Well, good morning, everyone. My name is Forest. It's great to see so many familiar faces, and if you're new to us, welcome to our church family. You know, I love how the Valli's shared in the welcome. It reminded me of one of my favorite Frank Sinatra Christmas songs, "I'll Be Home for Christmas." I don't think he wrote it, but I just love that part. He's kind of nostalgic, and he says, "I'll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams." I wasn't looking for applause, but thank you. But I really believe that, as the Valley shared in the welcome, the church is a family, and today you are home. And if you don't feel that way, I hope by the end of today you will. No matter where you're at, what you're going through, we are family. This is home, so let's be looking out for each other during the holiday season. There's a lot of joy, but there could also be a lot of sadness, grief, and reflection. So, let's be looking out for each other over the Christmas season and be a family. Amen.

Speaking of family, hablo español in this family, and we're having a Spanish service right now in the cafeteria. We have it every second Sunday, so if you hablo español and you don't want to listen to me, head down to the cafeteria. They're doing a great job down there. And then God is always adding to His family in many ways. Very exciting today, Michael Santa Cruz is getting baptized. Amen, brother. Mom and Dad are here too. See the Santa Cruz family if you want to find out the details of Michael's baptism today. That is very exciting. Amen.

We are continuing our series we kicked off last Sunday on the spirit of Christmas. As you can see on the slide there, we're exploring a bit unusual characters in the Christmas story, but we're talking and emphasizing one of the often misunderstood and missed characters in The Christmas Story, of course, the Holy Spirit. So last week, we talked about how the spirit prepares us through the word of God, prophecy, angels, as we saw with Zechariah and the temple families of origin. All those are used by the Holy Spirit to set up a messenger ahead of the Messiah that will be born in the Christmas story, of course, Jesus. And that messenger is John the Baptist. So the spirit first had to prepare John's aging parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, for him to come, especially Zechariah, as we learned last week.

Today, the next concept we're going to look at here is the idea that the spirit blesses. So turn in your Bibles to Luke chapter 1. We're going to read together verses 26 to 45. I hope you have a merry Christmas, and I hope God's word will help us in that endeavor today. In Luke chapter 1, we're going to continue reading in verse 26. Let's pick it up. In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, which we looked at last week, God sent the angel Gabriel again, that character shows up, to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you are highly favored. The Lord is with you." Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over Jacob's descendants forever. His kingdom will never end." What prophetic and now come to be true words, right? Two thousand years later, almost. Mary's response in verse 34 is, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" 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. 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. For no word from God will ever fail." Mary answered, "May your word to me be fulfilled." Then the angel left her and greeted Elizabeth.

When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice, she exclaimed, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear. But why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy." She concludes by saying, "Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her."

So, Elizabeth and Zechariah's story, with the miraculous birth of John the Baptist, now starts to synchronize with the eventual coming of the Messiah through the Virgin Mary. It's interesting to note in verse 41 that the Holy Spirit, John the Baptist in utero as an infant, is leaping for joy and praising God. He's already worshiping Jesus before he's even born. That's pretty inspiring. Amen.

I love this idea we talked about family discipleship recently. A Spirit-filled parent can have a huge impact on their child. Christmas is important to encourage your kids and celebrate the birth of Jesus. But it's really important as parents in this crazy, busy, materialistic world that we live in during Christmas to be filled with the spirit, to have a spiritual time remembering the birth of our Savior. Elizabeth, filled with the spirit, speaks in a loud voice, as we just read in verses 42 to 45. She blesses Mary and acknowledges Jesus as the blessed child. She refers indirectly to how Mary is favored, which is what the word "blessed" means – being favored.

Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, and she's just opening up those blessings – blessed is this, blessed is that. She just gets in the moment, the incredible time that is about to occur in the birth of the Messiah through her cousin Mary. Biblically, to be blessed is to be granted special favor by God with resulting joy and prosperity.

Today, our title is very simple: "The Spirit Blesses." But how does the Spirit bless us today? Because I can't guarantee it, but I don't think the angel Gabriel is going to show up and talk to you today as he did with Zechariah and Mary. I mean, it could happen; I won't hold it against him. But we, as Christians, are still being blessed by the Spirit, as reflected here with Elizabeth and Mary as they anticipate the miraculous birth.

