What’s Good for the Goose

That was kind of ironic. Don’t know where you stand on the entire WikiLeaks thing that’s been going on. I know there have been all kinds of opinions expressed on both sides of the argument and a lot of people just don’t have an opinion. But I found it surprising last week when WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange got all cranky when he discovered that there had been police reports about the sexual exploitation charges against him leaked to the media.

Interesting, when Julian leaks information to the media he defends his actions by claiming he is a journalist, but when the shoe is on the other foot, not so much, then it’s an invasion of his privacy.

Hate me if you will but I am a bit of a WikiLeaks fan. I for one think the government keeps a lot of things secret that we should know about. If you don’t want people to know you did it, then don’t do it. But on the other hand, Assange now knows what it feels like to have your secrets uncovered.

There will come a day when all of our secrets will be revealed. Trust that you’ve already taken care of that with God. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible

The Other Gifts of Christmas

When I say Christmas, what do you think? The birth of Christ, Joy to the world, peace on earth and good will to men? Poppycock, when I say Christmas you think: presents, gifts, goodies. For all of the noble and pure motives that we claim we’d be awful disappointed if there wasn’t anything under the tree on Christmas morning. And hopefully you had a gift or two under the tree yesterday.
Gift giving has been a part of Christmas for as long as we’ve had Christmas. Now we all know that it has gotten a little out of hand, gone are the days when a child would be happy with a hand carved toy and a big orange. Although if the truth was known that type of Christmas was well before my time and perhaps well beyond your time as well.
I kind of agree with Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “People say that Christmas is too commercialized. But I have never found it that way. If you spend money to give people joy, you are not being commercial. It is only when you feel obliged to do something about Christmas that the spirit is ruined.”
We started this series the first of December with the gang from the Big Bang Theory when Sheldon explains to Penny that the Foundation of gift giving is reciprocity. And whether we want to admit it or not that is true in most of our lives. We give gifts to people whom we receive gifts from. Or as a thank you for some service they have performed for us.
And while we have talked about the gift that was given that first Christmas from God it wasn’t the only gift given.
Mary: We all know the story of Mary. Here is a teen girl engaged to be married and into her tidy little life arrives a heavenly messenger with the news that she has been chosen to carry the Messiah, she will be the mother of the Christ. Now I don’t know about you but I’m sure that I would have been a little sceptical. And I don’t think Mary was any different, as a matter of fact when the angel first appeared I love how Mary’s response is described, Luke 1:29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.
After all when someone arrives unexpectedly and starts off the conversation with the words Luke 1:28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favoured woman! The Lord is with you!”
You have to figure that they want something. And she was right, the angel wanted her life. What the angel suggested would change the way that Mary would be seen by her parents, her friends and her fiancé. And even when they accepted that just maybe she was telling the truth they would always look at here wondering: why her?
She would spend the rest of her life thinking about her response on that night. For the next thirty three years whenever she looked at her son she would remember the conversation that she had with the Angel Gabriel.
The angel, laid out the entire proposition to Mary and her response is found in Luke 1:38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her. The first gift that was given on that first Christmas morning was actually given nine months before and it was the Mary’s Gift of Obedience.
Now understand that this was not blind unquestioning obedience. The angel said that Mary would become a mother, Mary wanted to know how. I really don’t think that God expects us to check our brains at the door when we become believers, after all if he hadn’t of wanted us to use our brains he wouldn’t have given us brains to use. Which would explain some of us.
However, here’s where the rubber meets the road, sometimes even after we’ve asked the question we might not have all the answers and yet we still have to be ready to obey. Listen to the conversation Luke 1:34-35 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.
And here’s the clincher the angel finishes by stating in Luke 1:37 which by the way is one of my favorite verses in the Bible Luke 1:37 For nothing is impossible with God.”
I think that if Mary had of said, “I don’t think so.” That would have been the end of the story, I don’t think that she would not have been forced into doing it. That’s not the way God operates.
Can you offer Christ the gift of obedience this Christmas? What is it that God is asking you to do? Maybe it doesn’t make sense, at least any more sense than a teenage virgin being the mother of the Son of God. What is he asking us as a church to do as we move into 2011, maybe it isn’t all laid out for us but are we willing to say Luke 1:38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.
Why don’t you covenant to make that your prayer this Christmas?
Mary could conceive that child alone with just the help of the Holy Spirit but in that culture she couldn’t raise Jesus without a father, the stigma that he would have carried with him would have been almost insurmountable. Christmas needed a Mary but it also needed a Joseph. Now I personally think that Joseph gets forgotten in all the excitement around Christmas. I have a lot of respect for Joseph, you see Mary had something that Joseph didn’t have. They both had visits from angels, but Mary knew without a doubt that she was a virgin. I don’t know when people first figured out what it was they did that made babies but they knew 2000 years ago. When Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant he knew exactly how that was supposed to happen and he knew that he didn’t have a part in it.
The bible tells us that even though Joseph could have disgraced Mary publicly that he chose to just quietly break off the engagement. Listen to what the Bible tells us in Matthew 1:18-21 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Now listen to what happened in Matthew 1:24-25 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
