Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Christmas: Why does It Matter?

Advent is what Christians call the time surrounding the birth of Jesus. We light the candles on the Advent wreath each week at church as a celebration of Jesus coming into the world. 

Why do we do that every year? We seek to remind ourselves of this: The most important event in world history is that Jesus Christ was born. We celebrate it every year to remind ourselves... this is what life is really about. 

Then the next year: "This is what life is really about." And again the next year. Why? Because we lose focus in life pretty easily, and get selfish, and crabby. I know I do. I need these reminders each year, desperately.  

That's why we set up our Christmas trees, that's why we set up lights on our houses, we set up nativity scenes because we remind ourselves this is what life is really about it's not about money it's not about power it's not about jobs it's not about insurance or fancy cars or nice houses it's about Jesus Christ and that he was born into the world and that he is God and He Loves Us.

I think it's just perfect that Christmas comes right in winter when it's cold and dreary out, snowy cold bitter, and growing up in Wisconsin it was very very cold and very bitter. 

I remember waking up and going to work and getting in my car and it's just so cold it's like minus 20 degrees I'm like oh why am I awake this is terrible! It's so cold my arms and legs hurt as I get in the car. It was awful. 

But it's the joy of Christmas that gives us hope even in the dark season of winter. 

We consider this event that happened... that Jesus was born as a little baby 2,000 years ago in the Middle East in Israel. A nation that exists to this day, that's been in the news recently.

Jesus was born. We understand that Jesus was no mere human. Instead we understand that God decided to be born into the world to show us the way to heaven. 

That's something we know as Christians in America. We just know that! It's been repeated so many times we know it by heart. But if you just stop and think about it... 

God became a man... what! That's too much! Like for a Jew or a Muslim that would be scandalous, they would say, "no God's too holy he would never become a mere human!" That would be sacrilegious to those religions but in Christianity we serve a God who came as a human to get into the mess with u, to show us the way out. Our God came to be born as the Son of God to then die for our sins, to offer his life as a ransom sacrifice to cover our sins, so we can be made ready for heaven. 

But what exactly is God saving us from? That is the question. I have on my car, on my license plate, I have a sign that says "Jesus Christ is the answer." Well, what's the problem? 

The problem in Christianity is recognized as being within my own heart. The problem is me. I want to do great things, but, I have to ask myself constantly, "What causes me to do things that harm myself? Why do I make choices that end up causing problems in my life? Why did I drink so much for all those years? Why did I use drugs? Why did I chase after girls? Why did I do this, why did I do that, why did I lie? Why did I steal? 

In Christianity, we admit: "Of myself I am not enough, I need a savior. I need Jesus to be my savior. I need him to guide my life and to make me right, to make me different than I used to be!" 

That is the way out that Jesus came to provide, is that he would die for us. But also he would send the Holy Spirit to live within us. So, part of the package deal when you become a Christian, when you say, "Lord Jesus I want you to be my savior today!" Part of that deal, that arrangement, is first, your sins are forgiven because Jesus Paid It All! Two, you receive the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is this companion who now lives inside of you and guides you through life.

So as I'm living my life, and going through my days I have the Holy Spirit living within me, guiding me: Here's what to do and what not to do. Here's my path for you, so that's all part of it, and that's the journey we're on now.

"For to us a child is born..." that's why we remind ourselves of these truths. "To us a child is born to us a son is given and the government will be on his shoulders and he will be called wonderful counsel Mighty God Everlasting Father... I like this one: Prince of Peace that's our savior Prince of Peace of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end he will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom establishing and upholding it with Justice and righteousness from that time on and forever the Zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this."

Jesus is King right now right in this very moment right now, and I believe Jesus is here right now with us ministering to each of us in a unique way because he is Everlasting God. 

It says in the word "everlasting God" which means he can be with all of us at the same time in different ways. 

But it has to be personal, for each of us. This is where the rubber meets the road for being a Christian if you ask me... as I live my life as a Christian loving God loving people serving people meeting people's needs am I really led by Jesus on a practical daily basis or do I pretend? 

There's a difference between someone who loves Jesus, a Christian, and a religious person. The difference is this: Am I doing it for him or am I doing it for myself? 

