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Making Christmas Meaningful

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1 Making Christmas Meaningful on Wed Dec 16, 2015 6:32 pm

LesBrewer

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Over the next few days we are going to look at a series on Making Christmas meaning Full. This is the beginning for us of a great line up of sermons kindly provided by Bruce Goettsche.

So lets enjoy together God's wonderful word, and to start we have:-

"The True Star of Christmas"

Matthew 2:1-11a
The story is told about a woman who walked away from a department store window that displayed a nativity scene. This woman, her arms full of packages, was outraged, "Can you believe it? Now they are even trying to bring religion into Christmas. Where will it all stop?

Her words would be funny if they weren't so true. And there's more. We used to call it Christmas vacation. Now it is called a winter break. Kids used to sing carols in their Christmas programs, now, in most places, only winter holiday songs are allowed. O Come All Ye Faithful has been replaced by "Frosty the Snowman".

No longer can we bet that our friends and neighbors know what happened in Bethlehem the first Christmas. We are living in Post-Christian World. Many people are more aware of Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" than they are the story of the baby born in Bethlehem.

As a result, there is a great deal of confusion as to who the true star of Christmas really is. Jesus has become one character among many. He is competing for the top spot with Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty, Charlie Brown, the Grinch and Scrooge. Jesus competes with lighting displays, parades, Christmas "sales", and musical specials on TV.

Today we are going to look at a group of Persian sages who recognized the true star of Christmas. They traveled from from the east to find the King they were looking for.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Who were these strange travelers? The truth is, that we don't really know. The most common idea is that these men were astrologers who may or may not have been aware of Biblical prophecy regarding the Messiah. Some feel these may have been Jews whose parents or Grandparents had been deported from Israel and had never returned. There are some suggestions that this was an entourage made up of several nations . . . representing the whole world bowing before the newborn King.

We don't even know how many men there were. It is assumed that there were three because three gifts are mentioned. But the threefold description of "gold, frankincense, and myrrh could have been categories the gifts fell into. But these details are really unimportant. What matters is that there were a group of men (and they certainly traveled with a large entourage) who sought to honor and worship Jesus.

These men, who lived far away recognized Jesus as the true Star of Christmas. They came to Him and worshipped him. Since this is also our goal . . . we can learn some things from the Magi.

They Were Paying Attention

In the popular movie "Deep Impact", the story is about the worlds attempt to deal with an asteroid heading straight for the earth bringing catastrophic consequences. The asteroid had been on this course for a while but apparently no one had noticed. The asteroid is discovered by a boy who was with his astronomy class. As he was naming the various stars he noticed that this was something new. He saw what others had missed.

Such is the case with the Magi. There is irony in this story. The Jews who had for many years announced that they were awaiting the Messiah, were oblivious to His coming. The Jews who were considered "God's chosen People" missed the signs. The religious experts, the theologians, the devout . . . missed it. These "foreigners" however, saw, understood and responded.

The parallel is quite striking. We too can be so wrapped up in the trappings of the season that we miss the Christchild. We can be so familiar with the events and traditions of Christmas that we run on "auto pilot" and never have to think about the events in Bethlehem. In order to combat this tendency, we have to do something to gain perspective.

Theodore Roosevelt used to do something very significant. After and evening of "Important talk" He would go out in the evening with a friend and stand on the front lawn and look at the constellations. They would find Pegasus, and they would then search beyond the lower left-hand corner for a faint spot of light-mist. Then one of the other of them would recite, "that is the Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It consists of one billion suns, each larger than our sun." then Roosevelt would grin and say, "Now I think we're small enough! Let's go to bed.
Sometimes, like Roosevelt, we need to take a fresh look at what we have come to take for granted. Look around you and realize how desperately our world needs the message Jesus brings. Look at your own life and realize how much you need a Savior, companion and friend. If you see this you will realize that the message of Christmas is not a nice story . . . . it is a relevant and pertinent message! It is a message and an event we need to pay attention to.

Let me give you a couple of ideas on how to pay more attention this Christmas

When you are enjoying Christmas music . . . make the effort to listen, really listen to the words. Refuse to sing mindlessly.
Look for creative way to express Christmas Greetings. We can say, "Merry Christmas" without ever having to think about what we are saying. Maybe we should work to say, "Enjoy this celebration of Jesus" or "May the freshness of new life in Christ fill your days", or maybe even, "Enjoy the Birthday Celebration of the King" You see, they all essentially say the same thing, but . . . some can be done mindlessly, others take thought.
Add Jesus'name to your Christmas list. And rather than worry about some gift that you can buy Jesus this Christ . . . though if you find some way to tangibly express your love for Him do so, remind yourself that the gift that Jesus wants . . . is you. He wants your heart, your attention, your love.
They Were Active Rather than Passive

Notice how these Magi responded to what they observed. They didn't sit down and write a book about their experience. They didn't go on the talk show circuit. Instead, they packed up and headed off to find this newborn King so that they might honor and worship Him. When they reached Israel they inquired about where the Messiah was to be born. When they received an answer they continued until they arrived at Bethlehem where they worshipped and presented their gifts. They were not content to have information . . . they insisted on having a personal encounter with this King. They didn't wait passively . . . they actively sought for the King.

In a similar way, you can't simply wait for Christmas to come to you . . . . you need to bring yourself to Christmas. We spend too much time waiting for the Christmas Spirit to "strike us". It is not something that "falls on us" it is something we discover. As children we would look forward to Christmas as Thanksgiving was falling upon us. We were counting days, making lists, finding it hard to sleep because of the anticipation. When we are older things change. We lose that excitement because we aren't getting the gifts . . . we're buying them. We see Christmas as another job to do . . . and the excitement is gone.

We feel this way because we are passive about Christmas. But we can't wait for Christmas to "happen to us" we must seek it out. We need to actively pursue an encounter with the Christ of Christmas rather than waiting for it to come in some package given by another. Again, let me be practical.

Make sure that your heart is right with Christ. Use this time of the year to ask: "Am I really a follower of Christ or am I only a member of a church?" Use the Christmas season to do a personal and spiritual inventory of your life. Don't rest until you answer the question of where you stand with Christ.
Think of a special project for the Season. Find someone who is lonely and spend time with them . . . volunteer to help with a charitable project, read a Christian book you have been meaning to read. Make the effort to do something which bring honor to the Lord.
Attend the special times of worship and celebration.
Read through the Biblical stories of the Birth of Christ. Put yourself in the story. Imagine what it would have been like to be a Shepherd, or one of the Magi. Imagine what it would have been like to be Mary, or Joseph. Imagine what it would have been like to be the Father, sending His Son to earth. Then, when you have done all that, ask: "What should it be like for the one who is the recipient of that remarkable love?"
Doing these kinds of things can help you be active in your pursuit of the Christchild. rather than just passive.
They Resisted the Inevitable Distractions

In April 1988, the evening news reported on a cameraman who was a skydiver. The man had jumped from a plane along with several other skydivers, and he filmed the group as they fell and opened their parachutes. The cameraman seemed to find the jump very exciting, and the viewing of his video work was a pleasure --until it was time for the cameraman to open his chute. Then the picture went berserk. The announcer reported that the cameraman had fallen to his death; he had jumped out of the plane without his parachute. It wasn't until that point in which he had reached for the absent ripcord and he discovered his mistake that suddenly the jump was more than exciting -- it was a nightmare. He had had faith in a parachute that was never buckled on.
In these days before Christmas, sometimes we tend to believe in the " magic" of the Christmas spirit, in food and fun and gifts and decorations. But we find as Christmas nears that our faith has been misplaced, and as the days snowball in the week before Christmas, suddenly it's all a nightmare of activity with no meaning. We need to have Jesus "buckled on" as our security. Only when we constantly go back to him as our leader, the one around whom all the activity revolves, can Christmas be exciting and meaningful.

