At Gateway Church in Austin, we decided to Keep Christmas Weird!
One of the best things about the weirdness of Austin is that it gives us permission to not be perfect. This Christmas, forget about your quest to take the perfect family photo, buy the perfect gift, or act like a perfect person. Instead, feel welcomed to come as you are, as we remember the weirdest Christmas in history and learn how an unlikely King promises peace for us all.
With your family, roommates, or life group, work through the Message Next Steps:
Listen to the message I shared at Gateway in South Austin:
Here are the message notes from John Burke:
If you’ve been in Austin any time at all, you’ve seen the bumperstickers or T-shirts saying “Keep Austin Weird.” I I have family who live and near Austin so I have been visited here my entire life and lived here the last 8 years, and believe me—Austin IS Weird.
- A city with “Yardists” who create yard art like—Spots—or the Cathedral of Junk (60 tons of junk built into a Cathedral over 25 years, including a Zen Garden of 200 TVs.
- On 37th Street you can find the stuffed animal petting zoo sponsored by SARF – the Stuffed Animal Rescue Foundation. They even have a Shark and of course it is in a cage. I mean they are weird, but they aren’t stupid!
- Only in Austin would you have a 3-time Candidate for Mayor who wore nothing but a thong! (I won’t show that picture).
- Only Austin has statues to memorialize Guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Willie Nelson.
Austin is this weirdly wonderful amalgamation of Hi-Tech, Highly Educated, Slacker and Hippie. The Live Music Capital of the World attracts the world! You know, we have 65 nations represented just in our church!
Austin’s anything but normal.
Interestingly the Keep Austin Weird movement was all about keeping commercialism from ruining the very local, odd, wonderful vibe of Austin.
Ironically, it caught on so well, a marketing company trademarked Keep Austin Weird, and made a commercial MINT out of it.
But You know,
Christmas is weird too!
The original reason we celebrate Christmas is because of its uniquely, odd, wonderful message. Do not let the familiarity of the story make you numb to the powerful transforming message!
Sometimes in all the commercialism we lose what’s Weirdly Wonderful about Christmas—it becomes so normal, we miss how weird Christmas was meant to be.
Christmas Eve 1914
One of the weirdest Christmases ever was the Christmas of 1914 – planet earth had never seen so much hatred and fighting– the year the World was at War – the First World War.
It was so destructive because it was the first war when the old methods of fighting like the cavalry faced off against industrialized weapons and gas attacks.
It’s hard to put ourselves in that situation. The only images we have of World War 1 may be of Wonder Woman and her team.
To help us put ourselves in that place, check out “They Shall Not Grow Old,” a new film from the director of Lord of the Rings – Peter Jackson.
This year 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of what was called the War to End All Wars, but it wasn’t the last war. It wasn’t even the worst war in the last 100 years.
Something remarkable happened on Christmas Eve in 1914. Something miraculous and weird.
On the front lines of battle (play video)
- The English and the German soldiers held one another off.
- Lodged in trenches dug miles long on either side, the troops fired machine guns, mortars, shelled each other with rockets day after cold, wintery day.
- In the middle, was no man’s land. A place where neither British nor Germans dared to venture, no one could survive in no man’s land.
Then came Christmas Eve, 1914.
- Suddenly, the sound of rifles and the boom of explosives stopped.
- Replaced with nothing but silence.
- Accounts by British soldiers tell of how surreal this night seemed.
- All shooting ceased, and soon, talking, laughter and singing could be heard across no-man’s land.
- The British troops climbed out of the trenches, feeling vulnerable in the moonlight, but curious as well.
- They crouched down, ready for bullets to whiz over their heads, but instead, they saw a strange light being lifted up in front of the German’s trench – it was a Christmas tree.
- It was midnight, Christmas day had come.
- From the frozen mist of the enemy trenches rose a rich baritone voice singing in German “Silent Night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.”
- It was so strange – so unreal—so…Weird.
A German voice in the darkness shouted in English, “Come over here.”
A British sergeant shouted, “You Come over here!”
The German soldier shouted back a concession: “You come half-way, I come half-way.” The soldiers watched as the sergeant crept out to the middle of no-man’s land.
Several minutes later, he returned with a few German cigars which he exchanged for some of the Cakes and Cookies that had been sent to the front line.
