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Well, whether you are in the room here with me or you are watching this on any of our campuses or you're watching this online, I want to begin by just saying welcome and uh, is it too early this week to say Merry Christmas? Is that outta line? You know, it's so fun to come to church and sing Christmas carols.
Where do you get to sing Christmas carols other than in your shower and in your living room? I guess, I don't know. But to be together in a room and to be able to. Uh, these songs and the, the words have so much meaning. So anyway, it's great to be with you and, uh, what a beautiful morning to celebrate Christmas, right?
Yeah. You get it right. All right, good. I wanna, before I get to the message, and I gotta move fast, but I, I just have to say thank you. I, I have to say thank you. Um, you know, we, um, about a month ago asked you to sacrifice, uh, on behalf of kids. But just, um, they just don't have, uh, you know, kind of what we have.
And I asked you to include other kids into your family and, and bless them. And we did this thing called fill the sleigh, and we did it on all of our campuses and. I'm just so incredibly proud of you to, and I'm pleased to be able to tell you that not only did we reach the goal on all of our campuses to do what we tried to do, but you, and then I said, look, if you can't bring presidents, if you want to just donate something, donate something and we'll, we'll make sure that we get them presents.
And I, you know, I don't know like what you thought that would amount to, but you gave $60,000 in addition to all your regular giving. You gave $60,000. For us to buy presents for kids. Do you have any idea how many toys you can buy with $60,000? And I just, I just want to say thank you, thank you, thank you.
We talk about loving beyond. We talk about doing things that seem irrational and, and doing what we did with Phil. The slave seems crazy. But you did it and you did it so incredibly well, and I just feel the need to say thank you. Also, I wanna say this, this coming, uh, week is, uh, Christmas services. Chris, uh, Christmas services begin Thursday night, and again, whichever campus you're on, different times of different campuses and different days.
And, uh, Thursday night it starts to starts St. Gilbert on Thursday. And, uh, it, it's gonna just be a wonderful service. I encourage you, encourage you, encourage you. Of all the times that your friends who know you go to church are hoping you'll think about them. It's a Christmas and Easter and, and they want to go to church.
They just want to go experience that it touches, uh, Christmas services touch us deeply. Even if you go, I don't even believe in God, but there's something about that. That I resonate with, and they're hoping beyond hope that you will invite them and think about them. And I just encourage you, it's the safest invitation you'll ever give where they'll just go, thank you for thinking.
And even if they don't come, the fact that you invited them will speak volume. So I encourage you to do that. Please, please, please. Okay, so here's what I need you to do, and again, I'm gonna move quick today. I need you to open your Bibles to two different texts to Matthew chapter two. Matthew is the first book in the New Testament, so the second chapter in the first book of the New Testament and Luke chapter one.
Now I've said this before, four Biographers of Jesus. They all tell the story of Jesus, Matthew, mark, Luke, and John, and Matthew and Luke are the two who really go into detail when it comes to the birth of Jesus and get down to the specifics. So we're gonna concentrate on them. Now, while you're doing that, let I, I want to just ask as you're finding that, I want you to imagine, um, a day, imagine a day.
Imagine a day happens in your life and it goes like this. You, you actually wake up before your alarm goes off. You wake up before your alarm goes off because you actually got to bed early the night before and you wake up and you are fully rested and all you're doing is laying in bed. Wait. For the alarm to go off and you're thinking, and you're praying and you're like, this is awesome.
Fully rested, ready to go. Yeah. Get up and I don't know what your routine is, but let's just say you go make a cup of coffee and this particular cup of coffee you make, man, it's, it is awesome. It, it smells so good. It's nice and hot. It tastes so good. And ditto on the Asian bacon by the. You, you, it's just so good this morning.
And you go to take a shower, you take a nice hot piping shower, and then you hop out and you, you do the stuff, you do whatever you do to your face and you fix your hair. And it's a beautiful, it's a perfect hair day. It's a, like, I have those every day, by the way, but I, I iress, uh, it's a perfect hair day.
