“The Heart of Celebration”
December 13, 2009
We can only come to the one who has first come to us.
I. God Came Near (John 1:14)
II. Come to Me (Isaiah 55:1-4, Matthew 11:28)
III. Come Celebrate (Luke 2:8-14)
I. God Came Near (John 1:14)
Once upon a time – no, once before time – there was a dialogue in heaven: “They will rebel.” “They will break our hearts.” “They will despoil creation.”
“Yet we will create. We will find a way to rescue them. We will by all means save some.” “Why only some? Why not all?” “So the light of our mercy may shine all that much brighter against the dark night of their rebellion.”
“Yet we will call them. Call them from their darkness. Call them from their sin. Show them how to live and who to love.” “We will call them, but they will not come. Their hearts will be so bound to sin by their enemy that even when they hear our voice, they will not come.”
“Then we will go to them. I must go to them. I will become their brother. I will pay the price, break their bonds, bind their enemy, offer them our forgiveness, live out our love, make them again our children.” “Yes, son, you must go. Your humility and obedience alone will redeem their pride and rebellion.”
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. . . . 9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. . . 14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.
An intriguing thing happened as Cheryl and Nancy worked on this cantata. All the songs they selected shared a common key theme, a word of invitation: ‘Come.’ Sometimes the choir is singing that word upward: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” expressing the longing of our souls ‘which mourn in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.”
We use the word ‘come’ upward to Jesus. But the choir has also said ‘come’ to us, as invitation: ‘Come, Celebrate Jesus,’ ‘Come and Hear the Joyful Singing,’ ‘Come Worship Him.’ This is horizontal: the choir represents those who’ve found, who’ve seen, who’ve experienced the truth that God shows up in a manger. Those who know this wonderful truth invite those who don’t.
So there’s the upward prayer “come”, and the outward invitation, “come.” But there’s a third aspect: God’s invitation to all and each of us to come to him through Jesus. Our invitation to each other would be useless if God had not first invited us. And God’s invitation to us would be ineffective if Jesus had not first come to us. We can only come to the one who first came to us
Isn’t that the point of John 1? The Word became flesh, dwelt among us. Jesus the Son, in the eternal dialogue of the Trinity, chose to leave heaven, empty himself of glory, humble himself to become man. He brought the tabernacle, the dwelling place of God to earth in the form of a squalling baby. He was born in poverty to a peasant carpenter and his teen aged wife; born in a little village out past the suburbs, not in a palace, a home, a hospital or even a hotel, but in a stable, on the rocky floor, in the dirt. The Word became flesh.
John tells us that the true light which enlightens every man was coming into the world, but the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, to those who were his own by right of creation and by right of love, but his own did not receive him. When he came the darkness lay so thick over men’s eyes they could not see the light of the world. Men loved darkness; they loved this sin; they loved this rebellion; they loved being the captains of their own fate and masters of their own soul, though they could do nothing to halt or even slow the inevitable slide of their dark souls to hell.
Men, women and children on their own could not escape from the country of sin, nor respond to the invitation of God, nor leave the darkness for the light. So God came near. God came to our side, God came into the darkness to bring light. Jesus came to build the bridge from this side, from the side of dirt, the side of disease, the side of doubt, the side of despair, the side of death. He defeated all these and made a way out through the sacrifice of his own flesh.
Jesus is God’s love poured out for the world: ‘for God so loved the world that he sent his only son’. John will later write: ‘this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.’ Before the invitation comes the sending – he sent his son to build the bridge through his atoning sacrifice: he bore our sins, suffered God’s wrath and just punishment on the cross so we could die to sin and live to righteousness.
We can only come to him because he first came to us, in the manger, on the cross, and in his resurrection. He made the way. He said ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father except through me.’
II. Come to Me (Isaiah 55:1-4, Matthew 11:28)
So now, because God came near in Jesus, God can effectively invite us to come near to him. Max Lucado says he is the God who invites, and he points to the many words of invitation in the Old Testament. Isaiah 55: Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. 2Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. 3Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.
God came near to us. Now God calls us to come near to him: he’s the only place where our souls can find health, nourishment, life. Living in this fallen world, living in darkness, living in brokenness, seeing that brokenness inside ourselves, we long for healing and wholeness, but we look for it in all the wrong places – in stuff and in sin, in power and in pride, in forgetfulness and folly. We’re eating mud and calling it bread; we’re working and not getting paid; we’re drinking and it’s poisoning our souls. God says ‘Come – come and find what’s real, come and find what’s good, come and find life.’
