More Than A Christmas Story

Last week, we began a series on the life of Jesus Christ. We talked about how important it is how we answer the question, “who do you say Jesus is?”. This week, we talk about Jesus is God in flesh.

I’m sure most of us know the story of Jesus’ birth. This is the story we tell every year at Christmas time. But, God descending to earth in the form of Jesus Christ is more than a story to listen to one day a year. This is a reality that has huge implications for how we live our lives and how we realize God is working in our world.

What are some aspects of the Christmas story we like? Well, we like to see children dressed as angels, sheep, Mary, Joseph, and the whole realm of characters we read about. We like the cuteness and quietness the story provides. We like to hear God became flesh and that gives us a warm heart. We’ll even end by singing “Silent Night, Holy Night.”

But, on the night Jesus was born, I bet it was not a silent night. There would have been creatures calling in the middle of the night, the animals moving around, stirrings within the city, strangers coming to pay homage to the newborn baby. I bet Mary and Joseph did not get much sleep that night because of all that was going on, especially after giving birth.

Jesus’ birth is much more than a Christmas story. It is much more than the cute things we like to have portrayed so we have a warm, fuzzy feeling within our hearts. The noisy world Jesus entered is still as rough, dark, dangerous, as it was back then. The only difference is that Jesus is God in flesh, Emmanuel, “God with us.” This. Changes. Everything. Now, the world has glimpses of the true light, hope, peace, and joy of the world. All because God walked among us.

READ LUKE 1:26-33 and JOHN 1:1-5,14

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 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,33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Because God came down to earth to live as humans, one of the important things we need to hear is the same thing the angel told Mary:

BE NOT AFRAID.

This is something that is easier said than done. We live in a world that says to be afraid of many things. All we have to do is pay attention to what the media is telling us and we become afraid. We end up listening to the voice of fear more than the Voice of God who is speaking life, love, joy, grace into our lives, into our world.

What is something you’re afraid of? Me? I have a few fears. (I really don’t want to tell you because someone would make them happen, especially when I walk into my office one day J). But, we all have fears, things that make us anxious. Because of the falling, sinful, broken state of humanity we live in, fear drives us and fills our minds.

We are fearful of terrorism. We are fearful of child abductions. We are fearful of job security. There are so many things we are afraid of. On some level, fear helps us to live safely. If we allow the fear to consume us, we will find we will isolate ourselves so we can try to keep everything safe. But this doesn’t help because we lose the relational aspect of community we all crave.

365 times in scripture, God’s messengers, and God Himself say, “don’t be afraid.” We can think about this as one for every day of the year. Now, this is not saying to blow off concerns and live recklessly. Instead, “don’t be afraid” means to not allow the concern to stop us from hearing what God has to say or do what God would have us do.

We can live as courageous people because we worship and follow God, who knows what we go through in this life. God not only came down to be with His people, He lived the life we humans live. He knows, through Jesus Christ, exactly what it is like to be human. So, we do not need to be fearful to live our lives. Instead, we can live with courage, still be concerned, and offer the light of Christ into the dark places of the world. How? God is already working where we go.

The incarnation of Jesus Christ was not a one and done event. His presence, his life on earth continues and is with us today. This is why the promise of Jesus as he ascended is so important for us to remember:  “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”[1] Because of this, we can live in hope!

Christianity is the only religion where God comes to dwell with His people. There are stories of gods who visit people, but not other world religion has their god live as a human and experience life as a human. No other religion can claim their god knows what humans experience.

Through the incarnation

GOD SHOWS HE’S WILLING TO DO WHAT IT TAKES

to bring people into salvation. Even if that means personally entering into this world…our world.

Through Jesus Christ, God came into a world that is His already. He came to reclaim, redeem, and repurpose humanity. “He came and lived in this world, our world, which was evil and dangerous then as it is now.”[2]

I think this is something we all, no matter where we are in our walk of faith, need to be continually reminded of. God came down to this earth. God came down and lived in a dangerous place. He knows the kinds of things humans do to themselves, each other, and the environment. Why would God descend from his place in heaven to come to earth? Scripture says, “Heaven is [God’s] throne, and the earth is [his] footstool.”[3]

But this is what God did. He came to earth to be among the people and bring salvation with him. God could have come as a full-grown adult. He could have come as a member of a ruling, or rich, family to make change happen at the governmental level. He could have come as any person who has the credibility to make a change in the world. But he chose to experience the fullness of life we experience. God came to earth and started out as a human baby from a poor, unknown family.