Now a little aside here, in our tradition we don’t believe that Mary remained a virgin forever. I believe that when the bible says that she remained a virgin until her son was born, that it means that after Christ was born that she didn’t remain a virgin and that she and Joseph interacted as husband and wife, how was that for a euphemism? And had more children.
And so the gift that Joseph gave that first Christmas was Joseph’s Gift of Faith. Even though the New Testament had yet to be written it would seem that Joseph had embraced the reality of Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
There was absolutely no way that Mary would be able to prove to Joseph’s satisfaction that the child she carried was the Holy Spirits. He had to believe, and he did that through faith, it was nothing he could touch see or hold. Faith will never ask less or more then that you believe. Can you believe God for the impossible, can you close your eyes and see things that have never been seen?
When we talk about eventually expanding at Cornerstone and a new worship centre out back that will seat 700 can you reach out in faith and touch it. Can you visualize lives being touched, eternities being impacted and people being changed? All through faith? Some of you can. In 2004 we celebrated Christmas eve at the Lion’s Den in Bedford and had 68 people there and the dream of something bigger, two nights ago on Christmas eve we had 635 people worship with us.
We are told that traditionally when a child was born in that time and place that the family would have musicians sent to the home to help the parents celebrate. But what happens when you are a poor family and are far away from home? You don’t really believe that God would allow His Son to be born without some form of acknowledgment do you?
And so we have a choir sent, one of the enduring symbols of Christmas are the Angels, they adorn the top of our trees, grace our Christmas cards and are front and centre in the children’s Christmas pageants. Now personally I think some people have taken the entire angel thing too far and we have seen an entire angel cult developed where people are literally worshipping angels. And if the angels were going to speak today they would say Stop it! Angels are angels, they are not divine they are created beings and they were created to serve God, they are his messengers.
And so on this particular occasion we see angels appearing in the sky surrounding Bethlehem. Now I don’t know if they got overtime for working the Christmas weekend or not but we do know what happened. First One angel appears to the shepherds probably figured that one angel would be less scary then an gazillion angels. But he obviously didn’t play it right, listen to what happens, Luke 2:9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified,
I can hear the angel now, “Darn, I always forget to turn off the radiance of the Lord, you might as well come on out guys I’ve already scared the poor shepherds half to death.” And then we read in Luke 2:13-14 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
And so the next gift given that day was The Angel’s Gift of Praise. Very simply according to Collins English Dictionary praise means to commend the worth of something. As a matter of fact the word praise comes from the Latin pretium which of course is also the root word for premium and it means worth. When you praise someone you are telling them how much they are worth to you, when you praise God you are telling how valuable he is to you. When we sing songs of praise we are exalting God and telling how much he means to us. When we verbalize and give God the glory we are praising him.
It was interesting who the angels sang for on that first Christmas night. Out of all the people who the Angels could have appeared to and told about the birth of Christ they chose shepherds watching their sheep in the field. They could have appeared to King Herod, or to the Roman Governor, they could have shown up and sang for the high priest of the temple or the religious leaders of the country. But no they show up to Shepherds, it’s almost like they got lost and arrived at the wrong address.
Couple of interesting things about the shepherds. Because of their job they weren’t able to keep all of the requirements of the law and so they were considered to be religiously inferior by the religious leaders. So that’s neat, they needed to hear the good news to discover that it wouldn’t be a matter of keeping the law anymore that the price would be paid for them.
The second interesting thing here is that tradition tells us that the sheep that were tended in the fields outside of Bethlehem were the lambs that were used in the temple sacrifice. And so to those who took care of the sacrificial lambs came the news of the one who would provide the ultimate sacrifice for each of us, the one who would be known as the Lamb of God.
And so what gift did the Shepherds bring? Listen to Luke 2:17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.
The Shepherd’s Gift of Evangelism.
They didn’t take a course or hand out tracks instead they simple told people what had happened to them. You see evangelism simply means telling people about the gospel and gospel originally meant good news. So in its simplest sense evangelism means to tell people the good news. Have you ever made a discovery that you wanted to tell other’s about? Maybe a great new restaurant, or perhaps a super sale. I remember a few years ago I discovered a great Boxing Day sale where you could buy a computer for $300.00 I tracked a friend of mine down who was on vacation in NB because I knew they were looking for a computer too and I wanted to tell them the news.
The shepherds were so excited; they had seen the one who had come to save them from their sins. The had personally met the king of the universe and they wanted to tell everybody they met about it. How excited are we about meeting the king of the universe and having our sins forgiven? Excited enough to tell other people about it? Are we really convinced that people need Jesus?
What a great Christmas gift that would be to give this Christmas. It is a gift to Jesus when you tell someone about Him and then it’s a gift to that person when you tell them the good news. Two gifts for the price of one.
When we think of gifts on that first Christmas we invariably think of the Wise men: We call them the Three Kings, but we were never told they were kings or that there were three of them. In the original language they are referred to as Magi, and tradition tells us that they probably came from Persia. And in the scriptures we are told that they brought 3 gifts, which is probably why we always think there were three of them. You’ve probably all heard what would have happened if it had of been three wise women instead right,
Asked directions
Arrived on time
Helped deliver the baby
Cleaned the stable
Made a casserole
Brought practical gifts.

