Christ: Savior or Stumbling Stone?

Luke 2.21—35

Jesus’ birth is an amazing event. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, while
traveling to participate in a census. A few days later, Jesus is
presented in the temple. Luke points out that their offering is either
a pair of doves or two young pigeons, which was the offering made if
you were poor. If you could afford it, you offered a lamb. This speaks
of the humble roots of Jesus’ family—they apparently could not afford
the expense of a lamb.

Simeon – the Lord’s Servant (Slave) …
Simeon received a promise from the Lord that he would not die until he
sees the Savior. It is with great joy that he announces, “With my own
eyes, I have seen what you have done to save your people.” He says, in
his prayer, “Now, you can release (dismiss) me.” IOW, he’s ready to die.

Jesus, Savior for whom?
Is the phrase all peoples a reference to Israel alone, or to both
Israel and the Gentiles? “He is a light to reveal God to the nations.”
This verse makes it clear that all peoples includes Gentiles!

Christ: Savior or Stumbling block?
Simeon said to Mary, “This child of yours will cause many people in
Israel to fall and others to stand. The child will be like a warning
sign. Many people will reject him, 35and you, Mary, will suffer as
though you had been stabbed by a dagger. But all this will show what
people are really thinking.”

The language of falling and rising emphasizes that Jesus will bring
division in the nation, as some will be judged (falling) and others
blessed (rising) because of how they respond to him. This is the first
hint that Jesus’ coming will be accompanied with some difficulties.

For example, we’ve seen a cultural battle this Christmas season: “Happy
Holidays” vs. “Merry Christmas.” Many have struggled in a politically
correct environment.

  • Target decided not to allow Salvation Army bell ringers
  • Wal-Mart responded by matching contributions of up to $1 million.
  • Perhaps Barnes & Noble had the wisest response of the PC crowd – they had a “respond in kind” policy.

On Christmas Eve when I talked about “All I Want for Christmas,” one of
the things I said I’d ask God for, is peace. The Scriptures say …

  • “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14.33)
  • Jesus says, “I am leaving you with agift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the
    peace the world gives” (John 14.27)
  • “God’s peace … is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand” (Philippians 4.7).

But in Luke 12.51–53, Jesus says, “Do you think I have come to bring
peace to the earth? No, I have come to bring strife and division! From
now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two
against–or the other way around. There will be a division between
father and son, mother and daughter, mother-in-law and
daughter-in-law.” (See also Romans 9.31–33 and John 3.14–18).

Many people want to create a Savior in their own image!
Your warning system should go off any time you hear someone say, “To
me, God is like ____.” There’s nothing wrong with saying what God is
like, but it should be based on Scripture. We must be careful about
creating God in our image. That’s the trouble with a lot of
contemporary spirituality. It’s all based on what makes us happy,
fulfilled, complete, etc. It’s really about creating God (i.e. Savior)
in our image! That’s why many Israelites couldn’t accept Jesus as the
Messiah – he didn’t fit their image of the Messiah.

The problem is, if you create God in your image, when God acts in a way
that doesn’t fit your image, you will reject him. Why do you think
everyone asks, “How could God allow this?” after a tragedies like 911?
Because they’ve created an image of God that doesn’t allow bad things
to happen to good people.

Psalm 118.21–29

What’s Your Response?

  1. Get to know the Savior revealed in the Scriptures.
  2. Receive Jesus the Savior
  3. Serve the Savior – become a “servant of the Lord”

Merry Christmas!

<p>A righteous and devout man, Simeon, waits for the birth of the Messiah, the Christ. He has been promised by God that he will not die until he sees the Christ. As in the passages we have looked at this Christmas/Advent season, Simeon speaks forth a hymn of praise in seeing the Christ child. He then speaks some interesting words to Joseph and Mary, which will be our main text today.</p>

<p><a href=”http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%202.22-35;&amp;version=31;”>Luke 2.22-35</a><br />“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”</p>

<p>Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays<br />Simeon said that Jesus would create quite a stir; the birth of Christ is still creating quite a stir.</p>

<p>How many of you have been touched by the Christmas vs. Holiday controversy? Is it Christmas or is it just a generic Holiday? In the workplace, some of you were probably told what greeting was politically correct. Some of our shopping stores say “Merry Christmas” with their ads and decorations and others are having yet another holiday sale. One pastor in the Bible Belt encouraged his congregation to shop at only stores that were proclaiming “Christmas.” Barnes and Noble is probably the most politically correct of all: the workers are instructed to reply in kind: if you say, “Merry Christmas,” they say, “Merry Christmas”; if you say, “Happy Holidays,” they say, “Happy Holidays.”</p>

<p>I went to the Post Office in our small community and asked to see their Christmas stamps. The Postmaster pointed to a poster below the counter with five different stamps on it. Only two of them were Christmas stamps; and really only one portrayed the true meaning of the season: the Madonna and Child. But there was one stamp that almost fooled me. At a quick glance I thought it was a Christmas tree, but at a closer look it was an Islamic stamp for some holiday called EID. I remarked to the Postmaster, “Not all of these are Christmas stamps.” She responded, “Oh no. You know we’re not allowed to celebrate Christmas anymore.” She said, “Look around.” And I saw a few feeble decorations. She continued, “We’re not even allowed to put a tree in here.” As I left I chimed a cheery, “Merry Christmas!” to her.</p>

