Light It Up

Allow the Christmas story to point you to the light of Jesus.

George Wright
Dec 15, 2019    36m
In this sermon Pastor George Wright encourages us to listen to the Christmas story as an invitation to move out of the darkness and into the light of Jesus Christ. He explains that the tradition of putting lights up at Christmas is there to remind us of His light and love. Video recorded at Columbia, South Carolina.

messageRegarding Grammar:

This is a transcription of the sermon. People speak differently than they write, and there are common colloquialisms in this transcript that sound good when spoken, and look like bad grammar when written.

George Wright: 00:00 I want to encourage you now to grab your Bible, and we're going to continue in our series here on Christmas Traditions as we talk today about Christmas lights. And we're going to be in Matthew chapter 2 verses 1 through 4, and we're going to see really the light that steals the show in the Christmas story. Matthew chapter 2 verses 1 through 4. If you don't have a Bible with you, we've got Bibles all around the room, I would encourage you to grab one of those so you can see for yourself what the word of God is saying. And then I would invite you all to stand with me as we read from the word of God. We stand so that we can be reminded that the word of God is our authority, and the word of God is our foundation as a people of God, and so we stand believing that the word of God reveals to us what God says is right and good and true.

George Wright: 00:56 This is a very familiar passage in the story of Christmas, as the Wiseman come to visit the baby who has been born in Bethlehem. Matthew chapter 2 verses 1 through 4, it says, "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the King. Behold wise men from the East came to Jerusalem saying, where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose, and we have come to worship him. But when Herod the King heard this, he was troubled, and all of Jerusalem was troubled with him. And assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he, Herod inquired of them where the Christ was to be born." In these verses, as we see the star lighting up the sky pointing very specifically to the Messiah that is come, there are two very different responses to this star in the sky. Two very different responses to the news that a King has been born.

George Wright: 02:19 So let's ask the Lord right now as we pray together, considering the word of God, that he would allow us and invite us to see what we need to see as it relates to the way people respond to the Christmas story. Let's pray. Father, as we come before you now, as we stand around the room, as others join us online for this message. I pray, Lord God, that you in the power of your spirit would do what only you can do, that you would speak to all of us individually as you speak to us corporately as a church. Use this time for your glory. Open our eyes to see what we need to see, and open our hearts to receive what you Lord desire for us to receive. We entrust you with this time, we are thankful for it. We pray that you would have your way among us for your glory as we turn our attention to the good news of Christmas. We ask this in Jesus' name I pray. Amen. Amen. Thank you for standing.

George Wright: 03:33 So Christmas lights, let me ask you by show of hands, how many of you decorate your houses with Christmas lights in some way? Inside? How about outside? How many of you hang Christmas lights outside somewhere? Okay, a good number of you. We put some lights up this year, thankfully, none of those lights required a ladder. That is such a gift of God's grace that none of those lights required a ladder. You know, if you have to climb a ladder to hang the lights, you also have to climb a ladder to take them down. Do you realize that? I'm just trying to help you out as you prepare for the end of the Christmas season. It's interesting if you research, when did Christmas lights become a thing? Tradition says that Christmas lights were first introduced by the great Protestant reformer Martin Luther, the German monk who literally flipped the church on its head. And the way the story goes, the way the tradition reads, is that Luther was walking home one night, beautiful cold winter night. He was actually preparing a sermon in his mind, and he looked up in the sky and the sky was just lit up with the stars shining brightly in the darkness. And Luther was so moved and so inspired, the story says, that he went home and he took an evergreen tree. We talked about this last week, the evergreen tree at the time in Germany, what's called a paradise tree, so he took this evergreen tree and he began to wire all the candles he could find around his room to the branches of that tree to light up the tree so that his family could get a glimpse of the majesty of God on display in the sky. Now, I don't know if that story is true or not, it sounds cool. I will tell you this, another helpful little tidbit of information at Christmas, it's not something that I recommend you do. Candles on Christmas trees are a really bad idea, and I love Luther, I'm grateful for all that he's done for the way God used him to reform the church. But I don't think he helped us by putting candles on Christmas trees. But Christmas lights have been a thing for a long time, they really didn't grow in popularity in the United States until the beginning of the 1900's. In fact, something that that we all now look at as a Christmas tradition, the Christmas tree in Rockefeller center in Manhattan, New York did not have lights on it until the 1930's.

George Wright: 06:11 Many people in fact were opposed to Christmas lights when they first became a thing. In fact, there were some Puritan preachers that preached against Christmas lights, and against Christmas decorations, and what they called the pagan mockery of the sacred celebration. I thought this was interesting in reading about their preaching against Christmas decorations, they were opposed to Christmas carols. Don't sing about Christmas, that's putting the devil's music into the Christmas holiday. Don't decorate for Christmas, they said, and certainly don't decorate a church for Christmas. So the good news is we violated all of those things here at Shandon today, and Christmas lights we know are very normal now, they're all around. They remind us of joyful things at Christmas, they set the mood, they set the spirit, and certainly they encourage us to consider the idea of light.

