You all look so great. Merry Christmas to you. Sincerely from our family and our staff, to your families and to you individually—a blessed, joyous, and meaningful Christmas.
Glad that you could make it to this service. You know, Christmas is often filled with surprises, things that you didn't expect.
There was one woman, she was baking her Christmas cookies and she heard a knock at the door. She opened the door. She found a man who was dressed in pretty tattered clothes, and he was obviously poor. And he wondered if the woman had any work for him to do. She said that, "Well, can you paint?" He said, "I can paint. I'm a pretty good painter."
She said, "Okay, well, here's a couple of gallons of green paint, here's a paint brush, and there's a porch out back that needs to be painted." And she said, "If you do a good job, and you should do a really good job, I'll pay you what your worth." He said, "Deal! Love it."
So he took the paint, the brush, went out back. She forgot about it until sometime later, another knock at the door. It was him. He obviously had been painting because there was paint splattered all over his clothes. And he said, "I'm finished." She said, "Did you do a good job?" "Yes, ma'am. I did a good job, but I need to point something out to you, ma'am. That's not a Porsche out back, that's a Mercedes." A Christmas surprise to say the least.
Yeah, Christmas can be full of surprises. I think it was a surprise that when God decided to send his Son into the world, he didn't send him to Rome. That was the center of the world. That's the obvious place. It was like the New York City of the ancient times.
He didn't decide to send his Son to a fancy hospital attended by the best doctors or nurses, or a bed of gold—after all, this is the Son of God—with satin sheets, but in a feeding trough for animals, an animal enclosure. A feeding trough is what the Bible calls a manger. You can just imagine the stench of that place. In the backwaters of the Roman Empire, a place called Bethlehem, in Judea, that's where God decided, to the surprise of all, to send his Son.
One of the great surprises on Christmas for most people is waking up to a white Christmas. Boy, wouldn't that be great if we had one? I saw a couple of days ago that there's a chance, they said "a chance," so we could have a white Christmas. So I did a little digging. I discovered in the last 117 years of recorded New Mexico history, given all of that history, we have this year a 13 percent chance of seeing a single snowflake fall out of the sky. Not great odds. And a 7 percent chance for there to be any measurable snowfall at all. But if you're an optimist, you're saying, "So you're telling me there's a chance."
We love white Christmases. We love looking out and seeing snow white landscape. But I also found something else out, that not all snow is white. They discovered last July up in Greenland, in the Arctic Circle, a glacier at the North Pole with red snow. And the scientist who was heading this up discovered that there are microbes that exude a red pigment into the snow. So you look over and it looks all red.
Another group of scientist discovered green snow, orange snow, because in the springtime there are certain algae that also have those colors that work their way into the snowfall. There's 350 different species of algae that can survive in those conditions. Boy, but that'd be weird to sing, "I'm dreaming of an orange Christmas, or a green, or a red Christmas."
We like white for this reason: White snow covers the landscape, covers all of our mistakes. I have a backyard, frankly, I'd love a little bit of snow over. I didn't rake up all the leaves this year. There's a lot of weeds I didn't get around to pulling, and they're still out there. And especially when it's so stark out. Boy, just a covering of snow would be nice, wouldn't it?
Listen to what God says through the prophet Isaiah in chapter 1, " 'Come now, let us reason together,' says the Lord, 'though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.' "
Quick little background: God is speaking to religious people, his people. His people who would come to the temple regularly, and worship, and bring sacrifices. But their life was a shallow life. There was a lot of hypocrisy going on in their own personal lives. But they were going through all the rituals, all the motions, the pageantry of it all.
And what God basically says in this chapter is, "I want you to go deeper than that." And I would think that if, if God could give us a message around Christmastime, he would want to say to us, he'd want to say to me individually, "Go deeper. Go beyond the decorations. Go beyond the pageantry. Go deeper."
Ninety three percent of Americans own a Bible. Sixty percent of Americans claim some religious affiliation of some kind. With all of that religion, I just wonder what difference does it make in our nation. Is that changing the crime rate? Is that changing the divorce rate? Does that change what we watch on television as Americans, because of that huge swell of religion that exists? God would say, "Go deeper."
