Christmas is God's overture of love. A heart of worship is how we best express our gratitude to God for the love He has given.
All right. Merry Christmas. I love this time of the year. I know this is a different Christmas than anyone we’ve experienced, but maybe it’s even more important that we really embrace the Christmas moment, the Bethlehem moment, the promise of Christmas, the invitation of Christmas. Maybe we need it now more than ever. Just this season of unique confinement of the feelings that we’ve all had to walk through this year and what we’ve been experiencing even as of late and just so many things that are weighing on so many of you. I’m hopeful that we will gain strength from what we’re about to share together. If you’re new here, I’m pastor Terry, I’m the lead pastor here at Cornerstone Church.
Our series, A Heart of Worship, think about it this way; Christmas is God’s overture of love. For God so loved the world that he gave. He did. Think about it this way as well. The heart of worship is how we best express our gratitude to God for the love that he has given. I’ll say that one more time. The heart of worship is how, H-O-W. Do you see what I did there? It’s how we best express our appreciation, our love, our gratitude for the love that God has displayed towards us. We respond in worship to a love that was relentless and came to us. We’re invited to embrace it. See, here’s the thing, God won’t force us to have Him. He must be welcomed in. That’s true, even for the time that we’re about to share. The Lord won’t force us to have an openness, but He invites us to. He really does. I just want to pray a blessing, as we take these minutes and share them.
Just pray with me. Lord, I know these are unique times. I really do. Some of us are struggling. We’ve been really struggling. That’s just the truth. It’s been hard. It’s hard not to feel anxious. Maybe some of us feel very anxious. Some of us might have struggles with depression right now. Some might feel really lonely and justifiably so. So many of the things that we are accustomed to being able to do, we can’t do, are limitations. Some things seem unfair. That creates anger inside of us. Sometimes it’s just a low-grade anger. Maybe some of us, again, have that around fear as well. Lord, we just welcome you to these places. We welcome your goodness. We welcome your grace. We welcome your flow of life. We welcome you into this moment. Our eyes are upon you and our hearts are open towards you. This is how we choose to come. We ask for your blessing in Jesus’ name. Amen.
I want to start by having us read the Bible’s account of the birth of Jesus as recorded in the gospel of Luke. He says, in those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. You can talk about a governmental mandate. Rome sent the word and people moved for the purposes of being taxed. They had to return to their place of ancestry to be registered. Didn’t have a choice. This was the first registration, the scripture tells us, putting it into a historical context when Quirinius was the governor of Syria. All went to be registered each to his own town.
Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was at the house in the lineage of David. He went there to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, his engaged wife, to be. In their eyes when you were betrothed, you were already married. But she was with child and Joseph had chosen to marry her in spite of the fact that it seemed controversial. And initially, he had wanted nothing to do with Mary. Remember that. It wasn’t until the Lord spoke to him that he opened his heart towards her. Yet even before that, even before it was communicated to him, that what was happening inside of Mary’s wound was from God. He wasn’t going to embarrass or, or stigmatize her, which would have been his right in that culture. No, this was a true quality man. He would be the stepfather of the Savior. Think of it that way.
Joseph also, and he was a carpenter by trade, Joseph also went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth, we’re told to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger because, well, there was no place in the inn, no room for Jesus.
In the same region, focus shifts, there were shepherds out in the flock. They were keeping watch over their flock by night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, the glory of the Lord shone around them. They were filled with, as we would suspect, great fear. The angel said to them fear not for behold, I bring you good news. This is a good thing. Good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you. You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. Suddenly there was with the angel, just like heaven breaks, out the skies, open up another dimension reveals itself. There was a multitude of heavenly hosts just praising God and saying Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.
The older version says glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill towards men. Think about that. Oh boy. We can use some peace and goodwill, can’t we? These have really been polarized, divided times. Times when even family and friends have had tremendous division, even people who love the Lord have struggled to disagree agreeably. I really believe that we need to reset at Christmas if it’s at all possible and determine in our heart to be extenders of goodwill and to be cultivators of peace, that that would be God’s desire for us.