 And we know what gifts the wise men brought right? Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. But those aren’t the gift I want to focus on this morning.
The account of their visit is given in Matthew 2:1-2 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
You see the wise men gave the most valuable gift of all they gave The Magi Gave the Gift of Time. In an era where travel was measured in months not moments these men were willing to give up their time and travel across the deserts of the Middle East in order to worship the Christ child.
Time is still one of the most expensive things we can give to Christ and most of us would rather give our money than our time, after all we can always make more money but when time is gone it’s gone forever. I’ve harped on this before right, you want to show me where your commitments are then show me your cheque book and more importantly show me you calendar, where you spend your time.
We talk about tithing our money but what if we talked about giving God a tenth of our time, that would mean that each day we would need to give him 2.4 hours. That really isn’t fair is it? After all 8 of our 24 hours is spent sleeping, so perhaps he only wants 1.6 hours of our day, you know just to spend with Him in prayer and bible study. That’s still a bit much isn’t it? After all our employer gets 8 hours as well and so we shouldn’t have to tithe that time. That means that our tenth is .8 of an hour or 48 minutes a day to spend with the one who gave up so much for us.
But really most Christians are willing to give God one hour a week and then only if it doesn’t conflict with the kids sports or a trip to the beach or sleeping in or taking a trip. And I know it’s tough to make the time for God, but the reality is you can’t make time, you can only find time.
Isn’t that the truth, we find the time to do what we want to do.
So what gifts will you put under the tree for Jesus this year?

