Dear Guts is the key reader, At this wonderful time of the year; our thoughts are turned to spiritual values. This means different things to each one of us. Each year, I write a special article about the meaning of Christmas to me, in hopes that it will encourage some of you.
Yet, I learn so much about the meaning and importance of this sacred observance from others. One example of this is that; I have been blessed in the last few years to watch and learn from a young man, at First United Methodist Church, in Thomasville, NC. Pastor Cris Uren is a devoted, dedicated, intelligent, inspired young man. He fills my mind and heart with many thoughts of value and meaning.
This past Sunday, he shared that he “never” writes the whole text to his message but that this one just “flowed” to him so powerfully that he literally wrote the whole message in a sitting. After hearing it, I realized this was no accident but providence; because now I can share it with you.
Attached is the message he brought to me Sunday morning. I share it with you now, as my Christmas gift. May you receive the good news through it, as I did! He is with us!
Prepare the Way: He is With Us
We’ve all heard the phrase; “Jesus is the reason for the season.” This morning I’d like to talk about the reason for the season itself. Why it is that Jesus had to come in the first place? I want to focus on “The Necessity of Christmas.” A side of Christmas easily lost amongst all the holiday festivities.
I was really struggling with this week’s sermon…I wrestled all week studying this passage and praying for direction. Then shortly after praying, I saw on fb that a friend had posted a link to his wife’s latest blog titled, “The Weight of Christmas.”
Peter and I went to college and seminary together and he’s now pastoring a church in MI. A few years ago, he and his wife Sarah lost their 10-month old girl to brain cancer. Sarah’s latest blog is a reflection back on that first Christmas without her daughter Annie and I’d like to share it with you.
I will never forget that first Christmas after Annie died.
I was trying hard to grasp for the little bit of joy I could muster, but life felt so bleak.
I felt eyes on me all the time, well-meaning people wondering how they could help. I just wanted to disappear.
I had never had a Christmas like that. The only Christmases I had ever known were happy. It felt so wrong, but then again, nothing about life really seemed right or normal.
I managed to hold it all together, plastering a fake smile on my face, until after the Christmas Eve service. A good friend didn’t say a word, she just hugged me. And I broke.
“I just want it to be over.” I confessed.
I felt so guilty. Guilty that my three and five year old had a mom who didn’t have any strength for cookies or traditions. Guilty that I was the Pastor’s wife who didn’t really care about Jesus being born. Guilty that my little baby was lying cold under a blanket of snow instead of snuggled in her crib.
I survived. I’ve woken up to three more Christmases since then, none so heartbreaking, but each with moments of overwhelming sadness.
The truth I’ve realized is that not many of us get to keep our idealized Christmas memories. We are a broken people, with sadness and grief piled up high. And there’s just something about popping open the Christmas bins and smelling the fragrances of past Christmases that conjures up feelings and memories that we’d rather just keep neatly packed away.
Last week we were running out the door and I couldn’t find Kate. She was in the corner, sobbing. Surprised, I asked her what happened. “I just miss Annie,” she said. My heart dropped, her tears mixed with mine, and for a moment I felt like it was all new again, freshly happening. It was hard, in a good way, and I needed her tears to remind me again not to bury the hardness of what we’ve walked through . . . what we’re still walking through.
We grieve together and we face life together, not knowing all the answers, but so thankful for Jesus, who understands our sadness and hands us a promise of, One Day.
I think Sarah’s right. Many of us wrestle to hold on to our idealized Christmas memories while underneath the surface things aren’t so ideal. But I also think that many people are still trying to hold on to their idealized view of God, humanity, and the world we live in.
This morning I want to break down the idealized images of Christmas and the world in which we live. I think we’ll come to realize that things aren’t as ideal as we thought they were. I think Sarah was right when she said, “We are a broken people, with sadness and grief piled up high.”
But hopefully we also come to realize that our God and his plans for our lives are far better than we could ever imagine.
I’ve changed the text and focus of my sermon from what’s printed in the bulletin. We’re going to look at Luke 2:8-14 before I share with you, and really what I’ve prepared is more of an article or essay than a sermon. After reading Sarah’s blog I sat down and began to write and didn’t stop until I was done, something that never happens for me. But I trust the Lord will speak to all of us this morning.
Why is Christmas so necessary? The necessity of Christmas is driven from our thoughts by Christmas cards, office parties, gift exchanges, and stockings hung by the chimney with care. Many folks send cards, shop for gifts, bake cookies, and do their best to spread “Christmas Cheer” or at least try not to hinder the cheer of others.
Christmas, for many people, is a very difficult time. i.e. …
But we like to wrap-up the brokenness and chaos of our world like presents under the tree. We hide them out of sight so no one will see and we do our best to pretend like they’re not there, like we’re not hurting or alone.
But on December 26th when we wake from our Eggnog and turkey induced coma, we realize not much has changed. Though all the presents have been unwrapped and are out of sight, the sadness and grief of our world still lies there before us. They quietly bring us back to reality, along with the credit card bills we’ve incurred in our efforts to spread “Christmas Cheer.”