Now, I understand there are some situations we can’t control, but the Lord does want us to be people who are extending goodness and seeking to calm things and be peacemakers. Blessed are the peacemakers the Bible reminds us. That’s what God wants all of us to be more of. I was thinking about two portions of scripture, that if we will humbly accept them, working off of this thought, this idea how God wants us to be as we move into these next couple of weeks, especially as we move into Christmas, but also as we prepare for a new year, just thinking about the wisdom of what we’re being invited into to become cultivators of the peace.
In Romans 12, we’re told this. I just want us again, to think about these words. The scripture has so much wisdom for us as we move into different kinds of exchanges with people, and it might be direct and personal, or it might be indirect. It might be something we communicate. In some ways, it could be social. It could be digital, could be through just texting someone. But the way in which we respond, the way in which we communicate could be again over Zoom or other vehicles of communicating that we have to do these days in these unique times. But look what it says in Romans 12. It says repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. I look at this phrase in the 18th verse, if possible, so far as it depends on you live peaceably with all. If possible, as much as it depends on you live peaceably with all.
That’s just brilliant. That’s just brilliant. Bible is reminding us, don’t be a retaliator, how hard is that? How easy it is to want to retaliate, to return when we feel wronged or insulted or demeaned. I have that feeling as well. It’s sometimes just a reaction on our part. Now some of us, the way we retaliate is different. It’s something we tuck inside of us and we hold it. I’m going to tell you, that won’t bring anything good out of it. The Lord wants us to live peaceably and peaceably, remember this, is not to be confused with passively. I can be passively aggressive or passively antagonistic or passively resentful or passively just upset with someone, but it’s all tucked down below. You know what? That’s not really what God wants. That’s not peace. That’s actually a solution that may or may not express itself, but it builds up and it tears things down.
So whether it’s a reaction, a retaliation that is more physical or verbal, which is often what happens. We attack because we feel we’ve been hurt. We hurt back. Remember, hurt people hurt people. Blessed people bless people. God wants us to be a blesser. As much as lies within us, he wants us to be peacemakers. Remember, glory to God in the highest peace on earth, goodwill to others. This is part of the invitation of Christmas. Calm this down, calm our hearts down. Kindness offered as much as within us. We can’t own other people’s reactions. We can’t stop other people’s words, but we can own ourselves. God wants us to respond as he has responded to us because God has been rejected more than anybody else could ever be rejected. Yet his love continues on. It doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences to choices, but by and large, you and I are invited to be peacemakers.
Don’t ever forget that. The Lord himself was the greatest peacemaker of all. In Jesus, we are given the promise of shalom, the peace, the wholeness, the peace of God that passes all understanding that can keep our heart and mind through Christ. Jesus. If you think about it, he gives us peace with God. Jesus did, by giving himself. He advised us to have peace of mind against the things that would tie us down and bind us. The anxious thoughts that would wrap us up and get us all out of sorts. God doesn’t want that for us. No, that’s why he’s given us his word and his presence to give us peace. Peace of mind, peace with others. He wants our relationships to be better. Better than they would have been without Him. Think about that. This Christmastime, let’s have the peacemaker flowing through us. Let’s choose to be advocates of his peace. Let’s choose to be people who are kind and tender and gentle as much as we can.
Come on, and not hold on to things and just not let any grudge or bitterness root itself inside of us. But follow the example of Christ. Look at this one. There’s another passage. Look what it says here. First Peter 2, says, “so get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit. Oh, let’s not be a deceptive person. Hypocrisy, jealousy.” Let’s not do that and look at all unkind speech. Just be a people who don’t drop into patterns. Let’s not curse people. Let’s not be a people who tear down. Let’s be a people who build up. And that happens by our own diet because what goes in is what usually comes out. You know it’s true. That’s why I think it’s important for us to think through our media choices as well, and the diet of our mind and what we’re actually digesting at an intellectual level because what goes in is what comes out. It’s just the truth of it.
The second verse in First Peter 2 says this. “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Salvation came to us at the beginning point in a baby. And we too are invited to experience the fullness of salvation by hungering after the spiritual milk that is God’s word as newborn babies.” Think about that. Cry out for this nourishment, we’re told. Ask God to fill us with more of who he is. Now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness. Think about that. Do you guys see this, how God’s kindness is, when it’s received, compels us to exercise kindness to others?
