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Pastor Chris Paavola:

All right guys. You get a chance to say it one more time. Merry Christmas.

Response: “Merry Christmas.”

Ah, see? Doesn’t that feel good? It just feels good.

It’s great to be with you guys tonight. Once again, my name is Chris Paavola. I’m the Senior Pastor, here at St Mark.

We know you had a lot of things that you could have done to fill your day, and fill your calendar on Christmas Eve. And we are just deeply, deeply honored that you chose and allowed us to be a part of your Christmas celebrations. So, thank you so much for being here.

I’ve prayed for you. I’ve prayed for you, not just that you’d be here, but I’ve prayed that you would experience Christmas this year. Honestly, that has been my prayer this month, this week. And the reason that’s a specific prayer I prayed, and we’ve been praying as a team, is because we’re in a series called Experience Christmas. For the entire month of December, we’ve been talking about things that you can do to experience the love, joy, hope, peace, faith, and everything that’s promised in the Christmas season.

But tonight, we’re not talking about the attributes or the sentiment behind Christmas. Tonight, we just want you to experience Christmas, for everything that it is. And when we say that, we make jokes like, “Oh. Well, it’s not Christmas if you don’t watch a Christmas movie,” or, “It’s not Christmas….” And we have a lot of things.

When we talk about experiencing Christmas, we tend to think about what we’re going to do. We tend to think about, “Well, I’m going to bake these cookies, we’re going to open these presents, we’re going to wear matching PJs in our house, all these things that we have to do.” And that’s fine, that’s fine. But the problem with that is, if those things don’t happen, well then we miss out on the Christmas experience. If the cookies are burnt, or if so-and-so doesn’t show up for Christmas, or if I don’t get the gift of that I want, if what I wanted to happen doesn’t happen, then that means that my Christmas is somehow incomplete. And it wasn’t quite the Christmas I wanted it to be. And it didn’t meet my expectations.

What’s also interesting, though, is that, when you look at Scripture, when they talk about this idea of who does and doesn’t experience Christmas, it’s not a question of what you do. When you look in Scripture, it’s a question of who you are. It’s who you are that determines whether or not you experience Christmas. That sounds a little strange, but let me show you what I mean.

Probably the best example of this comes from a biography of Jesus written by a first-century follower named Luke. And in this account, he talks about how an angel visits Mary, and tells her she’s going to give birth to the Savior of the world, and she’s carrying the Son of God. And after that scene happens, Mary breaks out in this impromptu song, this poem, this song, this prayer, and it just bursts out of her.

And in this prayer, she talks about who will and won’t experience Christmas. We’re going to look at this, because you’ve got a few hours left. You’ve got a few hours left, so you don’t miss out the chance to experience Christmas for yourself. So, let’s take a look at it.

It’s from Luke Chapter 1, and here’s how it starts. It says, “Mary said, ‘My soul glorifies the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.'” She’s having this outburst of just praise and gratitude. And she says, “For he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” We’ll get to that in a minute. But she’s highlighting this idea of, the humble. And then she says, “I am blessed,” joyful. “I am blessed for the Mighty One has done great things for me. Holy is his name.” She prefaces this whole thing. It’s like, “God, you’re amazing. This is awesome.” And then she gets into who will and won’t experience Christmas. Take a look at this, in verse 53. “He has scattered the proud in their inmost thoughts because of this baby boy that I’m now carrying. He has brought down the strong from their thrones, but has lifted up the weak. He has filled the hungry with good things, but he has sent the rich away, empty.”

And there it is. You look at this, it seems harsh what she’s saying, but she’s saying, whether or not you experienced Christmas, whether or not you celebrate the birth of this child, comes down to who you are. It’s the humble versus the proud. It’s the weak versus the strong. It’s the poor versus the rich. And here’s the idea. There are those who are too proud, too rich, too strong, to need saving. They don’t need to be saved. If things are hard, they can just rely on their resources. They put their trust in their resources to take care of them, if things are difficult. If things aren’t going their way, they can leverage situations using their strength and their wealth and their wisdom, and whatever it might be.

But then, in contrast, there are those who are too humble, too weak, and too poor to do anything about it. They realize they can’t save themselves. They are in a mess, and they can’t get out of it. They need saving. These are the people who are going to receive a savior. They’re despondent. They’re desperate. They’re covered in glitter. Here’s what I mean by that.

