Christmas – The Story of Courage
Christmas – The Story of Courage!
Sermon Notes – Ps. Jim White
Christmas Eve 2019
I want to take a moment to remember and pray for all those men, women and families who have been directly affected by the fires… those who have lost loved ones, homes, everything… and those who are fighting the fires on our behalf…
And also the farmers who have been struggling now for years without decent rain. As we all know, the effects go so much deeper than loss of livestock and property.
Then I want to bring you a Word that speaks into our own response… The Christmas story is not just a lovely, feel good, uplifting memory… When we look at the realities of life, relationships and struggles surrounding those involved with the birth of Christ.. those who had to walk through the unknown… it gives us courage ourselves to keep going, and to not be overwhelmed by the things we see happening around us.
Heavenly Father, this nation, in many ways, is in a state of shock. The words “emergency” and “catastrophe” flash across our screens every day, along with images that break our hearts.
Father, we pray that fear would not engulf us – but instead – we would lift our eyes to You. We pray from a place of faith, love and compassion – and we believe together that you would pour out Your mercy and healing upon this land.
We lift up every man, woman and child that has suffered loss. We ask that you would reveal Yourself to them not only in practical ways – but in the revelation of Your great love for them.
We as the church ask for Your forgiveness for the ways our nation has turned itself away from You. And we declare that our only Hope is in Your redeeming grace and love.
Revive this land Father. Let it become a place and a people that seeks to bring Glory to Your name.
We cry out on behalf of the broken, the destitute, the grieving, the lost… Bring supernatural healing, provision, comfort and redemption to all…
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Tonight’s message, I believe, is a taste of what God desires to do in us this coming year at Seacoast Church. If you’re visiting here this evening, and this word speaks to you, then perhaps this is for you as well.
You can probably find an abundance of prophetic declarations about 2020 coming out of all the different ministries around the world. Hopefully they will all carry an encouragement for us to be strengthened in our journey with Christ.
But two things that God has been speaking to me about for this coming year, are courage and honour. We’ll look more closely at these qualities over the coming weeks. But it’s basically about finding courage in our hearts to face the fears or at least concerns that we all inevitably have… courage to face the challenges of the future… to push through to new places that require some overcoming… and with it all, a new and fresh sense of honour for God – honouring Him even more with our lives, our gifts, our time… building honour more and more into our everyday life. And honouring one another…
However a great way to start is to recognise just how courageous all the different characters involved in the Christmas story really were.
These were real people, ordinary people, humble people – who in their own way had to face fears – overcome them – and trust God completely to keep them, use them and vindicate them, in the midst of circumstances that you and I would find overwhelming and fearful ourselves.
Christmas is a story of many things… But it is definitely a story of Courage!
Every aspect of their lives speaks into our own – because they were people just like you and I.
I don’t want to tell the whole story… but there are precious glimpses into the lives of these amazing people who have an even more amazing God, that I want to highlight.
Like the moment Zacharias the priest went into the temple to burn incense. Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth were faithful and righteous in God’s sight. They were getting on in years, and Elizabeth was barren – beyond normal child bearing age. So they had no children.
While Zacharias was in the temple on his own – with the multitude of people praying outside – an angel of the Lord appeared to him:
Luke 1:12-13, “And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.”
This of course was to be John the Baptist – the one who would herald in the Messiah – the Saviour of the world.
Let me just say – there were a lot of things to be troubled and fearful of around this time… the Jewish people were accustomed to living in fear.
There was the constant threat of poverty, and even starvation. The people were oppressed by the ruling Roman government. They were taxed beyond their ability to pay – corruption was rife. The economy was a mess and there was violence in the streets. Israel was actually struggling to hold on to its true identity as the people of God.
Every generation has its struggles and challenges to overcome.
Zacharias’ wife Elizabeth soon fell pregnant – but she hid herself away for months.
In the meantime, an angel appears to Mary – a teenage girl – a virgin. She’s betrothed to a man, but not yet married. And the angel tells her that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and she will give birth to the Son of God.
Luke 1:29-30, “But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
Luke 1:36-38, “Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.”
This is not a fairy tale. This is a recorded history of events. And just in these two incidents – as wonderful as they are to us, because we know the fullness of what they mean – just imagine these two women having to deal with life, with family, with other people, with their own emotions and inner world, at the time.
They were both afraid. They were both troubled. And yet they pushed past their fear and trusted God’s plan for their lives. They had learnt to trust Him even before these things happened.
I want to ask you this evening – what is the area of barrenness that has caused you grief and disappointment – perhaps fear that what you are believing for will never happen?
Perhaps there’s also a certain fear that it will happen.
What are the unanswered dreams and desires of your heart? Do you still hold courage in your heart for barrenness to turn to fruitfulness?
