Though it's been said many times and many ways, Merry Christmas to you. But how can we have a merry Christmas with all the unsettling things happening in our society? By inviting the certainty of God into the uncertainty of our lives.
Christmas blessings to all of you. I’m so happy to be able to share this time together. And Hey, by the way, if you’re joining us for the first time, I’m Pastor Terry. I’m the lead pastor here at Cornerstone church in San Francisco. And like I said, we’re happy to have you, very happy to have you with us.
You know, speaking of happiness, I’m going to talk about how to have a happier Christmas. I’m really looking forward to sharing this message. And a lot of that has to do with being settled in the certainty of God. Message today is probably going to be both. Uh, well, I’m going to, how about this. I’m going to start out a little more serious and by the time I’m done, it’ll be a little bit more lighthearted.
And then we’ll, we’ll have some ideas that, uh, we can put into play that can make our Christmas happier, but let me, you know, before we do anything else, let me just pray a blessing over our time together. And even now, Lord, I just, I just really ask for Your goodness and grace to just be among us. I, in fact, I pray for Your peace.
I do. I pray for Your peace to come, oh, Prince of Peace come and be among us and fill us, yes, with your joy. I do. I would ask that Lord, fill us with a joy deep within and help, help things come alive in us. As we share Your words together, that’s my prayer in Jesus’ name. You know, as we make our way into Christmas and in not long after that into a new year, let us acknowledge that we’ve been living in a time of great uncertainty.
In fact, uh, in my lifetime, I would have to say, it’s, it’s a time of unprecedented uncertainty. It’s been like any other thing. I mean, if you would’ve told me even last Christmas that we would still be struggling with a lot of the things that we’re dealing with right now, uh, I would have said no way, but it’s been the case.
And, uh, even though things seem to have improved, nonetheless, it’s, it’s a unique time that is, uh, both troubling and unsettling for so many of us. Um, you know, in that way, it’s just been, it hasn’t been great at all. It’s, it’s been hard. And, and part of the challenge has been in addition to all the things that have been happening in our world, in our nation and the polarization and, and all the differences and, and fears connected to, you know, the pandemic, all of these things on top of everything else, you know, we have our own normal lives that we live, our own struggles that we’ve had, a- relational stuff.
So here’s the point. I, I, I’m not, I’m not gonna, you know, try to sugar coat what has been a very challenging and difficult time. I think it’s clear that it has been, and yet I need to say this. I also think there’s a positive side to it. You’re going, what are you talking about now? I’m not saying positive in and of itself, but positive, at least in part, because of what it has exposed, what it has revealed.
And, and what is that, but how fragile life is and how quickly our world and culture can shift. How in so many ways, things are not as certain as they seemed, like a lot of us, especially those of us who live in the more developed world, we have operated under certain assumptions. We may now call them illusions about what true safety looks like about where our security should be found, can be found.
And I actually think it’s forced us to grapple with things that we would have otherwise, maybe not thought as deeply about. And I’ll, and by the way, I think that revelation is part of the reason why many of us are struggling with anxiety, because things that we’ve been relying on, as sort of givens are now a- been shaken.
But that can be good if it draws us back towards a true center, if it draws us back to the Lord, it actually can be a blessing. So this season though unwanted, creates an opportunity for growth and a deepening life with the Lord. And if it pulls us back into intimacy with God, we’re a greater degree of trust with him.
If it, if it exposes the false underbelly of society’s attempts at re telling us what security looks like, then actually it, and disabuses us of our sense of self-sufficiency. Then it can actually become a gift to us. That’s what I’m trying to get at. You know, I was reminded of something that, uh, CS Lewis wrote in the weight of glory and, you know, so much of what CS Lewis, writes
has extraordinary relevance for us today. It’s deep thinking. It seems to penetrate into, uh, both our humanity, but also it exposes and reveals God in, in a way that makes sense to us. And so his writings are both profound and yet simple. And I think that’s part of the reason why they’ve had such enduring relevancy and are so relatable even now, right though, written decades ago.
Having said that you, one of the things that Lewis stated in his book called, “The Weight of Glory,” he said this, he said, there are no ordinary people. You’ve never talked to a mere mortal, right? Everybody has something in them that even in our broken condition, there is a part of us that reflects the image of God and has the potential,
if we are willing, to open up our hearts to God, to, to spend an eternity with him, uh, but he went on and say, this nation’s cultures arts, civilization. These are mortal and their life to ours is the life of a gnat. I mean, it’s like the life of a gnat. He was reminding us to have proper, a proper sense of proportion in gravity and that how sometimes we focus on something and we go, oh, this is going to last forever.
