The scene is so simple.
A stable with a few wooden poles holding up a thatched roof. A mother wrapping her child in linen clothes. A father smiling gently towards them as he feeds his donkey. A cow lazily rolling over to stretch his hinds legs. A few shepherds walking toward the singular light of the hanging lantern – rubbing their hands for warmth.
Simple. Beautiful. Christmas.
But if you dig a little deep, there’s a lot going on there than meets the eyes. This is where Christmas gets complicated. Take a look with me at Hebrews 1. The writer will explain to us just how complicated and yet how beautiful Christmas really is.
There’s a lot in that section. Let’s take it apart.
1) The Radiance of God’s Glory
The Greek word there implies that the Son is actually producing that shine of the Glory of God. This is an interesting thought considering all the incredible things that God has made. He makes snowflakes that twinkle in the morning sunlight. He makes the golden colors of leaves in autumn. He makes the quiet sparkle of stars on a midwinter's night.
Jesus outshines all of them. In fact, it is Jesus alone who produces God’s glory in it’s truest form.
It’d be like saying Jesus is the bulb in the lamp; the flame on the candle; or the glitter on the homemade Christmas ornament. He is the part that shines and he is the part that brings glory.
That’s a little strange when you look at him on Christmas and see nothing more than a regular looking infant. Not a lot of hair; not very big fingers; mouth – most likely—closed and asleep. Not a single tooth sparkling in the moonlight.
2) The Impress of His Being
The English says, “exact representation,” but the Greek is clearly using a word here that was often associated with coin making. There would be an imprint, a press, that would impress upon the metal of the coin the exact representation that was wanted. It’s a word that was used for contract signing – so that the exact seal of the covenanting family would appear on the paperwork.
Jesus is the exact impress of God. He is the same. In form. In being. In essence.
Ever been to a wax museum? The representations there are eery. Wax Spock looks exact like Spock. Wax Lebron James is as tall as and muscular as Lebron James. Wax Oprah Winfrey has the same smile as the real Oprah Winfrey.
But they are still wax. They aren’t real. They aren’t the same.
Jesus is of the same essence. He is eternal, all powerful, all knowing, and present. Even though he doesn’t seem to know how to ask for a second helping of milk yet.
3) Bearing All Things
He is…sustaining all things by his powerful word. That’s God’s Work. Yet here it is attributed to Jesus. God holds up the stars. God holds up the sun. God sends the wind and the rain and the snow and the cold.
Hebrews says that Jesus does the same. That gets a bit strange.
Think about it: The infant is being held up by a few boards of wood. But at the same time the infant is sustaining those boards of wood together.
Not to mention the planets, Red Dwarf stars, and all of the cosmos.
4) Purification Provider
Hebrews speaks about it in past tense because it was written after this baby grew to adulthood and then sacrificed his life on the cross for us.
Amazing isn’t it? This is a supernatural, miraculous thing. Because Scripture says adult humans cannot cleanse themselves of sin. Maybe you know that. We can’t cleanse ourselves from guilt before God. Not with bleach. Not with all natural oatmeal soap. Not with trying hard or doing good or placing a long amount of time between sins.
Cleansing from sin – something that adults – we could not do – this little baby was pledged to do.
Strange? After all this baby isn’t even able to clean itself. Probably needs Mary to dab some spit up every couple of minutes.
5) At the Right Hand
Scripture continues, “He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Again – past tense because the life of the baby had already happened. So look at God’s plan for the child. He will ascend to the heights. He be in heaven. He will sit at God’s right hand – the power hand. He will be as much in authority as God is in authority.
Again? Isn’t that pretty amazing? Especially considering the little child has not authority as to where he will go. He doesn’t even possess the speaking ability to demand Mary to transport him to one of the sheep for a sheepy back ride. He has no authority…
..and yet he has all authority?
6) Superior to the Angels
Hebrews continues, “He became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.” It’s the greater than symbol. This Jesus is greater than the angels. He’s superior to them.
Angels are pretty great. They all shine brightly. They all frighten people whenever they appear. Some have wings. Some have instruments. They all have heavenly voices. A few are even given flaming swords to fight off the most powerful of demons.
This infant is greater? He can’t so much hold up a piece of straw to defend himself.
Angel means “messenger.” The baby? He is called “Jesus.” Jesus means “He saves.”
But what’s interesting is that the angels show no jealousy towards this infant. In fact, the angels prove all of these traits we’ve listed down. As strange as they might seem. These angels – who cannot sin – who are holy – who do God’s bidding. They appear to shepherds and they begin to sing the praises of this little infant child: "Do not be afraid; I bring you good news of great joy for all the people, today a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you; you will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in the manger.”
Did you hear that juxtaposition? Christ the LORD/baby lying in a manger. If he weren’t a holy, God following, speaking the truth announced by angels – we’d probably have to doubt him.
But he isn’t. In fact, the other angels have this angel’s back: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
II. The Awesome Part
It doesn’t stop there.
The next two verses of Hebrews reveal to us WHY all this is possible and yet; they open up a whole different set of questions – that are absolutely beyond our puny human minds: To which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father?” Or again, “I will be his Father and he will be my Son?”
These are Old Testament references. They are a part of God’s Word that reveal Jesus is not just some kind of super angel. He isn’t just some kind of mini God. He’s not just a Hercules-like man infused with God’s power.
He is actually, literally, really --- God’s own Son.
That doesn’t mean God’s son like we are all God’s children in the sense that we are all created by him.
This is God from God. Light from Light. True God from true God. Essence from essence. Being from being. Remember: An exact imprintation of his being – in every way. From ruling the stars above to wiping out sin below.
Then, to twist it one last time, look at verse 6: When God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “let all God’s angels worship him.”
Does anyone know the First Commandment? You shall have no other gods. Don’t worship them. Throughout the Old Testament the LORD shows how serious He is about that commandment. He destroys the followers of Baal. He punishes the Israelites for worshipping the golden calf. He sends them into captivity for setting up Asherah poles.
