Sermon December 23, 2006 : Reflections on Christmas

Posted in Sermons
  • Presenter: Steve Johnson
  • Date: December 23, 2006
  • Location: Congregation Lion of Judah, Boston MA

Tonight as we continue to gather in the name of Jesus Christ which is what we do every week, we have a special time tonight because we get together in his name and to celebrate his birth. And we did a lot of reading throughout the service so far, we looked at Genesis, Deuteronomy, Second Samuel, Isaiah, Micah, Luke, Mathew. We’re going to look to a few more books of the Bible tonight. That’s a lot of reading, but the reason we did that is because that’s kind of the starting point. If you’re not aware of Jesus coming to this earth as a baby, then it’s really shocking.

I was reading a book about this Max Locato, actually one of the readings that Tola did tonight is from the same books by Max Locato. And he writes about a story where someone is sharing about how God who created the universe, comes to earth as a baby, trading his white robes of righteousness for dirty rags…………. Now they are probably clean but he’s making a point, you know.

This dirty little manger, he talks about the rats scurrying across the floor, he talks about, that we heard about the manure and the stench of the place. That God would do that is absurd, it’s completely absurd, that God would give up all that he has to come to this earth as a little baby to be born in a manger. But the absurd story that we have to tell is true and that’s the reason we’re here tonight, because there’s an absurd story that’s true.

As we think about that it should strike us some place deep in our soul, deep in our psyche that we’re not worthy of this absurd story…… for one second, we’re not worthy of this absurd story.

But I just want to take a moment to recap because we’re talking about how Israel really from before there was an Israel, from the time of Adam, there’s been this expectation that a Savior was coming. Expectation that a conqueror was coming, expectation that a king was coming.

And as we look in the Old Testament, all throughout the Old Testament you can see that avidness in the scripture but those these passages we read tonight and a lot of these prophesies about Jesus have to do with this idea that a savior is coming, someone who’s going to redeem Israel, someone who’s going unite the world in harmony and peace. And once again, where it’s apart and torn us under previously. And that’s the whole back line of the birth of Jesus.

You have this people who have a great history and a great God who’s done reckless things through them and he’s brought them out of very horrible situations before. We talked about, in that last song, Jesus going into Egypt and hearing the song of the captive children and that alludes to the captive children of Israel who were slaves in Egypt for 400 years, and God provided a way for them to come out. He delivered them. And the people of Israel were expecting God to deliver them, and he did.

What happened is that through time, through the course of history Israel was bound again, they were bound by foreign oppressors and invaders, they were bound by legalistic leaders who enforced a very strict interpretation of what God had called Israel to be and to do, that was not accurate. They were bound by circumstances that were going on around them, world circumstances, and they were bound by their own sin. And they knew they needed a Savior, they knew they needed a deliverer.

And I ask you: are we in such a different place today? Are we in such a different place from Israel that we don’t need a Savior? Don’t we have oppression around us? And some of us feel it more than others, admittedly. But isn’t it there? Don’t you look around and see that things aren’t right? There are people in power who use their power to benefit only themselves and not to take care of others, right? There are people who use their power to put other people down. There are people who use their power from money at the expense of other people’s health.

Just a little thing, we were watching, Sonia and I were watching a documentary on food, and it was talking about the way food is processed and the way food is being genetically tampered with in experiments to create different types of food and how these companies are putting down these private farmers so that their profitable alter crops can be grown. There’s, it’s kind of, you know, there’s an agenda behind the person making the documentary. That’s fine. But that’s the picture of what happens in our world, because use their power to pull others down, people use their power so that they can be lifted up and a lot of times we are underneath that.

And don’t we have world situations around us that we feel at mercy to. There’s a war in Middle East, most of the wars are in the Middle East. There are economic situations here at home, there are international relations that are strained all over the western hemisphere, north and south America. There are all kinds of problems in the world and we have our own sin. Just like Israel. Just like the people of Israel we have our own sin and we need a Savior, just like they did.