<p>A church in one community, asked permission to put their Nativity in their yard … and the town said, “no.” The church next door didn’t bother asking – they just put their’s out.</p>

<p>We live in a country that stands for freedom, that continues to fight for freedom in faraway places, that guarantees us the “right to free speech.” And yet we are told if we are Christmas or holiday shopping. We are told if we may say, “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” And we are told how we may decorate. What kind of freedom is that?</p>

<p>On CBS The Early Show, following an interview with a commoner (someone not famous, someone like you and me that did something news worthy), the announcer said, “Happy Holidays” and she responded, “Merry Christmas.” And I thought, “You go girl!” Right there on national TV, you say it like it is.</p>

<p>I am grateful we live in an area that still advertises Christmas concerts on their school activity boards; and where newspapers carry stories of Christmas activities and Christmas charitable events held and led by our school students. Not all communities are so blessed.</p>

<p>Christmas is causing some to fall and some to rise<br />Listen to Simeon’s words to Joseph and Mary, once again,<br />“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”</p>

<p>Christmas, the birth of Christ, is causing some to fall and some to rise. It is a sign that is opposed, that is being spoken against by the media, by businesses, by educational institutions, and by the government. Simeon’s words to Mary were that some would oppose Jesus so violently, that a sword will pierce your own soul too, this word speaking toward the death that Jesus would suffer, and of course, a mother suffering alongside her son.</p>

<p>Christmas is causing many to stumble and fall still today. Will you stumble or will you rise?</p>

<p>~Will you rise up and enjoy Christmas?<br />~Will you arise and take hold of your salvation?<br />~Will your spirit rise up within you in praise and adoration for the birth of the Christ?<br />~Will you arise and commune with, fellowship with, God’s people?<br />~Will you give others gifts, Christmas gifts, gifts that bless others, gifts that tell others you love and appreciate them, gifts that help those less fortunate, gifts that remember the wisemen bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ Child. Remember the original Saint Nicholas was named a Saint by the Church because of his generous giving to those in need at this time of year.<br />~Will you enjoy the blessing of family and friends?<br />~Will you celebrate Christmas, remembering that this is your gift to God?</p>

<p>Thank you for rising<br />I want to take a moment to thank you for the many ways you have given your gifts in celebration of Christmas throughout Advent and beyond. This has been an exceptional year for Christmas programs in each church, as well as many missional projects that have reached those within our faith community and extended to those near and far. You make Christmas Eve services a focus of your Christmas celebration, some of you attending both services. We had a wonderful attendance at each service. And here you are again this morning. This is your gift to me! This is your gift to Christ!</p>

All I Want for Christmas

What do you want for Christmas? If you were sitting on God’s knee, and God asked you what you wanted for Christmas, what would you tell him?

Well, I’ve been thinking about that question, and tonight, I want to
share with you what’s on my list. I’ve narrowed it down to four things.
But first there are a couple of things you need to know about God’s
gifts …

  • They are gifts – you can’t earn them!
  • They are all available to us through the gift of God’s Son.

Love
The first thing I’d ask God for is love.

God is Love …

  • “God is love.” (1 John 4.8, 16)
  • “We love, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4.19)
  • “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5.6)
  • “For God so loved the world, he gave his only Son, so that
    whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John
    3.16)

It’s clear that God loves us! Not because we deserve it, but because
that’s who God is – God is love. And because of the gift of God’s Son,
our life, in turn, is a life of loving God and people.

Life is about relationships! We can have great relationships with
people, and most importantly, with God, because God has given us the
gift of love through his Son, Jesus Christ. We get to love, because God
has so generously loved us!

Joy
The second thing I’d ask God for is joy.

We can have joy in both the good times and in the bad. When we
experience victories, we are filled joy. For example, after the Exodus
from Egypt, the Israelites celebrated with winging and dancing (see Exodus 15.1—21). And, in the bad times, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8.10).

I’m not talking about happiness; that kind of emotion is dependent on
our circumstances, but joy isn’t. We can have joy, even when things are
not going well; we can have joy even when we have no reason to be
happy. That’s what I want! I want to have the joy of the Lord no matter
what life throws at me!

Peace
The third thing I’d ask God for is peace.

“God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 14.33)

“God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1.7)

“… Prince of Peace …” (Isaiah 9.6)

“I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I
give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or
afraid.” (John 14.27)

“God’s peace … is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand.” (Philippians 4.7)

Just as you can have joy no matter what happens, you can have peace,
knowing that even though it makes no sense at all, you can trust God,
and that God will bring you through, and that all things will work
together for good, because God loves you!

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (Isaiah 26.3)

Hope
And finally, the fourth thing that I’d ask God for is hope.

Hope is especially appropriate to talk about during Advent. Hope is
connected to waiting. And that’s what we do during Advent. Advent
means, “coming,” or “arrival.” During Advent, we prepare ourselves to
celebrate the birth of Christ! It’s a time of waiting and anticipating
the gift of Christ! We wait because we hope! Our ultimate hope is that
we have God’s forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus Christ!

Matthew’s gospel quotes Isaiah, talking about the Messiah … “his name
will be the hope of all the world.” And, near the end of Acts, the
story of the first century Church, Paul says, “I asked you to come here
today so we could get acquainted and so I could tell you that I am
bound with this chain because I believe that the hope of Israel–the
Messiah–has already come” (Acts 28.20).