I got permission from my daughter to tell this story, because it’s spectacular. When she was eight years old, my daughter, Selah, we were at the house, and this story perfectly demonstrates what Mary’s talking about, I think. We’re at the house, we’re in the kitchen, and I’d just fed her lunch, and also my infant daughter at the time, Acacia, just fed her lunch, and we just got done. And Selah, my 8-year-old, was sitting at the kitchen table doing a craft on paper with glue and paint, and then, you pour the glitter on it, and do the thing. That’s what she’s doing. She’s doing this craft on the table. And I get Acacia out of the high chair, and we had her programed, “Right after lunch, you lay down for nap time.” It was glorious. She was such a good napper. And it was just this moment in time where it was so easy.

Anyway, I clean her up, get her out of the high chair, and I’m holding her and I’m like, “Hey, Selah, I’m going to go upstairs and put Acacia down for a nap.” And she goes, “Okay, Daddy. Can I do glitter while you’re gone?” You know where this is going. You think you know. You don’t know.

She’s like, “Can I do glitter?” And I’m like, “Oh, yeah.” And it’s like this, you pick your battles as a parent, right? And I’m like, “She’s eight. I think she can handle it. Okay. I’ll be right back. Yes, just please be careful.” Okay, I will. I leave the room. I go upstairs with Acacia, and I sing her a quick song. I say a little nap time prayer, put her down. Pat, pat. She was right asleep. She was an awesome sleeper.

And I’m gone one minute, tops. I am gone for one minute, maybe a minute, 30, but that’s it. Okay? That’s how long I am gone. I then come down the stairs, and my daughter, Selah, is now covered in a blanket on the couch. And I’m like, “Oh. Hey, Selah.” I figured she just gave up on the craft, or whatever, or she was done. And I turn the corner, and walk into the kitchen, and then I see it.

When I say “it”, I’m not even really sure what “it” was. And I can’t really describe it to you. I figured the best way to give you a mental picture of what happened is to just tell you the sequence of events that led up to it, and then you can get a mental image of this. So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, through forensic evidence and eyewitness testimony, here is what I think happens for what is now referred to as the glittering in the Paavola household. Okay?

She’s sitting there at the kitchen table, and she’s got this paper, glue, paint, craft thing, and the jar of glitter. And on glitter jars, there is two options. One are the little holes like salt and pepper shaker.

Oh, it’s pouring out glitter. I should not.

Sorry, Carol.

There’s the option of the holes, like a salt and pepper shaker that sprinkle. Right? And then, there’s the other side. Because the people at glitter factories are evil, they make this option that’s this gaping hole of sin, where it’s the equivalent of just taking off the top, and it’s just this hole. Well, she’s eight. And what do you think she wants? The calm version or the extreme adrenaline version? She wants the gaping hole of sin. So, she takes it and she pours it, and her fine motor skills, it’s everywhere, already. It’s fine motor skills of an eight-year-old, and this ant hill of glitter falls onto the paper. No problem. We’re okay, we’re okay, we’re okay.

She’s like, “Oops.” So, she puts it down and she thinks, “Well, I’ve got to put it back.” She takes the top off, puts it down, grabs a handful of this stuff, and as she grabs it, she tries to sprinkle it back. She does this. But she learns what we all know, that it’s devil’s dust, and it just sticks to your hands. It’s not coming off. And she’s like, “Uh-oh.” And there’s still more glitter on the paper. She decides, “Well, I’m just going to take it, and pour it into the garbage.” She picks up the paper to pour it into the garbage that’s under the kitchen sink, not realizing that the jar has been set onto the paper. When she picks the paper up, the jar tips over, rolls off the table onto the floor, and onto the air vent.

And of course, the air conditioner is on, and there’s now a stranger-things cloud of sin wafting through, raining down glitter in the kitchen. Unbelievable. She’s standing there. She’s like, “Well, what do I do?” She’s committed. She walks to the cabinet, and she realizes that it’s shut. She puts the paper down onto the counter, which is why our bananas sparkled, and opens the door, and then pours out the glitter, and then puts it back. And then it’s like, “Well, I’ve got to take care of this.” So, she takes out a wad of paper towels, wets them, and she’s barefoot, by the way. She’s walking, and now it’s raining glitter, so she’s stepping on all of the glitter all the way back, making little Tinkerbell glitter all behind her footprints, and she gets there, and she starts wiping up the glitter with the wet paper towel.

But it doesn’t stick to the paper. Why would it? It’s glitter. You’re like, “Why would you want it to do something practical like that?” It doesn’t stick to the paper, and it’s just making this glitter cement now on the table. She’s like, “This doesn’t work.” So, little Tinkerbell footprints back to the trash can, throws it away, realizes there’s nothing she can do. She just leaves the kitchen, and tracks a chem trail through the living room, covers herself in a blanket, and waits for her impending doom.

