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The other day, I was thinking about the busyness of the season – gift giving and travel and all of the things that come around this time of year. It can get so chaotic. There are many times when it's just so busy and we struggle to slow down and enjoy what this month and this time of the year truly represents. I hope that this series, Rediscovering Christmas, will serve as a reminder for you and your family to take time this month to truly enjoy the gift of who Jesus is and what He has accomplished for you, and rest in that.
Before you keep reading, I invite you to close your eyes wherever you are and take a deep breath. Pray silently, “God, I want to receive what you have for me.” I’ve been doing this periodically throughout the week as a reminder not to rush, and just take a moment to rest in God’s grace and receive the gift of scripture.
I don't know if any of you like Christmas lights, but I love Christmas lights! My family and I like to drive around and look at the lights during this time of year. In fact, many of us look forward to seeing the lights, and we’re in awe of them as we drive through our neighborhoods and around town. Even people who aren’t Christ followers look around and they love to see Christmas lights. A decade ago, my family went to New York City at Christmas time to see the Rockefeller tree and the city all decorated for Christmas. It was beautiful – if you’ve never been to New York City at Christmas time, it’s absolutely beautiful. There is something powerful and magnificent about this time of year.
But Christmas lights aren’t just decorative. They are actually symbolic and the text we’re going to cover today talks about lights in scripture. The word “light” is used frequently in the Bible, and it’s a symbolic reference to God – what He does for us. Isaiah 9: 2 says “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. A light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness.”
At Mission City Church, we like to read scripture in context and provide you with some background on what was happening at the time, so you can appropriately understand and apply the scriptures, and you can see how it relates to your life now.
Isaiah is the author and he's making a prophetic point – or a prediction – of what's to come: the first and the second coming of the Messiah, Jesus. During this time, in the northern part of Israel, the Assyrian people came in and ransacked to kingdom. The took people captive and attacked this area. We have wars going on in our world today where people are being held hostage and taken from their homes. It’s difficult to grasp the weight and severity of what is happening in other places of the world right now, but imagine the darkness those people are experiencing. To have a foreign nation come into your homeland, take your family and destroy your country… those people are walking through some pretty heavy darkness. And that’s what was happening in Israel.
This scripture says it was a dark period, and when “darkness” is used in the Bible, it means evil, ignorance, or despair. So, that’s what those people were facing – they saw an evil come in and they were facing incredible despair. And we experience evil around us every day, but we also experience evil within us. We all have evil thoughts in our heads, every single one of us. And it’s easy for us to point out the evil around us, and we do and we should, but the scripture makes it very clear that we also have a wicked heart and an inclination towards thinking things in our hearts and in our minds that are not pure and holy and righteous, but are dark and evil. It’s important that we don’t just look out and see the evil around us, but we look within to acknowledge the evil that exists there as well.
While there's great despair among the people at the time Isaiah is writing this, we also live in a time of great despair. A lot of people are struggling with incredible mental health challenges – you might be somebody who is walking through darkness or someone you love is walking through it. You might think to yourself, “There is light all around me during this Christmas season, but I feel darkness and heaviness in my life or with someone close to me whom I love and cherish.”
Apart from Jesus, we all walk in darkness. Imagine for a minute that you’re in a place that you’re unfamiliar with: you’re in an Airbnb in the middle of the night, you get up to use the restroom and you’re not familiar with the layout of the room… and you stub your toe. Think about what light means in this scenario. When you turn on a light, it reveals things, it shows the truth of the room, and it shows you everything you can maneuver the room safely.
Or imagine you're driving your car late at night and you have the headlights off – at some point, you're going to crash. Why? Because lights reveal things truthfully. They show you what you need to see so you can navigate. What God is saying here is that the people were in darkness. Do you know why? Because they continued to look on the Earth around them and within them to solve their problems. They weren’t looking up to the one who is the source of light and truth, the one who can reveal everything. Just like when you’re walking in a dark room and you turn on the light, Jesus can is the light in our lives to guide our way.