But Jesus? Here God says, “Worship him.” On Christmas night, he sent his angels to worship him. He predicted Jesus’ coming for thousands of years. He sent a star to guide magi from the east to him. He spoke at Jesus’ baptism and said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”
He brought Him back to life. Even after Jesus had spent his life telling the people to worship him as true God.
What does all this mean? Either God – who knows all and is everywhere – somehow missed this false revolt of Jesus or Jesus is God.
The infinite being contained within a manger.
The eternal of ages born on a Bethlehem night.
The all powerful Protector watched over by his step dad.
The all knowing Wisdom taking in his first glances of the world.
But also true.
True in every way. Jesus is true God come to save you.
Believe it. Amen.
Christmas is supposed to be loving, right?
The Christmas crooning of Bing Crosby mellows us out. The rich chocolate of the Christmas fudge calms our stomachs. The gentle glow of the Christmas tree – all work to give us that gentle, loving feeling. We do all we can – even putting mistletoe in the middle of the home to try and make love a part of Christmas.
We’ve set the stage for love to be shown. Why then is showing love so complicated?
I was checking out Facebook today. On Christmas Eve, I was hoping to see in the trending stories things like “Merry Christmas” or “Christ is born.”
Nope. Instead, people who hate Donald Trump have been spending Christmas Eve talking about how much they hate Donald Trump. People who love Donald Trump have been talking about how much they hate Hillary Clinton and people who hate Donald Trump. There was an article or two discussing how the warm weather is removing all the Merry from Christmas. Another article about how Christmas is just a big scam. And no shortage of ads aimed at making you feel guilty for not buying enough for your kids tonight.
And that’s just on the computer.
Why is showing love so complicated?
The Bible has one simple answer: Sin.
Sin is the reason that love is so hard. Sin is selfish. Sin is proud. Sin is hateful. Sin is vengeful. Sin is everything that love is not.
That's why when we are looking for real love, we have to look to God. Look at what God did for us. “God sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live thorugh him.”
Parents – think about this. What would it be like to send your child away for Christmas? If they are in college, we usually spend top dollar just to get them back home for a day or two – who would willingly send their child away?
God did. He sent his Son – his perfect Son – the only Son that showed Him absolute, incredible unfailing love – away!
Look where he sent him, “into the world.”
Have you ever been invited to a Rizty party before? Those are real easy to click “yes” to on the evite. There might be fancy cheeses whose names you can’t pronounce, a professional string quartet playing in the background, delicious holiday smells coming from the hors d’oeuvres that are tinier than your pinky finger. There’s even a guy in the bathroom to hand you a paper towel and squirt lotion onto your hands for you.
Then, there are those other Christmas parties. Bachelor Pad Christmas parties. Where the one room studio apartment smells like a combination of must and spam. The only entertainment is a $1 Looney Tune Christmas special from the Walmart DVD bin and the menu consists of Hungry Man TV dinners.
It's’ easy to say YES to a nice place; and hard to say YES to a not so nice place.
Picture Jesus then. He had it all. He dwelt amongst the beautiful rays of sunshine in heaven. He had glorious views of the Cosmos. He walked amongst the gold plated, silver cobblestone path to his lush, divine covered throne with angels trumpeting on key to his every movement.
He gave that up.
He went to a barn.
He smelled animals smells.
He heard animal sounds.
He lay his head on a feeding trough.
That’s just the beginning. Because now he had entered a world filled with hatred – a world filled with violence – a world filled with grief and lust and anger and selfishness and jealousy and adultery and idolatry.
A world with all those things – and not much love.
So why did Jesus do it? “That we might live through him.” He did it to defeat your sin. He did it to defeat your pain. He did it to defeat the gloom of this world and to defeat death.
Isn’t that something? Organic food is all the rage right now, so there might be a shift in the Christmas goodies you get. You might get some that are hard pressed, chemical free, oatmeal treats. You may get some essential oils aiming to extend your life. You might get the new Insanity workout in order to start the New Year with a New you.
These things might extend your life…for a bit.
Jesus does extends your life…forever.
How did he do it? Well, he isn’t just an example. He isn’t – as some churches say – an example of how to live so that as long as you live like Jesus – you might make it to heaven eventually.
Then, suddenly we’d be here bragging about the religiosity of our Christmas. “Did you know I’ve been at church since 9am today? Did you know that I went to all of the services Gethsemane had to offer? Did you know that I’ve been singing "Joy to the World" in the shower…Man, do I love God."
That’s not the point. In fact, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Look at that phrase atoning sacrifice. Atoning means to “make one,” or “to bring peace.” It’d be like paying off a credit card and now you don’t owe them any more. You paid for it. You’re at peace. They better stop calling you.
But look at what it takes to make peace with God for your sins – it takes a sacrifice. Someone giving up their life for yours. Someone being in pain. Someone suffering.
That’s what Jesus did. In the darker side of Christmas, understand this: Jesus came to die for you. That’s true love. He didn’t just give up all his money – he didn’t just give up his spot in heaven – he didn’t just give up his perfect throne – he gave up his life for you!
Notice the past tense! We aren’t awaiting this Christmas to come. We aren’t in the process to see if it works. It is done. The manger. The cross. The tomb. They are all done. Jesus was born. Jesus was killed. Jesus was brought back to life – as proof that in Him you will have eternal life.
Yes. You. Believe it.
Because – think about this with me – Christmas is really about you. That’s what we just read, isn’t it? Christmas exists because God loved you that much. He sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for you.
And it doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter what you look like. It doesn’t matter what your culture is or what your Christmas traditions are. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been stuck in sin for ages. It doesn’t matter if Christmas feels pretty dark for you right now.
Jesus came because of you. Christmas happened because of you.
And now? God says love others. “Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
At the end of this Christmas Eve service, we have a candlelight song. What happens is I head over to the big white candle in the middle of the Advent wreath. I light my candle on that candle. Then, the ushers come up and I light their candles with my candle. Then, they take their candles and light the first candles in each row. The first candles in each row pass the flame down to the end of the row until everyone has a candle that’s lit. Each having been lit by the flame from the tall white candle.
