Welcome to worship. That’s why we are here tonight - to worship Jesus. He is the King of kings, Lord of lords, the Ancient of Days, the Alpha and Omega, Creator of the universe, living Word of God, the Savior of the world.
The heavens and earth proclaim his glory. The only beings in all creation who don’t naturally worship Jesus are the devil, the demons and people. He is worthy of worship. We were created to worship him and enjoy him forever. When we do, we find the peace and joy we long for– so what went wrong? Why are many people still reluctant to worship him?
Let me back up a little. This year is the 200 anniversary of the writing of “Silent Night”. It was the night before Christmas Eve in 1818 in Oberndorf, a small town in the Austrian Alps.
Pastor Joseph Mohr was walking home after watching a band of traveling actors re-tell the story of Jesus’ birth. The quiet winter night, the brilliant stars, the candle lit homes, reminded him of a poem he had written a few years before. Maybe they could come up with a tune and sing it for their Christmas Eve service the next night. The problem was the organ was broken. They would have to do the song with guitar.
The next day, he shared his idea with the choir master, Franz Gruber. That evening, Gruber, playing his guitar, introduced the hymn to the congregation. Since then the simple carol has been translated into over 300 languages. So what is it that makes it so special?
“Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright” Bright night? What does that mean? If you’ve ever lived where the night sky is crystal clear and there’s no light pollution, you know what it means. The blacker the night, the brighter the stars! John begins his Gospel, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it”.
Maybe stars are God’s way of saying, “No matter how black the night, my light is greater, and that’s cause for hope.” Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12 What an audacious thing to say. Unless, its true!
Many have undertaken to prove Jesus was a fake. Every one of them have failed. Many of the scholars who were sincere in their search discovered Jesus to be exactly who he said he is. And they bowed before him as God, their God, the Only God, the Savior of the world.
“Silent night, Holy night! All is calm, all is bright” All is calm? How can that be when a teenage mother is having a baby in a stable 90 miles from home? Calm? Is there such a place in this war torn world? The world into which Jesus was born was no different than ours. It was filled with trouble, with bullies, with fear, depravity, hopelessness and helplessness.
Where do we find calm in a world like this? Gruber tells us. It’s “Round yon Virgin - mother and child, Holy Infant so tender and mild.” This baby is not only the Light of the World, he is the source of peace, heavenly peace. The Hebrew word is Shalom.
The prophet Isaiah told us that when Jesus came he would be the Prince of Peace. Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27
The Apostle Paul called him source of peace that makes no earthly sense. Humans can’t generate this kind of peace. It must come from God. And the more we disconnect ourselves from God, in the pursuit of peace, the more elusive peace becomes. We end up trying to force our ideas of peace on others which strangely enough results in violence and hostility.
Out in the shepherd’s field the night sky was suddenly lit up with a choir of angels. How wonderful that God chose these lowly shepherds to be the first to hear the good news. “To you is born this day in tiny Bethlehem, the shepherd town, a Savior who is Christ the Lord!”
The world had been waiting, longing for this news since the day Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden. I’m sure the angels had been waiting, longing, rehearsing for the day when they could sing it out for the world to hear. The historian Luke tells it like this:
“There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Lk 2:8-11
A Savior! To save us from what? As a young pastor, I was asked to do a funeral for a very pagan man. When I met with the family before the service his brother growled, “If anybody ever says anything bad about my brother, they’ll have to deal me. He was the best man I ever met.”
The truth was, he hated his brother and the two hadn’t talked to each other for 20 years. The prayer of commendation at the end of the service goes like this. “Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant , Leroy. Acknowledge, we pray, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming.”
I was afraid his brother would come up to me after the service punch me in the nose for daring to call his brother a sinner. Yet everyone knew what a depraved life this man had lived. I didn’t get punched but I realized how important it is to fearlessly tell the truth.
A while later I got a call from a woman who attended our church. She said her husband had just been told he had two weeks to live. So I went to see Vic. Vic was an old cowboy and a man of few words. I’d seen him in church maybe once.
I got right to the point. “Vic, they tell me you’re dying.” He nodded. “You ready for that?” He shrugged his shoulders. “I’m not sure.” “Would you like to be.” He looked at me and nodded. “Vic, the Bible says Jesus died for sinners. Do you qualify?” He looked down and nodded. “Yeah, I do.”
The Bible also says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all of our unrighteousness.” It says, “If we will receive him and believe in his name, he will write our names in his Book of Life.” “Would you like to do that?” “Yes, I would.”
Vic Garsjo was born again that day. His wife later asked me, “What did you do to my husband?” I didn’t do anything. It was Jesus. The angel told the shepherds,
“This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Lk 2:12-14
You can’t buy heavenly peace! You can’t earn it or self-generate it! It comes as a gift from God and you must receive it by faith. You are no accident. God planned you from the creation of the universe. He loves you. He gave his life for you. He went to the cross to pay the debt of your sin. He’s been watching over you whether you are aware of it or not. His purpose is that you will come to know him, enjoy him and serve him forever in eternity.
So why continue to waste the time and talent he has given you living for yourself? Instead of running away from him, why not run to him? That’s what the shepherds did. When they got to the stable, they bowed down and worshipped him. Luke says they went back to their fields glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.
How do you suppose the shepherds slept the night after they met Jesus? Like Gruber writes, they probably slept in “heavenly peace”. How did Vic sleep after he met Jesus? Probably in “heavenly peace”. A week later Vic died asleep in God’s “heavenly peace”.
Shalom means much more than absence of conflict. It means wholeness, healing, joy, comfort, hope, harmony, balance, even abundance, not in a material sense, but in a much deeper sense that makes the temporary idolatries of pleasure, wealth and power as insignificant as children making mud pies in a back alley. Shalom means eternal salvation.
The last line of Gruber’s carol goes like this. “Jesus, Lord at Thy birth, Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.” We’d like to pretend we are lord of our lives. We’re not. Only Jesus is Lord. Those who deny this have never looked into his face. They’ve been afraid to draw near. Maybe because they’re ashamed, but Jesus is the answer for our shame. He didn’t come to condemn us, he came to forgive us and to remove our shame as far as east is from west.
Or maybe they’re afraid of losing their independence. But the truth is, you have no independence, you’re a slave of your own sinful nature. But Jesus came to set the captives free and that means you. He came to help you become who he created you to be.
The angels invited the shepherds to draw near to Jesus and they did. So did Vic! So did I! Most of the people around you drew near to Jesus as well and that’s why they’re here. They’re on their way to worshipping him now and forever! And they’ll never go back. If you’ve never responded to the angel’s invitation to draw near to Jesus, why not tonight?
This Jesus we worship is hope incarnate, love incarnate and peace incarnate. He’s also the source of a good night’s sleep not just now, but on our final day of life in this world.
If you’ve never drawn near to Jesus here’s how it’s done. Would you pray with me? “Jesus, I need you. I believe you died for sinners and I qualify. Help me draw near to you. Forgive my sin and come into my heart. Help me spend the rest of my time on earth following you, learning about you and serving you - starting tonight and forevermore. In Your name, Amen.