We do the same thing today. As a society, we look to scientific achievements and technology to remove the evil in the world. We think we can end evil and darkness through education and innovation. Did you know, the 20th century was the bloodiest century in history? It was also the most educated and innovative century. We have become very educated and very innovative, and yet darkness still exists. We think that by living our way – and many of us do think that by living our way, we’ll find fulfillment and everlasting life – we can overcome the darkness. Even those of us who profess the name of Jesus, we still end up wanting to live our way instead of His way.
St. Augustine said this, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” St. Augustine was a brilliant mind, scholar, and church father. What he is saying here is that the constant searching and looking around and within causes our hearts to be restless until they find their rest in him – and that is when you experience the light of life, that is when you experience true fulfillment and joy. When you're always looking among the Earth and you're always looking within yourself, thinking that you can accomplish it in your own merit and strength, you realize you can't because you weren't designed
to do that. There's only one who can bring the light of life, and the way, and hope, and all of that, and his name is Jesus. God gives the people a promise that a great light of Salvation is coming.
1. Christmas brings hope because Jesus is the light.
For us to Rediscover Christmas, we have to see from the scriptures that Advent is the first coming of Jesus, the revealing, the pulling back of the curtain. Later in the book of Isaiah, he says, “Oh God, that you would reign the heavens and come down.” He answered that prayer in the first coming of Jesus. He reigned the heavens and he came down as a baby in the great light that is referred to in Isaiah 9:2.
In John 8:12, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” Not your education and your innovation. No, “I'm the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” He’s saying you don't have the light of life because you're searching the earth and within yourself. You think you can achieve it and accomplish it, but you can’t because it's not here on earth. The light is found in a person who is supernatural, meaning outside of this world. He came and he revealed the light of who he is. If you're struggling and saying, “I don't have that light,” it's because you’ve got to go to the one who is the light of life.
In the message of Christmas, there is some bad news too. Things are really bad in the world and bad within us, if you’re being real and candid with your own heart. I can attest to that too. The message of Christmas is, “You can’t save yourself.” There is darkness around us, but God has come to bring hope – that’s the message of Christmas. I don’t want to whitewash it and act like nothing bad is happening around us. The scriptures don’t do that. They are very real about our current circumstances – they recognize the things we’re walking through, and yet it says that God has come to bring the light of life.
Isaiah 9: 2 tells us that the light did not come from within the earth or from anything we can do, but the light has come from outside, from heaven. It has dawned upon the earth. The symbolism of what that represents is beautiful: Christmas is about the light of salvation – a truth, beauty, and life that only Jesus brings. With him, we no longer need to walk in darkness trying to figure things out on our own. If you’ve ever walked through a dark period of life, you know it’s haunting. You feel isolated and alone, but he says, “I have come to reveal the light of life,” meaning he is revealing truth, hope, and beauty in your purpose.
Have you ever contemplated why you’re here? I get the opportunity to pastor and meet with people, and there are so many people – even unchurched people  who don’t know Jesus – who are just like, “I wonder what is the purpose of all of this?” Walking in darkness is ultimately what they’re saying because Jesus comes to reveal the light of life so that you know the way the truth and the life.
And let me tell you something… if you are walking through this life and you know the way, the truth, and the life, you have great purpose in your life. You're focused – you know where you're going. You know your destiny. When you die, you’ll understand why you're here. You may not know your purpose, and that’s ok. One of your greatest purposes is to know him and to tell other people about him so that you bring more people to the light.
God want us to experience the light, not just intellectually like, “Yeah, yeah, I got it, Jesus is the light… I’ve heard plenty of Christmas services before. I get it.” Let that message transform your heart. Experience it in a new way that changes you.
2. Christmas is about God’s gift of grace
Isaiah 9: 4-5 says, “For you have shattered their oppressive yoke and the rod on their shoulders, the staff of their oppressor. Just as you did on the day of medium. For every trampling boot of battle and the bloody garments of war will be burned as fuel for the fire.”
You might read that and be like, “What in the world does that have to do with Christmas?” It has more to do with Christmas than you realize, but I think it’s a great question. I mentioned earlier that whenever you're reading your Bible, you want to read it in context; the surrounding verses help you understand the verse that you're reading.
