Home for Christmas

“Home” is a word that may fill you with nostalgia, gratitude, or in some cases, pain. Home is supposed to be a place where you belong, where you’re safe, and where love prevails. But we live in a world that isn’t safe, where we often feel excluded, and where love doesn’t always prevail. It turns out that our longing for home is something this world cannot satisfy. We were made for a deeper home, for a better home.

I want to say hi to everyone here and everyone joining us online.

[explain our new online viewing change as well as our plan to move to two services on January 21]

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I’m so glad you decided to be here today as we launch this new series.

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Any time we hear good news, human beings are kind of wired to want to tell other people about it.

When something good happens, when we get excited about something, we just want to spread the word.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced this.

Maybe it was when you got your first car. You just had to tell everyone about it.
Maybe it was when you had a baby. I remember when we had our first baby, I couldn’t wait to tell everyone about her.

Sometimes it’s something real small. It doesn’t have to be a big thing.

I remember the first time I came to San Francisco, and I went to a place called Ghirardelli Square, and I had something called Ghirardelli milk chocolate caramel.

Has anyone here ever had one of those Ghirardelli milk chocolate caramel squares?

I don’t know how you could eat one of those and not believe there’s a God. It was the best thing I had ever tasted. I just wanted to tell people, “This stuff is the amazing.”

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Sometimes it’ll be an experience we’ve had.

A broadway musical.
A concert experience.
Or even just a YouTube video that you love. You’ll get a message from someone saying, “You’ve got to watch this.”

I want to show you one that I saw recently, just to illustrate how much we love to share these videos.

Video: [choose short funny viral video]

You see, when everyone loves something like that, we have such interesting language around it.

We say “It’s gone — viral.”

It will be like a virus. It will be infectious. It will spread. You can’t stop it.

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We’re like that. When we get excited about something, we just want to talk about it. We want to tell other people about it.

We are spread-the-word kind of people. We are good news spreaders.

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With that in mind, I want to show you a passage of Scripture from the Christmas story.

This is from the gospel of Luke about some shepherds.

Luke says:

When they had seen him [ Jesus ], they spread the word… (Luke 2:17)

They had just been shepherds, but now they had a message. Now they had a mission. They went from being shepherds to being life changers.

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I have an important message for everyone who calls Blue Oaks home today as we look forward to Christmas.

It has to do with spreading the word about Jesus — about being a life changer.

And I want to talk about why it matters so much, and how God invites us to be part of this.

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Here’s the story.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. (Luke 2:1-4)

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I want to talk about a kind of contrast about the good news because this is real important to understanding this story.

This story begins, and Caesar Augustus makes a decree that all the world should be taxed. That was the purpose for the census — so that Caesar could tax everyone in the known world.

Which is a pretty awesome thing when you think about it. One guy is able to make a decree that everyone ought to pay money, and it ought to go to him.

Why?

Caesar knew he was the one who had the power. He was the one, he believed, who was good news for the world.

As a matter of fact, this is from an ancient inscription —

Caesar Augustus is savior of the world.

That language “savior of the world” is kind of loaded language because Caesar claimed that as his title.

In fact, the word gospel, good news (in Greek, it’s the word euangelion) was actually a technical phrase that would be used in the first century to describe the beginning of the reign of a Caesar.

The assumption was that was good news for the human race.

This is another ancient inscription from the first century —

The birthday of the god (Augustus — he claimed to be divine) has marked the beginning of the good news (gospel — that’s loaded language) for the world.

That’s kind of an odd thing. The birthday of Caesar was regarded as the beginning of the gospel, the good news.

Does anyone know when Caesar Augustus’s birthday is?

It’s September 23. I looked it up. You’ve already missed it. Hallmark doesn’t sell birthday cards for Caesar Augustus.

However, there is another birthday from that day that’s still going real strong.

Can you imagine how surprised Caesar would be?

Caesar had the money.
Caesar had the clout.
Caesar had the power.
He believed his reign was good news for the world.
He was bringing peace to the world.
He was bringing prosperity to the world.

Any reader in the ancient world would have thought, “Caesar is the good news.”

Now Luke says the strangest thing happens — Caesar makes this decree that all the world ought to be taxed.

In another part of the world that he would never visit, in another country that he had probably never heard of, a guy that he would never have met named Joseph goes to his hometown.