The Psalms are filled with expressions of hope …

  • “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.” (Psalm 39.7)
  • “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put
    your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
    (Psalm 43.5)

“Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.” (Hebrews 10.23)

The Passing of the Light …
One of the ways that God leads us is through the light – the
Light of Christ. Tonight, we light our candles to reminder us that God
has sent his Son
into the world, to be the light of the world, and that his light,
shining through us, is the hope of the world!

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world—like a city on a mountain,
glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light under a
basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all. In the
same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that
everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5.13–15)

Whenever we gather for worship, we light candles to remind us that we
are in the presence of Christ. And at the end of our gatherings, we
extinguish the candles. But before we extinguish them, we light the
candle-lighter, and the acolyte carries the light to the exit,
reminding us that we are to carry the light out into the world.

God didn’t send light to be contained in our hearts or in our church
buildings, God sent light to be displayed everywhere on the planet! Now
that we have received the Light of Christ in our hearts, let us carry
that light into all the world!

The Wait is Over

Luke 2.8-20

The Wait of Advent
Children anticipate Christmas with a vibrant expectancy and excitement that compares to little else. Even the shyest or quietest of children cannot contain their enthusiasm at the splendor of the season, the beauty of the Christmas tree with it’s lights all aglow, and of course, the gifts they await, that are yet to appear under that tree.

Throughout Advent, we have waited for this night-the night we celebrate the birth of Christ. The night that the greatest of all gifts was given. The night that salvation came in the birth of a child, the son of God, God incarnate, God come to earth cloaked in human form and flesh.

The waiting of Advent used to be much more emphasized than it is today. It actually used to be a somber time – a time to remember our sins and how desperately we need and wait for a Savior. Advent was a time of starkness in the church when no decorations would appear until Christmas was actually here, until the birth of Christ was actually celebrated. Some churches still may wait on the decorations. I don’t know if any of you noticed, but I made you wait to sing Christmas carols until tonight. Yes, you sang them as a part of your Christmas programs, but not as a part of our regular worship services. And how I am ready to burst forth in song tonight!

The wait is over. We can sing songs of the birth. And tonight we will finally add the baby Jesus to our Nativity.

But now what? Now what do we do after the wait is over? When all that we have anticipated is behind us?

The same thing happens when a family expects a baby. Mom and Dad-to-be anticipate something they have yet to receive. They have nine months of excited preparations. They watch as sonograms show the development of their child. They look carefully … is the child a boy or a girl? They wonder and dream. They shop and buy. They decorate and prepare a nursery.

But then the child comes. The anticipation is replaced with responsibility. There are late night feedings. There are the baby’s who have their nights and days confused. There are the dirty diapers. The baby cries, and mom and dad look at each other as if to say, “It’s your turn.” The expectation has become assignment.

And so it is with Christmas. The long-awaited Christ-child is here. Now that the wait is over, now that we know the Christ is come, we have responsibilities. The responsibilities are many, but let us look at two that surface as the story of the birth is told to the shepherds in the Gospel of Luke.

The angels proclaim
An angel appears to the shepherds saying, “I bring you good news of great joy …” The literal translation is, “I evangelize you to great joy.” Our word evangelize comes from the Greek word used here. The angel comes to proclaim the good news of the birth of Christ, the coming of a Savior. The entire story of Christ’s birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension is the story of the Gospel, and the proclamation of the Gospel is the good news that brings joy to all humankind. So the angel proclaims the good news.

The angels praise
Following the proclamation, a whole host or large group of angels appears praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all men and women on whom his favor rests.”

They can’t help but praise God for this wonderful thing which has happened: that salvation has come in the birth of the son of God.

Proclamation and Praise mark the words of the angels as they speak to the shepherds. And the shepherds respond with Proclamation and Praise.

The shepherds proclaim
Without being told to go, the shepherds rush to see this thing they have been told about. And having found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the manger, they leave “spreading the word” about this child and all that has been told them about this child.

“A baby was born in a barn,” they may say. “Angels came to us in the fields and told us about it. We were engulfed in a bright light, but they told us about this child, and where to find the child and we went off and saw everything, just like they told us,” they proclaim.

The shepherds praise
After circulating around the town and to the people, they return to their fields and to their sheep, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.” The shepherds are also moved to praise.

Their response is proclamation and praise. They are done waiting for a Savior. The Savior is come, and they proclaim and praise.

I don’t think proclamation and praise can be separated. How can one proclaim something one is not excited about? How can one proclaim and praise something one has not come to see, to hear, to experience in one’s own life?

When the shepherds heard the proclamation and praise of the angels they went to see. And they in turn proclaimed and praised what they had seen. Tonight I stand before you and proclaim and praise, God has come in the flesh, born of a virgin. He has come to be your Savior. Will you come to see him? Will you come to the Communion Table, to encounter his grace, to receive his salvation that he offers freely to you? Will you light your candle, symbolizing God’s light has come into your life?
Will you go from this place proclaiming and praising?

Pointing the Way to Jesus

Zechariah’s Song Benedictus (Blessing)
Luke 1.68-79

Introduction
Imagine, you just had your first child.
Women: you just survived 14 hours of hard labor, you’re cradling your precious newborn infant, you and your husband have been trying for years to have a child and now, finally, you hold a miracle in your arms.
Men: you come racing into the room to see this precious sight, and you … start singing the praises of another baby about to be born!

Just about inconceivable, isn’t it. Just as John is to be a prophet of the Most High, pointing to Jesus, Zechariah in his song highlights Jesus.