J.I. Packer explains, “It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. ‘The Word was made flesh’; God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child…The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is as fantastic as is this truth of the incarnation.”[4]

Every time I think about this truth, I am amazed at the love God has for people who do everything they can to turn away from him. God’s love never fails. To me, this shows us what is really important in this life. It is not being the best at everything, earning the most money, achieving all of our goals. The most important thing in this life is relationships because without relationships everything else is wasted.

Jesus Christ, God in flesh, desires to be in a relationship with all people. His presence is, now, within grasp of all people; but many do not know, or even try to hear his voice and know him. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:4, “[God] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” It is about the relationship with God. This is how the world changes. When heaven enters in and fills the heart and life of a person, their world is changed forever. Then, the changed, heaven-filled, person goes out to share the love of God with another person and their world is changed. This creates a rippled effect and we can begin to slowing, yet fully, see the world being transformed to look and act more like the Kingdom of Heaven. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, this is what we’re praying for, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

God is so into being in relationship with his people and being known and glorified throughout the world that he has done something incredible. Through Jesus Christ,

GOD HAS BROUGHT HEAVEN TO EARTH.

The Book of Revelation even paints the picture of the City of New Jerusalem coming down to earth so God can dwell with his people in life everlasting. C.S. Lewis describes it as the “lower reality being drawn into the higher reality and becomes part of it.”[5]The whole point of life is to witness the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven all around us so we can see and experience what really matters, what really changes people’s lives.

Jesus walking on the earth changes everything. Now, we can experience the awesomeness that is heaven and seek to live into the light of the world. We also get to share and shine the light of Christ wherever we go and in whatever we do. Remember where we go, God is already working there.

For a few years, I was able to go with the University of Texas campus ministries to South Padre Island during Spring Break. If you ever want to see what 100,000 people on an island looks like, this is your chance. Traffic. Drinking. Drugs. Injuries. One-night stands. You name it. It seems as if there is nothing but darkness prevailing, especially at night.

But among the 100,000 people (mainly college-age people) on the island, there are around 500-1,200 other college students to present to share Christ. How do they do this? By giving free van rides to anywhere the people want to go so they don’t have to walk or get into a car drunk. By giving free pancakes for breakfast and free pancakes at midnight so the stomach has something to soak up whatever is in their system.

This is done, not to condone or say the behavior is okay. This is a time when people seeking to share Christ enter into the world of the life of partying and seek a relationship with people to help them see and experience the Kingdom of Heaven. Many conversations, prayers, lives transformed. All because the light was brought into the darkness and people had the opportunity to hear something other than, “drink this…buy this…do this…and THEN you’ll be somebody special.”

One day, Brendan, a young but rising DJ in New York, was coming home to his Brooklyn apartment when a homeless woman asked him for money. He said, honestly, that he had no money. By the end of the week, she asked two more times, and each no he answered “no.” Finally she frankly replied, “you better not, because every day you say no.” Inserting some rational thinking into an otherwise awkward conversation, he proposed, “I am on my way to a job interview. If I get the job, I will take you out for Chinese food.” This promise yielded a friendship that neither were prepared for — that changed the trajectory of their lives, both forwards toward each other.

Brendan got the job. But their friendship didn’t just end with Chinese food. They built a friendship of mutual support, spending their birthdays, holidays and tough times together, over a period of eight years. When Brendan’s heater broke, she made him a blanket. Two days later when he told her that he had lost his job, she disappeared, returning minutes later, bringing him groceries, and which continued to do throughout the winter. Even with so little, she never hesitated to give back. 