One minute, one minute, minute and a half tops. Okay? I come down the stairs. “Hey, Selah, how are you?” I turn the corner, and I see all of this, and I have that moment where times stands still. Right? And have you have all these internal conversations with yourself. And I realized in this moment, no matter how I disciplined her, no matter how much I yelled, it wasn’t going to clean it up. She couldn’t do it. I’ve seen her work. I know it’s just going to get worse and worse and worse. I’m her dad. I’ve got to clean it.

So, why would it be any different with you and me, with our Heavenly Father? We’ve made a mess of things. And no matter how hard we try, we keep making the mess bigger and bigger. And he looks at us, and the word Scripture would use for this mess isn’t the word “mess.” It’s the word “sin.” And he looks at us in the mess of our sin, and he realizes that he’s got to come and help us, save us, rescue us.

There’s a Scripture that says, “He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might receive his righteousness.” Aw. He looks at this mess. And by the way, when I say the word “sin,” don’t think, the naughty thing that you did. Naughty list, nice list. Don’t think of sin like that. That’s not the way we see it in Scripture. You’re not a sinner because you sin. You sin because you’re a sinner. It’s our condition. It’s the state we are in.

Sin. It’s called a curse. All of creation is under the curse of sin. We just sang about it. “He came to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found.” And the curse is found in your relationships that are broken. The curse of sin is found in your failing health and your mortality, the very fact that you can die. You weren’t made to die.

The curse of sin is found in your struggle with addiction. The curse of sin is found in all of these decisions that you make that are so selfish. Your wisdom and your judgment is impaired, because you’re so self-focused, so prideful. That’s the curse of sin. It’s so much more than, “Are you a sinner? Did you do naughty?” No, no, no. It’s this condition all around us. So, he comes to rescue us from that sin. Because we can’t do anything about it. It’s like doing the dishes with dirty water. We can’t do anything about it. He comes to rescue us from our sin. He is the cure for the curse.

And it’s more than just, “Oh. You get a free pass to Heaven, now. Woo hoo. No, no, no, no. The kingdom of Heaven is now, and not yet as well. It’s this idea of, now he offers you his righteousness in exchange for your wickedness, your failures. He offers you strength, real strength, his strength, in exchange for your weakness. He offers you his riches and his provision for your poverty. He offers you him. This is so much more, so much more, than just, are you naughty or nice, are you in Heaven or out?

This is what we celebrate, tonight. This is what we celebrate, tonight. And the people who receive what he has to give, listen, the people who receive the blessings, the riches, the strength, the wealth, the wisdom that he has to give, are those humble enough to need rescue.

A little bit later, we’re going to sing a song that says, “Where meek,” humble. Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.” So, Christmas is not a question of what you do, my friends. It’s a question of who you are. Can you humble yourself enough to need rescue?

I have prayed for you that you would experience Christmas, and not just tonight, that we’d just celebrate Christ’s mass, Christ’s celebration, tonight. But why would we limit that to one night? Don’t you need him every day? Don’t you have weaknesses and struggles? And don’t you see the curse of sin every day? And my prayer for you is that you would experience Christmas well beyond December 25th. That May 25th, July 25th, October 25th, you would press into Jesus with the same intentionality and intensity that you are, right now.

Do you really think you would regret it? Do you really think you would be lesser off because you spent time pursuing Jesus throughout the year, leaning into his righteousness, his riches, his wisdom, his strength? Really?

Because I think you would join the voice and the chorus with the other humble worshipers, and you would be able to say for yourself, “My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior, for he has been mindful of his humble servant.” Wow!

I have prayed that you would experience Christmas. It’s not what you do, it’s who you are, honestly. Now, I’ve prayed for you. Now, it’s your chance to pray for you. So, let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, first of all, thank you for the gift of your Son. Thank you for coming and blessing us and saving us. You didn’t send a politician. You didn’t send consultants. You didn’t send a general. You sent a Savior, because we need rescue. And it’s hard to pray this prayer, Lord, because of what it means to be humbled. But we know that you’re good, and you’re gracious, and you’re kind. And so we pray, with trust, would you humble us? Forgive us when we trust in our riches, our wisdom, our strength. Humble us, Lord, that we may experience Christmas, tonight and in the year ahead. And it’s fitting, God. We’re your children. You don’t have any grandchildren. And as your children, we pray the prayer your Son taught us to pray, that calls on you as our father. So, we say these words together.

Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.