That candle’s name? The Christ candle.
May his love warm our hearts and touch us so that we share it with others this Christmas season and always. Amen.
I remember my first Christmas Program.
I was super excited. I had on a nice little black suit with a shiny, red bow tie – (It matched my sister’s red dress perfectly.) I had my hair slicked to the side. I was missing a few front teeth.
But boy was I excited! I got up front and we started singing our Christmas carols. “Joy to the world.” I was timid. There were a lot of people. I sang kind of quietly.
Then, the Sunday School teacher did something that perhaps she regretted. (She put her hand to her ear.) And I let her have it with every ounce of joy that my 45 pound body could muster. Off key. Sure. But joyful!
Has your Christmas been like that? Have you knocked your socks off, dropped your head back, opened your mouth wide, and belted it out joyfully?
Or has it been more like me as a preteen. You know…when I was way too cool to sing & way too cool to sing in church. When "Joy to the World" sounded more like “Meh to the World.”
Today we’re continuing our sermon series called A Simple Christmas and no matter where your Christmas joy level is at, God wants you to discover from his Word how to have simple joy this year.
To do that, let’s take a look at Mary. Because, Mary – she didn’t have a simple Christmas. Mary’s Christmas was complicated.
Mary was a young lady. 16-17 years old. She was pledged to be married to a man named Joseph. For Mary, life was simple. Plan the wedding. Plan the wedding cake. Plan the wedding roast – duck or chicken cordon blue. Her life was simple. She needed only wait for the appointed day to marry her husband and begin her life.
Then. One day – as she’s hanging her laundry out to dry, while envisioning herself with flowers in her hair and a beautiful dress highlighting her features. She was interrupted.
A light. A bright light. A brilliant, heavenly light.
And an angel appeared to her. The angel said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
Mary was greatly troubled. First of all, because he was an angel. This wasn’t an ornament on a Christmas tree. (Christmas didn’t exist yet). Nor was it an eggnog induced vision. This was a real deal, a divine, heavenly angel.
Secondly, the angel had a message from God. God! What could he want? Did God know about the lustful thoughts she had been having about Joseph before they were married? Did God know about the lustful thoughts she had been having about Joseph’s groomsmen? Did God know that she hadn’t exactly been paying good attention at the Synagogue? Was God here to confront her about that time she ate all of her mom’s cookies and then blamed it on her brother?
She was a sinner. God was holy.
But the message was more frightening than that. “You will conceive and give birth to a Son, you are to call his Name Jesus.”
But how? I’m a virgin!
“The holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. The Holy One to be Born will be called the Son of God!”
Then, the angel left her. Alone. With her thoughts. Complicated thoughts.
Alone. Guilty. Sad.
In spite of all the grinning emoji on our last Christmas text message – really – we aren’t joyful.
Psychologists say that when you are stressed, you should take a walk. So Mary walked. She walked to the house of her cousin. Along the way, I’m sure her thoughts tormented her. She could get to her cousin and complained. That's what I would expect her to do!
But she didn't.
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”
Did you see that word? Rejoice. That means “To be joyful.”
How could Mary be joyful? The time was so confusing. It was frightening. Things weren’t not as she pictured them.
It wasn’t the presents. It wasn’t the Gingerbread houses. It wasn’t a new iPhone. It wasn’t Christmas caroling. It wasn’t a Christmas Special. It wasn’t even a beautiful Poinsettia from her cousin’s garden.
“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
And you know what? I used to always think of Mary looking up as she sang this song. “Praise be to you, heavenly Father.” And she could have. But....
…what’s to stop her from looking down?
“My Spirit rejoices in you, my child. My spirit rejoices in you my Savior.”
Are you looking for joy this Christmas? Look no farther than Mary’s baby boy. That boy is born in a manger – the kid’s will tell you that soon. But then, he grows up. He lives perfectly when you can not. Then, he dies an innocent death in your place. Then, he rises triumphantly that you might join God in heaven.
He says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only and only Son (Mary’s son – Jesus) that whoever believes in Him, has eternal life!”
If you are looking for joy in presents this year, it won’t last. The presents will fade.
If you are looking for joy in music, the music will stop. Eventually.
If you are looking for joy in family, it may happen. But even then, there will come a time when family ends.
But if you look for joy in Jesus, it will be there. Jesus means forgiveness. Jesus means peace with God. Jesus means you are loved with a compassionate love.
Jesus means life.
Ethyl knew that. Ethyl was my friend when I was a junior pastor in Milwaukee, WI. Ethyl loved ceramic figurines. She had a lot of them. I would sit and listen to the histories of those ceramic figurines for a few hours. All while munching on a few sugar cookies.
One time I went to visit Ethyl. But not at her house. In a hospital.
Ethyl was breathing very heavy. Her eyes were blank. Ethyl couldn’t move much. She was in pain and grimacing.
I sent down by Ethyl. I grabbed her hand. “What am I supposed to do?”
Her nephew was there. “It’s too bad. She loves Christmastime. She always loved the decorations. She loved the songs. She loved the Christmas service, too.”
Joy to the World. The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King!
And Ethyl? A tear formed in her eyes. The curves of her lips smiled. She had her joy.
That was Ethyl’s last Christmas. At least on earth. Now – Ethyl sings that song, totally on key, with thousands of angels in heaven.
Joy to the World. May Jesus be that joy for you. Amen.
Anyone here making out a Christmas list? It’s hard to figure out what to put on it. But, I almost wonder, if it isn’t just as hard to figure out WHO to put on it?
