Merry Christmas. I hope that the joy of Jesus is fueling your anticipation of this season. It’s definitely the most wonderful time of the year. Now I hope that beyond seeing families and friends this morning that you’ve noticed we’ve had a decorative transformation of our campus, both here at Taylors and Northwest. Here at Taylors we also have artwork throughout these buildings, and I hope that you’ll have an opportunity go look at that. This artwork is provided by family and friends of North Hills, inspired by our creator God. So please take the time over the next few weeks (they’ll be up this whole month) to look at the art. We appreciate the artists taking the time to share their talents with us. I just want to thank this morning publicly, Corinne Dyer and Johanna Ehnis. They are the two ladies behind all of the decorations and behind the Artist’s Advent Gala. They have put in hundreds of hours. Yes. [clapping] Along with countless volunteers, they put in hundreds of hours preparing and thinking through, and we want to really honor them this morning. I also want to honor Rebecca Ferguson and Cheryl Greene. They’re the ones that are helping us with all the special music. Just like we had our children’s choir this morning, but each Sunday we’ll have special music. And in the lobbies, they’ve arranged for different musicians to be in the lobbies in between services, after services. I want to really honor Cheryl and Rebecca for all that they’ve done. It’s a lot of work and we really appreciate their doing all of that.
This morning we’re kicking off our series for Christmas as it says right there “Jesus: Hope of all the Earth.” And our intention, just so that you know, is that we pick out Christmas carols that share the full gospel with us. And we did this last year, and it just makes an impact on us. We don’t want to be just singing these Christmas carols and not thinking about the message that’s contained within the songs themselves. I’m speaking this week. Our teaching pastor, Peter Hubbard, will be here next week. Ryan Ferguson will be here the third Sunday, and then I’ll wrap it up at the end of the month. But we’re trusting God that these songs that we sing all the time that could be really familiar to us, that the truth of the gospel which is contained within these songs will be energized in our hearts. That we’ll think about what we’re singing, and we’ll be trusting God by his Spirit to do his work in our hearts as we look at these different songs. Today we’re looking at one that’s not as familiar, but we just heard it sung, and we’re going to also sing it together after I speak.
Last weekend, I don’t know if you knew, but they say it’s one of the busiest travel weekends of the year. Over 42 million people (Which if you think about it, we really need to talk to some of them and say, “What were you thinking?”) decided that last weekend: “We’re going to figure out a way to go home or to see family and friends. We’re traveling.” But actually, those people got the good easy one, because in a couple of weeks during the Christmas holiday they say over 85 million Americans will travel to see family and friends during that week. 85 million, almost a fourth of our population, is going to travel during the Christmas holidays. It’s just like there’s this inexorable, unrelenting longing to be home for the holidays.
And I don’t know about you, but I did not know, I guess I’d forgotten, that Christmas actually didn’t start this month. It actually started November 1st. I happened to be watching college football that day and all of a sudden it was just commercial after commercial. I was talking to my wife and I said, “It’s November but you would think it’s December.” Countless commercials began that first part of November, and then all of these movies on the Hallmark Channel and Lifetime and all of these different channels. Got to have Christmas now!
In the music, all of these things, they dramatize, and they verbalize both the joys and the heartaches and the challenges of being home with our families, what it means to come home. Popular songs remind us that there is
“no place like home for the holidays … no matter how far away you roam, if you want to be happy in a million ways, for the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home.” [I’m not through! It’s that] “most wonderful time of the year. There’ll be much mistletoeing and hearts will be glowing when loved ones are near.”
I do not know what that means. Loved ones are near, my heart’s going to be glowing. I don’t know if that’s like Rudolph’s nose or you know … I don’t know what that actually means. Actually one of the most popular and revered Christmas songs is “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Bing Crosby made this famous in the early 40s. It’s a song that was written remembering our soldiers who were in World War II. They were in Europe and the Pacific, and they were just trying to think about what they’re going through during the Christmas season. It has only two verses, which is extraordinary in a song as popular as it is … It’s been recorded 2,200 different times. Think about that — two verses, 2,200 different renditions of this one song. But the soldier is saying that he’s hoping to be home for Christmas. He’s saying, “I hope that we’ll have snow, mistletoe, presents on the tree.” And then he says even if he can’t go home, he sums up his desire by saying, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”
To some degree, if you think about it, this longing to be home is a part of everybody’s experience, whatever that might mean to them. But the truth of the matter is, not everybody can be home for Christmas. I don’t know if that’s happened to you before. I remember the first time we couldn’t be home for Christmas, it was just like this, “Ugh! We’re not with our family.” It’s just kind of … it was just different, you know? But there is this thing about being home for Christmas. But it’s not always possible.