By the way, his hometown happens to be the place where, according to ancient prophecies, the Messiah, the Savior of the world would be born.

Immediately, for anyone reading this story, the question would be asked — “Who is really in charge? Who is really making the decisions? Who is this really good news for?”

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The story of Christmas is the story of Joseph going home. Christmas is all about going home.

We don’t know much about Joseph’s home. We don’t know that he had property back there, if he had been there recently. Did he have family there? All we know is it was a little town called Bethlehem.

It’s really interesting. In Hebrew, Bethlehem means house of bread. It’s the house of bread.

One would be born there who would say one day, “I am the Bread of Life. If you’re hungry, the core of your soul, you come to me.”

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When I think about Christmas with my kids, I think about time with Uncle Mike and Aunt Lynda and Kathy’s mom at their home in Arizona. Sometimes we were there for Thanksgiving, but we would still celebrate Christmas.

We have a lot of great memories in that home.

And I can’t help but think about bread. Is there anything in the world that smells better than fresh baked bread?

Aunt Lynda loves to bake so she would bake banana bread, just this fabulous bread with no walnuts, the way God intended banana bread to be baked.

Then she would make cookies all week long — mostly with just butter, lard, and sugar.

Then she would make some of the best chocolate fudge I’ve ever tasted.

I think I would gain ten pounds in a week.

Aunt Lyda cares that people to have a really good Christmas, not so much how many Christmases they’ll be around for.

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When I think about Christmas when I was a kid growing up, I think about our home on Fletcher Street in Chicago. We were there from when I was in third grade until I graduated from high school.

When we were real young we would spend Christmas Eve with my dad’s side of the family. My dad had two brothers and two sisters; and I had a lot of cousins.

When I think of Christmas Eve, I think about being with my dad’s side of the family, at either my grandpa and grandma’s house or one of my aunt or uncles houses.

Then on Christmas day, we would spend time with my mom’s side of the family. My mom had three brothers and two sisters. There were a lot more cousins on my moms side of the family. And there were more divorces and remarriages so it was hard to keep track of how we were all related.

We would all go to one of their homes for Christmas. I remember it being a lot of fun.

It’s kind of an odd thing. In all of those homes, there was great joy, and I loved them when I was growing up.

But there was a lot of pain in every one of those homes, mostly that I didn’t know about then.

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Home for Christmas is what we’re calling this series.

That may fill you with a lot of nostalgia or gratitude.

It may fill you with pain. Your home may just be like a Looney Tunes factory, and it’s really painful to go back there.

By the way, we’re going to talk about that next week. The title of the message next week is — Home for Christmas. HELP!

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It’s a funny thing about home. Home can create more joy than anything else, and home can be associated with more pain than anything else.

Home is actually quite a hard word to define.

It’s not just where you live. There may be a building where your body lives, but you wouldn’t call it home.

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Home is supposed to be a place where you belong. Home is supposed to be a place where you’re safe. Home is supposed to be a place where love prevails.

But we live in a world that isn’t safe, and where everyone feels excluded, and where love doesn’t prevail.

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It turns out that our longing for home, our homesickness is something this world cannot satisfy.

You and I were made for a deeper home, for a better home.

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Jesus talked about this. He said:

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:18)

Then this amazing promise.

Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. (John 14:23)

You were meant to be, as incredible as it is, the place God calls home. God wants for you to be home in him, and God wants to be home in you.

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This invitation stands for the human race.

Jesus put it like this one time.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (Revelation 3:20)

He would tell stories about human beings being invited to come home.

He would talk about a prodigal son who made terrible choices. Maybe you have. He wounds his father. He wastes his money.

Then he wakes up in enormous pain. And he says to himself, “I have to go home. I don’t know if I’ll be welcome there, but it will be better than this.”

What he doesn’t know is that his father is waiting for him with outstretched arms. And Jesus says, “The heart of the father is the heart of God for you. Whoever you are, wherever you’ve been, whatever you’ve done — Just come home.” He just wants you to come home.

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Now, the invitation for you and me, if we’ve made our home with God through Jesus, is to tell people. It’s an invitation to spread the word. — “Jesus the Savior is born, and anyone who wants to can be home with God.”

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Now, I know what happens. Whenever I talk about this, people feel like, “Yeah, but I don’t know how to do this. I haven’t been trained to do it. I’m not articulate enough about my faith. I’m not sure what to say about it. I really don’t feel prepared.”