Let’s not be irritated. Let’s be kind. That’s what the Lord does want. Don’t get offended. You can get offended at anything. Some of us are inventive at getting offended. We look for reasons to be disappointed or upset with what someone else isn’t doing for us or hasn’t appreciated. Don’t do that. I know it’s understandable, but this week, as we make our way towards Christmas, into the new year, let’s just determine to be a people, not of unkind words, but rather of blessing and of grace, because the Christmas season invites us into this place. It really does.
Let’s go back to that opening passage in Luke. You think about what was stated there in Luke, the seventh verse actually there, it says that she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths. Notice that, and then laid him in the manger because there was no place for them in the inn.
Then if you jump down to verse 12, when the angels are speaking out to the shepherds in the fields, they’re saying, this will be a sign for you. You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. Now I’ve read and quoted this passage for years. Actually, since I was a boy, I still remember as a little boy in Sunday School, we were a very small church that I grew up in. There would be a Sunday morning oftentimes where the kids would be rolled out there. That’s the way I would describe it. We were assigned a verse that week to read and we would get ready to read it. I remember reading this passage. It was one time where I remember specifically, you’ll find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.
By the way, I just need to say this. If you haven’t had a chance to check out what we’re doing in our online kids’ ministry, it’s just creative, it’s got life in it. There’s so much passion and energy going into wanting to see the children of our church community and anybody else who wants to be connected to it, just be able to experience the goodness of God. The cool thing about a lot of what they’re producing right now is that you can replay it. It’s just a huge resource for all of us. I just want to encourage you parents, you young parents especially, but also for those of you who have kids that are just starting to grow up, plant the seeds of God’s word into their life. They’re getting so many things. I can tell you now with four adult kids that what we plant does make a difference. It really does. Plant the goodness that Christmas is a perfect planting season for the little ones. Focus on Jesus, sing the carols, tell them the story, engage it all.
For all of us who are older, let’s come like a child to the Christmas moment, keep our hearts soft and filled with wonder and just enjoy it. We’ve got all kinds of things happening around us that are just restrictive and confining. We’re hearing death talk all the time. Let’s just fill ourselves up, not in denial, but with the life of God and just embrace the Christ Child. I was thinking about it because, in all the years that I’ve engaged this passage, I always have focused mostly on the manger. It’s almost impossible not to. Baby Jesus in the manger, and deservedly so, with Mary and Joseph and the animals around. It’s bucolic, it’s romantic, it’s sentimental, and Baby Jesus. Away in a manger. I love it. I do. I love the nativity scene. I think it’s perfect.
Notice we’re told what the sign was, that there would be a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. Now that’s important because it’s actually mentioned twice. It’s mentioned in both that seventh and the 12th verse. It’s being emphasized here. It got me thinking, well, the swaddling clothes. It’s interesting. It was not just a baby in a manger. It was a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and swaddling cloths. I did a little research on that. Some of you, especially moms they already know, but they’re clothes, bands that are used in the practice of swaddling I know, but essentially swaddling is wrapping an infant tightly in cloth.
The idea behind swaddling is that it helps the baby transition from the womb, which is a very snug place to the outside world. One article I read said that swaddling cloths are still used today, but with some modifications. In general, swaddling is proved to help infants sleep better, to prevent them from scratching themselves. More recently in modern times to reduce the risk of SIDS, that is sudden infant death syndrome. In ancient times, like today, a swaddled infant was safe if it was wrapped and watched properly. Many cultures still practice swaddling today. Then I remembered that because all of our kids were swaddled in a way, they were wrapped. I remember in tight blankets and just recently this happened with us when we were there at the birth of our grandson, Micah, who has been part of our Cornerstone online service through this unique season of COVID. That’s been a joy for me to watch my daughter Chloe and Mike at the very, very end of service, the post-service announcements. But I remember when we were at Kaiser, he was wrapped and he was swaddled and held as every baby deserves to be held, in love.
