Christmas Eve Message 2017

Tonight we sit on the precipice of Christmas 2017.

Tomorrow the day will arrive, and with it the opening of presents, the feasting of food and the regathering of family and friends.

Once again, we will experience what most people believe to be the happiest day of the year.

And why not?

Because at its core, Christmas is truly a season of great joy and worthy of triumphant celebration.

Remember? That’s what the angel said as an entire host of heavenly beings appeared to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem!

“Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”

But the reason for such joy wasn’t found in the exchanging of gifts, decorating of trees or the singing of songs.

No, the joy the shepherds heard about was described like this:

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

This was the message of the first Christmas, and it is meant to be the message of all Christmases that would follow.

Simply put, Christmas is about the arrival of Jesus.

Now, before Jesus was born, prophets of God predicted His birth and wrote down what God had put upon their hearts.

There are several places in the OT that give us various clues about Jesus, such as:

…where He would be born,

…the lineage of His family,

…and even how His family would have to flee to Egypt to avoid being assassinated by King Herod.

But there is one section of prophecy that speaks to the various ways Jesus would minister to humanity.

It’s found in the book of Isaiah, and it reads like this:

Isaiah 9:6 (ESV): “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

In this prophecy, Isaiah took time to describe two aspects of Jesus significance.
For starters, we see that Jesus definitely holds a position of power and rule.

He is truly the Lord of all things found in the universe, and the inhabitants of earth are certainly no exception.

In Colossians 1, the apostle Paul attributes Jesus sovereignty over all creation like this:

Colossians 1:16-17 (ESV): For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Now some people live and act like Jesus has no place of authority in their life.

They do their own thing and make their own choices.

They only answer to themselves.

And yet, the Bible makes another prediction about how humanity will ultimately relate to Jesus.

Philippians 2:9-11 (ESV): Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

I think one of the key words in this verse is the word EVERY! Because every means EVERY!

At some point in time, all humanity will acknowledge the fact that Jesus is the One who created and rules this world!

The other thing that stands out to me in Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming Messiah is how Isaiah attributes to him several titles.

So, although the Savior would arrive as an infant, He would one day grow up and fulfill His calling.

First off, Isaiah refers to Jesus as the WONDERFUL COUNSELOR.

This title refers to the idea that Jesus is able to guide and direct our lives like no one else.

And who doesn’t need some help when it comes to navigating life?

Have you ever asked Siri the question, “What is the meaning of life?”

For fun, I did a few years ago.

Her response: “I don’t know, but I think that there is an app for that.”

On a second attempt: “All evidence to suggests it is chocolate.”

Let me simply say that for all the challenges we face on earth, we will need better answers than that!

But Jesus can truly help us figure out how to live life as it was designed!

Second, Isaiah refers to Jesus as the MIGHTY GOD.

Do you know the very first question computer techs ask when people call in for support?

“Is your computer turned on?”

They know that if the computer is turned off or unplugged, nothing can make the computer run!

And…so it is with life.

So many people try to figure out life unplugged from the ultimate power source: God!

See, thhe God who is able to guide us is also the God who is able to sustain us!

With God in our life, we are able to live the life God has designed us to live!

Up next, Isaiah refers to the Savior-to-come as the EVERLASTING FATHER.

Some people can’t think beyond the next 10 minutes, let alone think about the next few years.

But the Bible tells us that we were made to live forever!

And ultimately we were meant to live life beyond this life on earth.

How good it is to now that Jesus, through his sinless life and sacrificial death on the cross, paved the way that we might find ourselves back in right relationship with our maker.

It could be said that our ultimate purpose in this world is to live eternally with God. The question is…are we ready? Has this possibility even crossed our mind?

Lastly, Isaiah identifies the coming Messiah as the PRINCE OF PEACE

This speaks to the idea that of all the great things that Messiah would accomplish, the greatest feat would be breaking down the walls that separate mankind from God.

See, the presence and practice of mankind’s sin keeps us from connecting with a holy God.

One verse in the Bible says this:

Romans 3:23 (ESV): For all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.

When sin is present, there is an ongoing friction that exists between us and our creator.

Where there was once tension and hostility, Jesus came along and made it that we could become acceptable to God!

No wonder Isaiah tagged Him with the title PRINCE OF PEACE!

May I ask you this evening: Do you have this peace that Jesus offers?

The Bible describes it as a peace that surpasses all human understanding.

Perhaps you have come to a place in your life where the strain and the stress and the struggle are becoming too much, and you want to know how to find such a peace within your heart.

God’s answer to all our greatest problems and challenges is found in one name: Jesus.

Isn’t it amazing that, in one short little prophecy covering two verses, so much information can be gathered about Jesus?

  • We get to learn about the breadth of His authority.
  • We discover that He holds the answers to life’s deepest questions.
  • We learn that Jesus, because He is God, has great power…power enough to rescue us from our sin and power enough to transform our lives.

