We’re kicking off our Christmas series today, and I could not be more pumped about what God is going to do in this series. The series is called Presence. Not “presents” as in gifts. We’re not talking presents that are wrapped with beautiful bows and placed under a Christmas tree.
This series is all about presence, meaning God’s presence. God is present in your life. He is in attendance. It’s like when your teacher used to call the roll. When they said your name, you were supposed to respond by saying, “Present!”
God does that every day in your life. When you call out His Name, He says, “Present! I’m here. I’m in attendance. I’m not absent. I never have been. I never will be. I’m here. I’m present.”
That’s what this series is all about. And I want to call out the elephant in the room right up front…some of you absolutely don’t believe what I just said. You don’t believe that God is present with you.
If He was present with you, then you wouldn’t be dealing with what you’re dealing with. If He was present, this wouldn’t have happened. If He was present, you wouldn’t be experiencing the hurt and the pain that you’re experiencing. You don’t believe He’s present with you. Some of you are even to the point where you doubt His existence…and that’s okay. We’re so glad that you’re here. You are welcome here. And so are you doubts. So are your hostilities and anger and resentment. So are your questions.
And you may not realize it, but we’ve been praying for you. We’ve been praying for the experience that you’ll have here at church today. We’ve been praying for God to do something incredible in you today.
In fact, let’s pray for God to move in all of our lives today. Let’s do that right now.
Do you remember the movie Christmas with the Kranks? I don’t know what this says about me, but that’s the kind of Christmas movie that I like. I’m not really into a lot of the classics. In fact, I’ve never even seen It’s a Wonderful Life. I haven’t seen A Christmas Story, either. But I have seen Christmas with the Kranks about 100 times, so you can draw your own conclusions there.
The movie is actually based on a novel by John Grisham called Skipping Christmas. In the movie, Luther and Nora Krank decide to just skip Christmas. Their daughter, Blair, has left the country for an assignment with the Peace Corps, and the empty nest syndrome sets in. So Luther and Nora decide to take all the money they would have spent on Christmas and use it to take a cruise. No decorating. No parties. No gift giving. No Christmas.
But that creates a huge uproar in their community. People hassle them about not decorating, not throwing their traditional Christmas party, etc. And it goes on and on until they get a call from Blair. She is surprising them by coming home for Christmas. And that causes them to turn on a dime. They go into a frenzy to get everything decorated and wrapped and cooked…all because of their daughter’s presence. Her presence changed everything.
And when you think about it, presence is really what makes Christmas so special. I know people went insane this past week with Black Friday, which now starts on Thanksgiving Day, which is a kind of crazy. And just like every other year, you hear reports about people getting into fights and trampling each other.
Nicki and I were talking about all the Black Friday sales this year, and she told me point blank, “There are two places that I’m not going on Black Friday…Wal-Mart and Toys-R-Us. These gifts are not worth dying for.”
So this year, we tried out a magical new way to Christmas shop. It’s called amazon.com. Our Christmas shopping is done, and it’s all being shipped for free to our door. Boom.
But every year it’s the same thing. People going insane at stores buying all this stuff. But when you remember the best Christmases of your life, did it really have anything to do with stuff? It didn’t, did it? What made those Christmases so special? The presence of people that you loved. Their presence and their love is what mattered.
In this series, we’re going to be talking about a person who is present, and who loves you like crazy. His Name is Jesus.
This series is based on one verse in Luke 2. It’s the Christmas season, where we celebrate the birth of Christ. Jesus came into our world because we needed a Savior. We were so messed up, so lost, so mired in our own sin that we could never, ever save ourselves. We could never right the ship. We could never straighten it all out.
So God intervened. And that intervention came in the form of His own presence. Jesus was God in the flesh, and He came into our world to save us from the mess that we created.
And the first people that were told about Jesus’ birth were a group of shepherds. God sent an angel to make the announcement to these shepherds who were out tending their flocks that night. The angel appeared from out of nowhere to tell them that Jesus had been born.
Here’s how Luke describes the scene in Luke 2. “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” (Luke 2:8-9, NIV)
It started out as an incredibly ordinary night for these shepherds. They’re just out watching over the sheep. Nothing significant. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just a very average, very mundane, very ordinary night at work for these guys.
Until this angel shows up from out of nowhere. And the glory of the Lord shone all around them. The sky lit up. They are surrounded by God’s glory. And there is an angel that appears right in front of them.
And forget any of those angel images that you see in our culture. Our culture pictures angels as either fat, naked babies or beautiful women with wings and flowing blonde hair.
That’s not how the Bible describes angels. Angels are pictured as incredibly powerful beings. They are warriors. They are move people to fear, which is exactly what happened to the shepherds.
And what the angel said in the next verse is incredibly important. This next verse is the foundation for this entire series.
In verse 10, Luke wrote, “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:10, NIV)
The angel came to tell the shepherds that Jesus had been born. Jesus was here. He was present. And His presence changed everything.
The angel relayed four key messages to the shepherds. Because Jesus is present…
- Don’t be afraid.
- It’s good news.
- It gives great joy.