Actually, for some people, they don’t even have a home to go to. I’m speaking primarily about the homeless. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are over 550,000 homeless people in America every night. Here in the upstate, Greenville County, there are over thirty-six hundred men, women, and children that don’t have any place they call home to go to. It is, for the homeless, a difficult and often excruciating life. Most of the homeless are sheltered in emergency shelters at night. But more often than not they’re living out in the countryside or out on the streets. They’re usually on the move during the day trying to figure out where they’re going to get food or if there’s an opportunity for some kind of work. And they’re desperately trying to figure out where they might spend the next night without freezing.
The reasons for homelessness are complicated, but they range from a lack of adequate, affordable housing, lack of opportunities for employment, limited public assistance, domestic violence, mental illness, and addictive substance abuse. But there’s also a correlation with poverty where, for some people, an illness or an accident or just missing one check can put them out on the street.
The thing that we want to feel this morning is that for the homeless, they believe that society most often has failed them. They’ve not recognized, we haven’t recognized their plight. There’s no place acceptable for them. They feel forgotten, lost, and rejected. And to be homeless oftentimes is to feel great shame, great shame for the circumstances they are in. They feel bewildered, confused, helpless, and alone. The idea that “I don’t belong. I don’t fit in. Nobody really cares. I don’t have a real home.” Those feelings are very common.
I know that most of us in here this morning can’t identify with what it means to be homeless, but we do know that it’s a terrible problem. The question is, oftentimes when we hear this subject, we say, “Who’s going to step up and solve the problem?” But the truth of the matter is both private and government institutions have wrestled with the complicated issue, and no long-term solution seems to be workable. The homeless need a Savior. They need a Champion.
In reality, I think that there’s a bigger homelessness problem than what I’ve just described and that’s the homelessness problem that happens to all of us spiritually, emotionally, relationally. Many of us realize that something is missing in our lives. We just don’t know exactly what it is. I would suggest we have a homelessness hole in our heart — a longing for a home where love, joy, acceptance, patience, and kindness are the earmarks of that home. These are things that could make up a home, but also the lack of those things may reveal our own homelessness. We need a Savior, a Redeemer, a Rescuer to bring us all home. I want to suggest this morning that all of us are homeless people who need Jesus. Our homelessness can only be satisfied by being with him. And only Jesus understands homelessness because Jesus is the only one who’s ever really been at home.
As our song we heard earlier helps us understand, Jesus knows what it means to be perfectly at home. The Scripture we read earlier from John says this,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”
In eternity past, prior to his coming to earth, Jesus was with God the Father and the Spirit in perfect fellowship in heaven. They were close. They were one. Heaven was his home, the place where God dwells. And there amongst the Godhead was perfect joy, love, and peace. There was mutual purpose, honor, and appreciation. Jesus knows what it’s like to live in the home of perfect harmony. Everything in heaven’s home was more than extraordinary — even more than we could ever imagine or think. Heaven’s home was perfect. There were big plans in the works there. As 1 Corinthians 2 says in the
“wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory … ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.’”
In God’s home, God was planning something incredible — a plan to make it possible for us to join him in his home. It says in Galatians 4,
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son to be born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that they might receive adoption as sons.”
There came a right time in eternity when Jesus voluntarily left his throne, left his home in heaven, and came to earth.
“The word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
The plan was for Jesus to become a man that he might rescue all men, women, boys and girls, and we could be adopted into the family of God and live in his home. Jesus came, and this is part of what we celebrate during this season. Jesus came to move in with us in an extraordinarily miraculous way. God became man.
But even though he was coming for our sakes, even in his coming to be man, we didn’t exactly invite him in. Our Christmas carol says this morning,
“in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room.”
Right from his birth Jesus became homeless. Came from a perfect home to earth, and immediately he became homeless. Luke 2:7 says,
“And Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
God’s eternal plan required Jesus to become homeless, and Jesus knows what it means to be homeless. First of all, to be homeless means there is no room for you here. John 1:10 says,
“He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”
That’s how it feels to be homeless. People don’t know you. People don’t receive you, which can mean you’re not wanted here. They don’t associate with you. There are only certain places for you to live. Not in this inn, only the stable is good enough for you. Not in this part of the city, no room for your kind here. Jesus understands what it means to be homeless. That’s how he lived his life every day. One day a scribe came up to Jesus and he said,
“‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’”
Jesus knows what it means to be homeless. It means there’s no room for you here.
