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A Random Christmas

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The ingredients in the Christmas story seem kind of random: a decree from Caesar, an engaged virgin, an angelic announcement, three wise men, and no room at the inn. Doesn’t sound like the narrative we’d write if we were God. Some of the circumstances we may be dealing with this year aren’t exactly what we’d write for our own story, either. In this message, Andy Stanley challenges us to respond to the seemingly random curve balls in our lives the same way Mary did to God’s biggest curve ball yet.

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Overview:
Overview:
The ingredients in the Christmas story seem kind of random: a decree from Caesar, an engaged virgin, an angelic announcement, three wise men, and no room at the inn. Doesn’t sound like the narrative we’d write if we were God. Some of the circumstances we may be dealing with this year aren’t exactly what we’d write for our own story, either. We need to respond to the seemingly random curve balls in our lives the same way Mary did to God’s biggest curve ball yet.
Scripture: , ;
Visual: Open box labeled “Random”; Christmas tree with ornaments labeled with life events
Introduction:
1. Humans have an unexplainable desire to find meaning and purpose in even the most random events in life.
2. We long for a comprehensive explanation of history and experience.
3. It ensures there’s a purpose to everything—that this is a story that’s going somewhere.
4. We say:
• “Everything happens for a reason.”
• “I don’t believe in coincidence.”
• “You just haven’t met the right person yet.”
• “I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”
5. Christians connect the dots and call it a “God thing.”
5. When tragedy strikes, we ask why. We want to find purpose in pain. We want suffering to connect to something purposeful. We naturally assume there is a purpose.
6. The Christmas story is a reminder that the thing in us that wants the dots to connect is not to be ignored. The world isn’t as random as we might think. There really is a story. Life is connected. There’s a divine story.
7. From time to time, it’s as if God drops directly into people’s lives in unmistakable ways to give the flywheel a push. To remind. To reorient. To connect dots. To give us our bearings.
These are some of my favorite verses in the NT. If you are skeptical about the Bible, this may be of special interest.
These are some of my favorite verses in the NT. If you are skeptical about the Bible, this may be of special interest.
These are some of my favorite verses in the NT. If you are skeptical about the Bible, this may be of special interest.
Luke 1:1–4 NLT
1 Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. 2 They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. 3 Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable Theophilus, 4 so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.
[That’s different than “once upon a time,” isn’t it? So begins the story of Jesus.]
Luke 1:26–37 NLT
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” 29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” 34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” 35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For the word of God will never fail.”
Verse: 26: Elizabeth was Mary’s relative. We don’t know the exact relation. KJV translated the word “cousin.”
[Elizabeth was Mary’s relative. We don’t know the exact relation. KJV translated the word “cousin.”]
Verse 27: Just another arranged marriage like before.
The virgin’s name was Mary. [Think of all that hung in the balance of this choice. A new religion. Cathedrals. Crusades. Martyrs. Hospitals. Christian music. Bumper Stickers. Us!]
[We don’t know anything about Mary before the angel Gabriel interrupted her life. All we know is that she was planning to marry Joseph the carpenter and lead a normal life, like her mother and father before her.]
[She would probably live and die in the same Galilean community she grew up in. She would be another of the nameless, faceless millions of people who come and go and leave no mark, no memorial, no trace of having even been alive. She’d be left wondering if life has a purpose or if it’s just random . . .]
[But the time had come for another chapter in the story of God to be written.]
Verses 28-29: She didn’t know if it was good or bad news.
Verse 30: You’ve been singled out for a purpose.
[God is showing up in human history!]
Verse 31: Kingdom? They hadn’t had an independent Jewish kingdom in over 500 years. But she wasn’t concerned with that. She had another issue to contend with.
[Kingdom? They hadn’t had an independent Jewish kingdom in over 500 years. But she wasn’t concerned with that. She had another issue to contend with.]
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. [Sure enough. That is what we call him.]
36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.” [Lit: “This word from God is not impossible.”]
[How strange. It had been over 400 years since God had “done” anything this overt. 400 years of randomness. Babylonians. Persians. Alexander the Great. The Roman Republic, now Empire. Now this. The birth of a King. God, where have you been? We were beginning to wonder.]
Body:

