“You can’t go home again…”

The great advantage of being a political moderate is having the safe vantage point from which to lampoon the excess and foibles of either end of the spectrum. I’m able to lambast the wild-eyed right-wing kooks and fuzzy-headed left-wing flakes with impunity.

Both parties (and their earnest followers) are still only sharpening their blades for the oncoming 2012 presidential election, and no party has had such keen or constant practice as the Republican Party. Indeed, it seems, the presidential candidates for the “Grand Ol’ Party” have been running against our incumbent Commander In Chief since before Beyoncé belted out “At Last” during the inauguration.

Even so, one has to wonder just how well that’s worked out for them so far.

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On personal accountability and responsibility…

So I’m sitting back in a dentist’s chair, while a good-natured and well-meaning dental hygienist scrapes at my teeth with an assortment of sharp and pointed instruments that send brilliant explosions of painful irritation up my spine through the neural network that was created to instinctively warn me of immediate danger.

As each interminable minute passes, I begin to gradually despise the woman. Internally a great stream of cursing invective rages behind my calm facial expression. Though my mouth remains quite open throughout, I respond to her inquiries with only one-word or brief responses.

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ONE Faith

On January 24, President Obama is scheduled to give the State of the Union address.  This is an annual speech before the joint Congress in which the President outlines what happened in the previous year while expressing his desires and expectations for the New Year.  This speech is traditionally one of hope and anticipation, of announcing new policy and trying to build support for programs the president wants to start.  At my previous church our pastor would annually give a “State of the Church” address in which he essentially did the same thing, celebrating the past while looking ahead to the coming year.

Today I would like to offer a “Year in Review” of sorts.  We have completed our first calendar year as a church.  Looking back over 2011 I think we have some exciting things we can celebrate.  We had a great spring semester last year.  We started the year off well and developed some great momentum leading into the summer.  On the strength of an excellent Disciple Now weekend and our first Easter as a church we saw some amazing numbers of people in our building.  As we developed a bit of a sense of identity, I think we developed some excitement for the potential of our little church.

We joined with New Birth Fellowship on Stone Road in an event called iServe.  We’ve participated in three iServe events so far with wonderful success.  We’re starting to see other churches in the community catch the vision and want to join together in a true community effort to see the name of Jesus made great in this city.  After a somewhat sluggish summer where I believe we lost a bit of momentum, we responded this past fall with a bit of re-focusing on what it is God would have us do.

As we look forward into 2012 and beyond, I wonder who it is that God would have us become.  In the past months we’ve looked at what a church is and who it represents, trying to become more focused in our efforts to expand the Kingdom.  We are messengers of God’s love.  We are the light that shines into the darkness.  We are the holy nation and royal priesthood that Peter talks about, destined to show the world who God is.  God’s desire for his people has always been the same.  He is looking for a people who will announce his Kingdom and his presence to a world in need of a Savior.

If we want the message of Christ to get to the people of this community through iServe and other events, we must first take a step of faith and be willing to be Jesus followers.  We must be willing to live like we say we believe.  I’ve mentioned this before:  if we say we believe the Bible, then it ought to change how we live.  The problem is that we either don’t know what the Bible says or we can’t agree about what it says, which brings me to my first point today.

Ephesians 4:1-6

Paul makes a bold statement at the beginning of this chapter.  He urges the Ephesians to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…”  We have been set apart to live out the grace of God.  We have been chosen to be a light in the darkness.  Now we have to live like it.  I think in our society we have a problem with this whole “chosen” thing.  I think we have a problem with being called to do anything.  After all, I’m the one who prayed to receive Christ.  I’m the one who walked down an aisle.  I chose God.  Without getting into an argument about predestination or free will let me just say this:  whether we were chosen or we chose or both happened in a mystical, supernatural salvation experience, there was a decision made and life is supposed to be different.  To me it is more like a marriage anyway.  I didn’t just choose Amanda and she didn’t just choose me.  We chose one another.  Because of this, our lives are different.  Neither one of us is out still trying to find someone to choose us.  We are “us” now.

In the same way, with God I am no longer “me” instead we are “us.”

Now, back to the calling.  We are exhorted by Paul to live in a manner that is worthy of our relationship with Christ.  Because of this relationship, there is a way we are supposed to live.  We’ll define that a little more specifically in a moment, but Paul starts by saying this:  “…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

You see, there is one faith.  There aren’t multiple faiths.  There isn’t your faith and her faith and that guy’s faith over there.  There is one faith.  There is faith in Jesus.  Beyond that, it’s all superfluous.  If that is the case, then, shouldn’t we be unified?  Aren’t there too many petty disagreements in the world anyway?  Don’t we spend too much time disagreeing?  There is one faith.

Paul says in verses 4-6:  “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  We serve one God.  We are a body with many parts but we serve one God.  There is one reason that we are gathered here this morning and it’s because we serve one God.  We all go different ways after this service, to different homes and different jobs, but we serve one God.


I’ve got your back and you’ve got mine.  We might differ in opinion sometimes, but we serve one God, so we should be unified.  There is more that unites us than divides us.  These words have been spoken many times in political speeches and will likely be spoken again.  If politicians can say these words about the United States even with all the division that exists in our country, surely we can say the same thing about the church.  As we strive for more and more partnerships with churches in the community let this be our mantra.  There is more that unites us than divides us.  We represent the God of the Universe to those around us.  Let us do it in a unified manner.

So many people would say “I don’t want to go to that church because ____________ is there and I don’t like them.”  What a foolish thing to say.  Perhaps _____________ really isn’t a bad person but because they once did or said something stupid you don’t like them anymore.  What a foolish thing for us to not love a brother or sister in Christ.  There is only one God.  There is only one faith.

This begs the question then, if we are unified in one faith to one God, how do we define that faith?  What god are we serving?

We’ve just finished the Christmas season.  We spent 5 weeks talking about and celebrating the birth of Jesus, who we believe is the only Son of God, YHWH, the I AM, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the Bible.  We believe in this God.

John 14:6

We live in an age where it seems like either people believe that everyone will go to Heaven anyway, or that one must earn his or her way into Heaven, doing enough good things to make it.  In the church it becomes even more muddled.  It seems that often people who aren’t living godly lives at all claim to know Christ because of a moment long ago when they were baptized.  There are men and women who assert their Christianity but don’t seem to be living in such a way as to back their claim.

Jesus says that he is the only way.  If we believe this, it ought to change not only how we live our lives, but how we engage other people.  Perhaps there ought to be an urgency in how we live.  Perhaps we ought to seek out opportunities to share our faith with others.  Perhaps we ought to be a little more devoted to the cause of the Kingdom of God.  If there is only one way, perhaps we should lead people to the way.