That’s why I wanted to talk today about the shepherds. The shepherds were the first ones to spread the word.

In our days, we’ll talk about the shepherds in kind of sentimental terms. We talk about them as these gentle, humble guys who were real nice and of course everyone would want to be around.

But the reality is — in Jesus’ day shepherds were not regarded in this way. In Jesus’ day they were actually looked down upon.

In Jesus’ day, in Israel, there were certain occupations that, because of the people in them and because of what went on in those occupations, they were regarded as what rabbis would call “despised occupations.”

There were lists of these occupations rabbis would talk about. If you were a mother, you didn’t want your kids to grow up and go into these occupations.

Despised trades included:

Gamblers with dice.
Money lenders (because they oppressed the poor).
Pigeon trainers… which is kind of strange. Pigeon racing was considered to be a form of gambling, so pigeon training was not a good occupation.
Sabbath violating farmers (for obvious reasons).
And then shepherds.

Shepherds were looked down upon. It was just assumed that shepherds were dishonest.

Shepherds would take their flocks to graze on land that belonged to other people. They would eat other people’s grass.

It was just assumed that shepherds would sometimes steal sheep from the flock for their own benefit.

Shepherds were just considered dishonest, thieving disreputable people.

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In our day there will be certain occupations people will make jokes about.

Well In the ancient world (this is from a Jewish writing called the Midrash), there is not a more disreputable occupation than that of a shepherd.

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Shepherds were so looked down on that they were not even allowed to bear witness in a court of law.

Literally, if you were accused of a crime, and your only alibi was you were playing poker with three other shepherds, you would have been out of luck. There was nothing you could do. They were not allowed to bear witness in a court of law.

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Yet, the fascinating this is — it was shepherds God chose to be the first ones to bear witness to the birth of his Son.

Why?

If a shepherd could be a witness for Jesus, anyone could be a witness for Jesus.

It’s not about credibility or how well you can articulate the message. It’s about the person of Jesus. It’s about spreading the word.

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“I have to tell you.”

That’s something we say about some of the goofiest things.

We say it about videos of animals, and kids that fall down and hurt themselves.
We say it about chocolate and our cars.
We say it about news stories and TV shows.

Why wouldn’t we say it about what matters most?

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One night, when these shepherds are in a field, an angel appeared, and the shepherds are overwhelmed with fear and joy.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news

That’s the word. That’s the gospel.

See, it’s not just good news for respectable people. And it’s not about Caesar. And it’s not about money. And it’s not about power. It’s not about human circumstances.

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

“He is the Son of God. He is the Savior of the world. It’s not Caesar. Caesar’s name is great, but he’s no Jesus.”

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I was thinking this week about some of the names we talk about in our day?

Warren Buffet. Does Warren Buffet have power? Unbelievable power, the sage of Omaha. He just says something, and it changes whole markets.

But he’s not Jesus. He can’t save anyone.

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Here’s another name: Steph Curry. Does Steph Curry have power?

If you watch the game of basketball, you know there is not a player in our lifetime who has changed the way the game is played more than Steph Curry. He can get on a three point shooting streak and change the outcome of a game in a matter of minutes.

Steph Curry has amazing power. Jesus wishes he could shoot three-pointers like Steph Curry.

But Steph Curry has never saved anyone. Steph Curry isn’t Jesus.

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Here’s another amazing name: Taylor Swift. Does Taylor Swift have power?

Unbelievable power. If you date Taylor Swift and break up with her, she will write a song, and the whole world will know what a piece of scum you are.

Taylor Swift has unbelievable power, but she’s not Jesus. She can’t save anyone because there’s only one name in heaven or on earth by which we are saved.

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I’ll tell you what the power of Jesus can do.

Only Jesus can answer your prayer.
Only Jesus died on a cross for you.
Only Jesus can forgive your sin.
Only Jesus was resurrected from the grave.
Only Jesus can give you a purpose for your life.
Only Jesus can give you a hope beyond your death.
Only Jesus can make his home in your heart.
Only Jesus was born in a manger and died on a cross and was resurrected and today, 2,000 years later, on the other side of the world, is still changing lives. Only Jesus does that.

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When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (Luke 2:15-18)

Notice this — these are shepherds. Again, there are a lot of reasons why the shepherds should not do this.

