Tag Archives: Wise Men

Can You Hear the Angels Singing?

14 Dec

AngelsYou can listen to the podcast here.

Take a look at the familiar Christmas story found in Luke 2:8-14.

Apparently angels are scary beings. The angel told Joseph, “Do not be afraid.” Gabriel said to Mary, “Do not be afraid.” And the angel told the shepherds, “Do not be afraid.” Put yourself in the shepherd’s place. All of a sudden, an angel appears and tells them that Jesus has been born. “And there appeared a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” The sky was filled with more angels than you could count. They were singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

This is the way it typically happens. The key word in that text is the word suddenly. God always works in His own time and I think we wish there were more of these types of moments. Suddenly means without warning, it means quickly and unexpectedly. The angels weren’t there and all of a sudden, they were and they filled the sky. The shepherds were out in the field taking care of their flocks by night, but could the angels be seen in Bethlehem? What about in Jerusalem eight miles away? Did the angel’s praise reach across the miles? These are questions to get you to think. Of course, we don’t know the answers, but I can tell you one thing for sure: the angels filled the sky and the shepherds saw them.

Are angels real? Of course they are. 2 Ki. 6 tells the story of Elisha and his servant when the Aramean army surrounded them in the city of Dothan. Seeing the enemy on every side, the servant cried out, “What shall we do?”  Elisha responded by declaring, Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Ki. 6:16-17) The angels were always there, but the servant simply could not see them. When his eyes were opened, he saw what had been there all along. There are skeptics all around us so how should we respond to someone like that? It is a matter of faith. Just because you cannot prove something does not automatically disprove it. That was part of my journey to recognizing that God is real. There are things all around us that people take by faith, or I think a more applicable term is take for granted. How can you see the beauty of nature or the beauty of humanity and not see God? You cannot ignore the supernatural element of Jesus’ birth. Angels are a huge part of the story. An angel tells Mary she will give birth to Jesus. An angel tells Joseph not to dump Mary. That angel would then tell Joseph what was going on and that the baby would be called Jesus. An angel warns Mary and Joseph to flee to Egypt. An angel tells them when it’s safe to return to Israel. And in Lu. 2:11, an angel tells the shepherds that the Savior has been born and then the sky is filled with angels. Later, we have the mysterious star that led those far away Magi all the way to the very house where they found Jesus. And the Magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod but to go home another way. Angels and stars and dreams. Crazy supernatural stuff throughout this story. I think these are some things we know, but really have forgotten how incredible they are. When you reduce Christmas to good feelings and family time, you miss out on this incredibleness. This story helps us solidify that there is a heavenly realm. This world is not eternal. We look forward to the day when we join God in our eternal home. This world is not our home – that’s why we’re strangers and aliens here. Our citizenship is in heaven. We are pilgrims on a journey from this world that is passing away to a world that will last forever. We are looking for a city with eternal foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

The end is coming. What we know today will be gone soon. Those things that many feel are so important will pass away. 1 Jo. 2:17 reminds us that, The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” We are here today and gone tomorrow. Jesus said, Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” (Matt. 24:35) Rev. 16:18 says, “There was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty.” That earthquake destroys all that we know. All the incredible architecture gone. The great masterpieces of the ages gone. All the earthly treasures held so dearly are gone. There is nothing we can do to save any of it including ourselves. Our salvation comes from another source. That’s why Christmas is so important. Miracles surround Christmas: the angels, the star, the dreams, the prophecies, and most of all, the virgin birth. But those miracles are just signs pointing to the greatest miracle of all. Since we get a play by play of events from Scripture, it’s only fitting that we look to the Bible to see why. Jo. 3:16 tells us that, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Tit. 2:11 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men.” Gal. 4:4 says, But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law.  Phil. 2:6-7, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men.” One of my favorites is found in Jo. 1:14, The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The birth of Christ is the incarnation of God. It is the unity of deity and humanity. The infinite became finite. The immortal became mortal. The Creator became the created. The omnipotent lived inside a young girl’s womb. The Almighty became helpless. The Deity was wrapped in rags. The King was born in a stable. The incarnation is essential in our faith. Without the incarnation, there can be no birth. Without a birth, there can be no sinless life. Without a sinless life, there can be no atonement for sin. Without atonement, there is no need for the crucifixion. Without the crucifixion, there can be no resurrection. Without the resurrection, there is no hope. Without hope, there is nothing.