Also, these people were trusting in their political rulers. They were trusting in their kings or the political alliances that their kings had made with nations around them. And they weren't trusting in the Lord. They would give all the credit to a physical leader, rather than to God their spiritual leader, which is a lot like Christmas.
One person said, "You know, Christmas is like a normal day in the office; you do all the work, and the fat guy in the suit gets all the credit." Well, I think it's time that the fat guy in the red suit doesn't get any more credit. That we give credit to whom credit is due: the One who made this incredible offer to us. And Christmas is simply a reminder of God saying, "I'm willing to do for you what you can't do for yourself."
Now there's, quickly, a couple of things that I notice in the text that I just read. And first is that God sends the invitation. God makes the first move. God always initiates things. He's the one that says, "Come now," that's his invitation. "Come now," is God's invitation. It's always been that way.
Back in the Garden of Eden in Genesis, chapter 3, we have a picture of man running from God, and God running after man, or pursuing man. What a picture: man running, God chasing, God making the first move. Christmas is all about God making the first move: God sent his Son. We've been studying that the last few weeks on our weekend services, in the fullness of the time God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, that we might be redeemed.
You see, people didn't come to a place where they thought, "You know, we really need a Savior from our sins. We demand—we're going to picket until we get what we need. We need a Savior." It's the last thing man ever thinks he needs. So God makes the first move. He says, "Come now." It's his invitation.
When Jesus came upon the earth, he said much the same thing. He said, "The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which is lost." The Bible tells us in 1 John, chapter 4, "We love him because he first," what? "He first loved us." God made the first move: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son."
Malcolm Muggeridge refers to the Holy Spirit as "The Great Hound of Heaven." I've always liked that term. God's chasing after you, because he loves you so much. Now, I've heard people say, "No, no, no. I'm searching for God." News flash: God isn't lost. And the truth be told, God is and has been searching after you. See, the Bible says, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all [traveled] and gone our own way, but the Lord laid upon him the iniquity of us all."
Paul tells us in the New Testament we "were dead in our trespasses and sins." We chose "the course of this world . . . But God, who is rich in mercy." We're dead in trespasses and sins; dead people can't search for anything. A dead person can't go on the lookout for what he or she needs. They have no ability to do so. So God sends the invitation, he says, "Come now."
The second thing I notice as I read through this short verse is that God wants our consideration. Listen to what he says, "Come now, let us reason together." He wants you to be reasonable about certain things in life. He wants you to think through some things.
I find it interesting that God appeals to our reason instead of our emotion. Now often times I think we reverse that. We want to always make it about an emotional appeal. But God decides to appeal to the human soul via this roadway of reason rather than emotion. "Come now," he says, "let us reason together."
I've heard people say, "Don't ask why. Don't ask questions. Don't try to figure all this out. Just believe." God would say, "Uh, no. You gotta know what you're supposed to believe and why, before you do it. Come now, let us reason together." The Christian faith is a reasonable faith based upon facts of history that are sustainable, as well as your subjective experience of those facts.
Romans, chapter 12, Paul says, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God," listen to this, "which is your reasonable service." That's just a Bible way of saying, "Look at all that God has done for you. Consider all that he has done. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for you to devote your life to him."
I have a couple letters to Santa that I think will illustrate this. Now the first is an emotional letter. It's sort of an emotional bully writing a letter to Santa. The second letter is reasonable.
Here's the first letter. One boy writes: "Dear Santa, You did not bring me anything good last year. You did not bring me anything good the year before that. This is your last chance. Signed, Alfred." That's an emotional bully right there.
But now this next letter makes reasonable sense: "Dear Santa, There are three little boys who live at our home. There's Jeffrey, he is two. There's David, he is four. And there is Norman, he is seven. Jeffrey is good some of the time. David is good some of the time. But Norman is good all of the time. I am Norman." Well, that sounds reasonable. If I were Santa, I'd go, "Okay. Norman gets the lion's share of the gifts this year."
Sometimes people must be convinced of the truth before they can experience the truth or act upon the truth. So God says, "Come now," that's his invitation, "let us reason together," asking for your consideration. There's a third thing I notice in this little text that I brought up: God offers redemption. "Come now, let us reason together," here's, here's the crux of it, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool."