The Big Picture
Zechariah begins with Jesus because he sees the universal implications of the birth of Christ. He sees how the coming of Messiah will change everything. He is a horn, representing strength. He is the One fulfilling the prophecies of long ago. He is the One who brings redemption and forgiveness of sins.

And as Zechariah turns to his own son in v.76, “and you, my child … ” Zechariah recognizes the part his family plays in this larger picture. That his son, will prepare the way for the Messiah. John will proclaim salvation, but Jesus will take them to it.

1.    Point the way by knowing who you are not
John knew he was not the One to come, the Messiah. He only pointed the way to the Messiah, the Savior.

Luke 3.15-16
15The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. 16John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

The people were looking for a Messiah. They wanted John to be the Messiah. But John knew who he was not.

The theme of humility arises again. There were no sewage systems in this day and age. Human/animal waste was in the streets, and so the sandals were the most disgusting piece of clothing. They were so extremely so that even someone’s servant was not expected to touch his master’s sandals. But John lowers himself so that he’s not even worthy to touch the sandals of the Messiah. No wonder John didn’t want to baptize Jesus in the water.

John is only the messenger.

Malachi 3.1
"See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty.

Malachi means “my messenger.”

2.    Point the way to salvation in Christ
Zechariah’s Hymn states:
you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins

The picture is of a world cloaked in darkness and death, desperate for someone to lead it into light and life. For Zechariah, this rescue is Messiah’s mission. Christ brings forgiveness.

“Those who are righteous know that the only true journey in life is the one taken in the hands of God.” (IVP Commentary)

3.    Point the way by living out the faith in a practical way.
But what is the goal of this salvation? Here is perhaps the most insightful part of the hymn. Zechariah’s desire is "to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days."

John’s word as he preaches the message of salvation is:
Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. (Luke 3.8)

And the people ask:
“What should we do then?”(Luke 3.10)

Luke 3:
    10“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
    11John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”

-Give with a radical generosity.

    12Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
    13“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

   14Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
    He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely–be content with your pay.”

-Be scrupulously honest

Where you live your life, in your workplace, in your home, with your family and friends, live your live as one who knows Christ.

Just out of college, working as a server at Pizza Hut, the manager called me aside one day and asked me why my tips were so much more than everyone else’s. It wasn’t that I was a better server than everyone else. It was that I was more honest than everyone else. We only got paid $2.10 per hour and we had to report our tips so that we were making minimum wage and then our tips were reported to the IRS. The lower your tips, the lower your income tax! This is living honestly. And people will notice.

Conclusion
We, like John, are called to be messengers, pointing the way to Jesus. We are not called to live a life separate from the world, but we are called to live differently in the world. We are called to point the way to Jesus through our words and our actions.

As the coming of Christ is proclaimed today, we must ask the question that was asked of John, “What should we do?” The answer to that will differ from person to person. But I challenge you to go to God with the question, “What should I do?”

Lessons from the Shepherds

Luke 2.8–20

One night, while shepherds were simply doing their job and going about
their business, they were surprised and terrified by what happened next
— they were visited by angels sent from God! It’s a wonderful story,
and I think we can learn several important lessons from their
experience that incredible night – the night Jesus was born!

1 — Embrace the Moment
Many things are out of our control, but we are responsible for how we respond to “sacred surprises.”

I think of …

  • Moses, out in the desert, minding his own business, doing his
    job, when he encounters God’s presence at the burning bush; he was
    changed, and so was the future of God’s people
  • Jacob, on the road, about to meet an angry brother, has an
    encounter – a wrestling match – with God; he was forever changed, with
    a limp to prove it
  • Peter, praying as he normally did one day, but this time, God
    spoke to him through a vision; and, he and the church were forever
    changed

Scripture if full of stories of people who encountered God in various
ways. We too encounter God in prayer, in worship, in our homes, through
all kinds of situations and experiences.

Embrace the moment!
How will we respond when we encounter the sacred surprises?

“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46.10)

When you encounter a God-moment, don’t rush, don’t leave; just wait,
and listen. Like Moses at the burning bush, take off your shoes and
stay awhile! God-moments can happen anywhere, anytime. I believe we
should expect to encounter God’s presence whenever we come to worship!

“Ruthlessly eliminate hurry …”
One of my favorite writers, John Ortberg, tells the story: “Not long
after moving to Chicago, I called a wise friend to ask for some
spiritual direction. I described the pace of life in my current
ministry. The church where I serve tends to move at a fast clip. I also
told him about our rhythms of family life: we are in the van-driving,
soccer-league, piano-lesson, school-orientation-night years. I told him
about the present condition of my heart, as best I could discern it.
What did I need to do, I asked him, to be spiritually healthy?

Long pause.

“You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life,” he said at last.

Another long pause.

“Okay, I’ve written that one down,” I told him, a little impatiently.
“That’s a good one. Now what else is there?” I had many things to do,
and this was a long-distance call, so I was anxious to cram as many
units of spiritual wisdom into the least amount of time possible.

Another long pause.

“There is nothing else,” he said. “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

Eliminating hurry will help create an environment where we can
experience and encounter God! Eliminating hurry removes the
distractions, so we can focus on God.

2 — Evangelize others (tell the Story)

I know the word “evangelism” (or evangelize) has become scary word in
our culture, but we need to hang onto it. The angel says to the
shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy for everyone!”
Literally: “I evangelize to you great joy!”