George Wright: 07:17 What is the true meaning of light at Christmas? You know, also, as I was reading about all this, and stumbled across a TV show called The Great Christmas Light Fight. Has anybody ever seen that show, where homes decorate like crazy, spending thousands of dollars on Christmas decorations? And then it's like a judge comes around and evaluates who has the best Christmas decorations. This is very, very expensive for some people, and I began to think about what about the utility bills? I mean December is expensive enough, right? But with all those lights, the utility bills are crazy. And I found this fascinating article by a utility provider that said this, if Clark Griswold were to decorate his house today, his utility bill would be $1,600 just for the month of December based on today's rates. Now that's enough to cause you to walk away from Christmas all together, right? I mean, that's crazy.

George Wright: 08:19 Lights everywhere, do you see the lights? What do you see when you see the light? Isn't it interesting that as God brought what scripture describes the light of the world into the world, he did so proclaiming through the brightest star in the sky that the light has come. He uses light to point to the light, and that elicits a very different response from different people.

George Wright: 08:55 So let's look at these two responses. Matthew chapter 2, let me read verses 1 and 2 again. We see first the response of the wise men, they have a very specific response to the star in the sky announcing the birth of a King. Listen to what the scripture says, "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men[a] from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose[b] and have come to worship him.” We have come, not just because we're curious. We have come, not just because we have a background in astronomy, not just because we are fascinated with the sky and we saw beautiful light. We have come because what we see in the sky is so significant and so different than anything we've ever seen, that in our searching to understand true meaning and purpose, we want to worship whatever is the object of that light shining down. The wise men come to worship. They realize something truly significant has taken place, they realize that whatever this light is pointing to, whoever this light is pointing, to changes everything. These are men that are spiritual searchers, spiritual seekers, wanting to know the truth, wanting to find meaning, wanting to find purpose. And they see the star, they follow the star, and they come to worship.

George Wright: 10:58 This is all to fulfill prophecy, some of which we read earlier in the service from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah chapter 9 verse 2, let me read this to you again, it says, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwelt in the land of deep darkness on them has light shined." And then verse 6, from the prophet Isaiah, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isn't it amazing to see the prophecy of literally hundreds upon hundreds of years before Jesus is born in Bethlehem coming to fruition, and the beauty of God's sovereign plan that we celebrate at Christmas. And these wise men, these men from the East, who journeyed great distances to come and see the object of this shining star. They've come because they want to know the truth. They are looking for purpose, looking for hope, longing for peace, trying to find meaning in their lives and understanding for what really matters most. And their only response as those who have been living in darkness, as they see the light, is to worship. Those who have been walking in darkness have seen the light, Isaiah prophesies, speaking specifically here to this encounter in the Christmas story. And showing us that the only appropriate response when those in the darkness see the light is to worship.

George Wright: 13:06 I'm going to read to you a quotes from the book Hidden Christmas written by pastor and author Timothy Keller. He says this, please listen to this, "If Jesus is really Mighty God and Everlasting Father, you can't just like him." In the Bible, the people who actually saw and heard Jesus never reacted indifferently or even mildly. Once they realized what he was claiming about himself, either they were scared of him, or furious with him, or they knelt down before him and worshiped him. Listen, but nobody simply liked him, nobody said he's so inspiring, he makes me want to live a better life. Now, if the baby born at Christmas is the Mighty God, then you must serve him completely. What a fascinating thought to consider, if this really is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, he is worthy of our worship.

George Wright: 14:25 Perhaps you're here today, or perhaps you're hearing this message, as one who has been walking in the darkness, and maybe the darkness is been confusion, maybe the darkness has been a season of uncertainty, maybe the darkness has been a very difficult struggle that you have been navigating, maybe the darkness has been fear or anxiety or worry. Perhaps you are here and you've been walking in the darkness. Will you, like the wise man, turn to the light of the world? Will you, like the wise man, step out of the darkness in faith to believe that Jesus Christ has come to do for you what you can never do for yourself, he has come to provide for you what you can never find or acquire on your own apart from him? Maybe you're here this morning, or joining us online, as one who appreciates the story of Christmas, but if you're honest, you've really been totally indifferent to the message of Jesus. Maybe you've heard the Christmas story over and again, year after year, but it's never really impacted your life. Will you, like the wise man, come and worship the King? Will, you like the wise man, invite him to shine brightly in your life through his gift of mercy and grace in a way that changes who you are.