The Magi certainly had many distractions. They had the distraction of a long and arduous journey. I wonder how many times they thought about turning back. I wonder how often they wondered if it was going to be "worth it". But they kept going.

I wonder how discouraged they were when they weren't sure where to go next. Maybe they wondered if they had made a mistake. But they kept going. They asked questions. They received answers, and with the answers, they received guidance. They could have been distracted from the main point but they weren't.

Satan is certainly a common companion of anyone who would see Jesus. The Devil's goal is to distract you and turn you from your pursuit of Christ. What kind of distractions might the Devil bring our way?

focusing on the temporal (or earthly) rather than the spiritual
celebrating the celebration rather than the Savior
focus on the physical gifts rather than the gift of God that changes hearts and lives.
a preoccupation with costs and obligations rather than people and expressing the love of Christ
He'll encourage you to get angry at the way Christmas is commercialized rather than actually honoring Christ yourself.
He'll get you so involved in "doing Christmas" that you take no time to honor Christ.
So how do we keep from being distracted this Christmas?

Memorize all the verses of a Christmas Carol
Read the Christmas Cards people send you
Make star cookies and talk about the true "star" of Christmas
Read through an Advent devotional booklet
Carve out some non-negotiable quiet time in the midst of the Christmas rush. Set aside time each day to be alone with the Father.
Read about the rest of Jesus'life by reading the gospels.
CONCLUSIONS

The Magi discovered the King of Kings because they were paying attention, they took action, and they refused to allow distractions to keep them from their course. They had come to worship the Messiah . . . . and nothing was going to stop them.

Why put in all this effort? Because an encounter with Jesus changes you. It changed the Magi. Look at what happened to them when they met Jesus.

1) They rejoiced when they again saw the star leading them to Jesus. (v.10) They knew they were on the right course. Seeing Jesus was all the Magi had hoped it would be and so much more. And when they saw Him . . . when they came into His presence they knew they had found the one they had been looking for all their lives. They discovered joy. When you read the story of the Shepherds you see the same thing . . . they were filled with joy after seeing Christ.

The same can be true for you, my friends. A real encounter with Jesus is not an academic pursuit . . . it is personal. Jesus is the one we have been looking for.

He is the one brings the forgiveness we thought was not possible.
He is the one who gives the hope you thought didn't exist
He is the one who fills the empty and lonely heart
He is the one who affirms the value of those who think they are worthless
He is the one who brings life beyond the grave
His arms are open. He invites you to come to Him. And if you do, you too will find the one you've been looking for all your life.

2) They worshipped. (v. 11) Now this doesn't mean they sang a couple of hymns and took an offering. And it doesn't mean they sang a chorus over and over again. It means they quietly honored the Christchild. They opened their hearts to Him. They presented Him gifts (see they did take an offering) and they also presented themselves. Worship is acknowledging Him as someone unique, special, powerful.

Worship is different once you meet the Christ of Bethlehem. No longer is worship about form . . . it's about someone. It's no longer about learning facts. . . it's getting better acquainted with Him. When you meet Jesus . . . you will, for the first time in your life have a reason (and a desire) to worship.

3) They went home a different way. (v. 12) The Magi returned to their home by a different route. If you remember the story, they were supposed to return and make a report to Herod. But after meeting Jesus the angel informed them of Herod's desire to kill this baby. They changed their course.

People who have met Jesus today also change their course. They do so, not because they are required to do so. They do so because for the first time in their lives, the way has become clear. They know who to trust. Many people are afraid of a commitment to Christ. They are afraid they will "have to" change. But that's not really true. As a result of meeting Jesus, you will be ABLE to change.

A man was giving his testimony at one of those old Salvation Army open-air street meetings. As he was testifying, a heckler in the crowd yelled, "Why don't you shut up and sit down? You're just dreaming."
Immediately that heckler felt a tug on his coat. He looked down to see a little girl, who said, "Sir, may I speak to you? That man who is talking up there is my daddy. Daddy use to be a drunkard. He used to spend all of the money he made on whiskey. My mother was very sad and would cry most of the time.

"Sometimes when my daddy would come home, he would hit my mother. I didn't have shoes or a nice dress to wear to school. But look at my shoes. And see this pretty dress? My daddy bought these for me." But the little girl wasn't through with the heckler yet.

"See my mother over there? She the one with the bright smile on her face. She's happy now. She sings even when she is doing the ironing." Then the little girl said, "Mister, if my daddy is dreaming, please don't wake him up." (Adrian Rogers, BELIEVE IN MIRACLES BUT TRUST IN JESUS p.52)

The change that Jesus makes in a life is not a burdensome change . . . .it is refreshing. It is not "having to do something we don't want to do." It's the ability to make the changes we thought were not possible.

So, what will you do this Christmas? Will you simply go through the motions, immersing yourself in the celebration and come away unaffected? Or will you learn from the mysterious Persian travelers? Will you make stay alert and the effort to discover the real Jesus and come away transformed? The choice you make will determine whether you have a Merry Christmas or whether you celebrate the Birthday of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

2 Re: Making Christmas Meaningful on Thu Dec 17, 2015 10:57 am

LesBrewer

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"The Humble King"

Isaiah 9:6,7; Philippians 2:5-11 . . . .

This story was reported some time ago,

A woman entered an ice-cream store on the Kansas City Plaza, and after choosing which flavor cone she wanted, she looked up and found herself face to face with Paul Newman, who was doing some filming in town. He smiled and said hello, but her heart was pounding so hard that she could hardly speak.
She paid for her ice cream, left the shop, walked out into the plaza, and at last realized her purchase was nowhere to be found. Going back into the store to see if she could retrieve it, the woman ran into Newman again --this time on his way out.

"Are you looking for your ice cream?" he asked, and when she nodded, he said, "you put it in your purse with your change."

This woman was literally dumbfounded when she encountered a movie star. Maybe the same thing has happened to you . . . I know it has to me. When we encounter someone we admire and maybe even revere a little, we can find ourselves completely senseless. We want to say something witty, intelligent, engaging and end up making a fool of ourselves!

Who would provoke this kind of reaction in you? Perhaps it would be a sports figure, maybe an entertainer or a musical group. How would you react if you met Garth Brooks or Reba McIntire? How would you respond if you could talk with Amy Grant or Steven Curtis Chapman? What if you were able to visit with Tony Bennett or Andy Williams? How about a conversation with Mark McGwire or Michael Jordan? How would you respond if you had an afternoon to visit with Billy Graham? Perhaps for you it would be meeting with Bill Gates or maybe even Barney or Kermit the Frog. There is probably someone in your life who you respect so much that being in their presence would make your heart race.

Now, imagine how things would be if you were going to invite one of these "admired person" over to your home. I suspect it would be no ordinary dinner. You would clean all the nooks and crannies, you'd use the good china, you'd press the tablecloth and you'd work hard to make sure everything was extra nice. You would try to find out what foods they liked and make them. Why? Because of your desire to honor your guest.