The Gift Received, Christmas Eve

Well tomorrow is the big day. I guess it’s too late to ask if you are ready. Do you have all your gifts bought and wrapped, the tree decorated, the baking done? Hey don’t give me dirty looks, I’m just asking. More than at any other time of the year people are thinkin about gifts. Either the gifts that you want for yourself or the gifts that you need to buy for the ones you love. And gifts aren’t bad, in the book of Matthew Jesus was talking to the crowds that had gathered to hear him preach and this is what he told them about gifts, Matthew 7:11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.
And so in that one thought Jesus confirms that we are a gift giving people and that God is a gift giving God.
Over the past couple of Sundays I’ve been speaking on “The Gift of Christmas” and we been getting help from the gang from The Big Bang Theory. If you haven’t been there then I will bring you up to speed. In week one Penny reveals that she has bought gifts for Sheldon and Leonard. And Sheldon gets a little upset, he tells her, “Don’t you know the foundation of gift giving is reciprocity?’ And he goes on to say “Penny, you haven’t given me a gift you’ve given me an obligation.”
Last week we looked in on the group Sheldon had dragged Raj and Howard to a bath shop looking for the perfect gift for Penny. But not knowing what Penny hasn’t gotten him confounds Sheldon until he hits on the perfect solution. He buys a variety of baskets and his plan is to open Penny’s gift first and then rush out feigning digestive distress, look up Penny’s gift online and select the basket closest to that value give it to her and return the rest for a full refund.
And so let’s see how the plan works out. (Video Clip from Big Bang)
If we could look at your Christmas lists what you want and what you want to give we would probably see a wide range of gifts covered, from the practical to the provocative. Most of us know what would make us smile if we found it under the tree on Christmas morning. Some people will be surprised, others haven’t taken any chances and they have already taken care of their own gifts. But what about God’s gifts to you? The ones that won’t be under the tree.
Acts 28:28 So I want you to know that this salvation from God has also been offered to the Gentiles, and they will accept it.” The first and most important thing we need to unwrap is 1) The Grace of
God
This is probably the most important gift that you will ever receive. This is the eternal gift. The gift that not only gives you eternal life, but gives you eternal life in the presence of God. Sometimes we get the impression if you are a Christian then you are going to live forever, and if you’re not a Christian, then you’re just going to die. And yet according to the word of God everybody’s going to live forever, the good the bad and the indifferent. The only difference will be the address. You see if the Christian lives forever in the presence of God the non-believer will live forever in the absence of God. In the absence of God and in the absence good, in the absence of light and in the absence love.
And so there are two things that you need to realize today the first is that without Jesus Christ there is no salvation. Jesus said in John 14:6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.
Jesus is the way, not a way, but the way. If there were other ways to God other then the sacrifice that Jesus made, then he didn’t have to make it. And Jesus reiterated that time and time again John 3:3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
The second thing we need to realize about the salvation of God is that it’s a gift, it can’t be earned, it can’t be bought, it can only be received as a gift. Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
And Ephesians 2:8-9 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
And so the first gift we receive from God is the gift of Grace. And I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that most of you folks have received that gift. And if you haven’t then I want to ask you right now, “How come?” Do you not believe? Or are you unwilling to surrender? It has to be one of the other. Now because the rest of the message is for those who have received the gift of grace the rest of you can use this time to mull over the fact that all you have to do is tell God that you are sorry for your sins, and that you want him to forgive you and to help you to live for him. It’s that simple that is the gift of God.
Nehemiah 8:10 And Nehemiah continued, . . . “Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!” The second gift that we receive is 2) The Joy of God
Believers do you remember the day that you surrendered your life to God? Can you remember the burden that was lifted, and the joy you received in knowing that you were right with God? Now I know what you are thinking, “People can’t be happy all the time.” You’re right of course. But there is a difference between happy and joy. Happy is tied to external, you’re having a great day, the birds are singing, things are going well, the entire blue bird on your window sill type of day. I love happy days, days when I want to sing, not that that would make others happy. It’s tough to find fault with happy. But we can come to the place that our entire life becomes a pursuit of “happy”. And we set “happy” up as our God, Alexander Solzhenitsyn said “One should never direct people towards happiness, because happiness too is an idol of the market-place” And so anything we value more then we value our relationship with God is an idol, Jesus said you can’t serve God and money, you also can’t serve God and happy. Because sometimes the things which you perceive as making you happy are in direct violation to God’s will for your life. Unless of course you simplify what happy is. Daniel Boone said “All you need for happiness is a good gun, a good horse, and a good wife.” Presumably in that order?
Joy on the other hand runs deeper. Where does it come from Luke 10:21 At that same time Jesus was filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit
In John 17 part of Jesus last prayer was that John 17:13 “Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy.