This is an offer. You'll notice that God isn't forcing anybody to take this. By the way, God never forces anybody to take stuff, he offers it. Your eternity depends on it, but he'll never force it upon you. Jesus said, "Behold, I stand at the door and I knock." He's not there with a bulldozer knocking your house over; he's knocking at the door.
So he wants your consideration, he offers you his redemption. It's not forced, it's offered. But it's a reasonable offer, is it not? I mean, this is an offer—I remember years ago The Godfather saying, "This is an offer you can't refuse." I would say who'd want to refuse that offer?
Listen to what he says, "Though your sins are like scarlet." Scarlet, I discovered, was in those days a red dye made from a certain species of a worm that was crushed to get that color. Whereas crimson was cloth that was dyed. In fact, the Hebrew word for crimson means, "dyed twice," or double dyed.
And the idea behind the imagery of what I'm reading to you is an indelible stain that cannot be removed. It cannot be removed. You can't take that away. "There's an indelible stain," God says, "over your soul because of your sins." But get this, "I am willing to let my snowfall, my white snow of my forgiveness, fall upon your soul so that the landscape is pristine. It's white. It's pure." Snow is naturally pure. Wool is naturally white. It's inferring, "This is what you've made out of your life, but this is what I'm willing to do. Here is my offer for you: my snowfall of forgiveness." David said in Psalm 51, "Purify me . . . and I will be clean. Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow."
Which brings us to Christmas. Because the angel came and said to Joseph, when the angel informed Joseph that your wife to be, Mary, is pregnant; it's miraculous. The angel said, "You will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
Jesus, Yeshua, it's a name that means "God is salvation." So you'll give him a name, and his name will embody his mission, "He will save his people from their sins." Every Christmas we talk about this, because every Christmas we celebrate this. We want to get our focus on the offer that God is making to people through this baby born in a manger. This baby called Jesus, God is salvation, "He will save his people from their sins."
What's the purpose of Christmas? Is the purpose of Christmas to give you a few days off from work? Or a few days off from school? Or to make you poorer because of all gifts you have to buy? Or to give merchants a tidier profit margin as they put a manger scene up on their window? Or is it to celebrate a baby that was born, who grew, and is just a fine example of a man, and all we have to do is look at his fine example, because Jesus lived such a good life? Let's just model our life after the goodness and kindness of Jesus. No. He came to save his people from their sins. It was the same offer that God makes in this little nugget form in the prophet Isaiah, to "save his people from their sins."
Folks, there is no salvation in the birth of Jesus. There is no salvation in the sinless, perfect life that Jesus lived. No salvation there. There is no salvation at all in the teachings of Jesus. There is only salvation in the death, and the burial, and the resurrection, where his crimson blood was the detergent, the snowfall, if you will, that would cover all of our sins. That's the deal. That's the offer. It's an offer you shouldn't refuse.
And finally, there's something else I notice in these few little verses: God appeals to our volition. Listen to what he says in the very next verse, "If you are willing." See that? "If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword." God is saying, "I'm going to make you an offer. I'm not going to force it on you, but if you're reasonable, if you're smart, you'll take the deal, because it'll mean good things. If you don't, it'll mean bad things." It's your choice, but God is hoping that by making the offer and appealing to their choice, their volition, that they will be much like the prodigal son that Jesus will speak about in the New Testament.
You know the story. The prodigal son who took his father's inheritance and ran away into a far country, and, and he spent all of his money on riotous living. And one day he's living with the pigs, because things didn't work out too well as he spent his inheritance. And the Bible says this, it's remarkable language, "And when he came to himself." It's like one day he woke up and goes, "Duh! I've been like a perfect idiot. My father is so kind and so good, and I had it, had it so well with him. I don't know why I left. I've now come to myself. I'm reasonable today. I'm going to go back home to my father. And I'm going to see if he'll take me as his son."
Christmas is about that. It's about a new start. It's about regaining what was lost way back in the garden with Adam. Jesus is called the second Adam, and all of our hope is in him. "Come now, let us reason together; though your sins are as scarlet, I'm going to cover them and make them white. I'm going to clean your soul. I'm going to do for you what no person can ever do for you—no pastor, no priest, no person, no religion, no organization. I'll do it for you." It's a great offer. But he says, "Do you want it? Are you willing, or will you refuse it? Amazing that God lets us have that kind of power with the very lives that he loves so much.