Today I want to remind you that Jesus should be that person who staggers us. He is the one we should seek to honor this Christmas. It is my hope that you will prepare for Christmas the same way you would prepare for that special dinner. My contention is simple, no matter who you look to as someone who is "awe-inspiring", the Christ of Christmas is greater.

THE WORTHY KING

Part of the reason we have lost our wonder at Christmas is that we focus on the baby in the manger. We all like babies, we adore babies, babies touch our hearts in a special way . . . but they are not necessarily awe-inspiring. We do not see a baby as greater than we are. Notice how Isaiah 9 describes the coming King.

And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
Let's look at these descriptions:

Wonderful Counselor. Jesus is one who "knew what was in men". The New Testament tells us on several occasions that Jesus knew what people were thinking. A good counselor in our day is one who understands us and can help us sort through issues in our lives.

Jesus understood and understands our human nature and our predicament better than anyone. He understands the needs of our heart and He knows how to answer and meet those needs. Jesus is the one who eliminates confusion in our lives. He gives us insight into eternal issues. If we could spend fifteen minutes with the Messiah we would learn more about ourselves than in years of counseling.

This is why the Word of God is so relevant. As you read the Bible you will be amazed at how often the Bible speaks to the issues that matter most to you. You will find that the Bible cuts through all the fog and helps us to see clearly. This is especially true in the New Testament. The reason is clear: Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor.

Mighty God. The Bible does not teach us that Jesus would be LIKE God or be THOUGHT OF as God. It is clear . . . He IS God. He has supernatural power. He is the Sovereign of Sovereigns. He is in control . . . there is no reason for concern. With Jesus at the helm there is no room for chaos. The promises He makes will be fulfilled. The Kingdom He establishes will be upheld. John MacArthur writes,

Christ the King loves to step into a life of chaos and not only provide wonderful counsel, but also display His divine power by bringing order to the chaos. In other words, He not only tells His subjects what to do as a Wonderful Counselor but He can also energizes them to do it --because He is the mighty God. . . .He is God and because He is God, He can forgive sin, defeat Satan, liberate people from the power of evil, redeem them, answer their prayers, restore their broken souls, and reign over a rebuilt life, bringing order to our chaos.
Everlasting Father. One of the frustrating things about state and federal leaders in our country is that they are always running for re-election. Consequently we have few statesmen in the land. Few will take a stand unless it is popular. Policy is often determined by public opinion (electability) rather than right and wrong.

The Lord Jesus is not running for re-election. His term never ends. He doesn't have to play for votes. He can rule with justice and do what is right without concern for public opinion. The Lord Jesus was not just the Messiah and Mighty God while He roamed the earth. He is King forever. He knows the beginning from the end because He created them both.

He is eternal but He is also our Father. He is big, powerful, wise, and in control. But He is also loving and tender to those He has created.

Prince of Peace. He does not come to wage war but to be the reconciler. Jesus comes to reconcile

sinful men and women to God
people with their pasts
nations and races to each other
Jesus has come to put us back together. He has come to set us free, not to bind or enslave us.

So, here's the question: Which of those special people you thought of earlier could you give any of the titles above? No one. They don't even come close to the wonder and greatness of Jesus. You see if we only see Jesus as just a little baby in a manger we have missed the most astonishing part of the Incarnation. He is royalty. The wonder and the respect that would be given to a celebrity or royal figure should be accorded Christ. When we speak of Him and to Him we should do so with reverence. He is not only a King . . . . He is THE King. He is the ruler of mankind, the Creator of the Universe, the One who holds all things in His hand.

If we recognized Jesus as the King we would have a more intense attitude of worship, reverence, and awe. We would make it a point to consider how to honor Him best -- even if it required losing sleep or derailing our personal locomotive-like schedule. Pleasing Him would matter.

This year's Advent Devotional has several good suggestions for remembering Christ as King this Christmas,

Place HRH (His Royal Highness) on every gift you give. Tell family members that the HRH is to remind you that no matter whom the gift if for, the real reason for the purchasing, wrapping, and giving is to celebrate the birth of King Jesus.
Accent your dinner table with the color purple to remind you of royalty.
As you do your Christmas shopping, consider yourself the "King's Personal Purchasing Agent." Seek to buy gifts that will meet the approval of the King. Notice how this mindset influences the gifts you choose.
Select one day this week during which you will be a full-fledged servant of the King. Spend that day looking for opportunities to act out secret deeds of service. Make a pot of coffee at the office, drop off dinner for a friend in need, fold your roommate's laundry, shovel a neighbor's driveway.
Place a crown among your Christmas decorations as a reminder that the one you honor is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Jesus is sufficient for our every need! He is not some lucky charm or nice thought . . . He is the everlasting God. He will fulfill His promises. He will lead those who follow Him home. He will bring good out of tragic times. He can and He will do these things because He is King!

THE WILLING SERVANT

Once you have grasped who Jesus was, the incarnation means much more. Paul wrote of Jesus,

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:6-8)
Hear what Paul is saying: Even though Jesus is God. Even though all the power, privilege and honor of the office is His. He set it aside. He did not stop being God . . . He just refused to draw upon His privileges. He could have called on angels to help . . .but He didn't. He could have struck his accusers down with a word . . . but He didn't. He refused what was rightfully His, so that He could become a human being. But not only that . . . He WILLINGLY became a human who died a horrible death for the express purpose of giving His life as payment for our sin. God gave Himself so that those who hated and rebelled against Him could find life!

What a staggering concept this is. How baffling that God would become a man to reach out to us. Why would God do such an odd thing? Philip Yancey expressed it well,

I learned about incarnation when I kept a salt-water aquarium. Management of a marine aquarium, I discovered is no easy task. I had to run a portable chemical laboratory to monitor the nitrate levels and the ammonia content. I pumped in vitamins and antibiotics and sulfa drugs and enough enzymes to make a rock grow. I filtered the water through glass fibers and charcoal, and exposed it to ultraviolet light. You would think, in view of all the energy expended on their behalf that my fish would be grateful. Not so. Every time my shadow loomed above the tank they dove for cover into the nearest shell. They showed me one "emotion" only: fear. Although I opened the lid and dropped in food on a regular schedule, three times a day, they responded to each visit as a sure sign of my designs to torture them. I could not convince them of my true concern.
To my fish, I was deity. I was too large for them, my actions too incomprehensible. My acts of mercy they saw as cruelty; my attempts at healing they viewed as destruction. To change their perceptions, I began to see, would require a form of incarnation. I would have to become a fish and "speak" to them in a language they could understand.

A human being becoming a fish is nothing compared to God becoming a baby. And yet according to the Gospels that is what happened at Bethlehem. [The Jesus I Never Knew]

Understand what great implications there are in God becoming a man.

He understands our pain because He has experienced it
He has confronted our fears and overcome them
He has faced our temptations and gained victory
He is NOT a distant detached ruler in some ivory tower someplace
He has not abandoned us
Steve Brown wrote,

While I was driving home the other day, I saw the ugliest car I have ever seen. This car wasn't just ugly--it was ugly on top of ugly. It had a large gash on its side; one of the doors was held together with baling wire; and several other body parts were almost completely rusted out. The car's muffler was so loose that with every bump, it hit the street sending sparks in every direction. I couldn't tell the original color of the car. The rust had eaten away much of the paint, and so much of the car had been painted over with so many different colors that any one of them (or none of them) could have been the first coat. The most interesting thing about the car was the bumper sticker: "THIS IS NOT AN ABANDONED CAR".
Even though the car looked horrible. Even though it looked worthless the owner wanted to declare a simple truth . . . the car was His and He valued it. Isn't this what God has done for us at Christmas? He takes those of us who are broken, rebellious, wounded and scared and places a banner on us that reads: "This is not an Abandoned, Forgotten, or Rejected Person". In sending Christ to earth, God declared that we were valuable to Him. He demonstrated His commitment to us even when we were not committed to Him.

