December 24, 2006
Christmas is when God walked down the staircase of heaven with a baby in his arms. When it comes to this season, you have got to say that God took the stairs. It’s amazing just to think about it, because it’s so miraculous. It’s so paradoxical. It’s divine.
We walk down stairs all the time. And if you’re like me, I’m pretty much unaware of the stairs. But stairs take us from one environment to another, one level to another.
And that’s what God did when he gave us Jesus. He moved from his environment to our environment. And he afforded us the opportunity to move from our environment to his environment. Stairs.
The stairs unify, yet they divide. Have you ever been on one of the Stairmasters before? Those things are wicked machines, aren’t they? We jump on the Stairmaster like, “All right!” And when you first start out, it’s no problem. You’re waving at people at the gym, watching television, listening to music. Then, after about seven or eight minutes, you’re leaning your whole body on that machine. Stairmasters will mess you up. Yet, the Stairmaster has the audacity to tell you what you’ve done.
“You have climbed 137 floors and you have burned 23 calories.”
“23?! That’s got to be 23,000!” you say.
Stairmasters will mess you up. I was on one yesterday. Here’s the thing about a Stairmaster though. You don’t get anywhere. You put forth all this energy and effort, but you don’t go anywhere.
The stairs: God walked down the staircase of heaven with a baby in his arms. And Scripture says that the Christ child was put into a manger, an ordinary piece of farm furniture, the baby in the barn. It’s so counter intuitive that the King of kings, the Lord of lords would do that. It’s interesting, mysterious, it’s divine.
Have you ever seen soon-to-be parents trying to name their babies? Have you ever seen these intense people looking through “Name your Baby”
books? Parents these days like names. They want the names to mean something and have this cool sound and vibe. And I think that’s a good thing.
When our twins were born 12 years ago, I suggested to Lisa that we name them Monique and Unique, but she didn’t really dig it. I don’t know why. If you thumb through a 1st century baby book and look up the name “Jesus” you see that it means, “God saves.” And then in Matthew 1:23, it gives us another name of Jesus. “Behold the virgin shall be with child and bear son. They shall call his name Emanuel which is translated, ‘God with us.’”
I’m a “why” guy because during the Christmas season, we’re drawn. We’re pulled to the staircase. Why would God walk down the staircase of heaven with a baby in his arms? Why would God do that?
Well, the name just told us it was to save us. But it was also to be with us. Isn’t that mind boggling? The God the universe walked down the staircase of heaven with a baby in his arms so he could be with us and he affords us the opportunity to be with him? We can move from our environment to his environment. God with us, God with us.
In 2008 the presidential elections will take place. And before the elections, the candidates will hit the campaign trail. Man, they’ll be going off on this identification strategy. You’ve seen it before. These candidates will walk up to maybe an automotive plant and they’ll put on this hard hat and these protective goggles and they’ll try to awkwardly screw a bulb into a car or a truck. And the whole time they’re smiling for the cameras.
These people aren’t really identifying with those on the assembly line. It’s an illusion. It’s a smoking mirrors thing, a façade. What’s interesting is that we accept that as fact. We say, “Okay, they’re just like me.” When really they’re just giving us an illusion.
Well, what did God do? God walked down the staircase of heaven with a baby in his arms to save us from the stairs, to be with us.
Jesus crawled out of the crib, lived perfectly, died sacrificially, and rose bodily. Jesus didn’t just pose for the cameras and put on a hard hat and goggles and screw some bolts into a car or a truck. He didn’t give us an illusion of identity. He identified with us. Emmanuel, God with us. He lived on this earth to save us.
Have you ever thought about this? Jesus had a family. He had brothers and sisters. He had aunts and uncles. He knows what family drama is all about and those issues.
Jesus also had a job. In the corporate world, what did they call him? They call him a carpenter. Study carpentry in the ancient days. If you were a carpenter and you took up the trade, you were responsible from the foundation to the finish out. He understands pay disputes. He understands weather delays. Jesus is with us.