This year we can plan all sorts of events.  There will be four iServe events scheduled on our calendar, one happening at the end of this month.  There is Disciple Now happening at the end of January.  Our students will go to camp this summer and there will be missions opportunities for our students and probably for our adults as well.  We’re looking at going back to Peru sometime in the summer.  Perhaps you are drawn to another part of the world or to another cause.

We must always be mindful that we represent one God.  We are citizens of one Kingdom.  We have one faith.

I could stand up here all morning and give you plans and lofty goals for what I want us to become as a church.  We typically run between 60 and 70 people on a Sunday morning and that’s good.  That’s better than a lot of churches in a lot of towns, but we’re not competing.  I could announce that I would like to fill this room up on such a consistent basis that we have to add services, and I do.  I could set a goal of having to move to a larger building by the end of the year and that would be wonderful, but that’s all beside the point.

Who are you going to be in 2012?

It’s easy to bemoan the condition of our society.  It’s a simple thing to announce our plans and to set goals and try to reach them.  All it takes is a little discipline and hard work.  But what does it mean for us that Jesus is the only way?  What does it mean for us to live in unity?  Let me say it this way and then try to unpack what I mean.  What if we lived in a life-giving sort of way?

I think that most of us are in a life-taking mode.  What I mean by that is we want as much life as we can possibly muster.  We upgrade and super-size our ways to a “better life” trying to either out-do our neighbors or ourselves.  We believe in Jesus’ claim to bring us “abundant life” but we think that means making life as big and as fun as we possibly can.  Our plans, our goals, our successes are all for us.  In this, we take as much life for ourselves while leaving very little for anyone else.

What if our default was to give life?  What if in every situation we thought of others first?  What if we lived in such a way that other people were edified and we gave more than we took?  Jesus came so that we might have life.  He came to give life away.  If we are to follow him, perhaps that should be how we live as well.  We talked about Advent Conspiracy some this Christmas.  What if that was our default, not only for Christmas, but for life?

If this was the way we approached every relationship, every situation, then it redefines everything.  If this is the way we approached life, then even times of solitude and vacation are for the benefit of others.  If I am concerned for your welfare and how I treat you, then I must seek down times and times to recharge.  I used to lead a disciple now group every year for my friend Paul Mints.  One thing he did that was differently than a lot of other ministers was send the students home on Saturday night.  They would only spend Friday night at their host home.  His reason has stuck with me for all these years.  He said that sometimes the most holy thing one can do is to go to sleep.  We all need times to recharge and refresh.  Jesus himself would do that.

What if we lived in such a way as to give life to others?  Would that change the way you talked to people?  Would that change the way you thought about people?  Think about the person in the world you like the least.  What if you treated them differently?  What if you tried to be a life-bringer to them?  Would this attitude change how you interacted with the world?  If we are going to live in the Kingdom, we must be life-bringers.  If we are going to be disciples of Jesus, we must live the way he showed us to live, meeting people’s needs, befriending the friendless, touching the untouchable, eating with sinners.

James tells us that true religion is taking care of widows and orphans.  How are we at that?  One thing I want to start this coming year is an orphan care ministry.  Last January we heard Chase Bowers deliver a message about caring for orphans.  God has a heart for orphans.  He had compassion on us when we had no heavenly father and he wants us to have compassion on those with no earthly father.  Kay Warren once said that God didn’t adopt us because he needed children, but because we needed a Father.  We have a missions table available at the back of the room.  There are ways you can interact with the whole world.  You can go to Peru.  You can go to Brazil.  You can go wherever you want.  But in whatever you do, seek to be a life-bringer.

As we come to the end of the beginning, I want us all to think about what God would have us do.  What stirs your affection for Jesus?  In what ways can you be involved in reaching other people with the love of God?  Maybe you are supposed to take on responsibility at Cornerstone.  Maybe you are supposed to join us here, working with us to reach the community around us.  Maybe you need to be working with one of our age-based ministries like our student ministry or our children.  Luke needs help right now getting host homes for Disciple Now.  Maybe you can do that.  Cassie and April need help organizing our children’s ministry.  We must do a good job with that.  We need small group facilitators and hosts.  Maybe you can do that.  Remember, we are unified in our love for Jesus.  There is nothing else.

We’re going to be handing out sheets that have a place for you to make a commitment for what you are going to do this year.  I find that when I write down my goals, I tend to remember them better.  There is a place for you to write down your 2012 goals for yourself and tear it off to put on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror or wherever.  There is also a section above that where you can write your goals and give them to us.  Put them in the offering basket as it comes by if you wish.  This is not required nor is it something we are going to hound you about, but I’ve also discovered that when someone else knows my goals, I am more likely to remember them and work toward them.  If you would like to make that commitment known to us so we can pray with you through it, please drop it in the offering basket.

I want your life to be transformed by Jesus.  Maybe you’ve not taken even the first step in that journey.  I wish you would.  Beyond giving me eternal salvation, knowing Jesus has changed the way I view life.  It’s not about me.  I hope it never becomes about me.  In fact, when it begins to become about me I tend to get depressed because a life about me isn’t a life worth living.  There are people here who can help you take the first steps into a new life.  Tim and I are available during the second set of worship.  Use this time to spend a moment with the Spirit, asking what he would have you do.

We’re going to close with one last passage of scripture.

Exodus 2:23-25

The second half of the book of Genesis is the story of Joseph and how he came to power in Egypt and saved the Hebrew people from death because of famine.  At the end of Genesis Joseph dies.  A new Pharaoh comes into the picture not long after and begins to oppress the Hebrew people.  Verses 23-25 of chapter 2 tell us what happened then.  “Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.”

God always hears the cry of the oppressed.  God is a merciful and generous God who is in the business of rescue.  He can rescue you.  Whether you are completely lost and in need of a Savior or simply struggling to find your way through a difficult time, God hears the cry of the oppressed.  As we start a new year, I wonder if we will give God the opportunity to impress us.  Will we give him the chance to show us what he can do?  So often we try so hard to build castles for ourselves when God wants us to build his Kingdom.  I wonder if we would let him do that.  “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”  If this church is going to truly be a light in a darkened world, God must be the one who builds it.  We are just laborers who work under the instruction and authority of the Master Builder.

May we long for God.  May we cry out to him.  May we be life-bringers.

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Advent 2.4

Surprisingly, this was one of the harder messages I’ve ever written.  After all, this is the message about Jesus’ birth.  We all know the story; it should be an easy sell.  I should be able to write this message in my sleep.  It was a shockingly hard thing to do, though.

Perhaps when I explain, however, it will be clearer.  What I tried to accomplish in the previous three weeks was to make the characters a bit more human.  We read about people in the Bible and think all kinds of things.  We think they were somehow better than we are that perhaps they really did have a glowing halo around their heads and they were magically filled with thoughts of God all the time.  What I really wanted to do was show them for who they were, people who were commissioned by God to complete a job and who responded faithfully and obediently.