I want to share, just in closing, a word to my brothers and sisters who are experiencing some kind of grief. Because you know what? I've been thinking about this a lot. In fact, every year I think about this. I meet people all the time that are dealing with some sort of loss. Usually, well, almost everybody, Christmas is sweet, but it's also bitter, because almost everybody has somebody gone out of their lives that maybe was here last year or a few years ago.
And Christmas is a reminder there's an empty chair in my house. There's an empty bed in my house. Somebody is gone and I am at a great loss. And that memory is so painful at Christmastime. And so the question comes: Could Christmas be for people like that? Could Christmas be for those who have had so great of a loss?
If you think back to the East Coast in Connecticut, there's an entire community that lost many children in a school shooting. And there's many of us who have lost loved ones and friends around this time, family members. And you think, "Oh, Christmas. It's so hard. It's so painful." Does Christmas have anything for those kind of people? Let me just tell you this, listen carefully: Christmas is especially for those kind of people, especially.
The prophet Isaiah will predict in chapter 9, a few chapters after this that we're reading, the birth and the coming of the Messiah. And he begins by saying this, "Those people who walk in darkness have seen a great light." There's light coming. Darkness in your tunnel? There's light at the end of this tunnel. There's a silver lining in the cloud. It looks so dark, the storm clouds gather. It's especially for those people.
A few chapters later Isaiah will predict the coming of the Messiah and his mission on the earth. And this is what he calls him, "A man of sorrows acquainted with grief. Surely he has borne our sorrows and carried our grief."
When Jesus Christ was born, yeah, he wasn't born into a Roman hospital with satin sheets and a gold crib. He was born into a world of suffering, and poverty, and pain, and hurt, and loss. And if you have ever read the gospel stories, you know that that's what Jesus was about. He hung out with people who lost a lot and suffered a lot.
In fact, Jesus our Savior said, "Blessed are those who mourn." God is near to those who have a broken heart. So, brother, sister, in the Lord, if you have lost loved ones, you might have an empty chair, but heaven is fuller, and one day there will be a reunion. Christmas is especially for people who lose or hurt or suffer.
You see, life gives everybody enough suffering, I believe, to wake us up to the need of what you just heard me read. Its like, "Yeah, you know what? I, I planned this and I didn't get that. I'm getting this." Have you noticed that life is a series of getting used to things you never planned?
And I think that God allows enough of those things in our lives to wake us up so we'd realize: I have a need. I have a need for that little baby that we celebrate every year in the manger, to grow up and save me, to go to that cross, and wash away my sins, and make me whiter than snow. I don't want to miss that offer. I don't want you to miss that offer.
We celebrate. We have joy. And some of us have sorrow, but we have joy in the midst of sorrow. As we close this, I'm going to give you an opportunity. You don't have to take it. You have a choice; you don't have to take it. But I'm going to give you an opportunity this Christmas to make sense of your life, to get your sins forgiven, to get a new start, a new walk with the Lord.
And it comes by a simple act of faith of you placing your life into the hands of the One who gave you life to begin with, the Lord. To give your life to Christ, the One who paid the price for you to be free of your sin, and to live with him forever. The One who was born in that manger, and grew up, died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. I'll give you the opportunity; you don't have to take it. But you have a God who would say, "Here's my invitation. Come now, let us reason together. I know your life. You know your life. Let's make a deal. I'll take the crud; I'll give you salvation."
You can say no, or you can say yes. "It's Christmas," you go, "This is Christmas! You should just be talking about peace on earth and joy." That's what I'm talking about. That's how you get joy. That's how you get peace on earth in your life, by inviting the Prince of Peace to reign in your life; that's where it comes from. Bow your heads with me.
Father, that little baby born in Bethlehem was predicted by the prophet Isaiah as the One who would be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace. Mighty God, the same One who is the child born, the Son that is given. Mighty God, Everlasting Father, someone who was able to do for us what we could never do for ourselves.
We celebrate the most momentous birth in history, because it was a virgin birth of the spotless One who came for us. And now as we close and we realize it's really not our birthday, it's his birthday, it's your birthday. So then we ponder the question: What shall I give to the God who has everything? And the only thing you ever wanted was us, our willing choice to follow you and to say, "I need a Savior."
