At Gateway Church in South Austin we concluded our series called “Christmas Around the World”!
Giving and receiving gifts is almost universal. Usually, when we get a gift, we are receiving something we did not pay for and did nothing to earn. It’s given to us out of love. Jesus was the ultimate embodiment of this. He bridged the gap between us and God and gave us the gift of life.
Work through the following questions and scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
Message Notes by John Burke and Eric Bryant:
We’ve been in this series talking about Christmas Around the World—it’s wild, but cultures and nations around the globe are celebrating Jesus’s birth with us tonight. We have over 65 nations represented in our 7 Gateway campuses!
You just heard from a few of them, how gift giving is a common practice around the world.
- It’s why kids love Christmas—right?
- Any Kids in here tonight? Kids—you excited for Christmas?
- Let me hear you yell if you’re excited for Christmas.
- Yell out what gift you’re most hoping to get?
We give gifts because Christmas is the celebration of God’s gift to the world. When we exchange gifts, we are remembering God’s gift of Jesus—given for the whole world.
But God’s gift to the world is a very misunderstood gift.
Some of us are here to celebrate and worship Jesus!
Other of us, you’re here as your gift to your family. Right!?
We have had many skeptics as part of our community over the years. Maybe you’ve wondered: “The gift of a baby, born in a manger—God’s Son? If it even is true, What good is that? How does that help me today?”
Maybe you’re asking that.
Or maybe for you, it’s kind of like if you opened a package from a family member and in it was the gift of 100 sessions with a Therapist!
What do you say? Wow—thanks!? I think? I didn’t know I needed a Therapist—obviously you think I do. It’s an expensive gift, but do you even want it? Some see God’s gift of Jesus that way.
But let’s think about it in a different way.
I’ll bet if the truth be told, every one of us in this room could use some guidance. We don’t let on, because the world tells us “act like you have it all figured out.”
But we all look for guidance.
- “How should I parent my kids?”
- “What should I do about the relationship?”
- “How will I find the right person?”
- “What’s the right career path?”
- “Why am I never content?”
- “Why can’t I seem to forgive and move on?”
- “Why can’t I just be happy?”
- “What if things don’t work out?”
- “How can I fix this mess I’m in?”
- “How can we save this marriage?”
- “What is my purpose in life?”
- “When will I finally find peace?”
Wouldn’t it be great if we could just ask for perfect guidance?
Just put it on your Santa wish list and find it wrapped up under the tree for Christmas? Wouldn’t it be cool if they carried Perfect Guidance at Barton Creek Mall? Guidance in a Box!
The Perfect Gift—A Guidance Memorychip.
I’d pay all I had to give perfect guidance to my kids, nieces, and nephews who are young adults now!
Perfect Guidance would be all they’d need in life.
- It would lead them to make right decisions
- It would guide them to develop strong character
- It would direct them to fulfill their purpose
- It would take them down the path to become loving, content, life-giving human beings who could experience lasting relationships.
- It would guide them to overcome the hardships of life out of strong inner core.
Imagine what a gift like that would be worth!
But wouldn’t it be a tragedy if I could buy that kind of guidance for my children or my nieces and nephews, wrapped it up and put it under the tree, but they never opened the package.
Imagine if I paid all I had for this gift that would bring them the fullest life imaginable, yet for some reason they got distracted by all their other toys and gifts and never opened the greatest gift of all.
It happens many Christmases.
The very first message about Christmas wasn’t about a baby born in a manger—it was about Guidance—God’s Perfect Guidance—given as a gift for you, to use today.
The first message of Christmas didn’t actually come to shepherds watching over their sheep the night of Jesus’ birth…
The first Christmas tidings were sent 1000’s of years before Jesus’ was born.
Prophets delivered over 60 Christmas cards from God to generation after generation foretelling the gift of God.
In the first few pages of the Bible after the fall of humanity, God promised one day someone would come to crush evil in the world – a snake crusher.
Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures are 300 references to a Messiah, the Anointed One, or in Greek – the Christ who would come to rescue all of humanity.
Today I want to look at one in particular and perhaps the most famous one written in 680 BC foretold the first Christmas saying:
In the future [God] will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan. 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.E.)
This was the first announcement of Christmas—it came 680 years before Jesus birth—it was the promise of a gift (to us a child is born, a son is given).
A gift to those who stumble in the dark, and need a light to guide.
A gift to those who want a leader—not another corrupt human leader—but one that will lead us in a way that brings God’s Kingdom ways to rule in our hearts.
A prophecy that God himself would enter our world to Guide and Lead all who are willing.
Do you realize that’s what Christmas is about?
The God who Created you, who knows you by name, knows your every thought, understands you better than you understand yourself, and loves you more than an earthly father or mother ever could. He is with you and wants to lead and Guide you.
That’s the gift of God waiting under the tree for you!
Will you open it and accept His gift?
Isn’t it really what you’re searching to find?
The Wonderful Counselor
Just as Isaiah foretold, Jesus was born a child, lived, did his ministry in Galilee—as foretold. He would be called Wonderful Counselor.
Wouldn’t you love to have A Wonderful Counselor?
Good counsel is not hard to find. Millions of people make their living offering counsel—you can go to a career counselor, spiritual counselor, psychologists ranging from $120 to $250 an hour (you’ve gotta have bucks to be sane these days).
Executive coaches charge $1000s to counsel CEOs. Physical trainers, life coaches, there are counselors for everything! The only problem is, it’s never enough, is it?
No human can be that perfect Father-figure, Mother-role model, spiritual guide or guru.
No one can give Wonderful Counsel to you, because no one really knows you, or understands you, or knows what your unique purpose is—Except God—your Creator.
So even though human guides and mentors and counselors are great, and I highly recommend them!
If we’re honest, we all struggle. We need more than what the smartest or most insightful human being can provide.
We need a Wonderful Counselor. We need God’s Guidance.
A professor at Wheaton College was speaking at Oxford University.
Before the talk, he was invited to eat at High Table, a very pretentious faculty affair where the faculty all wear their academic gowns.
The professor from Wheaton named Jerry was sitting next to a woman who was Professor of History.
Knowing he was from Wheaton, a Christain college, she asked “Why are you a Christian?”
He didn’t want to get into an argument with her, so he said, “Because I’m aware of failure and deficiency in my heart, and I follow Christ because God demonstrated through him that he loves me and forgives me, and will lead and guide me, and I need his guidance. That’s why.”
Her response was, “I can appreciate that, but it’s just not my issue.”
Jerry said, “I think I understand what you mean. I became a follower of Jesus in my first year of college, and I didn’t become perfect overnight…it took two or three weeks!”
She burst out laughing and the whole table, who had been watching the exchange laughed out loud.
Jerry said, “Your laughter betrays you. We just met, you don’t know me, but you know that my statement is nonsense. You must understand, either by history or by awareness of your own heart that no one is perfect.”
She said, “You got me!”
So he asked, “How do you live with yourself each day, knowing what you do about yourself?”
“I have faith in humanity,” she replied.
Jerry said, “I’m open to that – I’m open to anything that will help guide us on a right path. But how does it work pragmatically? Have you ever been wounded by another human?”
“Of Course,” she said.
“Have you ever wounded another human?”
“I suppose so.”
“So how does faith in humanity work when humans have this tendency to be both wounded and wounders?”
A French teacher asked “How does it work pragmatically for Christianity?”
Jerry shared about God’s Gift of Grace and God’s plan to enter into life with all those willing—to lead and guide the humble of heart!
We need God because we can’t really be the Ultimate Counselor for one another.
After so many years of the human experiment to find life and fulfillment and peace on our own, you’d think we’d be willing to wholeheartedly seek God’s ways.
