What’s on your bucket list?
A bucket list is a list of things that you want to have done before you “kick the bucket.” Normal bucket list items include: travelling to Europe, sky diving, or snorkeling in the Bahamas.
My bucket list? In no particular order – here are a few things I’d like to do before I die: Visit the Holy Land of Jerusalem, go to the Super Bowl, defeat every Legend of Zelda video game, and play Michael Jordan in a game of HORSE.
Ah yes – and create my own flavor of Doritos.
What’s on your bucket list? Any ideas? What would it take to make sure that your life is fulfilled?
Today we’re going to hear about a man named Simeon – he had only had one item on his bucket list. ONE ITEM. There was only one thing he wanted to do before he died.
I. Simeon's Fulfillment
Take a look at Luke 2:25:
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to Him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
Immediately you get the sense that Simeon was very old. He had been waiting and he was near death. I bet a bucket list was something he thought about all the time.
Being a Jew at the time of the 1st century, there could have been a lot of things Simeon might want to do before he had died. Enter the Holy of Holies. See an angel. Slap a Roman soldier in the face. Enter the Holy of Holies.
But Simeon wanted none of those. Instead Simeon simply was waiting for the consolation of Israel.
Just like in a tournament, the consolation bracket exists to encourage the losers of the first round, so the consolation of Israel would encourage Simeon. Only the consolation of Israel wasn’t some tournament for a tiny 6 inch trophy.
It was a person. The Messiah. The One who would save people from their sins.
What do you think about that list? Is that all you’d want to do before you die?
Regardless we easily see what God thought about such a list in verse 25. God’s Word calls Simeon righteous and devout. This is a commentary on Simeon’s list. It’s God approved. God loved where Simeon’s heart was at. More than that, God sent his Holy Spirit and had promised to Simeon that it would happen. It’s like the Divine Make-a-Wish Foundation. Simeon’s list was God Approved! God makes it happen.
Check out what happens next.
27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
Mary and Jospeph enter the temple. Jesus is only a couple of months old. He’s a baby still. He’s not some gigantic conqueror with a sword slung at his side like The Rock, Dwayne Johnson in the new Hercules movie.
He’s just a little baby.
Yet look at how Simeon reacts in the first part of verse 28. He runs over to the parents and took him in his arms.
Do you guys ever just run over and grab newborns from their parents? Maybe if they are relatives – but strangers? No. That’s strange. But Simeon doesn’t care. Throw any sort of societal rules out the windows. Simeon is excited to see and meet the Savior!
Then in the second part of verse 28 – he praises God! He gives thanks to the LORD for making this dream come true. For bringing fulfillment to his life.
Finally, in verse 29 – what does he say? “In peace LORD, you let your servant now depart according to your Word.” Simeon wasn’t just saying, “Now I can leave the temple and grab some lunch at the local Bojangles.” Nor was he thinking, “I can finally retire from my job.” Remember: He had been promised that he would see the Messiah before he died. “Depart in peace,” therefore, meant: “Die in peace.”
Simeon was so thrilled after having met Jesus that he was ready to die in peace. He didn’t need to do anything else. He didn’t need to say good bye to his family. He didn’t need to make some more money. He didn’t need to run a half marathon.
He saw Jesus and his life was fulfilled.
II. American 21st Century Fulfillment.
Imagine for a second that Simeon was on TV. They were interviewing him. “Have you lived a fulfilled life?” What if Simeon’s answer was – “Yes. I got to see my Savior Jesus Chrsit – who would live perfectly for me, die innocently and rise triumphantly for me.”
How do you think they’d react? Maybe it’d be like Ben Watson the NFL player who wrote a wonderful Christian response to the happening in Ferguson and was asked to talk about it on live television. The second he mentioned Jesus as the reason for his hope --- this television station magically lost him over the air waves. All day long no problem. As soon as he mentions – Jesus – “our broadcast equipment broke.” Coincidence?
Jesus doe not fit into the fullness of an American life. What does? You could answer that in a lot of ways. But here are just a few ideas that are out there that might be negatively affecting your idea of a full life.
· Money. As in a full life has lots of money. You won’t feel fulfilled until you have enough money for retirement, for a second beach house, for spoiling your grandchildren at Christmas. If you don’t have enough money, your life isn’t fulfilled.
· Travel. We have full cable television stations devoted to this. It’s no wonder The Amazing Race is in its 23rd season. This isn’t a bad thing. From a Christian perspective, it’s nice to see God’s creation. From a secular perspective, it’s awesome to show off all of your souvenirs and say to people – “Look at how well traveled I am. My life is fulfilled because I’ve been there!”
· Experience. Similar to travel, but you can have the experiences in your own backyard. Our America is fixated on experiences. Some good – helping in a homeless shelter – spending a day reading at a children’s cancer Ward. Some neutral – trying the Fire wings at Buffalo Wild Wings – riding a pogo stick. Some sinful – having sex without someone you aren’t married to – having sex with someone of the same sex – trying a drug – drinking 21 shots on your birthday!
· Relationships. For some, it’s the quality of relationships that leaves your life fulfilled. “Am I truly living out the Notebook in my marriage?” “Is my friend really as good as all of those Friends on TV?” For others, it’s simply the quantity of friends. As in – “Did I get to 1000 friends on Facebook yet? Until I’m there I don’t think my life will have really been fulfilled.”
· Longevity. Sometimes people just find fulfillment in the length of their life. It’s why we spend thousands on gym memberships, organic food, and pills guaranteed to extend your life each day. This perspective acts as if each day is a grain of sand that you add into a jar. The more you have – the fuller your life is.