So, how does the Spirit bless us today? I think there are many answers, but the obvious answer from this text is that the Spirit produces miracles. The Spirit really blesses us through miracles. Mary, just as Zechariah, was faced with an impossibility that God said would be true. In verses 31 through 34, the angel appears and says that Mary will conceive and give birth to a son, and she is to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. God will establish His throne forever. Mary's response is understandable: "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" She was betrothed to Joseph but not yet married, yet she was told that, as a betrothed virgin, she would become pregnant. The angel's response is that the Holy Spirit will come upon her, and the power of the Most High will overshadow her, and the child to be born will be called the Son of God.

So, a virgin pledged to be married would be found with child from the Holy Spirit. This is an integral part of the Christmas story, the miracle of the Incarnation, God taking on flesh. God becoming a man in Jesus is an integral part of the Christmas story, and it's enveloped within another miracle – the idea that a virgin could give birth to a child, something that God could do without limitations.

For us, the concept of miracles can be quite incomprehensible, but that's what a miracle is, amen. Today, we're going to try to understand that miracle a little bit more. Hundreds of years before the angel Gabriel appeared, the book of Isaiah already predicted this event – a very familiar Christmas passage. It's highly prophetic to the prophet Isaiah and is often referred to in Isaiah 7:13-14. Isaiah is prophesying to the House of David, and he says, "The Lord Himself will give you a sign. The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Emmanuel," which means "God With Us" in Hebrew.

It's not just Isaiah 7 that predicted the birth of Christ and specifically the Virgin birth, but also the Messiah's birthplace was predicted in Micah 5:2, stating that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. The lineage through which it would come was foretold in Genesis 22:18 and Numbers 24:17, tracing it back to Abraham and eventually through the house of Jacob. Hosea 11 tells us that this child, when born, would be called to Egypt, and Matthew's Gospel elaborates more on this than Luke's. He would have to flee for his life with Joseph and Mary and then return from Egypt, as predicted in Hosea 11:1. Jeremiah 31:15 predicts King Herod's paranoia, leading him to order the killing of all males two years and under in the vicinity of Jerusalem upon hearing about the King of the Jews.

In Luke 1, Mary seems to truly understand and grasp what the angel is saying in verse 37, which declares, "No word from God will ever fail." Christmas is a time for us to reflect on this amazing and mind-blowing statement – "No word from God will ever fail." If you're feeling a little unsteady in your faith today, remember that the Christmas story, with its miracles within miracles, should give you confidence in the fact that no word from God will ever fail. The Christmas miracle was predicted and planned, and it was no big deal to the Holy Spirit. Talk to the Holy Spirit about the Christmas miracle of the Virgin birth, and He will say, "I wrote about this with many prophets long ago. Read Isaiah, read Micah, read Genesis." The Holy Spirit is intimately involved in the writing of Scripture.

It's amazing and miraculous that all of this was predicted thousands of years before it even occurred. The Holy Spirit was intimately involved in this miracle, as we see in verse 35, where the Holy Spirit allowed Mary to be impregnated with the Son of God. This aligns with what we learned earlier – that the Spirit was intimately involved in creation. In Genesis 1:1-2, we see that the Spirit of God was hovering over the chaos and disorder, bringing about creation. The Holy Spirit was also involved in creating living beings, as Psalm 104:30 indicates.

So, it makes sense that the Holy Spirit, with His nature and personality, would help bring about the miraculous virgin birth. God chose to bring His Son into the world through the Holy Spirit in the womb of a virgin. This unique birth story emphasizes that Jesus has a Divine Father but a biological mother. This foreshadows the New Testament claim that Jesus is both Divine and human – 100% Divine and 100% human. The Incarnation, one of the miracles we're discussing today, highlights the powerful involvement of the Holy Spirit in this process.

The Christmas story can help us consider how blessed we are by the Holy Spirit and His work. That's what I want to focus on today as we explore this account further.

I don't think we always walk in here on a Sunday and immediately feel blessed by the Holy Spirit. Few of us do. In fact, we're not always sure what that even means. It often sounds like a nice religious statement – "Are you blessed?" "Yeah, I'm blessed." We can throw that word around without truly comprehending its significance. We don't always see it or fully understand it. What's truly inspiring to me, as you might recall from verse 41, is that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit when Mary arrived at her house. She saw all that God was doing and declared, "Blessed are you, Mary! Blessed is the child you will conceive!" She acknowledged the woman who believed what God had brought through the angel Gabriel. The Holy Spirit allowed her to see and experience the blessings God intended.

