Welcome back everyone to week three of our Christmas series entitled Missing Jesus. I think by now it’s clear that this series is going to give us an opportunity to look at the Christmas story from an important and unique perspective which is awesome, but it also gives us a chance to be realistic and talk about some of the realities and challenges that we face as we walk through the Holiday Season. If you are like me every year I seem to romanticize Christmas in my head, I get this wonderful picture in my mind of what it will look like, much like Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation, and while that ideal picture in my mind of the family time and Holiday would be nice…it isn’t all that realistic, and frankly, it leaves out a lot of the real stuff that we have to do, the challenges and hurts we will face, and even the raw emotions and people stuff that comes out heavily during all the celebrating of Christmas. Christmas is a beautiful time of year but it does have some realities to it that we are diving into here in this series, and I think we have hit on some really important principles and reasons why we can miss Jesus, and just struggle through this time of year, and I believe that continues today as we dive into a big reality and challenge seen in our lives, and we also see it in the original Christmas story…but before we get there, let’s talk about the series and where we have been.
So, here’s the thought that we are building on throughout this Christmas conversation, it is impossible to miss Christmas, isn’t it? It’s the big one, it’s the loud one, it gets a whole month of the year to itself, it’s commercialized and out there for all to see! I mean by late October the stores are already selling the Christmas stuff and we are hearing the Christmas music in all the stores. So, in many ways, it’s impossible to miss Christmas, because it is everywhere. It’s on TV, it’s on the radio, it’s in our children’s activities and events, we have all kinds of Christmas parties, it’s all about Christmas. But what we really want you to see is that you can walk through the Christmas season and miss the true reason we celebrate and what all the festivities are supposed to be about. We aren’t going to miss Christmas because it’s out there for all to see, but it is possible that we miss Jesus, whose birthday is the point of the Holiday and all the festivities. So, what we are doing is talking about four ways that we can become distracted and miss Jesus, as we celebrate Jesus’ birth, you know, the whole point of Christmas. Week one we looked at busyness, and the hustle and bustle that comes with the Holidays. We spent some time looking at the Innkeeper and his Inn and how we can make room for Jesus in our lives. Last week, Ken was pushing in on materialism and all that presents and stuff that consumes so much of us through the Holidays and I loved the Better Together concept of the presents, and everyone getting one except the birthday boy and he showed us how the religious leaders missed Jesus! Next week, we will look at how for some, we can miss Jesus because we have heard this story before…every Christmas we hear it, we get it, been there done that, it’s come up over and over again and it’s lost some its luster because we have heard it all before. But this week, we are going to talk about something that is a very popular issue in our culture today, and you may be surprised about how much it comes up in the Christmas story itself and how many people were dealing with it. Today we are going to talk about fear, and I would add to that anxiety, and worry and how for some, they miss Jesus because of fear. They could just feel overwhelmed and afraid of all they have going on, and afraid of all the details that may need to come together but mostly afraid of what the arrival of Jesus really means to them personally! They felt fear because they didn’t understand, all of which we can relate to, because there are a lot of unknowns in life, and the future, and with all this God stuff! We will also see that for others they are afraid because they aren’t really looking for a Savior that would come to their lives and lead them to life change because change can be scary too!
Fear comes up a lot in the Christmas story. Does it surprise you to think that fear is prominent in the Christmas story? It comes up a lot. Let’s just start with the main players in the story, time and time again we see fear playing a role in their lives. So, let’s start with Mary, and I want you to understand her emotions and the intensity of what she is walking through and trying to process.
Luke 1:26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” NIV
Can you see and feel how intense this is? Mary is greatly troubled when the angel appears and tells her “do not be afraid…” but she has many reasons to be afraid, first an angel has just appeared to her which would be shocking enough but then gives here this crazy news, that isn’t even possible, and she must be confused and wondering what all this will mean and now has to process it all while preparing herself for the scandal of this pregnancy outside of marriage, in those days she would have been treated really brutally for this offense, and it was viewed as an offense or crime in those days. How will she tell Joseph? Will he understand? How will people treat her? How will she raise the son of God? The questions and stress and fear would be so real…and we are just getting started. Mary felt fear, so did her fiancé Joseph.