Growing up in Michigan I loved to look outside on Christmas morning and see a blanket of freshly fallen snow. All the wet drab and nastiness of winter was covered under a blanket of pure white. But no matter how much it snowed, it never did a thing to change what was underneath, it simply kept it hidden for a season.
You see, Christmas is not about the ‘Holiday Spirit’ or spreading ‘Christmas Cheer.’ It’s not about the trees or lights or mistletoe or halls decked with boughs of holly. It’s not even about fantasylands or imaginary characters.
Christmas is about reality; the cold hard reality of our world’s brokenness and sin. The reality that we’ve messed up our lives. The reality of suffering and pain, sadness and grief. The reality that life is not fair and that justice often alludes us.
It’s the reality that people go hungry, sick people die, and the reality that sometimes parents have to bury their precious little girl. But this is the side of Christmas we don’t like to talk about. These realities don’t make for a good Christmas carol or television special.
But the reality of brokenness is nothing new. It’s almost as old as creation itself. Sin entered into the world in the Garden of Eden and has been causing chaos and darkness and pain ever since.
When man fell into darkness through sin, God showed up. He pronounced judgment upon the sinfulness of man and on Satan. All of creation was broken and placed under the curse of sin. Man’s sinful rebellion separated us from God. But God also showed up to deliver a glorious promise for the future. The first promise of salvation and it’s found in Genesis 3:15 “ I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” (HCSB)
God’s answer to human sin, rebellion, and separation from God is a son, a descendant, literally ‘a seed.’ A seed will eventually come through the lineage of this woman, Eve. There will be a battle between this male son and this dragon, serpent, Satan, and that he, the Savior, will be wounded but Satan will be defeated.
So as the rest of the story unfolds, the people were eagerly anticipating the birth of a particular son. They were hoping and waiting for this descendant, this seed to come. But as the story continued, things went from bad to worse and we’re told that God was grieved that he made man in the first place.
God then sent judgment on the world by way of a flood, and all humanity was destroyed except Noah and his family on the Ark. All the hopes of the world and the promised descendent, or seed were floating precariously on the waters and were at the mercy of the storm.
But when it was over, God placed a rainbow in the sky to remind Noah’s family that he hadn’t forgotten his promise, the promise of a seed. So they hoped and waited for the seed to come.
And in Genesis 12, God called out Abraham and promised to bless him with descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and that through his descendants, his seed, God would bring universal blessing, that all nations on earth would be blessed through him. So the people hoped and waited for the seed to come.
But instead God’s people ended up as slaves in Egypt and they cried out to God for deliverance. God heard their cry and sent them the prophet Moses to deliver his people. But because the Egyptians were killing all the Israelite baby boys, Moses was hidden out of sight and eventually placed in a basket and sent down the river. And once again all of man’s hopes and God’s promises were floating precariously on the waters. (תֵּבָה (tēbâ) – Ark).
But Moses was saved and grew up to lead God’s people out of slavery and into the land of promise. But in spite of God’s blessings the people rebelled. Rebellion is part of their story because its’ part of our story, the human story. God wasn’t enough for them. They wanted a king like all the other nations, so God relented and gave them a king.
It didn’t take long for their new king to fail miserably and he was eventually replaced by King David. Now David was a man after God’s own heart. God came to David and renewed his promises and also promised to make David into a great king. He promised that his kingdom would never end and one of his descendants, his seed would sit on his throne forever. So the people hoped and waited.
But the people continued to rebel against God and were overrun by their enemies. In exile they cried out to God. The people continued to look back to the promises of God and forward for the seed, the descendant to come and fulfill those promises. They continued to hope and wait.
They were waiting for the seed of the woman Eve, the seed of Abraham, and the seed of David to come, the one who would destroy Satan and the forces of evil. They were waiting for a Messiah from the family of David to set them free. A man so great that he would bring blessing upon all nations.
So they hoped and waited, looking back to God’s promises and forward for the seed until, finally, that great day when God showed up. The only one truly able to defeat Satan and deliver humanity was God himself. God came to us in the person of Christ.
And in Luke’s gospel he traces Jesus’ genealogy back through David, through Abraham, and all the way back to Adam and Eve. Jesus was truly “the chosen seed of Israel’s race to ransom from the fall.” To deliver us from our sins.
The Angels came piercing the silence of that holy night, declaring the good news to the shepherds and they were afraid. They were filled with fear. The angelic messenger from the throne room of God filled them with fear. They were simultaneously confronted with the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man and they were sore afraid.
But this is where the story begins to shift. This is when it really gets good. This is when the tide begins to turn and things begin to shift in our favor. The angel tells them not to be afraid because he has some wonderful news.
Pastor Alistair Begg said, “You can’t move from great fear to great joy without discovering the good news.” Fear not, for God is with us! The seed has come, the promised child has arrived.
And he is the Christ/Messiah, the one to deliver the people from the bondage of sin, the one who would suffer at the hands of Satan, but ultimately triumph over him. God’s promise was fulfilled on the cross. Christ suffered temporarily, yet Satan was defeated eternally. Christ was born to set thy people free.
