Christmas

What Gospel Predominance?

Only the Gospel converts. Only the good news that Jesus loves sinners, of whom I am the worst – only that good news creates faith and strengthens faith. And on a night like Christmas Eve when we have more visitors and occasional members, that message must right forth. That doesn’t mean the Law shouldn’t be preached – we need to hear why the Gospel is so amazing, after all – but the Gospel must take center stage.

And really, isn’t that the center of Christmas? That baby is God! Here he is, stepped into his own creation, to this dirty, broken place, to be broken in our place. This Child will be stricken, smitten and afflicted. We will esteem him not. And yet, by his wounds are we healed!

So tell me this: For a preacher who revels in the Gospel, who marvels at the love of God for a broken sinner like me, why is it that my drafts for sermons on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are so law-heavy?

I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. (more…)

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Today.

4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.

(Galatians 4:4-5)

Now.

The time had fully come. God had waited for just the right moment to send his Son into the world. He had a very specific mission for his Son: to buy back those who had rebelled against him. To buy back those who had chosen shame and fear and guilt over joy.

To buy back us.

God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the same law we’re under. He played by our rules to win us back.

He has taken away your guilt. That baby in Bethlehem grew up. He was on a mission from the moment not just of his birth but his conception. He was thinking of you. He was born to give you the joy he earned.

Your guilt is gone. Your shame has been removed. Your need no longer fear.

God has restored your joy.

But if Jesus came back… if he was born, if he died to take away all these terrible things, if he came back to restore joy… why is there still so much pain? Why do you still hurt?

Because he’s not done yet.

Not yet.

He will return. You will see him coming on the clouds. You will see him, the Child born in Bethlehem, the Child who rules forever… you will see him. He will come, and he will make all things new. He has taken away your guilt… and he will return to take you. And on that day the joy that is already yours will be made greater.

But not yet.

Soon.

Already your guilt is gone.

Already your shame is gone.

Already your fear is gone.

Soon your greatest joy will be restored to you.

Soon.

But not yet.

Now, Part 2

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

(Luke 2:8-20)

(more…)

Now.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

(Luke 2:1-7)

Now.

The time is now.

God has arranged the entire world for this. He’s put Caesar Augustus in power in Rome. He’s arranged the timing of the census so that Mary and Joseph travel together to Bethlehem, so the Child will be born there.

He has spent millennia, so excited about the one who would crush the serpent’s head, sharing more and more about the Child, the one who would restore Joy…

And tonight. Now. That child is here. A baby named Jesus. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, a child who will take the weight of our guilt and our shame and our fear and instead give us joy. Real joy.

The baby is here. The wait is over.

Not Yet, Part 3

26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 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. 36 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. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

(Luke 1:26-38)

(more…)

Not Yet, Part 2

2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.

6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 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.

(Isaiah 9:2, 6, 7)

(more…)

Bad Cookies

See that cookie? That’s not how a cookie is supposed to look.

It’s not good to rage before the sermon at something totally unconnected to the sermon.

Sunday was cookie day. Last year, we hosted a teen activity where the teens baked cookies, eating as much as they wanted, and then delivered platters of those cookies to shut-ins. It was a huge success and several teens requested that we repeat the activity this year.

Yay for events requested by the teens we can actually do and do well!

So, we made announcements. We personally contacted the teens in person, by text, and on Facebook. We spoke especially to those who had requested to be there. We spoke to those who were too young; we decided this year, given the “all ages” aspect of baking, to have the teens host the entire congregation. Anyone who wanted: come and bake with us! It’ll be fun!

We got “Yes I’ll be there’s” from seven teens. I expected about five to show; two I knew would be likely no-shows, and probably one more. I got “Yes’es!” from two prospect teens that hadn’t been here for previous events.

Now, those of you in teen ministry: You know that a “yes!” doesn’t really mean a whole lot. You know that you can’t really count on anyone coming to anything; value every person who shows, because it means they’ve voted you more important than sitting and doing nothing – which is actually a pretty big deal.

Still, I expected four or five teens to show. I knew them; I thought they’d come.

Sunday morning… two teens in church. (more…)

Be Amazed.

Luke 2:25-40 25 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. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 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, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29    “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,

you now dismiss your servant in peace.

30    For my eyes have seen your salvation,

31       which you have prepared in the sight of all people,

32    a light for revelation to the Gentiles

and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 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, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 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.

39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

(more…)

Christmas is Fake

John 1:1-14 1     In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.

3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

6 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

Christmas is fake. There’s the fake smiles. When you walk into a store, you might be greeted by a smiling employee. Do you think that person was actually happy to see you? There’s fake gifts. Well, maybe the gifts themselves aren’t fake, but they don’t come from loving generosity.  How about the fake relationships? Do any of your family members put up with one another just because “it’s Christmas”? Let’s face it: Christmas is fake. (more…)

What Good is a Baby?

Luke 2:6-7 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

 

What good is a baby?

 

Have you ever felt alone at Christmas? Maybe you really were alone. No one to celebrate with. At least, no one who wanted to celebrate with you. Maybe you were surrounded by family. Or friends. Or at least other people. But no one to talk to. Not really. Not the way you needed. And now it’s Christmas again. Are you alone? And if you’re not alone tonight… what about a week from now? Two? Do you struggle with being alone? It’s Christmas! We’re supposed to be happy! Look! A baby! But how does a baby born on Christmas help me when I am alone? (more…)