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Christmas Eve at Westside

December 29, 2023

Audio Recording

The anticipation of the Savior’s arrival culminates on Christmas Eve. The incarnation is all about God’s presence among us, symbolized by candlelight from the Christ Candle.

Christmas Incarnation
Christmas Incarnation
Christmas Eve at Westside
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Sermon Transcript:

You're listening to a live recording from Westside church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us.

My daughter, who's six years old, has started to kind of experiment with different phrases and language. Like a lot of these kids up here recently actually just trying out words, things that she's heard. For now, it's clean and pg. I'll let you know if that changes. I would imagine it will. But at lunch the other day, she says, no offense, dad, but I like spicy food.

And I said, why would I take offense to that?

She goes, what's offense mean? Okay, we're trying stuff out. And then this morning, my son and daughter got up a little early. Not too early. I felt like it was a practice run through before. I'm completely miserable at 03:00 a.m. In the next day. But they were hanging out together and pointing out gifts and recounting what they have again. And my daughter points at one gift and she goes, I think that's a keyboard. If that's a keyboard, my life will never be the same.

Wow.

Okay. Context actually works, but maybe the emotion and drama, a little over the top, but I'll receive it nonetheless. And I remember saying similar things about gifts when I was a kid. Things like, if this is a Luke Skywalker Sandspeeder, my life will never be the same. If it's a super Nintendo with Super Mario world, my life will never be the same because Yoshi made his appearance in that game. That was the thing. And kids, myself included, right, have kind of this insatiable desire for the next thing. There's this idea that if I get the game, if I get the toy, if I get the thing, then, oh, it's going to be my favorite thing forever. I'm going to play with this forever. I finally made it and arrived. And really, the funny thing is, the irony is that it's not necessarily that different from our experience as an adult. It's just that kind of the requests change a little bit from toys, maybe sometimes even for this month, for you, it's, if we could just make it through the craziness of December, my life will never be the same. If we could just make it to the next paycheck, the next thing, the next contract, the next deal, the next amount of money, the next purchase, the next diagnosis, then we're going to make it through. My life will never be the same. And yet somehow, even when we get everything kind of like our kids, right, somehow, when we get everything that we had hoped for, it can still lead to this insatiable desire for more, because we believe that peace and contentment and joy is on the other end of those things. Now, I love gifts. I love Christmas, I love receiving, I love giving all the things. But of course, the reason we're gathered here tonight is because we believe that this one incredible gift from thousands of years ago is the thing that actually satisfies more than a keyboard and more than a sand speeder. This thing can actually sustain us. This person, this messiah, can actually deliver on all the hopes and dreams of joy and peace that we've ever imagined. Now for the people in the time of Christ, before the messiah has come, and we read earlier from Isaiah, chapter nine, that was spoken 700 years before the birth of Jesus. And Jesus came 400 years after the most recent prophecy, or word of the Lord had happened. So we're talking about a group of people, a nation called Israel, that is anticipating their messiah to come, begging and waiting, even in the middle of this darkness, in this long, quiet time of 704 hundred years, in wondering and wanting. But into that loneliness and into some of that darkness, Jesus himself arrives. And now who does he arrive to? Evan's going to explain the what in just a little bit, but I'm going to discuss with you over the next few minutes just the who. So Luke chapter one helps us understand who this is, for. It says, God sent the angel Gabriel. The 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. And 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, don't be afraid, Mary. You found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you were to call him 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. He will reign over Jacob's descendants forever. His kingdom will never end. For context, Mary is a teenager, and in this specific culture, women overall, but especially young women, did not have as much cultural value as the men. So she would have been considered one of the lower people in the society and culture. And then she's joined in receiving the message of the messiah with other undesirables in their time. In Luke, chapter two, verse eight, it says there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people today. In the town of David, a savior's been born. To you. He is the messiah. The Lord, this will be a sign to you. You'll find a baby wrapped in claws and lying in a manger. For those of you who regularly attend west side, you may be wondering this evening, can ben make Christmas about baseball? And, yes, I can. I'm about to do it. My family and I went to a mariners Yankees game a few years back when my son was about five years old. And a friend of ours got us down on the field for batting practice beforehand, which was really cool. And the Yankees were hitting, and they had this player named Aaron Judge, who's one of the big superstars of all baseball right now. And my son was waving to him and waving to him, and eventually Aaron waved back, and he waved back again, and they started making faces at each other. And Aaron walks all the way over to where my son is at, and he gets down on a knee, and he begins to have a conversation with, oh, do you think you're going to be a big leaguer, and do you want to play for the Yankees? And what position would you play? And at the same time, this huge gaggle of little leaguers from the other side of the batting cage runs over and begins to ask for autographs. And the volume kind of goes up in the whole place. And Aaron Judge gets off of his knee, and he looks at the group of kids, and he says, excuse me, I'm here to talk with Joel right now, and that's all I'm going to do. So maybe another time.