I don’t want you to miss the main point. Having a biblical worldview is supernatural. When you take the supernatural out of Christmas, you’re left without the miraculous. You’re left without hope. You’re left in your sin. As Christians, why would we want to do that? The central point, the main thing, the primary focus, the theme, the moral of the story is all summed up in two words: “I am.” Christmas without Jesus is like a computer with no operating system. It’s like an iPod with no music. It’s like a phone that doesn’t make calls. It’s like cooking without food. It’s like Face Time with no face. Those things just don’t make sense.

Anytime we see angels in Scripture, I think they appear suddenly. Even though we might say we want God to work suddenly, I don’t think we really do. Especially when you consider how long you’ve prayed for lost family members and friends. Or when you consider that loved one that is dying. I think we often pray for more time. Right now we have some time, but who knows how long.

We have the time this moment to share the truths that the angels sang about that first Christmas. Today, we sing those same songs. Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King! If you listen with all your heart, you can still hear them singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth among those with whom he is pleased!” “Hark the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild God and sinners reconciled. Joyful, all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies with the angelic host proclaim: Christ is born in Bethlehem. Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Christmas, Then and Now (Part 2)

23 Dec

Win GiftYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we began looking at the origins of Christmas from Genesis. We saw the beauty of God’s creation destroyed by the free will choice of the two God desired to have a relationship with. God determined that Christmas would come. We left last week with God pronouncing judgment on the snake as well as the man and woman.

When did Christmas come? At this point in Christmas, Adam and Eve are still in the garden. The consequences of their actions was monumental affecting not just them, but humanity. There would be enmity between the serpent and the offspring of the woman for generations to come. This enmity was quickly seen with the next generation as Cain killed Abel and the warning of, “Sin is crouching at the door” (Gen. 4:7) must have been echoing in the ears of Adam and his wife. But while Genesis speaks of enmity, it also speaks of victory. Look at the incredible statement God makes in Gen. 3:15 regarding Christmas, “He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” This is what is going to happen; this points ahead, but it is as good as done. How would Christmas be accomplished? We know from Genesis that God is pointing to the future, but do we have any other evidence of how this will occur?  Is. 7:14, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” If you search the Scriptures, you’ll find just one virgin that was with child.

What Child is this? Luke 1:26-35 says, Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.”

You can search the rest of the Bible, you can search throughout the world and throughout eternity and Mary is the only person that conceived a child without ever having any involvement from a man. Even with in vitro fertilization, there must be involvement of a man. But not with Mary. While they were there in Bethlehem, “The days were completed for her to give birth and she gave birth to her first born Son.” (Lu. 2:6-7) In the story that is familiar to even the most casual observer, Mary and Joseph had to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be counted in the census. It was an 80 mile journey and they find themselves without a room for the night. Their Christmas was full of poverty and anxiety, not mulled cider, turkey, ham, and peppermint sticks. I’m not sure how Mary and Joseph would describe their memories of Christmas, but it was probably not a silent night where all was calm and all was bright. Mary and Joseph were alone in a strange place and of that night we sing, “The cattle are lowing the poor Baby wakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.”

Even if it looked bleak for them, Gal. 4:4 says, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law.” It was the right time for Christ to be born. Is. 9:6-7 sing out, For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.” The promise of Gen. 3:15 was fulfilled in the flesh of Jesus who is the Christ. While Genesis points to the victory we have in Jesus, the battle is yet to be won. After His circumcision on the eight day, Jesus steps out of history. He reappears at the age of 12 teaching in the temple in Jerusalem and then disappears for another 18 years before coming on the scene again to be baptized by John at the Jordan River.