There’s family. For sure. At least Mom and Dad, because they always get me stuff. But maybe not all my sisters. One of them always forgets about me. Mom’s gift should be in the $40-$50 range, but the siblings gifts a little less. That’s 5 gifts. But what about Julianna’s family? That’s 6 more people to get gifts for. Should each gift be $5 or should I divide up by family? $100 for the Kiecker side and $100 for the Meyer side. What about coworkers? Pastor Rockhoff? Pastor Lange? What about the Precious Lambs staff? Full time workers & part time? And then what about the kids? Their families? Just the ones that attend church? Speaking of – what about you guys? Presents for all of you? Presents for each of your families? Or presents just for those who have been here for every sermon in this Simple Christmas series?
Giving isn’t simple.
Today we’re continuing our series called A Simple Christmas and we want to talk about Simply Giving. Our Goal is to (1) define bad giving attitudes, (2) see how God gives to us and finally (3) see how Scripture describes a giving attitude.
Beware of Greed. This is not a passage that you’ll find on any Christmas commercials. Not at all. In fact, did you see that Thanksgiving commercial for Verizon? They talked about how nice it is to GET STUFF at Thanksgiving. They talked about all the phones that were available at cheap price.
The name of their sale? Thanksgetting. Not Thanksgiving; Thanksgetting.
Getting has affected America so much that even our giving is a lot more like getting.
“I’ll give my friend a gift card if she’s nice to me the next couple of weeks.”
“I’ll give my dad a present if he remembers to get me one.”
“I’ll give me friend a Christmas card if that person gave me one last year.”
“I’ll give my friend a cup of coffee if I have enough $ left over on the Starbucks card after I’ve gotten myself something.”
Thing is, these might sound like good things. But, not giving means you don’t lose anything, and Giving to Get, gives you what you want.
But not everything. Take a look at two problems from Scripture.
1) You’ll Miss a Blessing
Proverbs 22:9 says this, “He who is generous is blessed.” If you aren’t generous, you’ll miss a blessing!
No, this isn’t an investment strategy. “Blessed” doesn’t mean “will get hundreds of dollars.” Sorry Joel Osteen! In fact, if you are giving only to get money, aren’t you just giving to get anyways?
Proverbs 22:9 says you will be blessed. While it might not be with money, certainly there is a spiritual blessing with giving. You are doing a godly thing. You’re training your body to do righteous things.
If you take care of your talents, God might give you more.
Do you remember the story of the talents? A master was going on a trip and before he left he called three servants to him. He gave the first 10 dollars; another 5 dollars; and another 1 dollar.
When he returned, the first gave him $20 back. He had invested it and made money. The second gave him $10 back. He had invested his five dollars and made money. The third…he went out back and dug up the $1 that he had hidden.
Who do you think the master was pleased with? Not the guy with dirt under his fingernails.
In fact, to those who had been using the gifts he had given; he gave more. They were blessed.
2) Your Faith May be Dead
But a second reason – this one is a bigger self reflection and is found in the words of John the Baptist. He said, “You brood of vipers!" Which would really make for a great Advent greeting card title, huh? “Happy Advent, you brood of vipers.” "Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”
Repentance is a 180. A turn from sin to God. A turn from unbelief to faith. Repentance always produces fruit. Just like a lemon tree produces lemon and an apple tree produces apples; so a repentance tree produces repentance fruit.
God’s Word says that we are that repentance tree. We are to produce repentance fruit or fruits of faith. That fruit is response to our Savior’s work.
For example, those who struggle with lust will be thankful that Jesus died for it and set filters on their computer so they won’t look at it anymore. Repentance fruit. Those who struggle with alcohol will be so thankful for God’s forgiveness that they join a support group and ask their family for help. Repentance fruit.
Those who struggle with greed? They will be thankful God emptied out all his riches on the cross in order to win heavenly riches and they will give.
But…if you aren’t giving? If you aren’t producing giving fruit? If you only give in order to get and aren’t producing any repentance fruit, then…?
Yesterday I went out back to the tomato plants that the kids grow. Guess what? There aren’t any tomatoes. The leaves are brown. There is no fruit and…I’m pretty sure…the plant is dead.
If you don’t give, your faith might be dead. And dead, ain’t good:
For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
II. God’s Unconditional Giving
What’s the cure then? If you don’t have repentance fruit, how do you produce it?
Zechariah had had a long time to think about that very question. Nine months in fact. Nine months since the angel came to him. Nine months since the angel gave the incredible news. Nine months since the angel told him that he would be a father even in his old age. Nine months since God had given him this incredible gift.
And it had been nine months since Zechariah had given God lip. “How can I be sure of this? I’m an old man!”
How foolish. He had doubted God. God had proved his point by causing Zechariah to be mute!
Still. God came through. God gave him a child. Zechariah looked down at his son and smiled. Then, he heard a commotion. All around him relatives, friends, and the teachers of the law were confronting his wife.
“Why would you name him John? There isn’t anyone in your family with that name. You’re being foolish. What would your husband say?”
What would he say? They gave Zechariah a writing tablet and Zechariah gave them the name that angel had given him. “John.”
And just like that…Zechariah could speak. God had given him his voice back. One of the first things that Zechariah gave was praise to God. Take a look at his words in Luke 1:68-69 – we can learn a lot about how God gives gifts from Zechariah’s words, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them, He has raised up a horn of salvation for us.”
Zero in on that word “redeemed.” That means “paid for.” It would take the blood of the Son of God to give us forgiveness. Jesus gave us every last drop.
With Zechariah, this was as good as done. He only had his son John, the forerunner to the Redeemer in his hands, but as he held John, Zechariah knew that God had already made the payment.
How much more is it true for you? God has completely, utterly, absolutely, seriously, redeemed you. Every last one of your sins has been paid for.
Think about it: That’d be like heading to your credit card bill – a bill that might be getting a little high during the Christmas season – imagine logging in and finding a ZERO balance. Then, you log into your phone bill and find a ZERO balance. Same thing with the electricity, the water, and the cable bill. Even the mortgage payments and the students loans at a ZERO balance -- all without a change in a single number of your online banking account.
That’s what God did. He redeemed you. He paid for the gift in full. There were not conditions. He didn’t say, “If you get rid of sin first…” He didn’t condition, “If you pay for half….” He didn’t say, “I’ll only give this to a certain percentage of you…”
If you are a human, Jesus Christ has paid for you in full.