To evangelize is simply to share good news, to tell God’s Story, the
Story of Jesus Christ: “The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been
born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David!” There is no greater
message than that, no better news!

It certainly doesn’t mean that life is going to be easy, or even get
easier, once you start following the Jesus, the Savior. But it does
mean that we will be free from sin, and the penalty of sin, which is
death. We will live forever with Christ in heaven! It means we will
never do life alone! We will experience the same things that everyone
else experiences; the difference is that Christ-followers are like
houses built on solid rock!

“Gone Fishin!”
I encourage you to attend every week you can of the series I’m planning
for next spring (right after Easter) – “Gone Fishin!” it will be a
series on what it means to evangelize, to tell the story, to be
witnesses of our Savior!

I love this: “And this is how you will recognize him: You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!”

The angels, who were evangelizing the shepherds, told them about the
Savior, then they told the shepherds how to find the Savior. We must do
the same – tell people about Jesus, and then tell people how to find
the Savior!

In this case, the shepherds became seekers!

3 — Always be a seeker of the Christ-Child

Disciples are seekers. But not all seekers are disciples! There are
people out there searching for God, but are looking in all the wrong
places. But if you’re going to be a disciple, you must be a seeker!

I love what the Scripture says: “When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Come on, let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this wonderful thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’”

They heard, then they acted on what they heard! Wow, if people who hear
the Scripture taught and proclaimed each week would hear God’s Word,
and then act on what they hear, we would literally turn the world
upside down!

“If you look for me in earnest, you will find me when you seek me.” (Jeremiah 29.13)

Other Seekers in the Story …

  • The Wise Men sought Christ, too. They followed the star until it led them to baby Jesus.
  • Mary was also a seeker. The shepherds told everyone, including
    Mary, what the angels said about the baby (again, they’re telling the
    story). Remember, she’s very young, and the Scriptures keep telling us
    that she ponders what all of this means. Here, “Mary quietly treasured
    these things in her heart and thought about them often.” IOW, she
    internalized what God was doing! That’s what we must do. Whenever we go
    through things in life, we must ask: “God, what are you trying to say
    to me through this experience?” and “What are you trying to accomplish
    in me?” This needs to become a reflex (second nature) for us!

4 — Let God transform you

Transformation – metamorphosis

The shepherds returned to their fields. In some ways their lives would
return to normal, but they would never be the same again; they would
never be “normal” again!

“The shepherds went back to their fields and flocks, glorifying and
praising God for what the angels had told them, and because they had
seen the child, just as the angel had said.”

“Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is new.” (2 Corinthians 5.17)

The call to follow Christ is a call to radical discipleship! Some
people think of Christianity as “fire insurance” – if I believe in
Jesus, I will avoid hell. While that’s true, that’s not really what
it’s all about – it’s about radical discipleship!

Some of us are always struggling with what to call people who do not follow Christ …

  • Lost people – (not crazy about this one)
  • Spiritually confused – (it’s okay, but still not crazy about it)
  • Unbelievers – no, I don’t like using “believer” for Christ-follower
  • Unchurched – not good enough
  • Missing – good, in some cases

Normal!
But I the latest word that may be the best … Normal! So, what does that make those of us who follow Christ? Abnormal!

Recently, I read Leonard Sweet’s book, “Jesus Drives Me Crazy.”

“Once you encounter Jesus, you can never ‘return to normal.’ Authentic
discipleship is an all-of-life spirituality that interrupts all of life
and interprets life on its terms.” (Leonard Sweet)

“Those who dance appear insane to those who cannot hear the music.” (Mark Kleiman)

Following Jesus is not for the faint of heart!

“In terms of the world’s sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody
who thinks he can follow Jesus without being a little crazy too is
laboring less under a cross than a delusion.” (Frederick Buechner)

Don’t live according to the wisdom of the world!
If you do, you will never find True Love. The angel said, “You will
find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!” IOW,
“You’ll find this baby born in a barn, surrounded by animals, to a
poverty-stricken couple, wrapped in rags, laid in a feed trough.” God
sent Jesus, not according to the wisdom of the world, so that we could
find True Love!

God is Looking for Voices

We’ve been talking about Luke’s Christmas Songs. During the last two
weeks, we looked at Mary’s Song. Today, we’ll take a look at
Zechariah’s prayer.

It all begins …
I love the way Luke begins his gospel. After a brief introduction, he writes, “It all begins with a Jewish priest, Zechariah …”

Zechariah & Elizabeth …

  • from the priestly line of Aaron.
  • righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations.
  • no children because Elizabeth was barren, and now they were both very old
  • poor – as all common/ordinary priests of that time were

Zechariah’s Trip to the Temple …
Zechariah was a member of the priestly order of Abijah. There were
twenty-four divisions of priests. Twice a year, each division had a
week’s worth of service at the temple. In that week, they would draw
from the division one person to go in and light the incense to keep it
burning in the most holy place.

While Zachariah was performing his duty in the temple, he encountered
an angel, which freaked him out! The angel said, “Don’t be afraid,
Zechariah! For God has heard your prayer, and your wife, Elizabeth,
will bear you a son! And you are to name him John” (Luke 1.13).

The angel described John, saying, “he will be great in the eyes of the
Lord … he will persuade many Israelites to turn to the Lord their God.
He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah, the prophet of
old. He will precede the coming of the Lord, preparing the people for
his arrival. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children,
and he will change disobedient minds to accept godly wisdom.”