III. Your Fulfillment
What do you think about these options? Are they good things to pursue in having a full life? Are these things that you pursue in your life? Are these things that you place at a higher importance level than pursuing Jesus? The truth is some of these thing are harmful. Some of these things are good. Some of these things are neutral.
But if you ever make any of these things more important than finding your fulfillment in Jesus your Savior – you will never be fulfilled.
If eternity isn’t taken care of, then even the now isn’t fulfilled. If eternity is taken care, then even the now will be fulfilled!
So– be like Simeon. Find your fulfillment in Jesus your Savior. Look at Simeon’s song again and hear how it is Jesus will fulfill you:
1) Peace with God.
Don’t think that if you save up enough money you can bribe God into being your friend. Don’t be under the impression that if you travel up to the highest mountain suddenly you and God will get each other. Don’t think that if you Facebook message God and say– “Hey God, I’ve got lots of friends. If you want to be cool, you better be my friend too,” will not convince the Almighty to suddenly friend you and be “cool with your sins.”
The only One who can make us at peace with God is the little One that Simeon held in his hands. It’s Jesus.
Listen to what Scripture says. Jesus would be “Pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5-6) So that in Jeremiah 33:6 God says, “I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me.” In Romans 5:1 “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It is clear throughout Scripture Jesus himself is the ONLY ONE who brings us peace with God. He is the ONLY one who brings you the message; “You are forgiven.”
2) God’s Salvation.
Look at what Simeon proclaimed was his reason for peace. “In peace, Lord, you let your servant depart, according to your Word…for my eyes have seen your salvation!”
Simeon was a human. He too had his sins. He too had his failures. He too had guilt. The only One who could save him from the eternal consequences for his sins is the very God who was at peace with him!
The problem with all those human ideals for fulfillment is that they are human ideas on how to save your life from being linked into these categories of failure, pathetic, or normal. But when someone else surpasses us…where is your salvation? When someone else makes more money, where is the salvation? When someone else has more friends, where is your salvation? When you die, how many people in how many generations truly remember you!?!
The only one who understands true salvation is the very one who invented salvation. And in Jesus, Simeon held the salvation of God himself.
God’s salvation was that little baby. The little child who would grew up without any sin. He would give up his life innocently on a cross. He would rise triumphantly from the dead. He would defeat sin – he would defeat death – he would defeat the devil. He would save you from failure to live perfectly and failure to get to heaven. He would save you from those voices that accuse you. He would save you so you can have eternal life!
Jesus is the Only one who does the Only thing that takes you the Only way to the next life!
3) Light of the Gentiles and the Glory of Israel.
Simeon uses that phrase in his song: “The light of the Gentiles and the glory of Israel.” A light to the Gentiles – people who weren’t Jews – because now they were no longer in the dark. They knew that Jesus loved them. The glory of the people Israel because now they knew God had meant it. He did love them enough to send them a Savior from sin.
In Jesus, you know God’s love too. You have been enlightened to see just how much God loves you. You get to glory in the fact that God loves you with an unquenchable, awesome love – willing to die to take away your sin.
If you have God’s love, who else’s love do you really need? His love is the only LOVE that lasts forever. It’s the ONLY love that is UNSTOPPABLE. It is the only love that loves you completely and fully even when you don’t deserve it!
So how do you respond?
Stop running to earthly things for fullness in life. Stop looking to earth ideas – even sinful ideas to feel full. In fact, if you are feeling unfull – it’s not Jesus’ fault. He’s the fullness of all things. It’s a problem with you. You’re too focused on earthly pursuits and earthly ideas of fullness.
Instead, run. Run to God’s idea of fullness. Run to Jesus. Like Simon pick him up in your arms. Sing his praises. Give glory to Him. Hold on to him every chance you get. Stop thinking that you can find fulfillment in something else and find your fulfillment in God alone.
The New Year is very soon. As you make out your life change lists, put “see Jesus” as number one on your list. Sign up for that Bible study. Become a member at that church. Get involved in children’s ministry. Do whatever you can at whatever point you are at in your spiritual journey to get closer to Jesus.
Then…your life will be filled. You’ll have everything that this life is all about – peace with God, salvation from death, and the knowledge of God’s love! Whatever else you get in this life? Those are just awesome and added bonuses. Because come what may you’ve got Jesus. Your life is full.
God is fully behind such a notion. Amen.
The Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. – 1 John 4:10
Who is your Savior this Christmas?
Maybe it’s Martha Stewart who guided you in the fine art of the perfect gingerbread house with just a pinch of powdered sugar sprinkled over the top like glistening snow.
Maybe it’s the fine people at Toys R Us who directed you, as a dad, to know the difference between Princess Anna and Princess Elsa.
Maybe it’s those little mint chocolate stars from Trader Joe’s a great reward system to help you make sure Christmas gets done.
Maybe it’s a 1 inch wide wooden door that separates you from your daughter’s CD player blasting her favorite Frozen song for the 100th time in the last hour.
Who is your Savior this Christmas?
Whatever it is that gets you through Christmas, today we gather together because the kids have a message for us: YOU have a Savior – He is Christ the Lord!
Let’s look at a Christmas passage that tells us that exact truth. Take a look at that passage from 1 John. It says, “The Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” Pay careful attention to what those words say. It’s easy for us to get distracted and insert our own interpretation of what God is telling us here.
1) Jesus is Not One of Many Saviors.
That’s a pretty common concept in the world. God can be whoever you want him to be and as long as your are sincere about it, you’ll be saved.
And with that logic, the mouse cursor that I am using to type up this sermon could be God. As long as I really mean it when I say to you, "Christmas is about my mouse cursor;" today's world would have you respond: "Good for you."
But Scripture does not say that. Look at the passages again. It does not read “The Father has sent his Son to be one of many saviors in the world.”