And really it’s not right. The United States will not last forever. No nation can or will nor does, not really, ever. Kingdoms rise, kingdoms fall. Um, yeah. W- one of the things that we are trying to point out here is that human beings in contrast, even the most ordinary among us, Lewis was really digging into this.
We were made for something more. We are no mere mortals. We were made to live with God forever. And that’s why the Christ of Christmas came. He was, if we may say it this way, God’s love on full display. He was the pathway for us to realize our ultimate purpose, our eternal purpose, and had everything to do with Him.
W- John 3: 16, for God so loved the world that he, he gave his only son that whoever believes on him would not perish, but have eternal life. Think about that, that we would realize our destiny because of God’s overture of love. And I’ve always, I mean, I think if I was going to say I’ve always been impressed with John 3: 16 to me is the greatest verse in the Bible.
And the reason it is because it’s, it’s the first that speaks both of Easter and of Christmas. In addition to summarizing with utter simplicity, like a potent. Uh, potent, uh, you know, pill that just, it gives us all that we need it encapsulates the gospel. Right? But also it is something that reminds us of, of the cross, right?
So it fits beautifully at Easter time and the purpose of Jesus. And then it also, it reminds us of Christmas and why God came to-, he gave, so it’s, it’s just, uh, you know, an amazing verse that reminds us of God’s love, a love that doesn’t quit. But back to the Lewis quote, Lewis was also reminding us, in part, to be careful with our fixation on the now. He was warning all of us to watch out for getting absorbed by, defined by, mesmerized, by consumed, by dominant culture, fads, passing fancies, you know, the latest thing.
The latest technology, whatever. The latest social trends that his, his point was is that we are to be a people who cultivate an eternal perspective, a future perspective, and that’s connected to Christ and that this was, and by the way, this was a key emphasis of, of his book, The Weight of Glory, that future perspective, that eternal perspective was designed to enhance our love for others in the present.
When we realize the potential that is within people, it calls us towards not only sharing the goodness of Christ, the message of Christ, but also sharing his love sacrificially in presence that we, we are to be that expression of Jesus. And that is a really great message for us in the Christmas season, as for the Christmas season, you know, I love it.
I love the sentiment of it. I do. I, and I know that our pastor last week, which was sharing how she sometimes struggles with with Christmas and there are some real valid reasons for it. And I know that for some people, it is a lonely time and maybe sometimes the commercialization of it, uh, you know, can be a little bit over the top.
I get that. But, uh, I, I do love the sentiment of, uh, of Christmas. I love the romance of Christmas. I, I love the traditions and the smells and the, the Christmas trees and, and the lights and the ornaments and, uh, the gifts around the tree, the nativity scenes. I mean, I love the nativity scenes. I love how different cultures capture them.
And I love the smiles and I love the joy. I love, uh, the songs, the carols, and yeah. Even, even, even the corny Christmas songs, you know, the jingle bells, the frosty, the snowman. I mean, you know, I was thinking about it. Uh, how many times have I heard and sung, you know, chestnuts roasting on an open fire. I mean, you know what I’m talking about?
I don’t even know what that means. Jack Frost nipping at your nose. I went back and looked up the lyrics to that song. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost, nipping at your nose. Yule -tide carols being sung by a choir and folks dressed up like Eskimos. Everybody knows a Turkey and some mistletoe will help to make the season bright, tiny tots with their eyes
all a glow will find it hard to sleep at night. Sleep tonight. They know that Santa is on his way. He’s loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh. And every mother’s child is going to spy to see if reindeer, really know how to fly. Right? So I’m offering this simple phrase to kids from one to 92. Think about, I’m thinking of a 92, although it’s been said many times in many ways, Merry Christmas to you.
You know, I’ve heard that. How many times have I heard that song? I just, I didn’t even, like I said, I didn’t even know what a chestnut and I didn’t even know what Chestnut roasting on an open fire was. I had to go Google it and look at it. I mean, I kind of had an idea, but I’d never actually thought about it.
I didn’t even know the name of the song. I thought it was chestnuts. You know, some about chestnuts, but it’s actually called the Christmas song. Some people refer to it Merry Christmas to you. But the Christmas song. And though it has been sung many times in many ways, no one can touch the original version that was by Nat King Cole.
