Friday, December 26, 2003

Please keep the thousands of people whose lives have been impacted by the massive earthquake that occurred there early on Friday morning. Current estimates are that 15,000 people have lost their lives. Ask God to facilitate international efforts to bring relief to survivors, to encourage the people there as they rebuild their lives, and that in the midst of the pain and mourning, God will send "workers into the harvest," who will proclaim the compassionate, life-changing Good News of Jesus Christ!

Pray also for the people of southern California who have been hit by first, wildfires, and now, mudslides. Ask God to keep the people there safe, to comfort those who mourn, and to encourage first-responders and rescuers in their important work. Ask God also to use this tragedy to help all to see how fragile life on this planet can be and of the need we all have of a personal relationship with Jesus!

Thank God that the international community--including French and U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies--were able to foil apparent attempts by Osama bin Laden's organization to perpetrate terror on one or more U.S. targets. Ask God to continue to thwart those who would commit acts of terror in our world, to bring terrorists to justice, and to create a hunger and thirst for the Prince of Peace, Jesus, in those tempted to solve the problems of the world through the use of terror.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

As we celebrate the birth of the Savior, Jesus, God bless you with a sure sense of His love for you and presence with you!

The Simple Christmas Message
Luke 2:1-18

(shared with the people of Friendship Church on Christmas Eve, 2003)

Tonight, I have to make a confession to all of you. I’ve been a pastor now for nineteen years and I face the same dilemma every Christmas Eve. What should I say? I know that may come as a shock to many of you. After all, it seems, I have the gift of gab. But presenting the message of this night isn’t really about the gift of gab.

Yet it’s a message that you’ve likely heard many times, a message that may seem to us worn from overuse. Each and every Christmas, our society's celebrations of this holiday season become more and more elaborate, the lights and decorations brighter and bigger, the gifts more complicated. Every year, there’s a new Christmas movie that dazzles us with its special effects. In a media-jaded society, how can a simple preacher stand up before a group of people on Christmas Eve and somehow, some way tell the story of the first Christmas in a way that gets their attention...that helps them remember the true meaning of this holy night...that encourages them to embrace Jesus as their Savior...that incites gratitude, wonder, and awe for the gift of the Bethlehem baby?

I confess that I am incapable of being as interesting or as exciting as the gifts and lights and colors that surround us.

But maybe that’s the point. When I look at the TV commercials hawking the latest gadgets, video games, cars, colognes, and perfumes this time of year, I see a common theme. “Buy this,” the advertisers tell us, “and you’ll be popular, appreciated, superior, desired, needed, in control, on top of the world.” In short, we’re told that for three simple payments of $39.95 per month, plus shipping and handling, we’ll be certifiable masters of the universe, gods over our own little kingdoms. The world seems to constantly push us not just to keep up with the Joneses, but to grind the poor old Jones family into the dirt.

Christmas—I mean the real, true Christmas—comes to us with an altogether different message. On the first Christmas, we’re told, the God of all creation came into the world.

He came not as a gift you buy, but as a gift you receive.

He came not as an imposing giant—Jesus wouldn’t have been as physically impressive as A-Rod, LeBron, or Arnold, even when He reached adulthood. Instead, He came as a little baby, needing to be fed and burped and changed like any other child.

He came not promising to make us little gods, but to be our one and only God.

All of these elements of the Christmas story make it more than a little counter-cultural, a bit scandalous, and offensive to us...and hard to preach. The advertisers know well that we all like things that we can see, touch, hear, and smell. Christmas calls us to accept things on faith. The advertisers know too, that we want our egos boosted. Christmas calls us to trash our egos and do as the shepherds did on the first Christmas: to humbly worship and accept that this baby is God Almighty in the flesh.

Tonight, I can’t compete with the glitz of the world and I won’t. All I can do is give you the testimony of a satisfied customer of Jesus-given grace. Once upon a time, I refused to receive Jesus as my God. My life was okay. But I was driven in a way that reflected my belief that I had to be my own god and make my own way. After I received Jesus as my God, I still wrestled with my insecurities and I still sinned—I still do. But Jesus gives me the grace to accept His acceptance of me and to accept His forgiveness of me and to move on with my life, confident that the God Who made the universe—the God Who came to us at Christmas—will never stop loving me, providing for me, listening to me, helping me. He will do the same for you!

On an episode of the old All in the FamilyTV show, Edith and Archie attend Edith’s high school class reunion. Edith encountered an old classmate named Buck who, in the years since their graduation had become exceedingly obese. Edith and Buck talked with one another for a long time, remembering their old times together. Edith didn’t seem to notice how much weight Buck had put on at all. Later, Edith and Archie spoke and she said, “Archie, ain’t Buck a beautiful person?” Archie got a disgusted look on his face and said, “You’re a pip, Edith, you know that? You and I look at the same guy and you see a beautiful person and I see a blimp.” A puzzled look crossed Edith’s face and she said, “Yeah, ain’t it too bad?”

What do you see when you look at Christmas? I have learned that when I look at Christmas as it’s presented to us by God on the pages of the Bible, it doesn’t induce panic, but comfort, hope, fulfillment, joy, peace. But we must choose. We must decide whether we will see Christmas God’s way or the world’s way.

And so tonight, I present the simple truth of Christmas. When God observed how lost and hopeless we had become because of sin and death, He rolled up His sleeves and went to work doing the most amazing thing ever. The God Who made everything—the God Who made you and me—became one of us, entering our lives as a baby so that as the one pure, sinless representative of the human race, He could sacrifice Himself on the cross and give us all new life when He rose from the dead. The Christmas message is as simple, as profound, and as true as that. This Christmas, welcome Jesus to your celebrating and no matter what pains or difficulties you face and in fact, no matter what successes you may enjoy (because success can sometimes be harder to handle than failure or adversity), He will give you reason to celebrate.

Merry Christmas, everyone!