Often religious people will turn us off toward God and we think well if that's what Christianity is I don't want anything to do with it! Many of you probably experienced that in the past, you saw someone who was mean, judgmental, self-righteous, pompous and they drove you away from Christianity.

I was there for many years, I said if that's what its like, I don't want that! But when I found the true Christian who loves Jesus, who's humble, who just wants to help and serve people, I couldn't ignore that. They're spirit filled and there's something different about them, that you can't quite explain. 

That got my attention.

There's something beautiful there, there's a presence there, the presence of God. But maybe you still feel unworthy?

God will accept people who have done bad things. I mean really bad things, like the Amazing Grace song. A guy who's a slave ship captain, it's open to him too!

Forgiveness for anyone who's willing to turn to God and make him Lord of their life.

I didn't believe that for most of my life. My first 26 years of life I did not believe, I thought Angels, God, Heaven, hell, Angels and Demons, it sounds made up, it sounds fanciful, it sounds mythical, until I encountered Jesus, and I realized, wait a minute... are you saying this is really true?

I can't explain what God did in my life. I was suicidal, I was depressed, addicted to drugs, and Jesus just changed it all. 

I believe all of it today. When it says an angel appeared to Mary 2,000 years ago I believe that literally happened. That I could, if I had a time machine and went back 2,000 years I would be able to see that happen with my own eyes.

How does Mary respond? "I am the Lord's servant may your word to me be fulfilled." That I hope is your reaction when God speaks to you when God is asking you to do something, may your response be as Mary's "I'm the Lord's servant may your word to me be fulfilled." 

That is the challenge my friends, what do you do, you're following God, you're loving God, you're trying honestly to serve God, and then something doesn't go the way you want it to. That's the test, the challenge in life, what is going to happen between me and God then? Will I continue to trust? Or will I run my own way in anger?

Many of the people I minister to at the Salvation Army are mad at God because something has gone badly. And the solution in that is to trust God even we don't understand. Of course it's not that simple. But it's okay to wrestle with him, you wrestle in prayer, in Bible reading, in emotions, in conversations, "Lord why did this happen? Lord what's going on?" I've done that many a night on my knees before God.

Lord I'm trying to do your will here what's going on you know can you trust God when those kind of things are happening in your life and say it's going to be okay. When life throws you curveballs can you still trust God that's tough I get it but it is doable.

If you haven't committed your life to Christ try it for 30 days. If you don't like it, I'm sure he'll refund your misery if you want it back. I love him, he's changed my life completely he's given me a lot of good work to do. He'll give you good work to do too.

There's a poem by Joseph Bailey about the incarnation. It says this: "Praise him for the Incarnation, for the word made flesh, tonight I will sing praise to the Father who stood on Heaven's threshold and said farewell to his son as he stepped across the Stars to Bethlehem and Jerusalem, I will sing praise to the infinite Eternal son who became most finite, a baby, who would one day be executed for my crime, Praise Him in the heavens, Praise Him in the stable, Praise Him in my heart."

I just love that picture, imagine God the Father standing in heaven, the stars, the galaxies, looking down on Earth and sending his son Jesus Christ, the son of God on a rescue mission, saying farewell to him, as he walked upon the stars and down to earth.

That is the mystery of biblical Christianity. He was in heaven, then he was in the stable, but the shocking thing is, today he lives within us. That's the mystery of a true Christian. They have God living inside of them and that's why you can often sense the fragrance of a true Christian, when you meet one, you can often sense the presence of God around them.

He changed my life. I'm not special, that's not what a Christian means when they say, "God's within me" they're not saying, "Oh look at me." No, they're saying: Look at Him. It's all about God.

I used to wonder: Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? What's the purpose in this life? I tried everything, everything but Jesus. Then at rock bottom I asked Jesus Christ to help me. And I discovered Jesus is the meaning of life: the way, the truth, and the life.

Prayer: Father, we're grateful for your coming, we're grateful that you sent Jesus Christ to be our savior, to be born as a little baby, wow! God, we pray for every person among our families and friends who doesn't know you. We ask that you would reveal yourself to them. For ourselves, we pray you would continue to guide us along the right pathways of life, to the very last day, in Jesus Christ name, Amen.