It’s Christmas Eve and I’m so glad you have taken the time to join us tonight because we’ve gathered here at Britton Christian Church from all over the city to worship and celebrate the greatest gift ever given—the gift of God to all who will receive it—the gift of Jesus our Savior! Some of you have come here tonight with your friends or family and you are reveling in the joy of being together and relishing the time you have to give God thanks for His many blessings. The Lord may have blessed you in any number of ways and you’ve come here with a heart spilling over with gratitude. You got a big promotion during the year or you survived a big layoff at your company. Maybe the Lord has blessed you with a new baby in the past year. You may still be glowing from your wedding that took place in 2015. Maybe you’ve welcomed a new son-in-law or daughter-in-law into your family at some point during the year. You are getting ready to graduate from high school in a few months and you are so excited about what God has in store for you once the tassel is moved. You’re grateful that a loved one who was deathly ill has been restored and is alive and well this very night. There are many of us here this evening and we know we are blessed, we can count our blessings one-by-one. I could go on and on listing the many blessings that we’ve enjoyed during the past year. God has been good.
I’m also fully aware that there are many of us who have come here tonight and life is tougher than we ever imagined at this moment. I’m thinking of friends of mine, and yours, who have been dreading Christmas because this is their first Christmas without someone who has always been there. We’ve lost some great friends this year. Some of you have lost moms or dads, husbands or wives, brothers or sisters, and grandparents—Christmas is going to be different. I have some friends right now that are sitting by the bedside of someone they love because they know their life is coming to an end, and it’s coming quickly. Others have lost jobs and if it weren’t for the kindness of others your kids wouldn’t have anything to open on Christmas morning. You’re grateful, but wrestling with mixed emotions because you never dreamed you would find yourself in this situation. Families are torn apart and stressed out by addictions of every kind; the tension is so thick you can cut it with a knife. Marriages have ended and the shuffle of kids from one house to the other for Christmas has tarnished everything you ever wanted Christmas to be for your family. Many of us are preoccupied with thoughts about the future. I prayed with a friend of mine on Tuesday who just found out that he’s going to have quadruple bypass surgery once Christmas is over. And the question hangs in the air…“Then what?” A young sixteen year old girl has spent the last six days in the hospital as doctors try to find the source of her stomach pain. Her family has a history of cancer and she’s told her mom and dad, “I know it has to be cancer.” She’s wondering what the future holds. And many of you, with the challenges you are facing, are wondering the same thing.
I’ve just been describing the situations of those who are in this sanctuary tonight. If we open our doors and step out into the world then the heartaches, fears, and stress are compounded exponentially. Before San Bernardino, when did any of us ever fear going to a Christmas party and being shot to death? Until Paris, when have you ever planned on going out to eat at a restaurant and wondered if a bomb would end your life? I heard a report just this week from the federal government that their studies show that our greatest threat is not ISIS, but homegrown terrorist—they are among us. I imagined the terror that seized the hearts of many of those who were listening to the same report. Tonight, in Denton, Texas, our brothers and sisters are gathering at Denton Bible Church to celebrate Jesus’ birth knowing that a bomb threat has been made if they come together. Pastor Tommy Nelson and the church have chosen to worship and not fear.
I’ve got Good News for you this evening. In the days of the prophet Isaiah, God had a message for the people who were living with deep grief and sorrow, people who were fearful of the unknown, and those facing constant threat. Let me read to you the message and then I’ll explain. Turn with me to Isaiah 9:1-7 and let’s read together.
1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. 3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. 4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. 5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:1-7 NIV)
This prophecy was written by Isaiah during one of the most painful, uncertain, and sorrow-filled times in Israel’s history. The Assyrian King Ashurbanipal was constantly attacking Israel’s people. Families were fearful. Each day was filled with uncertainty. Within just a few short years he would murder the masses and make those he didn’t kill his own slaves when he overtook the ten Northern tribes of Israel. It was during this time of loss and uncertainty that Isaiah spoke up about the promises of God. What Isaiah prophesied hadn’t taken place yet, but he spoke as if it had. For those who believed, for those who trusted God, they could know that things would not always be as they were at the present.