Zechariah says, “He raised up a horn of salvation.” That calls to mind the ancient battle horn. It was trumpet like. You’d blow it to signify victory. This was the old school version of “We are the Champions.” Jesus is that horn of salvation. It means that this paid for gift was all that we needed for victory!
Salvation isn’t like getting a used Starbucks card. This ever happened to you? You get in line at Starbucks. You order a nice tall blonde coffee. You watch them fill it up. You lick your lips with excitement. Then, you give them your gift card.
And it pays for .19 cents.
That’s not Jesus. His salvation doesn’t fall short. His salvation is everything that you need! It means eternal life. It means forgiveness. It means peace with God.
III. Simply Giving
So…give! Produce fruit in keeping with repentance and give!
How do you do that? Look again at John’s words in Luke 3. He gives us a few tips on giving this Christmas.
1) Give to those in Need.
John said, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
Notice the encouragement. Give to those who are in need. He doesn’t say, “Give to those who already have 7 shirts." He says, “Give to those in need.” That doesn’t mean giving to those who have is a bad thing. Not at all. But it does mean there’s a special fruit of the Spirit shown when you give to the poor.
Why? Because they don’t have anything to give back to you. They can’t fulfill your conditions. To give to them, you just have to simply give.
It’s kind of like salvation. When you had nothing to give God but your filthy, disgusting sins, but God gave you heaven. No conditions required. Wow. This is God like giving.
If they need a shirt, give a shirt. If they need food, give food. If they need gas, give them a lecture on how they should work more. No. That’s between them and God. What is between you and God is whether or not you help them. Simply give.
2) Give with What you’ve been Given.
This is key. You might be thinking, “Pastor, I don’t have the money to give someone for food. I’m struggling as it is. I must be a terrible Christian.” Careful. Look again at the passage. It says, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
It does not say, “Anyone who has zero shirts, should give 17.” That doesn’t make sense. Because God doesn’t ask you to give what he hasn’t already given you. Did you hear that? I’ll say it again, “God doesn’t ask you to give what he hasn’t already given you.”
If you have money, give money. If you don’t, give time. If not time, give a smile; give a hug; give a prayer; give a word of encouragement; give a piece of paper with a few scribbles of crayon that’s supposed to be a Christmas tree.
Whatever you have…give it.
One thing we all have? The message of a Savior. The kids are giving it next week. Won’t you find someone to give it to too?
3) Give without Greed.
Look at John’s next words. He says, Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” Remember. Tax collectors had a known problem with greed. They were around money all the time. They would see someone’s bill that said, “$10,” and they’d make it into $100 and then pocket the change. What fruit of repentance should they have?
13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
In other words, get rid of greed.
Can you do that actively this Christmas? When you find your heart having a hard time giving OR focusing solely on what you might be getting, repent. Confess your greed. Hear God’s promise of forgiveness and then ask him to give you a heart free from Greed.
4) Give with Contentment.
14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
There was a preschooler the other day who was having a hard time sharing the Duplos. Do you remember duplos? Those are the big Legos. His friend wanted one Duplo. But he wouldn’t give it.
"Why Not?” I asked.
He looked down at the pile of about 78 Duplo blocks that he had in front of them. Some on the building, others simply floating around aimlessly not even in use and he said, “Because I need it!”
It took a bit, but he admitted, he had all he needed and he could in fact share.
It’s the same thing with us. We need to stop and look around. Look at the gifts God has given us. Both the visible gifts and the invisible ones. That’s why we come to church. We hear again and again about how much God has given us!
We need to do this! Because advertisers will tell you that you don’t have what you need. You don’t have the highest internet you need. You don’t have all the Pandora charms you need. You don’t have all the video games you need and all the 24/7 NFL access that you need either.
But you do have all you need! When you stop and remember that – how can you not give?
Scripture says this, “God loves a cheerful giver.” That’s not an excuse not to give unless your happy about. It’s an encouragement to be happy about it. God has given you everything you need dear friend.
Drop the sinful complications this Christmas and simply give. Amen.
When it came to the holidays, he didn’t have the best Christmas spirit? He vacuumed up presents; he stole Christmas wreaths; he broke Christmas ornaments; he even ate all the roast beast.
What was his motive for all of this?
"The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.”
The Grinch saw that the Whos were happy. He saw that they enjoyed Christmas. He saw that Cindy Lou Who really wanted to see that Christmas tree up in the morning filled with toys.
But he didn’t care. He was motivated by selfishness.
Today we are continuing our sermons series called A Simple Christmas and we are going to talk about motive. Motives are huge. Motives affect everything you do. Motives determine your actions.
We are going to look at God’s Word and at the end of this I want you to be able to list (1) some bad Christmas motives; (2) God’s motives at the first Christmas and (3) come up with one simple motive for all of your holiday needs.
I. Selfishness Disguised as Christmas Platitudes
Take a look at James 3 to get our mind focused on some bad holiday motives. James writes in verse 14 “If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” This is a pretty simple interpretation isn’t it? Envy is bad, selfishness is bad. Neither one of them are godly traits. No one writes on a Christmas card, “Merry Christmas to the most selfish person I know.” No one introduces their girlfriend at the office party, “Ted, this is Mary my girlfriend. She’s really selfish.”
Selfishness isn’t a good motive.
Which is why it is so amazing how so many secular motives find their root in utter selfishness. Take a look at a few.
1) Because It Makes Me Feel Merry.
This was the Grinch’s problem. He only did what made him feel good – which was destroying Christmas. Literally destroying Christmas.
Granted – you probably don’t desire to destroy Christmas. Am I right? Anyone want to raise their hand and admit to taking joy in seeing inflatable reindeer popped and little children crying? I didn’t think so.
But sometimes our desires for “I feel good” Christmas, makes others feel bad.
2) Because I Don't Want People to Think I'm the Grinch.