And so what happens is that you have thousands of years where these people are expecting the Savior. And they are expecting someone to come in and rule with a sword and bring righteousness and whip the people on shape and get things going and really restore Israel to what it was before, in their mind what the perfect life was: when there was plenty of wine, and plenty of grain and lots of gold and silver flowing through the streets of Israel, lots of power in Israel.

And what they got was a little baby. And they weren’t expecting it. And all of Jesus’ life throughout the gospel you read things like, this guy can’t be the Messiah, this guy can’t be the Savior, because we know his parents. We know his brother, we know his sister. This guy can’t be a Savior, this guy can’t be something special. Or can anything good come from Nazareth? You know, this statement, can the Savior come from this little, back water place that’s not supposed to be a great place? Shouldn’t the Savior come from Jerusalem? You know, we have repeatedly in the gospel these instances where people are not able to grasp who Jesus is simply because how he came into this world.

And that’s the absurd part. And that’s why it’s hard to believe. I think it’s one of those things were they had, and we also have, preconceptions that prevent us from seeing something when it’s right in front of our face. Prevent us from seeing the truth when it’s right in the front of our face.

You know, all these prophesies from the Old Testament that we look at now and say, oh, that’s Jesus, that’s Jesus, that’s Jesus, in the psalms, that’s Jesus. In Isaiah, that’s Jesus. In Micah, that’s Jesus. Everywhere in the Old Testament, oh, that’s Jesus and they couldn’t see it, because they couldn’t get over that little fact that Jesus came in an unexpected way. He came as a little baby in a dirty place, from a little teenage girl who was poor in the middle of nowhere, so to speak.

And again, that’s the same problem that a lot of times we have with Jesus. We think, and some of us, think: how can I put my trust in a man, how can I put my trust in a person who lived 2000 years ago and I can’t even prove that he existed?

If you are fortunate, or unfortunate, depending on your perspective, last night you may have seen a program that Barbara Walters did on heaven, what is it called? Heaven, where is it and how do you get there? And we got to hear from really intelligent people about where heaven is and how you get there. People like the Dalai Lama, which is probably and intelligent person, from some Catholic bishops, from Joel Austeen, from some rabbis, from Richard Gere. Richard Gere was telling us this is how… now of course, Richard Gere says, heaven’s on earth and we don’t need to die to go to heaven. You know, thank you, Barbara Walters for letting us know what Richard Gere thinks about how we get to heaven. But it’s this interesting thing, that people are still trying to figure out how we get to heaven and we already know.

And that’s the point. Jesus came so that we could go to heaven. Jesus came so that we could have life with God, so that we could experience life and relationship with the Father. And you probably know the passage in John 3:16, it’s a very simple passage, but it just talks about why Jesus came. So we know that Jesus came, you know, we do. A lot of us here know that Jesus came, we believe Jesus came. But we’ve heard about that tonight, he came as a baby, in an absurd way, in a manger, through a little teenage girl, with manure and urine and sweat and smell, dirty old shepherds who came –if you are a shepherd, I apologize- dirty old shepherds who came to worship him. You know, and some magi too, some kings or magi. But the first ones there were just the shepherds, they’re outcasts in the society and that’s how Jesus came.

But the second question is: why did he come? In John 3:16, John tells us for God so loved the world, actually it’s Jesus talking, for God so loved the world, the manner in which God loved the world was this: that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but will have eternal life. Life with God heaven.

And he goes on to say, “for God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Now, when God tells us that he sent his son to save the world and to give eternal life, that’s it, folks. We don’t need Richard Gere any more. We don’t need the Dalai Lama. We don’t need, honestly, we don’t need the priest or the pastor or the rabbi, because we have Jesus Christ telling us right here. Jesus, who is God is saying, God sent me so that you could have eternal life. So that you wouldn’t perish, so that you wouldn’t be condemned. So that whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he does not believe in the name of the one and only Son.

And that was one of the questions posed last night: what happens to the people who don’t believe in Jesus Christ? The honest thing ……, it’s not because of us, not because of our Christian religion but because of what Jesus Christ says; there is only one way to get to heaven, and that’s through him. And if we don’t accept him we stand condemned already.