CONCLUSIONS

This leads me to my conclusions to day. If Jesus is the King (and He is) and if in His position as King He has given himself for you and me (which He has) then how should we respond?

For some of you an appropriate response may be a first time commitment to Jesus today. It's possible that you feel abandoned. Perhaps you doubt that anyone could love you. You don't need anyone to tell you about the mistakes of your past . . . they haunt you constantly. Maybe you feel that your life is racing out of control. If so, understand the message of Bethlehem. The King has come for YOU.

Maybe you daydream at times about being sought out by those you admire. You dream of a day when a celebrity will come to your house and want to be your friend. You dream of others coming to you to ask your opinion on world events. Perhaps you dream about being interviewed by David Letterman or Jay Leno. Maybe you dream of making the big play or singing to a packed auditorium (and having people like it). You dream like this because you want to be significant. You want your life to matter. . . . And it does.

Jesus, the King of the Universe has come for you. He invites you to follow Him. He wants you to be His child. You matter to God! Now is the time of decision. Will you receive His gift or turn away? Will you follow Him or ignore Him? Will you dare to believe Him when He says "anyone who comes to me I will not cast away."? Is today the day that you need to stop running and receive Christ? Is today the day that you need to depend on Him rather than your own efforts?

For others this may be time for a fresh commitment. It is time to see Him in His greatness. When you look into the manger this year, see more than a baby . . . see the King. And when you see the King . . . worship Him. Perhaps this Christmas you will approach the Lord with the same excitement we would have toward a well known person from our world. Maybe with this new understanding you will seek to honor Him this Christmas.

By giving priority to worship
By giving of your time to serving someone else
By giving of your resources to support the work of the Lord
By making time to learn of Him
By telling others of His greatness
Joseph Bayly has written,

Praise God for Christmas.

Praise Him for the incarnation,
for the word made flesh.
I will not sing of shepherds
watching flocks on frosty nights,
or angel choristers.
I will not sing of a stable bare in Bethlehem,
or lowing oxen,
wise men trailing star with gold,
frankincense, and myrrh.
Tonight I will sing praise to the Father
who stood on heaven's threshold
and said farewell to his Son
as he stepped across the stars
to Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
And I will sing praise to the infinite, eternal Son,
who became most finite, a baby
who would one day be executed for my crime.
Praise him in the heavens,
Praise him in the stable,
Praise him in my heart. [Psalms of My Life]


3 Re: Making Christmas Meaningful on Fri Dec 18, 2015 8:55 am

LesBrewer

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Making Christmas Meaningful Part 3

"A WorldWide Celebration"

Luke 2:8-15

If you have ever been somewhere where people were speaking a different language than you, you know how awkward that can be. You don't have to go to another country . . . there are parts of Chicago where the people speak Spanish. Other places where the people speak Polish. Adults may feel they are in a foreign land when they talk to some teenagers. You don't know whether something that is "bad" is naughty or whether it is really good. When teenager says you are "fat", they may be spelling it with an "f" or with a "ph". So, you don't know whether they are insulting you or complementing you. If they say "It's da bomb, yo" You don't know whether they are talking about a destructive device, something that has failed miserably, or whether they are saying something is really good.

Fortunately, there are some things that transcend language: Tears. A smile. A freshly covered grave. The Olympic Rings. The MacDonalds Arches. Coca Cola. A brightly wrapped package. A hug. And Christmas. Every year the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago has a feature called "Christmas Around the World". This exhibit displays Christmas trees, decorations and some of the practices of peoples around the globe. All around the world people are preparing to celebrate Christmas.

Of course, we must acknowledge that just because people celebrate Christmas, doesn't mean they understand it or are esteeming and worshipping Christ. But there is something about Christmas that touches the hearts of people everywhere. And as we turn our attention to the story of the Nativity today I want you to see that Christmas was meant to be universal.

In our text in Luke 2 the angel said to the Shepherds,

Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for ALL THE PEOPLE. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
The birth of Christ is Bethlehem was meant to reach out to all people. I want to show you the universal audience of Christmas AND the diverse responses of Christmas. In doing so I will show you what this means for us.
THE UNIVERSAL AUDIENCE

I read these words of Karen Mains this week,

I often look at that familiar verse, John 3:16, and think the world the Gospel writer was describing looked like mine: American, privileged, suburban, educated, free. The truth is that the world John declared God loved so much was also probably radically unlike the one I know: Semitic, eastern, nomadic, African or tropical maybe; certainly poor, illiterate, under oppressive rule.
It is easy to forget that Christ came into the world to reach people . . . not only people like you and me . . . but ALL people.

Look at the account of story of Christ's entry into the world. Notice the different kinds of people involved

the religious elite: Zacharias and Elizabeth
the poor: Mary and Joseph
the elderly: Simeon and Anna
the blue collar workers: The Shepherds
the aristocracy: the Wise Men
But these aren't the only people involved. Surely there were many of the common folk who stopped to visit the manger that night. There were also those who may not have seen the baby themselves but were moved by the testimony of the Shepherds and the Magi.

Look at the life of Jesus. Look at the kinds of people He reached out to:

Government workers (Levi the tax collector, the Roman Centurian)
Common Laborers (the fishermen)
Outcasts (woman caught in adultery, lepers, demon-possessed, the sick)
Revolutionaries (Simon the Zealot)
The Religious Elite (Paul was a Pharasee of the Pharasees)
Gentiles and Jews
Men and Women (Mary, Martha, Lazarus)
Rich and Poor (the rich young ruler, the woman who put in two pennies in the offering)
In fact, if you read through the Bible you would be hard-pressed to find any group of people that was not represented in the Bible. The gathering on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter two involves people from many different coutries and races. Now if you see the big picture I want to narrow your focus just a bit. I want you to see why this is important.

We are reminded that the true message of Christmas is for everyone.

Understand what I'm saying. The message of Christ. The Gospel itself is not limited to only those we think might be interested (usually because they are like us.) The message of God's grace is for

those the world generally finds unacceptable (the diseased, the law-breakers, the social misfits)
those who feel worthless (those who have been wounded, those who have made serious mistakes, those who have brought shame to themselves and others)
those who are steeped in sin (the addicted, those who see sin as "relative")
those who don't fit in (because of clothing style, hair style or length, where they place their earrings, their introverted personality (or extroverted personality), because they like disco music . . . )
those who act superior.
Do you understand? The Gospel is for all these folks. There is no one you will meet this week that is beyond the reach of God's grace. NO ONE. So here's the challenge:

confront your own prejudice and stereotype. Talk to someone you would usually ignore.
pray for those you have "written off" as "beyond hope". It may be a family member (someone who hurt you a long time ago), it may be a former employer, it may be an acquaintance, and it may be somebody you only know by reputation. Dare to see them through the eyes of Jesus.
show Christ to someone new this week. You don't have to preach to them . . . show them Jesus in the way you relate to them. Listen to this account of one women's attempt to do just this. She writes,
I am a mother of three (ages 14, 12, 3). My husband, youngest son, and I went out to McDonalds, one crisp March morning. It was just our way of sharing special play time with our son. We were standing in line, waiting to be served, when all of a sudden everyone around us began to back away, and then even my husband did.
I did not move an inch...an overwhelming feeling of panic welled up inside of me as I turned to see why they had moved. As I turned around I smelled a horrible "dirty body" smell... and there standing behind me were two poor homeless men. As I looked down at the short gentleman, close to me, he was "smiling". His beautiful sky blue eyes were full of God's Light as he searched for acceptance. He said, "Good day" as he counted the few coins he had been clutching. The second man fumbled with his hands as he stood behind his friend. I realized the second man was mentally deficient and the blue eyed gentle man was his salvation. I held my tears....as I stood there with them. The young lady at the counter asked him what they
wanted. He said, "Coffee is all Miss" because that was all they could afford. To sit in the restaurant and warm up, they had to buy something...they just wanted to be warm.