So what we see here though, is that one of the signs of Messiah was that he was wrapped in swaddling clothes and it’s mentioned twice. Think about it this way. The son of love was wrapped in strips of cloth. I just saw that he was gift-wrapped for humanity. I love that. We give gifts, we wrap those gifts. The gift of God was wrapped in cloths. It reminded me though, by the way, of another wrapping. I don’t know if it’s coincidental or I would say, I don’t think it’s not a coincidence. Well, you know what I mean. The fact is he was wrapped in cloth. Some 33 years later, that same baby, but then as a man, after having died on a cross, his mangled body, that body, the adult body of the little one in the manger would once again be wrapped with strips of cloth.
But this time, not by the loving hands of his mother, but by two older men who also were admirers and disciples, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. But those clothes were removed three days later by the glorified Christ himself on that first Easter Sunday. So what starts as a gift wrapped in love, think about it this way, and it’s with a gift unwrapped in the power of love. That’s worth saying again. What starts as a gift wrapped in love ends with a gift unwrapped in the power of love. This too is part of the Christmas story, because you think about it, his beginning already anticipates his ending. But it wasn’t an ending. It was just the prelude to a new beginning. That too, again, is our inheritance.
So we sit and we marvel with the shepherds and the angels as we should at what God has done. I hope we are taking this time at Christmas to just sit with love and remembering that the heart of worship is connected to love. Love, as Christina Rosseti, who’s my favorite Christmas poet, said “love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine. Love was born at Christmas, Star and angels gave the sign.” I like that. I know it’s simple. Love came down at Christmas. Love all lovely, love divine. Love was born at Christmas, Star and angels gave the sign. You know, Rosseti went on to share what is one of, if not my favorite Christmas poems and one that connects so wonderfully with the heart of worship before she went on to write, “What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring him a lamb. If I were a wise, man, I would do my part. Yet what can I give Him? I give Him my heart.” That’s the best gift you and I can ever give the Lord.
Remember, Jesus would say, you worship me with your lips, but your heart is far from me. Now there is always a connection between what we worship with our lips and the cultivation of our heart. So that’s the irony, that’s the uniqueness of what Jesus said. That’s the paradox of it. But He says when you worship me with a disconnected heart, it’s kind of empty. It’s missing what it was meant to be. But when we worship Him with a heart that is connected and open, what it does is enlarges our heart. Our love for Him only grows. That’s why I say sing the carols. Practically speaking, we are invited into affection and intention. What can I give Him? I give Him my heart.
Since we’re all going to be home for Christmas, shut-in for Christmas, home for Christmas, a Christmas like no other. I’ll be home for Christmas. We’ve been saying, it’s taken on totally new meaning. It’s not just in my dreams. But let’s sing the carols this week. Let’s do it. Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, Come Let Us Adore Him, Oh, Come All Ye Faithful, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Away in The Manger, sing them, sing them all to the King who was born and intentionally make space. That’s what I’m appealing to you to do this week. Make space to draw near to the Christ of Christmas. Come on, we’ve got to do this. We get to do this.
Take advantage of the online mini Christmas Eve candlelight service that we’ve prepared for you. Invite friends and family. Do it in a way that is creative. Find creative ways to share the good news. Break out in praise and invite others into the moment. Find ways to do it. Maybe you can all watch it together from different places, but share in that moment and honor the Lord together.
Then I want to encourage everybody to take advantage of the rise and shines. I know they’re just little things. I call them a spiritual vitamin pack, but you know what, all it is, is just keeping us on this journey together. That’s one of the reasons I like it. It’s a daily thing that we can do, six days a week, for what, a minute and 40 seconds, six days a week. But we’re connected, a little bit more if you want to read the verse and take advantage of it and connect more deeply. These are ways of tying ourselves together, keeping our hearts tender and staying in community, making again, which we’ve been trying to do, and we’re going to do it into 2021, making this journey together.
So you know what? Let’s do that. Let’s choose to welcome his peace. I’ll say these two things, let’s be intentional about welcoming his peace and cultivating his presence. Welcome his peace, as we mentioned at the very beginning. Peace on earth, Goodwill. Welcome his peace and cultivate his presence. That’s the heart of worship.
