Every year, Christmas seems to sneak up on us, doesn’t it?  I mean, we get warned early by the shopping centers and radio stations, with Christmas decorations and Christmas music long before we think they should be decorating or advertising for Christmas or playing the music, but it doesn’t take long, and suddenly, we have rolled right through Thanksgiving, and the Christmas Season is upon us!  Time sure flies!  I don’t know about you, but for me, while I know I can’t control time, I sure am trying to find ways to slow it down and am doing my best to make room in my life, to slow down and soak in some of these moments in life that seem to be happening way too quickly!  We will keep on talking about that idea of making room in our lives today.  While Christmas tends to come out of nowhere it is such a big deal.  Hopefully, as we move through this season it becomes a time to slow down, enjoy family and friends, and reflect on the true reason for the season.  That can be hard to do, to slow down, and focus on what we are celebrating with all that Christmas tends to throw at us!  Let’s face it, with everything this holiday brings, the true reason for the season just seems to get crowded out.  And I think we need to talk about it!  So let me show you a couple of ways this can happen, and we will start with our emotions this time of year.

Christmas, more than any other Holiday, brings so many feelings to the table, and those feelings can be very different from one person to the next.  For some people, Christmas is an exciting time of year, full of gifts, people, parties, and joy.  We all know these people, who have already watched Elf, and Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation 10 times, and have Christmas Music playing in an endless loop for weeks at this point.  I may have a few of those people in my home, and Mariah Carey belting out what she wants for Christmas can just get seared into my brain by this point in December! So, we have those “Christmassy” people.   And for them, it may sound wild that anyone could feel any different around Christmas.  But some people aren’t excited this time of year.  They feel overwhelmed and extremely stressed out with the endless lists of things to do!  They stress over the amount of money that is being spent on gifts and parties, the constant people to entertain, the food to prepare, and the lack of time to get it all done.  It just seems to be too much, and for those people 2024 can’t come soon enough.  For some of us, there is anxiety or stress because we have done a really good job of avoiding some people all year long, probably family members, and there are hurts there, and confrontations there, and moments we aren’t looking forward to in our future, and we have stayed away from it, but now we know we will be sitting at a Christmas meal with those folks soon enough.  For others, it’s moments like Christmas that are incredibly painful, and lonely as we think of loved ones we miss so much this time of year, and this time of year doesn’t feel like a celebration at all.  I would encourage all of you to pray for those in our Spiritual Family who are hurting and heavy-hearted, and feeling lonely this time of year…but in all the emotions, what gets crowded out?  The true reason for the season.  Jesus.

But it isn’t just the emotions, is it?  Sometimes as we jump into this time of year, it can feel a little boring because we have done this all before.  For some of us, we have been around church for years at this point, maybe our whole lives, and we walk into the traditions of Christmas.  We see the decorations, the manger scene, we hear the music, and the Christmas Story, and well, we have heard this all before, and it can feel, almost impersonal…we get it, Jesus came to this Earth…God loves us…and if we aren’t careful between all the emotions, all the practical things we have to do, all the parties, and to-do lists, and extra things in our schedule and just the repetition of the traditions of Christmas, we can go through the motions and crowd out the true reason for the season, which is Jesus.  If we aren’t careful something so profoundly personal (The Christmas Story) becomes very impersonal to us.  We must ensure that there is room for Jesus, in our hearts and minds.  We must ensure that there is room for God this Christmas and beyond.   You know, everything about this world just seems to crowd God out of our lives, have you ever noticed that?  Even something as beautiful as The Christmas Story, the celebration of Jesus entering this world can get pushed aside.  Have you ever thought about that?  Something this profoundly personal feels distant and impersonal because we just have no room for God in our lives.  Life and this world just push in and crowd God out.  After all, we have so much going on through the Holidays and we talked about it.  For some, it’s an exciting time, for some, it’s an overwhelming time, for some, it’s an incredibly painful and lonely time, and then add all of the stuff we jam into this season and there we can crowd God out, we have no room left for what it’s all about!  We can feel so dry and empty and tired because the one thing that can bring us life, health, joy, and peace in a season where we sing and talk of joy, love, and peace is the one thing we lose sight of, and that is Jesus.

So last week Ken opened our Christmas series, and our goal in this conversation is to get us to a place where we can slow down, reflect, and see what the Christmas story is all about.  Because God sending Jesus to this Earth is the most important thing that has ever happened, it is the game-changer of our lives and we want you to connect with the story of Christmas because when you do, you find your best life possible.  Why?  Because Christmas is the story of God and His love for us.  It’s a story of how God saw our struggle and personally did something about it.