This is important as we look at the famous verse, Isaiah 9:6, which says, “For unto us a child is born…” In verses 4-5, Isaiah says that someone else is going to fight the battle for you. “Like these bloodied garments of war.. will be burned as fuel for fire.” You don’t need them anymore! Someone else is fighting the battle for you, and you no longer need to fight. These verses are communicating the essence of Christianity: God does the work on our behalf; for it is by grace you are saved through faith in Christ alone. When Jesus died on the cross, he said, “It is finished.” The battle was finished – Jesus conquered the greatest enemy we’ve ever faced and he died to save us from our sin.
Christmas is really about recognizing the gift of God’s grace – we didn’t earn and we don’t deserve it. We can’t achieve it through our moral efforts or religious duties the way some of us hope we can. It’s easy to look around and say, “I’m a fairly good person. I go to church. I serve in the church. I give a little bit. I look at other people and I’m a pretty good person.” But whether you realize it or not, you’re hanging your religious achievements and your moral authority on that, thinking “I’m okay. God's going to accept me by that.” No, for it's by grace are you saved through faith. Someone else fought the battle for you and when you truly trust in the fact that Jesus won the battle on the cross, that he forgives you, this is where transformation happens. He gives you the Holy Spirit to change you from the inside out, to live for him. The great light that’s referenced in Isaiah 9: 2 is now within you as a Christ follower. The Holy Spirit illuminates you, reveals things to you, shows you the way, grows your spiritual life so you can start to taste. It’s no longer external, but when you receive the Holy Spirit through God’s grace, you can experience what he has designed for you. You can know the way, the truth, and the life, and the purpose that God has for you.
There’s only one way to receive it, and that’s by admitting you don't deserve it and you can't earn it. Some gifts are pretty hard to receive. Here’s why: you have to swallow your pride. Imagine if a friend came over on Christmas Day and they gave you a couple presents. You open the first present and it's a gym membership for the year. You’re like, “What’re you trying to tell me?” You open the next gift, and you’re already a little suspicious, and this one says, “Overcoming Selfishness.” It’s a book. You’d be like, “Get this person out of my house! Are you implying I’m out of shape and selfish?” And you’re friend would be like, “Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m saying.”
Or what if you had a massive amount of debt, like a type of financial debt you can’t pay off for a long time or maybe even in this life? Imagine you had a friend come to you who's very well off and they said, “Hey, I know you're in a really difficult situation right now with your finances and I would like to pay off all your debt.” You may not have a problem with that, like sign me up!, but for many of us, that would take a sense of swallowing some pride. You’d have to admit you need help and you can’t get out on your own. You have to admit that maybe you need to change some things – maybe some things in your health, maybe you are selfish. You could get angry and push back, or you could respond with humility. If you receive that gift, it takes a level of humility to say, “I do struggle with those things, and I need some help.” Not all gifts are easy to receive. So, to receive the greatest gift that you or I could receive, guess what? You have to swallow your pride and you have to admit you can't do it on your own. You have to admit you can't earn it, no matter your religious duties or your moral efforts. No matter what you accomplish and what you think you've accomplished, you have nothing to contribute to your salvation. In humility, you have to say, “I can’t do this on my own. God, I need your help. I need you to do this.” And that’s why Isaiah 9: 4-5 says that someone else has fought the battle – you don’t need to fight anymore. It’s done.
3. Christmas is God came to us.
Let's look again at Isaiah 9:6 - it's the one that's probably in some of y'all's houses on little boards, it's all over Hobby Lobby: For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, the government will be on his shoulders and he will be called or named wonderful counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." This is a famous verse about the first coming of Jesus when he came in full humility as a baby who had to be cared for by a mother, just like the rest of us.
I've studied all the major world religions and not one of them teaches that their god came in humility as a man. No other religion teaches that their god was tempted yet without sin; that he was betrayed by his friends; was cursed, spit at, maligned, treated terribly, tortured, and killed. But the point of Jesus's humanity tells us that God relates to us. He's not up there like, "Y'all better figure it out! Good luck. I gave you some scriptures." He reigns the heavens and he came to us on a rescue mission to save us and redeem us, to bring us into his forever family.
