it!
Will you be like Herod? Closed and cold. Or will you have a heart for Christmas this year?