To be homeless also means you have no home here. Jesus was a wandering, itinerant teacher constantly on the move from one part of town to another, from one village to the next, through the countryside and the wilderness. And unlike the foxes and the birds who had dens or nests to return to, Jesus had no home to return to day after day. He had no secure residence, no dwelling place he could call his own and no permanent resting place to rest his head. Rather, as our Christmas carol reminds us this morning, his couch was the sod or the dirt of the deserts of Galilee. Day after day Jesus was on the move, and everywhere he went he encountered others without a home — those that society said, “We don’t want anything to do with you.” A blind beggar, a leper, a woman caught in adultery, a demon-possessed man wandering through the cemetery — Jesus’ look of compassion and love, his words of life, his healing touch, gave them hope.
Our carol continues stating that while Jesus came with the living word that would set men free, it became evident that his own life was in daily jeopardy. From the earliest days of his ministry, Scripture says that
“the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him.”
He regularly told his disciples,
“that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
Jesus knows what it means to be homeless. To be homeless means your life doesn’t matter. Jesus, the homeless one, walked down a path of rejection, suffering, death, to bring all of us homeless home. Ironically the one with the words of life was discarded as worthless. He was mocked, beaten, cruelly murdered on the cross as a common criminal. Isaiah 53 puts it this way,
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment, he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.”
Jesus was cut off from the land of the living. The leaders and many of the people of his day said, “Jesus, your life doesn’t matter. It has no significance.” They mocked him. They hated him. They said he deserved to die. Thank God, God had a plan that superseded all of that. It says in Hebrews 2,
“But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone … [For every homeless person. He might taste death for us] For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers.”
What is so remarkable about the death of Jesus Christ is, it was going to be the fulfillment of God’s plan to bring the homeless home. His life did matter. And his life mattered because Jesus makes provision for the homeless to come home with him. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus makes provision for the homeless to have a home with him. He says, “Your life matters to me. I am not afraid to call you my brother. I’m not ashamed of you.” And his provision is one that is fail safe. There’s never one possibility that his provision won’t provide for us; that it will ever fail us. It says,
“He was pierced for our transgression; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
The horrific suffering Jesus endured for our transgressions, for our iniquities, was possible so he could suffer in our place, that we could receive redemption, peace with God, and the healing of our hearts, because Jesus made the provision of himself.
This next verse, 1 Peter 3:18. If you don’t think about anything else today, remember what this verse says.
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”
Praise God that Jesus has done that. He suffered for sins once so that he might bring me, he might bring you to God. Because of his death, because of his burial and resurrection, God says the homeless can have a home with me through Jesus. Jesus understands the plight of the homeless, the helpless, the forgotten, the shamed, the sorrowful — all sinners. He says, “Your life matters to me. That’s why I gave my life for you.” Jesus says, “Look to me and live.”
Jesus invites the homeless to come home with him. He says, “There is room at my house for you.” It’s the last verse, it says in the carol,
“Let thy voice call me home saying yet there is room.”
He spoke these words in John 14,
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go prepare a place for you, I will come again and I will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” One of the most tremendous promises in all of scripture. One day we could be with Jesus. Jesus said, “I am thinking of you. You’re not a nobody to me. One day you could be with me.” Homeless people have troubled hearts. They don’t know who they can believe in. But Jesus says, “You can believe in me. You can trust me. I’ve been on a mission to bring you to my home, and one day I’m going to come and take you to myself and take you to the Father. There’s room at my side for you and you can count on it.” Jesus is the real solution to the homeless. He offers the very real hope of an eternal home with him forever.
You might think, in light of these truths, what should our response be? And Jesus would say, be homeless no more. Be homeless no more. That’s his invitation to all of us here who are homeless this morning. I know that you’re probably trying to think, “Well, I’m not homeless.” Well there’s two kinds of people. There are two kinds of homeless people here this morning. The first kind of homeless people are those without a hope of God at all. They have never believed that Jesus died for their sins, that Jesus suffered on their behalf. They don’t look to Jesus as their Savior and Lord. In fact, they don’t believe that their lives are worthy of a home. If that’s you, we’re glad you’re here, because there is great joy before you, because Jesus has made a way. He says your life does matter. Don’t give up hope. This is a place where you can learn about God as our Father, and that you can be one of those people that calls him Abba Father. If you’re amongst that group of homeless, don’t remain hopeless. Don’t remain homeless. Jesus says you can be one of his kids. Simply say, as the Christmas carol told us this morning, “Come to my heart Lord Jesus.” As Hebrews 7:25 says,
“He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him. He poured out his life for you and even now” he’s praying for you before the throne of God, for you. Draw near to him. Say to him, “Come to my heart Lord Jesus. I don’t want to be homeless anymore. I want to belong to you. I want to know what it’s like to be part of a real family, to experience the love, the acceptance, the joy of belonging.”