Similarly, the Holy Spirit can help us see the blessings that God is showering upon us in our lives, in our church, and within our families. We are constantly recipients of God's blessings, yet we often fail to recognize them. Today, as we delve into the Christmas story, the Holy Spirit wants to help you see where you are personally blessed by God. It's not about me or us, but about you recognizing where God is blessing you.

Here's a little exercise called illusion art: At first glance, it appears to be a collection of hot sauce peppers. However, if you change your field of vision by crossing your eyes and then re-crossing them, you might be able to see something else. Can anyone see it? It's a silhouette of a dragon, breathing out fire. You have to change your perspective to see it. Maybe most of you can't see it right now, just like I couldn't when I first encountered such posters at a bookstore where I worked at 16. It took me nearly an hour to learn how to cross and uncross my eyes to see the hidden image. Perhaps that's where many of you are right now. You need to learn how to see. The Holy Spirit is here to help us change our perspective, just as you would with illusion art. We tend to live our lives primarily by what we see on the surface, like most of you are seeing this poster right now. We see the "hot stuff," but we often miss the "Hot Stuff" – the deeper, spiritual blessings. The Holy Spirit's role is to help us truly see the blessings that are happening all around us, in the good times, the challenging times, and everything in between. When you go to work, you're being blessed by God. When you wake up at home, you're being blessed by God. When you lie down, you're being blessed by God. Even sitting here this morning, you're receiving blessings from God. The Holy Spirit's mission is to open our eyes to the constant stream of blessings in our lives. Just the fact that we're breathing today and are present is a blessing. There are countless blessings the Holy Spirit wants us to recognize.

One fascinating aspect of creation is biology. Every day, our planet Earth rotates on its axis at about 1,040 miles per hour – quite a speedy rotation! As it spins, Earth also hurtles through space along its annual elliptical orbit around the sun at a staggering 67,000 miles per hour. By the end of today, in a 24-hour period (whenever you choose to start counting), you and I will have traveled 1.3 million miles on this small sphere we call Earth. It's a remarkable journey we often take for granted. These are constant blessings orchestrated by the Holy Spirit, God the Father, and God the Son from the beginning. These blessings continue, even though we may not always see them. The Holy Spirit's desire today is to help you see more clearly the blessings in your life, both the visible and the hidden ones.

Creation itself is a continuous source of blessings. Often, we don't even notice the daily sunrises and sunsets, but on occasion, you wake up early, and suddenly, you see the light, and it feels incredible. Similarly, in long-term relationships like marriage, we might take our spouses for granted, but then, we walk into the room and see them, and it's like, "Whoa, that's incredible!" We tend to overlook these blessings so quickly that we're not even aware of them. Think about the miracle of conversion; it's as miraculous as creation. The Holy Spirit played a crucial role in your salvation, orchestrating people, places, scriptures, conversations, and events to bring you the incredible gift of salvation. Salvation is indeed a miracle. The Holy Spirit moves miraculously in our conversion stories, from the conception of Jesus in the flesh (as in Luke 1:35) to our baptism in Jesus' name (Acts 2:38).

In our church, we've seen over 40 souls baptized and restored this year, and each one is a walking miracle. However, something as sacred as the salvation of our souls can become routine. For example, when we hear about Michael Santa Cruz's baptism, we might give a subdued response. Instead, we should be excited and eagerly anticipate witnessing this miracle. The miracle of salvation can become just like that illusion art – we hear the story but may not grasp the incredible work the Holy Spirit is doing all around us. To truly appreciate these blessings, engage in Bible studies and share the gospel with friends. This will remind you of the miracles of salvation and the blessings the Holy Spirit constantly brings into our lives.

So, the first question to ask is, do you have a divine perspective today? Are you seeing the blessings the Holy Spirit is bringing into your life and all around you? When we're filled with the Holy Spirit, even the ordinary becomes extraordinary, and we can find goodness even in bad situations. This is how the Spirit works in our lives. Do you recognize that you are blessed today?