So that’s the first message of Christmas. The first message of Christmas to us is that God sent his Son so that we could have everlasting life, so that we could go to heaven, so that we could be saved. Saved from our circumstances, saved from our sin, saved from oppression. That he would deliver us, that we don’t have to fight ourselves, that he would for us on our behalf, that he would come into the earth and take hold of our lives and direct them the way that they should be directed, the way God desires them to be directed and the way we need for them to be directed. Because there is no difference between what God desires in our life and what we need in our life. There is no difference, though we often think that there is.

But that’s why Jesus came. And if you know the story, you know that he wasn’t just someone born and someone who walked around the earth, but Jesus actually paid quite a price so that we could have salvation, so that we could have a relationship with God, so that we could go to heaven.

Jesus paid quite a price for that. He died an innocent man’s death, for he died a guilty man’s death but he was an innocent man doing it, that clarifies. He was an innocent man who was basically killed by capital punishment, died on a cross, but not for his own sins, but for the sins of the world. And the gospel teaches us that Jesus took our penalty upon himself when he died.

And there’s really, it doesn’t get more complicated than that in a sense. We can study this the rest of your life, we can try to discern the deeper insights of the scripture and of salvation, but the basic idea is this: Jesus came to this world and while he was here, he died for our sins so that we could be saved. And that’s the gospel. Amen. That’s right.

And again, that’s parts of the message of Christmas, because without a baby and a manger, we have no salvation from our sin. Without a God on earth, without some person who is God and man, which again, how do you …… on that? How do you figure that out, other than just say that it’s true. And we affirm and believe that is true, but how do we understand it? We can’t, but we trust and we believe because that is through Jesus Christ, again, that we have salvation.

So, as we think about Christmas, it’s really easy for us to get distracted, right? How many of us have bought all our Christmas presents already? How many of us haven’t bought all of our Christmas presents yet? Right. You know, who has their Santa Claus, and their Reindeer and their elves and other things up and out and decorations? Who has their nativity? I’ll be honest, I don’t have a nativity, my daughter, we dress as an elf but she has little pointed ears, so I don’t know what that says about us, but it’s easy to get distracted in the way of how we’re going to pay for all these presents, and how are we going to do all these things and how much credit card debt are you going to have in January, right? And we get distracted.

But again, I want to reiterate. I want to say again, the message of Christmas is that God came to this world to save you from your sins. And as we focus on that, I think what happens, or what should happen in our lives is that we should approach not just Christmas differently, but life differently.

I was being interviewed recently, I was ordained recently by my home church, back in Memphis, Tennessee and they kind of grill you with all these questions, and they ask you all about what you believe, and your past and how you feel about your calling and all these things like that, and one of the questions they asked me is something about when did you first commit your life to Jesus Christ. And I told them that I was a 13 year old boy, I was on some trip with the church and the pastor was preaching this very message that I’m preaching to you, not a Christmas message but the message of the gospel: that if you put your trust in Jesus Christ you will be saved, very simple. You put your trust in Jesus Christ, you will be saved.

And somehow just clicked that if God indeed came to earth and if he indeed died for my sins then this is the biggest thing ever, there is nothing bigger than this. There’s nothing better than this, there’s nothing more important than this and what else can I do except devote my life to this. Now, whether that means being a pastor or just being a person who just commits himself to the Lord in your life, it’s really, that’s not the important thing, the important thing is this: there’s nothing more important, there’s no story that has a greater importance, a greater way.

And it’s actually interesting if you read C.S. Lewis, he talks about a thing called a true myth. And a true myth, just like any other myth, is this kind of grandiose story that carries either a moral or it carries some type of meaning for a culture, a society, a group of people, it kind of creates and under current for that culture. But it’s true, it’s a true myth. And that’s what the gospel is. The gospel is a myth, it’s this grandiose, absurd story that creates a foundation for everything that we do, that runs through all of our life, that it’s not just some moral but it’s something that we latch on to and we build our lives around, and we build our culture around, as a people. And it’s true.