What’s this have to do with Christmas? Jesus was born in a little nothing town of blue collar working parents. He never wrote a book, had no education, didn’t travel far from where he was born and lived in relative obscurity for most of His life. At the age of 30 he entered public ministry where He was loved and followed by many people. The tide of public opinion and popularity changed when the religious crowd became threatened by His teachings that were so contrary to theirs, so radical that the religious leaders plotted against Him and declared Him an enemy of the state. After a pitiful excuse for a trial, the government found Him guilty and sentenced Him to die. Roman soldiers tortured and humiliated Him before hanging Him to a tree fashioned into a cross. He died there on the cross being forsaken by all those that loved Him. He was hurriedly taken off the cross following His death as the Sabbath quickly approached and was placed in a borrowed grave where He laid for three days. Just three days for God’s plan for Christmas to come full circle. The wonderful gift of Christmas was complete as the tomb was opened to the chorus of the angels singing, “He is not here for He has risen!” (Matt. 28:6) Christmas is about the sacrificial gift of Jesus that we tend to leave in the manger during this time of year. You cannot separate the child in the manger from the message of Christ on the cross. Christmas is not just about the birth of Christ, it is about His death and His glorious resurrection.

Satan was defeated in Gen. 3:15 when God revealed Christmas would come. Satan was defeated when Christ rose in victory conquering death. Satan is defeated each day when we who are followers of Christ choose to walk in the light. Satan will be forever defeated as John writes, And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Rev. 20:10) Christmas redeemed us. The gift is waiting, but it’s not yours until you open it and accept it. 1 Jo. 3:8b, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” There is no room in our celebrations for anything but Jesus.

The Road Less Traveled

17 Dec

Less TraveledYou can catch the podcast here.

Last week we looked at the perfect gift of Jesus. When we help those in need, we’re helping Jesus. That’s the paradigm shift we need to rethink Christmas. This week, we’ll finish our series by examining the road we are all called to travel, but few actually go down it.

Matt. 2:11-12 says, “After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.”

My how time flies. It’s only Dec. 16th and most of the stores have put all their Christmas decorations on sale. There are still parties to go to, tests to take, gifts to buy, and food to cook. Some of us have been listening to Christmas music since Nov. 1st. We’re all caught up in the excitement of the season. On Dec. 26th, all the excitement passes, we don’t want to hear another Christmas song, smell gingerbread, of have leftover turkey and ham. After Christmas, we’re left exhausted from the shopping, the parties, the cooking, the cleaning, and the relatives. We start off the New Year with the depressing thoughts of returning to work and school in clothes that are too tight and bills that are stacked too high. Immanuel – God with us has been lost into the frantic pace of Christmas, BUT, it doesn’t have to be this way. Jan. 6th brings us to an event that few Christians observe, and even fewer know about. This is the day we celebrate the Epiphany. The day we celebrate the arrival of the magi. These wise men were experts in astronomy, astrology, and natural science. According to Western church tradition these wise men were Balthasar – often represented as a king of Arabia, Melchior as a king of Persia, and Gaspar as a king of India.

As in many case, tradition has trumped the truth. The truth is, the wise men were nowhere near the manger looking down at baby Jesus. By the time they arrived, Jesus had been circumcised in the Temple on the 8th day. Joseph and Mary had found a more permanent dwelling because Matt. 2:11 says, “After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother.” We’re not certain that Joseph was there in the house with them. When we look at the truth, we see that when they got there, “They fell to the ground and worshiped Him.” That is the only response possible when you are in front of the King of Kings. That is what you do when you go before Immanuel, before the One that created the heavens and the earth. Based on Matthew’s account, it would have been some time before they arrived. It is true they brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but that doesn’t mean there were three wise men. They brought these gifts – Matthew calls them treasures – with them; they didn’t fall out of the sky. The magi presented the Christ child with gifts befitting a King. The story of the wise men ends with Matthew saying, “And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.” (Matt. 2:12)

There is a new road. I think this is a really neat verse because I think it captures the essence of our walk of faith. The wise men went another way. Herod represents danger. Verse 16 tells us, “Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under.” I can’t help thinking when God warns us of danger, do we turn and go the other way in obedience, or do we want to sneak a peek at the danger; maybe get just close enough to touch it. God’s Word is consistently warning us of danger if we’ll just read and respond to its message. For many people, January and the New Year represent a new beginning. Resolutions are made. We’ll lose weight, exercise, quit smoking. Pray, read the Bible, be more faithful in church, begin serving, begin giving to the work of ministry. We make a commitment to go down a road less traveled and this year will be different.