This one is sounds nice, right? But look at the heart of the message. It's goal is not being the Grinch, but not wanting others to think I am the Grinch -- even though I might be.
This whole motivation is selfish. It's all about looking good.
As a result, – it’s hard to identify. Because the whole point of this motive is to hide it’s bad motive. The goal is to look like St. Nick and to never have anyone call you The Grinch.
This motive may even get you doing nice things, but for all the wrong reasons.
3) Because I want my My Kid(s) to Love Me.
This one is tricky. It seems nice at first. We all have a longing to “roast chestnuts on an open fire” with family and to “Deck the Halls with kids.” It is especially nice to have your child saying, “I love you,” rather than, “I hate you.”
But there is a distinct difference between doing things “because I want my kids to love me” and doing things “because I love my kids.” One is selfish; one is selfless. One may cause you to spend a few mortgage payments at Toys ‘R Us; the other will avoid spoiling your kids amid cries of ‘unfair’ because you love them and want them to be less materialistic.
Which are you this Christmas?
Are you unsure if you have good motives or not? Go back with me to James. Where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. Did you catch that? Selfishness results in disorder. Selfishness destroys peace.
That’s easy to see. If two kids want a Christmas cookie, what happens? They whine. They complain. They put each other in headlocks. They play mom and dad against each other. They might even bite, scratch, or pinch. Selfishness leads to disorder. If you hear your children fighting in the other room, you have a pretty good idea before you even go in there, that someone is being selfish.
Same is true for adults.
Is there disorder in your family? You might have a problem with selfish motives.
Are your spouse and you not getting along? You might have a problem with selfish motives.
Do you fight with your parents? You might have a problem with selfish motives.
Do you have an inflammatory text message relationship with your coworkers? You might have a problem with selfish motives.
Are you a human being? You might (and probably do) have a problem with selfishness.
II. God’s Simple Motives
Do you want to know someone who did not have a very selfish motive? John the Baptist. John the Baptist lived in the desert. John the Baptist ate locusts. John the Baptist grew a long and wild beard. John the Baptist wore itchy, scratchy camel's skin. John the Baptist kind of sounds like one of the most unapproachable and strangest men in the history of the world.
But that wasn’t the strangest part about him. That belongs to his words. He spoke harsh words of rebuke – even if it made him feel uncomfortable, even if it caused others to not love him, even if it didn’t make him look good.
You heard some of his words earlier. He said, “Repent for the kingdom of God is here!” He called people sinners. He told them what they were doing was sinful.
Do people usually respond well to that? Not so much.
Do you usually respond well to that? Not so much, huh? It’s way easier to write them off as the words of some "crazy guy.”
But John’s words were not the words of some crazy guy. John’s Words were God’s words and they reveal one of God’s motives in his interactions with humanity.
Take a look at the prophecy from Malachi 3. “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.” That’s talking about John. He was God’s messenger. His words were to get people to repent. Literally, “To turn from selfishness to seeking God.”
And if John’s words didn’t work? If someone ignored his calls to repentance? No worries. God would be coming to finish the job. Malachi continues “Suddenly the Lord…will come to his temple…And who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.”
Refining is something you do with gold. The fire of a gold refinery needs to be 1947 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s hot. It needs to be that hot in order to get rid of all the impurities that you might find on gold and silver. It burns off all of the smudges. It vaporizes all of the imperfection. It leaves the nugget shiny and in mint condition.
The launder’s soap is similar. It’s not just supposed to cover bad smells and mask the stench of the pets, but it actually, literally cleans all of the impurities. It connects with them, affixes to them, and destroys them. It leaves the garment clean and free of germs.
God is like that. He hates dirty. He hates sin. He hates selfishness. He hates it so much that he promises that he will purify his people.
If the repentance thing doesn’t work and selfishness infused itself onto your soul, such that you are now indistinguishable from your sin…he will purify you. He will burn you up like chaff. He will vaporize you like the impurities of gold. He will disinfect you from his people by wiping you out.
It’s better to repent, right?
2. God Wants You to be Saved
But God isn’t just a neat freak. He isn’t just about sanitization. He isn’t just about holiness. If he were, then he would have pulverized you, me – all of humanity a long time ago.
But there’s a second motive of God at work. A motive that is at work when John’s call to repentance reaches our ears. A motive that isn’t selfish at all. A motive that’s completely selfless.
“All mankind will see the salvation of our God.” Jn. 3:6
Did you see that? God hasn’t destroyed you yet, because He has as powerful motive right alongside the last motive. “He wants you to see his salvation.” He wants you to believe his salvation. He wants you to be saved.
This is the mystery of our God. He is completely holy and desires holiness from us, threatening punishment for all who are unholy. But at the same time, God loves us – he loves us in spite of our selfishness.
Where do this holiness and love meet? On the cross.
On the cross, God satisfies his holy rage. He wipes out all of our selfish desires.
At the same time, God shows his love. Jesus died for us. Jesus saves you. He saves us.
Talk about a selfless motive? Jesus didn’t do any of the impure things. Jesus didn’t deserve to be punished. Yet he was. He went through pain on the cross because his motive was saving you.
III. A Simple NEW Motive
Do you see how much God loves you?
Would you allow God’s Word to suggest two new motives this Christmas?
“Prepare the way for the Lord.” (Luke 3:4)
To do this, picture your heart like a construction zone. Not a government construction zone – I’m not asking you to stand around on your shovels sipping coffee. A real deal – on the move construction zone. Rocks need to be removed. The ground needs to be leveled. Concrete needs to be poured. A pathway needs to be laid.
Do just that, only spiritually.
Remove selfish desires. Flatten your pride. Knock down the desires of your sinful flesh. Make a smooth, clear path for the coming of your Lord and Savior.
Make that part of your motive this holiday season. Do what you do to prepare the way for the Lord.
But please, couple that guidance from God’s law with this Gospel motivation: “We love because he first loved us.” (1 Jn. 4:19)
Everything you do this Christmas season, do it simply, because Jesus loves you.
Spend time with your family, because Jesus loves you.