And I was like, wow, jeez, this guy.

Like, I mean, my son is clearly beautiful. Amazing, the fact that he would stop and take this time out to identify this one kid. Now, Aaron Judge is, of course, a professional athlete, really good at what he does, but this is still just a human. But in this context of a baseball stadium, it seems almost as though he would be God. And to point out a child and to come to him was special to my son. And I think for many of us here, while we kind of could identify with my five year old at this time, that when it comes to our relationship with God himself, we don't have much to offer. My son can't teach Aaron judge about the coming pitcher that he's going to face that night or give him tips with his swing. He's got no money that could possibly make any difference to his life. And yet he would stop and he would reach out and he would talk, even for a moment. And so even greater is the story of our God putting skin on, sending his son to ultimately die on our behalf. But even more than that, to be with us then and to be with us now. And there is no qualifiers on who belongs in the presence of God. It's not for the rich people. It's not just for the poor people. It's not just for those who have accomplished something, who have been faithful to a church community, who have prayed the longest and the loudest. Instead, just as in these stories, God himself shows that he is willing to go anywhere to find anyone that wants to be in his presence. And I'll prove it to you even further with this, probably the most famous scripture of all time, says John 316 through 17. It says, for this is how God loved the world. He gave his one and only son so that whoever would believe in him would not perish, but have eternal life. And God sent his son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. Which tells us that this story is not just one that we get to watch and listen to, but instead participate in. And if you've felt that darkness yourself, that loneliness, even in the middle of family and friends and hustle and bustle and energy this Christmas season, I want you to understand that you belong in this story and God would actually consider you to be the centerpiece of it. For God so loved the world that he came and he judged and he was angry and he took notes on everyone's bad behavior. No, that's not what Jesus says. He says, for God so loved the world that he gave everything that he had to be with you and to be with me. So that's the who of Christmas. That's us. Every single one of us, no matter where we come from or what we've done. So, Jesus, we give you praise and glory. We're so grateful to be in your presence again. Lord, I pray that we would receive you just as we received you that night, Lord, in all of your power and glory. We know and are confident that we don't deserve this grace and this forgiveness, and yet you offer it anyway, because that is who you are. We love you. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

