Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Shepherds Left, Now What?

Contrary to popular story-telling, the only people present on the night of Jesus' birth were his immediate family and the shepherds. The wise men did not come that night, but some time later.  It would have been highly unlikely that Joseph would have travelled with a nearly-ready-to-give-birth wife without a mid-wife, so one may have come with them from Nazareth.  Other than that, Jesus' birth was a small, dirty, common happening.  After the miraculous arrival of the shepherds, the telling of their story, and their amazing praise service, Joseph, Mary, and the baby would have been left all alone.

It's like Christmas. Months of build-up, family, friends, activity, and then . . . what?  As I look across at the tree in our living room, it has no presents. The stockings have been emptied. The Christmas Eve service is over. I am preparing to preach the last "Christmas" themed message, wondering if our members will bring their families to church today, or if family will trump. The Shepherds have left, now what?

Now, Christ. Now, Jesus. The shepherds were amazed and the event was amazing, "But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart." (Luke 2:19)  She didn't know that she was supposed to have a tree, and decorations, and lights, and gifts, and feasts. She just had Jesus, and He was more othan enough. There was another Mary, whose sister was Martha. She didn't care about feasts, or festivities, or meals, just Jesus, and Jesus said that she "has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken from her." (Luke 10:42)  And, at the end of Jesus' life, there was just one disciple at his feet, John, the one who loved Jesus and who Jesus loved.  He and Jesus' mother were there, and Jesus entrusted them to each other.

Christmas is perhaps the most wonderful time of the year, unless you know and abide in Jesus. Then, the time of the year is not the issue. Post-Christmas-Depression is not an issue, because once everyone and everything has gone, your life continues. Your life continues because it has always been about Him. You have learned that the only way to celebrate the incarnation of God is to abide in Christ.  And, abiding is not about holidays. Abiding is about every day, every day, every moment a holy-day, a holy-moment, because it is spent in Christ.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

You Can't Get There From Here: From Emily Litella To The Battle For Christmas

Be warned. This post is going around the mountain before we get to the top.

1st . . . "Merry Christmas!!!"  I just wanted to start with that in case someone thinks that what I'm writing means I'm antiChristmas. I have always battled a bit of a Scroogitude, but I am not antiChristmas. I am all about Christ in Christmas. I wouldn't celebrate it any other way.

2nd . . .  "Never mind."  If you were an early Saturday Night Live fan, you saw Gilda Radner do the Miss Emily Litella sketch. Emily was an old lady who did an editorial rant on the news. The problem was that every time she was ranted, it was about the wrong thing. For instance, she did one on "Why is everyone so upset about all the violins on TV. If they don't show violins on TV until after 10, how will all the little children learn music appreciation?"  Chevy Chase broke in and said, "Miss Litella, it was violence, violence on TV."  To which she responded, "Oh, well, that's different. Never mind."

3rd . . . "The truth shall set you free."  Truthfully, the vast majority of what we do at Christmas has nothing to do with the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Truthfully, the way we celebrate Christmas actually distorts the Biblical narrative and purpose of the birth of Christ.  Think about it.  Tree . . . not there.  Three wise men . . . not three, and not there at his birth but two years later, so there were no gifts given on the night of his birth.  Lots of family. . . not there.  Big Christmas meal . . . didn't happen.  Happy times . . . not so much since Mary didn't even have a clean room to have the baby in.

4th . . . "Never mind . . . not commanded." No place in Scripture tells us to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and certainly none of it tells us to do it like we do it. I know, I'm a Scrooge.  No, not Scrooge, truth . . . and only the truth really sets us free and makes us live. Jesus gave his church two ordinances, baptism and the Lord's supper.

5th . . . "The Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." It's Christmas, and the war of words has once again been fought.  You know, "Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays."  We have once again ranted about the Christ in Christmas, but understand this. Christmas as we know it is a cultural creation of the Christian faith. It is not a God-ordained, Scripturally mandated or instructed function of the church or the Christian life. 