Matthew 1:18 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. 19 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. 20 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. 21 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.” NIV
So, Joseph is devastated by the news that his fiancé is pregnant and has decided to quietly end his relationship with Mary in a way that doesn’t embarrass her and cause her more pain when an angel comes to him and says what? Joseph, do not be afraid…and he had plenty of questions and things to be afraid of! After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, we see a lot of people dealing with fear for different reasons…first the shepherds.
Luke 2:8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. NIV
The Bible says they were terrified, but the angel says to them “do not be afraid.” One of the most fearful people in the story was King Herod…and his reign of terror led to fear for all the people of that time. You must understand that Herod was an awful and evil King. He was paranoid and lived in constant fear of losing his throne (which he stole) and he made decisions under the constant fear that someone was going to take his throne…which ironically is how he got the throne in the first place. This man was so afraid of people stealing his power that he killed his wife, his mother, and two sons because he was afraid they would take his throne. This is a man who literally on his death bed had every relative or successor to his throne murdered because he didn’t want anyone taking his place! And the wise men show up and let him know the worst news Herod could have possibly heard, his worst fears have come…
Matthew 2:2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory — this was during Herod’s kingship — a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. 2 They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.” 3 When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified — and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well. MSG
So, Herod is terrified and that fear it only gets worse and spreads throughout Judea as Herod wants to eliminate this threat, and eventually has every boy two years old or younger murdered to make sure this new King of the Jews would never grow up to take his throne…this is horrible, it’s bloody, and it is terrifying for all the people now. I know, not the prettiest Christmas scene for sure but I want you to start to think this through with me, fear is seen all through the Christmas story. But I also believe the solution and how to overcome fear is shown to us in this story as well, and we need to overcome fear so that we don’t miss Jesus this Christmas season and beyond.
So, to start, let’s just deal with our crazy, maniac of an evil King Herod for a second. When it comes to Herod, he is afraid of Jesus. Jesus is a threat to Herod’s throne. So, at the core of his fear, is a person afraid to lose control. Herod wants complete control and will go to any lengths to keep that control which I think we can relate to in many ways. (Not the murdering violent raging part, but the need for control part) We may not be afraid of losing our throne, but for a lot of us we fear Jesus and what it would mean to let God all the way into our lives because we fear what comes next as we give control over to God.
For so many people, we view Christianity as this thing we need to do to get into Heaven, but when we finally break down and let God in so we can go to heaven instead of hell, we decide in some ways that our lives are over…the fun and the freedom are behind us, and now we are stuck living out a bunch of rules, and never having any fun ever again. Which could not be further from the truth. Allowing Jesus into our lives and giving our lives over to Him doesn’t end the good times and fun days ahead but literally starts them! It leads you to your true life, to depth, to purpose, to abundant life…it doesn’t end your life to allow God to lead it, it is when life begins because the whole point of God creating us was for us to know Him and be with Him! Ken helped us see that last week! Do you remember that awesome Scripture he shared in 1 Timothy?
1 Timothy 6:21 Some of these people have missed the most important thing in life – they don’t know God. TLB
Funny how that keeps coming up in this series where we look at Jesus coming to this Earth, in week one learning that we must be still to know God, and in week two understanding that the most important thing we can do is know God, and here it is coming up again! It’s always amazed me how many people feel like life is over when they become a Christian. They site the party days, and the crazy decisions they made that left them feeling so empty before and beat up in life physically and emotionally, and somehow make them the good old days…when the reality is before Christ was part of their lives they weren’t really living, they were just existing, and if they really stopped and thought it through, they were miserable! You know what? We all are without God because we aren’t really living, we are just existing…while struggling and fighting for control of our lives…it’s a miserable life. This is where Herod was at, focused on control and power, living each day of his life looking over his shoulder, trying desperately to stay on top. Think about how miserable that must have been…so for Herod he was unable to focus on anything good, and only saw Jesus as a threat to control and to keep him running his own show, and I think many of us can identify with that.