John 3:17-18 He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted.  MSG

So, no matter where you are at, excited, overwhelmed, hurting, stressed, lonely, afraid, or even doubting God’s love for you, you are in the right place and I would encourage you to relax, and try to slow down your heart and mind and focus on what God did for you, because it is that personal.  That is the goal for this series.  We want to get you to slow down and understand just how profoundly personal Christmas is.  God loved us so much that He sent His one and only son, to help, to put the world right again, this is the greatest and most personal moment of our lives!  It’s why we celebrate!   Ken did a great job last week, and he had a big task!  He was unveiling the mystery of God’s story to us by walking us through a few thousand-year journey that God is on with us people.  It is incredible to think that God loved us enough to stick with us, after years of heartache and disappointment.  Hopefully, you were able to stop and truly process that.  All God wanted was to love people and He wanted us people to love Him back.  He creates a perfect place for people to live and we choose sin and to live for ourselves over and over again.  Ken asked an important question of us last week, that we should take time to process because it reveals just how pure and perfect God’s love is for us, do you remember that?  Ken was showing us that the condition of humanity was bad, it was filled with sin…and people just refused to love God back.  They can’t focus on Him.  They can’t obey Him.  They can’t enjoy Him.  And Ken asked us to think about that.  If you were God, what would you have done?  It’s an important thought, and I think that as humans our response would have been much different than God’s.  God continues to love us, and doesn’t give up on us!  Instead of destroying us and starting again, we get Jesus and the story of Christmas.  Ken was answering a very important question last week.

What is God like?  The answer?  God is Love. The proof?  Well, that is found in The Christmas Story.

Today, we continue this conversation on The Mystery of God revealed through the Christmas Story by answering another question that many of us struggle with, as we walk through so much in our lives.

Does God Care About His People?

You might be thinking, didn’t Ken answer that last week as He showed us that God is love?  In some ways, we did answer that last week, but today we move it a step further.  This is an important question for us to answer because it is a question that hits most if not all of our hearts and minds as we walk through life and deal with all that life throws at us.  We deal with so much, and as we try our best to navigate life, we can struggle with God, and question God.  We can wonder internally and even ask it out loud.  Where is God?  Does God truly care about me?  Does He care for others more than me?  Why does He feel so far away from me when he seems so close to others?  If He does care then why is life this difficult?  You know, if you are human, these questions have entered your heart and mind, and I want you to understand something.  God does care for us people.  He is always with us and loves you immensely.  We can often question whether God cares while not realizing that we have crowded Him out of our lives.  We just have no room for Him in our lives, and then wonder where God is or if He cares.  The issue is ours, not His, and it always has been.  The issue is that in our pain, in our struggles, we can’t see or process God’s love and care for us.  This leads us back to Ken’s talk last week and the fact that God is love and loves us tremendously.  The question really isn’t if God loves us or cares for us, the better question is to ask ourselves is this;  Do we love and care for Him the way He does for us?  For so many of us, if we truly stopped and looked at our lives and were honest about how we are living, we would see that God has been completely crowded out of our lives.  God isn’t a priority, we have so much going on in our lives that God has been crowded out…it isn’t always intentional but we push Him away and then wonder where He is or if He cares.

Listen to me, we must make room for Him in our lives.  If we don’t, we will always wonder if God is there and if He cares.

So, let’s slow down for a moment, and think through a couple of questions today, and I want you to personalize them.  Let’s start with how we live our lives.  Take a moment and look at your life.  Is there room for God in your life or has God been crowded out?  What is taking up room in your life that crowds God out?  Now let me ask you this, do you wonder where God is or if He cares?  Could it be that God is profoundly in love with you that God (who we know is everywhere) is with you, is close to you, and that you are pushing God away rather than the other way around?  This is important, keep thinking that through, and we will come back to it, but while we are asking questions, I have a few more.

Have you ever felt like you don’t fit in?  Have you ever felt like an outsider?  Have you ever wondered why you don’t seem to fit in, well, anywhere or with anyone?  Have you ever wondered if you were loved?  Have you ever felt hurt, or judged?  Like you have been weighed and measured and have come up short with people, maybe with people you care about, loved ones, maybe in a church setting, or school, or in the workplace?  Well, as we talk of how much God cares, I want to assure you of something else today.  You haven’t felt or walked through anything that Jesus didn’t have to walk through too.

Hebrews 4:15 We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all — all but the sin. MSG

Think about that for a moment.  Does God care about us?  Yes, so much so, that He came to this Earth and experienced what you have experienced.  He felt it.  He gets you.  He knows your pain.  He felt your insecurities and weaknesses, he knows how it feels to not fit in, to feel pushed to the side.  He spent His life being pushed aside by this world, overlooked, ignored, and rejected.  Jesus felt what you feel.  He felt it too.  God knows you, feels you, and cares for you.