Over these years, Jackie moved from the streets and subway stations, into a halfway house, YMCA, and is now moving into an apartment. To celebrate this occasion, Brendan wanted to do something special for Jackie. He went with her to Target, and helped her to pick out everything she’d need for an apartment, starting a registry. Then, he set up a campaign to raise the money to pay for the registry (now closed), along with an awesome video telling their story. While their original goal was to raise $500, the campaign went viral and they’ve raised more than $6,000, and are now looking to use the extra funding to support other women in need.[6]

We can easily think that we have to be the light of Christ to those on lower social scales than we are. But, how many times have we missed someone being the light of Christ to us and still looked down on the person because they were not in our class, not our race, not from our same country, not our gender?

Christ did not come into the world just so we can choose who we want to help or be in relationship with. Christ came into the world to “seek and to save the lost.”[7] Jesus gives his followers this same command to go into the world and make disciples and teach everything he taught.[8]

God in flesh, Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, is still with us today. He is in the lives of those who seek to help. He is in the lives of those who need the help. He is working in and through medical personnel and caregivers. He is working in and through the lives of missionaries and truck drivers.

Every time we have an opportunity to share and show the love of God through our actions and words, we show people that Christ is still alive and working in this world. His promise is true! He has never left us nor forsaken us.

Because of the incarnation, we can know what God is like. We can know God on a personal level. And, we have many opportunities to walk with others, live life with the “lost” and show a God who is real, who is alive, who is still speaking and working in the world today.

This is much bigger than a simple story we hear at Christmas time.

 

Works Cited

[1]Matthew 28:20 NASB

[2]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”, page 30

[3]Isaiah 66:1 CEB

[4]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”, page 30

[5]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”. Page 53

[6]https://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-fredericks/love-your-neighbor-inspiring-story-of-two-friends_b_2127070.html

[7]Luke 19:10

[8]Matthew 28:19-20

Filled With Expectation

As I read the verses for today, I think of the Johnny Carson show where Ed McMahon announced, “Heeeeere’s Johnny!!!” The expectation of the audience was raised when those words were spoken with excitement. I remember watching the Johnny Carson Show and loving hearing him announced.

I think a similar response happened with the crowd around John the Baptist when he was telling the crowd about the Messiah who is coming.

Click here to read Luke 3:15-18.

John has just finished telling the crowd what a changed heart and changed life (repentance) looks like and many were wondering if he was the Messiah promised or not.

It can be easy to read these verses in a monotone, unenthusiastic tone; but I do not believe this was John’s tone at all. I believe he would have been excited about telling the people of the coming Messiah. He would have been convicting, yet excited about telling the crowd of repentance and baptizing. This excitement must have transferred to the crowd.

The crowd gets rev’d up when something amazing is happening or about to happen. John is telling the people about the coming Messiah (Jesus Christ) and some of how He will live out His life. John proclaimed Christ to all who came and would listen!

How excited are we when we read the story of Jesus’ birth? How does our tone, our inflection, or volume change when we speak about Jesus Christ to others?

The Savior of the world is here. This is exciting news of great joy for all people! Our challenge is to have our attitudes of excitement become contagious so others will see there is something great and amazing about the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Life Lived for Christ

Max Lucado says, “think what you think about.” One of the things I appreciate about this is that is forces us to think about why we do the things that we do. Our life is supposed to show our love of God and love of people. Jesus said in John 13, “everyone will know you are my disciples when you love each other.” Love begins with a thought and permeates every part of our being. So, we should think about our motives and how we live our life.

If you were in this crowd, how would you respond to John the Baptist? Click here to read Luke 3:7-14.

The other gospel accounts have John calling the religious leaders “brood of vipers” or “children of snakes.” But in Luke, something else happens. John is calling the crowd, “you brood of vipers” or in this translation, “you children of snakes.”

I’m not sure about you, but this would catch my attention being called that. The next few words out of his mouth would determine whether or not I would stay to listen.

John Wesley also warned people to “escape the wrath to come.” We have a choice: to live a life focused on angry judgement, or the grace of God. John the Baptist simply says, “produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives.”

What does this looks like? This is not about “earning” God’s grace or “earning” salvation. This is about allowing Jesus Christ coming into our life to change how we live. John the Baptist gives examples to people how this life looks when we change our hearts and lives (repent).

Christmas is a great time to remember that God came down in human form, Jesus Christ. His real presence in the world changes everything!