I. On occasion, God dropped directly into the lives of men and women to push the flywheel of his plan.

A. It’s like God showed up in history and said, “No. Don’t you understand? This isn’t about the plans of man. This is about the will of God. Every one of those kingdoms and empires came and went by my declaration.
B. When you look at the details and the history, you may not see My hand. But understand: life is not random. I am the God of purpose, and everything happens because of my will.
C. Just like this morning. Some of you are here because you attend here. Others are here because you were invited. And still others of you are here because, let’s be honest, it’s that time of year to go to church again/make the wife or family happy. But this morning is more than that. God knew before you were born that you were going to be here this morning celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ the Son of God. It is not by happenstance that any of us are here this morning.
Illustration:
Christmas tree labeled on top “Life.” Box of ornaments is labeled “Life Events.” Each ornament represents a specific life event.
We have a specific way we want our tree to look when we are done decorating it. Everything needs to be perfect and in its right place.
We view our life the same way, especially if you are like me and you want to know what’s coming up, how things will be done, etc. down to the last detail.
Transition: Take a look at Mary...

II. But for the most part, our days seem to be made up of mostly random events.

A. Ornament 1: Mary doesn’t hear from the angel again. Things not only get back to random, but life seems worse . . .
1. Ornament 2: Next thing she knows, she’s pregnant and riding a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem (about 80 miles, which is a very long journey by foot). She’s wondering where the angel is now.
2. Ornament 3: Everybody’s staring ‘cause she’s showing. And she can’t tell ‘em her story.
3. Ornament 4: “Miss Favored of God” gets there, and the journey had been so long that there were no rooms. She and Joseph had to stay in a stable.
4. Ornament 5: Then they hear that Herod wants to kill their child. They get back on the donkey and head to Egypt, which was 200 miles further away from home.
5. Ornament 6: Then Mary gets the worse news imaginable. Herod did what Herod does. He slaughtered every boy two years and under in Bethlehem and the surrounding vicinity. How could she not feel as if it were her fault? A random act of violence, another day for Herod.
On which branch of the “purpose tree” was Mary supposed to hang all of that?
B. Ornament 7: Then one day, favored-of-God Mary would listen as her God-given son is beaten within an inch of his life. Mocked. Crucified.
1. We know the end of that story.
2. She did not.
3. In that moment, it was just another senseless Roman execution.
4. From everyone’s perspective, it was another random act of violence.
• Jesus was a nobody and would be remembered by no one.
• One more broken-hearted Galilean mother.
But from the vantage point of time, we know there was nothing random about any of it. Her pain was our gain. Little did she know she would be favored by God and man.
Perfect faith is not faith that moves God.
Perfect faith is faith that moves us to trust God when he doesn’t seem to be moving.
Which ornaments have you placed on your tree this past year? lost a job? a relationship? a house? financial trouble?

III. Perfect faith is to respond to the seemingly random events of life as if they are part of the perfect plan of God.

Paul put it in theological terms when he wrote:
Ephesians 1:11 NLT
11 Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.
Mary put it in very personal terms when she said to the angel:
Luke 1:38 NLT
38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.
[Lit: “May it be to me according to your word.” Even though it dismantles the future I envisioned.]
A. We want to know where to hang everything on the tree. I want to know the order and the relationship.
B. It is not our responsibility to know where.
C. Our responsibility is to believe that everything has a place on the tree, whether we know where it goes or not.
D. Here’s what I’ve seen: If people are able to see it all as coming from God’s hands, they are able to respond in a way that allows God to create purpose from randomness.
Conclusion:
1. We were created to look for purpose.
2. Sometimes we find it. Sometimes we don’t.
3. Sometimes we find it immediately. Sometimes we find it eventually.
4. At Christmas, we are reminded that life is not as random as it seems. There is a story taking place. A divine story.
5. And if we choose, we can participate.
“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
*Hand out emblems and explain anyone who has accepted Christ and lives for Him can participate with us.
Communion:
1 Corinthians 11:23–26 NLT
23 For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread 24 and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.
2 Corinthians 11:23–26 NLT
23 Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. 24 Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26 I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not.
Prayer:
I would like to close by praying for one another today. In a minute, I’m going to ask you to do something a bit brave. It doesn’t matter if you are a Christian or a church person. If, in the past two weeks, you have been handed an “ornament” that doesn’t seem to have a place on your tree (something unexpected to carry into Christmas, some bad news) and God doesn’t seem to be moving on your behalf, I’m going to ask you to raise your hand. And then I want those around you to pray for you and touch your shoulder. Then I’ll close.
God has never interrupted his plans—only ours.
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