It isn’t as if the first Christmas happened because God the Father looked down on earth and said to Jesus, “Go down there. I think Zeus, Poseidon and Vishnu could use your help. And if you don’t quite do a good enough job—don’t worry. I’ll send Mohammed, Buddha, and Tom Cruise to make sure this saving really happens.”
No. Scripture plainly says, “The Father has sent his Son to be THE Savior of the world.” As in – the only One. The Only One needed. The Only One in existence. Without him, there is no saving!
Maybe that’s why the appearance of angels surrounds this Christmas story. Maybe that’s why he’s born of a virgin. In a way unlike anyone else in the history of the world. Maybe that's why he life was filled with miracle after miracle -- the blind to see, the lame to walk, the dead to rise!
Because God wants you to PAY ATTENTION. Jesus is the One. He is THE Savior. The miracles throughout Christmas (and the rest of Jesus’ life) are like a big Christmas display screaming out to you:
PAY ATTENTION. The Savior of the World is here!
2) Jesus is not the “Savior…from Unimportant Things.”
Now maybe you’re thinking, “So what? What does this “Savior” save me from? A long winter? Too many calories from my Christmas treats? Having to buy too many Christmas presents?" (It’s about Jesus, you know.)
Or maybe you think it’s all a joke. Some kind of phony Almighty God in the sky that’s a made of invention of people to control others? I’ll have no part of that.
Here’s the truth: Jesus is not made up. Nor is what he saves us from made up. God doesn’t draw our attention to Jesus to tell us something unimportant. Rather he tells us something that has eternal significance. Jesus is the Savior from real, terrifying, awful things: Sin. Guilt. Death and eternity of suffering in hell.
3) Jesus is not a “Help you Save yourself-er”
Your response might be simple. “Ok. That’s stuff might be real, but so what? I’m pretty good. I gave plenty of coin to that red bell ringer at Walmart. I took five of the Giving Tree gifts. I’m fairly nice and friendly – saying Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays depending on what the situation warrants. I appreciate Jesus. But Pastor Phil – I don’t need saving.”
Hear my heart. This scripture does not say, “The Father has sent his Son to to encourage you to save yourself,” nor does it say, “The Father sent his Son to save those who need it.” It says, “The Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”
Are you a part of this world? If so, you need saving.
It’s so much more than just Jesus helping you out. Scripture says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) To fall short, means we can’t get there. We need someone to take us there.
Too often we view Jesus like the guy who comes and puts his finger on top of the ribbon so that you can tie it into a nice gift bow. Jesus is more than that. He’s more like the gift wrapper at Kohl’s who does all the wrapping for you!
Jesus does all the work because he can. Jesus does all the work because you can’t. Jesus did all the work because he had to. Jesus is the Savior…Period.
4) Jesus is not the Savior of Everyone Else, but You.
Some of you might be reading this and thinking: "I’m too far gone. I’ve been away from God. I’ve done some pretty nasty things. I’m dealing with addiction. I’ve destroyed relationships. I’ve given God little to no time at all. This “saving” stuff might work for others – that happily married family – that nice smiling guy at Starbucks – that pastor in the robe – but Jesus isn’t my Savior, because I am unsavable."
Question. Are you a part of the world? If so, understand this:
“God sent his Son to be the Savior of you.”
It’s what Mary is telling you as she names her son, “Jesus because he will save you.”
It’s what the angels are telling you as they proclaim, “A Savior has been born for you.”
It’s what the star points you to as it says, “Here…in this house, is the Savior of the world. The Savior of you. “
It doesn't matter if you're from North Raleigh. It doesn't matter if you're from South Raleigh. It doesn't matter if you're from Durham, Chapel Hill, Knightdale or Garner. It doesn't matter if you are from up north, out west, down south, or homegrown. It doesn't matter if you have light or dark hair, light or dark skin, light or dark eyes, light blue, dark blue, or red as your favorite college basketball team color! (Really...It doesn't!)
Jesus is the Savior of you!
This is what the kids in our Christmas program will be telling you.
Now adults don’t always listen to their kids. That’s a smart practice. Especially if they tell you’re their broccoli is gone and you can see the napkin has changed into a smushed yellowish green color.
So when they come out hear in a bit, it’ll be easy to pass it off as cute, funny, and a good opportunity for an Instagram update.
But it’s more than that.
A little more than a week ago, I got a birthday card from the kids. It had some funny stuff on there. “Eat cake,” “I want to show you my basketball," “You’re silly.”
But then another message made me stop. At the bottom of the card in green crayon with a backward “J” and a few oblong letters, it said, “Jesus loves you.”
Listen to the children today. They have an important message for you.
They will be telling you about your Savior from sin. Hear them say what God says, “You are forgiven!” They will be singing about your Savior from death. Hear them proclaim as God does, “You will live.”
They will be imploring you to believe in your Savior from God’s wrath.
Hear them whisper as God whispers “You are at peace with God.”
Listen to them. You have a Savior. It’s Jesus. Amen.
And when Christmas ends soon—when the wrapping paper is thrown away and the decorations are replaced – please don’t put your Savior away. You need Him! Connect with him and stay strong in Him.
You do that through studying his Word. That’s what we’re here as a church to do. To encourage you in faith at a church service, in a Bible study, in a personal study, with devotions, emails, updates, and prayers.
Take a next step to connect with us. Check out our upcoming study groups and sign up for a way to stay connected to your Savior here.
It's the New Year. There's no better time to join a church, get connected to your Savior and be encouraged throughout the year!