You know, when I asked you if you ever felt like an outsider or like you didn’t fit in, I knew with confidence how you would answer that, because we can all relate to that and feel like outsiders just wondering if we will ever fit in at all in this world…and the coolest thing is we may never fit into this world, but because Jesus came, because of The Christmas Story we all fit where it matters most, we all fit in God’s Family.

Christmas was the beginning of God personally changing the world.  What is interesting is that before Jesus, there were insiders and outsiders…did you know that?  Christmas changed that because God not only came to love His people (the Jews or insiders), He came for everyone (the Gentiles or outsiders) which is all of us.  God changed everything with Jesus.  Jesus introduced us to God’s kingdom.  He showed us how God would live in our world and He prepared us for the Holy Spirit, so God would always have a home inside us!  Who would ever do that?  God would because He loves us that much.  Paul speaks of the incredible mystery that God revealed to Him that caused The Gospel Message to be shared beyond the insiders, to all of us here in Ephesians.

Ephesians 3:6 The mystery is that people who have never heard of God and those who have heard of him all their lives (what I’ve been calling outsiders and insiders) stand on the same ground before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board. MSG

You know, we live in very interesting times where words like inclusive are thrown around a lot.  What is wild is in a world where we want to be more inclusive so many feel excluded, like outsiders.  As a people, we tend to be inclusive of people we are comfortable being with, who think and act like we want them to, but not everyone!  We tend to be very exclusive in who we are inclusive with!  And I’m not sure that is what it means to be inclusive.  I will say this concept of insiders and outsiders is a struggle for me because I never seemed to fit in, and I feel like an outsider most of the time.  How about you?  I wonder how many of us deep down feel like we fit in.  For so many of us, we feel like outsiders, not insiders and the beauty of our Faith is that because of Jesus, we are all standing on the same ground, included in God’s Family!  We are all offered the same help and the same promise in Jesus!  God is accessible to all of us…how beautiful is that!  We can walk through life feeling like we will never fit in, and I want you to understand something.  I believe that is because you have a yearning in your heart for the one place you do fit in…with God.  You may not recognize it as a pull to be with God, but it is.  You may never fit in with those around you, but because of Jesus, you do fit in!  And the most refreshing thing about that is how simple it is to be part of God’s Family.  It’s accessible and attainable for us all!   Lately, I have been stuck in this awesome statement in the first chapter of John, which shows how truly simple and accessible God is for us all.

John 1:9 The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light. 10 He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn’t even notice. 11 He came to his own people, but they didn’t want him. 12 But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.  MSG

Isn’t that awesome?  It’s this simple.  Want Him.  Believe In Him.  Do What He Says.  It’s that simple!  You do that, WANTBELIEVE, and DO and you are in!  I love that.

For so many of us, we can wonder if God cares.  We know He is all-knowing, and that he is always with us, but could He truly understand us?  How can God be so personal and relate to us, and feel and grasp our struggles, and all we deal with as people?  I want you to hear me…that Scripture in Hebrews we read earlier is true.  He understands you, he gets it because He went through it too.  I mean, think about what we just read in John.  Jesus came to his own people, and they didn’t want Him.  Jesus was overlooked, and unwanted by his own people.  He understands how you feel.

Maybe that is why the Christmas movies we love resonate so much with us.  As I said earlier, I have some “Christmassy” people in my house, so the same Christmas movies seem to be on repeat all month, and there is a bit of a theme to them.  Have you noticed it?  Rudolph, Hermey the poor Elf who couldn’t make presents but wanted to be a dentist, the Island of Misfit Toys, Buddy the Giant Christmas Elf, Charlie Brown, and that little feeble Christmas tree that no one would want…they are all outsiders.  It hits our hearts, doesn’t it?  It hits our hearts because each one of us knows what it feels like to wonder if we will ever fit in anywhere.  Deep down, we all want to be insiders.  We can relate to their stories of feeling on the outside of things looking in, and so does Jesus.  Jesus came to his own people, and they didn’t want Him.  They didn’t even notice Him.  How beautiful is it that our God is this personal and can relate so well to our lives because He felt it too!   Do you feel sad?  So did Jesus.  Dealing with grief?  So did Jesus.  Do you feel betrayed?  So did Jesus?  Are you struggling with family and people you care deeply for?  So did Jesus.  Do you feel rejected?  Unheard?  Ignored?  So did Jesus, and we should find great encouragement in that.

Hebrews 4:15 We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all — all but the sin. 16 So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help. MSG

So, I wanted you to see a couple of things as we explore this question, Does God care about people?  We can live such busy lives that we just have no room for God in our lives.  We crowd God out of our lives, and then wonder where God is or if He cares at all.  So, we need to keep challenging ourselves to look at our lives and ask ourselves if we have room in our lives for God or not.  I also wanted to press in on just how personal God’s love for you is and how much empathy and compassion God has for you. He truly knows you.  He knows your pain, and your challenges because He has experienced them too.  God isn’t distant and obtuse but loving, caring…He gets you.