Romans 10 says,
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’”
We must confess Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead. We can ask Jesus to save us. Salvation can happen. We don’t have to be homeless any longer. Can you imagine that when you do that, one of the greatest things is going to happen is shame is gone. To be accepted in the arms of our Savior — no more shame. Have fellowship with God as your Father. To experience what we have experienced, those who have put our faith and trust in Jesus. Experience what we’re experiencing — the joy and peace of having a relationship with God and having a family altogether believing the same thing. Can you imagine what it can be like not to be homeless any longer? Your heart will rejoice. You can say, “Home at last with Jesus my Lord and Savior.” Today is a great day to be homeless no more.
The second kind of people are probably most of us here. We’re just not home yet. But we’re daily trusting in Jesus. We’re walking by faith. We know that he is the way, the truth, and the life. We believe he became homeless in order to provide for us a better home, an eternal home with him in heaven. And as Scripture says, our desire is for “a better country … a heavenly one” where “God is not ashamed to be called [our] God,” for he is preparing for us a city.
In the meantime, this is where we are. I don’t know a lot of you, but there’s somebody I know fairly well, and that’s me. And I know what this in-between time is. I don’t know if you think about it. I think about it all the time. It’s kind of like in these moments that it really hits me. It happened a couple of times this week. I walked out of my house, and I walked to the top of the driveway and I looked to the west, and at sunset it was unbelievable. Those colors — the pinks and the red and the yellow and the violet. I mean, I’m looking at that, and then I look back at where I’m at, and I realize, “that’s what I want.” It happened again last night. Last night we had our Advent Gala, and we had several hundred people come and look at the art. It was a great time. I got home, and I went out in the backyard, and I looked up. I saw those stars. I saw that half moon and again it was there. That homelessness hole in my heart is for that home. It’s out there. And Jesus says, “I want you. I want you to be home with me.” And that’s where most of us are. We’re calling, we’re calling out, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”
It’s my privilege as one of the pastors here at North Hills to work with our seniors and also be involved in difficult crisis situations. And sometimes those situations involve meeting with families when loved ones are dying. This year we’ve lost some extraordinary people that have been a part of North Hills. John Klotz, who was just an extraordinary man. If you knew him, he was … Very few people I know have written their own theology book. John did that. “This is what I believe.” He wrote it out. He even wrote it out and he had it printed, and he would give it to his friends. This is what I believe. God called him home about a year ago. We lost Jackie Ward, one of the most dynamic women you could ever meet. 95 years old. She was extraordinary. We lost one of our family members who was one of our first elders, Dave Dorn, this year. Even in his later years Dave grew out his beard and his hair and he became Santa Claus. It was just … He was the real deal. You would’ve thought he was him. Herman and Ellie Van Slooten, some of you all know them, married 65 years. I was over at their house at least once a week, and dear Ellie, 97 years old, went to be with Jesus this year. She went home.
Oftentimes when we have services for a family, we call them “celebration of life services” or sometimes we have a memorial service. We read Scripture, and part of that Scripture is really what this message is about this morning, to remind us that this is not all there is. One of the great advantages of getting older is you realize this is not all there is. But it’s from 1 Corinthians 15. I want to read this. It’s a little longer passage, but it is what we’re talking about this morning, because we’ve got to see this. If we think this is our home, we’ve missed it. This is not our home. 1 Corinthians 15:50 says this,
“I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. [That’s where we’re living now. Jesus has been victorious. Don’t ever forget that. This is not our home, but we’re still here. Last verse] Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
I’m so excited this morning that all of us don’t have to be homeless anymore. We can have Jesus as our elder brother. We have a hope of an eternal home with God. That is our inheritance. It’s an exciting thing for this time of year that we can focus our hearts here. I trust that God will do that in your heart today. Let’s pray.
Father, we’re going to sing in a moment, and we’re going to repeat a phrase over and over again that says, “Come to my heart, Lord Jesus.” Father, right now I want to pray for every person in this room that that would be our prayer. If we don’t know you, I pray for those who don’t know you, that they would cry out to you and ask you, Lord Jesus, to come into their hearts, to forgive them of their sin, to change them, to give them real life, and to give them an eternal home. And Father, I pray for all of us as we’re trying to follow you faithfully, trusting your Spirit to lead us, trusting you, obeying you. Father, I would ask too that you would come to our hearts. Help us to have open hearts to you this day, to open up our hearts to what you want us to hear from your Word even today, to open up our hearts if there are things there that we’ve tried to keep hidden, to confess them and ask you to cleanse today. Father, we want to be all of your people at home with you one day. We ask, all of us ask, come into our hearts today for our good and for your glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, amen.