Make Christmas cookies, because Jesus loves you.
Decorate your house, because Jesus loves you.
Forgive your spouse, because Jesus loves you.
Make amends with your family, because Jesus loves you.
Avoid sin, because Jesus loves you.
Come to church, because Jesus loves you.
Tell others about Jesus, because Jesus loves you.
Shout, “Joy to the world” because Jesus loves you.
May this simple motive be on your heart, now and always. Amen.
Silent night. Holy night. All is calm. All is bright. Sleep in heavenly peace.
Is that usually how you feel during Christmas? Peaceful. Calm. Quiet.
I don’t know about you but I often think that song would need to be rewritten to cover my Christmas:
Busy night. “Things need to get done by next Tuesday,” night.
Not so calm. My heart’s filled with fright.
Because baking, wrapping, and decorating need to be finished before Grandma comes in.
Did I buy the Christmas cheese? I need a break from Christmas please.
I don’t think that’s supposed to be the tone of the season. Yet – it is so easy for Christmas to become so complicated that our hearts are filled with stress and anxiety rather than peace and joy.
How do we stop that?
Over the next couples of weeks, we will be going through a new sermon series called A Simple Christmas. Our goal is to learn from God how to make this Christmas season – the simple, peaceful, reflective season that it’s meant to be. We want to recapture that simple joy of the shepherds, the simple peace of the Mary, and the simple song of the angels.
There’s no better place to start when you’re trying to make things simple, than with your schedule.
I. Schedule Complicators
What I mean is this. Take a look at my Google calendar. Here’s what it looks like around October. I’ve got a good game plain. There’s a few events. But in general, things are nice and easy.
Then, November comes around. I make a few additions here and a few additions there. Then, suddenly….my calendar looks a lot more like this. It’s so loaded and so full that I have to schedule time to interpret my calendar into my calendar!
Check out this warning from Jesus in Luke 21:34 “Be careful,” he says, “or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.”
Anyone here like shopping at the mall? Did you ever notice that you can travel a lot more quickly at the beginning of the mall run than at the end? Once your arms are weighed down by bags from Macy's, Nordstroms, Best Buy, the Apple Store, and Spencer’s – you can’t move as fast as you used to. You may even have to sit down at one of those nice benches and watch the kids sit on Santa’s lap.
The same thing is true spiritually. When we weigh our hearts down with things and stuff – things and stuff that might not even be inherently evil – the things and stuff make it more difficult to prepare our hearts. They slow us down when we’re running to God. They distract us in hearing his Word. In fact, they might even prevent us from ever getting to the peace of God altogether.
Every holiday season there are a few culprits that repeatedly fill up our schedule. Watch out. These things aren’t bad. But when they become more important than seeking God, then there is a heart problem.
I already mentioned this one as an illustration. (And no, dads, this isn’t your excuse to say, “Hey, I don’t have to get anyone any gifts. Pastor said so.”) Gifts are just fine. Gift giving is a godly trait. Gift giving is a fine tradition.
But when scouring through the Toys ‘R Us catalog is more important than scouring the pages of the Bible, when a search of your internet history brings up the Word “SALE” thousands of times, but the name “Jesus” – once — in the form of a cross for sale at Hallmark. Then, isn’t it possible shopping has become a distraction?
I say this with all the love in my heart, because I am a person who loves baking. Not actually slaving over the oven, but eating what comes out of the oven. Baking is not a bad thing.
Yet somehow, somewhere, we got it ingrained into our skulls that a successful American Christmas has gingerbread, pfeffernusse, sugar cookies, peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies, cookies in the shape of Santa, cookies in the shape of a star, peanut brittle, bon bons, pralines cookies, peppermint cookies, and those little pretzels covered in dyed green chocolate to look like a wreath and two little red M&Ms to look like a bow.
Ya’ll – we have to skip Advent devotion tonight because I’ll be too busy baking. Problem?
Again – decorating isn’t bad. But we live in a society where there’s more than a few reality TV shows bent on showing us how real Americans celebrate the holidays by disguising their house as a light up pinball machine. And Martha’s Stewart’s magazine Real Simple gives us article after article of 20 step directions for hanging the perfect wreath next to the perfect garland leading up to the perfect mistletoe.
I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to miss that Advent service at church because the little lights on the ceramic church in my Christmas village aren’t working right.
Oh parties. There are lots of parties. Parties with family. Parties with friends. Parties with coworkers – for your job and your spouse's job. Parties for the kid in PreK with the birthday. Parties for neighbors. Parties at that big old mansion down the street that perhaps you were invited to on accident, but you don’t want to miss that party because you've always wanted to be inside the mansion.
Parties aren’t bad. But when we party simply for the sake of partying (or better yet) simply for the sake of telling people “Look at all the parties I have been to.” Isn’t there something wrong?
Thanks for the invite to Christmas Eve service pastor, but…I’m invited over to “the coolest guy at work's” house. You understand, don’t you?
5) Social Networking.
I put this one up here, because the honest truth is that this is a huge problem in society. We are convinced that we are the busiest people in the history of generations on earth. Why? Because of Social Media.
Tasks that should take two minutes – I’m gonna check to see if that place is still having a sale – become hours. “But as I was looking for the sale, I found a good deal that I felt I should SHARE on Facebook with my friends. Which led me to TWEET about how the sales aren’t any good anymore. And then I saw this video condemning how Facebook distracts us all from the true meaning of Christmas, so I thought I’d share it—on Facebook.”
“No, Pastor, I just don’t’ have time to read through the Gospel of Luke in preparation for Christmas. I’m #TooBusy.”
Read the warning from Jesus again. Luke 21:34 “Be careful,” he says, “or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.” That day? It’s not referring to December 25th, 2015. It’s referring to a Day that’s much more important than that. A day that will only happen once and if you aren’t ready for it there won’t be a chance for you to shape up and try it again next year.
Jesus is talking about Judgment Day. The day when all people are judged. The day when people are sent to heaven or to hell. Not just for a day. Not just for the time it takes to go to a bad office party.