God said a child would be born and He would be called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.” For generations to come the people would look for a new ruler, someone, anyone who would put Israel’s enemies down, bring the peace everyone longed for, and set in motion the everlasting Kingdom of God. Generations came and generations went with no sight of the One whom God had promised and yet still some believed, some continued to trust that God was true to His promise.
The cruel Ashurbanipal and his iron rule was replaced by one nation after another, one ruler after another until the Romans took over the area we know as Judea. In 40 B.C., after the death of Antipater, the father of Herod, the Romans made Herod the king of the Jews and he ruled Jerusalem and the surrounding area for over 40 years, until the birth of Jesus. Herod was more powerful and ruthless than we can even imagine. He taxed the people into poverty for his building programs and made sure that he eliminated any threat to his power. Over 100 years before Herod came to power, before the Romans ruled Judea, the Maccabees rose up and revolted against the Greeks. When Herod came to power he wanted to make sure it never happened again so he had all of the Hasmoneans killed. Herod had one of his brother-in-laws, Aristobulus the high priest, murdered simply because he was popular with the people. Then he killed Aristobulus’ sister, Mariamne, Herod’s own wife. He feared two of his sons would one day threaten his power so he had them executed. Five days before he died he had all of his descendants who might claim his throne killed. Before Herod the Great died an event happened in Judea, in Bethlehem to be exact, a new King was born. Matthew tells us in Matthew 2:1-8.
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-8 NIV)
We don’t know exactly when Jesus was born. Most Bible teachers believe it was sometime between 7 and 4 B.C. The story of what happened after Jesus was born was one of the last records we have of Herod’s paranoid, evil ways.
The magi came from the east to Jerusalem and wanted to know where Jesus had been born. Matthew tells us that Herod was immediately disturbed by the news. Then he tells us that it wasn’t just Herod who was disturbed, but all the people of Jerusalem were disturbed as well. We know why Herod was disturbed, but the people of Jerusalem? It’s not clear. Were they disturbed because of the threat Jesus posed? Probably not. It’s much more likely that they were disturbed because Herod was disturbed and they had no idea how he would react. I’m sure they had no idea that Herod would eventually have all of the little boys who were 2 and under in and around Bethlehem killed in trying to eliminate the newborn King. In Matthew 2:16 we read,
16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. (Matthew 2:16 NIVO)
While Mary and Joseph celebrated the birth of Jesus, mothers and fathers throughout Bethlehem mourned, wept, and wailed. I’ve shared all of this with you to simply show you that in each and every generation throughout history people have had to deal with heartache, terrorist threats, invading armies, death, grief, sorrow, and uncertainty. It was a broken world that Jesus was born into and Jesus would come to experience that brokenness in His own life as He was mocked, ridiculed, maligned, and eventually beaten and hung on a cross.
Many people who experience heartache and suffering simply give up, they lose all hope that peace will ever come, that they will ever know the peace they long for. It’s easy to see how people succumb to the darkness, but in the midst of darkness Jesus proclaimed that He is the light of the world. I want you to know that Jesus is the Light of the world, He is the Prince of Peace, and He has come to give you and me His peace this very evening. Jesus said,
33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIVO)
Our peace is not found in the absence of strife, sickness, loss, death, terrorist threats, or anxiety. Peace is not found in being married, having a family, well-paying jobs, straight “A’s,” winning the lottery, or popularity. Peace, real peace is found only in experiencing the Prince of Peace. Of all of the gifts that you might receive this Christmas my prayer for you is that you will receive His peace. It is a peace that surpasses all understanding. It is a peace that will hold you in the storms of life. It is a peace that is found in no other place than in the arms of the Prince of Peace. Won’t you receive the gift this Christmas?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
December 24, 2015