So, before I show you what I believe to be a profound truth and help for us all in overcoming fear, I just want to talk for a moment or two. I know that you look at me and see someone who is so cool, and calm, and collected…lol and obviously very humble, but I will tell you the last couple of years have been some of the hardest years I have faced personally. At times it’s been pretty tough behind the scenes for me, and I am learning that a lot of the pain, defeat, loneliness, anxiety, and fear that I have walked in is a trap that I have literally walked myself into. So, life is hard enough, but for me, a lot of the issues when I really stop and think about it are because of me, so it’s a lot of self-inflicted wounds and misery in a way. I will tell you that one of my strengths is also the thing that can really cause me a lot of negative emotions, fear, anxiety, and worry in my life…it’s my focus. I’m what you would call a very focused, and a bit of a one-track mind person who will plow into something to meet goals, which can be a good thing, but it’s really important for me to see where my focus is landing. The problem is that often as I build things, whether that was in my time at Lobar, or here in ministry I stay focused on all the things that need attention, need fixed, that maybe aren’t going as well as they could, and tend to not focus on the amazing positives and rewarding victories that are all around me in life, and take place in life and ministry as well. So whether that is in my parenting, my pastoring, or just my personal life if I’m not careful my focus stays on the adversity, the challenges, or negative things that need dealt with and not the positives, and over time all I see is defeat, issues, hurts, and things to be afraid of…and while life with four teenagers and in relationship with people and leading in ministry and life is messy, there is good in this life too…but if all you focus on is the obstacles and pain, over time it’s all you see, think about, and talk about too…and before you know it, you aren’t walking in joy, and life to the fullest in Jesus, you are living in defeat, fear, anxiety, and can feel completely alone. Can you relate to that?
You know if you do not want to miss Jesus this Christmas due to fear, or anxiety, and worry, then everything is going to come down to your focus. If you think about it, as we walk through this Holiday fear can play a prominent role in our lives, because there is a lot going on, and a lot of anxiety and stress and things to do and to process. Christmas is so commercialized and there is so many gifts to buy, food to buy, endless lists of people to shop for, you don’t want to forget anyone, but also, we can feel fear over our finances, not to mention our time, and we haven’t even brought up the people stuff that I like to say is messy at best. It is so easy to plow into the Christmas season and not slow down and process your emotions and see the prominent role fear can play in our lives…and today I want to show you how I believe Scripture can help us not miss Jesus and walk into the Holiday’s centered on Him with peace and joy and fun where fear and anxiety and worry were…and it starts and ends with what we focus on. The verse I have really been rallying around personally in my lower moments is found in Philippians 4 and will frame the very thing that I believe God shows us all through the Christmas story.
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. NIV
So much of what fear does is keep us worried, and focused on the obstacles, challenges, and things that we can’t see our way through…so what we focus on is really important. Paul had every reason as he writes this from a prison in Rome waiting to die to live in fear, instead he encourages us and gives us the key to overcoming it! Think and focus on the good things, notice them, talk about them, think about them and center on them…this is how we defeat fear, and anxiety in our lives! This also translates to Christmas and is actually seen in the Christmas story…
Mary was afraid, and she had a million reasons to be! But the angel shifts her focus to who Jesus is and what He is coming to do…
Luke 1:29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” NIV
So yes Mary, lots to navigate here, but let’s focus on Jesus, on who He is and why He has come, He is the Son of the Most High, who will reign over all of us forever! Do you see it? How about Joseph…it’s the same thing here, he is afraid, devastated, and has so much to navigate and the Angel shifts his focus to who Jesus is and what He has come to do!
Matthew 1:20 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. 21 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.” NIV
Joseph, don’t be afraid but understand and focus on who Jesus is and the fact that He has come to save us people from our sins! The shepherds are terrified when the angel appears but check it out, once again the angel says don’t be afraid, focus on Jesus and who He is and why He has come!
Luke 2:10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. NIV
Don’t be afraid, focus on the fact that the joy to all people has come, the Savior of the Universe is here! This is the key for us all…yes, there is plenty of things to think about, and plenty of things to be afraid of and feel worried and anxious about through the Christmas season…but every time we do, we need to be intentional, and focus on what is good, and lovely, and pure…what is positive in our lives! Like the angel did for these characters, I know you are afraid but focus on Jesus, who He is, and what He has come to do…this rids us of fear, and keeps us focused on the good rather than the losses and the negatives…because we are focused on Him.