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Peace of God

The hustle and bustle of the Christmas season will bring even the best of us to out wits end. We hear the story of Christ being born; yet we go about our busy lives as if nothing has changed. There are so many things to worry about. The media doesn’t help. God is with us and yet we still get frustrated, angry, sad, depressed, irritated, etc.

The letter to the Philippians is a great book to read, especially in this time of year. The Apostle Paul wrote this short letter. In it, he proclaims the simple message of finding joy and peace in God through Jesus Christ.

Click here to read Philippians 4:4-7.

There are many things we worry about; but do we really have to? Lifting up our concerns, our anxiousness, our worry, etc. doesn’t change our circumstances; but it does change our perspective. This is so much more than just changing our attitude. This is about complete trust in God through Jesus Christ.

When we share our burdens with Him, is it He who makes our load light. We do not have to carry it, because He carries our burdens for us and with us.

God coming down to earth as Jesus Christ tangibly shows God is with us and understands our lives. This year, allow peace to enter fully in our hearts, a peace beyond understanding, to make Christmas really come alive.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Sing to the Lord

What are some of your favorite songs to sing this time of year? Mine are “Joy to the World” and “O Holy Night.” In fact, these are two songs I would like to be sung at my memorial service after I pass away. The reason is because, even in death, there still can be joy. We do not pass over the grieving period; but JOY has been brought into my life through Jesus Christ and is here in the world too.

“O Holy Night” is a song that I used to sing and listen to with my great grandmother when I was a child; so I have great memories with this song. Besides, it is a song that helps me focus my mind and heart focused on the beautiful night that Christ was born, bringing God to earth in human form.

There are lots of passages in Isaiah that talk about destruction and bringing the exalted low; but this is one of the many passages which bring hope and God’s grace and joy into the the picture.

Click here to read Isaiah 12:2-6.

Though this passage has several Psalms re-written, this is a great reminder that God is where we draw our strength from. Our salvation from. Our life from because He has done great things!

This Christmas, we are invited to keep our hearts calm and focused on the Christ child who lived, died, was resurrected, and will come again. Sing to the Lord. What song will you sing today?

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Rejoice!

Christmastime is such a joyous time of year for so many people. This is the time we celebrate families with gift giving, parties, travel, and much more. We can see the good things in life, when we get together.

Unfortunately, many people do not have this same experience of this time of year. So many have felt loss and this time of year reminds them of this. There are also people who feel they are being punished in life by God.

The first two and a half chapters of the book of Zephaniah speak of pronouncing and impending judgement. His prophecies seem very similar to the prophet Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. But then, the tone completely shifts at the end with a message of hope and joy.

Click here to read Zephaniah 3:14-20.

When I read this short book in the Bible, I am reminded that we should not focus on the difficulties and disasters in our life.

“Rejoice and exult with all your heart…”

“The Lord has removed your judgement…”

“The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst;..”

“Don’t fear…”

Then God promises to “deliver,” “gather,” “change their shame into praise,” “bring all of you back,” “gather you,” “restore.”

God was speaking these to the Israelites; but this also speaks to us today. How? Jesus Christ.

We rejoice because God is in our midst through Jesus Christ. He has removed our sin and shame because of the cross and His resurrection. Jesus, our good shepherd, is gathering us in and leading us. We are filled with the Spirit of the Living God.

Christ coming in the world, changes everything. Will we allow Him in to change us once again?

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Salvation & Hope

Are we really ready for Christmas? This is the question we should ask ourselves during the season of Advent. There is so much more than just a baby being born and angels in the skies and shepherds. This is the story of God coming down to be on of us and live the life we live. The birth of Jesus Christ in the world, changes everything!

Click here to read this week’s scripture passage.

This week, we have talked about John the Baptist, Proclaiming God’s Forgiveness, Wilderness and Crooked Paths, God’s Invading, and today we remember God’s ways lead to salvation and hope.

Salvation begins with God coming into our lives. God’s working though Jesus Christ gives us new life and hope for something greater, in the future, and in the here and now.

John pointed people to Jesus Christ. How do our lives point people to Christ?