With Jesus, though, the story is different.  After all, he was simply born.  The story of Jesus actually takes place before and after his birth, the birth simply being the conduit through which Jesus came to earth as a man.  In fact, much of his story of his birth is seen in the Old Testament prophecies and in speculation about what might have taken place in Heaven for Jesus to humbly put aside his glory in order to come to earth.

I want to open today with a passage of scripture in Luke 2.  We’ve talked over the last few weeks about several characters involved in the story of the first Christmas.  Today I want us to look at the reason for the story at all.  His name is Jesus.

Luke 2:1-7

Jesus was born in humble circumstances, to humble parents, and was first celebrated by humble people.  The circumstances of his birth could not have been more other than his position of glory that he left.  Paul tells us in Philippians 2 that the humility of Jesus was such that even though he was God, and didn’t need to prove anything, he condescended to come to earth.

I was reading Donald Miller’s Searching For God Knows What earlier this week and in a stroke of serendipity came across a brief discussion about this very thing.  Miller remarked how amazing it was that Jesus in his infinite glory decided to forgo that glory for a time in order that we might be saved.

You see, it’s impossible to talk about the birth of Jesus without speaking to why he came in the first place.  Jesus came so that we might have life.  He says it in so many words in John 10.  He came that we might have abundant life.  But even in his birth he set an example of humility for us to follow.

Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem from Nazareth, because they were called there to a census.  Caesar wanted a count of “all the world.”  Joseph was of the lineage of David, who came from Bethlehem, so that is where he had to go to be registered.  If you thought filling out census forms last year was tedious, imagine what it was like having to travel to another city and stand in line just so you could be counted so you would have to pay more in taxes.  To top it off your fiancée is very pregnant; so pregnant in fact that she goes into labor because of the trip.

It’s interesting at this point because we like to make up drama and tension to help us tell stories.  Verse 7 says that Mary “laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”  I think we like to paint a picture of Joseph and Mary wearily going from inn to inn, house to house, trying to find lodging, only to be turned away.  Luke says “there was no place for them in the inn.”  (emphasis mine)  Perhaps this was the only inn in Bethlehem.  At any rate, Joseph and Mary found what they could in which to lay newborn Jesus.

We spoke last week for just a moment about what was going on behind the scenes during Jesus’ birth.  If we could peel back the veil of time and space, if we could glimpse the throne of God and see what was taking place, I wonder what we would encounter.  The Father, Son, and Spirit pre-existed everything else.  They existed in perfect, loving relationship with one another, truly three persons in one being.  The doctrine of the Trinity is so foreign to us there are no words or metaphors that could possibly describe it.

Imagine, though, that in this perfect relationship there is realized a necessity for one of the persons to actually separate for a time from the other two.  The bond of the Spirit is the connection that keeps the three in communion with each other, but somehow the Son is required to leave the glory of Heaven and be born as a human.  We believe that life begins at conception, so that would mean that Jesus would have had to go through the whole gestation process.  He would have been helpless.  What’s more, if anything had happened to Mary, there was no other Son that the Father could have sent.  Even in John 3:16 we see the truth of this.  John says that because God loved the world so much he sent his “only begotten” Son.  There was no other Son because Jesus was the “only.”

The enemy is a crafty one.  While he is not privy to God’s plans, he knows that God is trying to save all of humanity.  He knows that God’s desire is that everyone would be saved.  Perhaps he didn’t know the details of the birth of Jesus, but he knew something was going to happen.  We have seven verses that tell us Jesus was born.  But then the angels couldn’t contain themselves and began to sing about Jesus to shepherds out in a field.  The simple fact that Jesus was born defeated the odds.  But Jesus was born.  The Son condescended to earth that he might save people from their sins.

John 1:9-14

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”  This is probably my favorite description about the birth of Jesus.  The Word became flesh.  That which spoke the world into being, the very word that created, became a part of that creation, became flesh.  God put on skin in the form of a baby.  The Son grew up like any other person grows up.  The Word became flesh and lived among his people.

How can you not love a God who would do something as radical as become a man?

John talks about Jesus as the Word and the true light.  He says that Jesus came to the world to enlighten everyone.  He came to save.  But the world would not see him for what he was.  John says that “he came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”  There are all kinds of theories as to why they didn’t accept him, but they simply didn’t.

I’m supposed to be using my time today to talk about Jesus.  He is, after all, the reason there is a story at all.  Without Jesus, the rest of the characters in the story would have been living their lives much differently.  Joseph and Mary would have had a normal married life, would have had a family, and would have been saved the 2000 years of scrutiny they have faced.  But it’s hard to talk about Jesus in newborn form because he was simply born.  The miraculous thing he did was love enough to be born.  The song Levi and Jordan sang last week “Mary, Did You Know?” has a line in it that asks:  Did you know that the child you just delivered would soon deliver you?

The God of the universe, who created Joseph and Mary and knew them before they were born, would allow himself to be raised by this couple as their child.  This child would grow to be a man, perhaps with his parents never really understanding what it was he came to do.  “Save people from their sins” is a rather vague idea, after all.  The word “save” could mean so many things.

The fact was that Jesus came to die.  He came to be the sacrifice.  It’s impossible to remove Jesus’ death from his life because they are so intertwined.

Isaiah 28:16, 59:20

There is a wonderful book written by a man named T. H. White called The Once and Future King.  This is a tale about King Arthur, the fabled King of England who, it is told, will one day rule again as her king.  This book was basically a re-telling of much older British mythology.  In the title of the book and indeed in the telling of the story itself White alludes to, perhaps inadvertently, the impending return of a messianic figure, one who would restore England to her former glory.

Interestingly, when I read this book for the first time in high school, I was intrigued by the messianic metaphor seen in Arthur.  While this book is no allegory to the life of Jesus, it does raise some interesting similarities.

You see, there once was a king born in a town called Bethlehem.  His was named Jesus because he would rescue his people from their sins.  He was also called Immanuel because he was truly “God with us.”  Though he did not look like he was expected to look, make no mistake, he was The King.  And make no mistake, The King will return.

Isaiah prophesied that God would lay a stone in Zion, that it would be the Cornerstone.  It would be the foundation upon which everything else in his Kingdom would be built.  This would also be the Redeemer in chapter 59:20, the Redeemer who would save all those who turn from transgression.

As we close our series on Advent today I want us to be mindful of the King who was and will be again.  When Jesus came to earth he came as no one expected, even though there was prophecy that dealt specifically with his birth, life, and death.  He will come again someday and I would venture to guess that it will be as unexpected as his first coming.  Even though we have prophecy about what that will look like, there is no reason to believe we will get it right.  Most people missed him the first time around.

So there was a King and he will one day return.  We live in the in-between.  We live in the time period between times, the era in the middle.  What does this mean for us?  I read a quote several years ago and it struck me so much that I had to type it and print it out.  I hung it on the wall of my office while I was at Highland Park because I wanted to be reminded of its implications.  I don’t remember it completely, but I want to share the sentiment of it with you as we close today.

It was said:  We often speak of the second coming of Christ.  Most people have never heard about his first.

There is one week until Christmas day.  This is perhaps the most natural evangelistic season of the year.  What better time is there to tell people about King Jesus?  Why do we use it to perpetuate the capitalist system that tears us from our souls?  Why do we use it to cause more division among people?  Most people in the world don’t know Jesus.  Is this not the time to tell them?

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Advent 2.3

Isaiah 7:14

The Lord himself will give you a sign.  The virgin will conceive and bear a son.  His name will be Immanuel.

I would love to spend time unpacking the implications of this prophecy for the original hearers, but that would take us from our goal this morning, which is to talk about the person of Mary, which is who this Messianic prophecy is about.  Isaiah, 700 years before Jesus would be born, predicted his birth.  Not only that, but he told us his name, “God with us.”

There are all kinds of thoughts a feelings about Mary as a person, which we will get into, but I want to think for a moment about the name we have, “God with us.”  Names used to mean something.  In Biblical times people chose names carefully, not because they were trendy or sounded cool, but because of what they meant.  The child’s name would be Immanuel.  The child’s name would not only be his name, but a representation of God’s physical return to earth.  Since the days of Adam and Eve God had not walked the earth.  He would appear in visions and dreams.  Certainly Moses saw something as God moved passed him, but in a literal sense, God had not walked the earth.  That would change.

God was coming here.  God was coming to earth.  God would be with us.

The virgin will conceive and bear a son.

Luke 1:26-38

There’s a wonderful discussion about the birth of John the Baptist in this chapter that we simply don’t have time to cover today, but I encourage you to read it.  There are so many miraculous things that happen in the pages of scripture that sometimes we overlook some of them.  Because the first chapter of Luke also deals with the birth of Jesus, I think we sometimes jump right over John, which is a mistake because the story of his birth is wonderful.

I was reading in a commentary while studying for this message and I was reminded that the Bible is always the story of God.  Whether we’re in the Old Testament talking about the nation of Israel, or in the New Testament talking about the church, the story is always about God.  We’ve been talking about the characters in the Christmas story.  Whether it’s the shepherds in the fields, Joseph, or Mary, however, the story is still about God.  With the shepherds it was how God announced the birth of his Son to regular people, foreshadowing the people with whom Jesus would spend most of his time.  Last week with Joseph we mentioned how God’s timing is impeccable.  He did things at exactly the right time in order to protect the infant Jesus and his family.

With Mary it’s similar.  The story is about Jesus.  The song says, “God sent his Son, they called him Jesus.  He came to love, heal, and forgive.”  God sent his Son.  Mary was the vessel chosen by God to bring Immanuel into the world.

Luke says that the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth.  Wouldn’t that have been a cool job?  In the previous two stories, we were simply told that an angel came.  Here we have the angel’s name.  I can’t possibly understand heavenly things and thinking about angels makes my head hurt because they are so other-worldly, but wouldn’t it have been cool to get that job?


“Yes, Lord.”

“I want you to go to Nazareth in Galilee.  Find a young girl named Mary.  She’s betrothed to a man named Joseph.  She’s a virgin.  Tell her that she’s going to give birth to my Son, Jesus.”

When Gabriel reached Mary, I imagine he could barely contain himself.  We’ve already seen the kind of fear angels inspire, think about an excited angel.  If you notice in scripture, he didn’t start with the words “Fear not.”  I wonder if he was too excited and forgot.  Instead he just shows up and begins with “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”

Max Lucado wrote a fictional account of Christmas called “Cosmic Christmas.”  In this short book he attempts to capture the atmosphere that must have been felt in Heaven and behind the scenes in the spiritual realm while the birth of Jesus took place.  We’re going to deal with some of this next week, so I don’t want to get too deep, but concerning Mary, can you imagine the esteem in which Gabriel held her?  She was going to give birth to the Savior of the world!  “Greetings, O favored one!”  She was the one.

It was at this point that Gabriel noticed she was a bit troubled.  Either she looked confused or she was cowering in a corner.  Whatever the situation, though, Gabriel noticed and then said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.”

Then she spoke up and said, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

Last week when talking about Joseph, we mentioned how scripture stated that he was an honorable man.  It seems that when God chooses to use a person, he judges their character.  Were they perfect people?  By no means.  Were they sinful?  Of course.  But God used them because of their character.  Joseph was an honorable, faithful man.  Mary was innocent and pure.  Beyond that, though, she was humble.  In verse 35 we hear the angel tell her how this miraculous conception would take place.  God would make it happen.

There is a beautiful juxtaposition of the births of John the Baptist and Jesus.  They were both miraculous.  I think that’s why Luke chose to write about both in this one chapter.  John’s mother and father were old.  They had given up on the opportunity to have children.  Elizabeth was considered barren.  But God intervened.  It was so shocking that Zechariah, her husband, questioned the angel who told him.  Because of his lack of faith, he was unable to speak until the child was born.

It seems that the Bible is about God and his work among us.  God intervened and a child was born to Elizabeth.  His name was John.  He came to prepare the way for Jesus.  He came to call the nation of Israel to repentance so they might be able to accept their Savior for who he was.  God intervened.

Isn’t that the way he always does things?  God intervenes.  Perhaps things aren’t going well and then something miraculous happens that makes things better.  Perhaps someone is living life within their own power and something tragic happens to draw them back to God.  God intervenes.

An old woman became pregnant, but as shocking and unexpected as that was, it was at least plausible.  She had a husband.  It was unexpected and shocking, but sometimes strange things like that happen.  What was less likely, however, was that a virgin would become pregnant.  In fact, it couldn’t happen.  There was no way.  There are some natural laws that always work, after all.  A virgin can’t become pregnant.  It’s not possible.  Unless God intervenes.

A virgin was going to become pregnant.  What was unthinkable would happen, but no one was going to believe it.  It wasn’t going to be understood and like so many things that people can’t understand, it was going to be explained away.  Firstly it was going to be explained away by Joseph.  He was going to make the assumption that everyone else would and, because he was honorable, was simply going to not marry her.  He was going to put her away quietly, but not draw any undue attention to her.

It was going to be misunderstood by her parents, who would be ashamed because their daughter was going to be caught pregnant out of wedlock.  I’m not a parent, but I’ve worked with enough parents to know that you never think it’s going to be your child.  It’s not going to be your child that gets caught with drugs.  It’s not going to be your child that’s pregnant or the father of some girl’s child.  It’s not going to be your child.  For Mary’s parents, it was their child.  They didn’t understand.

