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12-22-2013 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

So Christmas is finally upon us. All this month we’ve been looking at this wonderful and amazing story—a story that changed the course of history. We haven’t studied the details of the story so much; instead we’ve been looking at the big picture—the overview.

It’s like what you would see from high above, in the Goodyear blimp, looking down on what happened—the “macro view” of Christmas. Watching an NFL game from above the stadium you see different things than you would with a “micro view”—the view from the sidelines, the play-by-play color commentary from right down on the playing field.

The “micro view” gives details: the angel’s visit to Mary, the journey to Bethlehem, the inns with no vacancies, the birth of Jesus in a stable, the shepherds, the angel host… But the “macro view” of Christmas is seen in Hebrews 1…

(Hebrews 1:1-3) In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word…

The macro view tells us that God sent his Son to this world to speak to us—to reach us where we are. God sent his Son to show us the radiance (the light) of God’s glory…to show us the exact representation of himself.

This is the story of Christmas! And yet (in another sense) the story isn’t finished yet. God’s plans and purposes are still unfolding; God’s work is still being revealed.

This makes us witnesses to “history in the making.”

This Book covers things yet to come. (For example: Jesus is coming back to earth! He came before…and he is coming again.)

Other things still to come, however, are not included in the Book. Partly because God gives you and me a say in the matter. Some things still to come will be determined by what you decide!

We are writing the stories of our lives right now.

[BTW, I’d like to hear your personal story, the story of your spiritual journey—and others would like to hear it as well. So if you’d be willing to tell the church how God worked in you, rescued you, drew you to himself—the twists and turns on the way—please let me know…]

We are each writing the stories of our lives. And we each will write the outcome—the final chapter of our own personal stories: not the events beyond our control, but the decisions that affect our destiny.

The story of Christmas should remind us that we have choices to make. God’s Book tells us:

(John 1:11-15) 11 He [i.e. Jesus] came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 14 The Word [i.e. Jesus] became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

11 He [i.e. Jesus] came to that which was his own[*], but his own did not receive him[**].

  • [*] AMP: …to that which belonged to Him [to His own—His domain, creation…world]
  • [*] Ph: He came into the world—the world he had created—
  • [**] Ph: …and the world failed to recognise him. …his own people would not accept him.

When Jesus came the first time, not everyone believed the story—they didn’t believe an angel visited Mary; that a virgin conceived; that Almighty God would appear in human flesh, born in a humble stable.

Many could not believe he was the Son of God.

Now “in these last days,” Jesus has come to his own. He has come to you. So the question is:

What will you do with Jesus? Will you treat him as a distant, historical figure—someone quaint, stuck in antiquity, not really relevant to our times? Or maybe you’ll see him as a role model to imitate—a good example, a moral teacher, perhaps even a wise philosopher.

Or will you decide that Jesus is the Son of God? —God who came in human form to save you? to save your life from sin, from self-destruction? to give you a fresh start—hope for the future?

Will you decide Jesus is God—and allow him to be the Lord of your life, to shape you and direct you? Will you trust him enough to surrender your future to him?

It’s your story to write. So what will you do? How will you decide? What is your conclusion to the story? Will you be like those who did not receive him? Or like those who did receive him?

12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name…

There’s several ways you can reject someone. “Receive” means to welcome or accept someone. When your mother-in-law comes to your house on Christmas Eve, what do you do? Do you open the door and invite her in? Or do you leave her standing out in the cold?

(1) Many people leave Jesus standing out in the cold. They don’t open the door to receive him. They say, “Well, the story may be fine for you…but not for me. Let the story change your life, if you want. But what’s true for you isn’t true for me. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just a nice story. It doesn’t have any real bearing on my life. I have my own life to live.” They do not receive him.

(2) Another way our society rejects Jesus is to simply ignore him. It’s not as deliberate as slamming the door in his face. These are the ones who say they’re too busy…have other things to deal with…who make excuses… procrastinate: “I’ll get around to it later on…maybe when I have more time.”

