We’re kicking off our brand new Christmas series today called Do You Hear What I Hear? I have been pumped about this series for months, and I’m so excited that it’s finally here. Our band released an album leading up to this series. We’ve been building toward it for a long time, and now it’s finally here.
In this series, we’re going to be exploring the Biblical truth behind some of the classic Christmas carols that we sing every year.
Christmas music is usually a hot topic of conversation, especially when you ask the question, “When should you start listening to Christmas music?”
This year, I was going to pick my son up from school. It just happened to be Halloween. So the plan was to pick him up, go home and get ready to go trick-or-treating. And I was flipping through stations on the radio and there was a station in Cincinnati that was playing Christmas music. On Halloween! Nothing gets you in the mood for trick-or-treating like Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole.
But now that December is in full swing, it’s on. We’re in full-on Christmas mode here at Connect, and it’s awesome. It really is my favorite time of year in our church.
Every week in this series, we’re going to unpack the truth behind a classic Christmas song. Today, we’re kicking things off with the song that our band just tore up. O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
Let me pray for us, and then we’ll jump into our Christmas series.
What is something that is coming that you absolutely can’t wait for? Something you’ve been anticipating for a long time.
Maybe it’s a movie. There is usually some movie on the horizon that people get all jacked up for…a movie that they just can’t wait to see.
That happened with my wife recently. Was anybody else completely stoked about Mocking jay? Yeah, my wife was too. And she was at opening night at Newport on the Levee. But thankfully she went with friends instead of asking me to go. I haven’t seen one second of any of the Hunger Games movies, and I’m planning on keeping my perfect record in tact.
But I actually do have some movies that I am really excited about.
For example…Star Wars, Episode 7. I cannot wait for this!
“You mean that you haven’t seen the Hunger Games, but you’re excited about Star Wars?”
That’s EXACTLY what I mean!
I’ve only watched the trailer about 100 times! And I thought about showing the trailer this morning because I knew some of you would be like, “This is the most amazing church EVER!” but I knew others of you would be rolling your eyes, so I left it out.
And by the way, I don’t want to start a nerd war or anything, but if you like Star Trek more than Star Wars, then you should probably consider looking for a new church because I don’t think this is going to work out!
Here’s another one that I’m excited about…the Peanuts Movie. I know that’s a pretty big departure from Star Wars, but I’m a beautifully complex and multi-layered person. There’s a lot to me. I’m deep that way.
I am ridiculously excited about this movie! Now, I’ll admit that for a while I was skeptical. Because now that I’m getting older, all the shows from my childhood are getting remade into movies…and most of them are terrible.
For example, Garfield. Terrible.
Scooby Doo. Terrible.
Alvin & The Chipmunks. Terrible.
The Flintstones. Terrible. Every time one of these movies comes out, a piece of my childhood dies. They are all just so incredibly stupid.
But now, my very favorite one of all is being made into a movie. I was convinced it would be terrible too, but then I saw the trailer. I immediately went from skeptical to stoked. It looks like it might actually stay true to the original, so I’m officially excited about it.
I cannot wait to see these movies, but I have no choice. I have to wait. They’re both going to be released in December of next year. So if you’re wondering where I am in December of next year, I’m at the theater. You can look for me there.
But until then, I’ll keep watching the trailers and anticipating the day that I can buy a ticket and take them in.
Pretty much all of us get excited as we anticipate something. Maybe it’s a movie. Maybe it’s new technology. Maybe you’re the first one in line every time Apple releases a new product. Whatever it is, most of us know the excitement that comes from anticipation…from looking forward to something that is coming, but isn’t here yet.
That’s what the song “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is all about. It was written from the perspective of a person who was anticipating the coming of Christ.
When you read the Bible, you’ll see that it is divided into two major parts: the Old and the New Testaments. The Old Testament is all about how the people of God were waiting on the Messiah. The Promised One. The One Who would deliver them. They were waiting for Emmanuel.
These lyrics would have been the story of their lives. “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appears.”
The people of God, the Israelites, were living in a very dark time. They had been taken over by the oppressive Roman Empire…and it seemed like God just let it happen.