From Isaiah 9:6 we see Jesus described as the Everlasting Father, which can serve as a source of comfort and assurance in this life, as well as in the life to come.

And finally, we learn that Jesus is called the Prince of Peace, and we realize that by coming to earth to be born, die and resurrected, Jesus won our biggest battle and removed our greatest obstacle.

Death and hostility were replaced with life and peace.

Let me ask you to imagine something really distressing for a moment.

Think about what this world would be like if Jesus never came.

If there was no manger, and with it no cross.

  • What we would have is a world without hope.
  • We’d have a world without meaning.
  • And we’d have a world full of despair.

Aren’t you glad that isn’t the case?

The question for us to consider this Christmas Eve is this: what will we do with the Jesus God so graciously provided for us?

How we answer that question will determine just how much of Christmas we will experience!

 

 

Advent 2.0

Historically, the season leading up to Christmas is a time known as Advent.

This is a time when Christians seek to put themselves in the shoes of those who longed in anticipation for God’s Messiah to come and bring restoration to the nation of Israel.

When it comes to the liturgical church calendar, Advent falls on the four Sundays that precede Christmas Day, but Advent can be practiced in a variety of ways at home as well. Some families will share in an Advent activity every day leading up to Christmas.

If there is a song that captures the spirit of Advent, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” certainly fits the bill:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

That was Israel’s plight. When it came to the Messiah, all they had was a promise.

Hope was in full effect. They were truly desperate.

But for us celebrating Advent in the year 2017, we are only able to remember what it must have been like for those ancient Jews to feel suspenseful expectancy.

Why?

Because we know that Jesus did indeed arrive in Bethlehem!

We know the story by it’s characters including an innkeeper, shepherds and wise men.

We know about the arrival of God’s Son in a manger.

We even know that Jesus came not only to be born, but to die.

What the ancient Israelites longed for, we have understanding. Where there was once  only hope, we now have certainty.

And yet, at the place we find ourselves in the story of redemption, we too must process our own feelings of anticipation and expectation.

Unlike those who waited in Israel 2000 years ago, we wait not for the arrival of a baby, but for the coming of a King.

For the Christian, Advent isn’t just a time for us to sympathize with Israel’s longings, but to be reminded that we too are waiting upon the second arrival of Jesus.

While Israel would have sung songs in expectation of Christ’s first coming, the church now sings the song in commemoration of that first coming and in expectation of the second coming in the future.

That’s where we find ourselves in history: book ended between Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and his future reentry into the affairs of our world.

And yet, I wonder…

  • Do we as Christians share in the same strong desire for a imminent Messiah as the ancient Jews did?
  • Do we long to see Jesus burst forth from the sky and begin His work of making things right that have been wrong for so long?

I imagine many of us are so caught up in our lives, we rarely take time to think about Jesus’ return.

Did you know the The Apostle Paul, in writing to his young protege Timothy, reveals that God rewards for those whose hearts are anxious to see Jesus come back? Here’s what Paul wrote:

Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8 NIV)

This is Advent 2.0. The anticipation surrounding the second coming of Jesus.

And take note: it won’t be a quiet or unassuming like the one in Bethlehem.

Consider this description offered by the Apostle John from Revelation 19:11-16:

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns.He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.  Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords. (NIV)

So here’s the bottom line: The promise for Israel and the promise for the church is Jesus Christ; he has come, and he will come again. This is the full essence of Advent.

It’s not just looking back.

In fact, I would say that when it comes to Advent, it is even more important to look ahead to what is yet to transpire.

 

How Imperfect People Can Experience the Perfect Christmas

It seems that most people are in pursuit of the perfect Christmas

  • The decorations have to be JUST RIGHT
  • The food needs to amaze the palate
  • The gifts must be exactly what everyone wanted
  • We fill our minds with mental images of perfect family gatherings full of laughter without a hint of any discord or disagreement.

That’s a lot of pressure!

But the truth is, quite often, Christmas can be a bit disappointing…and in some cases it can come off like a dud!

Here’s a dose of reality: There are no perfect Christmases!

Why? Because there are no perfect people.

The fact that we aren’t perfect is what Christmas is all about!

Too often, we think that the only way to get close to God is by being perfect…and if we can’t be perfect, than we just need to be better than those around us.

In other words, we believe the way to connect with God is through effort, through competition, through striving, and through good behavior.

Yet consider the words of Jesus of whose birth we celebrate this season:

Matthew 11:28-30 – “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

And how about this passage of scripture found in the Book of Ephesians:

Ephesians 2:8-9 – For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Isn’t it ironic that for all the time and energy and stress and pressure we put ourselves through during the holiday season, that the point of the holiday is that God, through the person of Jesus, seeks to take the pressure off of us!

I don’t know about your childhood, but my experience with Santa was summed up in being told that if I was good, then I could expect some presents under the tree…BUT if I was not-so-good, or all-out naughty, then it might not be such a great year!

