Here's a short, to-the-point Christmas sermon from Mark Batterson, pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC, and author of Wild Goose Chase (Multnomah, 2008). One of the things to look for is Batterson's ability to encapsulate big thoughts in memorable ways: "He is God Most High and God Most Nigh;" "He (Jesus) became nothing so that we could become something;" "The greatest gift God gives us is the present of presence;" "The best experiences are lacking when we experience them by ourselves."
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, "God with us." When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
One of the biggest mistakes we make in the way we think about God is thinking about him in four-dimensional terms. God isn't four dimensional. According to string theorists, there was a dimensional split shortly after Creation, which means there are more dimensions than meet the eye. Physicists postulate the existence of at least ten dimensions, which leads Dr. Hugh Ross to argue that God is at least eleven dimensional. The truth is: God is omni-dimensional or extra-dimensional.
I mention all of that to say this: we all underestimate God.
In the words of Dr. Ross: "We doctrinally orthodox Christians potentially underestimate God's nature, powers, and capacities by a factor of a trillion in one dimension." If you add just a second dimension, we underestimate God by a trillion to the trillionth power. Truth be told, we underestimate God by infinity to the infinity power.
Immanuel: God with us
God is the Almighty One. But he is also Immanuel. If you want a balanced picture of God, you've got to juxtapose those two names. He is God Most High and God Most Nigh. He exists outside time and space. He is also Immanuel—God with us.
God entered space-time 2,000 years ago in a tiny village outside Jerusalem called Bethlehem. Galatians 4:4 says, "When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights as sons." Jesus was subject to the same spiritual laws that govern all of us. He was also subject to the same physical laws that govern the universe.
It's easier for us to accept that Jesus was fully God than that he was fully human. But we underestimate the humanness as well as the divinity of Jesus. I have these weird thoughts sometimes. Here's one of them: For the better part of 30 years, Jesus worked as a carpenter. I wonder if Jesus ever missed the nail and hit his thumb. I wonder if he ever got a splinter. I think he did. I think Jesus got bumps and bruises and toothaches and stomachaches and headaches. He got tired and hungry. He got sad and mad. Hebrews 4:15 says he was tempted just like we are, but he never gave into temptation. He suffered like we do—more than we do. William Shakespeare said, "He jests at scars who never felt a wound." We don't serve a scar-less God. We serve a God with scarred hands and feet and side and back. According to Isaiah 52:14, Jesus was scarred beyond recognition.
Philippians 2:6 says Jesus "made himself nothing." He "humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!" God put skin on. He became touchable and approachable. Think about this: The Omnipresent One downsized to the confines of a human womb. The Omnipotent One became a helpless baby that had to be fed and nursed and burped. The Omniscient One had to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic. He became nothing. Why? He became nothing so that we could become something. It's all about trading places or trading spaces. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, "He who knew no sin became sin for us so that we could become the righteousness of God." In other words, Jesus makes us a deal we can't refuse. He says, "Give me all of your sin. I'll give you all of my righteousness. And we'll call it even." I love the way Dick Foth says it: "He came to our place. He took our place. And he invites us back to his place." That is the gospel in a nutshell.
The present of presence
The greatest gift a parent can give a child is the present of presence. That is what kids crave. Our youngest son, Josiah, is at the stage where he never wants me to leave. When it's time for work he never wants me to leave the house. When it's time for bed he never wants me to leave the room. Sometimes I'll ask the kids if they want to go with me when I'm running an errand. Josiah always shoots his hand into the air and says, "Me!" in an irresistible falsetto voice. Kids crave their parent's presence.
I played basketball for the University of Chicago, and our conference schools were scattered all over the country. We played Emory in Atlanta and New York University in New York City and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. But the game I remember the most was Brandeis in Boston. That is an awfully long drive from Chicago. I'm guessing 16 hours one way. My parents drove from Chicago to Boston to watch me play. Here's the kicker. I only got a few minutes of playing time in that particular game. And they had to turn around after the game and drive home. Thirty-two hours of driving to watch me sit on the bench! But I'll never forget it.
A.W. Tozer said that "most Christians are theological Christians." He said they are attempting the impossible. "They're trying to be happy without a sense of the presence." How sad! The greatest gift God gives us is the present of presence. Jesus said, "I will be with you always, even to the end of the age." The Holy Spirit is our 24/7 counselor. He is always on call. Before you got up this morning and after you go to bed tonight, he will be interceding for you!
Let me tell you about one of the best days of my life. Years ago I was at a conference in Southern California and had a free day, so I hopped a boat to Catalina Island, about 25 miles off the coast of California. If you know me you know I love the ocean. There is something about the ocean waves that recalibrates my spirit. I love the sun, and there was plenty of it that day. I love books, and I had a good one. I love islands and I love exploring new places, and Catalina was both of those things. I took a tour of the island and found it fascinating. There are actually buffalo that roam the island. They were brought over for a movie shoot in the 1930s and left there. I chilled on the beach. I did a little window shopping. And I went parasailing. It was pretty close to my definition of a perfect day except for one thing. One thing was missing. All day I had this recurring thought: "I wish Lora was here." One of my dreams is to take her back there so we can experience it together.
The best experiences are lacking when we experience them by ourselves. The greatest experiences are shared experiences. That is why the Almighty One became Immanuel.
Maybe this is over obvious, but the Almighty One became "God with us" because he wanted to be with us. Here is an amazing thought: God wants to spend eternity with you. Even I get tired of being around me sometimes! But not God.
Revelation 21:3 says, "I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God." He came to our place. He took our place. And he invites us back to his place.
To see an outline of Batterson's sermon, click here.
For your reflection:
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul?
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach?
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers?
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points?
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers?
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers?