Category Archives: Christmas

What Happens In December Stays In December

chrsitmas boxesI asked in my last post why our culture celebrates the birth of Jesus when the rest of the year it is so threatened by His existence?

I believe the answer is simple.  We do this because we live compartmentalized lives.  We have separate boxes for all the areas of our lives.  “This is my box for work, my box for home, friends, hobbies, church, etc.  We can move in and out of our boxes without any thought as to whether they are congruent.  There doesn’t need to be consistency from one sphere of life to another.  In fact, one box doesn’t even have to effect another.  We keep our lives divided up, nice and neat.  Much like the apps on a smart phone.  We’ll just open one when we need it and close it when we don’t.  To go one step further, we’ll take what we like of one compartment, and leave what we don’t like.  

We do that with Jesus.  We take Him out of the box for December, but as soon as January comes around – back in the box He goes.  What happens in December stays in December.

Reminds me of NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby when he says, Dear baby Jesus“I like the baby Jesus.  You can pray to the bearded Jesus or the teenage Jesus if you want.  But I prefer the baby Jesus.”  Our culture prefers the baby Jesus.  We bring Him out once a year and place Him in the manger.  The baby Jesus is a good reminder that we need peace on earth and good will toward men.  We light a few candles, sing some familiar hymns, and then we put Jesus back in the box so we can get on with our lives.  We’ve visited our Jesus compartment for the year, now we can put Him away.  Yep, Away In A Manager: the little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.  And we like it that way.

The culture likes Jesus that way because the baby Jesus does not require anything from us except a few oohs and awhhs and perhaps 60 minutes in a crowded church service on Christmas Eve.

The prophet Isaiah is one of the first to see who the Messiah is and he doesn’t compartmentalize Him.    In 9:6-7 he writes, For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulders.  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.  The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

We like to hear that a child is born and a son is given.  And we love the names that He will be called.  They have a nice ring to them.  Especially when Handel sets them to music.  This is the Jesus we celebrate. 

But what’s this stuff about the government being on His shoulders?  Isn’t mentioning Jesus and government in the same sentence a violation of the constitution?  What’s the deal about His government increasing without end?  He is going to rule and establish justice and righteousness forever.  That sounds oppressive.  

Isaiah is letting us know there is no compartment box that is left untouched by Jesus.  No part of your life, my life, all of life that Jesus will not order and establish.  His rule and reign will continue to increase and spread.  He is King over the whole world.  Everything will be under His government and peace.  Jesus will order and establish judgment and justice in this world forever, without end.  God is zealous to make it so.

But the world and individuals in it are not so zealous.  We want His peace to increase without end, but not His government.  The problem with that is it’s a CH100000package deal.  The peace is a result of His government.  But the world does not want Jesus in charge.  A baby Jesus, no problem.  It’s very Hallmark. Wrap it up, put a bow on it, we’ll take it.  But a King increasing his reign without end, I’m sorry but that’s not going to work for us.  We like being in charge.

Have you ever had this thought: “I don’t want Jesus to be in charge of all my compartments.  He can have a few, but not all.  This is my kingdom, not His.  If I take Jesus out of the box and allow His government to increase with no end in my life, I will have to live differently.  I will have to surrender control.  He wants to be King over all of me without end?  That’s asking too much.”  And so, back in the box Jesus goes.

However, there are big problems with putting Jesus away with the Christmas decorations.  What do you think some might be?

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Beliefs, Christmas, Discipleship, Government, Holiness, Life

Christmas: Why the Big Deal?

christmas_christ_mangerAs a pastor, I have a confession.  I’ve been a bit confused about Christmas.  Why is this event such a big deal in our culture?  Why have stores been ready for this since mid-October?  Why are streets decorated with lights, houses have live trees inside, people are wearing tacky sweaters?  Why do kids get out of school for 2 weeks?  Why are radio stations playing that awful Paul McCartney song over and over?  What is all the fuss about?

I could understand if it was about a fat man in a red suit with flying reindeer breaking and entering all over the world in one night leaving gifts and eating cookies.  That would warrant a fuss in our culture for sure.  But even if it was, what would inspire that plump person to such activity? 

I get that we celebrate Christmas because it is the birth of Jesus.  But why is our culture so willing to celebrate the birth of a man they exclude, separate from, and ignore for the rest of the year?  That is what I’m confused about.  Why does our culture celebrate someone being born when the rest of the year it is so threatened by His existence?

We don’t mention him in public settings.  We don’t mention him at work.  We certainly don’t bring Him up in a school.  And God forbid, we talk about Him in the same breath as the government. 

I’d love to hear some answers if you have them.

4 Comments

Filed under Beliefs, Christmas, Life

The Favor of God?

At the risk of sounding like Joel O’Steen, how would you like to have the favor of God?  Would you welcome an angel to show up and tell you, “You are highly favored of God.”  That’s what happens to Mary.

mary and angelLuke records it this way, “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.” (1:26-28)

Many of us think that if we had the favor of God, our lives would be great.  That’s how we interpret our circumstances. When things are working out for us we feel like God’s favorite.  Good circumstances and we feel loved and favored by God.  Bad circumstances and we think, “why doesn’t God love me?”  Can you relate?  But if we actually examine that thinking in light of Scripture, we will find that our circumstances and the love and favor of God don’t usually go together the way we think they should.  Let’s take a closer look at Mary. 

“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.” (Luke 1:29-33)

That sounds pretty great.  But look at the circumstances she is put in because she has found favor with God.  Mary is maybe 15 yrs old and pregnant.  She is engaged to be married so this is going be very difficult to explain.  Can’t you hear her parents and friends, “Sure you’re still a virgin, right.”   But explaining it is the least of her worries because being unmarried and pregnant is a capital offense.  The law says to stone her to death. 

