A certain LSU quarterback is even being mentioned in sermons these days.
Just as Joe Burrow came down from his native Ohio to become a part of Louisiana, God did something far greater when he came down from heaven in the form of Jesus Christ to dwell among his people, Mike Haman shared during a Christmas Eve message as pastor at Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge.
"God wrapped himself in flesh," Haman said. "The story of Christmas is a story of love coming down. I'm so thankful that God didn't just love us from a distance."
Haman's message was part of a magnificent journey-themed service that included a live train conductor; a band; wonderful Christmas music from the choir and individual singers; candle lights; and dynamic digital effects that kept the attention of the packed sanctuary of more than 2,900 people. Healing Place said 13,540 people attended the six Christmas services.
The service opened with a locomotive whistling down the tracks on the massive center screen, highlighting the theme that centered around stops on the Christmas journey.
Haman likened that to the stops Jesus made along his journey.
"The story of Christmas is about heaven making a few stops," Haman said. "These stops were not accidental, but they were very planned. They were purposeful. These stops that Jesus made were prophetic. The prophets of old have prophesied that one day a messiah would come, that heaven would enter into our world."
Haman shared three of the more important stops.
He based his message on Philippians 2:6-7, 9-11 (New Living Translation): "Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
The first stop was in the little town of Bethlehem.
"Two thousand years ago, on a sleepy night in Bethlehem, Jesus made a stop and this stop shows us his humanity," he said.
Haman said Jesus showed his love by coming to live among us. He illustrated his point through the story of the Heisman Trophy-winning Burrow who transferred from Ohio State to LSU two years ago and immersed himself in Louisiana culture.
Burrow forever endeared himself to LSU fans on Nov. 30, when, during his final game in Tiger Stadium against Texas A&M, he came out for pregame introductions with "Burreaux" on the back of his No. 9 jersey.
"What was Joe saying when he ran upon that field wearing that 'eaux'? He was saying, 'Hey y'all, I know I'm from Ohio but now I'm one of you,''' Haman said. "There was something even better that happened 2,000 years ago. When Jesus stopped in Bethlehem, it was God's way of saying, 'I'm one of you. I have become one part of you, so that one day you can become part of me.' "
Jesus was called Emmanuel, meaning "God with us," Haman said, making him more like a tour guide than a travel agent.
"A travel agent will send you to places they have never been. But a tour guide will take you by the hand and take you place to place because they've been there before," Haman said. "God's not a travel agent; he's a tour guide, and he takes you by the hand … You will never go where he has not already been."
The next stop in Jesus' journey was at the cross of Calvary.
"We can't leave Jesus at Bethlehem," Haman said. "If Bethlehem shows us his humanity, Calvary shows us his humility."
We are unable to talk about Christmas apart from the cross, Haman said.
"Jesus was the only one ever in human history born for the sole purpose of dying," Haman said. "After 33 years of preaching and teaching, and loving and serving, the Bible says Jesus grew up and then he gave up … Calvary is about the blood that was spilled for you and for me."
The cross is the emblem of our faith, Haman said.
"The cross is the picture of man's greatest hope. Without Calvary, we are stuck in our sins. Calvary opened the door. In his humility, there was great opportunity … If Bethlehem says God is with us, Calvary says God is for us."
The third stop was at the throne.
"Jesus is now seated at the place of highest honor, and that throne speaks to us of his majesty, his power, his authority. Jesus is on the throne," Haman said.
That means God is in control.
"The things that frustrate you don't bother God, because Jesus is seated on the throne," Haman said. "There's some stuff I don't understand. God is not really worried. He's not panicking. He's not afraid. … I'm so thankful it didn't end at Calvary, but his position tells us that we have victory."
All believers can be a part of the journey of letting the world know there's victory in Jesus.
"The gospel message is simply this: all aboard," Haman said. "Your ticket has been paid. Everything that was necessary for the trip Jesus took care of it."
Another day. Another blessing.
To anyone who would be willing, Jesus simply says "Follow me."
Those were his words in Luke 9:59 and other places in the New Testament. Those are also Jesus' words to many of us as 2020 dawned. Jesus is already in the new year, and he's simply asking us to follow him. It's not enough to say we believe in Jesus or that we love Jesus.
We have to accept and follow him. To many, that means following him no matter what. No matter what friends say. No matter how people talk about us. No matter what it costs. We will make all kinds of silly New Year's resolutions that we have no intention of keeping.
Resolve to follow Jesus. Sing your song, "I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back."