Midwinter frosty winds made moan earth stood hard as I water like a stone snow was falling snow on snow snow on snow snow in the bleak midwinter sa not hold him nor stay heaven. And I shall flee away when he comes to rain in the bleak midwinter. A stable sa the air by his mother only in her maiden worship, the king end I am if I were a shepherd, I would bring the lamb. If I were a wise man, I would do my part yet what I give him my heart. San for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon me. For darkness shall cover the earth and thick darkness the peoples. But the Lord will arise upon you and his glory will appear over you.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Amen. Amen. Well, as we approach the candlelighting moment, and so many of these things are traditions for us, and I think back even at our family traditions. Last night, my brothers got into town, and we were all together at my folks who live here at their house. And mom was telling about how in the late 90s, it was kind of the peak of her collecting Christmas decor. And so she said, those rubber made tubs, she had 31 tubs filled with Christmas decor. And if you think that seems like a lot, you are correct. Some of you are like, that's not that many, and we can get you help. She had a lot of Christmas decor. She's paired back in recent years. But I remember that even growing up, just the mountain of boxes of Christmas stuff, I've prided myself that my wife and I have been very minimal when it comes to our Christmas decor. But then a couple of years ago, my wife brought home these little ceramic Christmas trees that sit on your table. I thought those looked nice. Those are kind of stylish, but not over the top. And then the next year, they multiplied, and we had four or five of those this morning. I counted. I'm not exaggerating. We have 14 decorative Christmas trees in our living room. 14. My question is, who does that help? Right? Who is this benefiting other than target and their bottom line? But I remember this clearly in my mom's collections. She had a lot of nativity scenes, right? A lot of nativity scenes. And in almost all of them, you have pretty much the same characters. You have the holy family, Mary, Joseph, and the child, of course, a shepherd or two, some animals, and the wise men. But if you read the story of Christmas in the Gospel of Matthew, you find that the wise men were nowhere near Bethlehem when the baby was born and said it would take them two years of searching, following after the star, to get to Bethlehem. So in all those nativities with those ornately carved wise men standing around the manger. It's all a lie. Makes you wonder what else your mom isn't telling you. Originally, in one of the services, I said, your mother is a liar. And I thought, that's a little harsh for Christmas Eve. I toned it back for you guys. The wise men searched for two years to follow the star. And we pick up their story in Matthew, chapter two, verse nine. It says, the wise men went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. And when they saw the star, they were overjoyed. When do you see a star? Well, not in the daytime. The stars are out right now, but we don't see them, of course, until night falls. And I love the picture of the wise men in the dead of night looking up and seeing a light that brings them great joy. And isn't that the nature of faith in a dark world? And you don't have to look far to find darkness. Whether it be looking across the world through the news and hearing about stories of war and trouble and human suffering, or whether we look right at home and find trouble in our own lives or relationships or family. We don't have to go far to find darkness. But the promise, the promise of Christmas, the promise of this child, the promise of our faith, is that when the night is the darkest, there's a light that shines bright. And no matter what, the darkness will not overcome it or overwhelm it. On coming to the house, verse eleven, they saw the child with his mother Mary. And they bowed down and they worshipped him. And then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The sun will set in about 45 minutes. 430. And it won't come up again for 15 hours. Welcome to the north. Long nights in the winter and short days. And I think sometimes life can feel that way, that the night outweighs the light. But the good news we have tonight in the story of the coming of Jesus is that something broke through that dark night. The one who wrote about this most was the apostle John, the disciple of Jesus. He was a beloved disciple of Jesus, a close friend. And as an old man, he sat down to write his letter, the book of John. And so he writes it not as a young man full of hopes for the future, but as an old man full of wisdom and expecting that he doesn't have much time to write left. And so he sits down. And so you can sense that when you read the book of John, every word is carefully chosen because he knows this is his moment, his last chance to tell the story of what it was like to walk with Jesus, what it was like to stand nearby when he opened blind eyes. What it was like to see him calm the sea, what it was like to see him welcome, little children. And so John writes, and there's a story. It might seem a little obscure, but in John chapter seven, that the apostle John writes about a moment when he and the other disciples followed Jesus to Jerusalem into the temple for one of the big annual festivals. And this particular festival, people would come from all over the nation, and they would pack into the temple courtyard, and for seven days and seven nights, they would celebrate the presence of God that walked with the people way, way back, generations ago under the leadership of Moses, as they left slavery in Egypt and wandered through the desert for 40 years. And so they would commemorate all that happened in that. And each night, they had this giant golden lampstand in the courtyard of the temple, filled with all these lamps. And they would mark the end of the evening and the festivities by lighting this giant lampstand. And the light would flood the courtyard, and it would spill over the temple walls into the city. And it commemorated how, when the people wandered in the dark and cold desert by night, God would appear in the form of a pillar of fire, this representation of his real, tangible, ever present presence with the people. And so for seven nights, they would practice this, and they would celebrate. And then it says that the festival ended. And you know how it is when holidays end, right? The tree comes down. By now, it's a horrible fire hazard.