The second question is: how should a blessed person live? Let's look at the examples of Mary and Elizabeth. When the angel Gabriel brought them the news of miraculous births, their responses were different. Zechariah's response was filled with doubt, asking, "How can I be sure?" Mary, on the other hand, responded with a question of faith, asking, "How will this be?" She agreed and believed it would happen; she just wanted to understand how, considering she was a virgin. So, in response to the incredible blessings the Holy Spirit bestows upon us, we should strive to be faithful.

Mary's response to the angel's message is characterized by faith. She isn't doubting that what the angel said will happen; instead, she is inquiring about how it will happen. Her question reflects a sense of anticipatory awe and wonder, living by faith rather than by sight. In contrast, Zechariah's response is filled with doubt, questioning how he can be sure.

Sometimes, even as Christians, we can be led by a religious spirit rather than the Holy Spirit. We may read God's promises but still harbor doubts, saying things like, "How can I be sure, God?" This is akin to having a religious spirit that appears to believe God's promises but is actually filled with doubt, pride, and indifference. Jesus could perform miracles with a single word, yet some Pharisees couldn't grasp the truth no matter how many words He spoke. This is the religious spirit that Zechariah's doubt represents.

Galatians 5:22 mentions faithfulness as one of the fruits of the Spirit. Living by the Spirit means living by faith, not by sight. To keep in step with the Spirit, we must live by faith, just as Mary did.

The blessed person who truly understands the Spirit's blessings is also sacrificial. Elizabeth, in her old age, had a child who would become John the Baptist, a prophet and messenger who prepared the way for the Messiah. John's ministry involved living a prophetic, sacrificial life, preaching a baptism of repentance and fire. Elizabeth, as a mother, must have made great sacrifices, as her son's calling led him away from home and eventually to arrest and beheading.

Mary, too, was called to make significant sacrifices. She would give her son, Jesus, alongside God, to the cross. In Luke's gospel, we also encounter Simeon, who, through the Holy Spirit, knew he would see the Messiah before his death. When Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple to offer sacrifices, Simeon recognized the baby as the Messiah and praised God.

These examples show that those who are blessed by the Spirit are often called to sacrificial lives, just as Elizabeth, Mary, and Simeon were. Sacrifice can be a part of our response to God's blessings and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

As they arrived at Luke 2:34-35, Simeon blessed them. He spoke of the destiny of this child, foretelling that he would cause many in Israel to fall and rise, becoming a sign that would be spoken against. He added that this would reveal the thoughts of many hearts and that a sword would pierce Mary's own soul. These words became a stark reality as Mary stood at the foot of the cross, watching her son, who lived a perfect and loving life, die for our forgiveness. This is what we commemorate during communion.

Mary's incredible sacrifice in giving birth to the Son of God serves as an example of how, when blessed by the Spirit, we can and should be willing to sacrifice for God. All the blessings God bestows upon us are meant to be shared with others. Jesus' life, meant to bless us, continues to bless people thousands of years later. We should adopt a mindset of biblical sacrifice, understanding that our blessings are meant to benefit others. It's not merely saying, "Here, God, I don't need this," but acknowledging that God has taken care of us, and now we can help take care of others.

Mary's acceptance and presence at her son's side as he died on the cross exemplify our call to be moved by the Spirit to sacrifice and bless others. Now, let's consider a clear example of this as we conclude.

Giving to the church is a biblical matter, a matter between individuals and God. It reveals how much we understand the blessings we've received and our belief in the church as a blessing to the world. In 2 Corinthians, we learn that God is capable of abundantly blessing us, ensuring that we have all we need to abound in every good work. Our blessings should overflow to others, as seen when gifts are freely scattered to the poor. When we generously give, God supplies us with more seed, enlarging our harvest of righteousness.

God blesses us financially to enable us to bless others financially, ensuring that we can continue meeting as a church and fulfilling our mission. Churches cannot be planted, and souls cannot be saved without financial support. While God doesn't need our money, He desires that we use our financial blessings to support His work. In a city like Phoenix, where we are financially blessed, even those making minimum wage in America are financially blessed.

Over the last few years, our church's financial giving has become stagnant, and we're examining the reasons behind it. Our administrative team tracks the numbers for tax purposes, but this data is anonymous. We don't want to know who gives what to avoid favoritism or judgment. In our church, there are family units representing single individuals or couples, and some have been extraordinarily generous, giving over $20,000, $30,000, or even $40,000 per year, which is $770 per week.