How about on the emotional front? He understands stress and anxiety. He knows what it’s like for those who know him best to bolt on him in his deepest point of need. One time Jesus was so stressed, the Scripture says, he sweated drops of blood.
So we don’t serve some sequestered savior. We don’t serve some detached deity. We serve a God who is with us and Jesus is with us, so we can be with him.
The manger is interesting. The manger is mysterious, it’s magnetic. It pulls us in every year. And for 2,000 years people have been drawn to the manger. We’ve been drawn to the stairs and we look at the Christ child and we rethink our lives. And some of us wonder, “Well, was Jesus who he said he was?” But whatever you believe about Jesus, you know, let’s just put the cards on the table.
Whatever you feel about him, he has split history—his birth did. And he split it in two parts—B.C and A.D.—in two camps. And if the truth were known all of this in this crowd, we are split into two camps. Some of us are in the “God with us” camp. Christ is in our lives. The gospel has attached itself to our souls.
Others of here are in another camp. We’re in the “God at a distance” camp. We keep Christ at bay. We keep his involvement and activity and love away from us. We have a vested interest in keeping the kid in the crib, because if he crawled out of the crib and performed perfectly and died sacrificially and rose bodily, I mean, whoa! Those implications are pretty huge.
Now some of you are thinking, “Okay Ed, I remember when I was in the ‘God at a distance’ camp and I remember what it was trying to do life away from the presence of God. I remember that.”
Some of you are in the “God at a distance” camp but you’re saying, “Whoa. I didn’t realize I was in this camp.” And maybe you’re confused. If you’re confused, you probably don’t know you’re confused, because if you knew it, you wouldn’t be confused.
That’s like me; I get lost all the time. I have a horrible sense of direction. In fact, the other day I was on my way to the airport. I thought I knew where I was going, but I didn’t know where I was going. Lisa called me and said, “Honey, where are you?” I told her where I thought I was. She said, “Ed, you’re confused. You’re lost!” And I had to admit, “I guess I am.”
So some here in this camp, you don’t know you’re confused. You don’t realize you’re in the dark. You don’t realize that you don’t really have a purpose and an agenda and a direction. Well, here’s the good news of Christmas. God walked down the staircase of heaven with a baby in his arms. God wants to be with you and in you. Jesus wants to be the leader of your life.
I was traveling to the Far East years ago on a mission trip. And I went on this mission trip with several professional baseball players. One in particular was a major All-Star power hitter, and we were on this insanely long flight. It was something like a twelve hour flight to who knows where. I was sitting here and Lisa was sitting to my left. My friend was to my right and his wife to his right. People magazine had just done a big story about this guy. Now, I’m totally ADD I can’t sit still for more than about 45 minutes so I’m starting to get fidgety and look around at everyone around us. I started looking behind me and I see a guy behind us reading the People magazine about my friend. Yet, this guy had no idea that the guy he was reading about was right in front of him!
So often we go through life and we think, “Oh, Jesus is this detached deity, this sequestered savior. He’s way in the heavenlies, the otherness of God.” But Jesus is right here. He’s right beside you. He’s right beside me. He’s with us. God walked down the staircase of heaven with a baby in his arms to be with us.
But why would God want to be with us? I mean, that’s a good question, “Why?” I meet people all the time who tell me this. They announce to me, “Ed, I’m just looking for unconditional love. I want somebody to love me unconditionally for who I am, warts and all. That’s who I’m looking for.”
And when I have a chance to talk to them, I walk along beside them and say, “If you’re looking for a human being to love you unconditionally, good luck!”
We can’t love one another unconditionally. We’re all about conditional love. If you don’t believe me, just get married. It’s all about conditional love.
The staircase, though, is all about unconditional love. You see, I can begin to love unconditionally and so can you when we allow Jesus to be the leader of our lives. Then we can tap into that fuel of unconditional love. Seems like people would realize this and say, “You know, I’m going to turn my life over to Christ.” It seems like people would do that and it seems like people would move from this camp to the other, but here’s what a lot of us do.