But Zechariah didn’t get it. He said, “How can I know this will happen?
I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”

The angel, Gabriel, responded, saying, “since you didn’t believe what I
said, you won’t be able to speak until the child is born. For my words
will certainly come true at the proper time.”

Zechariah completed his duty, then went home. A while later, Elizabeth
became pregnant, just as the angel promised. Elizabeth exclaimed, “How
kind the Lord is! He has taken away my disgrace of having no children!”

The Birth of John the Baptist …
Zechariah and Elizabeth’s baby was born – a boy. When it came time to
name him, everyone was surprised to learn that Elizabeth wanted to name
him John – no one in their family had that name! But Zechariah, who
still wasn’t able to speak, wrote, “His name is John” (Luke
1.63). At that moment, Zechariah regained his ability to speak, and he
began to praise God.

Zechariah’s Song: Luke 1.67–79

Scripture is clear about Jesus’ purpose in coming …

  • “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3.8)
  • “Christ has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Hebrews 9.26)
  • “Christ took on a human nature that through death he might
    destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver
    all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.”
    (Hebrews 2.14–15)

Most of Zechariah’s Song is about what God is doing through the
Messiah, but there are a couple verses about John: “And you, my little
son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will
prepare the way for the Lord. You will tell his people how to find
salvation through forgiveness of their sins.”

“John grew up and became strong in spirit. Then he lived out in the
wilderness until he began his public ministry to Israel.” (Luke 1.80)

“6God sent John the Baptist 7to tell everyone about the light so that
everyone might believe because of his testimony. … 15John pointed him
out to the people. He shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was
talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming who is far greater than I
am, for he existed long before I did.’” (John 1.6–7; 15)

God has a plan for your life …
God had a plan for John’s life for him before he was born. And like so
many others in Scripture, I believe God also has a plan for each of our
lives. I believe that our purpose is similar to John’s – to be a voice!

God is looking for voices …

People who know who they are not

One day, the religious leaders went out to John, to ask him who he was. I love his response: “I am not the Messiah!”

John knew, “It’s not about me!” he was humble; he had no delusions about who he was; he didn’t have a “Messiah complex.”

Steve Rushing’s comments, in Sports Illustrated, to athlete’s with big egos …
“It may help to remember that you are a human being. And as uniquely
gifted as you are, there are over six billion other uniquely gifted
humans on earth. Add to this the fact that the earth is only one of
nine planets orbiting the sun, and the sun is only one of several
billion stars in the Milky Way, and remember that the Milky Way is only
one of thirty galaxies in its local galaxy cluster, and this cluster is
only one of the many inconceivably vast vergo super clusters, and that
the inconceivably vast vergo super cluster is scarcely anything at all,
just an infinitesimal duct mite in an ever expanding universe.”

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3.30)

People who know who they are

“I am a voice crying out in the wilderness.”

Prophet = to speak for

“But this precious treasure—this light and power that now shine within
us—is held in perishable containers, that is, in our weak bodies.” (2
Corinthians 4.7)

People who know the Messiah

In order to be a voice for God (witness), we must first know God!

“… the sheep hear his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (John 10.3b)

In Philippians 3, Paul is writing about his passion to know Christ:
“that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and the
fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, if, by any
means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (3.10–11).

But this kind of knowing is not simply an intellectual knowing – i.e.
having head knowledge about Christ. It is an experiential knowing, an
intimate, passionate kind of knowledge!

People full-on for God

“I am a voice crying out in the wilderness!” This speaks to passion, devotion, and commitment.

People who are full-on for God are …

  • Fully devoted/submitted to God
  • Focused on God and his purpose for their lives
  • Their sole desire is to bring honor to Christ in their lives!
  • They are people who “cry out in the wilderness” – are passionate people, passionate about God!

“Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn.” (John Wesley)

“I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.” (John Wesley)

“Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth.” (Psalm 73.25)

People who are willing to go first

This speaks to courage and initiative!

Abraham, mentioned by both Mary and Zechariah in their songs, is a great example of someone willing to go first!

People who point others to the Messiah

John pointed people to the Messiah!

“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is
the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me
because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I
came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
(John 1.29–31)

Pointing others to Christ is what we are all about! “I am just one beggar telling other beggars where to find bread.”

Invitation …
Invitation is a good word. John invited people to know God through his
preaching and by responding to God’s Word through baptism. We, too, can
point people to Christ, and invite them to follow in the way of Christ!

Travel Agent vs. Tour Guide
Travel agents points others to great places to go, but they haven’t
necessarily been there themselves. But tour guides, OTOH, take people
on a journey with them. That’s what God is looking for – tour guides.
People who are on the journey, people who have some experience with
God, people who use their voice (life) to point others to Christ and
show them the way!

We are God’s symphony!
Our voice are all unique – loud/soft, high/low, but all are necessary.
And when they come together and harmonize, amazing things happen!