That was a lot of stress for a little guy!

But the message of Christmas is that God already knows that we fail and we struggle and that we have shame…

That’s why God sent Jesus!

To heal our hearts. To restore our lives. To give our lives meaning and purpose. To bring peace between us and God

Christmas is God’s reminder that we can’t do it on our own, and that He is more than willing to help us!

Too often, I believe that when it comes to Christmas, we’ve got our focus on a lot of the wrong things.

Instead of pursuing the perfect Christmas, we ought to be pursuing the perfect Savior!

It’s kind of sad, but it’s a strange reality that many people, because of the condition of their life think that God wants nothing to do with them.

Somehow, we get it into our minds that only the people who have it all together or the one who know how to act super religious are the ones that God cares about.

This Christmas season, have you found yourself stuck on a treadmill of performance and pressure and stress and exhaustion?

If so, please realize, that’s not what Christmas is about!

Christmas is about finding peace for our souls, purpose for our being, and hope for our future!

So here’s a bit of Christmas Good News:

It’s not too late to grab hold of the type of Christmas God desires us to have!

God is offering us salvation through the person of Jesus.

Have you taken hold of it?

Mundane Christianity

In short, crises aren’t what prepare us for the mundane of the Christian life, but rather the mundane – -keeping the fasts, saying our prayers, learning patience, etc. – – is the forge that tempers us for crises when we face them.

Mundane Christianity. How’s that for a blog post title? Not very catchy, huh?

Yet, I believe the vast majority of what we call the Christian life is lived out in the midst of ordinary, everyday activities.

Meaning this: although there are flashes of the grand and glorious that show up in our lives from time to time, most of what God calls us to is simple, low-key faithfulness.

Some people expect the Christian life to be an ongoing onslaught of the visibly miraculous.

But I wonder if such a perspective sets people up for a lot of disappointment or guilt.

Are our lives meant to be a steady display of the fantastic and the spectacular?

In 2 Timothy 2, Paul uses three different vocations to encourage Timothy forward in his life and ministry: a farmer, a soldier and an athlete.

Although each vocation is very different, they share a few things in common.

For starters, they demand a lot of patience.

The farmer shows up day after day to tend his crops. He plows. He plants. He waters. He fertilizes. And yet he can’t rush the outcome, because the outcome is on God’s time table.

When people think about farmers, they don’t typically think about flash and glamour. Farming is gritty work that gets a person out of bed early and has them working until the sun goes down.

Second, they demand a a lot of discipline

To perform well, both the athlete and the soldier spend a lot of time in practice and preparation.

They drill over and over and over until they naturally perform well in face of conflict and competition. Before there can be any success, they must expend a ridiculous amount of sweat.

Lastly, these vocations demand an immense amount of dedication and labor in order to achieve a glimmer of glory.

The farmer works all year long in anticipation of harvest.

An athlete will train for years to reach the highest levels of competition.

Some soldiers spend their entire career training and drilling without ever stepping on the battle field.

Simply put, their lives are actually more defined by the amount of years put into preparation rather than the performance.

Back in the first century, the people who made up the church at Thessalonica spent a lot thinking about the return of Jesus.

Which is good. The Bible even says there is a reward for those who are ready for Jesus’ return.

The only problem was this: they detached themselves from the grind of everyday living.

They stopped working and spent their days with their eyes focused on the skies.

When Paul heard about how the Thessalonians were spending their days, he wrote this to them as a mild rebuke:

And to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you… 1 Thessalonians 4:11 (NIV)

The reality is this: there are a multitude of ministry opportunities in the mundane.

There are plenty of ways to serve and love others in the normal, daily rhythms of life.

Author Matt Redmond offers this challenge to embrace the mundane side of Christianity:

“Be nobody special. Do your job. Take care of your family. Clean your house. Mow your yard. Read your Bible. Attend worship. Pray. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Love your spouse. Love your kids. Be generous. …Expect no special treatment. And do it all quietly”

There’s nothing really flashy in all these activities. But these are some of the places where God can work through us in powerful ways.

Pastor and writer Kevin DeYoung adds this to the conversation:

In the grand scheme of things, most of us are going to be more of an Ampliatus or Phlegon (they are in the Bible) than an apostle Paul. And maybe that’s why so many Christians are getting tired of the church. We haven’t learned how to be part of the crowd. We haven’t learned to be ordinary. Our jobs are often mundane. Our devotional times often seem like a waste. Church services are often forgettable. That’s life… Life is usually pretty ordinary, just like following Jesus most days. Daily discipleship is not a new revolution each morning or an agent of global transformation every evening; it’s a long obedience in the same direction.

Daily life can feel monotonous. But within the steady cadence of everyday life, God provides us with multiple opportunities to step out in faith so the we might honor Him and bless others.

We just have to learn how to spot them in the midst of the mundane.