Let's talk a bit about Christmas Footwear. There are all kinds of options. There's the green elf shoes that curl at the end with the little jingle bell attached to the tip. There's a pair of fuzzy, candy cane striped socks that goes up to your knees. If you are a kid getting ready for a Christmas program or play, you might get a pair of shiny new black shoes.
Or maybe you just get Frozen shoes. Really. Anything Frozen will do.
The kind of footwear you have for Christmas will leave an impression on all the people you meet.
But it's about more than just what you wear on your feet. It's also about what kind of message your feet bring to people. And th truth is that sometimes, yes, even during Christmas, feet bring bad news.
Lots of bad news.
There’s a lot of bad news in this world.The sad thing is that the places people go for some good news --just give them more bad news:
Science, which is supposed to be so predictable, logical ,and rationally help us wrap our minds around our existence says this, “There is no God! God is a nothing! You are nothing more than a bag of bones that accidentally got created, lives a miserable life making other people miserable with your bad choice, only to one day be buried under the ground – rotting, lonely, and forgotten.”
A counselor says, “You feel bad. That’s part of who you are. You need to try better. You need to feel better. You need to get past this on your own. You need a pill for this and a prescription for that. You’re broken. You’re unfixable."
A church says, “You have sinned, you need to do better. You need to win God back. You need to rededicate yourself this New Year and you will eventually earn yourself God’s favor. And if you don’t, if you sin and fail, you’ll be worse off than you were before.”
That's bad news too.
Even you. You might be negative about Christmas. You might remind people "There's presents to wrap, lights to hang, and cookies to make." You give people the impression that if they don't do these things, they have failed this Christmas.
That's bad news.
We need some good news.
For the Israelites in 500 B.C., there was mostly bad news. Because of their sins, God had handed the Israelites over to the Babylonian army. Their cities were destroyed, their way of life uprooted, some were taken into captivity, others were dispersed throughout the Middle East.
70 years. For 70 years these Israelites were taken into captivity. 70 years without their homeland. 70 years without their government. 70 years without the freedom to worship their God in peace. 70 years separated from family. 70 years spending the holidays away from their homes. 70 years unable to celebrate festivals as they had before. 70 years of bad news.
I imagine they were reminded of this often. The architecture of the local schools screamed Babylonia. The dress of the local people reminded them – you are not the dominate culture anymore. The rules, laws, and culture of the land said your way of living is second class to our way of living.
Just imagine the captive Israelite headed to the bar for a drink after work and running into a group of loudmouthed Babylonian soldiers, “You people are so worthless. You were such wimps when we overtook your land. How the mighty have fallen?”
“Speaking of mighty? What about this Almighty God of yours? How Almighty can he really be if he can’t defeat our great king? How powerful can he be if he can’t even provide his people their own country? King of the heavens and the earth? HA! He should be called the king of bread crumbs and a few copper coins. Your God is a NOTHING!”
Maybe. Maybe he was nothing. Or maybe he was still angry. After all they had sinned. The words of the prophets echoed in their minds. They had been warned. “Stop sinning or the Lord himself will abandon you.”
They hadn’t listened. They hadn’t stopped sinning. They hadn’t followed through on their promises to God. But God had followed through on his threats to them.
There was a lot of bad news for these Israelites.
They needed good news.
Perhaps the feet were quiet.
Slowly, quietly walking over to a vase. Reaching inside. Pulling out a scroll. Hurriedly rushing to the front door. Watching out for Babylonians. Stopping quietly at the front door. Waiting for it to open.
Hopping inside. Scurrying to the table. Sitting. Opening the scroll. Reading out loud.
These feet brought “Good news.”
Take a look at an example of that good news that an Israelite father might have read his family in verse 6-9 of chapter 52. "Now therefore what am I doing here," says the Lord, "seeing that my people are taken away without cause? Their rulers howl," says the Lord, "and continually, all day long, my name is despised.” Therefore my people shall know my name; therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here am I. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Ah! Good news. Did you hear it? It was for the Israelites to be sure, but it is also for you. It’s for your neighbors. It’s for your friends. It’s for your family. It’s for your boss, your coworkers, and even that guy who give your morning coffee with a smile at Starbucks. This is the very good news that your feet have to share with the world this Christmas. It’s the good news you and I have to share with the people of North Raleigh.
Listen and reflect on this good news:
1. Peace with God.
As Isaiah says, “Blessed is the one who announces peace!” For the Israelite it meant that God was waiting for them to return. As they repented, he awaited with an announcement of peace and the good news of sins forgiven. They may have been captives, but they were no longer abandoned. God was at peace with them.
This is the same news that is written in Christmas light displays throughout the triangle. It’s the news that the words of Silent Night speak of. It’s the peace that the you read of as you tell your children what the angels sang on that first Christmas night.
To be fair – this is not just "sitting by the fire, smelling Christmas potpourri, and listening to the Easy Listening Christmas Piano Music station on Pandora" – type of peace.
It’s greater than that.
This is a peace the angels sang on the first Christmas. It’s the peace angels – who are messengers of God – announced to the world. It’s the peace that God has sent a Savior and because of Him – God’s anger against us is gone! Through faith in Him, we are at divine peace with our Savior!
Think of this good news you get to tell your friends. Because of Jesus, their sins are forgiven. Because of Jesus, they are at peace with God. Because of Jesus, they can release themselves from guilt. Because of Jesus, they can have real, everlasting, peace this Christmas.
2. Good Tidings of Joy.
Literally this means good news. The good news of Christmas is that God came to save us.
It isn’t that you might get some cool presents. It isn’t that there’s 50% off sale at Macy’s. It isn’t that you get a holiday bonus. It isn’t that family is coming to visit. It isn’t that there’s one more bon bon left in the fridge.