Everything is awesome. So you get your stuff, you head out the door, you're greeted at the door with Raup sun. It's a beautiful day. Very inviting, very just, oh, you get in your car and you start driving and the craziest thing happens. You every light you come to, it's green. It is, yeah. Is going, oh, this is awesome.
Every light you pull up to the place you work and your boss is waiting at the door and he's like, I, I love this about you. I love this about you, you care. So, and all of your, all of your fellow workers are all kind of clapping and cheering cuz it's just like everyone's in a great mood. Okay? Just imagine that kind of a day.
Now let me contrast that day with a different kind of day, with one of those days. You ever had one of those days? See, as soon as I say one of those days, immediately, you know what I'm talking about. You know, one of those days, some of you might be going, yeah, I'm having one. But one of those days is the exact opposite of the day I just described you.
You actually oversleep cuz your alarm didn't go off and you get up and you don't have any time to fix coffee. Much less eggs and bacon. You gotta skip the shower. You stand in front of the mirror, you try to do the damage control as best as you can. Make yourself presentable. You hit the front door and you discover it's cold and rainy.
By the time you get to your car, you're soaking what you're so far behind. You hit every red light on the way to work, and again, your boss is greeting you. He chews you out before you literally get in the building and everyone you work with gives you stinkeye as you walk by them. Now, let me ask you a simple question.
Which day would you prefer? That's just nothing hard, right? I wish every day was like the first day. We all wish every day was like the first. But here's the reality. Not every day is like the first day, and not every day it's like the second day, but something subtle happens when we have the first kind of day.
When you have a day where everything seems to go well subconsciously, you start to think maybe God is like super pleased with you today. Like he's just shining his favor upon you, his hand of Mercy's on. And man, you must, you must have done something really, really well. And when you have the other kind of day subconsciously, you start looking up and you're going, God, what did I do?
Why are you against me? God, what are you punishing me for this? What do I need to say? I'm sorry for? When did the tragedies of Christianity, now listen very carefully. I'm gonna tell you something important. One of the tragedies of Christianity. Is that for most of us, when we were invited into this family, we were very subtly, if not overtly promised, that if you walk with Jesus, if you'll surrender your life to Jesus, you're gonna have a disproportionate amount of really good days.
You're gonna have a disproportionate, uh, few very bad days, and that the greatest decision you could make is to walk with Jesus because he's gonna make your path easy. And everything's gonna work for you. And all your problems are gonna work out and all your conflicts are gonna get resolved. Everything is gonna go your way.
And uh, the truth of the matter is that's not how it works. And life has to teach you that difficult times happen for people who walk with God, Jesus. Never denied this, by the way, letote, him, John 1633. Jesus said, I've told you these things so that in me, you may have peace in this world, you will have trouble.
But take hard. I've overcome the world. You will have trouble. Not you could have trouble. You might have trouble. There's a chance it's gonna be difficult. He said, no, you're gonna have trouble. You're gonna have trouble. Paul said it this way. We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.
How, how many, many, why so many? See something in our mind goes, look, if I'm walking with God, it should be easier than if I'm not walking with God. But the Scriptures never confirmed that, and Jesus never promised it and Order did the apostles. They never said that. So our Christmas series this year, we've titled it.
Would You Believe? Would You Believe? Would you believe? And, and, and I guess another way we could have said it is, do you believe, do you believe in God? Do you believe, and really what we're talking about in this Christmas series is if you say you believe in God, how far will your faith carry you? How far will it carry you?
And when does it get so difficult that you believe that it's not? , it just can't be true because it would seem, it would be easier if it were true. You know, Christmas is such a incredible time, I think, to talk about belief. Uh, I think for all of our lifetime, we come around Christmas, then we go, there's so much in here, we gotta process.
And so a couple weeks ago when we started this series, I, I, I made this point. Let me just repeat it just to get us thinking about it again. You see, you're gonna be challenged in your beliefs when it comes to the story of the birth of Christ. There's no way around it. See, you're gonna be told that God became a man and that's the point of Christmas.