I believe that this year will be our opportunity both as individuals and as the church, to step out in courage and face whatever fears or apprehensions that have held us back and kept us barren in certain areas of our ministry – and our life…
We all have mindsets, emotional influences from the past, ways of dealing with life that tend to want to avoid fearful and difficult things… or situations that push our buttons. Or people that push our buttons. But we have to get bigger than that. Sometimes you just have to do it afraid. Step into the unknown. Or is this message only for me?
Courage is the ability to accomplish something that frightens you. The word courage has strong links to the heart.
Whatever you are fearful of happening – or not happening – how do you respond to the multitude of emotions that you are confronted with?
Imagine Elizabeth in her culture. Bareness carried a certain shame… embarrassment… But even when Elizabeth became pregnant, her first response was to hide herself.
Imagine Mary trying to explain her pregnancy to her family.
But I love the moment when Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth is about 6 months on in her pregnancy…
Luke 1:39-41, “Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”
At this moment the two women were given strength and emboldened faith to truly fulfil God’s plan for them. Even baby John was leaping in the womb at the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb. It must have been a significant leap to make it into the bible! And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
There was no more sense of shame and fear for either of them. Mary sang a beautiful, anointed song from a place of newfound joy and courage.
Whatever fears you may be facing – nothing is impossible for God! Our part is to trust! To have faith! To find courage in our heart! And wait for God’s presence, His Anointing, His blessing, His timing.
Your barrenness in life, in ministry, in relationships, whatever it is – you might find that fruitfulness will come in a very unexpected and sovereign way.
I feel that’s a word for some here tonight. Nothing is impossible for God.
In the background to all this is Joseph. When I read his part of the story again, it was confirmation that the launch of the coming year is indeed the establishing of a fresh sense of courage and honour.
When Joseph heard about Mary’s unexpected pregnancy, it says:
Matthew 1:19-20, “Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”
Joseph was a just man… a godly man… an honourable man. When at first he thought Mary must have been unfaithful to him, he didn’t react with anger and condemnation… he obviously loved her… so he began to think about how he could provide a private place for her to go and have the baby – without having to suffer the rumours and judgement of her neighbours.
But he must have also carried a certain amount of apprehension and fear… because the angel said – do not be afraid Joseph.
And the moment Joseph heard from the angel – and realised the divine calling upon Mary’s life – and his as well – from that moment the focus of his honour shifted to being the most supportive and caring betrothed husband that he could possibly be.
That still took courage. This wasn’t his child. The rumours would still be flying. Many would simply not understand or comprehend the truth.
This raises the point that sometimes we need courage to walk through circumstances and face other people’s judgements when they actually don’t know the fullness of truth – or won’t listen to the truth – maybe don’t even want to know the truth.
It takes courage to walk through that – to not react, get angry, get frustrated, get offended…
I’ve experienced it. I’m sure you’ve experienced it.
But do you now what? We are called to be a people of honour – not dishonour.
We always need to face our own motivations first, our own shadows from the past that might be influencing us… But we need to do all we can to honour God with our lives – in the face of fear, in the face of false or unfounded judgement…
And to be honest, honouring God is often best expressed through our honour of one another.
Even that takes courage. Courage to love when we are fearful of others opinions, others attitudes and reactions…
1John 4:18-19 (Passion) says this: “Love never brings fear, for fear is always related to punishment. But love’s perfection drives the fear of punishment far from our hearts. Whoever walks constantly afraid of punishment has not reached love’s perfection. Our love for others is our grateful response to the love God first demonstrated to us.”
I’m encouraging you tonight – I’m asking you – to lay down your perceived opinions and judgements – lay down your fears and apprehensions. Lay down even your own fear of punishment… because perfect love drives out and casts down all fear from our hearts.
Surrounding the birth of Christ – leading up to it – God was working in the hearts of many people. He was bringing about His plans and purposes for salvation of the world – through them.
His message over and over was – do not be afraid… In other words – I’m calling you to a place of courage. Courage to walk in the path I have before you. You mightn’t understand it. You might never have chosen it for yourself. But let Me bring about redemption to you – and those those around you.
Let’s honour God with our lives – consecrate ourselves to Him again – not only for this Christmas season – but for the season that 2020 holds for us.
As has become a bit of a tradition – I want to invite you to do something prophetically to mark a new beginning in your life. A step up to courage. A step up to honour God and others. And it’s simply done by lighting a candle… bringing light to your dreams and desires.
You can also take advantage of this moment to remember a loved one who is no longer with us… or to let this be a prayer for something you hold very privately and intimately in your heart.
As the worship team come again – please just take your time to come and ignite some fresh hope and life into this coming year.
Jesus – You are the reason we are here. You are the One we adore. Pour out Your Spirit afresh upon Your people right now. In your precious name. Amen.