Then I really felt it...the compulsion was so great I almost reached out and embraced the little man with the blue eyes. That is when I noticed all eyes in the restaurant were set on me...judging my every action. I smiled and asked the young lady behind the counter to give me two more breakfast meals on a separate tray. I then walked around the corner to the table that the men had chosen as a resting spot. I put the tray on the table and laid my hand on the blue eyed gentleman's cold hand. He looked up at me, with tears
in his eyes, and said, "Thank you." I leaned over, began to pat his hand and said,"I did not do this for you...God is here working through me to give you hope." I started to cry as I walked away to join my husband and son. When I sat down my husband smiled at me and said, "That is why God gave you to me
honey....to give me hope." We held hands for moment and at that time we knew that it was only because of the Grace that we had been given that we were able to give.

You and I have been given grace as well. And God comissions us to share it with others.
The message of Christmas is for you.

Many of you can see how Christmas is relevant to everyone else . . . but still feel that it does not apply to you.

Many of you feel that you have messed things up beyond repair. You have pushed your family away or you have made terrible mistakes that cannot be undone. People were hurt, lives were destroyed or bruised. As a result, you feel you deserve nothing. You feel the condemnation of the crowd and feel you deserve God's condemnation too. And you're right. We all deserve His condemnation. But it is to we who are condemned that He offers the pardon of grace. This pardon is extended because of what Jesus did for us. It was available to the thief on the cross, it was available to Paul who was an accomplice in the murder of Christians, it was available to the prodigal who squandered his inheritance. And it is available to you.

Others of you feel alone. Someone you love has died. The people you cherish don't seem to have time for you. Someone you love has pushed you away. The crowd refuses to accept you. It seems that no one notices that you are alive. And you have concluded that God has overlooked you too. But you're wrong. He saw the Shepherds on the hill side. He saw the peasant girl named Mary, He saw the tax-collector in the tree, He saw Paul on the road to Damascus, He saw the children in the crowd, He felt the touch of the woman with the issue of blood, he heard the cry of the leper over the din of the crowd. He will not miss you.

Others of you feel immune. You enjoy the celebration. You are religious, you have been in church all your life. You nod as I speak about Christ's relevance for the down-trodden. But the fact is, you think this doesn't relate to you. "The message is for sinners!" you say. However, the Bible holds no punches when it proclaims that "ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." You may feel you are immune but may I be bold and suggest something? May I suggest that you are measuring yourself by the wrong standard? You are measuring yourself by how you compare to the way you perceive others to be. Friends that is the wrong measuring stick. We must measure ourselves by God's standards. He is the one who sets the rules. His standards are set forth in His character and in His Word. If you read through the Bible and do not see any wrong in your life . . . you need to pay more attention! Every one of us needs the message that Christ brings to the world. This is relevant for You and for me.

The gospel message can be stated in three simple propositions. This is the simple message of Christmas:

I am a sinner
As a sinner I need a Savior
Jesus is that Savior
The person who is willing to entrust themselves to this Savior is a person who will be transformed by Christ. They are the ones who will receive God's Spirit in their life now, and eternal life in the future. So, my friends, don't just walk on by the manger. It's a fact of history that affects You.

The Diverse Responses

The second thing we see in the story of the Nativity is the different ways people responded

Herod turned away in anger
Joseph responded with faithful obedience
Mary, Anna, Simeon and the Angels responded with songs
The Shepherds responded by taking time off to go and worship
The Magi brought gifts
There is a diversity in the way people respond today as well. Some will coldly ignore everything. Others will be militant in their desire to stamp out any trace of "religious meaning" from Christmas. But others . . . and I hope you are among them, will respond in faith. They will bow in worship and surrender their lives to the One who was God become man to dwell among us. Some will cry, some will laugh, some will sit quietly. It's not how you respond but THAT you respond.

People may argue over the correct way to celebrate Christmas. We can debate whether it is better to open gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. We can argue about the correct day to have our Christmas worship service. We can debate the appropriateness of some of our traditions. But, we really are missing the point. The real issue is not HOW we celebrate, but WHO we celebrate.

Some Suggestions for Celebrating Christmas This Year

Let me make some simple suggestions for you this year.

Emphasize the meaning of Christmas. Read the Christmas Story. Bake a birthday cake for Jesus. Make worship a priority.
Find some time to be alone with the Savior. Find a quiet spot and thank Him for the gift that inspires all the other gifts . . . the gift of Christ with bring forgiveness and eternal life.
Start a new tradition. Understand that the things you will remember about Christmas in the future is not the presents you received this year. . . you will remember the traditions. When I think of Christmas as a child I remember the family gatherings. I remember having to wait until after dinner to open presents when we went to my Grandparents. And I remember having to take turns. I remember the 11:00 Christmas Eve service and walking out of church and having everyone wish each other a Merry Christmas. And as I look back on Christmas with my children I'll remember having a big and special breakfast before we opened gifts . . . it was a reminder that the best gift was that we had each other. I'll remember watching Maggie and the kids set up the Christmas tree with "It's a Wonderful Life" on the TV in the background. I'll remember the way Maggie transforms our home so that it looks like Christmas. I'll remember decorating the sanctuary and our Christmas Eve Eve worship.
In fact, the Christmas Eve Eve service is one of those new traditions I'm talking about. 16 Christmases ago we felt we should have a special Christmas service to honor Christ. The problem was that too many of the people had family gatherings on Christmas Eve. So . . . we said, "why not a Christmas Eve Eve worship?" And now for 16 years we've met on the 23rd to worship the Lord. And let's face it, for many of us, it would not be Christmas without the quiet singing of "Silent Night" in the candlelight. And now many of you have established traditions that accompany the Eve Eve Service.
As I said, the traditions are the things that you and your children will remember in years to come. Make a deliberate effort to establish your traditions. Look for ways to build traditions that point to the Savior. In conclusion let me share one tradition a family began.

It is just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so. It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas--oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it--overspending, the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma--the gifts given in desperation because you couldn't think of anything else. Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike.
The inspiration came in an unusual way. Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended; and shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church, mostly black. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only things holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes. As the match began I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler's ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford.

Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he would swagger around in his tattered outfit with a false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn't acknowledge defeat. Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, "I just wish one of them could have won," he said. "They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take heart right out of them." Mike loved kids--all kids--and he knew them, having coached little league football, baseball and lacrosse.

That's when the idea for his present came. That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years, for each Christmas I followed the tradition--one year sending a group of retarded youngsters to a hockey game, another yeare a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground a week before Christmas, and so on.

The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure.

