12/24/22 Heart of God

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Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve Service - Jesus is the Heart of God
Big Idea: The Christmas season is only possible to fully embrace when we come to know that the heart of this holiday is found in the son of God. God so loved his creation that he went to great lengths to rescue it by sending his son in the flesh to suffer and die. The story of God’s love begins in a cradle, but never ends due to Jesus.
Prayer: “It’s finally here Lord, the day we’ve been waiting for. The time has come to look upon the manger once again and recognize the amazing grace and miracle present in the birth of Christ. Thank you for Christmas Lord, thank you for Jesus, and thank you for the gift of salvation.”
Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25 // John 3:16


Merry Christmas, church. The time has finally come, it is Christmas Eve. Today we join a long line of Christ-followers who have, for centuries, remembered the arrival of God through the birth of his son, Jesus. I get the sense that many of us in the room today need to be reminded of the wonder of this night and the hope, peace, joy, and love that it ushers into our busy, hectic, distracted, and chaotic lives. Jesus is the heart of Christmas. It is all about him, and it is all for him. In order to fully embrace Christmas, we turn our attention toward him.
Story: One of the things I loved most about Christmas Eve was when all of my family came together. When I think of being home for Christmas, I always think back to what it was like being in my grandparents’ house with all my cousins. Whenever we arrived and walked in, the first thing I noticed was the temperature change from outside to inside because it was drastic. My grandfather would typically have the house at a balmy 117 degrees. He would stoke the fire in the grizzly furnace in the basement. We would break out into an instant sweat as we came in carrying gifts and food. My grandmother always had a tree with blue lights and silver tinsel. It was her thing. Typically, there were fresh-baked cookies in the kitchen and a cheese log somewhere nearby. All of my cousins and I would have a chaotic blast with one another. We would have so much fun building snow forts, sledding down hills, and playing board games. The house was loud. It was wild. It was fun. Being home for Christmas felt like a big festive hug. There was no pressure to be anything. We could just exist. We were home for Christmas. (pastor - share this story or another one like it to describe your experience and memories of Christmas.)
Many of your experiences of Christmas are similar. For some, home was a place to belong. It was a place where you knew that no matter what was going on in your lives, no matter what you brought in with you, you were loved.
But some in the room this morning did not have that kind of Christmas experience. Maybe for you, being home for Christmas was not something that was accompanied by warm feelings and happy memories. Maybe the idea of being home for Christmas actually brought with it a lot of pain and anxiety. Home did not feel like a place where you belonged but a place where you felt like you did not fit.
Both experiences are valid. And I think both experiences teach us something about the tremendous joy of celebrating the birth of Jesus and the overwhelming love of God.