If you haven’t had a chance to listen to it, give it a listen to what that iconic voice of is, uh, that distinct, smooth tambour. It was written in 1945 by, uh, Robert Wells and Mel Tormey ironically on a blistering July summer’s day and the writers, they said they wrote it in 40 minutes. They said it was kind of like a mental air conditioning because it was so hot.
So every song has a, has a history and a why behind it. But I love, I love Christmas. I do. I love the, uh, time of the year, uh, the crisp air, the shortness of days, the winter’s chill that invites us inward in so many ways. Uh, yeah. I, and I try to remember that even more though. It’s the. It is really even more than all those good things, all those nice things with those warm things.
Uh, it’s, it’s even more about heaven coming to earth. Isn’t it? It’s about God’s answer to the human dilemma and we, we need to mark that. We need to remember that for the one who has as the scriptures tell us, set eternity in our hearts, created a pathway for us as spiritual beings on a human journey to find our way home.
And that’s what I said, the spiritual beings on a human journey. Sometimes we forget, we think, oh, you know, I hear people talk about, you know, how they’re into spiritual things as if they’re a human being kind of on their own spiritual journey, but that’s not what we’re taught in scripture. We’re actually taught different.
We’re taught that we are actually spiritual beings on a human journey and that this human journey is, but a preload, prelude, to an eternity that awaits us. And what we do with the Christ of Christmas will determine everything about that eternity, you know, that’s, and that is so much about, and I mentioned it about the idea that he came to us so that we could find our way home.
I mean, we were created to know God, we were created to be with God forever. Think about that, far beyond this life. You know, as the grownup Christ child would later declare, he is the way the truth and the life. He is the door, the door to life. He is the light, the light of the world that shows us the way to the life that is truly life, the life that is now and forever, that life, you know, and Christmas, if you think about it is also about the humility of God, a humility that waits to be received.
And that to me is amazing that God, God won’t force himself upon us. Just like he wouldn’t force himself upon Mary Mary had to open up her heart to Him. A-, Mary had to say, you know, I am the servant of the Lord, the handmaid of God, you know, do, as you will with me, that was her choice to cooperate with the Lord, to receive him.
And still it is for you and me a choice we make both once, and, and in a lifetime, when we say, Lord Jesus, I want to know you. I want to receive you as my savior. And maybe on this Christmas day, you know, and this, this Sunday, before Christmas week, as we enter into it, you want, you want to receive Jesus, the Christ of Christmas.
And I would encourage you to do it. Maybe some of us are rededicating our lives to Jesus. Like we’ve drifted away and we want to start a fresh, we want to make our way into 20 22 in a very different way. Well, why not start that now here at Christmas time, you know, we have ways to support you in that.
Just let us know. And we’ll pray with you. We’ll support you. We’re with you. I mean, that’s what we’re about, right? But I was thinking about Christmas is also about the one who’s willing to come and meet us in our frailty. It’s about God becoming vulnerable to meet us in our vulnerabilities about God exposing himself in a very real way.
Um, he, he was at the mercy of human care and that has always struck me. You know, we always say, who can be afraid of the God who comes like a baby to us. Right. I mean, Jesus, he invites us, team, that that’s something about Christmas. It, it reminds us of the tenderness of God, the love of God on full display, like I said, um, but it’s also a reminder to me and it goes back to something that we shared earlier about the uncertainty of our times that we’re living in right now.
Right. Because we are, but into the uncertainty of life, the certainty of God came, or put another way, into the uncertainty of life, the certainty of God comes. And that for me is what Christmas also is about. Into the uncertainty of life, the certainty of God comes. It began in the garden. You read about it in Genesis, the very beginning of, of the first human failure that broke everything.
God had a plan and he’s been unfolding it ever since. God has been in a way reclaiming humanity. And the first Christmas was a D day. It’s when God landed. Right? If you think about it, that’s exactly what happened. I mean, that was the beginning of a new movement of God, a new song that was about to be song, a song that was anticipated.
But when Jesus came, the heavens opened up in song. Why? Because God’s son was being, was being brought to us in a way that had only been hoped for, and now it was happening. And my prayer for all of us, loved ones, is that we would allow him to sing his song over our lives as well. You know, our life has always been uncertain and always will be.
It’s just that every now and then we get to be reminded of it every now and then, our world is shaken. And sometimes it happens in a broader sense, like what we’ve been experiencing these last couple of years, but it also can happen in our own personal lives or in the lives of people we love and care for.