God’s people lived in bondage and oppression. They were taxed mercilessly. Most of them lived meager, destitute lives under Roman rule. They could be imprisoned on a whim. Unjust executions were common. It was just a brutal time to be an Israelite…and God had gone completely silent.
It had been 400 years since God spoke to His people. We sang about that in a different song this morning.
“What fear we felt in the silent age, Four-hundred years can He be found? But broken by a baby’s cry, Rejoice in the hallowed manger ground.”
God went silent for 400 years between the Old & New Testaments. If you’re reading the Bible, it takes 2 seconds to flip from the last page of the book of Malachi to the first page of the book of Matthew. We can turn from the Old to the New Testament in an instant.
But in real time, it took 400 years. And during that 400 year period, God was silent. There were no prophets. There were no Words from God. There was just silence. And God’s people suffered tremendously in that silence.
But Jesus was the break in the silence.
The Israelites could sing, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel, shall come to Thee, O Israel”
God promised that the Messiah would come. And after 400 years of silence, Emmanuel came.
That’s what we see in the New Testament book of Matthew. A woman named Mary was engaged to a man named Joseph. But before they were married, she became pregnant. And the amazing thing is that it had been prophesied over 700 years prior.
In Matthew 1, Matthew wrote, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:22-23, NIV)
Jesus was born of a virgin because He had no earthly father. He was the Son of God. And one of the titles that Jesus wore was Emmanuel. And Matthew tells us that the name “Emmanuel” means, “God with us.”
Jesus was God in the flesh. He was God with skin on. He was God with us.
After 400 years of stone cold silence, God was speaking again. But He did more than just speak. He showed up. He came into our world. He wasn’t just speaking to us. He was coming to us.
And the reason that God had to come to us is because we could never get to Him. We had been separated from God by sin.
God is holy, which means He is set apart, He is absolutely separate from anything that is evil. So our sin built a dividing wall between us and God.
That’s what we see in Isaiah 59, where Isaiah wrote, “Listen! The LORD’s arm is not too weak to save you, nor is his ear too deaf to hear you call. It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore.” (Isaiah 59:1-2, NLT)
Our sin separated us from God, and there was nothing we could do about it. Contrary to what a lot of people believe, there is no way we could ever become good enough to work our way back to God.
That’s what is taught in every other major world religion. God is up here. We’re down here. And it’s all about us climbing the ladder.
We’ve got to climb our way up to God, which means it’s all about what we do. Do enough. Give enough. Sacrifice enough. Become good enough and maybe you’ll get to God.
The problem is that “enough” is impossible. There is simply no way to do enough good to offset the bad. There is no way for you or me to become a “good enough” person. There is no amount of good deeds that can offset our sin.
Every religion that teaches us to do more and more and more to get to God is really just a fantasy. The nasty, gritty, filthy reality is that we are sinful. We think evil thoughts. We say evil words. We do evil things. And that has built a wall between us and God that we can never overcome. There’s simply no way we can ever climb that ladder.
But here’s what sets Christianity apart. Only in Christianity do we see the arrow get flipped upside down. Only in Christianity do we stop trying to climb up to God, and instead see a God who descended to us.
Now, maybe you don’t really buy into all the Jesus stuff. You came to church because somebody invited you. Maybe they said, “The band’s really good. You’re kids will have a great time. And on a good day, the preacher might not put you to sleep.”
Or maybe they bribed you. Maybe you’re getting a free lunch out of the deal.
Whatever the reason is, you’re here. And even if you don’t buy into everything we’re talking about today, here’s where I think we can all find common ground. Can we at least all admit that our world is royally jacked up? Can we all at least agree on that? Can we all agree that human beings have made a huge mess of things?
It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? You don’t have to believe in Jesus to believe that. We’ve made a mess of things. And the reason we’ve made a mess of things is because we’re all sinful.
That’s what the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 3. “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23, NIV)
We’re all sinners. We’ve all messed up. We’ve all chosen evil. And because of that, none of us can ever work our way back to God. There is no amount of good deeds that we can do to set things right again. I don’t care if you are the perfect fusion of Mother Theresa and Billy Graham and the Pope. It’s not good enough.