The message of Christmas is to be shared.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

God’s Invading

Last week, a New York newspaper ran a headline that said, “God is not fixing this,” in response to the shootings that happened in San Bernardino, CA. The article was saying that something has to be done and people can’t “hide” behind meaningless phrases – more specifically, “my thoughts and prayers with with…”

When we read the story of Christ’s birth, we also look at the ministry of John the Baptist. He showed the people, and us today, what God is up to.

Click here to read this week’s scripture passage.

“God is not fixing the problem; God is invading it!” I love this thought, this truth. As I was preparing to preach, I read an article from the pastor of a church that made that statement. There is a lot of truth, and hope in this concept.

I hear people all the time asking why God isn’t fixing the situation. Why didn’t God stop that terrible thing to happen? Why didn’t God intervene in the sickness? There are many other questions we ask.

An answer came almost 2,000 years ago. John the Baptist pointed to the answer when he was baptizing in the wilderness, calling people to repent. He was pointing people to the person of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.

The situation in John’s time was dangerous and people were waiting on God to fix the problem. This is not what God had planned. His plan was to come down in the form of a person (Jesus Christ) to walk around with His creations, show them the Kingdom of Heaven, then die and be resurrected so we could be forgiven and be reconciled to God and receive new life.

God’s answer was, and is, to “invade.” I believe this is His answer today as well. I believe that we can allow God into our lives so we can be changed from the inside out. This is where real change happens – from our heart. If we all Christ to change our hearts, our lives will change and we’ll have more compassion and more God-given direction to make a change in this world by bringing people to faith in Jesus Christ.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Proclaiming God’s Forgiviness

We have several topics of conversation during the Christmas holidays. We’ll talk of love, family, weather (good or rough), relationships, parties, gifts, etc. Our conversations are around the goodness of the season. Yet, this is one of the most stressful times of the year.

During this season, it seems we are more likely to be harsh with another person because they say the wrong thing. We see through the media doing anything they can to get the “perfect” gift. We are more likely to give this time of year; but we get frustrated with how many people are asking for donations.

This time of year, we say “Jesus is born” and “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Before Jesus preached his first sermon, John the Baptist was on the scene telling people to repent and receive God’s forgiveness.

Click here to read this week’s scripture passage.

Repent. God’s forgiveness. These are topics of conversation that we really only hear in the church. It is so easy to get caught up in the to-do’s and all the festivities that we can forget to proclaim the forgiveness and grace of God to people. This is the real gift that comes at Christ’s birth.

His life, His death AND His resurrection were all done so we can be reconciled to God. No longer to we have to live in fear. No longer do we have to live separate from God.

The question we all have to answer is “will you accept this gift?” Gifts that are held on to don’t really live out their full potential. It is when we share that the gift brings extra joy. This is how it is with Jesus Christ.

So, instead of simply saying “Merry Christmas,” how about taking time to give someone the gift (out of love for God and them) of Jesus Christ by telling how He changed your life and how their life might be different.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Really Ready for Christmas?

This week, we have asked some tough questions, hopefully preparing us and challenging us to embrace the real Christmas event so our lives reflect Christ in this world.

Once more, I invite you to read the scripture focus for this week. Take some time to ponder what we have talked about this week. Most importantly, see what God may be speaking to you through this passage. You can read the scripture for this week here.

The questions we asked this week are:

  • What are we preparing for?
  • Do we take Jesus Christ seriously enough?
  • How different do our lives look?
  • Are we ready to share our faith in urgency?

There are many more questions to ask, and we will ask, that help prepare us for the coming of the Christ child and the return of the Son of Man.

Our challenge is to make the birth of Jesus Christ more real for us, so He is born anew in our hearts this year. This event should deepen our faith and allow God to transform us into new creations.

Are we ready for Christmas?

Christ coming into the world changes everything!

A baby born and laying  in an animal feeding trough is to become King of kings. A Savior is born to live just to die so that we can truly live. His life is not what we would expect someone from the riches of heaven to look or be like. God, Himself, is here with us in human flesh to live the same life we live and experience everything we experience. The Creator of the universe becomes one of the creations. This changes everything!

Are you ready to continue this journey to the cradle which leads us to the cross?

O come, O come, Emmanuel.