God became one of us that God took, the creator of the universe, took on flesh and blood like you have, and you should go. That's unbelievable. It's gonna challenge your belief. Do you believe that? Then you're gonna discover that when he did, He chose to come as an undeveloped baby instead of a fully developed man.
You gotta be kidding. Why would he come as a baby? Because you did. And then you're gonna discover when you read the story that he was born of a virgin and, and so what's gonna happen is you're gonna hear this story and you're gonna go, that's all unbeliev. And then it begs the question, did God do it this way?
So you wouldn't believe in him? In other words, God, it's so complicated what you did. There's no way I can believe that happened, or did God do it that way to show you? To show you what belief can accomplish in your life. In other words, he didn't do it to discourage you, but to encourage you to believe.
Not to say you're, you're full if you believe, but that you're wise if you understand how powerful God actually is. So as we've tackled this series, we've just wrestled with, uh, uh, uh, you know, some hard questions. So let me ask this, a goofy question to ask in church, and it's not, I'm, I'm not trying to lead you away, I'm just gonna ask you this.
So here's the question. So what would it take for you not to believe in God? What would it take for you to go, I don't believe, I just don't believe this. And again, if you, you don't have to believe to be here, and it's great that you're here, but let me ask you a question. What would it take for you to choose not to believe in God?
And so in this series, we've been taking different issues and. Okay, so like week one we said, look, if God promised you something, but it seemed like it took forever to be delivered, would that be enough for you to stop believing in God? Because see, God started this Christmas story thousands of years before Jesus in the story of Abraham, and I showed you that week one, and then at the end of the Old Testament there was the book of Malachi, and then there was 400 years where God just stopped talking.
400 years where you felt like God never showed up. Would that be enough to cause you to not. If, if it took forever. How? How about if what God said he was gonna do what his promise was, it, it seemed impossible. It just, there's no way possible that, that a, a virgin's gonna conceive. Come on. There's just no way possible.
So if it sounds impossible, is that enough to cause you not to believe? What if, and this is what we're gonna talk about today, what if fulfilling God's promises require? Faith that is persistent. Not a one time easy believism, but a faith that has to st uh, faith with some grit to it, some guts to it. A faith that holds in there even when it's difficult.
If, if, if, if it were hard, if it was challenging, if it was difficult, would that be enough for you not to believe in? and I, and I know cuz I've been around this thing a long time. A lot of people go, you know, if it's hard, if it's difficult, then I do something. God's in it because we believe a lie that somehow God promised it would be easy.
He never did. He absolutely never did. So let's jump into this thing. What I want to do today, and again, I'm gonna go very quickly, I just wanna make sure that we understand the elements of this Christmas story and that we personalize. and they'll just put them somewhere on a shelf and go like, I never really thought about that.
So I just wanted walk you through a couple of passages. I just wanna make sure we think about 'em. So the question that, um, I want us to ask when we read the story is Why God? Why? Why that way? Why that? Why did you do that? Why, God, why? And so, let me just begin with where we've already been. Let me just review.
the, uh, beginning of the story. God says to Mary, we're gonna do it this way. And Mary's going, what kind of conception are we talking about? Why God, why that way? Let me just remind you. So let's go to Luke chapter one. You should have one thumb there. And again, we talked about this last week, but let's just re get it back in our mind.
Luke 1 26 to 37 in the sixth month of Elizabeth's p. When God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, the town in Galilee, to a Virgin pledge to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The vers name was Mary, and the angel went to her and said, greetings, you who are highly favored, the Lord is with you.
Now, Mary is greatly troubled in his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be, but the angel said to her, do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God, you will conceive and give birth to a son and you're to call him Jesus and he will be great and will be called the son of the most.
The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob's descendants forever. His kingdom will never end. How will this be? Mary asked the angel, since I'm a virgin, like I, I don't understand like what you just described. How's this gonna happen? The angel answer, the Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the most high will overshadow you.