So, with the time we have left, let’s talk through the Christmas story and look at how Jesus’ life begins.  It isn’t easy.  When you slow down and really think about it, it’s the hardest, most controversial, and most confusing way God could have possibly done this.  I mean God did things so opposite of how we would think a King would come to this Earth.  First, God chooses Mary, a young lady engaged to be married, to be Jesus’ mother, she is a virgin, which leads to quite the scandal to navigate right from the start!  Back in those days, getting pregnant out of wedlock was beyond a big no-no!  This was scandalous and started things off with some major challenges.  It led to Mary’s fiancé having to process a lot of hurts, from trying to believe his fiance and trust that she didn’t have an affair, to how to protect her, and his newly forming family as people would begin to find out about this pregnancy, because over time you wouldn’t be able to hide the fact that Mary is pregnant.  So, there is confusion, and controversy, and pain right off the bat.  Let’s talk about Joseph, I mean this is the King of Kings coming to this Earth, and he isn’t born in a castle, and is not the son of royalty and wealth but a humble carpenter who is going to be an outcast or at the least questioned by many because of this pregnancy and how his marriage begins.  Let’s keep going, I mean, who does God let know about this great arrival of The Savior of the Universe?  The wise men are cool, coming from the East, they seem to have some status but how about the Shepherds out in the field?  In those days Shepherds were outsiders, they were rough, with jobs that didn’t allow them to follow all the religious rules and customs of that day!  More outsiders invited into the God story.  God chose to tell these outcasts about this great arrival, not those who would have been considered insiders from that time!  And we haven’t even talked about where he was born yet!  I mean, how does the King of Kings, our Savior, end up born in a stable?

Luke 2:4 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 and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. NIV

Seriously, could anything else be stacked against Jesus as He enters this world?  I didn’t even hit it all!  I mean can we talk here?  There wasn’t any room for them to have this child in a home, or at least a warm room somewhere.  No, The Savior of The Universe was born in a stable, wrapped in some cloths, and placed in a manger.  Jesus’ entire being from day one, sets a theme that will continue for His entire life.  Jesus was just crowded out by this world right from the start, and people still do this with Him today.  It’s amazing that the One who makes us insiders was an outsider even to his own people.  Think about that.

As I was putting this talk together, and thinking about how much God cares for us, I kept thinking about how empathetic God is to us as we walk through so much in life, and I kept coming back to the idea that even for His birth, there was just no room for Jesus in this world.  I find it profound that Jesus’ birth was crowded out by life, the hustle and bustle, and the people of this world.  It’s profound for a few reasons.  First, it’s because this is how the world treats Jesus to this day.  We just have no room for Him in our lives.  Second, it is profound and hits our hearts because we know how that feels, don’t we? It’s fascinating, they couldn’t even find a warm room or shelter for His birth.  This would be what Jesus endured and experienced His whole life, the only place where the world seemed to want to place Him or find room for Jesus, was on The Cross.  There is just no room for Jesus in this world and in so many lives today.

For you and I, we can feel this pull on our hearts, wondering if we fit in anywhere.  While we may not fully grasp that, I will tell you what it is, we are being drawn to the one place where we do fit in, and that is with God through Jesus.  We have that opportunity because of Jesus who to this day is seeking room in this overcrowded world, in the hearts of us people!  He cares for us.  He loves us. The question is not if He cares, the question is do we have room for Him or is He being crowded out of our lives?  Will you provide a place in your hearts and lives for Him this Christmas season and beyond?

Listen, we love you so much and want you to understand that if you are walking through life, here in this Christmas season, asking yourself if God cares, or wondering if God is with you…please understand that you aren’t asking the right question.  The question isn’t if God cares because we know He does.  The proof is found in the Christmas Story. The question is not where is God, because we know He is with us, He is everywhere.  The real question that we need to ask is this.

Have I crowded Him out of my life? 

And the follow-up question is very important.

What do I need to do to make room for Jesus in my life this Christmas and beyond?  

So, as we close today and continue working our way toward Christmas, let’s slow down and think about this.  Do you ever feel like you don’t fit in?  Yeah, me too.  You know, I think we feel that way because God is tugging on our hearts, trying to draw us into His family through Jesus.  Do you ever wonder where God is or if God cares at all?  Remember God is not distant from you, He is always there!  The question isn’t if He is pushing you away, it’s the other way around.  Maybe the issue is that you have no room for Him in your life.  So, let me ask you, have you crowded God out of your life as so many of us do?  Do you have room for Jesus in your life?  What do you need to do to make room for Jesus?  What do you need to stop doing that is taking up too much room in your life?  Please slow down this Christmas Season and ensure that God isn’t being crowded out of your life the way He has been in this world, from the day He entered it!