December 13, 2009
HOW IS CHRISTMAS RELEVENT TO YOU AND ARE YOU RELEVENT TO GOD
A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE
I wonder what Christmas means to a mother who has lost her husband, who must take care of 3 or 4 children, working every day, never quite getting everything done, never making ends meet? What does Christmas mean to her?
I wonder what Christmas means to the little man in Zimbabwe, 80 years old, living in a hut, who knows nothing of shopping malls or Christmas trees? What does Christmas mean to him?
I wonder what it means to little Korean children with smudges on their cheeks, & sparkling eyes that look up in wonder as you walk past? What does Christmas mean to them?
I wonder what it means to missionaries who are half a world away from families & friends, who are sacrificing so much to take the precious gospel message to others who have never heard? What does it mean to them?
I’m sure that it means different things to different people.
To merchants it is the busiest time of the year. Stores stay open longer, & hire extra people to accommodate all the shoppers. It means more profit, hopefully enough profit to see them through lean times ahead.
For some employees it means a Christmas bonus, a little more money in their pockets to do things that they want to do.
For many teen-agers & adults it is a time of fun & parties. For children it is a time of impatience, with time seeming to pass so slowly, as they wait for Christmas morning.
But sometimes I get the feeling that we are like the folks who decided to throw a party to honor a very special friend. They sent out invitations, decorated the hall, & had the food catered. All the people came together at the designated time, but to their surprise, the guest of honor was not there.
Finally, they made the embarrassing discovery that no one had ever invited the guest of honor.
I wonder if that happens at Christmas time? Do we go through all the decorating, buying presents, preparing elaborate meals, but somehow forget whose birthday it really is?
One family tried to overcome that by putting an extra place at their Christmas table for Jesus, & calling Christmas, “His birthday party.” When one of their daughters was asked if she got everything she wanted for Christmas, she answered by saying, “No, but then it’s not my birthday.”
It isn’t our birthday, is it? It’s the Lord’s birthday & it’s a time to remember His birth & what it is supposed to mean to us. So let’s turn to Luke 2:8-14. Listen as I read.
(Read With Me Luke 2:8-14)
The fact that God made the announcement to shepherds helps us to understand the real meaning of Christmas. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” & He chose to announce that to shepherds first of all.
Shepherds were at the opposite end of the social strata from King Herod & all the influential people of the day. They lived in the fields with their animals. They weren’t respected. They had no power or prestige. Yet, God’s angel came to them & said, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ, the Lord.” Unto shepherds a Savior was born.
In that one simple announcement God made known some very important truths.
GOD KNOWS YOU, AND YOU ARE IMPORTANT TO HIM
First of all, it tells us, “No matter how insignificant you may think you are, God knows you, & you are important to Him.”
A. All throughout scripture we see God honoring & using people & things that the world often overlooks or ignores.
The Apostle Paul writes, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world & the despised things…” (1 Cor. 1:26-28a).
A Jewish youth was sold into slavery by his brothers & carted off to Egypt. Yet, when God wanted to deliver a very special message to mighty Pharaoh, it was the slave, Joseph, who was brought out of the dungeon to interpret the message. God uses the lowly & despised to show His power.
Five thousand men, plus women & children, stayed late on a hillside one day, listening to Jesus. There was no food & the people were hungry. Well, that is not totally accurate. There was one little boy who had 2 fish & 5 little loaves. But it was enough, because God took that small amount & fed the many. He is always doing that, isn’t He?
So when God decided to select a mother for His Son, He went past the fashion salons & beauty parlors. He went past the furs & diamonds & gold, & went to an insignificant village called Nazareth. He found a peasant girl. She did not dress in designer clothes. She did not have a sophisticated education. But she was pure, & God selected her to be the mother of His only begotten Son.
So when the Christ comes, He is not born in Mt. Sinai Hospital in Jerusalem, surrounded by gynecologists, nurses & assistants. But rather, He is born in a stable. He is wrapped in swaddling clothes & laid in a manger.
The world looks down its nose & says, “That’s foolishness.” But Paul says, “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, & the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:25)
When God makes His announcement, it is delivered to shepherds. It is like Jesus saying in the Sermon on the mount, “If God cares about sparrows & lilies, then He cares about you.” If God cares about shepherds, He cares about you!