The birth of Christ, the incarnation is pivotal. It should in no way be minimized, but Christmas as we do it cannot be Biblically defended.  We do not have  a Biblical sword to draw to fight this battle.  This war is not a war against the tree, gifts, and family time. It is a war against the incarnation, without which there could have been no redemptive blood spilt, and no bodily resurrection accomplished.  Without the incarnation, there is no gospel. Without the gospel, there is no hope.

I wonder if the battle for Christmas is wrong, and we have misunderstood what He really wanted just like Miss Emily Litella. God didn't say, "fight for Christ in Christmas." He didn't say, "post anti Xmas posts on Facebook."  He said, "preach the good news to all men."  What if Christ doesn't really want Christmas.  He didn't come to have a birthday party. He came to give new life to all who would believe. 

"Oh, well, it's probably just me. Never mind."

Monday, December 20, 2010

I Could Never Work In Sales

Mike comes to our church office every Monday morning asking if we have an order. EVERY Monday morning. He works for the company we order food from for our Wednesday meal. For several months, we didn't have the Wednesday meal. Mike still came every Monday morning and asked if we had an order, for MONTHS. He brought sales sheets, new product information, etc.,etc., but he did not make a sale for months.

Then one Monday morning everything changed. We decided to restart the Wednesday meals, and so we had an order for Mike. He did not know that we had changed our minds. He was just doing what he was supposed to do... coming to our church on Monday morning and asking if we had an order.  He walked in, and asked, "Well, do you have an order for me today?"  Teresa said, "Yes, we do." and Mike had made a sale. That is a tough way to make a living. Mike must ask us for an order at least a dozen times for every order we place, but if he stops asking . . . well, if he stops asking, we don't order.

Could you do that? If you are a faithful follower of Christ, you do. You offer the gospel to people dozens of times before they ever say yes. AND, IF YOU STOP OFFERING, they will not just walk up to you and say, "Hey, you look like a Christian, tell me how I can have Jesus, too."

You can tell them about your faith. That's good advertising. But, they don't need your faith. They need THE faith. We don't need the food at Mike's house. We need the food his company will deliver to our church, and the people around you need the gospel of Jesus Christ, presented again and again until they say yes.

"And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." (Gal. 6:9)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Re-Gifting For Christmas

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” ~ Luke 2:14

The shepherds were simple nobodies living in the fields with their sheep. There was nothing special about them, nothing that warranted God’s announcement, no reason that the Angelic host should announce the birth of God’s Son to them rather than to any other group.

That is what “with whom he is pleased means.” It doesn’t mean that if we live life well enough, God will be pleased with us. It means that God is pleased with those who, by faith receive His gift. He fills our souls with glory and peace just for receiving the Greatest Gift Ever Given.

We know they received the gift because they acted on their faith, quickly making their way to Bethlehem to see the child. They worshiped him, and then did exactly what God intends each of us to do with the Gift. They Re-Gifted. They walked outside the manger and began to tell everyone about Jesus. They Re-Gifted the Greatest Gift Ever Given, and their hearts were filled – both by receiving the gift and by giving it away.

I have lost five friends this year. I knew four of them were dying, but the fifth died suddenly. It has been especially hard because one of those people was not a believer. However, in the middle of this loss, I have peace in my heart.

I have peace because I have received Christ. I am a simple nobody, but it pleased God to make Himself known to me and to give me life. I also have peace because I Re-Gifted this gift to each of my five friends. I have Re-Gifted the Gospel to everyone that I can think of in my life who may not know Him. My friends are gone from this earth, but I have the peace of knowing that they heard the Gospel from me before they died.

It is God’s pleasure for you to Receive the Gift, and to give it away. There is peace in receiving the gift, but there is no peace if it is not Re-Gifted. There is no joy in knowing that someone died who I could have told about Jesus, but did not tell.

There are only a few days left till Christmas. It is time to Re-Gift.