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Christmas Eve

Text: Luke 2:1-20

Title: Look Into the Face of Emmanuel and See the Heart of God

Sunday Evening, December 24, 2017

Pastor Steve Bocklage

Of all the holidays during the calendar year…both secular and religious…I would describe Christmas as a high-effort holiday. We have lots of low-effort holidays, like Memorial Day or Labor Day. How much effort do those holidays require? Hardly any...maybe having a cookout. We have middle-effort holidays, like the Fourth of July. There’s some decorating – maybe you display the American flag or go to a parade, or take your kids to see the fireworks. Then there’s Christmas, a high-effort holiday that requires the most decorations…the most shopping and gift exchanging…Christmas parties and school Christmas programs.
         But Christmas isn’t all about decorations and gifts and parties and school Christmas programs…and most people know that. Most people know that Christmas is about something deeper…something more meaningful. But what’s it all about? You hear the same things every year…it’s all about family…it’s all about kindness and charity…it’s all about loving and giving to others. And you and I both know that there’s something wrong with that kind of thinking because those are year-round things…to love your family and to be kind and charitable and generous to others. That’s not just for Christmas…that’s something we do all year-round. So there must be something more.
         Christmas is that one time in the year when people make an extra effort to find real meaning…to find real joy in their lives. This is when many people make an effort to look into the heart of God. “Maybe this is the year,” people think, “when I will be able to finally see God, finally understand God, and find real joy and meaning in my life. Maybe this is the year, when I will be able to get a glimpse of who God really is, and how that affects my life.” Consciously or subconsciously, most people this time of the year are trying to catch a glimpse of God.
         Imagine the world at the time Jesus is born. Imagine what Mary sees. The world is very busy. Most people are traveling to their hometowns to register to be taxed by the Roman Emperor…Caesar. So much hustle and bustle…everyone is busy. There are so many travelers, that Mary and Joseph have to spend the night in a stable, where Mary gives birth to Jesus. But no one really notices. No one really cares. It’s not that people are uninterested in God. It’s just that, to most people, a poor couple in a stable having a baby has nothing to do with God.
         The world hasn’t changed much, has it? It’s still a hustle and bustle place. Everyone is busy. Does that mean that people aren’t interested in God? Of course not. No matter how busy you are, deep down, there is a desire to look into the heart of God. That’s why there are so many religions today. People are speculating, trying to guess what’s in the heart of God.

         As you may well know, there’s a growing interest in spirituality. Millions of spiritual books will be under the Christmas trees this year. No matter how busy you are, you long to be touched by an angel…to look into the heart of God. But for most, the search is unsuccessful. The spiritual book was interesting, but not the answer. The latest religion was OK at first, but confusing after a while. Some shows on TV are nice and heart-warming, but still haven’t caught a glimpse of God. Many people leave the holidays a little down, a little disappointed, and they don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because they were looking for God, but never found Him in the places they were looking.
         This evening, I want you to walk into the stable, and stand next to Mary, and see what she sees. What does Mary see? Yes, she sees a baby, but more than a baby. She remembers the promises God made about this baby. And as she recalls those promises and stares into the face of this baby…she realizes that she is staring into the heart of God.
         And then the shepherds arrive, and they tell her what the angels had said to them. They crowd around the manger, and gaze into the face of this baby. As they do, the shepherds realize that they are gazing into the heart and soul of God. And then the shepherds leave, and Mary ponders all these things in her heart. Everything her world needs is right in front of her! Everything that Mary’s hustling and busting neighbors and friends could ever ask for is lying in the manger! Right there, lying in the manger…is the key to understanding God and the meaning of life…the key to everything.
         And then Mary lifts the baby out of the manger and gives Him to you. And there you stand, awkwardly holding the Son of God in your arms. And you look down into His face, you realize that you are looking into the heart of God. In your arms, you have what everyone in America…what everyone in the world is looking for. While the rest of the world hustles and bustles, running from one spiritual guru to the next, channel surfing from one Christmas special to the next…while the rest of the world reads spiritual book after book and sings about chestnuts and snowflakes, looking for meaning and joy and God…there you are, in the quiet of the night. You’re away from the hustle and the bustle, looking into the face of this child…looking into the heart of God Himself and understanding that someday, this child will suffer and die on a cross. You cannot help but feel a little sad as you look into the face of this child, knowing how He will die someday. But you also cannot help feeling glad, because you know that after this child dies on the cross, He rises from the dead. You realize that the baby you are holding will someday set the world free from sin. You cannot help but smile, since you know that it’s because of this baby that all your mistakes in life have been taken away. It’s because of this baby that God loves you, and offers to you eternal life.
         And so you give the baby back to Mary. But before you walk away from that stable, you take one last look. You see God’s love for you…His mercy…His forgiveness…His wisdom. This evening, God has touched you with something even better than an angel. And you rejoice, because you know that God is not a God who is far away, but a God who is very near. You don’t have to drift and wander down endless paths, looking for God…looking for meaning in your life. God has come looking for you, and He has found you in that stable.
         As you walk away from the stable this evening, ponder these things in your heart. Go ahead and enjoy the holidays. Enjoy the hustle and bustle. The gifts and the gatherings are simply blessings that God has given to you to enjoy. And so you enjoy these things, but you also rejoice because apart from these things, you have found God and meaning and purpose and joy. You have held the baby Jesus in your arms this evening. You have looked into the face of Emmanuel, and you have seen the heart of God. Amen.

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