And that’s what is going to have to remind us to ask deeper questions about where our real sense of security and certainty and identity needs to lie. Consider for a moment Psalm 46. And I just want to read it because I think it has a lot for us this time. Look what the Psalmist says. He says, God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Oh, come on. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way. I’m not going to let fear grip me. No, no Lord. Don’t let that be the case. Though the mountains be moved in the heart of the sea though its waters, roar and foam to the mountains, tremble at its swelling.
Now there is a river, even in the midst of crushing things, there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the most high and God is in the midst of her. She shall not be moved. God will help her. When morning dawns, the nations raised with kingdoms, totter, boy, we seen that. He utters his voice, the earth melts, but then the key, a key for Christmas, the Lord of hosts is with us.
The God of Jacob is our fortress. Make that Christmas connection there because the ultimate expression of the Lord of hosts being with us, listen loved ones, is Jesus. He is, as the scriptures declare, Emmanuel God with us. So what I wanted to do, and I think it’s appropriate to do it is to read the account of Emanuel’s birth and want to read it from the gospel of Matthew.
And just let it sit for a moment. Now, the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph before they came together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit and her husband, Joseph having been a just man and unwilling to put her to shame resolved to divorce her quietly.
But as he considered these things behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying Joseph son of David do not fear to take Mary as your wife for that, which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son and you will call his name Jesus for, he will save his people from their sins.
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord has spoken by the prophet behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son. And there it is. And they shall call his name Emmanuel, which means God with us. And then when Joseph woke from his sleep. As the angel of the Lord commanded him. He took his wife, but he knew her or not.
He was not intimate with her until she had given birth to a son and he called his name Jesus, in Jesus. God is with us. We are not forgotten. Listen, we are loved. Oh for God so love, God so loved that he gave His only son, right? Hamilton said, this, bless -ed is the season. Love this, which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.
Bless -ed is the season that engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love. That’s what Jesus, Jesus is. It’s what, it’s what Christmas is all about. The conspiracy of love to make it possible for us beings with eternity in our heart, to live eternally with God life, evermore. So loved ones, let’s, not
be overwhelmed by present troubles or future uncertainties, present troubles or on future uncertainties or future uncertainties. No, no present troubles: is life hard? Are there trials we must endure right now? Are some of us tired, weary, maybe feeling a little discouraged, maybe even even depressed, maybe lonely, or we hurt.
We’re feeling under appreciated unloved, a little forgotten. Well, the Lord is with us and we are loved. Now. I realize that on this side of eternity, in this life of ours, which is the only one we really know, right. You know, that, that knowledge, that thought, those words, that assurance of God’s love, it doesn’t heal every pain.
It doesn’t make every disease go away. It doesn’t, it doesn’t restore every broken relationship. It doesn’t solve every problem that we’re having to deal with, but, but it helps a lot and it can soothe our soul and help us to make better decisions and not to be reactive or defeated. But to realize that in every, every situation that is bad, the goodness of God can prevail in some way.
Are we disturbed? You know, I talked about those, those present troubles, but are we discern disturbed by future uncertainties? That was the other thing I alluded to, is fear trying to grip our, our soul. Are there anxious thoughts that are trying to bind us, even as we think about heading into the new year
that’s around the bend? There is it hard for us to rejoice at Christmas
and with some really modest exceptions? I think we should rejoice anyway. And honestly, even if things are really bad, I still think because of Jesus, we have a reason to rejoice. I do. So let’s open up our hearts intentionally to His love. Uh, let his happiness let, well, let his, his goodness fill us with happiness.
Like a curtain pulled open in the, in the morning. Let’s let’s allow the sun to shine in, you know, Christmas. I think it was Janice. Maedi -tere said Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as it is about opening our hearts. So as we make our way into the Christmas,
And then, like I said, the new year around the bed, let’s finish with three simple ways to have a happier Christmas. I want to, I want to just set them out there, sit with, Here it is, number one, sit with the Christmas story. We read it, but ponder it, uh, as Mary pondered, the words that she was given and kept them in her heart, you know, let’s do that as well.