He is the Lord, God Almighty. He is God incarnate, God in the flesh, Immanuel – ‘God With Us.”
You can only go from great fear to great joy by discovering the good news.
The good news is that God is with us. God came to defeat Satan and overturn the power of sin and death. This good news is for all people, for all nations as promised to Abraham. All nations on earth will experience the blessings of this good news. Christ came to make his blessings flow “far as the curse is found.”
Christ came to reverse the curse, bringing wholeness and healing. That’s what Christmas is about. It’s not about a season of cheer but an eternity of joy. The sinfulness of man is the necessity of Christmas. Christmas is necessary because of the presence of sin in our world and in our life.
The darkness of sin has created broken sin-sick world, a scary place to be. The consequences of sin create fear and leave us feeling afraid. Because of sin we live in fear, in fear of God’s judgment on sin and in fear of the trials and troubles we endure living in a broken world. So what are you afraid of?
Perhaps you’re afraid of failure, scared you’re not going to measure up to someone else’s standards. Perhaps you’re afraid of being alone, afraid you’ll never meet the right person, or afraid you won’t have enough to pay the bills. Or maybe you’re afraid that you’ll never get over the loneliness of losing your mother, your spouse, or perhaps even your child. Perhaps your scared that the grief and loneliness will eventually suffocate you. Or maybe you’re afraid of being rejected by God.
You can only go from great fear to great joy by discovering the good news. Fear not for God is with us. When God is with us we have hope, not just for tomorrow but for today. Not just in death, but in life, here, now, today.
A few years ago I went to a funeral for Angela’s cousin. She was a young mother of two when she died unexpectedly. The minister’s words have stuck with me ever since. The scripture for his message was Psalm 46. And throughout his message he continued to say, “Never fear for God is near.”
“Never fear for God is near,” how comforting. But now that God has come to us in Christ we can now say, never fear for God is here! God is with us – Immanuel.
Throughout the scriptures we see the presence of God eliminating fear in the hearts of his people. The angel came telling the shepherds, “Do not fear for God is here. Fear not for I bring you good news of great joy – A savior has been born.
God is with us even in the midst of our brokenness and pain. In the chaos of our world, God is our refuge and our source of strength. He is a very present help in our troubles, a very present help in the reality of our struggles.
We don’t have all the answers. We don’t have life without suffering or a journey without trials, but we do have Jesus. We have God with us. We have a God who came to earth and endured the same trials and struggles we face. We have a God who knows our hurts, who understands our pain, and who has promised to be with us throughout the storms of life.
Christmas isn’t about hiding from reality, or running from reality, but dealing with reality. The reality is we’re broken people doing our best to live in a broken world. We have all rebelled against God in our own way causing our own share of sadness and grief and pain.
We often live in fear. In fear of the inevitable pain and sadness that comes from living in a broken world and in fear of our standing before a holy God. Christmas is necessary because of the sinfulness of man, my sin and yours as well.
But the beauty of Christmas is in the presence of God, in the presence of joy. It’s the good news that we can move from great fear to great joy because of a great God who chose to come and be with us and to die for us. He is our Immanuel, God with us.
Even though Peter and Sarah’s little girl was taken from them by the brokenness of our world, it could not rob them of their hope. They beauty of Christmas is Immanuel – God with us. It’s the presence of a God who knows our hurts, who has endured our pain and has promised to walk through life with us. We are not alone.
The word ‘alone’ is not part of the Christian’s vocabulary. Even though you may lose a child or suffer from a chronic disease, even though you may have experienced rejection from your father or have known the pain of divorce, you are not alone. God is with us. “He is an ever present help in time of need.” He is our strength for today and or hope for tomorrow.
I want to read that last sentence again from Sarah’s blog: “We grieve together and we face life together, not knowing all the answers, but so thankful for Jesus, who understands our sadness and hands us a promise of, One Day.”
We know that Christ came to die for us and to be with us. He has promised us the strength we need for today, and he’s given us the promise that one day he will come again and bring us to a place where there will be no more death nor mourning, nor crying nor pain, where he “will wipe away every tear from (our) eyes. And until that one day, those who’ve discovered the good news will be hoping and waiting.
What about you? Is God with you? Christmas is necessary because of our sins. But Christ came to cleanse us from our sins and to set us free. That’s the Good News. We need not fear God’s judgment, God’s wrath. “Fear not, for I bring you good news of great joy that shall be for all people, joy to all the world,” joy that will be felt as far as the curse is found.
You can only go from great fear to great joy by discovering the good news, by receiving and responding to the good news. Have you discovered the good news? Have you received Christ into your life to free you from the darkness of sin, hell and death?
As the hymn declares, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Apart form Christ, we have reason to fear. We have reason to be afraid for Christ is coming again. But those who have discovered the good news have no reason to fear. Those who discover the good news have moved from great fear to great joy. They are people of hope.
You can move from great fear to great joy only by receiving the good news. Will you receive the good news today?
 Cited: December 23, 2013; http://psdamaska.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-weight-of-christmas.html