Others do to Jesus what President Obama did this last week to President Putin. Putin invited Obama to the Winter Olympics, but the White House issued a statement: “The President’s schedule does not permit him to attend the Olympics.” The media said Obama “snubbed” the Russian president.

(3) That’s what a lot of people do to Jesus. They “snub” him! It’s a subtle “put-down.” They snub him by making other things more important. They’re too busy or too distracted to receive him. They “snub” him by pushing him to the back burner of their lives. They “snub” him by rejecting his invitation: he came to his own…but they did not receive him.

But what happens on the other side of the coin? What happens if you do, in fact, receive him? What happens if you welcome him and accept him as God in the flesh? If you believe on his name?

12 …he gave the right to become children of God.

When you receive him and believe in his name, you receive something in turn from him: “the right, the power, the authority, the privilege” to become children of God. One version: “he authorized them to become God’s children” (CEB).

The word is exousía, and it is used one place in the Bible to describe the decision-making power a potter has over clay being shaped by the potter (Rom 9:21). In other words, when you receive Jesus, you are given the authority to reshape your life—the ability to alter the outcome of your life. God gives you power to change the shape of the clay. He gives you the right to become children of God.

Whatever you were before, when you receive Jesus, God gives you the power and ability to choose something different.

For instance, instead of being under the control of sin, addictions, or circumstances, now you have control over your life. You have power to redirect your future. You can decide to be a child of God.

Many people feel trapped by the circumstances of their birth. They look at others born with privileges —upper class, wealthy families—and they say, “I wish I’d been born into those kind of advantages.” They feel disadvantaged. Underprivileged. They wish they’d been born into a different family with different parents—with different circumstances…even different chromosomes and different genes.

But we don’t have to feel trapped by our past! The Bible says when you receive Jesus, God’s Son, you become privileged. He gives you rights you never had before. He gives you the right to become God’s child! You can choose a different birth—a new birth with a heavenly Father!

You see, Christmas is about much more than a baby in a manger!

Christmas opens the way for us to change our lives. This is huge! Receive him and believe in his name, and you receive God’s grace. You can start over. You get a second chance at life. He gives you the power and authority to make a life-changing choice: to be God’s child.

13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

  • They did not become God’s children by natural means…born as the children of a human father; God himself was their Father. (TEV)
  • They are reborn…[with] a birth that comes from God. (NLT)

Christmas is not just about the birth of a baby in Bethlehem; it’s about a new spiritual birth accomplished by God in every heart that receives Jesus.

Ravi Zacharias tells about friends who run an orphanage, adopting children with birth defects or other issues. A 9-year-old boy with a cognitive disability grew more and more discouraged as he saw other children, one after another, adopted out. “Why won’t anyone choose me?” he asked the directors.

Then, unexpectedly, a couple who’d already adopted another child called to say they also wanted him. Since he was from another country, though, his name was quite difficult to pronounce, so they said they wanted to give him a new name: Anson Josiah—or A.J. for short.

Do you know what happened? From that moment on, that little kid, waiting for his new parents to come get him, would walk around the orphanage, tapping on his chest and telling everybody he could: “You can call me A.J. My name is A.J.” http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2013/march/5032513.html

It’s the same with us. We each have defects—spiritual flaws. But God sent Jesus to a world of broken, hurting people so he could adopt us into his family. So he could give us a new name—so like A.J. we can declare our new identity: Our past is gone! We are new creations in Christ!

  • (Isaiah 62:2) …you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
  • (Isaiah 44:5) Some will say, ‘I belong to the Lord’; …others will write on their hand, ‘The Lord’s’…

In ancient times some slaves were branded or tattooed with a mark identifying whom they belonged to. Look at a slave’s hand, and you might see the name of his master. Soldiers were sometimes identified in the same way—their commander’s name was marked on their hands. [Clarke, IV: 174]

So the OT prophet used this familiar picture to show that a time was coming when we could receive a new name, a new identity, a new Master, a new Commander. We can belong to the Lord!

This is the story of Christmas! This is your story…and my story.

In These Last Days