The next day, Christmas day, was a crystal clear, cloudless blue day.
- The whole Spirit of Christmas seemed to cut right through the hatred, division, and coldness of war.
- There was an indescribable something in the air.
- By the middle of the day, right there in the middle of no-man’s land, was a large gathering of British mixed with German soldiers, not shooting, not fighting, not hurling insults at the inhumane enemy – but laughing and joking, exchanging food and drink and trinkets, playing soccer together – wishing one another a Merry Christmas.
- There was not an ounce of hate on either side that day – it was like a supernatural Peace had descended from heaven—bringing “good will” even for the enemy.
- Many exchanged addresses with promises to write after the war.
As one British soldier later wrote, “I think I have seen one of the most extraordinary sights today that anyone has ever seen.”
A British officer wrote, “I wouldn’t have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything.”
A German soldier said, “We don’t want to kill you, and you don’t want to kill us. So why shoot?” (video and Silent Night ends)
The next day, the soldiers did not want to fight.
Both sides resisted going back to war.
Finally, one of the commanders shot his own soldier for resisting orders to shoot at the enemy—and suddenly, fighting broke out on both sides again.
Back to the world as usual.
But what a weird Christmas!
If you’re normal, like most people, today you need a weird Christmas too.
(Hallelujah starts playing in the background)
- Our world needs a weird Christmas.
- Our normal is that we want to live at peace, but something pushes us to fight–just watch the news and you’ll feel a world pushing us into battle again–pitting race against race, party against party, husband against wife, child against parent, relative against relative, coworker against coworker, even friend against friend.
- Yet all of us come here today wanting peace, wanting Joy, wanting to call a truce and experience something different—something weird compared to our norm.
There’s a song that’s made a resurgence in the last few years called Halleluiah. Halleluiah was originally written in 1984 by Leonard Cohen.
It comes from the Hebrew word “Hallelu – Praise” “Yah—Yahweh” – “Praise God.”
Cohen recognized the struggle with human longing in seeking God—we want the peace of God, but we struggle in so many ways—so the best we can bring is a broken Halleluiah.
But what if that’s all God wants anyway? To seek His peace, even in the trenches of our battles. To bring Him our broken Halleluiah, today. What struggle, what brokenness, what lack of peace do you bring here today?
Will you let the peace of God descend as you offer your broken Halleluiah?
It’s that time of year when we want the broken ways of our world to be disrupted with a Halleluiah.
- Scrooge buys the Turkey and turns nice (pic)
- George Bailey’s Guardian Angel helps him see it’s a Wonderful Life (pic)
- Walter accepts Buddy his Elf-child. (pic)
Christmas is meant to disrupt—to intrude on the norm—to not be normal, but weird.
To have time together in peace—to let the fighting cease—to love one another like we know it’s supposed to be.
We need a weird Christmas!
The angels sang Halleluiah to God that first Christmas.
“An angel of the Lord stood before [the shepherds], 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 cloths, lying in a manger (a feeding trough).”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!” Luke 2:9-14
The angels sang “Halleluiah” because God was bringing Peace to earth.
But how? Cause it sure doesn’t seem like it’s working, does it?
Families divide, coworkers fight, hurt, hatred, and division is the norm even for lovers.
But you have to understand—God’s plan to bring peace has always been weird—it disrupts the normal ways of this world.
1914 wasn’t the weirdest Christmas.
I wonder if Austin kids know what the weirdest Christmas was—any kids here today?
If you’re a kid—yell “It’s Christmastime.”
Okay kids, I’m going to give you a hint—the Weirdest Christmas ever was the night a baby was born—which baby? Shout it out.
No, Not Boss Baby.
Yes, JESUS – Jesus is always a good guess when you’re in church. Just a little hint.
The night Jesus was born was Weird!
Not at all what you’d expect—it disrupted life as we know it.
The message of Christmas has always been – Peace on Earth…but how?
How does Peace come to earth?
Or on a more personal note, how does peace come to me? To you?
The very first message about Christmas didn’t actually come to shepherds the night of Jesus’ birth…the first Christmas tidings were sent 1000’s of years before Jesus’ was born. Prophets delivered in prophecies over 60 times like Christmas cards sent from God to generation after generation foretelling the weirdest event ever. The most famous written in 680 BC by the prophet Isaiah in the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophecy says:
In the future [God] will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan- 2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned…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. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. Isaiah 9:1-2, 6-7 (680 B.C.)