It was going to be explained away by neighbors and friends.  Of course they knew what happened.  Maybe they thought Mary wouldn’t want to marry Joseph so she rebelled.  She got back at him and her parents before they were married so she wouldn’t have to marry him.  She refused to accept societal norms and just had to be her own person.  Teenagers always think they know best, after all.  Society wasn’t going to understand.  Then, when Mary ran off to her relative, Elizabeth, they all knew why.

Do you ever wonder what went through Mary’s mind at this point?  She was young, don’t forget.  It was like it had just been yesterday that she had been playing with her friends.  She probably didn’t plan her life this way.  Like most little girls, perhaps she imagined the man she would marry.  Maybe she thought about who he would be, what kind of life they would have together.  It’s safe to assume she never imagined this.

I wonder what went through Mary’s mind.  This was a lot to take in.  It’s sometimes hard to grasp context and length of conversations in scripture sometimes.  This is 13 verses.  It doesn’t really take us that long to read it.  I wonder if the conversation was just a couple of minutes long or if it took a while.  Just thinking about the amount of information Mary had to process is staggering.  I wonder what she thought about.  Her response in verse 38, though, is what is amazing.

“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

This past Tuesday night, after our small group, it was discovered that we have a Kinect for the Xbox.  This is an attachment that uses infrared and photographic technology to allow you to use your body as a controller.  You don’t have to hold anything, you simply move and the sensors pick up your movement and translate that onto the screen.  It’s really quite amazing.

Anyway, this was discovered and it was suggested that it might be fun to play.  One of the games we bought to play was a dancing game.  I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking, “of course you bought a dance game.”  When you think about me, I know you think, “He’s got moves.”  Well I don’t.  I know that’s shocking to you, but I am not a dancer.  No, the dancer in the family is Amanda.  She’s always loved to dance and tries hard to make me a dancer, so we bought this game.  I like competition, so she thinks that if she can get me to compete with her, maybe I’ll like to dance.  Maybe so.

So we put in the game.  It turns out that there’s a song that Trent Cayce knew quite well.  He challenged Luke to a dance battle, but Luke didn’t know that Trent knew the dance.  I promise there’s a point to this story.  Unbeknown to Luke, Trent is prepared for the dance battle.  He went first.  We all watched mesmerized at Trent’s graceful moves.  He nailed the dance.  It was a sight to behold.  Then Luke’s turn came up.  In light of the knowledge he now had, he didn’t want to compete anymore.  Why?  He didn’t want to be embarrassed by not being able to do the dance like Trent.

Now this is a funny story with little meaning in the scope of human life, but I think it illustrates a universal truth about us as people.  We don’t like to be embarrassed.  We don’t like to be thought less of.  We don’t like to be made fun of.  If a dance battle was enough for Luke to back down, what does that say about Mary?  I’m not bringing this up at all to make fun of Luke.  I certainly would not have wanted to compete against Trent in a dance battle, maybe pick-up sticks or something, but definitely not a dance battle.

When I think about Mary, though, I marvel at her humble acceptance of what God was doing in her.  Perhaps we can imagine the scorn she faced.  Perhaps we can imagine the scandal.  But unlike situations we can imagine, none of this was her fault.  None of it was even true.  Beyond thinking of herself as a victim, however, she told Gabriel, “let it be as you say.”  She accepted the scorn.  She accepted the scandal.

How often do we simply accept life?  Last week we mentioned how life doesn’t always look the way we expect it to.  Things do always work out like we think they will.  We can either bemoan the fact the life is hard or we can embrace life for what it is and strive to be faithful with whatever we’re given.  Is life fair?  Of course not.  Life isn’t remotely fair.  One of my dad’s favorite things to say to us when we thought something wasn’t fair was “into every rain a little life must fall.”  My dad is clever like that.  We can sit in a corner, close our eyes, plug our ears and say “go away, world, go away, world” or we can stand up and continue to be faithful.  Mary had no reason to be pregnant.  She was a virgin.  The scorn and the scandal weren’t her fault, but she accepted them because God had a bigger plan.  She trusted that she really was favored by God, that God really would use her.  I think this is why God chose to use her in the first place, because she was humble.

Galatians 4:4-5

I want to close this morning with this passage in Galatians.  Paul, speaking of being heirs of God, uses the birth of Jesus to illustrate his point.  Again, this brings us to the timing of God.  Verse 4 says “when the fullness of time had come.”  God does things when he’s ready to do them.  As a former music minister in traditional churches, I used to direct choirs.  There was a Christmas musical we did that had a song called “At the Right Time.”  The first verse was “at the time of God’s own choosing, he came.  When we the fight were losing, he came.  Long before we knew him, when we were lost in sin; at the right time, at the best time, he came.”

“When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.”  This son was not born because of anything man did.  Instead it was born because God intervened in the life of a humble girl.

My question for you today is this:  when God intervenes in your life, what it your response?  When God shows up in unexpected ways, what do you do?  I’m afraid that sometimes we cry that life isn’t fair.  I’m afraid that sometimes we fight what God is trying to do.  I’m afraid that sometimes we run from God.  I’m afraid that sometimes we don’t respond very well.

Mary’s life didn’t go like she expected, but it was the right time.  Everything was right in that moment.  She was betrothed to an honorable man.  A tyrannical government was going to call for a census that would draw them to the right city.  A madman was going to drive them to Egypt.  As much as was wrong with that moment, everything was right.

The characters in the story sometimes get the most credit, and truly these characters were special.  The shepherds were special precisely because they were not special.  Joseph was an honorable man.  Mary was humble.  The truly remarkable one here, though, was God.  It was the right time.  He chose the right people.  Immanuel would come.  God would once again be with us.  His name would be Jesus because he would save the people from their sins.

As much as it didn’t make sense, it was the perfect time.  It is God’s story, after all.  He gets to tell it.