And again, it’s just some of these things that are not really profound, other than to say that, in any other way than that they are absurd but true. As I wrestle with that the last few days, this message that’s crazy, absurd, ridiculous, a myth grandiose, but true, it’s really hit me. That this is the most important thing ever, and we have to shape our lives around it because it is something that grounds our culture as a body. It is something that should focus our lives as believers.

And so, kind of the second message of Christmas, is that our lives need to be devoted to this gospel, to this Jesus who came in a manger, who walked the earth, who died for our sins, not to mention that he rose again. How crazy is that? Raise from the dead, you know, from … the King of all Creation was murdered, you know, capital punishment, then he was placed in a tomb that he couldn’t even afford to buy, he had to borrow. Then he rose from the dead and appeared to hundreds of people. You know, that’s an absurd story but it’s true.

And I keep repeating that because it’s important. It’s important that you not just of this as a cute little story for Christmas time. It’s important that we not see a manger setting and think, oh how cute! We need to look at a manger setting and think, oh, my goodness how can it be? My Lord, how can it be that you sent your Son to die for me?

Now, that’s the response we should have to Jesus Christ at Christmas. But there is one other message of Christmas. So, we have the message that God on earth to die for your sins. We have the message that we should devote our lives to the Savior. And then there’s a final message, and that’s this:

When you read in the Nuevo Testament when people present the gospel, one of the things that shows up time and time again is not just that Jesus died, was raised again, but also that he’s coming back. We have a God who, he’s gone through this all process and he’s going to do it again. He hasn’t left us high and dry. He hasn’t gone off to some other more important things. He’s not too important to come back where he was before to finish what he started.

And if we read in Acts, Chapter 1,ou see Jesus talking with his disciples. Let’s see…. And in verse 3, “after his suffering he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive, like maybe he was walking and talking and healing, I don’t know. He appeared to time over a period of 40 days and spoke about the Kingdom of God.

On one occasion while he was eating with them, he gave this command: Do not leave Jerusalem away for the gift my Father promised, but you’ve heard me speak about. For John baptized with water but in a few days, you’ll be baptized with the Holy Spirit. So when they met together they asked him more, are you at this time going to restore the Kingdom of Israel? He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the time or the day the Father has set by his own authority, but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the world.

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them, ‘Men of Galilee, they said, why do you stand there looking into the sky? The same Jesus who has been taken from you into heaven will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

How many of us wake up every morning wondering if this is the day? I don’t. It’s really easy after 2000 years of defer gratification to continue to expect something to happen, right? It’s very hard. It’s not just the daily tasks that we have to do that distract us. It’s not just the simple absent-mindedness that every person probably has about things that aren’t right in front of their face.

But I think on some level, there might even be a hint to disappointment. And we’ve hoped before and we’re afraid to hope again. We thought, ‘Jesus, come soon. You know, come and take me to be with you, take me out of this difficult life.’

I’m not talking about wanting to take your own life, but saying, ‘Jesus, come take me out of this. Let me be with you.’

Paul talks about it, he says, you know, I want to be here with you to help you but it’s really to my benefit to go and be with the Lord. And how many times have we thought, you know, maybe when you first became a believer, when you were a little kid: Jesus is coming. And he didn’t come.

And it’s hard because, I think a lot of times we do get a little disappointed and we don’t want to hope too much. Yeah, he’s coming some day. Yeah, maybe in my lifetime, maybe in my daughter’s lifetime, maybe in my grand child’s lifetime. Maybe a hundred years from now,

Check, check, colonized all the planets and the solar system, maybe after we’ve done all that, Jesus will come back. You know, where’s the expectation? Because we’ve lost hope.

And the third message of Christmas, every year, it reminds us: don’t lose hope. Your deliverer is coming. Your deliverer is standing by. That’s the third message of Christmas.

And we can’t sit idly by pretending that he’s not coming back when we celebrate when he came. Because, if he came, he’s coming back. It may not seem logical. But if he came he has to come back, because God promised he was coming and he came. And God promised he’s coming back, so he’s coming back. That’s the message of Christmas.