We jump on the Stairmaster. I’ll just ride the Stairmaster. And then we look for a relationships. “She’ll do it for me. He’ll do it for me. I’ll hook up with her, man. That girl looks unbelievable! Look at him! He’s rich, girl. That guy, oh!”
But that doesn’t work. And a lot of us play relational hopscotch and move from relationship to relationship thinking—are you ready for this?—human beings can meet God type needs. But it doesn’t work. In other words, we cannot put divine pressure on depraved human beings. They don’t have the juice to satisfy you and satisfy me.
Maybe you showed up this afternoon with someone and you’re putting divine pressure on them. They cannot fulfill that hole in your heart. They cannot fulfill that need that only God can fulfill.
But we jump back on the Stairmaster. We punch in a program and think, “Okay, I’m going to achieve stuff corporately and I’m going to make this amount of money and I’ll have the corner office and I’ll have all the toys and I’ll have all this and that and…”
I talked to someone just a couple days ago and this young man has achieved a lot. He’s gone through different relationships and the world would say, “Whoa, this man’s really living on the next level.”
But as I looked into his eyes, you could feel the emptiness. You could just see that the guy’s on the Stairmaster. And I wanted to say, “Get off the Stairmaster. You’re burning and churning and you’re climbing all these steps and all these calories, but you’re not going anywhere.”
But we stay on the Stairmaster. “Okay, I’ll move from high to high; from buzz to buzz; from this feeling to that feeling…”
The Stairmaster. Man, I hate it. What do we do at this point? You would think we would say, “Okay, I’m going to get off the Stairmaster and give my life to the Master of the stairs.” You would think most people would do that. But so many of us, you know what we do? We go to Home Depot.
And we go to Home Depot and say, “I want to buy some lumber and buy this nail gun. They have incredible nail guns. And I’m going to buy some saws, some electrical saws too and I’m going to build a stairway to heaven. That’s what I’m going to do. I can perform my way in. I’ll be a good enough guy or a good enough citizen. And at the end of my life, I’m just going to roll the dice for this. I think that God will wink at me and say, ‘Come on in. You were a good guy. You have more good marks than bad marks. You achieved the best life you could, so come on in, man. I grade on a curve anyway.’
We think that’s what God’s going to do, because our culture says, “All the world religions are the same. God’s at the top of the heap and these world religions are building staircases to God. It doesn’t matter what staircase you choose. We’re all getting to the same place.”
You know, when people say that, they’re advertising their ignorance. I don’t belittle them when they tell me that. I say, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Before you make that statement, please study the major world religions because you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Obviously, the major world religions have some commonalities, but there’s one thing that separates Christianity from all the other world religions. It’s the staircase from heaven to earth. You see, God constructed this. God built this. And God did something that we cannot do for ourselves. On my best day, on your best day, we can’t do this. God did it. It’s called grace and mercy, his unmerited favor. He did it to be with us and he did it so we can experience his irrational unfathomable love.
God built the staircase to man. He gave us Jesus. Jesus performed it perfectly. And God says, “If you’re perfect, you can build a stairway to heaven. If you’re perfect. But once you have one bad mood one off day, commit one sin of omission or commission, you better go ahead and destroy the stairs, because your stairs won’t get you to where you want to go.”
If you’re perfect; if you’re just absolutely pristine and perfect, you can do it. I don’t about you, but I’ve messed up a lot. So God gave us Jesus, who was born, who lived this perfect life and who died and rose again. And right before Jesus breathe his last breath, you know what he said? “It is finished.” Do you know what that means? The steps have been built. It’s been done.
That’s how much God wants to be with us and love us. It’s all about the love—unconditional, irrational, one of a kind love. So if you’re into this building project, man, put down the nail gun. Take the goggles and the hard hat off. Throw the screwdriver away and jump off the Stairmaster and give your life to the Master of the stairs, because Jesus wants to lead. That’s how we’re made. That’s how we’re designed. We’re hard wired for him to lead out. You want to achieve what life is all about? It’s all about him. It’s all about Jesus.