The story doesn't end there. You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. But when Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped up in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning, it was joined by three more.

Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope in the tree for their dad. the tradition had grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers take down the envelope.

This is the kind of tradition that honors the Lord. Be creative! Be worshipful. Honor the Lord!

Christmas is indeed a worldwide celebration. It declares a message of love, hope and joy to anyone who will listen. Even you. This Christmas I encourage you to hear the summons of the Savior. Don't just celebrate the holiday . . . celebrate the Savior. Give your life to Him right now. In the quietness of this hour, cast aside your proud swagger. Let down the barriers. Receive the One who can make you whole and give you eternal life. Today, bow in simple faith and say, "Lord Jesus, I recognize that I am sinful and I acknowledge the wrong that I have done. Today I need a Savior. And I turn to You and acknowledge you to be that Savior. I place my life, my hope, and my confidence in You. Take this broken person and make me new. Lead, and I will follow."

And when you have done this, look for ways this Christmas to help others see the reason for our celebration.


4 Re: Making Christmas Meaningful on Sat Dec 19, 2015 10:32 am

LesBrewer

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Making Christmas Meaningful P 4

"Listening for the Master's Voice"

Luke 1:26-28, 2:19 . . . .

You have probably seen the logo label of RCA Victor records. It's a drawing of a dog sitting in front of an old victrola (a record player with a large megaphone-shaped device projected from a record player (the precursor to a CD player)). the little dog on the RCA Victor logo had his head cocked and his ears perked toward the open end of the victola's megaphone. He was listening intently to what was coming out of the record player. Underneath this picture was the tag line, "His master's voice".

I happen to know a little dog who is very much like this. Whenever I grab my keys and put my shoes on, Ariel sits at my feet and waits to hear the magic words, "take out the garbage", "post office", "walk", "leash", "ride", "car". Her eyes attach themselves to me and don't leave until she has some hint of whether I am going to do something she can participate in our whether it will be one of those things she cannot join in. At her most attentive state her ears snap to attention and she cocks her head to one side to make sure she hears correctly.

This is the perfect picture of what is needed at Christmas time. We must listen carefully for the Master's voice . . . but that's easier said than done. If you go into any mall or store the music is usually blaring, lights are flashing and people are trying to avoid each other as they hustle from purchase to purchase. There are long lines in the check-out lanes, heavy traffic on the roads and everyone has a to-do list which is twice the size of normal.

Today we look to the familiar story of Mary. In this text you will see Mary as she listens to the voice sent from God. The reason we turn to this passage is that Mary gives us a good example of what it means to listen to the Master's Voice: Mary had a receptive heart, a responsive heart, and a reflective heart.

MARY HAD A RECEPTIVE HEART

Listen to Luke's account of what took place,

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "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. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 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, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon 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. (Luke 1:27-35)
We take Mary's response to the appearance of Gabriel for granted. We will appreciate her response more if we think of all the ways Mary could have responded,

she could have run away
she could have started sobbing
she could have gotten up and complained that her house was a mess and unfit for such a visitor
she could have run around trying to get all her friends together to witness this event
But, Mary doesn't do any of these things. Instead, notice what she does do. Like the dog in the RCA logo, she listens.

At Christmas God comes to us in the form of the Christchild. But this wonderful message of love is often missed because we are,

frantically rushing around looking for gifts for the celebration
feverishly making plans for parties and gatherings
rushing from activity to activity so we can celebrate with our friends
simply ignoring the whole thing. We put our hands up and say, "I want nothing to do with this celebration."
If we are going to understand the message of Christmas we are going to have to LISTEN. We will have to slow down long enough to hear . . . not just the noise . . . but the message of Christmas. We have to slow down long enough to hear that Christmas is about God reaching out to men and women in the person of Christ. The difficulty is trying to hear the message through the din of the noise of the season.

The story of a four-year-old girl named Schia has been told many times. Schia begged her mommy and daddy to let her stay alone for a little while with her new baby brother. Her parents at first refused--young children are not known for treating new siblings gently--but after a time, they saw that Schia didn't seem jealous or impatient with the baby, so they allowed her to hold her private conference.
They kept the door cracked open, however, when Schia tiptoed in toward the crib. The curious parents watched as their little girl appraochaed the baby, put her face down close to his, and said, "Please, Baby, tell me what God feels like. I'm starting to forget."

This is what we should be seeking at Christmas . . . to be reminded of what God feels like. So, How can you listen better?

Sometime late at night, when everyone else is in bed spend some time with the Lord. Make this a time of just you and the Lord. Visualize the RCA Victor dog, and listen for the Master's voice.
When you go to a time of prayer . . . say nothing. Just listen for a few moments.
In a time of worship stop singing on one verse of a carol and listen to the words. We hear some of the songs so much that the words are often lost. Try to HEAR the message.
MARY HAD A RESPONSIVE HEART

Now the fact that Mary listened to the Angel is not the only part of the story worth paying attention to. Obviously Mary could have done several things after the conversation with Gabriel,

she could have walked away without a word.
She could have started to scream inconsolably
She could have responded "no way!"
She could have decided that she was delusional and enrolled in long term counseling.
But that is not what Mary did. Instead, Mary said, " "I am the Lord's servant." "May it be to me as you have said." (Luke 1:38). Mary not only received the message, she acted on it.

This is the difference between Mary and many who celebrate Christmas. There are many who have information but they do not respond to it. Let me give you some examples,

There are some who know the story of a baby born in Bethlehem but they refuse to listen to WHY that baby came and WHO that baby was. They like the idea that God loves us but refuse to hear the truth about our rebellion and our need for a Savior. They are deaf to words like: judgement, accountability, and repentance. They want salvation on their own terms.

There are people who know what the gospel is. They can tell you that to be a Christian means to acknowledge personal sin, to recognize that Christ's death was to pay for sin, and that the person who trusts Christ will be saved. Some of these people know this information well enough that they have led others to faith in Christ. However, they themselves have never responded. The truth has never traveled the 18 inches from their head to their heart.

Others have memorized scores of Bible verses. . . but they have never acted on what they know.

they know what sin is, but have never repented of their own sin
they know what prayer is but have never been honest with God
they have memorized the Bible but have not allowed it to penetrate their heart
they are active in the church but have never followed Jesus
they are nice people but are trusting their own ability rather than the gift God has extended in Christ
they have mastered "God Talk" but don't really have a relationship with God.
they have had an "experience" but have never really surrendered to the Savior. They cried at a meeting once. They were moved by a song. They prayed and felt a chill. And now they are relying on this "experience" as the basis of their faith. Faith is not based on experience . . . it is based on fact.
Jesus has come to set you free. He has opened the door of your prison cell. You are free to live in freedom. But you still need to walk through the open door.

How are you responding to the truths of Christmas? Don't answer quickly . . . . think about it. I'm confident that you know the story. But how is it changing you? What do you need to do this Christmas in response to God's Spirit?

Turn to Christ as your own Savior and Leader? Do you need to move the truth from your head to your heart?
Mend a relationship?
Reach out to someone who is in need?
Reoganize your priorities?
Turn from a Sinful practice?
Change your attitude? Perhaps you need to take the message of salvation more seriously and live with joy rather than under a cloud of gloom.
MARY HAD A REFLECTIVE HEART

A third thing we see in Mary. She "treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19) In other words she thought about them over and over. She never forgot what happened and what she was told.

