Ever notice that what you see determines what you do? Perception changes everything.
I know this isn’t very Christmas-y, but let me tell you a story that I hope will get us to see what’s at stake as we gather around tables, trees and mangers tonight and over the next little while.
My friend Carey is a cyclist, or at least he tries to be, and most summers he’ll try to cycle at least 1000 miles. A few years ago he was on vacation about two hours north of Toronto in a remote area, and he jumped on his bike for a 90 minute ride. The road was pretty isolated.
He came down a long steep hill going about thirty miles an hour and as the road flattened out he noticed this large black dog come out of the woods.
You know how you kind of go through a logical thought sequence in your head when you’re alone trying to process something new?
He first thought, “Hey, there’s a dog.”
A few seconds went by as he pedaled closer. And he thought, “Wow, that’s a big dog.”
A few more seconds and a little clearer picture later, and he’s thinking “Wow, that’s a really big black dog. Man. He’s huge.”
A few more seconds, and hundred feet more and suddenly he said to himself. “Okay, that isn’t a dog…That’s a BEAR!”
So…what do you think he did when he realized the situation?
He pedaled right on over to the bear. He called him by name. He bent over to pet him. He looked him in his sweet eyes (as the bear ate him).
No, of course not.
What did he do?
As soon as he realized this was no dog, but a bear, he swallowed hard, felt his heart rate soar, and he turned the bike around as fast as he could. He probably pedaled faster back up the hill than he did down the hill. He was pedaling for his life.
And that’s the last he saw of the bear.
Funny how what you think you see changes everything, isn’t it?
As soon as he saw what was actually happening, his response changed completely.
His direction changed. In some ways you could even say his life changed, because he still has a life.
So let me ask you, when you look at Christmas, what do you see?
Some of you may see the twinkle in your kids’ eyes. The beauty of a tree. The lights on your house and in the neighborhood and at the stores on Main Street.
Let me ask you, is that all you see?
Some of you may have a different perspective.
Maybe what you see at Christmas is stress. The bills are bigger than the bank account. You have family coming over, and you’re glad to see some of them but there are a few that are, well, pieces of work.
Maybe it’s the crazy pace of cleaning the house, cooking the turkey, Christmas parties, having the kids or grandkids off school that make you wonder how you’ll get through it all again this year.
But let me ask you, is that all you see?
For others, maybe Christmas is a time that saddens you. This year you’re alone again. Or maybe last Christmas you had someone in your life that isn’t in your life anymore.
Or perhaps this is the first Christmas where your kids will have two Christmases, one with you and one with your ex. Or it’s a season where you’re heading into a new year with so much uncertainty career wise. Christmas has become a sad season for you.
Let me ask you, is that all you see?
Tonight, I want you to see Christmas differently. I want you to see it through fresh eyes.
I would love for you see Christmas not just the way Jesus’ mother and father saw it, not just the way the shepherds in the fields saw it, not just the way the Magi or Wisemen saw it, I would love for you to see it the way heaven saw it.
I know that sounds strange. Some of you aren’t even sure Jesus was actually a historical figure, so thinking about how heaven sees Christmas might be a real stretch.
But if you can just go there with me for a few minutes tonight, I’d love for you to come.
I’m convinced that if you could see what heaven saw, you’d respond the way heaven responded.
Let’s look at the Christmas story one more time tonight through fresh eyes.
Luke 2:8-14 NIV
“8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
You know what heaven saw that day? I think they saw an answer to your prayers. I believe they saw the answer to the human condition and all our problems arrive.
I don’t know how you see Christmas, but I’m convinced if you and I could see Christmas the way heaven did, it would change everything. Strangely enough, heaven was celebrating harder than anyone on earth that night.
For centuries, people cried out to God about the problems they were facing in life.
If God is so loving, why did He feel so absent? In a world full of competition, bitterness, broken relationships, war, famine, and hurt, where was God?
And God had broken through, for sure. The part of the Bible we call the Old Testament tells the story of God’s love for His people, their fall away from Him, and God’s steadfast love for them in the midst of it all.
But it felt like something was missing. Like it wasn’t complete. And maybe that’s how you feel right now. God’s people had as many questions as answers. As much hurt as hope.
When you look over your life and see the heartache, the fracturing, the struggle, it doesn’t feel complete.
Or maybe your story is one of incredible success. You’ve had a year that’s been all up and to the right.