- It’s for all people.
We’re going to spend the month of December working through these incredible messages that the angel gave the shepherds. They are messages that God wants to drive deep into our hearts and minds. These four messages are game changers…and it’s all because of Jesus’ presence.
And we’re going to start with the first words that the angel spoke to the shepherds. Don’t be afraid.
The phrase “Don’t be afraid,” or “Fear not,” appears over 100 times in the Bible. Over 100 times, God told His people, “Don’t be afraid.”
Now, if God says something once, that’s enough. But God cares enough about this to repeat it over and over and over again. Over 100 times in Scripture, God’s people are told, “Fear not. Don’t be afraid.”
That’s the first thing that the angel said to the shepherds. He told them, “Don’t be afraid.” But the angel didn’t stop there. He didn’t just tell them, “Don’t be afraid.” He told them why they didn’t have to fear.
Look at the next thing the angel said. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11, NIV)
The angel said, “You don’t have to be afraid, and here’s why. Jesus has come. He is here. He is present.”
And God is telling us the exact same thing today. You don’t have to be afraid, because Jesus is here.
Jesus’ presence destroys fear.
There is something about being alone that feeds our fears. When I was a teenager, I worked as a DJ at a local radio station. It was my dream job. While all my friends were saying, “Do you want fries with that?” I was on the radio. It was an amazing opportunity…except for one thing. There was a rumor that the radio station was haunted.
And admittedly, there was the occasional noise that you couldn’t explain. It could be a little weird at the station when it was nighttime, which just happened to be my shift. I went off the air at 9:00 pm when the station switched over to a satellite broadcast. So I was always the last one to leave.
And one night, things got flat crazy. There was about 10 minutes left in my shift, and the place started going nuts. Loud noises were coming from the roof. There were banging noises on the walls. I heard doors slamming. I heard voices talking and laughing…but no one was there. I was all alone.
I had to absolutely bolt myself to my chair. Everything in me wanted to run for the hills, but I had to wait to switch over to the satellite. If I didn’t, there would be dead air on the station all night and I’d lose my job.
The noises never stopped. I was completely freaked out. When 9:00 pm came, I ran…literally ran out of the station. The station was kind of out in the middle of nowhere, so it was extremely dark and quiet. I sprinted out to my truck, and that’s when three of my coworkers jumped out at me and screamed. And I just about died right there on the spot.
They were the ones making all the noise. They had planned the whole thing. They were throwing gravel up onto the roof to make that noise. They were walking around the station pounding on the walls. They were the ones that were talking in all the scary voices. And it was so dark outside that I could never see them.
I can laugh about it now, but in that moment, I could have strangled them. I was that scared.
Now, I was old enough to know better. I was old enough that I should have realized something was up. I should have remembered that I worked with the biggest group of pranksters that you’ve ever seen. But none of that occurred to me. And you know why? Because I was alone. There is something about being alone that allows fear to just run wild in our lives.
And that’s why God’s presence is so crucial for us. Because we’re not alone.
In the Old Testament book of Psalms, David wrote, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there [on my best days, God is with me]; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. [In the absolute worst times of my life, God is with me.]
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psalm 139:7-10, NIV)
God, where can I flee from Your presence? Is there anything I can do or anywhere I can go to make you leave me? No.
You may think that you’ve messed up too badly for God to still be with you. God would never hang around after what you’ve done.
Or you may look at the hurt and pain in your life, and just assume that God isn’t around anymore. He skipped town. It’s the only explanation for what is happening to you.
But the truth is that God doesn’t leave. Ever. He is present.
In fact, God’s most frequent promise in Scripture is, “I will be with you.” God made a lot of promises in the Bible, but none more than this one. He repeated this promise more than any other. I will be with you. I am here. I am present.
A few minutes ago, our band took the song O Holy Night and absolutely blew it out of the box. Seriously…wow!
Did you catch the lines in the second verse of that song? “Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother, And in His name all oppression shall cease.”
Jesus left His throne in heaven to be born in a manger, a feeding trough for farm animals. He left the perfection of heaven for the pain and brokenness of our messed up world. He became a servant, a slave.
But He did it all to break our chains. To set the oppressed free.
In fact, that’s what Jesus Himself said. In Luke 4, Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19, NIV)
That was Jesus’ mission in His own words. To proclaim freedom for prisoners. To break the chains of the oppressed.
Which forces us to ask the question…what is keeping me chained? What fear has me imprisoned? No matter what I do, I’m still afraid. I’ve tried everything, but I can’t shake these chains of fear.
And all the while, Jesus says, “I came to break those chains. I came to set you free.”
This is so incredibly relevant to our culture today. You know what the #1 category of prescription meds is in US? Antidepressants.
One of the top health issues in America – sleeplessness. I know all about that one.
And I’m not saying this to be judgmental or to make fun or anything like that. I’m just pointing out the obvious. People are anxious! We are anxious. We are worried. We are fearful.
In other words, we’re a lot like Mary in the Christmas story in the Bible. In Luke 1, Luke wrote, “God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” [What’s the very first thing the angel told Mary? The Lord is with you. He is present.]