The wise men brought gifts to Jesus. It’s difficult to place a value on the gifts they brought. To give you an idea of their value, here it is in today’s money. Gold: $1700 per ounce. Frankincense: $31.25 per ounce. Myrrh: $250 per ounce. Some experts put the total value of the gifts well over a million dollars. When you add the value of the gifts to the cost of traveling for two years, you can see the money invested to find the King. There is that dreaded word – money. Do you think it’s any coincidence that there is treasure included in Matthew’s account? Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21) Our monthly bank statement may reveal more about our true character than anything else. We’ve become members of the church of the monetarily selfish. Mark 10 tells us of a man that was seeking the road less traveled and asked Jesus what he could do to inherit eternal life. He said he had kept the 10 Commandments ever since he was a boy.

Mark 10:21-23 says,“Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” Jesus knew that money would challenge His people. He knew the difficulties that money brings. That’s why He said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matt. 6:24) Our modern retailers tell you differently. You must have a bigger house, better car, bigger TV, the latest technology. In an article called, “McMansion Economics” the LA Times reported that the average American family shrunk over the last 30 years, but our houses got 42% bigger. If we shifted to the average size of a home 30 years ago, we would save an average of $80,000 per home. We now have days of the year dedicated to fulfill every materialistic desire. Black Friday and Saturday. Cyber Monday. When we’re feeling blue, we participate in retail therapy. We have forgotten that we cannot find true happiness in stuff. When we use God to get what we want instead of God using us to get what He wants, we miss Immanuel. I wonder if Jesus is in heaven singing, “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine, there’s gotta be a little rain sometimes.” Paul warned Timothy that even a desire to live godly would bring persecution. (2 Tim. 3:12) Let the angel’s words to Mary be applied to you, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.” (Lu. 1:30)

Is there a better road to travel? Don’t fear falling off the fiscal cliff. Jesus said it best, “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matt. 6:25) The answer is yes, there is more to life than life here. Our lives should be a contradiction to the world’s; should be in harmony with Scripture; should be an example of hope and determination, and perseverance, and trust. Jesus answers the dilemmas of life by offering a contrast in Matt. 6:33, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” What will be added? Everything you need to live for God. It’s a contrast to the Gentile way of life. First seek God’s Kingdom. This is the place where God reigns. This is the place where He is in charge and we willingly submit to His authority. It’s a place where God’s people provide vibrant demonstration of an authentic relationship with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We’re also to seek His righteousness. We need to be right acting. It is the character or quality of doing right. This righteousness should be prevalent in all that we do: relationships, business, taxes, finances, parenting, and friendships. We are to act morally and ethically. And we’re supposed to share this with others. The only way we can have the quality of righteousness is to be a child of the King. “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.” (1 Jo. 2:29)

This Christmas, remember it’s not about you or your children. It’s not your birthday, it’s Jesus’ birthday.

Christmas Perfection

26 Nov

Check out the podcast here.

Last week we were reminded that Immanuel is God with us. We were challenged to tear down the idolatry of commercialism and consumerism and to expect a miracle. This morning we’ll get a reality check as we seek out perfection at Christmas.

The great gospel of Luke 1:30-31, 34 says, “The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’”

In the classic Christmas movie “Jingle all the Way”, Howard Langston attempted to make the season just right for his son. Howard, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, was a procrastinator and tended to put his job ahead of his family. All his son Jaime wanted for Christmas was the Turbo Man action figure and Howard promised him there would be one under the tree. Turbo Man was the hottest gift of the year and every kid wanted one too. Of course it was Christmas Eve before Howard thought about the gift. Howard was trying to make Christmas perfect for his son. To make things worse, his neighbor Tim played by Phil Hartman looked like he had planned for the perfect Christmas. He had a picturesque house filled with decorations and all the presents neatly wrapped beneath the tree. The search for that perfect gift – that perfect Christmas – led to a frenzied search mission to find Turbo Man that included fights, deception, theft, burglary, racketeering, assault, police obstruction, as well as numerous violations of traffic laws. And of course, what Christmas movie would be complete without the perfect neighbor making a play for our main character’s wife? Howard tried to make Christmas perfect, but the reality is there is no such thing. For many people, Christmas is a reminder of heartache, tragedy, and suffering. Clever marketing and Victorian Christmas traditions have replaced the biblical principle of Immanuel – God with us.