Peace would finally come to earth—personally, the prophet Isaiah said.
And if you’re skeptical that the prophecy was written after these events, we have proof this was written before Jesus birth. It was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls predating Jesus as proven by science via carbon dating.
The Mighty God told us in advance that He would descend to bring peace on earth
- Born as a child in Bethlehem
- Grow up in Galilee
- Destined to be the Prince of peace
- The one who would bring a lasting kind of peace to the hearts of willing people.
Why isn’t peace ruling on earth?
How can peace come to you and me?
That very first Christmas gives a clue.
That night in Bethlehem, angels said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace…in people whom God’s good will rests.”
God has good will toward everyone—God is for you, not against you.
Peace has come to earth…for all people who want God’s Good Will.
But how? The angel said something weird, that we could easily miss,
“This will be the sign Peace has come…”
Here’s the tip-off, this is your clue, how you’ll identify the Mighty Creator invading humanity:
- You won’t find him wrapped in silken robes
- lying in a golden crib
- in the posh Palace of a King.
That’s what normally defines the great and mighty.
But the angel doesn’t say that.
Here’s the sign:
- You’ll find this Prince of Peace in a barn
- wrapped in dirty rags
- lying in an animal feed trough.
- That’s how you’ll know Peace Himself has come…he’ll be in a feed trough.
What kind of sign is that?!
- A barn is not exactly the preferred maternity ward.
- Most stables don’t come equipped with a top-of-the-line crib, changing table, or glider rocker.
- In that day, usually just a cave full of straw, animals, and what animals do most.
- I doubt Mary realized she was going have her baby that night and said, “Joseph, they are going to give us the stables, sweet!”
So why is this the sign?
It’s the sign of humility.
This is no ordinary King–this is no ordinary peace.
It’s weird. The God of the Universe would choose this?
No power, no money, no royal treatment, no applause, no newspaper headlines…born in a barn, entrusted to a young impoverished couple in the midst of scandal–pregnant but not married. That’s just weird.
The Mighty God comes to the messiest place, wrapped up in humility…that is the sign.
Peace Comes Through Humility
Why?…because peace only comes to earth wrapped in humility.
See, God is for you, not against you!
He loves you like no one else!
God created you for relationship with the One who made you for himself!
You’re his beloved child.
Just like there’s nothing we wouldn’t do to help our children or our nephew, niece, younger brother or younger sister, there is no mess you’ve gotten yourself into where God will not descend to find you and help you.
There’s no act of humility he would not undertake to bring peace between you and God—whether wrapped in rags and laid in a food trough, or wrapped in rags and laid in a burial chamber…from the humility of his birth to the humility of his death, he came to bring peace to you today.
But peace only comes wrapped in humility. And that’s weird for this world—not the norm—in fact, we all fight against humbling ourselves.
Pride and Playing God Prevent Peace
Why isn’t there more peace on earth? It’s pride—pride is the destroyer of peace.
It’s very subtle, but the anxiety or impatience or lack of love comes
- When I start feeling like it’s all up to me.
- When I feel like I have to do it all without anyone’s help or God’s help.
- When I don’t have time to seek God, or quiet my heart to listen to God, or reflect on what God’s good will says is true or most important.
- When I feel like I have to take charge, control the world, change the circumstances to go the way I know they should go, get people to do what I think they should.
But that’s pride—it’s playing God.
It’s the opposite of a humility that admits:
“I cannot make peace happen, I need your peace from above, God.”
Sometimes the very Christmas season itself reveals how desperately we need a peace that comes from above.
Craziness of the Holidays – No Peace
All the craziness of year-end closings, mall traffic, beloved family members who get on your nerves so much you dream of bringing them permanent peace, there’s loneliness, or there’s traveling with small children—the season knocks the circumstantial peace out of you like an MMA cage fight.
A young couple was flying home for Christmas with two small children, both under three years old.
They took the back row of the plane to avoid too many rude stares, and by the end of the flight, they were covered in dirty diapers, spilled milk, cracker crumbs, and crying kids!
There was no Peace on Earth in row 31.
They knew it was bad when the snarky Southwest Flight Attendant asked:
“Would you mind if your kids played outside?”