You know you have nothing to complain about…but you still do. Because it feels empty. You wonder if this is as good as it gets, and deep down you’re afraid the answer might be “yes.”
You’ve tasted success, and honestly it’s a little less satisfying than you thought it would be. That’s why at the very first Christmas, heaven rejoiced. I mean the snippet we caught on earth that night, of angels shouting thanks to God and announcing good news to all humanity was just a partial reveal of the thunderous applause that was happening in heaven. Of the celebration and delight.
A few years later, Jesus would tell people who came to hear Him teach: “I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it.” (Matthew 13:17)
It’s as though all of heaven had been waiting for the moment for God to act in Jesus.
The birth of Jesus began a three-decade journey of Him sharing some of the greatest wisdom the world has ever known, but then going so much further than that. Maybe the teachings of Jesus is the part of the story you know, but it’s the rest of the story that has us sitting here today.
When we, humanity, still rejected Jesus, sending Him to a criminal’s death on the cross, He embraced us.
When you got lost in the lights and the gifts and the parties and the pace and the sadness and the emptiness, He embraced you.
Not only did Jesus die. He rose again from the dead three days later, rescuing the world from the grip of sin ( of evil) and death, and offering to rescue you and me from sin and death, too.
He met our indifference, our sadness, or our hurt with an embrace. And when we place our trust in Him as our Lord and Savior, admit our sins, where we missed the mark, and commit our lives to Him, new life comes to us through Jesus. He is the way to the Father, and everyone is invited, everyone is included in that invitation. Including you.
That’s what heaven was celebrating that night.
The coming of Jesus meant the coming of hope. The coming of peace. The coming of good news.
Of a way through the pain, the hurt, the emptiness into new life.
That’s what heaven saw. And I’m convinced that if you could see what heaven saw, you’d respond the way that heaven responded.
So what do you see?
- The gifts?
- The beautifully decorated tree?
- The meals?
- The busy rush?
- Maybe you just see the stress, the overwhelm.
- Or you see the sadness, emptiness or the loss that life brings.
Tonight, I’d love for you to see what heaven saw that first Christmas: The salvation of the world, and your salvation.
I’m convinced if you could see what heaven saw, you’d respond the way heaven responded.
When Carey saw the bear, he went running (or pedaling) in the opposite direction.
When heaven saw the arrival of Jesus, heaven came running.
Tonight, I want to invite you to come running. Some of you will be ready. You’ve always had more questions than answers, always found the pain but have kept looking for the hope, and tonight, maybe you’ve seen the answer (Jesus) clearly for the first time. I’m going to invite you to surrender your life to Jesus, who gave His life so that you could find life.
Some of you won’t be quite ready for that, and I understand. But you’re intrigued. You want to learn more. I just want you to know you’re completely invited back to join us at our next service next Sunday.
We will be meeting next door at The PLACE at 10 am for a very special experience. The following week we will be back here in the Sanctuary starting our new sermon series, Chase the Lion. You can read more about them on the insert in your bulletin. You are invited to come!
Maybe you feel like this is too intriguing just to walk away from for another year.
Like the old Christmas carol says, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee (in you, Lord) tonight.”
That’s what heaven saw. That’s how heaven responded.
And tonight, I’m inviting you to respond, too. Because if you could see what heaven saw, I’m convinced you would respond the way heaven responded.
So will you respond? Will you see the gift of Jesus, or only the gifts under the tree.
I’m inviting you to look past the busyness, the sadness, the chaos, the emptiness and even the sentiment of Christmas, and embrace the Jesus who came for you.
Let’s pray together. If this is your time, if this is your day, if you have been putting it off, or if you just needed a time to seal what is maybe a decision you already made in your heart, will you just pray this? You can change the words. You can pray out loud. You can pray in your heart because Christmas is for you, and all of heaven rejoices. And, if this is not your day, you are still thinking and pondering, this is what I want to say to you. The invitation remains open.
Lord, I believe that you have invited me to believe that Jesus Christ was born for me. I am so thankful that he was born for me. I place my trust in the death that he paid for me on the cross, and the new life I receive with him. I trust in him as my Lord and Savior, as one who has redeemed me, rescued me from a life without him. Through him I am forgiven. In this moment I say, yes. I believe that you love me enough to send your Son to save ME!
And the Church said, “Amen!”