Merry Christmas! Today is the big day! And we are so glad you’ve joined us this special day to mark this special time. We all know it’s Christmas, but I’d like to point out that today marks the climax, the culmination of a journey we’ve been taking together over the last month.
This season of Advent has been a time of focusing and reflecting on Christ coming—His coming to earth on that first Christmas so long ago, but it’s also been a focus on His triumphant return to earth when He will complete God’s ultimate work and make all things right.
All along the way, we have been following the star, the same star that guided the wise seekers to Jesus so long ago. As we worship today, I’d like us to pause and reflect and allow ourselves to be drawn into the story that changed the world on that ancient night and that still continues to change our world today.
Don’t you just love a good story? We get pulled into those Christmas movies – It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, any Hallmark movie. They are stories that make us feel good, warm and happy. My grandfather was an excellent story teller. I loved listening to his stories of the days passed to hear how they lived when he was a child, what the culture and community was like (good and bad), their struggles, but also their successes and joys. I got to know people whom I have never met through those stories, family. I believe the traditions and family time surrounding especially the holidays can bring a unique opportunity to retell and listen to the stories that form the background of our lives.
All throughout the world, stories have been the means of preserving history, passing along beliefs and values, inspiring, entertaining, and motivating us. Stories move us. Shared stories connect us and link us to each other. They bring meaning to our lives and help make sense of our experiences. The good stories are usually messy, full of conflict, and suspenseful. They are filled with victory and defeat, struggle and triumph, conflict and love. They draw us into bigger and broader story lines, and they make us curious about the storyteller.
Thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail are a good example. They often tell their stories when they meet up with each other on the trail. Sit outside at the country story in Pine Grove Furnace any time June through July and you’ll hear them. Their stories are as diverse as the characters who tell them, but they all contain the elements of where they have been, where they are now, and where they are going. The epic hike they are on deserves an epic story to recount its history, the progress made, and the expectations of what is to come.
And as we gather today on Christmas day, we gather to tell and retell the story of the most epic journey ever. The story of the journey of God to earth that changed the world forever. There is no greater storyteller, no more powerful story, than God’s story of love and redemption for the world. As we’ve seen this Advent season, God’s story is ongoing. The Christmas story spans all of history from creation, to Jesus born in Bethlehem, to us gathered here today.
And just as we’ve spent a season expectantly waiting to celebrate Jesus’ arrival at Christmas, we’ve also experienced the truth that we are still in a season of waiting as God’s story of love for the world continues until Jesus’ second coming. The story of Christmas is a story of God’s promise of what was, what is, and what is still to come.
On this Christmas Day, we lit the final candle in our Advent wreath, the candle that represents Christ. These candles are kind of like stars, each shining brightly and signaling the attributes of Christ. If you’ve been with us over the past four weeks, you know that we have followed these stars on a journey that brings HOPE to the doubting and fearful, LOVE that never gives up, JOY to the hurting, and PEACE to the broken.
Today, we celebrate as the star leads us to the culmination of all of those journeys to the place where Jesus Christ enters our world and changes history forever. As part of that celebration, let’s look at the elements of the story—past, present, and future—and how they apply to the journey of hope, love, joy, and peace that the star has led us on this Advent season.
HOPE – To the doubting and fearful
We began Advent with a journey of hope. Hope is not wishful thinking; Hope is trusting in a promise. Through many years and centuries of history, people waited for a promised Savior. Sometimes that hope flickered bright, and sometimes it barely glowed.
But that hope was fulfilled. Christ did come! God’s promise is fulfilled in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, we place our hope in the fact that Jesus came, He died for our sins, and He is alive today living in us through the Holy Spirit.
And we live in the future hope that Jesus will come again to complete the story of redemption in our world and in our own lives. The story is not over yet. And even when darkness rages and deepens around us, we can hold onto hope that Christ will complete His ultimate work, and all will be made right, that God will fulfill His promise.
Singer and songwriter Josh Garrels wrote these words in his song “Farther Along”: “Tempted and tried, I wondered why / The good man dies, the bad man thrives / And Jesus cries because he loves ‘em both / We’re all castaways in need of rope / Hangin’ on by the last threads of our hope.”
It’s true that we are all castaways in need of rope. We need to be saved. Our hope this Christmas season is not a hope for something a little nicer or slightly more exciting than last year. It is a much deeper hope for the desperate. Our very lives are on the line, and we put our desperate hope in the only thing, the only person, that can save us. Do you feel like you are hanging on by the last threads of hope? Because if you do, the good news of the journey of hope is that just like on that first Christmas Eve, when the darkness seems deepest, God showed up, and He’s about to show up in your life.
Have you ever opened a book and started reading it in the middle? Or watched a movie and skipped around from scene to scene? The story might not make much sense that way. You may not understand what’s going on or where the story is going. But where you are in the story doesn’t actually change the story itself. The story is ongoing. It is the same past, present, and future, no matter which part you are engaged in.