David Jeremiah wrote, “All the Christmas presents in the world are worth nothing without the presence of Christ.” Think about that. All the Christmas presents in the world are worth nothing without the presence of Christ. What’s more, let’s remember that part of the Christmas story and an aspect of the heart of worship is that we are to follow in his steps and to be a blesser of others. So that’s another thing that we can do again, peace on earth, goodwill expressed to men and women. His humility, loved ones, invites us into humility. His kindness invites us into kindness. His peace invites us into peace. His blessing invites us to be blessers, to bless.
I think it was Mother Teresa. She was the one who said this, “At this Christmas when Christ comes, will he find a warm heart?” Then she went on to say, “Mark the season of Advent, the season of his coming, by loving and serving the others with God’s own love and concern.” That one of the ways that we worship the Lord and express our love for him is to follow in his steps. What did God do through Christ but to bless all of us? I think we can bless others in creative ways. I think that’s why I love the idea of giving. I think giving is a beautiful part of Christmas. There’s no celebration quite like it where giving is celebrated as much as it is in this season.
I know setting aside all the materialism and all the other things that sometimes go along with commercialism, I still think at the core, the idea of giving is a beautiful thing. To bless and to put your heart into it and remember as much as you can it’s not the giving itself. It’s not the present, it’s what it means. It may be something simple even, but if it’s done in kindness and in sincerity and thoughtfulness, with creativity, I think it’s even more beautiful. You remember this if you can.
Let’s remember also that Christmas, the way it’s set up at the end of the year is designed to position us, to help us build momentum for the new year. So let’s take advantage of that as well. Like Charles Dickens said in A Christmas Carol, “I will honor Christmas in my heart and then try to keep it all the year.” I will honor Christmas in my heart and then try to keep it all the year. That’s good. That’s very good. Speaking of good, you know it, He’s so good and He’s so God. He wants us to sow good and He wants us to sow God. I know, I usually say that at the very, very end in my benediction, and who knows, maybe I will again, but this is where we take the moment before we share a song and I come back around with a final thought, I remind you all to be faithful and to keep giving.
Remember, you can give in any way. Make it a priority to give to our church so that we can follow through with all the dreams we have for the coming year and try to keep this going. Be the blesser. Remember, you can give online, you can give the traditional way, send a check in if you want to the offices or you can do it through the app. That’s what I do. But like I say, always before you give, try to give your heart, give your heart. Speak a blessing over your giving even, even if it’s done electrically or digitally, speak the blessing. Speak the blessing.
Even now, Lord, we’re so grateful for this season and this time. Keep our hearts tender, keep us warm. We pray for your blessing even now. We choose to celebrate you with this song, that our hearts be the heart of a child this Christmas, in Jesus’ name.
The Lord wants us to have the heart of a child. The heart of worship is how we best respond to God’s love given to us. I love Christmas and the new year. I love the timing of the two. I do. I just think it’s perfect. What a blessed time for us, even with the brokenness of what we’ve all experienced together, I think there’s a unique blessing that’s available right now. We get to be grateful for the new thing that God has done in Christ.
Then the gift of a new year, which is a way of helping us reset. I just see so much value in it. Instead of focusing on the inconvenience of what we’re all walking through, remember they had an inconvenience. They had to make a journey they didn’t want to make. I think that relates. It really does. Instead of focusing on the inconvenience, let’s focus on the gift. Let’s choose to be a people who love out of that. That’s everything we’ve talked about. I want to encourage all of us to pursue. Even in this Christmas week to just be so intentional, committed to wanting to just receive the moment and meet Him. Let Him meet you. Be that wise man, be that wise woman who takes the time to kneel and bring our gifts and our adoration to the manger. Why not? Let’s keep our hearts soft.
Lord, you’re so good. You’re so God, You want us to sow good and you want us to sow God. Maybe this is the best time for us to do it. More than ever let’s be a great inviter. May the Lord keep you, spirit, soul, body, and mind. Then you never forget, you are so deeply loved and God gave us Jesus as living proof.