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. [Mary is still fearful. She is nervous and anxious and confused.]
But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.” (Luke 1:26b-31, NIV)
The angel told Mary three key things.
- The Lord is with you.
- Don’t be afraid.
- Jesus is coming.
Did you ever wonder why Mary was told to name the child “Jesus?” It’s all because of what the Name means. The Name “Jesus” literally means, “The Lord Saves.”
Combine that with Matthew’s account of the Christmas story. Matthew quotes from the prophet Isaiah. “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).” (Matthew 1:23, NIV)
The Names of the Son of God reveal who He is…and that reveals the reason that He can break the chains of fear in our lives. The reason we can live without fear is because of who Jesus is.
He is “The Lord Saves.” There is nothing that can possibly break loose in your life that is greater or more powerful than Jesus. He is the omnipotent, all-powerful Lord of the universe. He doesn’t just have the power to save you from your sin. His power trumps every fear, doubt, and discouragement that you could ever face.
He is also Immanuel, which means “God with us.” Not only is Jesus omnipotent. He is also omnipresent, which means He is everywhere at the same time. He is all-powerful, and He is all present. And that means that the all-powerful God of heaven and earth is with you. Right here. Right now. Always.
The Lord Saves. Immanuel. When you combine those two Names, you get a full picture of who Jesus is. And when you see Jesus for who He really is, the chains of fear begin to break.
The key to live without fear is focus. Fear grows and overwhelms us when we lose our focus on Jesus. But fear is dismantled when we have a clear view of who Jesus is.
There’s a great story in Matthew 14 that shows us exactly what happens when we take our focus off of Jesus.
Starting in verse 25, Matthew wrote, “Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” [I hope you see the pattern developing here. Over and over again, we are told that Jesus is here. Don’t be afraid.]
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:25-31, NIV)
First off, we’ve got to give Peter some credit. All of the disciples were in this boat, but only one of them got out of the boat.
Peter was convinced that this was Jesus. Jesus said to walk on the water, so that’s exactly what Peter does. He hops out of the boat and starts walking on water…until he saw the wind and the waves. That’s when he began to sink. But the wind and the waves weren’t the problem.
The problem was Peter’s focus.
When Peter got out of the boat, the wind and the waves were there. When he was walking on the water, the wind and the waves were there. And when he began to sink, the wind and the waves were there.
The wind and the waves weren’t the issue. Peter was in the same situation when he was walking on the water and when he was sinking in the water. Peter’s situation didn’t change, but his focus did.
The waters in our lives are rough. Storms come. Winds blow. Waves crash. So why do some people walk on the water and others sink in the water? Focus. Why do some people keep going in spite of their fear, while others are crippled by their fear? Focus. Why do some people see the chains fall off of them while others remain imprisoned? Focus.
When you’re focused on the storm, you’ll sink every time because the storm is bigger than you are. But when you stay focused on Jesus, you can keep walking because no storm is bigger than He is.
Fear is faith in the wrong thing. Ultimately, that’s what it is. Fear is faith in the wrong thing. For Peter, he ended up having more faith in the power of the storm than He did in the power of Jesus.
The same thing happens to us all the time, doesn’t it? We put our faith in the wrong thing. We put our faith in the uncertainty of the future instead of in God who holds the future. We put our faith in what is out of control instead of in God who is always in control. We put our faith in the strength of the storm instead of in the strength of our God. And what does that produce in us? Fear. That’s what fear is. It’s simply faith in the wrong thing.
But Jesus came to break those chains of fear. He is always with us, and He is greater than anything that we will ever face.
But here’s the thing…sometimes He has to place us right in the middle of the storm that we fear the most in order for us to learn that truth.
In John 16, Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)
Jesus didn’t say, “You might have trouble. This world may give you some problems. There might be complications and issues.”
Jesus stated this as a promise. In this world you WILL have trouble. In this world, you will have cancer. And marriage problems. And war. And money issues. And job losses. And miscarriages. And terrorism. And accidents. And death.
But Jesus said, “Take heart! I have overcome the world.”
“Take heart, because I am bigger than all these things. Take heart, because I have already won your victory for you.”
That victory was won when Jesus died on the cross and then rose from the dead three days later.
Here’s what the prophet Isaiah wrote about the death of Jesus on the cross. “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5, NIV)
Jesus took our pain. He took our suffering. He took our fear and our doubt and our discouragement and our sin on Himself when He died on the cross for us. And the He won the victory over all those things when He rose to life again.
Everything you’re afraid of was already defeated on the cross and in the empty tomb.
That’s why the words from the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4 are true. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9, NIV)
Life is hard. That won’t change on this side of eternity. Life is really hard. But when our focus stays on Jesus, we aren’t crushed. We might be perplexed and hard pressed, but we’re not destroyed.
We stay focused on Jesus, The Lord Saves. We stay focused on Immanuel, the God who is always present with us.
And we never forget the cross. If Jesus was willing to go to the cross for you, why do you think He would ever leave you? If Jesus gave His life FOR you, He will never give up ON you.