Brothers and sisters, there is nothing more important that you can do this Christmas. Then, prepare your hearts for the coming of the Lord. Today God’s Word says, Be careful. Don’t get distracted.
Don’t be Lot’s wife.
Do you remember the story? Lot was a believer. Lot and his family lived in a city of unbelievers. A city that hated God. A city that proved their hatred for God by acting in defiant opposition to everything that God had to say.
A city that God was going to destroy.
But an angel fo the Lord came to Lots’ family. He warned them. He said, “Follow me. There’s little time. We must get out of the city. We must run outside of the gates. We must run to safety and not look back. God is going to destroy this place with fire from heaven. There is no time. Pursuing God’s command right now is the only thing that should be taking up your time.”
His daughters ran.
His wife ran…and stopped. It was too hard to leave her things, her stuff, her friends. She longed for earthly things more than the things of God.
She turned around…and became a pillar of salt.
II. God’s Simple Schedule
I’m not suggesting that you’ll turn into a pillar of salt. But I am suggesting that if things and stuff keep us from following God, we will be punished.
Repent. Confess your sins of filling your time with things and stuff and dropping God from your schedule. Ask for forgiveness.
And know that he gives it.
How do we know that? Because your forgiveness was a part of God’s simple schedule. Take a look at this passage from Galatians 4:4 “When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” Notice the simple two part schedule that God planned.
Might I add that this has been a part of God’s schedule since the beginning? Did he not say to the devil in the first few days of this earth’s existence – “I will put enmity between you and the woman..and one of her offspring, will crush your head.” (Gen. 3:15)
Romans tells us that when the time was just right. Eve’s great, great, great, great, great, great (many times over) grandson, her offspring Jesus, was born. Born of a woman.
God didn’t get distracted. He didn’t let questions like – “How can your Son be the Savior? He’s God. He isn’t held to the same restrictions as humans. He can’t trade in his perfect life for their perfect life because they aren’t on the same playing field.” “And How can he be God? If he is born of a human, he needs a mommy and a daddy. But then, he wouldn’t be God and your plan wouldn’t work. He wouldn’t be aable to save human beings.”
God did what he did. He sent his Son. Born of a woman. Born of to a woman who had never had sex. Born to a husband who knew that she had never had sex. Born of God’s miraculous power.
2) Save the World
And he was born, to save you. It says, “to redeem those under law.” That’s us! We were the ones who were to be punished for not putting God first. We were the ones who had missed the boat because we were spending our time pursuing our own fleshly desires.
But God came to save you. That was part two of his simple plan. Live perfectly. Die Innocently. Rise triumphantly. Save you.
God didn’t get distracted. He didn’t get distracted by our wants. He’s not like Santa Claus who gives us what we want. “I want a New Transformer toy that I’ll play with twice and then get bored with and leave in the bottom of my toy closet.” Nope. God gave us what we needed. He didn’t come to get us a million dollars. He didn’t come to get us a challenge free life on this earth. He didn’t come to make sure that our Christmas trees are fully decorated with hundreds of gifts beneath it.
He came to save us from sin, death, and hell.
Scripture says, he came to “redeem us who were under law.” To buy us back from the punishment we deserve. He came to win forgiveness. He did this to “give us the full rights of sons.” We have the right to have peace with God. We have the right to have joy this holiday season. He gave us the right to heaven.
He gave me the right to say “You are forgiven.” And for it to be true.
III. A Sample of a Simple Schedule
Peace, joy and God’s love must be what predominates our Christmas schedules. We do that in three simple ways:
Specifically. Meditate on his word. Read Romans 13:14 “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.”
There are a lot of ways to dress for Christmas. When I was younger, my mom insisted on dressing me up in a matching velvet suit coat to my sister’s matching velvet dress. Some people love wearing Christmas sweaters.
Jesus reminds us to dress up in Him. In his righteousness. In his purity. In his forgiveness. You do that by meditating on his Word.
It’s so much easier to dress, of course, when it is the only thing you are doing. It’s hard to dress when you are doing the dishes OR to dress while you are hanging tinsel.
It’s the same thing with studying God’s Word. Set aside time to put it on your schedule. Make it as a part of your day as getting dressed is. Put on the LORD Jesus Christ. First thing in the morning. Do it in the afternoon. Do it in the evening. Literally go into your schedule and mark it in permanent marker. Make it the one part of your schedule that you will not and cannot give up.
In the section we were reading from Luke earlier, Jesus offered this is a second way to prepare. He said, “Be always on the watch and pray.” (Luke 21:34)
Can you imagine what it would be like if we spent as much time in prayer as we do on our iPhones?
“This is exciting. Rather than post it on Facebook, I’ll say a prayer of thanks.”
“This is challenge. Rather than complain via mass text, I’ll say a prayer asking for God’s help.”
“I feel terrible. Rather than soothe my conscience with pictures of dogs dressed up in Santa costumes, I’ll ask God for forgiveness.”
Pray brothers and sisters. Know that God hears you. It is a “right of sons” to talk to their dad and it is a right that God has given you through Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 63:7 says, “Tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is praised.” This is probably the hardest one for us. It’s the one part that we dread.
But it’s so important.
Think about it. There is no better gift than the message of salvation. Salvation doesn’t get old. It doesn’t wear out. The batteries don’t die. It is one size fits all. You don’t need to take it back to the store. There isn’t a salvation 3.8 set to come out next year – so why bother on it this year?
Salvation is one of kind because it comes from our eternal Lord. There is no better gift than that.
We need to do that together this Christmas. We need to invite others to come hear this message – it’s why in the back of the bulletin you have a worksheet to help you determine who to invite. Please read that. Please partake. This is one of the MOST important things for you to do this Christmas! So important that God promises to go with you as you share.
IV. The Time is Now
Jesus told them this parable. “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” (Lk. 21:29-31)
God's kingdom is near, but we don't know how near it is. Share His message with others and keep it a SIMPLE Christmas. Amen.