Let’s really create some space to ponder the significance of what God has done in Jesus. Let’s make a room for it. Let’s consider, a reflect upon it, meditate on it. Right? So let’s sit with the Christmas story, though we’ve heard it so many times and maybe even in its simplicity, maybe just, even as we think about the simplicity, like of a nativity scene, we, we,
the beauty and the, and I know the traditions of the wise men and, uh, you know, the in and, uh, the, the animals gathered around the manger scene. That, that story that warms our heart, let’s not be a cynic. Let’s not throw it aside as simply the domain of the naive and child, you know, childlike and immature.
No, that’s not to be so wise in our own eyes that we can’t appreciate and ponder and be blessed by the simplicity and beauty of the Christmas story, you know, make it, Lord, to give me the gift of a childlike heart and fill me with wonder. Yeah. And then in addition to sitting with the Christmas story, I want to encourage all of us to sing the Christmas songs, the carols, you know, something we’re going to be doing at the candlelight service.
All along this week, sing them with joy and gratitude in your heart. That doesn’t, don’t think we even have to be a great singer just to sing them. You know, they’re playing, um, it’s one of the, Hey, you know what, it’s one of the most unusual times ever, because you can go into stores or just, you know, tune into stuff.
And, and you’re, you’re hearing Christmas carols sung, but when you actually listened to the words, some of them are amazing testimonies of what God has done in Jesus. And they’re filled with depth. And that if you really sit with the words of some of the Christmas carols, they, they capture everything about who God is about, who we are about the human condition, about what God has done in Jesus.
How the gifts that we’ve been given has changed everything. I mean, these are deep waters to swim in and also they just make us joyful. So I just want to say sing, sing. And sing some more to quote a wise man Will Ferrell, an elf, the best way to spread the Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.
Now, I don’t know if that’s always true, but I do think we should spread the Christmas cheer, cheer. And that leads me to the third one, which is this, share the Christmas spirit. So, you know, sit with the Christmas story, sing the Christmas songs and share the Christmas spirit that is seek to give and to bless. Helen Steiner Rice wrote in one of her beautiful little poems,
bless us, Lord this Christmas with quietness of mind and teach us to be patient and always to be kind. That’s so simple. It could be inside of a card, but it does really connect to two things that I think the Lord wants. Wants us both to receive and give away. Two gifts that will make us happier at Christmas, happier a- giving and happier receiving.
And that is patience and kindness. And listen to me when I say this, hear it in the best way, but sometimes the person we need to be a little kinder with is ourselves. Now we definitely need to be more patient with other people because it’s so easy to get irritated and that will, that will mess things up and destroy moments.
And Lord, just give us the gift of patience, but also give us the gift of kindness to be just a little bit more caring than we would have been, to be a little bit more of a blesser than we would have been, to just be a little bit nicer than we would have been. Right. And then, like I said, maybe a little kinder to ourselves and I’m not talking about being selfish.
I’m just talking about how sometimes we, we can beat ourselves up. We start to take on shame and condemnation and we don’t live in the promise of Jesus nor in his forgiveness. And we don’t allow his love to overwhelm even, even our worst points of brokenness. And I I’m just simply saying that sometimes we’re not going to fight our way out of something.
We need to just be a little bit more gentle and be okay with how we’re feeling. I know I’m not making an excuse. Don’t hear that as an excuse. It’s just that sometimes we’re not going to solve it by holding on so tightly or trying to punish ourselves. We just need to let his love fill us. And then we need to be also a little bit more grateful.
You’ve heard me say there are so many things for us to be grateful for Lord. You have given me so much. Give me, as we’ve been saying throughout this thankful series, give me one more thing, please. A grateful heart, a grateful heart. So speaking of gratitude, I want to say thank you to all of you. So faithful in your giving, especially in your tithes and your offerings.
Remember, you can give in a number of different ways, send it in. You can give online directly or through our app, which is what I do. I was talking about giving your heart first, and I really do mean that and know that some of you are considering as you make your way to the year end, uh, you know, your year end giving how you’re going to distribute that I really would ask him prayerfully really, uh, you know, just with humility, but sincerity ask you to make Cornerstone a priority.
Cause we’re really committed to continuing on with our online and also to continue to gather in presence. And, and it’s going to require a lot of skill and resources to do that, to follow through with the vision. We want to keep representing the heart of Jesus in our city, but even beyond that, and we want to do it in his creative and excellent ways as possible.
And so you making the church a priority is it makes a big difference. And so I’m gonna come back around. We’ve got a song to share, and then I actually have a couple of thoughts I want to close with, but before I even go there, Lord, I just ask that you would just bless what we’re about to receive, let our joy be full even now full of song in Jesus’ name.