The good news of Christmas is that your Savior came! He became a human being. He was born of a virgin. He grew up a human being. He was tempted as a human being, but unlike any other human being he was without sin. He died like a human being—a criminal human being though he had done nothing criminal.
But then unlike any other human being ever, Jesus brought himself back from the dead. He returned to life on the third day as he had promised! He promises that through faith in him you will do the same!
This is the good news of Christmas. It’s the good news that you know well. It’s the good news of Jesus’ birth, life, and death that you get to share with your children, your spouse, your parents, even a friend who has never heard the story of Jesus ever before.
3. Salvation from Sin, Death, and the Devil.
The good news grows from there. Isaiah says, “Blessed is the one who announces salvation!” Salvation means “the good news of being saved.”
But what kind of salvation? For the Israelite captives, the good news was that they would be saved from their captivity. They would return to Jerusalem. They would return to their lives.
For those in your world? You too can share salvation with them. Salvation from their captors.
Salvation from sin. It’s consequences no longer hold us down and its power no longer rules over us. In Jesus’ name, the addict defeats his addiction, the alcoholic defeats her alcoholism, the begrudged husband restores his marriage, the depressed breaks free and feels joy.
Salvation from evil. God defeated the devil on the cross. How then can Christmas scrooges ruin Christmas? Tell that to your friend. How can any evil ruin Christmas? God has ruins evil already!
There is salvation over death! Tell your friends and family that. Jesus’ birth means that we too will be born into a new life. An eternal life. Tell them it means more than just sadness, tears, a funeral, and a bag of dirt. Tell them Jesus’ birth means his life and his resurrection to life – and eternal life to all who believe!
4. God Reigns.
What an incredible message this was for the Israelites in captivity to hear. Their captors continued to chant at them, “We reign. Not you and not your God. We are in control of you and all your do.” But the good news is that God still reigned. He had not forgotten them. He was still in control. He would watch over them in captivity and restore them to Jerusalem at the proper time.
This is the same message of good news that you get to share this Christmas. To remind others that God reigns. Not addiction. Not sin. Not the devil. Not hatred. Not evil. Not science. Not racism. Not hatred. Not atheists. Not doubts. Not fears. Not sadness. Not loneliness.
God reigns. The same loving God who restored peace with you, the same loving God who came to earth for you, the same loving God who won salvation for you, is the God who is in control on high. He reigns!
This is good news. This is great news. This is incredible news!
Think of how important that is for the addict who thinks his addiction rules to hear.
Think of how important that is for the financial unstable who thinks money rules to hear.
Think of how important that is for the sick who thinks the disease rules to hear.
Think of how important that is for the guilty who thinks that the one terrible sin they did one time rules to hear.
Think of how important that is for the atheist who think that chance and an unloving nothingness rules to hear.
Good news is super important to tell. Clothe yourself with it this Christmas!
Traditionally at my house Christmas morning gifts can be kind of funny. Gag gifts, if you will. One year I opened my stocking to find that my mother had stuffed it with a pink plastic egg looking thing. I didn’t have any idea what it was. My mom informed me it was a foot scrubber. It helped to keep your feet good looking and manicured as I was getting closer to being married to Julianna.
I thought, "Maybe I’ll just keep my socks on."
You too need to make sure your feet are beautiful this Christmas. But you don’t need to see a pedicurist or buy some fancy shoes. You simply need to TELL the Good News about Jesus.
· As you wear a pair of tennis shoes handing out Christmas service invitations to all of your neighborhood houses.
· As you wear your business shoes, explaining to your coworkers the true meaning of Christmas.
· As you lounge around the house in Crocs, telling your family the good news of Jesus that they won’t want to miss out on at church.
· As you wear your funny Looney Tunes slippers and quietly sing Christmas Carols of Jesus’ birth with your children.
This Christmas. Make your feet beautiful. Make sure your feet travel with the good news of the Savior wherever you go.
The other day my wife's grandfather became very ill. He was in hospice and on his last bed. As my wife called him, she heard rasping and heavy breathing coming from the other end of the phone.
What do you say? I'm sorry I wasn't there? I'm sorry you are sick? I hope it isn't painful. Glad you had a good life!
Not to embarrass her, but my wife's words were simple:
"Grandpa, I love you. Jesus loves you."
After he had passed, grandma spoke to us and said that he had been having such a hard time during his lasts moments on this earth, but when he spoke to Julianna--when he heard what she had to say-- he smiled.
You too. Tell the good news of Jesus this Christmas. Amen.
“Away in my mansion – HD TV on the wall next to my bed.”
“Oh come all mall shoppers – I know where the best deals are”
“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire--aren’t you glad I made them, I’m a good cook.”
“Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas…you get to spend time with me.”
That’s not exactly how those holiday classics go, is it?
Yet it is so easy for that to be our mindset over Christmas. For Christmas, to be all about me. Today God’s Word teaches us to do something to combat that. It’s our second must do this Christmas. Today God’s Word tells us to “Be Humble.”
Before we head into God’s Word, let’s discuss six Pride Pitfalls to watch out for this Christmas:
1) Best Decorator. Ornaments, lights, those glass house sets that you put on your counter with cotton balls spread throughout the village to create the perfect Christmas scene are all nice. It’s fine to decorate to remember Jesus and have fun. But when your Christmas decorating becomes all about “I can’t wait to hear people compliment how good my house looks,” and "I can’t wait to hear my next door neighbors complain that my house looks so much better than theirs." There’s a problem. Your head might explode like a broken Christmas light. Watch out for the pride pitfall.
2) Top Chef. Gingerbread man. Pfeffernuts. The little pretzels dipped in white chocolate that have green and red M&Ms attached to them to look like wreaths. If you make them because you like them, fine. If you make them because your kids like them, fine. If you make them because you like the way that people say they like them, there’s a problem. Watch out for the pride pitfall!