George Wright: 16:22 It's fascinating, God uses these wise men who are not even from the region, not even from the Jewish faith, from outside of the people of God. Isn't that fascinating, outsiders are invited inside to be a central part of the story and the meaning of Christmas? And God shows us, through these men who are seeking, the only appropriate response to the good news of Christmas is worship of the King. In fact, if it is true that Jesus has come as the light of the world because we cannot get to him on our own, if he is the Mighty God, if he is the Prince of Peace, then he is worthy of worship and all who worship him will be invited out of darkness and into his marvelous light. The wise men come and they worship.

George Wright: 17:24 There's a very different response that we see as well, as we go back to the Christmas story. Matthew 2 verse 3, King Herod responds totally different than the wise man. It says, "When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him." Now commentators writing about this verse say that the statement, when the King heard this, he was troubled, is one of the greatest understatements perhaps in all of scripture. Why would that be? We'll think about what's happening. Just go back to this scene if you can imagine it for a moment. We so quickly blow past some of these verses in the story of Christmas, that we miss out on some of their significance. Think of what's happening here. These wise men from the East, with their entourage, with their caravan, with their wealth, with their gifts fit for a King, come into Jerusalem. Herod's area, Herod's reign over Jerusalem. They walk to the palace, go into the palace of the King, are invited into the inner courts of the King. They stand before the King who is seated on the throne and they say, King Herod, we are here to worship the King, but you’re not the King we came to worship. Can you imagine the tension in this moment? You talk about an awkward moment. But not only that, history tells us about Herod. And what history tells us about King Herod is that he was a paranoid tyrant, he was a horrific King. In fact, Herod had multiple members of his own family executed while he was King, just to ensure that no one in his family tried to make a play for the throne. Herod would frequently bring in members of his own court, bring in leaders from his region, without warning and have them executed on the spot so that no one who was leading under his authority would have the opportunity to rise to power. This was a tyrant. This was a ruthless, murdering, paranoid King. And the wise men are standing before this King saying, we're here to worship the King, but you're not the King we came to worship.

George Wright: 20:09 To say that Herod was troubled is certainly an understatement, but the scripture follows it by saying all of Jerusalem was troubled with him. Because Jerusalem knew when the King is disturbed, when the King feels threatened, people are going down. It's not a pretty picture. In fact, we are given a very specific picture of how ruthless Herod was. If you flip over a few verses in Matthew chapter 2, listen to how Herod responds to this information from the wise man. As they say, we've come to worship the, King Herod inquires as to where this King has been born. He finds out it's in the region of Bethlehem, and look at what it says in Matthew chapter 2 verse 16, Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious. How was he tricked? The wise men were told to report back to Herod and give him the exact place where the King was born, but the wise men were warned by God in a dream and they return home a different route, they bypass Jerusalem altogether. They don't go back to the King's palace, they go a different way home. Herod sees this has happened, he's furious, and listen to what he does. He sent and he killed all the male children in Bethlehem, and in all that region, who were two years old or under according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise man. You know, this is a part of the Christmas story that we often don't even talk about. We often just blow right past this because who wants to open stockings after reading about a tyrannical dictator that kills baby boys, right? I mean this guy is crazy, this guy is ruthless, this guy is bloodthirsty, this guy will stop at nothing when his authority feels threatened. And he kills, annihilates, eliminates all the two year old and under baby boys in the entire region of Bethlehem.

George Wright: 22:36 Why in the world would God have this guy as part of his Christmas story? Why in the world do we see this King so troubled, so furious, so threatened, so disturbed that he lashes out in unimaginable violence, killing all of these baby boys? Here's the sobering reality, please don't miss this, as horrible as it is to consider the evil rule of King Herod, and as horrible as it is to consider what he did in his fear, feeling threatened like his authority was being challenged, the Bible is showing us something we desperately need to see in the midst of the story of Christmas. Don't miss this, the story of Christmas is showing us that Jesus is a threat to anyone who wants to be King. Jesus is a threat to anyone who wants to sit on the throne. Jesus is a threat to anyone who wants to be Lord and master of their life. No matter how big or small that kingdom may be, Jesus is a threat to anyone who wants to be king. So what if we make this personal? There can only be one King on the throne, there can only be one sovereign reigning overall. What if you make this personal in your life? If Jesus truly is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, then he is a threat to our desire to control our lives. Jesus is a threat to your desire to be in control, to be the ultimate authority of your life. Jesus is a threat to my desire to be in control, to be the ultimate authority of my life. Jesus is a threat to your desire to rule your little kingdom.

George Wright: 25:14 But please, please don't miss this, this is the good news of great joy at Christmas. Jesus is different than any other King that as ever reigned, because Jesus is not threatened by us or anyone at all. This is good news. We may feel threatened by the authority of the King of Kings, but the King of Kings in all of his authority is not threatened by you, he's not threatened by me, he's not threatened by any king who has ever reigned or will ever reign, because he is powerful and sovereign over all. And so what may feel like a threat to us, please hear this, is actually our only hope. Because the King of Kings looks at us in our insecurities, in our desires to control, in our desires to be kings of the castle in our world, in our life, and he does not do what Herod the King did. He does not try to destroy those who appear as a potential threat, no, he sees us in our need and sees us as we fight for control and sees us even in our desperation to be the ultimate authority of our life and he says, I'm giving my life for you. Jesus did not come to destroy you because you are fighting to be the king, Jesus came to save you from your desire to be the King.