So the holy one to be born will be called the son of. Even Elizabeth, your relative is gonna have a child in her old age and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail. I, I think if I were Mary, I'd be going, why God? Why, why, why, why? Like this? But you might not realize, and I would encourage you to think.
Is Mary is an unmarried woman. Okay? She's betrothed, but this thing that's gonna happen to her is she is going to be scandalized big time because she's gonna have to explain to Joseph, I was not with another man, this was from God. She's gonna have to explain to her family I wasn't with Joseph. This was from God.
She's gonna have to explain to the culture that she lives in. This is God's doing. This is not my doing to this very day. People don't believe she told the truth to this very day. I want you to understand something. Could God's promises be true even if you personally felt shame? Because that's what she would've felt.
Why, God, why do I have to feel shame? Can't we just do this the old fashioned way? Like, can't I just get married and then become pregnant? And God goes, no, this is how we want to do this. So Mary is going to deal with this, and Joseph's gonna deal with, and everyone's gonna point the finger at them and go, you know that?
That's the couple right there. You know, look, illicit relationships are so common in our. We're so used to it. We don't, it's not scandalized much at all anymore. But in that day, for Mary to come up pregnant before she was officially married to Joseph, major scan, why, God, why? Here's a second. Why God, why? So Joseph gets word that he's being subpoenaed and he needs to go to Bethlehem, that he's technically not subpoenaed in the actual use of the, but he's given a direct order from literally the Emperor of Rome.
You need to get down to Bethlehem, or technically up to Bethlehem, but down in the country. It says this in Luke chapter two, verse one to six. In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman. This was the first census that took place where Corus was governor of Syria and everyone went to the their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea to Bethlehem, the town of David, because he belonged to the house in the line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. Now can I just slow this down for a minute, Joseph's with.
his family marries with her family. You assume they're up in Nazareth, that they're, and, and Joseph gets word. He's supposed to show up in Bethlehem. Now you gotta understand he doesn't show up. He could get arrested. Mary's nine months pregnant, eight and a half months, whatever. We don't know. She's sh Shirley.
She's gonna get a pass. But Joseph doesn't have any choice. He's literally being ordered by the government. You must show up and you must take this trek. Now, here's what I want you to think about. I think Joseph fell to his niece and he looked up to God and he said, why, God, why? Why did you not stop this from happening right now?
Why, God, what am I supposed to do? God, I have a wife who is just about to give birth. I can't leave her. And what? What the other option is I take her. Now you gotta remember, this is before Uber. There's no Greyhound bus to hop on. This is a trek across rough country on a donkey or a camel or on foot. Why, God, why did you allow this?
Why did you let this happen right now? I can't leave her and I can't take her. This is the dilemma that male athletes sometimes you'll hear about in sports, where they got their team, made it to the Super Bowl. We're into the big game, baby. And then you find out that your wife's about to give birth, and you start to realize these two dates are gonna coincide.
And you're faced with this incredible dilemma, this thing you've dreamed about all your life of giving birth to your firstborn or the game you've dreamed about all your life. And you have to make a choice. This is the dilemma. And Joseph's gotta be going, God, why did you not stop this? This is all that you're doing.
This is not my doing. I didn't time any of. Why, God, if I show up, I have to miss the birth of my firstborn. If I take my wife, I risk her life. Well, let's just keep going. If you keep reading, you realize he made the decision to bring her with him to Bethlehem, but Mary goes into labor sooner than later. Why God, why now?
God, Luke two six. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be while they were there and she gave birth to her firstborn. Can I suggest this is not Marion Joseph's plan A? This is not what they wanted. Not here, not now. We have no family here. We have no medical help here. We have no support system here.
We have no people we know here. Why God, why now? Well keep going in the story. In the next verse. Check out the barn, man. Luke two seven. She wrapped him in clause and placed him in a manger because there was no guest room available for them.