If this is the Old Testament invitation how much more the New? Jesus says “Come to me all you labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” He invites us to be in his presence, and promises a presence that does not end when he ascends to heaven. He says “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” He promises to send his Holy Spirit to dwell in us and be with us.
But the heart of this is his invitation to believe. John says “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” In receiving him and believing on him we are rescued: adopted into his family, forgiven of sin, made righteous, given eternal life.
John uses two words: ‘receive, which is what you do when someone gives you a gift, when you respond to an invitation. And believe, which is to trust in him for the rescue he has promised and achieved. To believe is to walk across the bridge he’s made, trusting that what he did to bring you to God is effective and solid. We step out in faith not into thin air but onto the solid structure of his cross and his atonement, which cannot fail to bring us to the Father.
Come, Jesus says, Come you who are weak, come you who are weary, come you who are thirsty, come you who are hungry.
Those are the Biblical words but the truth is just as true in our own words. What are your needs? Are you lonely? Jesus says come to me. Are you broken? Jesus stays come and be healed. Are you frustrated by busyness of life, by the busyness of this season? Jesus says come and rest. Do you have doubts, fears? Jesus says come and see, come and believe.
Are you divided? Part of you wants to embrace what Jesus has done, part of you thinks following Jesus is too restrictive, too legalistic? Jesus says “Come, let me show you the joy of the fear of the Lord?” Are you too guilty, ashamed of what you’ve done, what you’ve become? Jesus says “Come let us reason together. Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow.”
Jesus is the one whose invitation is sure. He says “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” His invitation is the front end of a promise that cannot and will not be broken, a bridge that cannot fail to stand, a sure way to the Father, to renewal and to eternal life.
III. Come Celebrate (Luke 2:8-14)
So we can come to him, but only because he first came to us. That’s what we celebrate at Christmas. And that’s why the choir can sing with confidence ‘come celebrate, come worship.’ That’s why our Christmas hymns focus on worship: “O Come, Let Us Adore Him, Christ the Lord.” “Come to Bethlehem and see Him whose birth the angels sing. Come, adore, on bended knee Christ the Lord, the new born king.”
One of the reasons we so commonly sing this invitation at Christmas is because the angels gave this invitation to the shepherds. So the shepherds are out in the night, classically pictured as huddled around a campfire or seated on a rocky hillside, keeping an eye on the quiet sheep. Suddenly the night is broken by the presence of an angel, an even scarier angel than usual because this one surrounds them with the glory of the Lord.
And what does the angel say? “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” This is an implied invitation: if you seek him you will find this Savior who has come, the Christ, the promised, the Lord, the one who is Immanuel, God with us.
What do the shepherds do? What they’ve been told. They say “Let's go straight to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." 16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. The angel’s invitation was “Come and see!” The shepherd’s response was ‘Let’s go, let’s hurry.’ Notice the sequence (this is not rocket science): Jesus is born; the angels invite; the shepherds come and see. We can only come to him because he first comes to us.
And when they come they celebrate. Luke 2:16 tells us they see that everything is as they were told. Verse 17 tells us that they tell others; a great response. Verse 18 tells us everyone is amazed; a worship response. Verse 19 tells us Mary treasured these things and pondered them in her heart; inward worship. Finally verse 20 tells us that after they left, returning to their fields the shepherds were praising God for all the things they had heard and seen. They went back into their ordinary world with celebration and worship.
That’s the heart we’re looking for this morning. God has come near, in the person of Jesus Christ, not just in his birth, but in his life, his atoning death and his triumphant resurrection; God has built the bridge from this side. Now God invites; come and see, come and believe. And when we do that, when we receive by faith what God has done, we celebrate.
The invitation of Christmas, to come and celebrate, is the invitation of a God who knows the deepest prayers of your heart; heard the cries of your brokenness; known your loneliness even in the midst of your busyness; seen the bleakness and darkness of your life. In all this he says “Come and celebrate”
That baby, in the manger? He is healing for your brokenness; he is the relationship your loneliness longs for; he is rest from your weariness; he is light in your darkness, color in your bleakness; he is all that you need and more than you even know you want. So come and see; come and believe; come and celebrate; worship; praise God for all that you have seen and heard.