Today we have a sanitized nativity scene. Our nativity scenes often portray the parents lovingly looking down over the holy Child lying in a hay lined cradle, not a manger. In our pursuit of the perfect Christmas, we forget that Mary and Joseph were spending the night in barn – a place where animals live. Where there are animals, there’s poop. Where there’s poop, there’s insects, and smell. There was no medical treatment available and Joseph was the only support Mary had and if he’s like most of us first time dads, he didn’t have a single clue. We want this clean, picture perfect nativity with no complications, no heartache, and no trouble. We have this idea that if we sincerely love God then He will grant us serenity now. No fuss, no muss in our dainty, clean, sanitized, Christian lives.

Luke tells us it was anything but perfect, anything but simple. Lu. 1:26 tells us it was the sixth month of Mary’s pregnancy before any answer to her dilemma was made evident. “Do not be afraid, Mary,” the angel tells her in Lu. 1:30. Easy for the angel to say. Mary faces an unwanted teen pregnancy. This was different from pregnancies today. She had never been with a man. It’s easier for us to understand because we know how it ends. How easy would it have been for her parents? Joseph? The town’s people? Put yourself in Mary’s shoes; she knew the truth that no one else knew. The angel says, “Greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you.” This is where it starts for all of us. We are favored because of God’s great love; His unconditional sacrificial love. This is where Christmas begins. Not just that Christ came, but that He is still here.

Mary was favored, not perfect. It’s hard for us to comprehend unconditional love. God wants a relationship with you even if you’ve been naughty or nice. Why? Because you are highly favored. It’s easy to understand when you consider your children. You favor your kids over someone else’s kids simply because they’re yours. It doesn’t have to do with their abilities, or their aptitude, or what they look like. You favor them because they’re yours. It’s the same way with God. The favor He shows you is because of Him, not you. Being favored does not mean bad things won’t happen. Look at Mary again. As far as relationships, she had done right; had kept herself pure and she finds herself with child. Interestingly enough, nothing is mentioned of Mary’s righteousness. Even after the angel’s explanation, Mary is left asking, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Lu. 1:34) I’m pretty certain the theological implications of the baby she carried were not fully realized for some time. How many of us have been in similar situations of uncertainty where we are called on to exercise our faith? You have done all you can to remain true and pure and faithful to God and then that suddenly hits.

Think about Mary’s emotional frame of mind. God’s favor would bring a significant measure of pain and suffering to her life. We read about this miracle of life knowing that the stone was rolled away and the tomb was found empty. We look at this event through the sanitized lens of knowledge. Mary didn’t have the luxury of knowing. She shares the story with her fiancé who would obviously put her away certain she is lying after all; he had never seen or heard of any virgin becoming pregnant. She faces death by stoning for the sin of adultery. The walk of faith provides no guarantees for a neat and orderly life free from life’s suddenlies. Nowhere in Scripture does it say everything that happens to us will make sense. As a result of Jesus’ birth, King Herod ordered the execution of all male babies under two. Hebrews 11 is known as the hall of faith. Stories of great faith abound in this chapter.      What are the results of this great faith? Abel was murdered. Noah suffered 120 years of ridicule and the earth was destroyed by a flood. Abraham was ordered to sacrifice his only son. In fact, I encourage you to take the time and read Heb 11:35-12:2. How about Paul? Surely he escaped problems. Look at 2 Cor. 11:24-27 and you’ll see what he endured for the cause of Christ. Paul warned Timothy that even a desire to live godly will bring persecution. (2 Tim. 3:12)

Do any of us really count the cost of an authentic relationship with Christ when we choose Him? In his book The Present Future Reggie McNeal concluded that, “church culture in North America is now a vestige of the original movement, an institutional expression of religion that is in part a civil religion and in part a club where religious people can hang out with other people whose politics, worldview, and lifestyle match theirs.” We have rewritten the original Christmas story of pain, suffering, and loneliness to one of unrealistic perfection with a hint of cinnamon and ginger. Mary asked, “How can this be?” The angel provides the answer in Lu. 1:35, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” After that triumphant declaration – silence. No bells and whistles, no warm gooey feeling, just silence. In that silence, I wonder if doubt crept in? We can face the same thing. The Holy Spirit is with you always and particularly in life’s suddenly moments.