Lord, some of us have lots of joy in our lives, in our homes. Some of us are experiencing great loss and pain. You have a message, and it's the same message. You said, "Blessed are those who mourn." I pray for those who have gathered here who need to know Jesus, who don't know him yet, they would say yes to the Savior.
If you're here, we're praying. If you want to receive Christ as your Savior, he's offering you salvation, offering you forgiveness, offering you a fresh start, but he won't force it on you. You have to say, "I'll take it. I'm willing to accept it."
If you are willing to do so, I want you just to—as we're praying, slip your hand up. Raise it up in the air. Keep it up for a moment just so I can acknowledge you and pray for you. God bless you up in the front, three of you in the middle, to my left. Anybody else? Just saying, "Skip, pray for me, here's my hand. I want to make this choice. I'm going to be reasonable. I'm coming to myself. I want to give my life to Christ."
Raise your hand up. God bless you. Anybody else? Raise it up high. If you're in the balcony, raise your hand up, or in the family room. God bless you, sir, on the very far left corner. In the family room, okay, I see your hands. Right here in the front, the middle. Who else? Who else will say yes to him? Who else will say, "Yes, this is reasonable." God bless you, right on the corner on this side. Anybody else? On the far left.
Father, for those around this auditorium who have raised their hands and said yes, they have nodded in the affirmative. I can't help but think how different this Christmas is going to be for them than all the ones in the past. Because these are hearts, these are lives, who are saying, "I want my life different. I need to make sense and meaning out of it. I'd like a new start. I want forgiveness. I know that I need him and I'm going to place my faith in him."
And so, Father, I pray for these that have acknowledged that you would give them that deep cry of their heart, their heart's desire to know you. Give them this purpose, the meaning, the fullness of life that Jesus promised, abundant life. And walk with them, Lord, through sunny days, and the days of pain and shadow. Strengthen them and enable them, Lord, to not just raise their hand, but to follow you throughout their life, in Jesus name, amen.
Would you please stand as we bring this service toward a close. Those of you who raised your hand; I saw several of you to my left, in the middle, on the front, on the side, on the side. I'm going to ask you to do something that Jesus often did. He didn't have a thing like this, a service like this, but he called people publicly. And he would go up to people like Matthew and say, "Matthew, follow me." And Matthew publicly laid down his stuff and started following Jesus. So I'm going to ask you to get up from where you're standing and walk the aisle and come right up to the front where I'm going to lead you simply, quickly, in a prayer to receive Christ.
As we sing this song you get up and come, if you raised your hand. Just say, "Excuse me," to the person next to you, and come and stand right up in the front. Do it right now. You that raised your hand on the side, right over here on the side, come up and stand right over here. It'll just take a moment. If you're in the family room, would you just come toward the doors that are up on the front right and come through, and we will take you. Stand right up here.
We have just another couple of moments. I know some of you would like to go and get out to other things that you have planned. That's all fine, that's all good, but babies are being born right now. You want to hang around and watch, be a part of it. New life in Christ!
You have nothing to be afraid of if you raised your hand and you thought, "Boy, it was great when nobody was looking and I had my hand raised." Make yourself known. Go public with it. Anybody else? I'm simply going to lead them in a prayer. They're going to say, "Lord, come into my life." You may want to be a part of it. It's a good deal.
I remember when I first heard it. I first heard the gospel and I thought, "God, you're getting a rotten deal. You're getting me, you're getting my life. That's a rotten deal. I'm getting your life, you're getting me. You're getting, like, totally messed up on this deal." But then I thought again, I thought, "This is like the best deal in the world for me. I'd be an idiot to pass it up." What about you, are you passing it up, or are you going to come and receive? Come on up. God bless you, sir. Right on.
Now to those of you who have come, I really wish you a Merry Christmas. But first things first, I'm going to lead you in a prayer, and I'm going to ask you to pray this prayer out loud after me. I'm going to ask you to say this from your heart, say this to the Lord. This is you just giving your life to him. Ready? Let's pray.
Lord, I give you my life. I admit I'm a sinner. Please forgive me. I believe in Jesus, that he died on the cross, and he shed his blood for me to make by soul white. And that he rose again from the dead. I turn from my sin. I turn to you as my Savior. Help me to live for you as my Lord, in Jesus' name, amen, and Merry Christmas!