Main Teaching

The fact is we are all longing to feel like we belong—like we are loved just as we are—like everything is as it should be. However, our longing meets the reality of the world we live in. All around us is brokenness, and many of us feel like we are alone. There is a reason why we often feel like we don’t quite fit. There is a reason why it seems like there is a void within. It is because this world is not our home. We were made for something more. God’s heart is for us to awaken to this fact.
The Christmas story appears in the beginning of the Gospel accounts in the New Testament. Each one has a little bit different focus and bend, but the book of Matthew is very intent on revealing Jesus being the long-awaited fulfillment of God’s heart and desire for his creation.
Read Matthew 1:18-25
It took an angel speaking to Joseph in a dream to convince him that Mary’s pregnancy was not a reason to call off their wedding. Rather, Mary’s pregnancy was something that was divine and would change the world forever. The author tells us two very important pieces of information in this passage that reveals the heart of God for us and the heart of Christmas for the world.
The arrival of Jesus was to save people from their sins.
The world makes Christmas about so many other things, but its true meaning falls squarely on God’s dealing with our greatest limiting factor. Sin is any way that we miss the intention God had for the world when he created it. Greed, gossip, unfaithfulness, hatred, racism, etc. all fall short of the glory of God. All of us have been subject to sin’s evil influence and have felt the effects of sin’s rule and reign. God’s heart of compassion moved Him to send Jesus as the way of rescue for the world.
The arrival of Jesus was so God could be with us.
Jesus was given the name Immanuel which means God with us. This was a revolutionary thought at the time of Christ’s birth. Every culture surrounding Bethlehem saw their gods as angry deities who punished and corrected their subjects from afar. But this God so loved his broken creation that he wanted to come near. He became one of us, with flesh and blood, to mourn when we mourn, hurt when we hurt, and weep when we weep. God identifies with us so that we are given the opportunity to identify with Him.
We needed Jesus. We need Jesus. Someone once said it this way:
If our greatest need had been information,
God would have sent us an educator.
If our greatest need had been technology,
God would have sent us a scientist.
If our greatest need had been money,
God would have sent us an economist.
If our greatest need had been pleasure,
God would have sent us an entertainer.
But our greatest need was forgiveness,
so God sent us a Savior.
A savior is one who eliminates any barrier between us and God. A savior welcomes us into a safe place alongside a God who loves us.
This love of God is spoken of in a passage that is a bit of an unconventional Christmas narrative. The book of John gives us a new perspective of what took place in Bethlehem on that Christmas night.
Read John 3:16
Because of God’s great love for us, he sent Jesus; but often we forget, Jesus agreed to come. God sent Him, but Jesus came. When Jesus came, he so clearly lived with an unwavering commitment to his purpose. In other places, he says himself that he came to “seek and save the lost.”
Jesus gave up the splendors of heaven to walk in the brokenness of earth. Jesus laid aside his divinity to put on humanity. He did it all for one reason and that was to make a way for us to return home to God.
Story: Have you ever been lost? Maybe you found yourself in a place that you had never been before. A few years ago, my son wandered off on his own at a Christmas festival in our community. There were hundreds of people packed into a small city square. Food, lights, and music were cause for a bit of a chaotic scene. We suddenly realized our son was no longer by our side. At first, we calmly walked around and called his name; but with no response, it quickly escalated into full-blown panic. He was only five at the time and rather short, so we could not find him anywhere. Just as we were about to get the authorities involved, we heard a small voice say, “Mom.” To our great relief, a wonderful elderly woman had seen our frightened son crying and gently took his hand to lead him back to us. We were so grateful and thanked her profusely because our son once was lost but then he was found. (Tell a story here about being lost and found.)
Far too many of us are living our lives with no direction, carelessly making decisions that put us in danger and keep us far from God. Christmas is God’s way of pointing us back to the place where we belong. Christmas is God’s way of leading us by his grace to our eternal family. We don’t have to live our lives lost and broken because God’s great love has made a way.
John says the key to finding our way back home is belief in Jesus. When we believe in him, we save ourselves from perishing or being lost forever, and we are given a new life that will last into eternity in our true home that is heaven. The Greek word for believe is pisteuo, which means “to be persuaded by someone or have a confidence in someone.” A belief in Jesus is more than an intellectual exercise. Belief in Christ is to be so persuaded and confident that our lives are transformed, and our words, actions, and thoughts become dictated by our faith, hope, and trust in him. This is a work of the Spirit of God and not something we can do on our own. This is why Jesus came to rescue us. He does the work when we submit to him.
At the heart of Christmas is Jesus’s invitation to join him and experience the full life that is available through him. The mission began thousands of years ago in a small Bethlehem town but continues on to this very day. Of all the gifts you could possibly receive and give over the coming days, this gift is by far the most valuable because it can save your soul.
Author R.R. Reno writes this about the rescue plan unleashed at Christmas. Using military language, he captures the scene so well. “In my mind’s eye, on Christmas Eve I see a single commando tumbling out of the bomb bay doors of a B-52 at 30,000 feet. He falls silently in the midnight darkness into enemy territory. Satan sleeps, not knowing that he [Jesus] will organize a rebellion. The empire of sin will fall, not from without, but from within. Like a commando severely hurt as he landed from far above, who has no apparent capacity to mount an effective action, or for that matter any action at all, the powerless infant turns his face to ours and makes what, in that obscure stable, seems like a crazy, impossible demand: “Join me.”


And that is the call today. Will you join Jesus in his work in the world of rescuing all of creation? Will you trust him with your life and unapologetically believe in him? God so loved the world that he sent Jesus in the form of a vulnerable baby to begin a powerful movement that is still active today. What began in an unassuming cradle led tragically to a Roman cross, but it ended victoriously with an empty tomb.
I want to invite you to pray this believer’s prayer with me to receive the gift of God in Christ.
Lord Jesus, for too long I have wandered lost in my life. I know that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. No longer will I ignore your invitation to join you. By faith, I gratefully receive your gift of salvation. I am ready to trust you as my Lord and Savior. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth. I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day. Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life. I believe your words are true. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, and be my Savior. Amen.
Discussion Questions:
Provide these questions to your Sunday School classes or small groups, or send them home with families to discuss during the week. They are also a great way to engage with your online audience before, during or after each service
What is your favorite part of Christmas with your family/friends? How would you explain to someone the reason Jesus was born at Christmas? What are signs that someone may be lost in life and in need of Christ? How does someone’s belief in Jesus impact the way they live? How has your belief in Jesus changed your life?
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