When we seek perfection where it does not exist, we’ll be left feeling empty and unfulfilled. We want a “G” rated Christian life in an “R” rated world. Why did God choose Mary? Look at what she said in 1:38, “And Mary said, ‘Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.” When faced with this seemingly impossible situation, Mary chose to trust and obey. May it be the same for us.

The Leaders who Missed Christmas

28 Nov

You can listen to the podcast for this message here.

Here we are in the Christmas season again. I wonder how many will miss the reason we celebrate Christmas? Even Christians who are pressed to the max with school parties, work parties, church parties, neighborhood parties, decorating, baking, and shopping for presents are prone to miss Christmas. In the classic movie A Christmas Carol, we find the tyrannical and unlovable business owner Scrooge complaining every step of the way because poor Bob Cratchet wants half a day off on Christmas. If the story was written toady, the roles would likely be reversed. We would see Scrooge looking forward to Christmas because as a business owner, he would see profits rise. He’d begin advertising before Halloween and offer ridiculous store hours on Black Friday maybe even opening at midnight. Maybe the story would follow how Bob Cratchet developed his complex shopping plan camped out hoping to find those trendy, state of the art gifts for his kids. He probably scanned the 102 million results found on Google by searching Black Friday 2011. Bob would come to despise the Christmas music that begins just after Halloween. Scrooge would love Christmas, Bob Cratchet? Not so much. In the ever increasing commercialism and materialism that is Christmas, can we change the pattern? Do you want to?

Missing Christmas is nothing new. Since the very first Christmas 2000 years ago, people looking for the real meaning of Christmas missed it. In the first century, the Temple was one of the busiest religious centers on the planet. Sacrifices were constantly being offered on behalf of people’s sin. Priests, worshipers, and the religious crowd were ever present. The religious crowd sat around and “discussed” the finer points of the Law. They evaluated the 613 rules they supposed people ought to follow as they interpreted the Law. Somewhat different form the 10 that came down with Moses from Mt. Sinai. They read from and memorized the Torah, they talked about the prophets. They looked for the Messiah. Messiah is born just about 5 miles from where all these religious leaders were. He was born in Bethlehem and not a single Jewish leader made it to the manger. Jesus was laying in the manger for just over a week and probably no one came to see this little boy.

So let’s look at the story that occurs eight days after Jesus was born. Grab your Bible and read Luke 2:21-38. According to Jewish law, male babies are taken to the Temple on the 8th day and circumcised because He was born under the law according to Gal. 4:4. Mary and Joseph take baby Jesus to the Temple. The reason for Christmas is taken to the Temple, the very place you’d expect to find Messiah. Christmas nearly comes and goes from the Temple just like it comes and goes for many people today. There were two people at the Temple that day however, that were eagerly anticipating Christmas. The religious leaders at the time who earnestly searched for Messiah did not find Him. Even as Messiah hung on the cross 33 years later, the leaders looking for mankind’s deliverer missed Him. How could anything good come out of Nazareth after all? (Jo. 1:46) How can people miss something so obvious? How could they miss something that is apparently so obvious to us? If we were in Jerusalem that day, we would see the hustle and bustle of Temple life. We’d see the steady stream of religious people doing religious things. We’d smell the smells of the sacrifices, hear the animals, hear people laughing and crying – we’d see all the activity. We’d see people so consumed with life and they’d miss Christmas because they were just too busy. These leaders would remain busy for the next 33 years. They missed the miracles, the teaching, the love, the authenticity, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension. The religious leaders were so busy doing God’s work that they missed the most important work God ever did for mankind. They had the Law, the prophets, the very Word of God and yet they missed what all of these things pointed to.

It’s not a stretch when we consider what the holiday season has become. Children so excited about what they will receive that they can barely get to sleep on Christmas Eve. Sleep doesn’t last long as many families are awakened by their children in the wee hours of the morning to open presents giving little to no thoughts as to why they’re getting gifts. Christmas has been replaced with consumerism and materialism, with the rush to find a bargain on an item we don’t really need. It shouldn’t shock you to know that few people know the real reason for Christmas. We’ve lost the simplicity of the manger, of the shepherds that were watching their flocks by night. I wonder if we should spend some time in the Temple looking for Christmas.