The barn. God, why? Why God, why have barn? You know, we, we've so romanticizing and glorified this. It's so, it's so nostalgic. You know, it's a beautiful, you know, stars in the sky and, and this cattle were lowing. And folks, this is a horrendous statement of humanity. Any way you look at it. If, if you get away from the all the warm, fuzzy feelings you think about on your Christmas cards about the manger crash, whatever you wanna call it, this is what, this is what actually happened.
A woman who is a traveler, Who is nine months pregnant, goes into labor and she's buckled over in pain, desperately needing a place to lie down. And there is not a single person in Bethlehem who will put her first. Take my bed, take my bedroom, take my house. Oh my goodness. Come, come in. Come. She goes to every hotel.
Not one. You know, as if there were no, no, don't picture up on No, we have no rooms, we have nothing. We have nothing. Nobody, the owner of the end doesn't go Take my room. I'll be fine. I'll, I'll sleep out here at the desk. Nothing. It's a horrendous picture. Nobody will sacrifice for her. So where are you gonna have this baby?
You're gonna have it out in a. Okay, let me, let me make sure we understand. The barn is that cold, dark, smelly place. We keep the animals. Is there anything the least bit sanitary about a barn where there's full of animals? No. That's all they got. Why, God, why? Why did you, cause you could have, why? Here. Why now?
And by the way, in that barn, no, no doctor, no nurse, no equipment. I, I was in the room when my kids were born, I had to kind of stay out of sight from like, you know what I'm saying? I had a passed out. I can't even imagine. It was just her and me and I had to figure out what I'm.
Hey, Mary, could you pass me that towel await you? Look at the towel, you look how filthy it is. Why God? And then kind like guests arrived. So maybe, Hey, some really good news is about to happen. Look over in, uh, in Matthew chapter two. I'm gonna read this. I'm gonna go quick here. After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in Judea, during the time of King.
Magi from the East came to Jerusalem and asked, where's the one who's been born? King of the Jews. We saw his star and, and when it rose and have come to worship him, excuse me. When King Harrod heard this, he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him when he had called together all the people, Steve priests and the, and the teachers of the law.
He asked them where the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem and Judea. They replied for, this is what the prophet has written. But you, Bethlehem and the land of Judah are by no means leased among the rulers of Judah. For out of you will come a ruler who will be shepherd of my people, Israel. And then Harold called the Magi secretly, and he found out from them the, the, the exact time that that star had appeared.
He sent them to Bethlehem and said, go and search for the child and as soon as you find him, report to me so that I too may go and worship him. And after they had heard the king, they went on their way. And the star that they had seen when it rose ahead of them dropped, uh, in, in, uh, ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.
And when they saw the star, they were overjoyed and coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and they worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and mer. Well, that's good news. These guys showed up now can I just, there's a couple things I need you to see here.
When they showed up, they had come from the east and they discovered him in a house. Did you catch that? Not the manger in a house that some time had passed from the time he was born. I know we always have these guys in our little crush major scene, but they had to come from the east, and when they come from the east, they show up.
and they start asking, where's the baby born? King of the Jews. Now there is a king of the Jews by the name of Hart. He's a Roman appointee, and he has the title King of the Jews. So they show up and they start asking, where's the baby born? King of the Jews. And if you caught it, he said he was agitated. He was greatly disturbed in all Jerusalem.
Why was all Jerusalem disturbed? When? Because when Herod was upset, people died. . Har was a mad man. Harry killed his own kids. He killed his wife. He killed his mother-in-law. He was a cold-blooded killer who was empowered to kill people by his position. And so he says to them, when exactly did that star appear?
And he's turning in his head. And why did he decide to kill all the babies two years and younger? Because somewhere in the last two years that Star appeared. It wasn't last night, it wasn't two night. It was somewhere in the past, six months ago, nine months ago, a year ago, A year and a half. We don't know for sure, but he's gonna kill every baby in Bethlehem, two years and younger just to make sure that nobody escapes who thinks he's going to be born.