We need to hear that, don’t we? Children 12 & 13 years old need to hear that in orphanages when they see younger children being adopted & realize that they probably never will be adopted. They need to hear that.
Mothers of children without a husband to help need to hear that. Lost souls on skid row who drink away their fears need to hear that. People who are lonely need to hear that. Husbands who have lost their wives in death need to hear that. Church people who feel useless & empty need to hear that.
We all need to hear that. All of us have known feelings of rejection. All of us have known feelings of being left out. Christmas comes. The light shines, & God says, “No! You’re wrong. I made the announcement to shepherds, & I make it to you. Unto you a Savior is born.”
YOUR LIFE MATTERS, BECAUSE GOD LOVES YOU
The second thing this passage teaches us is that life matters. Not only you, but your life counts with God.
A. I imagine those shepherds must have sat around the campfire many times & wondered if life was really worthwhile or not. “What difference does it make if we watch the sheep or not?”
Maybe we wonder, too, “What difference does it make if I get up every morning or not? It seems as if my life is an endless cycle of things that really don’t mean anything. I just wonder if life is worth living at all?”
When God comes & makes His announcement to shepherds, He is also saying to us, “Your life is worthwhile. It is My gift to you. Therefore live every golden moment of it, because your life does matter to Me.”
B. You see, every life matters. We should know that. It’s impossible to live, even for a few moments on this earth, & not influence somebody in one way or another. We are always influencing someone, either for good or for bad.
Do you remember Bubba Smith? He retired from professional football a few years ago. Then, after he retired from playing football, Bubba Smith started making beer commercials. He was the guy who tore the top off of beer cans, & engaged in the argument about whether it is less filling or tastes great. You remember him now, don’t you?
In a magazine article about him, Bubba Smith said that he has never, ever drunk beer. Drinking any kind of alcoholic beverage just isn’t a part of his life. But he advertised it & felt good about his job. It was an easy job. It was an enjoyable job, & it paid a good salary.
Until one day when he went back to Michigan State, his alma mater, as the Grand Marshal of the Homecoming Parade. As he was riding in the limousine at the head of the parade, he heard the throngs of people on both sides of the parade route shouting. And what were they shouting? “Hail to Michigan State?” No! One side was shouting, “Tastes great!” & the other side was shouting, “Less filling!”
Bubba Smith suddenly realized that he & the beer commercials that he made had had a tremendous impact on the students at Michigan State. And the message that they had gotten was that “It is all right to drink light beer.”
Later, Bubba was in Ft. Lauderdale during Spring Break, & he saw drunken college kids up & down the beaches, shouting “Tastes great! Less filling!”
And when it came time to renew his contract, he refused to sign because he said that he didn’t want his life to count for something like that. He said that there was a still, small voice in his mind that kept saying, “Stop, Bubba. Stop.”
You see, everybody’s life counts for something.
Some years ago, a cartoon appeared in newspapers across the land. It pictured two farmers in Kentucky, standing in a field as snow fell softly. One turned to the other & asked, “Anything exciting happen today?” “Nah, nothing exciting,” said the other farmer. “Oh, there was a baby born over at Tom Lincoln’s home, but nothing exciting ever happens around here.”
But that baby born in the home of Tom Lincoln one day became the President of the United States. He changed the course of history & liberated the slaves. One life can make a difference!
I wonder if there were people in Bethlehem on that night so long ago, asking, “Anything exciting happen today?” Maybe they were told, “No, nothing much. Oh, I hear some woman gave birth to a baby in a stable, but nothing exciting ever happens around here.” Except that a baby was born, a baby that changed the world.
Life counts. Life matters. Your life & mine. Lives of shepherds & lives of kings, all are important to God.
III. YOUR FAITH MATTERS, TOO
A. Finally, this. Your faith matters, too. Shepherds were men of faith. They probably had more faith than some of the scribes & Pharisees who went to the synagogue every day.
They believed in a Messiah. All of God’s chosen people believed in a Messiah. When things got especially hard, during times of poverty & enslavement & exile, they would think about the Messiah & God’s promise that one day the Messiah would come.
