Thursday, December 24, 2015

[Matt's Messages] "Take Heart!" - Christmas Eve 2015

“Take Heart!”
Christmas Eve Candlelighting Service
December 24, 2015 :: John 16:33

Advent means “coming.”  Christmas is coming...tomorrow!

Jesus has come and is coming again...soon.

Each of our Advent Readings this year have been centered on John 16:33, the memory verse that our entire church has been learning together by heart.

John 16:33 are words of Jesus spoken the night just before His crucifixion. He was teaching His disciples in the upper room, and He said:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

On the First Sunday of Advent, Nancy Wertz and Lucinda Socoski lit our first candle, a candle of lament. Lament.

To lament is to express grief and sadness because things are not as they should be.

Jesus said “In this world you will have trouble.”

Anybody feeling the weight of that this Christmas season?

Anybody here have “trouble?”

Our world is in trouble. Our world is deeply broken because of sin.

When our first parents, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God, our world went from “very good” to “cursed,” and now things are not as they should be.

Terrorism, war, disasters, disease, pain, conflict, and persecution are now commonplace because our world is damaged and things are not as they should be.

And that’s true for us on a personal level, too.

Many of you have lost a loved one in the last twelve months, and Christmas while nice is also hard because someone special is missing around the table.

Our church family had to say goodbye to one of our dearest and best members, Blair Murray, this year. Christmas Eve tonight is not the same because he’s not here.

And you know what? It’s okay to feel sad about that.

It’s okay to lament, to grieve, to feel bad because things are not as they should be.

The Bible encourages us to weep with those who weep. Our Lord Jesus Himself wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus.

Followers of Jesus are not stoics who feel nothing. We know that things in our world are not as they should be and that it is wrong to pretend that they are.

So if you are hurting this Christmas season, that’s okay. It’s okay to be sad, to be sorrowful. It’s right to lament.

“In this world you will have trouble.”

BUT!  At the same time: “Take Heart!”

Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart!”

There is hope.

On the second Sunday of Advent, Todd and Heather Dobo and their boys lit our second candle and said that it was a candle of hope.

Yes, the world was broken by sin, but God had a plan from the beginning to fix this problem.

For the last few Sundays we’ve been learning about the Big Story of the Bible. The Big Story that we are all living in.

In fact, on January 3rd, all of our Sunday School classes are going to embark on a journey all the way through the Bible from beginning to end including the parts that many have never read before and putting the pieces together.

We’d love to have you and your kids join us for those new classes called, “The Gospel Project.” It’s a study of the Big Story of the World that we are living in right now.

And for Christians, it’s a story of hope.

The Old Testament predicted a messiah, an anointed Savior who would solve all of the world’s problems and usher in an eternal peace.

The prophet Isaiah predicted, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”


Oh! Doesn’t that sound good?

And that’s exactly what the angels said that first Christmas to the shepherds who were keeping watch of their flocks by night.

They said that the promise had been fulfilled.

That “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ [Messiah] the Lord.”

And they said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth PEACE to men on whom his favor rests.”

The prince of peace has come.

And Jesus said that He has told us all of this so that “IN ME [in Jesus] you may have peace.”

If you know Jesus you will have peace.

Peace with God. Peace with others. And peace within.

If you don’t know Jesus you will not have peace.

You’ll have war with God, war with others, and war within.

But take heart!

Put your hope in Jesus and you will have peace.

His peace is unlike anything the world offers and will never end.

Take heart!

Those words have become very precious to me in the last few weeks.

“Take heart.”

To take heart means to take stock of your situation and to find your hope and peace  in Jesus.

Internalize this truth.

Yes, in this world you will have trouble, but take heart, Jesus has overcome the world.

The Greek word translated here “take heart” is “tharseo.”

And some English translations render it, “Take courage.”

Be encouraged.

George and Betty Leathers lit our third candle on the third Sunday of Advent and told us that it was a candle of courage.

Because our hope is in Jesus, we can take heart and be courageous right now.

Even though our world is full of danger and trouble on every side, we do not have to live in fear.

In fact, we should not live in fear.

We can be bold for Jesus. We can take risks for Jesus. We can tell others about Jesus. We can obey Jesus and do the hard things that He wants us to do in our needy world.

The angel told the shepherds, “Do not be afraid.”

We also do not need to be afraid!

We know how this story ends.

My mom is kind of weird.

She’s wonderful and I love her, but she has a very strange practice of reading the end of any book she’s reading before she reads the beginning or the middle.

And that’s true even of mystery novels!

She reads the ending first to see what happens and then decides whether or not to read the rest.

That would kind of change how you feel as the story goes along, wouldn’t it?

Heather and I have been watching some films recently that have a twist at the end that changes the whole story.

But before we watched these films, we already knew about the twists that were coming so that changed how we experienced the films as opposed to those first audiences who didn’t know what was going to happen.

We still enjoyed them. Maybe enjoyed them more because we knew the ending.

Have you ever watched a ball game on tape know already who won?

It really takes the worry out of it, doesn’t it?

Friends, take heart.

We know how our story ends.

Jesus said, “But take heart. I have overcome the world.”

He has overcome the world.

He’s talking about the Cross. What He’s going to do the very next day.

He’s going to suffer and die, paying for our sins and giving us His righteousness.

Our sins on Him. His righteousness on us.

If we believe.

Justification by faith.

And then three days later, He would not only overcome sin but overcome death.

“Take heart. I have overcome the world.”

“I have won the whole shooting match!”

And one day, Jesus will return in His Second Advent. His Second Coming.

And He will make his blessings known as far as the curse is found.

We know how our story ends, and that should give us courage while we live in it.

Do you need some courage right now?

Are you doing the things you know that you should be doing? That God wants you to do?

Don’t chicken out. ... Take heart! Jesus has overcome the world.

And that makes all of the difference.

Take heart.
Be encouraged.
And be courageous.

This last Sunday, the Hayles’ girls lit our fourth candle, and called it a candle of joy.

The King James Version translates “tharseo” not “take heart” or “take courage,” but “be of good cheer!”

Cheer up!  Be full of joy!

That’s what “take heart” means.

It means rejoice because Jesus has overcome the world.

We have every reason to be of good cheer.

Yes, we have every reason to be sad. To lament.

But at the same time we have every reason to rejoice.

Because we know the end of the story.

One day soon there will be no reason to lament, no reason to take courage, and even no reason to hope because our hope will have been fully realized!

When Jesus Christ returns, He will truly bring joy to the world.

And that day may be soon, and while we wait for it in faith, we rejoice at Christmastime because we know that Jesus has overcome the world.

Take heart!

Our readings this year correspond with the EFCA Advent Devotional by Greg Strand.