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Advent 2.2

Micah 5:2-4
God is faithful. One of the very best things about God is that he is faithful. Having the benefit of hindsight is wonderful because it helps us to see how faithful God has been to his people.
Have you ever prayed for something, and I mean really prayed for something to happen? This is one of those things that you were on your face all the time praying about. You prayed every day for months and months for this to happen. Have you ever prayed for something like that? Have you ever received exactly what you prayed for? Did it look exactly like you thought it would, or maybe was it a little different?
When I first felt God calling me into vocational ministry I thought I was supposed to pastor. I didn’t know why I thought that, it’s just what stuck in my mind. I went throughout the rest of high school and the first part of college thinking that. Then God started changing the circumstances around me. I started asking tough questions that I didn’t always have answers to. My faith was still there, but things didn’t look the same as they did before. I went to seminary because I thought maybe I wanted to teach at a college level. Then I left there to teach history in high school. Then I left that to do music and youth ministry. Now I’m a pastor, but it’s not the path that most “normal” pastors take. I don’t even look like a “normal” pastor. There is no part of this journey that I planned out, but I’m still where I thought I would be.
God is faithful. He always answers prayer. It doesn’t always look like we think it’s supposed to look. It doesn’t always happen the way we thought it would happen or in the timing in which we think it’s supposed to take place, but God always answers prayer. There are things you’re praying for right now that God is going to answer and they might not look the way you have planned in your head. But God answers prayer. God is faithful.
In this same way, God was faithful to the nation of Israel. He did what he told them he was going to do. God told them he was going to make everything right, to restore the Nation and place a king on David’s throne whose line would never end. The Israelites expected a conquering king who would overthrow the current government. God sent them a sacrificial lamb. The Israelites were looking for a powerful warrior. God sent a suffering servant. The Israelites were looking toward the nation’s capital, Jerusalem. God sent a baby to Bethlehem.
Things aren’t always what they seem.
Matthew 1:18-25
We don’t really know a lot about Joseph. There are very few passages that talk about Joseph at all. But it seems that when God chose a man to be the adopted father to his son, he would choose an honorable man, one who would work hard to provide for his family, even though it wasn’t his own flesh and blood. We often forget that Jesus was adopted by an earthly father, paving the way for our heavenly adoption as children of God.
But Joseph was an honorable man. He was just. I wonder if he knew his family tree. Matthew gives the genealogy of Jesus down to Joseph himself. I wonder if Joseph knew that his great ancestor was King David himself. I wonder if he knew he had kingly blood in his veins. Maybe this is why he was an honorable man.
I wonder what Joseph thought when he discovered that Mary was pregnant and he knew the baby wasn’t his. I’ve tried this week to put myself in Joseph’s place and imagine the situation around him. He was an honorable man. For all accounts he was not a wealthy man, but he worked hard to make a living for himself. Who knows how long he had waited for someone to marry. He was a simple man, probably known throughout the community. It was known that he was betrothed to Mary. I can imagine that, much like small communities everywhere, everyone knew everyone else’s business. Then he discovered that his fiancée was pregnant. And the baby wasn’t his, because they had never slept together. I wonder what the emotions were that he felt.
The laws of the land were very clear. A woman caught in adultery was to be put to death. Joseph could have had her killed. He could have seen her stoned in front of the whole community. He could have divorced her with great shame and public humiliation so that she and her illegitimate son would have to live in exile. But Joseph was an honorable man.
I bet Joseph never thought it would happen the way it happened. Maybe he had been looking forward to a family. Maybe he had been planning how he would teach his sons the trade of carpentry. Maybe he had been looking forward to the day when his daughters would marry. I know that we are mentioning ideas about which we know nothing, but so often we de-humanize people in the Bible. Joseph was a regular guy. He had regular hopes and dreams. He had plans for his life. I bet he never thought that his fiancée would get pregnant before they were married. I bet he never dreamed he would become the adopted father of the Son of God. Nobody thinks about those things.
What would you do in this situation? Joseph could have had her killed. He could have put her away publicly. He could have gone through with his plan to put her away quietly, so as to reduce her shame. But an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. The angel told him to not be afraid.
Why is it that God has to always tell us to not be afraid? When the Lord tells us something he wants us to do he always has to remind us to not be afraid. Is it possibly because what he’s asking us to do is so different from what is normal, what is accepted?
We read this passage about Joseph resolving to continue with the marriage, but we don’t see what happened after that. Joseph took Mary as his wife, but they didn’t consummate the marriage until after Jesus was born. They lived together as husband and wife and then Mary gave birth to Jesus. But that doesn’t tell us what else was going on. It was obvious that Mary had to have been pregnant before they were married. Everyone knew how to count to nine. Of course people talked. People always talk. What must Joseph have felt? What kind of scrutiny did he face in the public eye? This just wasn’t normal.
The angel told him not to be afraid, that his wife would bear the Son of God, that God had supernaturally and miraculously formed in Mary’s womb his son. The angel told him not to be afraid, that God was going to save his people from their sins. The angel told him not to be afraid, that he was living out the fulfillment of prophecy. Have you ever wanted to live out a prophecy? That must be cool. But the angel said to not be afraid.
Things aren’t always as they seem. It didn’t work out for Joseph exactly as he had planned out. It didn’t look the way he thought it would look. It wasn’t as it seemed. But what did Joseph do? In light of all the abnormality he could have just run away. He could have left his home and gone off to figure things out, to find out who he was. Verses 24-25 say that when Joseph woke up he did as the angel told him. He was obedient. He took Mary as his wife and when her son was born they named him Jesus.
Joseph was obedient. In the face of ridiculous circumstances, Joseph was obedient. When it didn’t make sense, when it didn’t look like anything he had ever encountered, Joseph was still obedient. What kind of person must it take to be obedient in light of this kind of abnormality?
You would think that this might be enough, that Joseph could now get on with his life, but not so.
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
If Joseph thought he was done with crazy dreams, he was mistaken. Imagine again that you were in Joseph’s place. Your wife has given birth to a miraculous son and you’ve accepted that. Shepherds were there to celebrate with you at his birth in a stable, but now things have calmed down. Perhaps now you’ve even seen your wife give birth to another child. Scholars say that it’s likely that Jesus was around two years old when the wise men came, so it’s plausible that Joseph and Mary had a child of their own by this time. We don’t know. But these crazy men from the east have come to see the miracle baby, the king of the Jews that was born in Bethlehem. While that was weird, you’ve dealt with weird before.
But then there comes this night when you’re asleep, and once again an angel appears in a dream. We don’t know if Joseph regularly conversed with angels in dreams, but we assume that he didn’t. So now you’re faced with another unnerving situation. It seems that Herod, the ruler over that region, is rather put-out that there is another king in the area and is seeking to have this Jesus killed.
Scripture tells us that Joseph got up and took Mary and Jesus by night and fled to Egypt.
Joseph and Mary made their home for a time in Egypt, apart from their families and friends, apart from everything they knew. We don’t know if they had ever been to Egypt, but it’s likely they had not. In the first century, one did not travel far. If they went anywhere they most likely walked. Perhaps if they had money they would ride some sort of beast of burden. So they lived in Egypt, but if Joseph thought he was through with dreams and angels, he was wrong.
After Herod died, Joseph had yet another dream. I wonder if he was getting used to them. I wonder if anyone ever gets used to something like that. In the dream the angel told him that Jesus would be safe because those who wanted to kill him were themselves dead. We don’t know how long they had been in Egypt, but it was possibly a couple of years. So Joseph again uprooted his family and went back to Israel and moved to the region of Galilee, into a city called Nazareth.
As we’re looking at the character of Joseph, I marvel at his fortitude. He was faced with the supernatural not just once, but three separate times and he was obedient in all of them. I wonder if I would have been that obedient. I wonder if I would have been that faithful. It’s easy to assume today that if an angel came to us in a dream then we would certainly obey it. If we only had some sort of sign then we could be faithful, too. The problem with that logic is that we have the gift of hindsight that Joseph never had. He didn’t know how things were going to turn out. Yes, he knew the angel told him that Jesus would save the people from their sins, but he didn’t know what that was going to look like.
We think that Joseph, being older than Mary, had probably died before Jesus was sent to the cross. We think that he never saw his adopted son crucified and raised from the dead. Joseph never saw the culmination of his faithfulness, yet he was faithful. How often are we in a hurry to see God’s promises fulfilled? How often are we determined that our plans are going to work out and we never consult God for his plans? I marvel at Joseph. He was obedient in the face of oddity. He was obedient in the face of humiliation. He was obedient.
What about you?
It’s easy to look at Joseph as a man who simply did what the angels told him in dreams. It’s easy to see Joseph as a minor character in a major story, but I think that would be to lessen his importance. Joseph went beyond what society required of him. He was legally within his rights to either have Mary killed or at least made the object of public scorn. But he listened to what the angel said. He didn’t understand it, he didn’t know the outcome, but he listened. He was obedient. And here’s the other thing. He didn’t have to be. So often we make our litmus test right from wrong and we won’t go beyond that. Joseph could have had Mary killed and he wouldn’t have sinned. He wouldn’t have been wrong. But he went beyond that. He took Mary as his wife. In the face of scorn and humiliation, he went beyond what was expected.
Because of Joseph’ obedience, we have the opportunity to become children of God. There is a wonderful parallel here that I alluded to earlier, but didn’t spend any time developing. Joseph was Jesus’ adopted father. Because he treated Jesus as his own son, we now have the opportunity to be adopted into the Family of God, with all the rights and privileges of God’s children. Joseph set an example.
I wonder at my own capacity for obedience sometimes. I wonder at my own level of faithfulness. There’s a wonderful series of books called “The Chronicles of Narnia.” If you’ve never read these I encourage you to get them and read them. Get them and read them. Read them to your children. Read them as a family. Read these stories. They are stories about the Kingdom of God wrapped up in the guise of children’s fantasy. In one of the books two children are given a list of signs for how they will know what to do, but they are cautioned that the signs will not look like what they think they will look like.
So often life doesn’t look the way we think it should. So often our prayers are answered in different ways than we think they will be. So often things are not as they seem. I wonder if we could be as obedient as Joseph.
Things aren’t always as they seem. In light of all of what God has done and is doing in our lives, I wonder if we could be more faithful. I wonder if we could be more obedient. I marvel at the faithfulness of Joseph. I want to be that obedient. Yes, Joseph had angels appear to him. We have the Bible. We know the end result. We have the message of God. Could we be faithful to what it says? Could we be radically obedient?
It’s December now. The Christmas season is in full swing. We’ve had Black Friday shopping, Mingle and Jingle, and the Christmas parade (all in November, I might add). Perhaps God is calling us to live differently this year. Maybe there’s a new way to live, a new level of obedience we could achieve. Last week we watched a brief video about Advent Conspiracy, a new way to give gifts at Christmas. What if we engaged people more relationally? What if this year we took the opportunity to start a new life? What if we started acting more like a family with our families? What if…?
I long for the faithfulness of Joseph. I long to be radically obedient, to live differently in the face of scrutiny and scorn. I wonder if we might take the example of Joseph and, even when things don’t look like what we thought, perhaps be obedient to what and who God has asked us to do and be