The movie, “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” tells the story of a musician who
struggles to find success in life. Mr. Holland dreamed of composing a
magnificent symphony that will be played by orchestras across the
world. But for various reasons, it never happened. On his final day as
a teacher he packs up his desk, and heads for his car. On the way he
hears music coming from the auditorium. Intrigued he goes to see what’s
happening. He opens the door to find the auditorium filled with his
students from the past 30 years. They’re playing a piece of music he
wrote. It’s a concert in his honor. One of Mr. Holland’s former
students, now Governor, delivers a speech:

“Mr. Holland had a profound influence in my own life, yet I get the
feeling that he considers the greater part of his own life misspent.
Rumor had it that he was always working on that symphony of his, and
this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both. But Mr. Holland
isn’t rich, and he isn’t famous, at least not outside of our own little
town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure. And he
would be wrong. Because I think he has achieved a success far beyond
riches and fame. Look around you. There is not a life in this room that
you have not touched. And each one of us is a better person because of
you. We are your symphony Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the
notes of your opus. And we are the music of your life.”

We are God’s symphony!

God Turns the World Upside Down

Today is the second Sunday of Advent. Advent, which means “coming” or “arrival,” is a time of preparing ourselves for the celebration of the birth of Christ, as well as preparing for Christ’s second coming.

Christmas is an Incredible Story: God coming to earth in the form of a human being, a helpless baby. Christ left heaven and came to earth to save us from our sins!

But, Christmas can be a hectic time. A little girl was pushing the limits of her mother’s very last nerve. Mom was nearing the end of a hectic season of cooking, cleaning, shopping, wrapping and church stuff. She was also nearing the breaking point with her little pre-schooler. Finally the little girl was bathed and ready for bed. As she knelt to say her prayers, Mom listened as her sweet three year old theologian “customized” her evening prayer, …And forgive us our Christmases, as we forgive those who Christmas against us!

Christmas is about love and peace, and yet, it can be filled with stress and be characterized by impatience!

Again, during this Advent season, we’ll be focusing on the prayers that are spoken during the course of the Christmas story. Today, we’ll take a second look at Mary’s Song (the Magnificat).

Luke 1.46–55 [NLT]

Message of the Kingdom of God …
When you look at the teaching Jesus did in the Gospel, you notice that the heart of his message was about God’s kingdom. John the Baptist (whose birth we’ll take a closer look at next week) was sent to prepare the way for the Messiah. His message? “Repent! For the kingdom of God is at hand.” God’s kingdom changes everything!

God turns the world upside down …
By exalting the humble
God chooses David: God sent Samuel to Bethlehem, to a man named Jesse, because God chose one of his sons to be the new king.

1 Samuel 16.1–13

“But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Jesus, Matthew 19.30)

Everything happens in God’s time: God removes princes/strong rulers in his time. God exalts the humble/lowly in his time! In fact, when God spoke to Samuel, and sent him to Jesse, God said, “You have mourned long enough for Saul.”

The world exalts the strong. Look at many of the nations in the world where “strong rulers” reign over others. In many of those same nations, the poor and the weak are victimized. But it won’t always be that way; in God’s time, the strong will be dragged down, and the humble will be exalted and vindicated! But it will all happen in God’s time!

“When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.” (Paul, Romans 5.6)

Philippians 2.6–11

By caring for the poor
One thing that’s absolutely clear in Scripture is that God cares for the poor, and the poor will be vindicated, in God’s time …

  • “You shame the counsel of the poor, but the LORD is his refuge.” (Psalm 14.6)
  • “All my bones shall say, ‘LORD, who is like you, delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him, yes, the poor and the needy from him who plunders him?’” (Psalm 35.10)
  • “For He will deliver the needy when he cries, The poor also, and him who has no helper. He will spare the poor and needy, and will save the souls of the needy.” (Psalm 72.12-13)
  • “He raises the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of the ash heap.” (Psalm 113.7)
  • “He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who honors him has mercy on the needy.” (Proverbs 14.31)
  • “He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, and he will pay back what he has given.” (Proverbs 19.17)
  • “He who gives to the poor will not lack, but he who hides his eyes will have many curses.” (Proverbs 28.27)

By sending a Suffering Savior instead of a Warrior King
Many of God’s people in ancient times expected the Messiah to be a warrior who would deliver them from their enemies. They certainly did not expect the Messiah to be born in the circumstances that he was. In fact, not much of Jesus’ like did people seem to expect. Instead of delivering them from their physical enemies, Jesus was delivered into the hands of his enemies and was crucified on the cross.

God’s kingdom is different! Instead of sending a warrior king to deliver his people from their enemies, he sent a suffering Savior to deliver us from our sin and death!

By setting up a different kind of Kingdom
Simply stated: God’s kingdom is not like the world, and the world is not like God’s kingdom!

Matthew 5.3–11 [NKJV] (The Beattitudes)

By keeping his promise to his people (to be merciful forever)
Mary said, God “promised our ancestors—Abraham and his children—to be merciful to them forever.”

That was the whole point of God sending his son …

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it. There is no judgment awaiting those who trust him. But those who do not trust him have already been judged for not believing in the only Son of God.” (Jesus, John 3.16–18)

Earlier, I mentioned that John the Baptist was sent to prepare the Way of the Messiah, saying, “Repent! For the kingdom of God is at hand.” Just before Jesus left the earth to return to heaven, he said to his followers, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and you will be my witnesses …” (Acts 1.8)

May we be effective witnesses of Christ, and of his kingdom! May our lives demonstrate that God’s kingdom is radically different! And may God turn the world upside down through us!

Turning the World Upside-Down

The Magnificat
Luke 1.46-55

Jesus came to turn the world upside-down
Mary praises because finally things are going to be set aright. God is
going to turn the world upside-down. And he has already begun. She is
even proof of that. As we looked at humility last week, Mary
exemplifies how God looks on the heart, and chooses a young girl from a
poor family to be the mother of the Son of God.