So, ready your heart, prepare yourself now because Jesus is coming again. He didn’t just 2000 come years ago, he’s going to come again. And it could be tonight. It could be tomorrow. You don’t know, stay ready. Don’t lose hope. Don’t come to the point when you’re disappointed so much that you don’t want to hope any more, that you don’t want to try to believe any more, because you have to try, don’t you?

It’s not like you just sit back and all the time thinking about, Jesus might be coming, Jesus might be coming. You have to try to believe because it’s not easy after 2000 years of a delay. You know, a lot of people in Jesus’ time when he went up to heaven, they thought he was coming back in their lifetime. And you see, everyone, you couldn’t do this today, and some people do this today, but Christians sold everything they had and just kind of lived together and shared everything. One of the reasons they did that is because they didn’t thing their property was going to be worth much in a few years, because Jesus was coming back, all new things starting. Why would you invest? Why would you save? Why would you plan for tomorrow when tomorrow is not coming?

It’s like that Sting song, brand new day, sell the stock and spend all the money. We’re starting a brand new day. That’s what you do when you think is coming tomorrow, right? That’s what you do. What you do when you don’t think Jesus is coming tomorrow, …. Do this, do this, invest, save, prepare for the future, do that. Yes, if you need help with that. Talk to somebody. You have to do that. But you also have to live with the expectation that you don’t need to.

But how do you do that? How do you do that? I don’t know, so I’m not going to tell you how, but I know that we have to. I know that in our lives we have to live as if Jesus were coming back. We have to live lives that are crafted around the truth of the gospel because we have to remember and know that God came to earth and he’s coming again.

So, with all that, it’s kind like a lot of stuff, but it’s really some simple, profound truth, we need to think about that this season, because this is the best time of year to do it. It’s not easy, you know, doing taxes, and… to think about Jesus coming, dieing for us, for our sins and coming again. You know, it’s not even easy for you students, at the end of school, you’ve got finals, you know, you probably had finals last week, so now that you’re on break, focus on this for a little bit. If you’re off work this next week, focus on this for a little bit. If you’re at your job, Mark, I know you’re going to be at work, focus on it at your job. You know, hey, it’s not snowing, right? you’re blessed.

So, this is the time because it is easier now, believe or not that in any other time. So as we close I’m going to pray a prayer for us that we will be able to focus our lives around these truths.

So, if you will, let’s pray. Bow you heads with me. Let’s pray. Father, again, we thank you and we praise you for this time. We thank you that there is a Christmas, we thank you that we have a reason to celebrate Christmas. Father, we thank you that we have a time set aside whether Santa Claus is involved or not, our entire culture sets aside time to celebrate your birth. Or to celebrate the day that God became man, that you came to earth.

Father, we thank you that you had a purpose for coming. That you came so that we could have life with you, so that we could be reunited with you, Father, just as Mary was united with her baby upon that delivery, came face to face with the God of the universe.

Father, Jesus has made a way for us to be united with you, to come face to face with you in full, open relationship. And God for that we thank you.

Although we also ask in this time that you would compel us to remember, Father, not only what you’ve done but what you’re going to do.

Father as we think about the promises you’ve made and fulfilled, let us not forget the promises that have yet to be fulfilled. …. Shape our life, let them shape the way we think, shape the way we act. Father, we will ask in this time, Christmas season, that we will make some space that you’ll allow us to make some space for that, so we can focus on those things and think about how that might impact us.

Father, we do await your Son. We do await his coming and glory, the way he left, he will return. Not a baby in a manger, but a powerful lawyer, a powerful deliverer, a powerful savior.

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse whose rider is called faithful and true with justice, he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crown. He has a name written on him that no one knows but himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood and his name is the word of God, the armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth come a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. He will rule them with the armed sector, the treads the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God almighty. On his robe, on his thigh he has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

He’s not coming the way he came last time, but he’s coming the way he left; in power, in glory and he’s going to come down from the air.

And as we await that let’s enjoy this Christmas season.


Sermon delivered by Steve Johnson taped December 23, 2006 at Congregation Lion of Judah Listen | View (100K) | View (400K)

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