If you find yourself in this category, we hope you give because you feel blessed by God and want to use your blessings to support the church and its mission to bless others.

I hope that blessings are motivating you, and I want to thank those who feel blessed financially and choose to give to the church in that way. It doesn't have to be in large amounts, but it demonstrates that people in this church recognize how much God has blessed them. We pledge to use your contributions wisely and be good stewards of the funds you provide. The motivation for giving should be our recognition of the blessings we've received. The amount isn't the focus; what matters is the heart behind the giving.

In Luke 21, we see an example of this principle. The rich were giving their gifts at the temple, but a widow approached and gave two small copper coins. Jesus commended her, saying she put in more than all the others because she gave out of her poverty rather than her wealth. It's not about the numbers; it's about the heart.

We hope that when you walk into the church on a Sunday, you feel blessed by God. Financial giving helps us all experience that sense of blessing every Sunday. However, not everyone in the church might feel equally blessed by God or be giving in a way that reflects feeling blessed by the Spirit.

Contrasting the previous data, we have found that 95 family units in our church, out of about 600 members, do not give anything according to our records. Another 82 family units give $10 a week, and 27 family units give $20 a week. In total, 249 family units do not give a minimum-wage tithe. That means they don't even contribute 10% of a minimum-wage income, which would be $55 per week for a 40-hour workweek.

We share this information not to judge but to highlight the importance of growing in our understanding of the financial blessings God has given us. We have ambitions to expand our services throughout the Phoenix Valley, hire more staff, and offer more workshops and services, but that requires financial support. When we give financially because we know God will use it to bless us and others, it's easier to increase our contributions.

I encourage you to consider how your financial giving to the church reflects the blessings you've received from God. We rarely talk about money, but the Scriptures call us to address these topics. There are many ways to give, not just financially, including giving your time and service to the church, showing hospitality, and offering love and encouragement to others.

As a church, I hope and pray that our contributions will grow significantly in the coming years, allowing us to bless each other and our city with the good news of the Gospel. The Christmas story reminds us of the incredible sacrifices made by Elizabeth and Mary when inspired by the Holy Spirit. Are we similarly moved by the Spirit to sacrifice and bless others? Let's continue to pay our blessings forward as a church. Amen.

Now, as we conclude, we'll participate in communion. Communion is a time to remember that all the blessings in the church and our lives flow from the Son of God's sacrifice on the cross for our sins. Jesus, the Son of God and the son of Mary, made a great sacrifice so that we could be blessed today. In Ephesians, we learn that we have every spiritual blessing in Christ, and this means we are blessed abundantly. In verse 13, it's emphasized how the Holy Spirit is tied to these blessings, as we were included in Christ when we heard the message of truth, the Gospel of our salvation.

When you believe, you are marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance to the redemption of those who are God's possession, to the praise of His glory. This passage reminds us that when we take communion, we are saved, sealed, and secure. As we partake in communion today, I hope all Christians can remember that we are saved, sealed, and secure through the blood of Christ. It's the greatest gift of Christmas: saved, sealed, and secured through the blood of Christ. The Holy Spirit is here to help us know, believe, and experience this truth during this holiday season.

Let's pray for this time of communion and invite the Spirit to move and work in our hearts. Please join me in prayer, and after communion, we'll conclude with a few announcements and one more song. Thank you for your presence here today.

Father in heaven, we are grateful for the miracle of Christmas, the moment when Your Son came to us through the virgin birth. The Christmas story marks the beginning of this incredible victory. It's our spiritual D-Day, the day when Your Son came to save us. As we partake in communion today, remembering His broken body and shed blood, the Holy Spirit reminds us that we are sealed and secure through His sacrifice.

For Christians, we pray that they feel the security and grace poured out through the blood and body of Christ. For those who may not yet be Christians, we pray that the Holy Spirit speaks to their hearts and encourages them to accept the gift that Jesus offered on the cross. May they become Christians soon.

We love and thank You for the Holy Spirit's guidance and the orchestration of Your Son's birth, which ultimately led to His sacrifice for our salvation. As we partake in the bread and cup, may we remember the significance of this gift.

In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.