Jesus begins his public ministry stating that he has come to turn the world upside-down:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed.
Luke 4.18 (quoting Is 61)

But we all know that injustice runs rampant in this world. We watch
jerks attend basketball games and throw stuff at players. And these
players who are making millions of dollars, just don’t get it. Instead
of being the bigger person and walking away, the players begin a rumble
with the fans and then say it’s unfair that he has to sit out the rest
of the season. (Artest)

Why is God wasting all of that good money on someone like Artest. Why
isn’t Artest going away empty, God? Why not give that money to some
good, upright person? I know, to someone who tithes, God. Wow, 6.1
million for his 2004-2005 salary equals $600,000 in tithes!

Just about everyday, we hear of something unfair or we get treated unfairly, unjustly.

The psalmist knew all about that, too. Look at Psalm 73.3-8
The question is, “Why do the wicked prosper?”
I will atempt to answer that question today.

Know the final destiny of the wicked
But then …
16 When I tried to understand all this,
it was oppressive to me
17 till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny.
18 Surely you place them on slippery ground …
27 Those who are far from you will perish …
(from Psalm 73)

Remember that this life is only temporary. There is a whole eternity
which follows this life. Jesus came to bring change to this life, but
he said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” His kingdom is a spiritual
kingdom, ushered in by his birth, death, and resurrection. We who
belong to him are a part of that kingdom. But we will not see that
kingdom fully established until Christ comes again. And so Advent is
not only the season of looking toward Christmas, when Christ was born,
but it is a season of looking toward his coming again. It is a season
of hope, knowing that the injustices of this life will pass away. That
God will bring down rulers and lift the humble; that God will fill the
hungry and send the rich away empty.

Be a part of the answer: Turn your world upside-down!

Having said that we who belong to him belong to his kingdom, we are given a responsibility:
We, too, are sent to turn the world upside-down!

Remember our study of the Lord’s Prayer: we pray, “let thy kingdom
come.” It is a prayer for our own personal transformation, for the
transformation of the covenant community we are a part of, and the world around us. It is a
prayer that involves action on our part.

What are we going to do to feed the hungry? What are we going to do to
ease the suffering we see around us? How are we going to bring hope to
the hopeless?

We have spent some time talking about gifts: finding our gifts and
developing and using them to the glory of God. But not having a
particular gift, does not exempt us from serving in those areas. Just
because you don’t have the gift of giving, doesn’t exempt you from
giving financially, it doesn’t exempt you from titheing, it doesn’t
exempt you from giving when you see a need.

Just because you don’t have the gift of service, doesn’t exempt you
from serving others. Just because you don’t have the gift of mercy,
doesn’t exempt you from being moved with compassion by the needs of
others.

As one continues to grow and mature in Christ, more and more of the gifts will be exemplified in our lives.

Let’s go back to the gift of service. Jesus is our prime model. His
greatest demonstration of servanthood was in John 13 when he washes the
disciples’ feet.

John 13
15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a
messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17Now that you know these
things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Much ministry happens without my knowledge. Not every ministry responsibility appears on paper:
Visit
Foodbank
Dig up a waterline to fix a leak
You see a need, you reach out

At Faith UMC, we are becoming more organized because of our size, but you don’t need your name to appear on a particual service team to serve others. The purpose of organization is so that when there is a need bigger than what you can fill, there is a body organized and ready to meet that need.

A practical example is we now have greeters, but that doesn’t abolish your responsibility to be friendly and welcoming to our guests and to one another.

Work together
A socialist once came to see Andrew Carnegie and soon was railing
against the injustice of Carnegie having so much money. In his view,
wealth was meant to be divided equally. Carnegie asked his secretary
for an assessment of everything he owned and at the same time looked up
the figures on world population. He did a little arithmetic on a pad
and then said to his secretary. “Give this gentleman l6 cents. That’s
his share of my wealth.”

I believe Carnegie missed the point. Don’t be discouraged by what you
may feel is the little bit you can give. And I mean more than
financially. I’m really focusing on service today. What we may do, may
seem small, but if we are all doing our part, we can make a big
difference in this world. That’s the joy of being a part of something
bigger than ourselves. That’s the joy of working together as a church
and more largely as the Manor Hill Charge and Juniata Valley Parish and
JV Ministerium. That’s the joy of being a part of a connectional church and involved with such ministries as Mission Central and
UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) and as each does their small part, it magnifies and multiplies,
reaching needs both near and afar.

Ecclesiastes 4.12
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Synergy:
One horse can pull of to 2 tons
Two horses pulling in the same direction, can pull up to 23 tons
(numbers may vary)

We are much more effective in the work of Christ, as we work together.

Mutual Giving
~In helping others, let them help you.
~In helping others, don’t enable them to continue to make poor choices.
~In helping others don’t take away their dignity, give them dignity.
~Don’t help others in order to feel better about yourself.
~There is no one who understands the injustice of society better than
those who are in the midst of it. They need to be a part of the
solution.

*That means that we can’t have an ad hoc committee of wealthy or even
middle-class people sitting around a table solving the plight of the
poor.
*Furthermore, that means we can’t as a church sit together and figure
out how to reach our community for Christ without being in conversation
with the unchurched. What are their needs? What are they looking for in a church? Why aren’t they involved in the life of the church?

Let’s work together to turn our world upside-down!