3) Maximum Deal Getter. Clippin Coupons, getting up early in the morning, beating the crowds to the door is hard work. And that work should not go unappreciated, right? So, if this is you, you “forget” to take the final price tag off of that cashmere sweater. More exciting than watching someone open your gift is getting to tell them, “I got it ½ off and barely spent any money on you.” Watch out for the pride pitfall.
4) Top Family Member. It’s kind of a combo of all the rest. This kind of pride wants to be the best gift giver in the family. It’s his goal that everyone wishes that "She had my name for Christmas.” They’re the life of the party and bring the best cookies. This pride doesn’t just want to hang out with family; it wants family to hang out with them! Watch out for the pride pitfall!
5) Grinchiest. Sounds strange. But don’t kid yourself. This is a thing. If you aren’t good at any of the other Christmas activities, you might take pride in the fact that you don’t participate in secular Christmas. You say things like “I don’t shop for Christmas that’s too commercial.” “I don’t make cookies, it’s too gluttonous.” “I don’t worry about presents, it’s too greedy.” But you say these things, not because you believe, but because you like to see people look at you with that “Wow, I’m impressed with how well you have Christmas figured out” look on their face. Watch out for the pride pitfall!
6) Most Religious. This doesn’t sound bad does it? You always have Jesus on your Christmas cards. You make other parents know that you don’t do Santa Claus. You make sure you are in attendance for every single church Christmas event. But…if you do these things, not to focus on your Savior, but to focus on how awesome you are at focusing on your Savior - you’re in danger. Watch out for the pride pitfall!
As Christmas approaches, pride pitfalls are everywhere. This was true even as the first Christmas approached. There is no better example of this than Mary, the mother of Jesus. Here’s her story:
Mary was a young girl. 16-17 years old. She was engaged. I imagine she was doing what many other brides do when they are engaged, constantly thinking about he wedding day. Considering what kind of flowers to get, what style of music to play, and whether to serve Chicken Cordon Bleu or Prime Rib.
Then, Scripture tells us that her plans were totally changed. An angel came to her. The same angel that we met last week named Gabriel. He said to her, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
30 The angel “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.” Mary asked, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come to you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God…For no word from God will ever fail.”
Think about what the angel is telling her. This is amazing news. Incredible. It’s news that have caused many to have a false perception of Mary. It’s news that could have easily led Mary herself into a false perception of herself—a pride pitfall. Think about three big things the angel was telling her:
1) “You are highly favored.”
Mary could have easily made that all about her. She could have turned into a teenage Mean Girl. “I earned it! I earned it! I am better than all those girls who couldn’t wait until marriage to have sex. And I’m even better than all those girls who waited just like me. I must have earned God’s favor with my lifestyle.”
She may have even taken the Catholic church’s approach to her and assumed, “I must be holy. I must be the only holy, sinless human being on the face of the earth! God must be thankful for me!”
2) “The power of the Most high will overshadow you.”
This is something that not just anyone gets promised. Mary could have thought, "There's something innate in me to be able to handle this. I must be The One. I must be a special level of godly to be given such a job. And with God's power on my side, I’ll yield it like a magic wand. I’ll get all of my wedding preparations done just how I want. I’ll get the perfect iced swan at the entrance to the reception. I’ll go ahead and use God’s power to wish myself a million dollar dream home on the Galilean Seaside!”
3) “The Holy One to be born will be the Son of God.”
Remember Mary's a teenager. Perhaps the teenage girl gossip was giggly and excited when "I heard that rich tax collector was looking for a wife. And I think the Rabbi's dreamy son was trying to get my attention the other day. How wonderful it would be to get selected by one of these finer men in society."
Mary? She was chosen by God. To have the special privilege to bear his one and only Son.
Wouldn’t it be easy to get a big head from that news?
But Mary’s reaction is much different.
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
How? How do you think Mary kept such a humble approach to these incredible words? Listen again to God’s Word. Because the truths that kept Mary humble are what will keep you humble too:
1. Favor Came from God.
Rather than focusing on the fact that she had received favor and making it into something that she earned, Mary must have focused on where that favor came from in the first place. It came from God.
Take a look at how she reacts when she first sees the angel. She’s troubled. “What could he—a messenger of God – have to say to her—a young girl? Was he here to bring news against her? Did the angel know her lust for Joseph before they were married? Did the angel know her greedy desire for a bigger home? Did the angel know her fear that maybe God wouldn’t be able to provide for her through this lowly carpenter?”
Throughout her reaction, you can see her humility. She’s frightened at the sign of the angel. She knows she is nothing compared to God. She’s knows she is a sinner.
This is why she’s so thankful for this favor from God.
It’s like opening up a present, finding a nice charm bracelet and saying, “Thank you. You didn’t have to.” That’s how it should be because whoever gave it to you, didn’t have to. You didn’t earn a gift. You can’t earn a gift. That’s what makes it a gift! If you said, “You should have done this long ago, I earned it,” you’ve got the wrong attitude about the gift.
God didn’t have to grant Mary favor and he didn’t have to grant us favor either. He didn’t have to send his Son. He didn’t have to make his Son the Savior. He didn’t have to live a perfect life amidst the sadness of this world. He didn’t have to suffer terrible physical pain at the hands of men. He didn’t have to die!
But God did it anyway. He bestowed his favor on you. He bestowed his son. He grants you forgiveness, peace, and love because of his forgiveness, peace, and love!