George Wright: 27:12 I want to turn our attention quickly to one final passage of scripture before we close today. It's a passage of scripture that you're probably familiar with, even if you haven't spent a lot of time in church. Many people would say, this is the most famous passage in all of the scripture. If you're a sports fan at all, you've probably seen this held up on a poster board by a guy with a rainbow wig. He used to do that a lot, I don't think he's with us anymore. John 3:16, have you heard of this verse? It's a pretty good one. Let me read it for you, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son. (Listen to this.) That whoever believes in him should not perish,` but have eternal life." Jesus did not come to destroy you, even in your attempt to be a King. Jesus did not come to destroy me, even in my attempt to fight for control. Verse 17 says this, "For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." You see what may feel like a threat to our desire for control, is actually an invitation to trust the one who is truly in control. What may feel like a threat to our desire to be king, is actually an invitation to come and worship the true King.

George Wright: 28:57 You see, the question that this passage of scripture presents to us at Christmas is, will we worship the King or will we feel threatened by the King? Those who worship the King come and offer the King their life. Those who feel threatened by the King do what we saw last night. If you watched the awards presentation for college football, we give God the Heisman, right? And that's what a lot of you have been doing, you appreciate some of the things that God has done, you appreciate some of the story of Christmas, but if you're honest, you know that God feels a little threatening to your authority over your life. And you're keeping God at a distance, because you want to be in control. The question is, will we worship the King of Kings? Will we lay down our crowns at the foot of the King? Will we step off of our little tiny miniature throne to worship the one who sits on the throne? Will we worship the King, or will we feel threatened by the King?

George Wright: 30:23 John chapter 3 verse 18 says this, "For whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only son of God." I close with this because it's so important. Jesus did not come to condemn you. In fact, even if you are running hard away from him, even if you're giving him the Heisman, even if you're trying to keep him at a distance. Jesus has not come to condemn you, please hear this, because Jesus did not come to condemn sinners, he came to save sinners. But sinners who refuse to accept the gift that Jesus offers, what does the scripture say? Are condemned already. They condemn themselves, because their refusal to bow and worship the King, is to say, no, I don't need the King, I'll do this my own way. And the message of the gospel says, the reason the King has come, it's because you and I could never get to him by doing it our own way, we need what he alone provides in his grace and his mercy. We need what Christ alone has done in offering his perfect life at the cross, as the perfect payment for our sin. We need Jesus, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, has come that you and I might live. Will you worship, or will you feel threatened when you see what God has done?

George Wright: 32:32 Let me close this in a word of prayer, and I would just invite you as we pray to allow spirit of God to reveal if there is anything in your life that needs to be laid down at the foot of the King. Is there anything that you're holding onto too tightly? Is there any crown that you're trying to wear that needs to be placed at the throne of the King of Kings? Let's go before the Lord and ask him to do what he does in our hearts. Father, we thank you for this time of considering your word here at Christmas. We're so grateful for the beautiful good news that is proclaimed through the story of Christmas, that the King has come, God has come to dwell among men. Immanuel, God is with us. Thank you Jesus for coming to do for us what we can never do for our self. And Lord, there are so many times where we are actually fighting against your reign and your rule in our life, so many times where we are trying to cling to control, trying to cling to authority, trying to be the King of our life. So Lord, I pray that in those times, even now as we consider this, that you would reveal to us, is there something that needs to be laid down at the foot of the throne? Is there something that we need to bring to the King of Kings, that we need to let go of, that you might reign and rule in our lives? Lord, give us the faith to trust you to lay down our crowns. Father, I pray for those who are with us, or are listening to this, who have never experienced the gift of salvation, they realize perhaps even now that they've been walking in darkness. I pray, Lord, today would be the day that their eyes are open to see the marvelous light that is salvation, Jesus the King of Kings. I pray that you would give them the faith and the power of your spirit to trust the King. To say, Jesus, I am ready to follow you, I lay my life before your throne, I lay my life before you the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and the savior of my life. Oh Lord, we thank you for the gift of forgiveness that comes when we turn from our sin and turn to you, and we pray this Christmas season that there would be many, many who hear the good news of the gospel, and many who trust their life to Jesus Christ. Thank you for what you have done, oh King, we worship you, for you are worthy of our praise. It's in Christ' name I pray. Amen.

Recorded in Columbia, South Carolina.
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Shandon Baptist Church
5250 Forest Drive
Columbia, South Carolina 29206