That’s the tricky part! It’s like any Counselor. You have to be willing to trust and follow their wisdom.
It’s like that joke, “How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? One! But the light bulb has to want to change!”
Coaches, counselors, mentors, guides and gurus will all tell you that if you are not willing to trust and follow, there’s nothing they can do to guide you.
Maybe that’s why God remains so hidden and unintrusive. I mean, surely he could make us do his will if he wanted—right? But maybe what he’s waiting for is our willingness.
God said to Moses:
[If] you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. Deuteronomy 4:29
Jesus came to show us that God does not stand ready to condemn us, but to forgive us and walk with us and lead us into the full, creative, loving, experience of Life as God intended, but we have to be willing to seek and follow with all our hearts.
How willing is your heart today?
Do you realize God wants to be a Wonderful Counselor to you—to lead you and help you?
No one loves you more, no one is more for you, gets you, believes in your potential—more than the God who Created you!
All He needs is for you to accept his gift, and let God into your life to lead and guide. Like any true gift, you don’t have to earn it or pay for it.
Same with relationship with God—it’s a gift that Jesus came to give that first Christmas. But you have to accept the gift.
John, an eyewitness who lived and walked with Jesus wrote these words:
10” He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God… So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. (John 1:11-14).
As you listen to this song, think about what your attitude is toward God’s gift.
Is your heart open toward God?
Are you willing to accept his gift and use it to guide you into the future?
Remember a gift cost you nothing but it cost someone else something. As we read earlier in Isaiah it says “a CHILD is born, to us a SON is given.” It’s not just about a baby in a scene that warms the heart.
God gave us the gift of himself, of his Son. It cost him something. It cost him EVERYTHING, for a chance to lead you, to be close to you. And his love is unstoppable.
Those words “Gloria in exelcis Deo” are Latin meaning “Glory to God in the Highest.” They are the first line of the song of the angels in the Gospel of Luke.
Maybe for some of you those words are just ancient niceties. There are lots of people like that – especially in the Western world which has a history of Christianity.
But for so many it just become a religion or a tradition. They may go at Christmas and Easter but they don’t really think about it. They have never taken the time to read the scriptures and really seek God or consider who Jesus claimed to be.
Too often we just don’t really think we need God. We already know what we want, and we think we know how to get it. We don’t think we need his guidance. Life has a funny way of waking us up to reality though, doesn’t it. There are many of us in this room that were skeptics at one point or another. Usually something tragic in life shows us that life does not go according to our plans. But once we started seeking, just like God told Moses, when we started to seek, we found God.
The Mighty God
The Christmas Story isn’t myth—it’s history. The Mighty God—who alone stands outside time and history—would enter life with us, because what He wants is loving relationship. John says,
17 For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. John 1:17-18.
We can’t see the God who exists beyond time and space.
But if you look with an open mind—it’s amazing how this Mighty God confirmed Jesus’ arrival.
The Prophet Daniel, writing 500 years before Jesus’ birth, told us when Messiah would come and what he would do:
“Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ [483 years]…the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. Daniel 9:25-26 (522 B.C.E.)
Though mysterious in how he did it, God foretold when Jesus would come, that the Messiah would be killed and then Jerusalem and the Temple destroyed.
The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD, 40 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection from the dead. The Temple has still not been rebuilt. The Messiah came before 70A.D.
When I took time to seek, I found that God is not only Mighty—over history, and a Wonderful Counselor, but he is also that Everlasting Father Isaiah promised.
God is like that parent that none of our parents could be to us.
That pillar of strength when life knocks us to our knees, when we feel weak and alone and afraid – the One who leads us with the wisdom no parent could give.
The Gift of Christmas is God’s promise—the One who is Powerful is there with you, even when it feels like everyone else has abandoned you.
He is an Everlasting Parent.
The One who Created You, and knows you, and loves you more than a loving parent.
- He never missed a ball game or a recital.
- He keeps every promise and he never turns his back on you.