2. Jesus = He Saves!
The second truth is in the name of our own Son. His name was to be Jesus. Jesus literally means “He saves.” As Mary realizes just what this angel was saying to her, she would have realized just who this Jesus was. Her own Savior. Jesus doesn’t mean “Savior of everyone else besides Mary,” it means “Savior.” Savior of all who believe in him.
Don’t let Christmas pride fall in the way of trusting this Savior. Ignore the urge to think, “I don’t need a Savior. I’m pretty good at celebrating Christmas. I’m giving away lots of presents. God will be proud of me for all my good deeds and he’ll let me into heaven based on those too.”
If you believe that, you’re falling into the pit of pride! A pit that eventually turns into an eternal pit.
Trust in Jesus. He’s your Savior too. The Christmas drunkenness, the petty squabble with relatives, the selfishness, the greed for more presents, and lusts for coworkers of the opposite or same sex, these are all sins! You struggle to stop them. You can’t escape the guilt they bring. You can’t escape the eternal death it brings.
You need a Savior. And you have one. It’s Mary’s son. It’s God’s Son. It’s Jesus. It’s “He Saves.”
3. This Event was All God.
As Scripture says, “The power of the Most high will overshadow you and the Holy Spirit would come upon you.” Remember: Mary was a virgin. She hadn’t slept with anyone, ever. It was literally impossible for her to have a child – especially before the days of test tube science – which by the way, still involves two people.
Not Mary. She didn’t have to get married right then and there. She didn’t have to seduce Joseph. She didn’t have to do anything. God did it all! Jesus was her Son was all God.
4. Christmas and the Salvation that comes from it…Is All God too!
Jesus as your Savior is all God too!
Don’t think, “I’ve earned God’s love because I am better at Christmas than others or at least I don’t go overboard on the alcohol like Aunt Betty."
Forgiveness is all God! Christmas is all God! Eternal life is all God! Your stay in heaven is all God! Your peace right now is all God!
It’s all God and he did, just as God does, he accomplished your salvation for you perfectly! Just as he absolutely and completely accomplished Mary having a baby though she was a virgin – so God will completely and accomplished your salvation though you are a sinner!
May your Word to us be fulfilled O Lord!
And that’s it. The end of their conversation. After Mary says those final words, the angel leaves. Mary quietly reflects on the award God has just given to her—a poor, miserable sinner.
But she doesn’t leave sad. She leaves uplifted. Uplifted because when she humbled herself, God lifted her up. He promised her his blessing, a Savior, and his presence.
It’ll be the same with you. As soon as you stop chasing after Christmas superlatives and humble yourself before God, admitting that you too are a sinner in need of a Savior, God will lift you up. He’ll give you a new superlative – an award we all share -- Most Undeserving of God’s Grace, but Getting it Anyways.
May your Word to us be fulfilled O Lord! Amen. All God’s people say, “Amen!” AMEN!
As Christmas approaches, you’ll see that phrase in a lot of different places. Painted in sparkles and decorating a plaque on a tree. Written in cursive icing over the top of a gumdropped Gingerbread house. Sung in wispy, happy , 80’s voice at the end of a made for TV holiday Classic.
OK...the message is clear. One thing you’re going to want to do this Christmas is to BELIEVE.
But…believe in what? Believe in elves? Believe in the power of the mistletoe to bring couples together? Believe that the next helping of figgy pudding will be a healthy choice? (It’s got figs in it afterall). Believe in the magic of the iPhone 6 to make sure all of your kids have a Merry Christmas and never ever sass you again? Believe in the power of the human spirit? Believe that if you just want it hard enough and wished for it with all your heart, this will be a good Christmas?
Did you know that BELIEVE is also a message that was a part of the very first Christmas? In fact, about a year before the first Christmas – just a little bit earlier than Walmart puts their Christmas decorations out – an angel brought that very news to a man named Zechariah. Only what the angel asked Zechariah to believe was much different than believing in Santa Claus or a Red Nosed Reindeer.
It was real.
Here’s his story.
Zechariah lived at a time that wasn’t filled with a lot of hope. His country was dealing with foreign opposition. In verse 1 it says, “…Herod was king of Judea.” King Herod was the appointed representative of the Roman Empire from around 49 B.C. to 4 B.C. And the history books record him as kind of a tyrant.
Times were hard for the Jewish People. They were not in charge of their own country and didn’t have a lot of say in their government. They dealt with angry Roman soldiers, over taxation and over bearing Roman laws. It wasn’t exactly a magical winter wonderland filled with belief.
Then there was his personal life. Zechariah was a priest. He had devoted his life to God. In fact, Scripture mentions that Zechariah was blameless which – while it isn’t the same as sinless, because no one is sinless – it does mean that Zechariah was a generally respectable and faith-filled guy. – Always in church, always in prayer, always working hard to obey God’s laws.
Yet…in spite of all this, Zechariah had no children. He had served the Lord, worked in the church, devoted his life to God and he was still childless!
I’ll bet it bugged him. Bugged him when he saw others with kids. Others who didn’t spend their lives devoted to God, who weren’t even married—even godless Romans had families! This didn’t seem fair.
And now? He was old. Too old. Both he and Elizabeth were past their childbearing years. Scripture says that Elizabeth was barren.
Imagine what this was like. Kids running into temple for Hebrew school were just another reminder that he would never teach his own son the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Playful shouts from the marketplace were reminders that he would never bend over to play tag with his boy. The neighbor boy didn’t just leave his toys in his yard…he left a reminder of the scars on his heart.
Do you see why it would have been hard for Zechariah to have hope? Hard for him to BELIEVE?
One day Zechariah was on duty with his division of priests and was chosen to into the temple and burn incense. An honor that was only given to one priest at a time every so often. Zechariah went in and began going about his duties. He lit a candle. Gathered more incense. Set it on fire. Then he backed up to watch the sweet smelling smoke rise to heaven.