Many people view Christmas . . . and the Christ of Christmas, like they do a billboard on the side of the road. They see it. They read and recognize it. They enjoy the billboard as they are looking at it, then they drive on by. It is only a memory that fades as time goes on.

Mary frequently recalled the words of the angel, the Shepherds, the Magi, Anna and Simeon. I suspect she thought about these words as her son taught on the shore of the sea of Galilee. She thought about them as she watched Him place His hands on the hurting. I suspect she even reflected on these words as she watched her son struggle with the cross on his journey to Golgatha, die a horrible death, and be placed in a borrowed tomb.

Even when she was confused she returned to what she knew was true. She remembered the promises and then held on. In her reflecting she gained perspective and focus. That's good advice for all of us.

You see, it is too easy for us to just go through the motions. The best things in life can easily lose their luster and value if we don't take care of them and remind ourselves of how valuable they are. We have to deliberately counteract that danger. Think of how easy it is to take your marriage for granted. Because of that, every year on our wedding anniversary I like to dig out the wedding pictures and remember all the dreams I had that day and then how God surprised me by making marriage better than what I had even hoped it would be. Looking back reminds me of how fortunate I am. It reminds me of the storms we have shared and the joys we have known. It reminds me that what I have is a treasure.

It is just as easy to take our family for granted . . . . and our Savior. It is too easy to become accumstomed to the words and phrases and they begin to lose their intensity and wonder. So, let me share a few suggestions for being more reflective this Christmas.

Find some quiet time to think about WHO Jesus is and WHY He came to earth.
Ask yourself a simple question: "What would the world be like if Jesus hadn't come????"
Remember where you WERE and where you were heading before He found you. Dare to imagine where you might be if He hadn't come and changed your life. What would life be like now? Would your marriage be over? Would you have killed yourself with reckless living? Would you be on a treadmill headed no where? If you remember what you were saved from you will appreciate what you have been saved to.
Remember where you are GOING as a child of God. Try to gain a picture of the glory that is to come. Allow your mind to imagine that first time you see the smile of the loving Father. Let yourself sense what it would be like to know that gasp of wonder when you take that first step into the eternal kingdom. Try to imagine what it would be like to have all evil gone.
You see, this Christmas we are called to follow the example of Mary. We must be receptive to the message and listen even in the midst of the noise of the season. When we have heard we must respond. And once we have responded we must never forget. We must remind ourselves often of how we became a child of God. We must remember where we were and where we are going. We must repeat the words over and over to ourselves so that when life gets noisy again, we'll still be able to hear the whisper of His love.

"A Shopper's Psalm"
I'm weary, Lord.
Bone tired.
In spite of the fact that my shopping's half done
I need to crash.
The crush
of the crowd has gotten to me.
So, too, the deafening sounds
of a pre-Christmas city
throbbing with incarnate greed.
I need to be reminded
that this season's more
than plastic Santas,
perpetual sales,
and Muzak.
I need back
on the track
of reflection.
I've derailed, Lord.
My emotional fuel is leaking.
I'm about to explode.
And then I see it.
A miniature creche
in a gift shop window.
A guardian father;
a grateful young mom;
a baby asleep on the hay.
A trio maintaining their harmony
despite the dis-chord all around them.
And with my nose pressed against the frosted pane
my inner pain subsides.
At once I am rested,
renewed, and revived.
And I linger
and ponder
God's peace.
(By Greg Asimakoupoulous)


5 Re: Making Christmas Meaningful on Sun Dec 20, 2015 11:45 am

LesBrewer

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Making Christmas Meaningful P5

"A Christmas Embrace"

Luke 2:25-38 . . . .
Each year at Christmas time there are people who dread the season. There is something about the singing, the joyful celebrations, the decorations and the exchange of gifts that paints a stark contrast to the way some people really feel. For some, Christmas makes them feel alone, deserted and empty. Statistics say there are more suicide attempts at Christmas than at any other time of the year. Talk about irony. The event that celebrates the one who came to bring life is also the event that provokes many to choose death.

Most of us have little idea how desperate some people feel at this time of the year. But at the same time most of us do know how valuable a well timed embrace can be. There are times in our lives when all of us could use a hug. People who struggle at Christmas are facing one of those times. Someone has suggested that a hug is a good gift to give.

Hugging is Healthy: It helps the body's immune system. It helps cure depression, it helps reduces stress, it aids sound sleep, it's invigorating, it's rejunenating, and it has no unpleasant side effects.
Hugging is all natural: It is organic, naturally sweet, has no pesticides, no preservative, no ariticial ingredients, and is 100 percent wholesome.
Hugging is practically perfect: There are no movable parts, no batteries to wear out, no periodic checkups, no monthly payments, no insurance requirements. The low energy consumption of a hug results in a high energy yield. Finally, hugs are inflation proof, non-fattering, theft-proof, nontaxable, non-polluting, and, of course, fully returnable.
Now, I know some of you are ready to get up and start hugging everybody . . . others of you are horrified at the thought people are going to come up and "invading your space". Relax . . . . I'm not going to turn this into a hug-fest. You do need to be alert to those who might benefit from a sincere expression of love. But that's really not what I'm driving at. I want to introduce you to two older people who embraced a baby. And in embracing this baby they received an embrace from God.

These two people, Simeon and Anna, made some important discoveries.

They Discovered Evidence of God's Faithfulness

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 upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. 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, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." (Luke 2:25-32)
Simeon was a godly man. He loved the Lord and He longed for the promised Messiah. Somehow, in some way, God told him that he would see that Messiah. And one day he was prompted by God's Spirit to go to the temple. I'm not sure how he knew what he knew but when he saw Jesus, he knew that this was the one God had promised. For years Simeon had believed the promise even though He saw nothing. Now, Simeon saw with his own eyes God's faithfulness.

The story is a little different but there are similarities with Anna.

She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:37,38)
We read nothing about Anna having advance warning. She had no special message to go to the temple. But when she saw Jesus, she knew He was the one she had been waiting and praying for.

What these two people had in common was their confidence in God's promise. They knew the Scriptures. They knew what God had said. They knew about the one who was coming to redeem Israel. Granted they also knew that the promises had been made hundreds of years before. They knew that Israel was currently under Roman domination. They knew that many felt God had abandoned them. But they remained faithful. They trusted God in spite of the appearances. In the temple that day they saw that their faith was rightly placed. God was faithful!

Is there a more important message for our day? We live in a day when people feel God is distant and detached. In that emptiness they posit all kinds of strange things. They even go so far as to suggest that WE are God. (I don't know how that gives anyone a sense of comfort.) Look at our times

God's influence is systematically being removed from the public forum
God's standards are being replaced with public opinion polls
Confidence in God has given way to confidence in man's ingenuity.
Seeking God in the Word of God has given way to self-help seminars
Prayer has given way to long-term counseling
One of the messages Christmas needs to speak to us today is this: God Keeps His Promises! We dare not trust appearances. We must not get discouraged. God is faithful!

Think of some of His great promises to You and Me

Anyone who comes to me I will not cast out (John 6:37)
I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me. (Jn. 14:6)
I am with you always . . . even to the end of the world (Matt. 28:20)
I will never leave you or forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6,8)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and He will direct your paths. (Proverbs 3:5,6)
In all things God is working for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. (Rom. 8:28)
My God will supply all your needs (Phil 4:19)
As many as receive Him . . . to them He gives the right to become children of God (Jn. 1:12)
This Christmas understand that the coming of Christ was the fulfillment of God's promise. He did not forget His promise then. He does not forget now.