They prayed over & over again, “Let the Messiah come. Let Him come today!” They prayed that prayer for hundreds of years, & they must have wondered, “Is our faith worth anything? Does God hear our prayers? Does God keep His promises? Will the Messiah ever come?”
There must have been many who quit praying, & quit having faith. But when the announcement came to shepherds, God was saying, “Your faith matters, & it is not in vain. I am a God who hears & who keeps His promises. Now the Messiah has come, & I have kept My promise.”
B. How about us? Sometimes we become weary especially during times like these. There may be times when we wonder if it is worthwhile going to church. There are times when we wonder if it is worth sacrificing for God.
There are times when I wonder if it is worth it to be a preacher. Maybe I ought to do something else. Why bother with all these responsibilities? Sometimes, when I feel weary, I pray, “Lord, why don’t You come today? Why don’t You come & take us all home, out of our misery & pain & hardships?”
I’ve heard some of you say almost the same thing. “Oh, come, Lord Jesus,” we pray, “come quickly!” We wonder if our prayers are heard. We wonder why He is waiting so long. We wonder if it is worth it all.
But one day He will come. He will come for all of us, shepherds & kings, wise men & peasants. He will come for His people. He’ll dry our tears & take away our pain. There will be no more death, no more good-byes. Then we’ll say, “It was worth it. It was worth it all!”
For me, there is a beautiful song which sums up my thought’s containing these words:
“Love divine, all loves excelling, Joy of heav’n to earth come down;
Fix in us Thy humble dwelling, All Thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, Thou art all compassion, Pure, unbounded love thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation; Enter every trembling heart.”
December 8, 2009
One of America’s greatest poets is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The year 1860 found Longfellow happy in his life, enjoying a widening recognition, and elated over the election of Abraham Lincoln which he believed signaled the triumph of freedom and redemption for the nation. The following year the Civil War began. On July 9, 1861 Longfellow’s wife, Fanny, was near an open window sealing locks of her daughter’s hair, using hot sealing wax. Suddenly her dress caught fire and engulfed her with flames. Her husband, sleeping in the next room, was awaked by her screams. As he desperately tried to put out the fire and save his wife, he was severely burned on his face and hands. Fanny died the next day.
Longfellow’s severe burns would not even allow him to attend Fanny’s funeral. His white beard, which so identified with him, was one of the results of the tragedy – the burn scars on his face made shaving almost impossible. In his diary for Christmas day 1861 he wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are the holidays.” In 1862 the toll of war dead began to mount and in his diary for that year Longfellow wrote of Christmas, “A merry Christmas say the children, but that is no more for me.” In 1863 his son who had run away to join the Union army was severely wounded and returned home in December. There is no entry in Longfellow’s diary for that Christmas. But on Christmas Day 1864 – at age 57 – Longfellow sat down to try to capture, if possible, the joy of the season. He began: I heard the bells on Christmas day. Their old familiar carols play, And wild and sweet the words repeat Of peace on earth, good will to men. As he came to the third stanza, he was stopped by the thought of the condition of his beloved country. The Battle of Gettysburg was not long past. Days looked dark, and he probably asked himself the question, “How can I write about peace on earth, good will to men in this war-torn country, where brother fights against brother and father against son?” But he kept writing – and what did he write? And in despair I bowed my head: “There is no peace on earth”, I said, For hate is strong, and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men. It seems as if he could have been writing for the times we are experiencing in our present day. Then, as all of us should do, he turned his thoughts to the One who gives true and perfect peace, and continued writing: Then peeled the bells more loud and deep; “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep! The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, good will to men.” And so there came into being that marvelous Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
November 16, 2009
Alex Haley, the author of “Roots,” had an unusual picture hanging on his office wall. It was a picture of a turtle on top of a fence post. When asked, “Why is that there?” Alex Haley answered, “Every time I write something significant, every time I read my words & think that they are wonderful, & begin to feel proud of myself, I look at the turtle on top of the fence post & remember that he didn’t get there on his own. He had help.” That is the basis of thankfulness – to remember that we got here with the help of God, & that He is the provider of every blessing we have.
Remember to give Thanks to God This Thanksgiving adn be Blessed