King of the Jews. So, but he gives him gifts. That's awesome. Now let me show you what happens next. Look down at verse 12. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. These are the magi. They don't go back and tell Herod where the baby is. They skipped that.
Now, when they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. Get up. He said, take the child in his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you for Herod is going to search for this child to kill him. So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt where they stayed until the death of Herod and so fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet out of Egypt.
I called my son now. And by the way, let's just keep going cuz it's so good. When her realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious. Then he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem in his vicinity, who were two years old and under in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled. The voices heard in Rama weeping in great mourning. Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no.
Why, God, why don't you just stop Herod's madness? Why God, why? So let me wrap this up and tie it in a bow. It is so easy to accuse God of negligence in this story. God, you know, you don't care. You just don't care. Well, any of this stuff difficult for you, God, it was any of this, you could have prevented any of these.
Everything seems so simple. I mean, you should have, you could have, why didn't you, so let me drop the big idea, and this is so relevant to your life right now. Please hear this. Here's the big idea. Just because it's hard doesn't mean goddess in in it. Let me say it differently, just because what you're going through is difficult.
Doesn't mean it's not of God. Say it differently. Just because the time you're living right now is challenging, doesn't mean God forgot about you. You see what you need to learn from this, and what I need to learn from this is life is hard. It was never promised to you that it would be easy. You were never promised day after day of good days.
Life is hard and your life is hard. And it's so easy to believe that God, if you loved me, it wouldn't be hard. This is the birth of God's son. Could you make it any more difficult than this? Could it be any more challenging than this? Could there be more difficulty in the story than this? Why, God, why didn't you just grease the skids here and make it simple so Jesus could just slide in here?
You know why? Because he's not doing that for you and he is not doing that for me. John Steinbeck, in his book, cannery Rose, said this sentence, uh, paragraph, let me read it. Hey, you gotta, you gotta think this thing through. He says, you know what's always seems strange to me, the things that we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding, and.
Are the concomitants, which just means the things associated with us. Not a common word, just these, these things are associated with failure in our system. What, what do you mean? In other words, out of failure, come kindness and generosity. Openness, honesty, understanding and feeling. And, and, and, and those traits that we detest.
You know, sharpness and greed and equis, uh, inquisitiveness, meanness, egotism. Self-interest are the traits of success, and while men admire the quality of the first, they love the produce of the second. See God. God knows that success can kill you, and success can mislead you. And success can do so much. and God looks over you and he says, no, I've got you.
God produces qualities in us through difficult times that could never be produced. Just to remind you from what we talked about last, the last study in the book of James, remember this considerate, pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whatever you face, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Let purpose, perseverance finish its work so that you may mature and complete not lacking anything. Could it be possible that because God loves you so much, he decided to allow that challenging thing you're going through to happen to you? That difficult experience you're having is not a sign of his abandoning you.
It's a sign of his abiding with you. He's going to get you through that. Do you know that if every time in if, just think if everything in your life was easy, do you realize you would never pray to God? You would never seek God, you would never deeply reflect on who you are and what your life's about and which direction you're going.
God love you enough to not make it easy on you, because that would stunt you. and you would never become what you were capable of. Never forget this just because it's hard. Just because it's difficult. Just because it's challenging does not mean God's not in it. He could have made this story so simple.
Everything about this story is difficult, but he produced Jesus produce, Mary produced Joseph, and all the rest of us are a byproduct of what he did. . Don't believe God abandoned you when it's hard. He didn't. He's with you. Seek him. Let's pray. So, Lord, just give us the wisdom to see it, to understand it, to not panic when it's tough.
God, to not believe for a minute that you're punishing us because it's hard, it's challenging cuz it's difficult. It doesn't mean anything but that you love us and you're with us and you're caus you're literally creating within us a need for you to turn and call out to you for. So encourage us, father, through the challenging days that we have.
It doesn't mean it's bad, it means you're with us. Emmanuel, you with us? Thank you for Christmas. In Jesus name. Amen. Thank you guys.