You may feel alone . . . but you are not

You may feel things are hopeless . . . but God is at work

You may feel things are out of control . . . but God still reigns

Embrace the one who is true to His Word!

They Discovered the Peace They Had Been Looking For

Notice something else about this encounter. Simeon says to the Lord, "Now dismiss your servant in peace". In other words, now I am ready to die. Now I have found what I have been looking and waiting for. Simeon and Anna both knew that there was more to life than what they had seen and known. There was a part of them that yearned for the eternal. They lived their life with the sense that there was a piece missing. When they met Christ, the pieces became a whole. This is another great message for today. What the world is looking for is Jesus.

We live in a world that is certainly looking for something. Consider,

the rush to counselors
the popularity of psyhics
the lure of the occult
the rise of offshoot religions
the fascination with mind altering drugs
the skyrocketing divorce rates and rampant sexual promiscuity
People are searching. They know there is more to life than what they are experiencing.

At the risk of showing myself to be less "handy" than you already think I am, let me share a true story. When I was living in Michigan I had a car problem. So, I bought a book. Near as I could tell, I needed a new "head gasket". I went to the store and bought this thin cork gasket that goes right under the valve cover of an engine. It looked pretty easy. I took off the valve cover, removed the old gasket and replaced it with the new one. I refastened the valve cover and was prepared to be really really proud of myself.

I went to start the car and the engine "turned over" but never kept going. I stared at the engine (like I knew what I was looking for . . . but after all, I lived in an apartment building and you never know who is looking out the window!) I dabbled and muttered for a couple of hours until dark and went inside.

The next morning I got up and tried again (you never know, maybe it just needed a good night's sleep). Since I still was unsuccessful I called a guy who was a mechanic in the church. He came over and spotted the problem almost immediately. He stared at the engine and asked, "did you put all the bolts back that were holding down the valve cover? I confessed I did end up with two "extra" ones. He then explained that there was no way for the engine to get the vaccum that it needed because I left these bolts out. Naturally, he was right. As soon as we replaced the two bolts the car ran again.

Many people live their life like I fix cars. They try to put the pieces together but they don't all fit. The result is that life doesn't run correctly. Others know they need some spiritual dimension but they are using the wrong parts. The manufacturer (God) has supplied what we need (Christ) at a cost we can afford (free) but we choose to use cheap substitutes (man-made religions). When we do this we should not be surprised when things don't work the way they should and when they substitutes prove to be faulty.

Simeon and Anna found the real thing. They found the one they had been looking for all their lives. They found Jesus. And even though it has been 2000 years, He is the one you have been looking for too.

He is the one who can cleanse your guilt
He is the one who can heal a scarred past
He is the one who can soften a hardened heart
He is the one who can bring you to the Father
He is the one who gives hope in the midst of tragedy
He is the one who gives purpose for living
He is the one who sees you as you are and loves you as you are.
But you can't find Him until you embrace Him. Like Simeon and Anna, you must reach out and take Christ to yourself. You can't look at Him from a distance, you must make contact. We must open our arms and our lives and allow Christ to take center stage. It's not enough to have good feelings about Jesus. I'm sure most of you have good feelings about Jesus or you wouldn't be here reading this. What IS necessary is the risk of faith. You must dare to trust Him with your life. You must dare to to rest on what He has done for you. Only then will you know His embrace and discover the piece (peace) that has been missing in your life.

They Discovered Healing for Their Pain

Listen to Anna's story,

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.
Do you hear the pain in these words? She was a woman who had been married for seven years before her husband died. There is no mention of children. In fact, since Anna spent all her time at the temple it leads me to believe that she was childless.

In the Jewish world this was a great tragedy. A Jewish woman found her greatest worth in bringing children into the world. But Anna's husband died before they had a family. We don't know how old Anna was when her husband died (probably in her early to mid-twenties) but we do know that she was 84 now.

She had been alone for a long time. Many of us talk about how nice it would be to have some peace and quiet. But for some people the peace and quiet in their home is deafening. They long for the sounds of a spouse snoring on the chair, or children singing, or the joy of simple conversation. Loneliness can be very painful. And this is why Christmas is so hard for so many. At this time when families gather, those who have no families to gather with find the contrast more painful than normal.

Anna was a godly woman. But don't you wonder if every time she saw a young couple in the temple with their new child, there was a little pain in her soul? Not that she wanted to steal their joy . . . . but there may have been an ache that said, "Why, God? Why was I not given that joy?"

But on this day Anna does not resent the young couple. She is drawn to them. She embraces the child and in some strange way senses God's warm embrace. We are told that she gives thanks to God. Somehow Anna was able to see in this child the answer to her pain. In that one simple moment her life is changed. She no longer mourns . . . . she rejoices. She told everyone who would listen that this was the one they had been waiting for. A lonely, empty woman found healing for her pain. In the simple act of embracing that child she found the love of God.

There is no doubt that there are battered people reading this today. Some of you have endured great tragedy. Some are living life and wondering why God has deserted you. Some of you wonder if God is mad at you. To you I give simple counsel: embrace the baby who became the Savior!

As you come to Jesus you will not find the answer to all your questions. You will not even find an end to all your pain. Remember, Simeon had to tell Mary that a sword would pierce her soul (when she watched her son be crucified). What you will find is the one who loves you with an everlasting love. You will find the One who knows the end from the beginning. You will find God. In Christ you will find God's warm embrace. You will know that even though He may not explain the "why" He cares about your tears. As Steve Brown likes to say, "Christ bends low to catch your tears."

CONCLUSION

In all likelihood, some of you are here today more aware of your need to be hugged by God than you are concerned that christmas is a time to express your love for his Son. Perhaps you are really struggling. Maybe it's intense loneliness, depression, bitterness, abuse that dates way back, a recent divorce, the disclosure that your child is a practicing homosexual. Maybe it's a relapse into a self-destructive dependency from which you'd known a season of freedom. Whatever it is, all you know is that it is Christmas, and you can hardly wait for it to be over.

Why not admit what you're feeling to the Lord? He can handle it. Better yet, let him handle you. Let him embrace you. When you reach for the Christ child and hold that one-of-a-kind baby to your chest, something happens. God hugs you! He reminds you that the world is at times a swamp to live in. It's cold and hurtful, sinful and unfair. But in the same breath, he continues to say that is the very reason why he came into our world. Simeon's life wasn't easy. We know Anna's wasn't. Yours isn't. Mine isn't. But because of Christmas we don't have to splash through the swamp without help and without hope.

Do you remember what Simeon said to Mary and Joseph? God's Christmas Salvation would play to mixed reviews. Some would reach out and hold the baby. Others would push him away and go on with their lives. Some would reject God's embrace, and others would be delighted by it. After nearly two thousand years, the choice Simeon talked about is still the choice that confronts each of us.

This is the choice you have: will you embrace Him or will you walk on by? Will you rely on Him or continue to pretend you can find what you are looking for without any help? This is the essential question of Christmas: What will you do with the most significant gift you receive this Christmas? Will you leave it under the tree, unopened? Or will you open your arms and receive it with joy?

This is the main event. Now is the time to address the question. You may feel you have lots of time. But do you? And even if you do have lots of time . . . why what? What do you gain? Nothing. More time to look for answers. More time to toy with eternity. More time to push God away. More time to waste. Now is the best time to make your decision. Do it today. Make this Christmas the year you become acquainted with the guest of honor.


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