Today as we celebrate Christmas, we can place our hope in the God who never changes, whose story is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The promise is that our hope in Him will be fulfilled.
LOVE – That never gives up
The second week of Advent led us on a journey of love. Again, this story is one that spans through eternity since God is love. And on this Advent journey, we have seen the same threads of past, present, and future:
As long as God is, there has been and is love. It is His nature and being. It fueled His creation. It drove Him to make a way to restore humanity’s relationship with Himself. And at a specific point in past history, motivated by intense love, God sent His Son among us.
Today, love fuels our relationship with God. It is our motivation, and we live out the love of God in us by loving others. And we look forward to the future day when God’s love story is complete, and we will live for eternity with Him. This will be life fulfilled in perfect love.
1 John sums this up.
1 John 4:9–11, 16
9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.
We have been invited to bask in the amazing love of God, who gave up everything to be with us and show His love for us. His love is real, and it’s here.
JOY – To the hurting
Our third journey of Advent was a journey of joy. We know from the angel’s announcement on that first Christmas that the birth of Christ was a joyful event.
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger’.
This joyous event of Jesus’ birth, broke through the darkness and dispelled the fears of those shepherds, just as it replaces our own fear in the midst of darkness.
The joy for us today, is that the same message of good news, is for us here, right now. Not just for tomorrow or next month or next year, but right now! Jesus offers us the same salvation and life that He came to give through His birth, death, and resurrection. It is the source of the greatest joy possible.
And while we still live in a world where joy and pain coexist, God’s promise is that joy is still here, and will be made complete in the future when Jesus comes again. That’s enough to fuel us along the way, because joy stands as a stark contrast to the death and despair of our broken world.
Today as we continue on the journey of joy, let’s rejoice with the angels who announced the arrival of the long-awaited Savior. Joy leads us to worship, but worship also, as we tune our hearts to God’s, leads us to joy.
PEACE – To the broken
The journey of peace has been our fourth and final journey of Advent. Peace is so difficult to find in our local news and world events—and sometimes in our family relationships and in our own minds. Everywhere we look are indications of a desperate need for peace. Yet God’s peace is throughout the story line of eternity.
There in the past is the arrival of the Prince of Peace in that manger. This is what we celebrate today. Peace has come. Peace is here! And thankfully, peace remains. Jesus left us the gift of His peace through the Holy Spirit—a peace that transcends our understanding and worst circumstances, a peace that guards and restores our hearts and minds.
As we look to the future, we still expectantly wait, knowing that when He comes again, He will bring ultimate peace for all the world. Peace among all nations. Peace among enemies. Peace to reign over and within every heart.
As we followed the star on a journey of peace, we realized that it was not a journey away from the pain and suffering of our lives. Think of the state of the world on that first Christmas—there was noise and hurt and pain and struggle and fear! And yet the Prince of Peace came in the midst of it all! Our journey of peace this season does not take us away from the realities of life; instead it’s a journey of peace in the midst of the challenges of life.
Jesus’ own life was filled with hardship, and He knew that His followers would not be immune from it. And so He gave them the gift of peace:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you,” He told His disciples. “I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
In a world that desperately needs peace, God promises that His peace, that is beyond understanding, will be with us too. Paul wrote,
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
So as we continue on the journey of peace, let’s rest in the fact that in a world filled with noise and pain, God offers us His deep and lasting peace. And the peace He brings, which comforts us in the midst of our lives, will one day be complete in our hearts and in our world.
Hope. Love. Joy. Peace.
The journey may seem to world that’s it’s over after today or maybe after the 12 days of Christmas. But for us, the journey continues everyday. Jesus is the true source of hope, love, joy, and peace. And those gifts never end, just as Jesus never ends.
The star marked Jesus’ arrival, but He is the true light of the world! Later in Jesus’ life, He taught His disciples that He had come as the light of the world. John recorded Jesus saying,
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
So no matter how dark your life is right now, no matter where you find yourself, no matter what pain or sadness you feel, the star’s light shines for you. It is God’s invitation to come and experience His story—past, present, and future.
As the words of ‘We Three Kings’ say, “O, star of wonder, star of night / Star of royal beauty bright / Westward leading, still proceeding / Guide us to thy perfect light.”
This Advent the star has done just that— it has led us to God’s perfect light. Let’s allow that light to illuminate our Christmas and every day. And together we will carry hope, love, joy, and peace as we head out into the world with our way lit by Jesus, the true light.
Prayer: God, thank You that Your story—past, present, and future—has become our story in Christ Jesus. Please encourage our hearts with Your hope, love, joy, and peace as we follow the light of Your star to Your Son, Jesus Christ, this Christmas day. In His holy name, Amen.
Benediction: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17)