Sometimes you might be walking through life thinking, "I don't feel like God really relates to me." He actually does - for those of you who are walking through family difficulties, he relates to you. For others who haven't felt loved, he relates to you. For those who are lonely, betrayed, misunderstood, tempted by sin, he relates to you. Sometimes we think God is ethereal, out there somewhere, but understand that 2,000 years ago, he came in full-blow humility, and walked, and lived as a man. He experienced things that we walk through in our own lives. He's been there. And Christmas is really about God coming to us. He is a sympathetic, merciful high priest who wants to listen to you. He cares for you. He understands your circumstances and he loves you anyway. You can rest in that truth.
In Isaiah 9:6, it references four titles given to this baby: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. These names were only ever used to describe God, and now he is giving them to this child. And this is important for two reasons:
1. If Jesus is really a mighty God and eternal father, you can't just like him. You can't just identify with this casual version of Jesus and agree that "Oh yeah, I like him." These titles demand something more. He's more than a friend. In the Bible, when people encountered Jesus, there was no indifference. People made ostentatious claims about who Jesus was and what he was doing. You either had to fall down in surrender and worship or you were terrified and hated him. There was no middle ground.
2. If Jesus is the wonderful counselor and the prince of peace, we should want to serve him. These titles communicate that he is somebody deserving of our worship, someone you can serve because he cares deeply for you.
I don't know if any of you have been to counseling - I've been and I'm a huge fan. If you have, you probably really appreciate that your counselor listens and sympathizes with you, they care to hear your thoughts and concerns, and they give great advice. They've also walked through hard things. And here is Jesus, the wonderful counselor, ready and willing to love you through whatever you're experiencing today. But you have to go to him.
If you were to tell me that you love your counselor, but you haven't seen them in years, I would tell you that you are no longer receiving counsel. You have to go to them! If you recognize that Jesus is a wonderful counselor, but you're not going to him, you might wonder why you don't have inner peace or joy in your home. It's because you're not going to the wonderful counselor. If you're going to receive the Godly cousel, the listening attention that he wants to provide you, you have to go to him.
In Hebrew, the word "wonderful" means "so beautiful." He is so beautiful, so kind, so patient, and he's listening. Some of us need to be reminded that he's not just hanging out up there with a lightning bolt ready to strike. For those of you who are Christ followers, he's saying, "Come to me. I care about what you're going through. I sympathize with what you're facing." He's listening to whatever you're going through. Stop running to everything and everyone around you, and start going to the one who will actually turn his ear to you. The one who will actually provide wonderful counsel.
Just like some of you run to your counselor - which is great! - be sure to run to the wonderful counselor who wants to have deep fellowship with you, give you incredible advice, and take your burdens, worries, stress, and fears away.
Jesus tell us, "Come to me all you who are burdened and heavy laden and I will give you rest." We desperately need rest for our souls. Some of us are so busy with life and the demands and pressures... just go to the wonderful counselor. Spend time with him, receive his love, accept his grace, and rest in it. Watch what that will do for your life.
And as the prince of peace, he came to usher in the peace of salvation. One day, he is coming to judge the living and the dead, and to bring about a universal kingdom of peace to which there is a promise and a hope that one day there will be no more death, no more disease, no more loss, no more sickness, no more mental health challenges, no more temptations or struggles. He's coming to make heaven new and a new earth where we will worship him forever. Do not miss out on that gift - but we have to receive it and the only way to do that is by grace through faith in what Christ has done for you.
My prayer is that this Christmas you rediscover and you walks away with a different perspective on what he has done for you. Receive that and rest in it.
Prayer: Lord, I lift you up right now, and I pray, Father, that you would touch the hearts of every single person here. God, I pray whatever they're facing and they're navigating, you would meet them there and your love would pour forth in their hearts through the Holy Spirit, the hope you have for them, that they might leave here changed. That this might not be just another religious service, but somewhere they've encountered the living God. In Jesus's name, Amen.
This message was delivered at Mission City Church on December 10, 2023. Mission City Church is located in St. Johns County in the World Golf Village community of St. Augustine, Florida, 32092. For more information about Mission City Church, please visit our About page or follow us on Facebook and Instagram.


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