Now, over the next 24 hours we’re going to give and receive a lot of gifts. I can describe all the gifts that we’re going to give and receive. For example, you see this cool tie? Someone gave this tie to me. You like this? It’s a pretty sweet tie, isn’t it? Purple’s my favorite color. Let’s see, it’s called the Big Knot Tie by Steven Land, “100 percent,” it says, “silk”. Woo hoo.
What does a gift do? Well, a gift reflects the personality of the giver. My friend who gave this to me is in the clothing business. This guy is a cool dresser. He’s Mr. GQ. This tie reflects his personality. But also, it meets the need of the recipient. I need the tie, especially the purple tie. I love ties. I mean, you know, ties are kind of coming back. I like ties. And for the Christmas service, we’ll dress up a little bit, you know.
All of you could describe all the gifts you’re going to give and receive.
“Oh girl, I got this piece of jewelry and the diamonds and…”
“I got this computer and you would not believe the graphics, man, the animation…”
“This is unbelievable! This iPod …”
We can describe all of them, but you know what? We can not describe this indescribable gift that God has given us. We really can’t. It’s the finite trying to describe the infinite. It’s the mystery of the Gospel. It’s the otherness of God. But God walked down the staircase of heaven with a baby in his arms to be with us and to love us. Also, God did this to deliver us.
Now, some of you may be saying, “Well, you know what? I’m going to walk out to my car alone after the service and I’m going to see all these people, all these friends and families piling into their mini-vans and Suburbans. No one understands the loneliness that I’m dealing with. Man, Ed, you don’t understand it; the people here don’t understand it.”
You know what? You’re right. But let me add two words, “but Jesus.” You might be facing an incredible loss, maybe around the Christmas table. There’s going to be an empty chair. Maybe someone just passed away, a loved one, a friend, a family member. And you’re saying, “No one understands what I’m going through.”
Let me add two words – but Jesus.
Maybe you had just gone through a divorce or maybe you’re dealing with complex custody issues and you’re saying, “No one knows the pain that” – but Jesus.
You see, if you’re lonely, he’s with you. If you’re fearful, he’s your fortress. If you’re purposeless, he has an agenda for you. If you feel unforgiven, he has forgiven you. I’m talking about Emmanuel, the one who saves us from the stairs, the God with us – Jesus.
My son had a birthday and on his birthday I was suppose to fly to New York and speak. I was there for one night and so I took my son along with me. We got to New York and he was just amazed by the size and the scale of the Big Apple and all the people as you can imagine. And that night in our hotel room, he said something to me that really shocked me.
He said, “Dad, do you know what I want?”
I’m thinking, “Oh yeah, tomorrow’s your birthday. I know what you want. You want me to take you to Nike town and spend a lot of money on all the Nike stuff.”
He said, “Dad, do you know what I want?”
I said, “What do you want?”
He said, “I want to buy presents for Mom, Lee Beth, Laurie, and Landra.”
I thought, “Wow. How crazy is that? The birthday boy wants to buy presents for his family?” Then I thought, “That’s Christmas!”
God walked down the staircase of heaven with a baby in his arms. He’s given us in this indescribable gift. Jesus didn’t stay in the crib. He crawled out of the crib, performed perfectly, died sacrificially, rose bodily, and now Jesus is standing at the bottom of the stairs with his nail pierced hands. He’s standing right there at the Stairmaster. He’s standing as we’re trying to build our way to heaven. And he’s saying, “I give you grace. I give you forgiveness. I give you salvation. I give you power. I give you a clear conscience. I give you mercy. I give you these gifts.”
And we can receive them and we can move from one camp into the other by a transaction that took place several thousand years ago on a cross outside of Jerusalem.
That’s the beauty of Christmas. That’s the mystery of Christmas. That is the divine decision. Are you ready to make it?
[Ed leads in closing prayer]