So, the question of the day really becomes this; What are you focused on this Christmas season? Is it all the details, tasks, parties, food, gifts, money stuff, relational challenges…or is it Jesus, who He is and why He has come? Maybe before we answer that we should think through why Jesus did come. Do you know why Jesus came? He tells us many times and in many different places in Scripture. It would be fun to go through all of them, but instead I will just go to one of my favorite places in Scripture…
John 10:10 “…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” NIV
So, at Christmas we are celebrating Jesus coming to Earth, He is now with us, and Jesus now here means what? It means that we can live life to the fullest. You know, we touched on this earlier, but you cannot live an abundant or full life without being connected to God, and you cannot be connected to God without Jesus’ arrival, life, and ultimate sacrifice.
So, let’s slow this down and just make sure we are putting this together today. We are doing our best to overcome fear so that we don’t miss Jesus this Holiday season and beyond and I think the Christmas story shows us how. We are to not be afraid, just like the angel told Mary, and Joseph, and the Shepherds, and to not be afraid our focus needs to shift off the thing we are afraid of and onto Jesus, onto who He is and why He came to this Earth. We know that he came to give us life to the fullest. We also see here in John something so special…
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. NIV
Jesus came to the world to give us life to the fullest. He didn’t come to condemn us or to beat us down, and heap religious rules to follow on us but to save us! This is what we must focus on, just like angels said, don’t be afraid, but focus on the Good News! We don’t have to be afraid because Jesus is here and now part of our lives! I was honest with you earlier talking about my life and will tell you I have walked through some of the toughest years I have faced in life internally…and I’m learning that so much of the pain, the fear, the stress, the loneliness is all on me, because my focus was on all the wrongs things. This is what the angel was helping Mary and Joseph and the Shepherds with…yes there is a lot of challenges and details and stuff you will have to navigate but let’s focus on the positives, and not all the obstacles, and by the way this is the most positive thing that could ever take place…Jesus is here! Because of Jesus, God now with us we can walk in peace and joy that cannot be taken away from us regardless of how hard life gets, there is no circumstance or challenge that can hit and take it away because God is with us, and Jesus lives in us.
When you find yourself stressed, afraid, and overwhelmed this Holiday season remember what the angels said…don’t be afraid, focus on the Good News, of great Joy! Remember who He is and why He came. For unto us a Savior is born who is Christ the Lord who has come to give us life and life to the fullest, who didn’t come to condemn the world but to save the world through Him. This is what it’s all about and what we must stay focused on to defeat fear and not miss Jesus this Christmas season and beyond.
So, a few questions and a statement as we close.
- Are you walking into Christmas this year focused on Jesus, who He is and why He came?
- Do you feel fear, stress, anxiety, and worry in your life or do you feel the peace, love, joy, and strength of Christ in your life?
- Do you struggle and fight for control, or can you allow God to lead your life?
- When you think about yourself or talk about yourself, and your life do you do so in a positive or negative manner? If it’s negative it’s a sign that your focus isn’t on the Good in life.
- What would you need to do and what would you need to stop doing to focus on Jesus, who He is and why He came this Christmas, and every day of your life?
- Would you describe your life as a life lived to the fullest? Why or why not?
- Can you see the positives and wins in your life, and can you stay focused on them?
- Do you talk about positives in your life or do you complain a lot in conversations with people?
- Are you spending the time with Jesus each day for this God focus and full life to become a reality for you or are you too busy to engage Him?
Listen, we love you and it’s our deepest prayer that we walk through the Christmas season this year, and every day of our lives without missing Jesus. Fear, anxiety, and worry can be a major player in why so many of us miss Jesus…if this is you, I want you to remember how prominent fear was in the Christmas Story but that the solution to overcoming that fear was shifting our focus off of fear and onto Jesus, onto who He is and why He has come, and staying centered and focused on that Good News! So as we close, I will leave you with Paul’s advice as we walk through this Holiday season and all that life throws at us, as it is meaning so much to me these days…
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. NIV