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Advent 2.1

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.

Today starts the season of Advent.  This is our second Advent celebration together and I have been looking forward to this season for quite some time.  Tim and his family lit our first candle this morning and they read this verse from the prophet Isaiah.  “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.”  Before we go forward in this season I want us to stop and think about this passage for a moment.

Imagine, if you would, that you were walking around in a dark room.  Imagine it was this room.  We have a stage and all kinds of sound equipment.  There are chairs everywhere, metal poles all throughout, and a big rail running right through the middle of the room.  It would be difficult trying to walk from one side of the room to the other without falling down or knocking something over.  Now imagine that there was a single light, perhaps in the corner of the room.  Would that make it easier to navigate?

Now imagine that instead of walking through a dark room, you were wandering in the darkness of life, not knowing where to go or how to get there.  This was the Nation of Israel.  They were wandering in the darkness.  They had once been a proud people, certain of their own importance, but God brought them low.  They were raided and taken captive, taken away from their home and from the Temple where God’s presence dwelt.  Then God restored their nation.  He allowed them to return back to the land from whence they came.  And there they waited.

What would it feel like to you if your entire sense of worth and being was taken away?  This was the Nation of Israel.

Isaiah said they were a people walking in the darkness.  They couldn’t see where to go.  They didn’t know how they were going to get out.  They had known at one time that God had chosen them to make his glory known.  They were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  They had heard the stories of Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness.  They were the people descended from Joshua, the one who led the armies into Canaan to take over the land.  David and Solomon had been their kings.  And now they were people in darkness.  They knew that one day rescue would come.  They knew that their oppressors would be destroyed.  But they still didn’t understand what that meant.

They were people walking in darkness.  But something would change that.  “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder…of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.”  We know from reading the New Testament that Jesus was this light.  He even called himself “the light of the world.”

When you’re walking in a dark room and the light comes on, you don’t want to walk in the dark anymore.  When Jesus, the “light of the world” comes, you don’t want to return to the way things were before.  This is the season of Advent.  The Latin word from which we get the English “advent” means “coming.”  This is the time we use to remind ourselves about the period of waiting for the Israelites before Jesus came into the world (his first Parousia).  We as Christians also use it as a reminder that Jesus will indeed come again and we should make preparation for that time (his second Parousia).  We are reminded that the darkness is still around us.  We can see it every day.  The light of the world has come and many still walk in darkness because the light hasn’t been pointed out to them.  I pray that as we go through this season together you would not only remember the light for yourselves, but that there are people who have never seen the light.

That said, I want to spend some time this morning looking at the first group of characters we encounter on our journey through the Nativity.

Luke 2:8-10

The first characters we’re going to be looking at this season are the shepherds in the fields.  I think that it’s telling that the first people that God chose to reveal the coming of his son to were shepherds.  Perhaps it’s because they were in the right place at the right time.  Luke says they were in the “same region.”  Jesus had just been born in a stable nearby.  They were already in the area.  Maybe the angel just showed up at the place where Jesus was and the first people he encountered were the shepherds.  Maybe some of the shepherds had used this particular stable before.

So the shepherds were nearby when Jesus was born.  They were watching their sheep.  They were keeping vigil.  Maybe they were taking turns sleeping so that there was always someone awake to guard the sheep.  One could imagine that late at night, the shepherd whose turn it was to stay awake was perhaps fighting sleep, having to stand up and walk around from time to time so he didn’t drift off.  I wonder what he thought when, maybe after his eyes had just closed an angel suddenly appeared in the sky.