Did everyone miss Christmas? If we were flies on the wall in the Temple mount, we’d notice two people. The first is a man named Simeon. The second is a woman named Anna. The Pharisees and the Sadducees and most of the religious leaders of the day missed Christmas. I want to focus on these two people that give us some clues on how to avoid missing Christmas. If you want to find Christmas, you must be willing to wait. Simeon is described as, “righteous and devout.” He was upright, just, and God-fearing. He was, “looking for the consolation Israel.” The Messiah was born of very humble beginnings. He didn’t come as the religious leaders thought He would come. The Christ child did not come as royalty, he didn’t come as a major league political figure. He came as a baby, born of a virgin.

Look at Luke 1:68-75. Simeon waited. Luke 2:26 tells us that, “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Simeon was apparently an old man that had been looking for that consolation of Israel for a long time. He waited because the Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not see death until he saw Christmas. Luke 2:28-32 says, “Then he [Simeon] took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, ‘Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel.’” Can you imagine waiting for something for so long and then holding Salvation in your arms? Simeon offers a blessing to Mary and Joseph and then disappears from the pages of Scripture.

Then we come to Anna. 84 years old and she spent all of her time in the Temple area. She served, “Night and day with fastings and prayers.” Compare her to the religious leaders who argued the finer points of the Law, offered a life time of sacrifices and yet still missed the sacrifice for all life. The priests were engaged in continual sacrifices for the people. When you look at God’s design for the Temple, you’ll find the lamp stand, the table of showbread, the basin, the alter – all the materials needed to make sacrifices to God. Did you ever notice that there aren’t any chairs? There was always sacrifices to make; never time to sit. Heb. 10:11-12 tells us, “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD.” The priests were so busy making sacrifices for the people that they missed the sacrifice made for them. Many people in today’s church have bought the same lie that the priests of old did. Busyness equates to spiritual maturity and that is just not true. Simeon and Anna were purposed to find Christmas – to find Messiah, the Christ Child, the consolation of Israel, the redemption of Israel. They waited – they were patient. What part of Christmas today is patient? Is it the packed shopping centers and the traffic jams? Is it the pushing and the shoving in the lines to get into the stores at midnight on Thanksgiving Day? Is it the after Christmas sales that now begin before Christmas?

What will you do to avoid missing Christmas? How will you reconnect with the original Christmas? You’ve heard of the still, small voice of God? I wonder how well you can hear that in a crowded mall? I encourage you at some point very soon, get alone with God and listen to Him – and wait until you hear Him. If you want to embrace what that first Christmas was like, you’re going to have to wait like Simeon and Anna did. And it doesn’t matter if everyone around you misses it.

You must trust that God will keep His promises. Simeon waited a lifetime to see God’s promise. When he saw Jesus, Simeon knew the promise had been kept. Anna waited decades. It’s significant to note that she was a prophetess. That means as she waited for the redemption of Israel, she told others about the Christ. I’m sure that included telling people of the promises of God. The promises that include telling people that God will never leave you nor forsake you. That is comforting considering that Christmas is one of the most stressful times of the year. Maybe this holiday season will be filled with new normals. A new marriage. New babies. Maybe your children were married this past year. Maybe this is the first year without that loved one. We can stand on the promises that God will not leave you; He will be with you to help you as you go through this time of year. Contrary to popular opinion, this time of year produces 40% fewer suicides than at other times. He will be there with you, will you trust Him?

You must be willing to proclaim what God has done. Simeon and Anna never considered keeping the good news to themselves. Simeon tells Mary and Joseph what Jesus’ future holds. As soon as she saw the child Anna, “Came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Don’t neglect to tell people what God has done in you.

At the center of Christmas is this gift that has been prepared for you. Don’t miss the gift of God among the gifts of men. Don’t miss the center of Christmas and that is the Christ child that was sent to save mankind from themselves. God willingly sent Jesus just for you. He came as the King of kings and the leaders of His days missed Him. Don’t miss Christmas this year.