- He always has time for you and does not shame you when you make a mistake.
- He’s the Father that’s always been there.
Some of you feel like life’s been pounding you this year with crises or losses, and you feel weak and alone—but you’re not alone.
Don’t miss God’s gift this Christmas—He wants to be your Everlasting Parent.
Will you let him be your strength when you feel weak?
Prince of Peace
And Isaiah says, this child will be the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.
That first Christmas night in Bethlehem, the angels said to the shepherds,
“Don’t be afraid, I bring really good news, great joy which will be for all people everywhere. Today in the town of David (Bethlehem), a Savior is born. He’s the foretold messiah, the King, the Lord, the one this war-torn, angst-ridden, divisive, stressed-out, hurting world has been waiting for (that wasn’t exactly how the angel said it, but you get the idea).
The prophet Micah foretold Messiah’s Birth in Bethlehem:
“But you, Bethlehem…out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times… He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD…for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.” Micah 5:2-5 (700 B.C.E.)
From Bethlehem will come the Prince of Peace, who has existed for eternity, he will live in Galilee, die for our wrongs, his fame will be celebrated across the globe—as is happening tonight.
The Gift of Christmas was announced in advance, so that we would let him be our shepherd to lead us to peace with God, peace with ourselves, peace with one another.
Do you think our world could use more peace?
But the Gift of Peace doesn’t come the way we’d expect. Jesus taught most about God’s kingdom—it’s near you, available to you—but he said, it’s not like a kingdom you can point to, saying “there it is” because the Kingdom of God comes within.
And Jesus said”
“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give.” – John 14:27
God’s gift of peace is not an external peace—it’s a peace comes from within—a peace that’s stronger than anything outside circumstances.
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens…Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” – Matthew 11:28
Do you realize the gift God wants to give you—to unburden you, to ease your stress, to lift your worries?
Will you open his gift and use it?
Christmas reminds us—the Greatest Being in the Universe, Mighty God, humbled himself, became a child…to Guide us, to be our loving Parent, to lead us into Peace—not just one day or week out of the year, every day of the year.
Will you accept his gift this Christmas?
Will you use his gift daily?
Let us help you—our church is a place where we say No Perfect People Allowed.
You don’t have to pretend you’re perfect and never struggle or sin or fail.
God just wants our honesty—and when we’re a community walking in honesty—we all grow into more of what God intended.
In 1847 a local French priest asked an atheist poet named Placide Cappeau de Roquemare to write a poem for Christmas mass, and the man took the task seriously and wrote “Cantique de Noel” and he asked his friend Adolph Adame to add music to the beautiful words. The song became popular in France and was sung in many Christmas services, but when it was found that Placide no longer subscribed to a religion and that Adolph Adame was Jewish, the French church no longer allowed the song to be sung in masses.
A decade later, an American writer, John Sullivan Dwight, saw something in the song that moved him beyond the story of the birth of Christ. An abolitionist, Dwight strongly identified with the lines of the third verse: “Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease.”
He published his English translation of “O Holy Night” in his magazine, and the song quickly found favor in America, especially in the North during the Civil War. It’s become perhaps the most popular classical Christmas song of all time.
Years later on Christmas Eve 1906, Reginald Fessenden–a 33-year-old university professor and former chief chemist for Thomas Edison–did something long thought impossible. Using a new type of generator, Fessenden spoke into a microphone and, for the first time in history, a man’s voice was broadcast over the airwaves. He went on to read Luke’s account of the birth of Christ. And then Fessenden picked up his violin and played “O Holy Night,” the first song ever sent through the air via radio waves.
We’re going to sing “O Holy Night” together. This song in some ways reflects the gift that was and is Jesus.
- Not fully recognized at first for it’s beauty and wonder.
- Some religious leaders scoffing at its origins.
- But to those who desire real freedom and guidance it’s a victory chant.
- A divine message that has spread over the airwaves and into the hearts of men, women, and children around the world.