She has become the best bit of gossip in town.  Everyone will be yippin’ about her.  She will be an outcast and probably carry a stigma for the rest of her life.

Her fiance gets cold feet (for good reason) and wants to call the whole thing off and has to have an angel show up to convince him to still marry her.  Talk about a shotgun wedding.  And then no marital benefits until after the baby is born.  You don’t think that caused issues for these newly weds?

It’s no wonder Luke tells us that Mary “hurried” and got out of town.  She spent three months with her cousin Elizabeth. And here is some favored circumstances – 2 pregnant women under one roof.  (God may have done Zechariah a favor by shutting his mouth until John was born!)

christmas pictures 005Mary finally goes home but 6 months later, the govt orders a census.  She’s in no condition to travel, but can’t stay at home because of her stigma.  So she walks/rides a donkey to Bethlehem.  That trip is going to put you into labor.  The whole way she has got to be praying for a place to lie down, a place to have this baby.  (Have you ever prayed for a parking space?)  She has to be thinking “This is the Son of God, I don’t need the Ritz-Carlton, but come on Lord, I know You are going to provide.” They arrive in Bethlehem and there is no place for them except a cave that reeks with animals.

“Greetings, you who are highly favored.  The Lord is with you.”  Are you kidding?  After all of this you can understand v.29 “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”  When we look at her circumstances we might question whether God really loves and favors her or not. 

 And it’s not just Mary.  The Bible is full of this kind of thing.  In the Old Testament,  Joseph dreams of ruling over his brothers, but his brothers sell him into slavery and later he is thrown in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.  Moses thinks God is going to use him to deliver his people from slavery, but ends up spending 40 years as a shepherd on the backside of the desert before God calls him.  David is anointed King at the age of 12 or 13 but spends the next several years living in caves, running for his life.  And then in the New Testament, you’re not really doing your job unless you are thrown in jail.  Paul could give a prison tour of the Mediterranean.  And of course there is Jesus.  He suffered and died for our sins, while He was innocent. 

How many of you still want the favor of God?

I will be the first to admit I don’t like this.  I think the love and favor of God should mean that all my circumstances work out the way I think they should.  Isn’t there a verse in Romans, “And we know in all things God works for the good of those who love him”?  Yes, yes there is 8:28.  But it seems my idea and God’s idea of “good” are two different things.

When my circumstances are not working for my good, I’m the first one to start praying, “I thought you loved me? I thought I was your favorite….ok, at least top ten.  Is this your favor? Lord, do me a favor.  Don’t do me anymore favors.”  We need to rethink what the love and favor of God look like in our lives, because it doesn’t seem that our circumstances give us an accurate view.

Maybe God has a bigger view of my life than I do.  Could it be that God sees a grander picture than I can imagine and is working for my good on that scale?  That He sees needs I am unaware of?  That He is working for my good because of circumstances I can’t or won’t acknowledge?  Isn’t that why Mary is pregnant to begin with?

Whenever we begin to doubt God’s love and favor for us because of our circumstances, whenever we don’t get the raise or promotion we deserve, or get into the college we dreamed about, or ride the bench for the season, we need to go to the Word of God.  I like Psalm 103 for such occasions.  JesusOnCross_011-219x300The Lord loves us and shows us His favor in ways we can’t possibly comprehend.  He sees our biggest need – to be freed from sin and all it’s consequences, especially death.  And so, in His love and favor for us, God gives us His only Son to die in our place and give us eternal life. 

But, this is where I have such a hard time because I feel and see my circumstances.  And it is so easy to let them determine my reality.  But the reality is my feelings and circumstances change like the weather.  They come and go.  They are a terrible guide for life.  In the midst of my feelings and circumstances, I have a choice:  Do I believe them or the Word of God?  Faith is choosing the Word of God over my feelings and circumstances.  In most cases, faith is choosing the Word of God in spite of my feelings and circumstances.

Gabriel declares the Word of God to Mary.  Jesus will be called “the Son of the Most High, He will reign forever, His kingdom will never end.”  “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”  (Luke 1:34) She is saying, “I’m a poor girl in a nowhere town.  I’m not even married yet.  My circumstances don’t line up with what you are telling me.”

 “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. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” (1:35-37).

“Nothing is impossible with God.”  Do you believe that Word of God in spite of your circumstances?  Will you believe that Jesus is the Lord reigning over the world right now in spite of the circumstances in the news?  Will you trust that God’s love and favor is upon you even when you don’t feel it? 

 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” (1:38).  Mary chooses faith over feelings.  She chooses to believe the Word of God in spite of her circumstances.  That’s why she is highly favored.    And because she does, we receive God’s love and favor in the Son she bore on Christmas.  Merry Christmas!

Do you still want the favor of God?  Believe the Word of God over your feelings.  Let the Word of God define your reality, not your circumstances.  Allow God to show you the bigger, grander picture of your life and His love in Jesus Christ.  And when you do, like Mary, you’ll be bringing Jesus into a dark and dying world that desperately needs to hear and see the love and favor of God.

Psalm 103

Praise the Lord, O my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass,
    he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
    and his righteousness with their children’s children—
18 with those who keep his covenant
    and remember to obey his precepts.

19 The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
    and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Praise the Lord, you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his bidding,
    who obey his word.
21 Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
    you his servants who do his will.
22 Praise the Lord, all his works
    everywhere in his dominion.

Praise the Lord, O my soul.

3 Comments

Filed under Beliefs, Bible, Christmas, History, Life