As the plane descended and the screaming escalated, a guy a couple of rows in front of them, turned back and surveyed the damage and he said:
- “Are those your two kids?”
- After hesitating a moment, the dad admitted: “Yeah, those are my two kids.”
- And he said: “My wife and I would give anything in the world to have two kids.”
- The young dad said it hit him—how quickly the joy and blessings of life get missed trying to change our circumstances. He asked the man: “So you don’t have any kids?”
- The man said: “No, we have five kids, we’d give anything in the world to just have two.”
So what are you banking on to bring you peace?
Have you been looking for peace by trying to change the world around you?
We try to change our circumstances in a search for peace. That’s normal, but it never works!
- Peace never comes to earth wrapped in perfect circumstances.
- Peace doesn’t come from finally getting that promotion or recognition.
- Peace doesn’t come by making enough money or buying the perfect house or finding that perfect person or fixing the perfect person when he or she turned out not so perfect and void of warranty.
- Peace doesn’t come by cleaning up your act or trying to prove how good you are to God. Peace doesn’t come to the clean, sterile, comfortable places in life.
- The God of peace comes to the messy places we find ourselves when we ask for help.
Peace comes as a Person – Know Peace!
The Prince of Peace wrapped in humility is willing to enter your messy life right now to give you peace, but you must humbly let go of the pride that says I have to do it all by myself, and just receive it like a gift.
Peace is here today—will you let him in to guide you into His peace?
The reason peace is not normal, it’s weird in this world, is because so few humbly seek God’s Good will which brings God’s Supernatural Peace.
Jesus told us the path to peace is to have a heart that says: “Father in Heaven, your will be done, on earth in my life, as in Heaven.”
God’s will and ways are the way of Humility and Love.
That’s why He doesn’t force his will on us which is also why we live in a world at war—a war of wills.
But to all of us willing today, Jesus promises peace:
33“Trust in God, trust also in me…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.” John 14:1, 16:33
In this world, you will have trouble.
It’s a world at war because God doesn’t force his will AND because most of us don’t seek God’s will more than what I want, what I will, so we struggle.
Yet God loves us still, and forgives us, and offers to guide into peace all who humbly ask God.
We need to “Keep Christmas Weird” and let God disrupt our world at war to bring his peace.
I want to encourage you to not just have a typical, normal Christmas.
Here’s how to Keep Christmas weird:
- Expect God to Interrupt You — everyone in the Christmas story was interrupted by God in some way; his interruption was the source of the best kind of weirdness.
But it’s risky—like soldiers laying down their arms, will you let God interrupt your norm this Christmas?
- Join God in What God’s Doing — the people that most experienced Christmas for what it was didn’t resist and pridefully hold onto the norm—they stepped out in faith and into what God was doing. How might he lead you to make peace or show kindness, or love the hard to love—even your enemy—this Christmas?
Make connecting to God on Sundays a priority!
Come every Sunday unless you are out of town or have the flu!
- Move Toward Jesus –– the entire Christmas narrative is about people either moving toward/embracing Jesus or rejecting Jesus
Some of us here have kept Jesus at arms length. You may have doubts but aren’t really taking your spiritual journey seriously.
Maybe you believe the story of Jesus with your head, but you have never let Him transform your heart.
Move toward Jesus.
Peace is personal.
Peace comes through a relationship with the God who knows you better than you know yourself, who knows how to guide you into freedom, who is powerful when you feel powerless, who wants to do life with you to guide you to become a more peaceful, loving person.
And all it takes is being humble enough to let him in right now—that’s the only way peace comes on earth—wrapped in humility.
In fact, I want to create the space for you to move toward Jesus.
In your own heart and mind:
- Ask God for a new start.
- Ask Him to forgive you for whatever it is has kept you from fully surrendering your life to Him.
- Give him your past, your regrets, your mistakes, your hopes, your dreams, your present, and your future.
- Commit your heart to following Him as your Savior as your Lord, your Leader.
In the silence, in your heart and mind, confess where you are to Jesus and confess what you need. Ask Him for help and guidance.
There is hope for peace this Christmas Eve!
There is hope for peace this New Year!
The Prince of Peace can transform us, and we can bring His peace to the world around us – life by life!
So let’s invite the God of Peace to descend into our battles today, throughout this season, and into the new year!