All that's left is the little needles.

That get stuck in the carpet. The leftovers have gotten stale, and there's a little bit of sadness, right? The festivities are over. We got to move on and go back to normal life. And this is what it would have been like on the day after these festivities. But in John chapter eight, it says that Jesus returns back into the temple, and what he sees is shocking. In the very same place where Jesus had stood with the crowds of other people celebrating the tangible presence of God with his people, he walks into the temple courtyard, and there before him is an angry mob. And at the center of this angry mob is a woman who has been caught breaking the law, and they've dragged her to the temple courts. That's okay. They've dragged her to the temple courts to accuse her and condemn her. And they're holding stones to enact what they saw as God's justice. And in John, chapter eight, we get one of the most beautiful expressions of the compassion of God. As Jesus walks up to this crowd, pushes his way through this angry mob, and stands right in between the woman and her accusers. And he says these words. He says, let you who have no sin cast the first stone. And there's silence. And one by one, it says, starting from the oldest to the youngest, they begin to drop their stones and they walk away, because they know until all that's left is Jesus and this woman. And he gets down where she is, lying in the dirt, and he says, daughter, where are your accusers? She looks up, and for the first time, she sees there's no one left. And she says, there's no one. And he says, neither do I condemn you. Now go and sin no more. And in the very next verse, John, chapter eight, verse twelve, still kneeling next to this woman, still an earshot of those who are walking away in shame, he stands up and he makes this declaration. He says, I am the light of the world. And in a brilliant expression of God's compassion and mercy, he shows that the light of God's presence comes not to shame people, not to expose people, not to embarrass people, but to extend compassion and covering and mercy. And Jesus, the perfect expression of God's love for humans, the perfect expression of God's desire to be close to humanity, is wrapped up in this moment when Jesus says, I'm the light of the world. And what was commemorated the night before and yet not practiced the next day. Jesus steps in and says, we've been remembering what happened long ago, but I'm here right now as the light of the world. It's beautiful. And so, even this afternoon, as we now light these candles, and I want to invite our candle lighters up, as we light these candles from the Christ candle, we do so not only as a remembrance of what happened millennia ago in a far off place, that's part of it, but this afternoon, what we do is we welcome in, right now, God's very presence. In just a moment, we're going to dim the lights, and this whole room is going to be filled with candle light, the warm glow of these candles. And it reminds me of kind of a universal sign of hospitality. If you've ever come home late at night to a dark house, you know the kind of welcome you feel when you come home to a house that has the lights on waiting for you. You know what I'm saying? The lights on at home when you come in the dead of night, mean that someone has remembered that you're on your way, that you have not been forgotten, but that someone knew that although you were far away, you've come close again. And I think this is what I want us to mark and this moment to represent as we go into a song and this room is filled with candlelight, is that God is not forgotten. His presence is close at hand. And in the house of God, we find light and life welcoming us back. So, Jesus, we receive not just a memory of an event from long ago, but we receive your here and now presence as the light of the world. Where there is darkness in our world, Jesus, we would pray for peace, hope and light. Where there is darkness in our hearts, in our relationships, in our lives. Jesus, would you let the light of Christ radiate out, push back the darkness and overwhelm our fears and our uncertainties? With your peace and your love, Jesus, we receive your light this afternoon. Amen. Amen.

Silent night holy night holly calm holy spite round young Virgin Mother and child Holy enter in love sleep in heavenly peace sleep in heavenly peace close.