My message from Tuesday night’s Christmas Eve services …
- Began with our congregation standing and reading Luke 2:1-7 out loud and together;
- Pivoted on Paul’s affirmation in Philippians 3:12 that Christ Jesus had first grabbed on to him;
- Was about 2/3 the length of a Sunday sermon, in recognition of the night;
- Landed at this bottom line: His grip is stronger than your fear.
READ Luke 2:1-7
Ah, such beautiful simplicity in the telling of that story. All the things Luke LEAVES OUT that we would today clamor to PUT IN. We in 2019 are just obsessed with the kind of details – when did her water break, how far was she dilated when you got the epidural, who did Jesus look more like after he was born? … all that kind of stuff. With my kids, who were born almost forever ago, I can tell you those kind of details. But in spite of all that Luke withholds, there is one thing about that baby Jesus born on that Xmas night that I know was true because it has been true of pretty much every baby I’ve met.
He had a strong grip (AV). Have you noticed that with newborns? Their hands have been clenched in the womb for nine months and when they emerge from the warm darkness into the cold flourescence, they are ready to grab on to a finger and hold. It’s true at a day, it’s true at a week, it’s true at a month … something inherent in little babies love to grab your index finger and hold on for dear life. I’m sure that’s what baby Jesus did with Mary, with Joseph, with the innkeeper, the shepherds, and for all we know, the Magi as well. That baby’s got a grip.
And since we’re talking God With Us this Xmas, I’m really struck by all the ways that what Jesus did as a baby he continues to do even today. Because I don’t know about you, but there are a lot of times when I need to someone to get a grip on me because I can’t get a grip for myself. There are things from yesterday that shame me, from today that annoy me, and about tomorrow that make me anxious. That fill me with fear. I don’t know if you’re like this, but there’s even some stuff about Xmas that I sort of … dread … that I’m more than a little anxious about?
Like: did I get the right present for Julie whose love language is GIFTS and you better get it right? Do you have any idea how much pressure that is?!?! Will I be OK with a bunch of people in my house? Hospitality, which is so natural for some, is such a challenge for me. So some things about Xmas that I fear of ever getting right. Maybe it’s that way for you. Perhaps the dread is really, really immediate – you fear coming to church tonight, you’re only here because your family made you, you think someone is going to tell you you’re going to hell, and now you’re not sure you can endure it. That’s OK; we’re glad you’re here & unless you stomp out I doubt anyone will know. Or maybe, just maybe, your fear is for what happens beyond Xmas this year. It’s the fear that the job you have now won’t still be there after Xmas. It’s the despair that the marriage which seems so iffy now will fall off the cliff then.
Or some of you who have up to this point had some self-restraint are fearful and anxious at the thought that you’ll lose it and do something or say something with that someone that whether or not it is reciprocated, will likely blow up your family or your job or both. And for a few of you that fear has no circumstance behind it or before it … it’s that panic that attacks without reason and without warning. You feel like you’re gonna die, you kinda wish you would but then you don’t and how do you recover from that? Yeah, from my vantage point so many people are fill with so much uncertainty and anxiety and you couple those two together and even on Xmas Eve people have fear all around, with little hope that tomorrow will be any better.
Which is why I love the fact that the bible is a library and not a book. Which is why I love the ways the Paul, who struggled with Jesus, augments Luke’s story. Which is why this line from a letter later in the NT that at first glance has nothing to do with Christmas and later it has EVERYTHING to do with it. Check it out:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
OMG. Jesus has taken hold of Paul. The little baby with the infant vice grip has become the Risen Savior holding on to Paul to keep him from falling apart AND to keep pulling him towards his potential. God with us indeed. Y’all do know, don’t you, that the ONLY reason this birth is worth remembering is because his resurrection was all conquering? Y’all know that, right? If not, my greatest joy, my truest delight is to tell you that tonight. And it is that risen state, as our reigning Lord and returning King, that Jesus was holding on to Paul. Is holding on to Paul. Infant vice grip becomes resurrection love hold. Because here’s what that baby plus Paul’s confidence tells us: His grip is stronger than your fear. Yep, you, me, and everyone else who is running away from God or even clinging to him while we still nurse our anxiety like it’s our prize possession, it’s His grip is stronger than your fear.
When we look into the future of our marriage, our job, our faith, and our health and despair threatens to drown us: His grip is stronger than your fear.
You know how I know this is true? Because I can count up about four times when I just wanted to walk away from faith. Ditch its routines, abandon the idea that my life was not my own. It was sophomore year in college, it was a couple of years into marriage when I wanted to just be an 80s yuppie, it was in a hard season of ministry while in Monroe, and then it was even about 12-13 years ago here. Lord, PLEASE let me pursue a career in landscaping! Or let me get a job where I can be a chaplain in a hospital w/ no responsibilities of leading people. Or can I teach tennis again? Or how about becoming a male model? Yep, I know about despairing of faith. And yet every time do you know what happened? His grip got tighter and pulled me back home. A book, a friend, a prayer, even the toil of getting the next sermon ready. Whatever it was, however it happens, the conclusion is inescapable: His grip is stronger than your fear.
Maybe you’ve heard of the boy who wanted his mother to pay him for all the services he was rendering for the house. Here’s what he said:
For washing the dishes you ow me a dollar. For cleaning my room, you owe me a dollar. For hanging my clothes up, you owe me a dollar. For mowing the lawn, you owe me a dollar. Total $4, payable upon receipt.
He printed a bill for her, totaling $4, and gave it to her. Her reply? She put a note with $4 on the kitchen table and the note said this:
For carrying you nine months sick as a dog, no charge. For staying up all night with you, night after night, when you were sick, no charge. For working overtime so you could get those fabulous Nikes, no charge. For entertaining your friends when you wanted to bring them over without notice, no charge. Signed, your mother who loves you. Total, zero; paid it all.
To which we might add: leaving heaven for a cradle in the dirt, getting nailed to a cross, rising again, no charge. Jesus paid it all. Hallelujah, Jesus paid it all. That’s what it’s like. That’s the grip that will not let go even if you want to run away and hide. His grip is stronger than your fear.
I think what I love most about this reality is all the ways that he protects you from yourself and for himself. All that ways his grip was keeping you out of stuff you otherwise would have stepped right into. That person you COULD HAVE married. That job you COULD HAVE taken. That you COULD HAVE hired. That drug you COULD HAVE taken. The last word you COULD HAVE gotten in, but you didn’t, and now the relationship is back where it was before. God’s grip protected you from your worst enemy which is you! They talk about Amazing Grace which is so cool and beautiful, while Protecting Grace isn’t nearly as sexy or shiny but it shore is the story of my life. And yours. His grip is stronger than your fear.
Awhile back, I was thinking about this subject and pondering on what’s really the central reality of my life, which is that my level of blessings far surpasses my level of obedience. And so social media I asked this simple question:
Anyone else out there marvel at the ways your level of blessing far surpasses your level of obedience? (AV).
And do you know the main way people responded?
With this Facebook emoji: (HAND RAISED)
Person after person: I do! I do! I do!
Heh. Those same hands lifted up had been gripped by Jesus’ grace all along.
Please. Tonight, on Xmas Eve, don’t feel like you have to get a grip. Instead, get gripped. You’ll be glad you did.