But here’s the great news…we can never be good enough, but Jesus was good enough for us. Jesus lived the perfect life we couldn’t live. And He died the death we should have died. And His death is the perfect and the final payment for our sin.
Look again at what Paul wrote, but let’s read a little further. “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24, NIV)
We are justified through Jesus, which means we are made right before God. We are redeemed, which means we are bought back. And it’s only possible through Jesus.
Jesus was born to die. Through His death, the price has been paid. Jesus took the penalty for us. He took on our sin, we take on His righteousness, His perfection. And now that our sin has been removed, there is nothing that could ever separate us from God ever again.
We could never get to God, so God came to us. And not only did God come to us, but He stayed with us. Because Jesus knocked down that dividing wall, there is nothing separating us from God.
And now, we can hold onto this promise in the book of Hebrews. “…God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5b, NIV)
The wall has been knocked down. And it was knocked down, not because we climbed up to God, but because He came down to us. And now, we are always in His presence. He never leaves us. He never walks away from us. He never forgets us. He never forsakes us.
Now, maybe you’re having a hard time buying this because it sounds too good to be true.
Or maybe you’re having a hard time buying it because it just doesn’t feel true for you. Maybe things are dark. Maybe you’re in a season of hurt and disappointment and pain. Maybe you feel like God has gone silent on you. Maybe you feel like He has walked away from you.
Maybe you feel like you’re living the second verse of our song.
“O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer, our spirits by Thine advent here. Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight.”
“God, could You please show up, because things are dark? There are times when I feel like I’m dying here, and I just can’t find You. I can’t see You. I can’t hear You. I can’t feel You. And I definitely don’t understand what You’re doing right now. It sure seems like You’ve just left me all alone.”
If that’s you, I’m going to tell you something that you may have never heard at church before. It’s ok. Your doubts are ok. Your questions are ok. Your frustration and anger are ok.
It’s ok, because God meets us right where we are. Not where we should be. Not where He wants us to be. He meets us right where we are.
If God didn’t meet us right where we are, then the whole idea of Christmas goes out the window. Actually, if God didn’t meet us right where we are, then the whole idea of Christianity goes out the window.
If God doesn’t meet us right where we are, then we’re back to trying to climb the ladder ourselves. Get yourself right. Break your own addiction. Get rid of your lust yourself. Deal with your own doubt. Overcome your own fear. Dismantle your own pride. Get rid of your negative, critical spirit on your own. Just make yourself into a good person. Then, maybe, just maybe, God will notice you. Maybe, just maybe, God will accept you.
That’s a pretty hopeless scenario, isn’t it? It’s all about self-help. But here’s the truth about that…self-help is no help. I know there is an entire wing of the bookstore devoted to self-help, but the truth is that self-help is no help.
But our hope isn’t found in self. It’s found in a Savior. It’s found in a God who really does meet us right where we are.
That’s why we say this all the time. Here at Connect, it’s ok to not be ok. It really is. In our church, it’s ok to not be ok.
It’s ok to bring your doubt, your anger, and your hurt with you. It’s ok to bring your regret and your shame with you. It’s ok to bring your sinful past and your broken present with you. It’s ok to bring all of that with you, because that’s where God meets you.
That’s the kind of community that we have here at Connect. And if you don’t believe me, here’s my challenge to you. Just keep coming. Just keep coming, and you’ll come to see that it really is true.
Here at Connect, it’s ok to not be ok. And one of the reasons that we embrace that truth is because none of us are ok! We’re all sinful. We all fall short. We’re all dealing with crazy, messed up lives.
That’s why we open up our Green Room every Sunday after church for prayer…because we know that sooner or later, we’re all going to need someone to support us and surround us in prayer.
That’s why we’re launching a brand new system of small groups in the New Year. These new Connect groups are going to be made up of messed up people hanging out with other messed up people. It’s going to be messed up people supporting other messed up people. It’s going to be messed up people praying for other messed up people. Are our groups going to be perfect? Heck no! If we had a perfect group, you couldn’t join it because you’d mess it up!