Then, he saw it. Behind the thin wavering lines of the smoke was a light. Dim at first. Then, as the light sifted through the smoke it became clear.
It was an angel!
The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. God has heard your payer. Your wife Elizabeth will have a son, and you will name him John."
I’ll bet Zechariah blinked his eyes. This angel’s message was so incredible. Think about what the angel was saying:
First, that God had heard his prayers? He had been praying those prayers days after day and night after night for years. Never did his wife get pregnant. Never did he receive an answer. Never did he get so much as a sign that God had actually heard him.
Was he really to believe that God had heard him all this time?
Second, that he would soon have a son. Did the angel get the wrong priest? Was he off a week with his visit? Did he know how old he was? Didn’t he know that his wife was barren? That he was known as “Zechariah—the old priest with no children…”
Was he really to believe that God would give him a son after all this time?
Then the angel’s message got even more incredible. 15 As far as the Lord is concerned, he will be a great man... He would bring many people of Israel back to God. He would have the power of Elijah and be filled with the Holy Spirit even at birth. He would prepare people for the Lord –as the director prophetic forerunner to the Christ!
Was Zechariah really to believe that his ‘son’ would be a special servant of God?
Perhaps for a second, a glimmer of hope glistened in his eye. But then…that hope was clouded. Doubt took over. Grumble and unbelief voiced its opinion: “What proof is there for this? I’m an old man, and my wife is beyond her childbearing years.”
I don’t know that angels know how to speak sarcastically. Yet… 19 The angel answered him, “I’m Gabriel! I stand in God’s presence.” In other words, I’M AN ANGEL!!!! Zechariah wanted a sign? What did he think he was looking at? “Talk to a bright, shining, winged, otherworldly being” was not on the list of temple duties that Zechariah was to perform that day. Wasn’t the angel himself proof that something incredible was happening?
Secondly the angel added, “God sent me to tell you this good news….You Zechariah, should believe me, because this message is from God. God who created life out of nothing and who would have no problem creating life in a barren womb. Zechariah, you should believe me because God said so.”
"But because you didn’t believe what I said…God will give you a sign. A reminder each day for the next nine months of your unbelief and of God’s promise: You will be unable to talk until the day this happens.”
Zechariah was speechless.
The angel left and Zechariah stumbled out of the temple. Crowds of people gathered around him. What did you see? Why did you take so long? Are you alright?
Zechariah couldn’t say anything. He couldn’t muster a word. But he didn’t need to. That smile on his face said it all.
What about you? Do you believe?
It's easy to feel like there’s not a lot to believe in this Christmas. Like Zechariah, our country has its own gloomy problems. The still struggling economy means you might not be able to get every gift you wish you could get your kids just like last year. Emergency news stories about violence and hatred are more common than seasonal specials about the peace of the season. Estranged relationships keep your family from any kind of holiday togetherness. Silent Night means grabbing a Jack and Coke to sip on while sitting by yourself with your feelings of loneliness and solitude.
Understand what God’s message is for you today. No matter how lonely, no matter how inadequate, no matter how scared, frightened, or hopeless your life feels right now, God wants you to BELIEVE! BELIEVE…in HIM!
It all seems a little foolish. In our high tech, high business, highly practical, no room for faith world, this seems a little foolish. It may seem silly in this struggling economy and take a break and gaze at a cute little stable scene: A cow. A horse. A few sheep. A mother. A manger. A child. All under a sign fastened to the top of the stable: A SAVIOR IS BORN!
Do you understand what those words mean? Do you understand what God wants you to believe?
BELIEVE: At Christmas God enacts his plan of salvation.
BELIEVE: God placed the Christmas family together in his divine providence.
BELIEVE: The baby born in the manger is your Savior.
BELIEVE: The baby born in the manger is God himself.
BELIEVE: God grew up and never sinned.
BELIEVE: God was put to death for your sins.
BELIEVE: You are forgiven by God.
BELIEVE: God came back to life on Easter.
BELIEVE: God promises eternal life for you.
BELIEVE: You are loved by him.
BELIEVE: You will be in heaven with God.
This is the message of Jesus. This is the message of Christmas.
Want proof? Don’t look to me. I’m not an angel. I don’t have wings. I probably won’t leave you speechless. But I can point you to where the proof is. In the Bible. God’s message.
In the Bible, this baby boy grows up to change water to wine, to heal men with the incurable disease of leprosy, to make a lame man walk, a mute man speak, and a dead girl live.
Anyone else you know do that? Why not believe!?! Believe as our verse of the day says, BELIEVE based on the evidence of the miracles themselves!
Even today’s miracles which took place before Jesus was born at the announcement of Jesus’ cousin are proof that this “Jesus” is someone special. Think about it – (1) an angel (2) a barren woman made pregnant AND (3) a voice removed for nine months! This is miraculous.
BELIEVE based on the evidence of the miracles themselves!
You wanna know what happened to Zechariah? SPOILER ALERT: He became a father. He went home and Elizabeth was pregnant. Nine months later he held his baby boy in his arms and that baby boy grew up to serve the LORD in a very special way.
God’s promises are real. They do not falter.
In the coming weeks, you’ll see the phrase BELIEVE more than once. When you do, BELIEVE. But not just in the generic magic of Christmas…believe in something real. Believe in God. Believe in Jesus. Believe in your Savior.
And when you BELIEVE – I guarantee your holidays will be brighter. Not because you’ll get lots of toys or your family will magically get along, but because you will be attached to your Savior. You will have the peace of sins forgiven. You will have the hope of eternal life in heaven.