Luke also says that the “glory of the Lord shone around them.”  At this point there is just the one angel.  The “them” Luke is referring to has to be the shepherds.  An angel appeared out of the dark of night and God’s glory shone around the shepherds.  I want you to think for just a moment about the glory of God.  Remember Moses on Mount Sinai.  When he came down from the mountain, from being in God’s presence, his face shone.  In fact, it shone so much that the Israelites were afraid of him and he had to wear a veil so he wouldn’t freak the people out.

The glory of God existed in the Holy of Holies in the temple.  This was the place where once a year the high priest went to offer sacrifice for the sins of the nation.  The glory of God was a big deal.  In fact, if you stood in the full glory of God, you didn’t live.  We’ve mentioned before that when you encounter the presence of God, you aren’t the same as you were before.  This is the glory that surrounded the shepherds.  To say they were filled with fear is an understatement.  I love how the King James translation puts it.  It says “they were sore afraid.”  I think we’ve lost a bit in the evolution of the English language.  These shepherds, these simple men who were watching their sheep, trying not to fall asleep in the middle of the night were terrified.

If you had never seen an airplane before and had no frame of reference for what one looked like and what it did and then you saw a B-52 hurtling down a huge road at you, you wouldn’t know what to do.  This was the shepherds at this point.  They saw an angel, something they had never seen before.  Perhaps they had heard stories, but had never had a personal experience with an angel and didn’t know what one looked like.  We sometimes picture angels like these sweet little Cupid cherubs who are naked with white feathery wings.  Angels were terrifying to behold, I’m sure.  I’m thinking they were probably more like the scene in Lord of the Rings when Galadriel is tempted to take the ring and she briefly turns into this terrifying Elf-queen.  That’s what I think the shepherds saw.  Couple that with the very glory of God coming down to surround them and they had no idea what was going on.

I can imagine that while the shepherds were cowering down trying to protect themselves they were completely oblivious to the sheep.  If you were a wolf, this would have been the best moment to try and get dinner, if you could do so in the presence of an angel.  I wonder if the animals were aware of the angel…hmmm.

Then the angel said “Fear not.”  I’m sure that comforted the shepherds.  Donald Miller once said that he wondered what it was like being an angel.  You would have to calm everyone down before you could deliver a message.  It was probably annoying.  But the angel had good news.  Remember that the people were walking in darkness.  They were desperate for salvation.  They were looking for the answer.  The angel said “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy…”

There is good news for people walking in darkness.  There is good news for people with no hope.  There is good news in a world filled with bad news.  There is good news!  And this good news will bring about great joy.  The people walking in darkness don’t have to stumble through the dark anymore.  The light has come into the darkness and what’s more, this good news will be “…for all people.”

You see, the Israelites thought that the Messiah was coming for them.  They thought the Savior would be born to save them from their oppressors.  They still thought they were the chosen ones who would rule the earth.  Instead, they were the chosen ones from whom the Savior of the world would come.  The good news would be for all people!

This was, I think, why the angel appeared to the shepherds.  The message was for all people.  No one gets left out of this.  Everyone can hear the truth.  The message is for all.

Luke 2:11-14

If the shepherds hadn’t yet been amazed, what was about to happen was going to absolutely shake them.  As if one angel wasn’t enough, a multitude of them appeared in the sky.  Now, I’m not sure how many a “multitude” is, but I’m confident that it was a whole bunch.  I can imagine that the sky was filled with angels from horizon to horizon, that the light they gave off made night seem like day, that their praising and singing would be so loud the shepherds had to shout at one another to make themselves heard.

Luke 2:15-20

The shepherds, having been successfully roused from their watching of sheep, went to Bethlehem to see if what the angel said was true.  It’s possible that they were still skeptical, that maybe they weren’t certain that the whole thing wasn’t a dream.  But they were sufficiently terrified that they didn’t waste any time.  Verse 16 says they went “with haste.”  They ran to Bethlehem where they found Mary, Joseph, and the baby, just like the angel said.  Then they told everyone they encountered what had happened to them that night.

As I’ve tried to put myself into the sandals of the shepherds I find that I think I would be completely bewildered.  Why did the angel appear to the shepherds?  Why were they the first to find out about the Savior?  Did this change them in any way?

What we know is that the shepherds were simply doing their job when the angel appeared.  They were minding their own business.  They didn’t ask to be informed of the Savior, but they were all the same.  Running to discover the truth, they proceeded to tell everyone what had happened.  They were the first messengers of God’s truth.  They were the first evangelists, the bringers of good news, the good news that was for all people.

God, in his wisdom, chose these shepherds to be the first to hear of his Son’s birth.  They were nearby, true, but since the news was for “all people” I think that God chose them because they were ordinary.  There wasn’t anything spectacular about them.  They weren’t of noble birth.  They spent their time with sheep.  Verse 18 says that “all who heart (them) wondered at what the shepherds told them.”  The news spread quickly.  So quickly, in fact, that Herod heard about it and felt threatened.

There is good news for all people.  There is light that those in the darkness need.  But there is still one who would see this light quenched, who would have people continue to walk in darkness.  The Enemy would steal the joy of this season and replace it with other things.  He tried in the beginning to keep anyone from hearing of the good news.  A man named Herod would not share any glory with another “king” so he tried to hunt Jesus down and kill him.  The Enemy would attempt the same thing even today.

For many, Christmas isn’t a time of joy, it’s a time of sadness.  For others it’s not a time of peace, but of stress.  Instead of hope, some find despair.  Instead of love, some feel anger.  For whatever reason, this season causes many people angst.  Christmas becomes a competition to see who gets the best stuff, who gives the best stuff, and if we can beat what we got last year.  The Christmas season is a race to see if we can get from one family to the next in time to eat yet another meal, consuming our allotted caloric intake until Martin Luther King Day.

Let me caution you against the Enemy.  He would steal your peace, hope, love, and joy.  The Enemy would silence this good news so that others wouldn’t hear.  He would snuff out the light so that others may not see.  Let this be a season where our hearts are stirred with affection for Jesus.  I pray that would be how you encounter Christmas this year.

In the New Catholic Encyclopedia, believers, during Advent, are asked:

  • To prepare themselves worthily to celebrate the anniversary of the Lord’s coming into the world as the incarnate God of love
  • Thus to make their souls fitting abodes for the Redeemer coming in Holy Communion and through grace
  • Thereby to make themselves ready for his final coming as judge, at death and at the end of the world

So during this season I ask that you would prepare yourself to celebrate the anniversary of God’s coming into the world in incarnate form.  As we celebrate communion, let us be mindful of what we are doing.  We are feasting on the flesh and blood of Jesus.  We are becoming one with him, that he might use us to be light-bearers in a darkened world.

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