“You’re not even educated.”
“I know, but Jesus…”

“You can’t even testify in a court of law.”
“I know, but Jesus…”

“There’s no reason why we should listen to a bunch of dirty, thieving…”
“I know, but Jesus…”

When they spread the word, all who heard it were amazed.

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Alright, now it’s our day. Now it’s about you and me.

And I want to ask you because this is part of the mission of our church. Will you spread the word? Will you be a life changer?

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This Christmas Eve, if there’s any time of the year when people are going to open their lives up to God, it’s going to be this time of the year.

I’ve just had this gnawing conviction. I don’t want Christmas Eve to just be a warm, fuzzy religious experience for people. I’m praying around this. I’m working around crafting the most compelling and really challenging message.

This year, Christmas Eve is going to be a great service in our permanent home.

And I’m going to teach the clearest message I can to tell people about Jesus and then invite them to give their lives to him.

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And I want to give you a challenge on this.

There’s a thought I usually discourage — a lot of times, people come to a service, and what they’ll find themselves thinking is, “Man, there’s someone else I know. I wish they were here to hear this message.”

Usually, that’s a sinful thought. Usually, if I’m talking about stubbornness, and you’re having that thought, you’re the stubborn person who needs to hear the message.

If I’m talking about lust, you’re the lusty one who needs to hear that message, or whatever it is.

This year, for Christmas Eve, I don’t want anyone here thinking, “Oh man, I wish this other person was here to hear this message.”

We want to do the very best we can to create a service and an experience and a message that is inviting people — “You have to know this Jesus. You have to give your life to him.”

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Then the invitation for all of us is to be spread-the-word kind of people — to be life changers.

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In the time that we have left, I want to say a word about who, and I want to say a word about why.

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The who is:

There are about 8 million people in the Bay Area, and every one of them matters to God.

The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the least church-going metropolitan areas in America.

And I know that can be kind of abstract. We can think of that as, “Yeah, heard it before,” until one of those people is your son or your daughter, your mom or your dad, your brother or your sister, and they don’t know Jesus.

All of a sudden, it’s not just a statistic anymore.

For anyone who has ever been there — you know the pain that comes on Christmas Eve when your family is gathered together, and there’s an empty place because someone doesn’t know him, and you would give just about anything if there was just some church that was praying like crazy, someone who is praying like crazy to reach this person I love for Jesus.

Well, here’s the thing, Blue Oaks — everyone is someone’s son, someone’s daughter, and we’re going to be that church.

I want to be that person. You’re going to be that person.

There are 8 million people walking around the Bay Area. Most of them have no community of faith, and they don’t know God.

I want to say today as clearly as I know how to say it — there is a who. There is someone in your life God wants to reach through you.

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And there is a why.

The why is — every human being is made for eternity, and we face this prospect of heaven or hell.

I know those words can be talked about in churches sometimes in ways that can be manipulative. I know that, but the fact remains.

The writers of Scripture say God has placed eternity in the heart of every man, of every woman. Death is not the end, and every human being is going to face death and an eternity of joy together with God or of unbelievable pain being excluded from the presence of God.

No one in no church is so educated that we’re not gripped by that reality.

And here’s the thing. Jesus is in the life changing, life saving business, and he does this all the time.

I want you to hear about one of those times. This is Mary Ann Wittman’s story.

Video: Mary Ann Wittman

Aren’t you glad to be part of a church where people are finding Jesus?

Wouldn’t you like to be a part of that for your life? Here’s the thing —

I don’t know what your job is.

You may be retired.
You may be volunteering some place.
You may be way high on the ladder, or way low on the ladder.
Shepherd, CEO, it doesn’t matter.

You’re called to be a life changer.

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It doesn’t matter who it is, in the Bay Area or somewhere else.

No one is so rich.
No one is so educated.
No one is so beautiful.
No one is so healthy.
No one is so successful.
No one has climbed the ladder so high that they don’t need to kneel before the cross.

Jesus is still changing lives, and we get to be a part of that.

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So my question is — will you be a life changer?

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Will you pray and ask God, “God, will you help me to be really bold? Would you bring names of people to my mind? If my heart has been cold or hard about this, will you make it warm and tender? Will you help me when I’m with people to think about how I could plant a seed with this person? Help me think about how I could take a little risk with this person, how I could be a little bolder with this person.’”

Spread the word. Tell the good news. That’s why we’re here.

Let me pray for you.

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