Here at Connect, we understand that messed up people are the only kind of people that exist. All have sinned. All fall short of the glory of God. And all need a God who meets them right where they are.
But the awesome news is that is exactly the God that we have.
We see that truth come to life in the Christmas story in the Bible. In Matthew 1, Matthew wrote, “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.
Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1:18-19, NIV)
Mary was pregnant, and Joseph knew for a fact that he was not the father, so he was going to break things off. And no one could blame him. Mary claimed that she hadn’t been unfaithful, but the pregnancy spoke a lot louder than her words. Joseph was leaving, because he didn’t believe a word of what Mary said. He didn’t believe in what God was doing AT ALL.
Next verses. “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” (Matthew 1:20-24, NIV)
Joseph was filled with unbelief. He didn’t believe a single thing that God was doing. In fact, his unbelief was so great that he was ready to walk away. But that’s right where God met him. God sent an angel to explain things to Joseph. He didn’t strike Joseph down for his doubt. He didn’t condemn him for his unbelief. Instead, that’s the very place where God met him.
Joseph was in a very dark time. He thought his dreams had been crushed. He thought the woman that he loved more than anything was pregnant with another man’s child. He was devastated. He was filled with doubt and uncertainty and anger and disappointment. And that’s exactly where God met him.
God met Joseph right where he was, and then took him where He wanted him to be.
That’s what Emmanuel does. Emmanuel means “God with us.” It doesn’t just mean, “God with us, when we’re doing things right. God with us, when our lives aren’t such a mess anymore. God with us, when we get ourselves cleaned up. God with us, when we get rid of all our doubt and skepticism. God with us, when we live holy, righteous, perfect lives.”
Emmanuel is “God with us, period.” “God with us, with no disclaimers attached.” Emmanuel is the God who meets us right where we are, and then takes us where He wants us to go.
Robert Capon wrote, “Instead of standing at some antiseptic distance from our agonies and our failures, [God] comes to meet us in the very thick of them.”
That’s who He is. He is Emmanuel. God with us, even when we’re at our worst. God with us, even when we don’t understand what He’s doing. God with us, even when our failures couldn’t be greater. God with us, even when our faith is at its breaking point.
And there’s only one reason that’s true. Love. God loves you and me, even when we are at our most unlovable. He loved us enough to leave the perfection of heaven and enter into the mess of our world. He loved us enough to suffer and die for our sin. He loved us enough to rise from death to give us a new life. He loves us enough to always be with us.
It’s all about Jesus. Jesus is Emmanuel. He is God with us, which means that He is God with you. God with you when you’re at your best and God with you when you’re at your worst. God with you when life is awesome and God with you when life is falling apart.
And if God is with you, then hope is with you. Freedom is with you. Healing is with you.
In Scripture, Jesus is called Emmanuel. He is also called The Light of The World. And if the Light of the World is with you, that means that darkness will not have the last word.
In fact, Isaiah prophesied about that centuries before Jesus was born. He wrote, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:2, 6, 7b, NIV)
Things may be dark, but there is a light that outshines the darkness. That light came in the form of a baby who would grow up to die on a cross. He is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and our Prince of Peace.
And then Isaiah says that, “The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
Another word for zeal is passion. The zeal, the passion, of God is what brought Jesus into our world.
You know what God is passionate about? He’s passionate about you! He’s passionate about rescuing you. He’s passionate about forgiving you. He’s passionate about restoring you.
That’s why He’s with you. That’s why He came down the ladder to get you. Because He loves you. He’s passionate for you. You are more loved than you could ever understand. I know it’s hard to see that when things are dark. I know it’s hard to believe that when life is hard. But the cross of Christ is there to remind you just how far God went to love you. He’s passionate about you!
And here at Connect, we’re passionate about you knowing Him. Like I said earlier, we’ve got some folks in the Green Room who are ready to talk with you and listen to you and pray with you. If you have questions or doubts or are just dealing with more than you can handle, they are there for you. Stop in the room confidentially after church.
We’re going to close in one more song, and it’s a song that celebrates God’s presence. It celebrates the fact that our God is Emmanuel. He is present with us, because He’s passionate about us. Let’s stand and let’s worship Him now.