And that joy comes from knowing that we are where we are supposed to be and that we are doing what we are supposed to be doing. It’s internal not necessarily external, which means that we can have a no good, horrible day and still feel an inner joy even though we don’t feel like smiling. Dr. Melba Colgrove said “Joy is the feeling of grinning on the inside.”
When the apostle Paul was writing to the Christians in the early church he made this statement in Philippians 4:4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!
Now that sounds like a command. And I have discovered that if God requires us to do something then he equips us to do it as well. He’s not going to ask us to do the impossible. Part of the responsibility is His, that’s the joy of the Lord that the Bible talks about. But the other part of the responsibility is ours. We need to want that joy, and to do our part to obtain it. If you always go through life looking on the dark side then you will sabotage God’s effort to give you joy. God gives it we need to accept it. Here’s some advice from the great American Philosopher Charlie Brown. “This is my depressed stance. When you’re depressed, it makes a lot of difference how you stand. The worst thing you can do is straighten up and hold your head high because then you’ll start to feel better. If you’re going to get any joy out of being depressed, you’ve got to stand like this.”
So, claim the promise and straighten up.
So God gives us salvation, and he gives us joy, then we have
Philippians 4:6-7 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. 3) Peace of God shortly after Paul tells the Church in Philippi to “rejoice always” he tells them to not worry about anything.
Here is a choice that each one of us has to make, we can choose to worry and fret about everything that can happen to us, or might happen to us or we can give it over to God and accept his peace about it. Most of what we worry about will never ever happen. Winston Churchill said “When I look back on all the worries I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which never happened.”
Are you worrying about things that will never happen?
The gift that God gives then is the peace of knowing that he has everything in control. It bothers me when a tragedy strikes a Christian and some well-meaning Saint offers up Romans 8:28 as words of comfort. You know the scripture it says: Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
I believe that, I truly do, but I think it’s something we need to know before the tragedy happens and I’m not sure that it is what we need trotted out when something terrible has just happened. We need to know as believers that whatever happens God is still in control.
You ever sleep in a car on a long trip? I’m a champion car sleeper, when somebody else is driving of course. I’m convinced that I have ADD, and boredom is my enemy. And so when I’m a passenger in the car I’m bored stiff, add to that the fact that if I read in the car I puke in the car and it only leaves me with one thing to do as a passenger, sleep. If I trust the driver I can sleep like a log, but if I’m the least bit concerned about my safety I don’t sleep nearly as well.
If God is doing the driving in your life here’s a news flash, he can be trusted. The bible has never promised that as a believer that you won’t have problems or even tragedy, but here is something it does promise. Peter was writing to the early church at the height of the Roman Persecutions and this is what he told those believers: 1 Peter 4:19 So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.
And here is your promise for today, Isaiah 26:4 Trust in the LORD always, for the LORD GOD is the eternal Rock.
So what have we unwrapped so far, Grace, Joy and Peace, the fourth gift we receive is 4) The Direction of God If we go back into the Old Testament we find a period of time that the people of Israel wandered far from God’s teachings, they embraced foreign gods and false idols. The way this is described in the Bible is found in the book of Judges where it says in chapter Judges 17:6 In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.
The people were living in a moral vacuum where the philosophy was, if it feels good, do it. Much like today, as a matter of fact if you were to question ordinary people about morality they would probably echo the words of Ernest Hemingway who said “What is moral is what you feel good after, and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.” What a crock. At some point there has to be more than simply feeling good or not feeling good that determines if something is right or wrong. If not where does it stop? If you were to ask Paul Bernardo, or Russell Williams or any other killer whether or not it felt good to take another person’s life I wonder what their answer would be?
And if it felt good for them would that make it moral? Of course not.
So how do we determine what is wrong and what isn’t wrong. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said “Morality without religion is only a kind of dead reckoning — an endeavor to find our place on a cloudy sea by measuring the distance we have run, but without any observation of the heavenly bodies.”
The bible tells us in Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.
This has to be our guide, and yes we have wavered from it both in the world and in the church. And we need to confess that and get back to what is right and what is wrong. God has not set us adrift in this life without direction he has given us the rule book and it’s up to us to follow it.
Those are some of the gifts that God offers this Christmas. Grace, joy, peace and direction. Have you received them? If not now is the time.

“What does Jesus have to do with Christmas?”

Penn of Denn
Last week I was talking to a friend of mine who is a music teacher in the elementary school system. He was telling me that in one of his grade five classes they were discussing Christmas songs that weren’t really about Christmas. Jingle Bells was mentioned, as was Frosty the Snowman. When pressed for more some of the songs suggested were what we would think of as traditional Christmas Carols, Away in a Manger, O Little Town of Bethlehem and the like. At least one student asked the question “What does Jesus have to do with Christmas?” Interesting. In response, another child suggested that we celebrated Christmas because that was when Jesus died. Interesting.
Which made me wonder how many people don’t make the connection and are simply confused over the number of religious songs that they hear being played this time of year. I wonder how many questions have been asked about the Nativity scene on our front lawn?
On the other hand it does provide a wide open door to talk about our faith and the reason we celebrate. My friend talked about the limitations that are placed on him as a teacher, aren’t you glad those limitations aren’t placed on you as a friend? Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible

The Gift of Christmas 2 Preparing the Gift

The quest for the perfect gift. Some of you know what I mean and others, you haven’t got a clue. There are some folks who every gift is a challenge, to get not just a gift but to get the right gift. The gift that says just the right thing at just the right price. Those folks are buying gifts all year round and you will hear them say “that would be the perfect gift for Aunt Mabel, that would be my mother’s sister’s husband’s great aunt.” They put a lot of thought and love into their gifts, for the rest of us there are always gift cards.
And others are looking for the right gift but for the wrong reason. Do you remember where we left with Big Bang two weeks ago, Penny was going to buy Sheldon and Leonard gifts and Sheldon lectures her on the fact that the foundation of Gift Giving was reciprocity and that she wasn’t giving him a gift she was giving him an obligation. Let’s pick up the story with that thought. (clip two from Big Bang Christmas Special).
What a clever idea. Hmmmm, I wonder? Nope better not go there and it’s probably too late for this year anyway.
Christmas is a celebration of the greatest gift ever given. The gift of God! And it wasn’t a gift that was given without thought and planning. As a matter of fact John tells us at the beginning of his Gospel John 1:1-2 In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God.
Here is a gift that has existed before time itself existed. And it was prepared and delivered in a perfect manner, at the perfect time. You ever wonder about the timing of Christmas? Not whether it happened in December or September in AD 5 or 3 BC but why it happened at that particular point in history. We have approximately 5,000 years of recorded history, so why right then. Was it just a good time? Or was it the best time?
Listen to what Paul wrote in Galatians 4:4-5 But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.
Did you catch that? But when the right time came. Not just any time the right time. I am a big believer in context, the power that is of the right thing happening at the right time. If you are a reader check out Malcolm Gladwell’s two books “The Tipping Point” and “The Outliers.”
That was free.
God could have chosen any time in the scope of history for his Son to come to earth and for the church to be born, and yet he chose a specific spot on the time line of history. Why? Why at that particular point in time?

 According to historians there was no better time for the church to flourish than the two hundred year juncture of history known as The Pax Romana. E. J. Goodspeed notes: “This was the pax Romana. The provincial under Roman sway found himself in a position to conduct his business, provide for his family, send his letters, and make his journeys in security, thanks to the strong hand of Rome.”
The Roman Peace had spread across the known world, providing one of the few windows of opportunities for the land and sea to be travelled safely without the threat of warring factions. For the first time roadways connected points across the known world. But it went beyond simple transportation and incorporated communication as well. Instead of having to learn a multitude of languages and dialects it was only necessary to know one. Greek was the common language, a reminder of Alexander’s conquests, allowing the written word to be sent to encourage and correct the growing churches in diverse cultures.
It was not a coincidence that the Creator chose this point in time to interrupt history William Barclay writes in the Daily Study Bible: “It was no accident that Christianity came when it did. It came in God’s own time; all history had been a preparation for it; and the circumstances were such that the way was open for the tide to spread.”
But there were certain things that had to be prepared and made ready.
The Preparation of the Gift We touched on this a couple of weeks ago. God didn’t choose just anyone to parent his son, he chose Mary and Joseph. We are reminded over and over again of the baggage that people carry with them from their childhood as a result of parents who were abusive, either physically or verbally, parents who were neglectful or just didn’t care.
God chose not to simply come as a man but to experience humanity from conception to death. He would grow up as a child, experiencing all there was of childhood, from runny noses to scraped knees from the wonder of a rainbow to the first blush of puppy love. And God needed to have an exceptional pair to guide his son through those times. And so he chose a young girl from a small village called Nazareth and her fiancé.
But the only requirement wasn’t simply that they would be good parents. The expectancy of the people of Israel was that the Messiah who had been promised would be a descendant of David the greatest king that Israel ever had. You remember David? He was the shepherd kid who killed the giant Goliath, he was the poet who wrote the psalms and he was the King who led Israel to some of her greatest victories. And he was the ancestor of both Mary and Joseph.
That one wasn’t all that tough, the Jews kept genealogical records that would put the Mormons to shame and people were very aware of their lineage, especially when it included David. Kind of like folks to the south who know their kin came over on the Mayflower or Australians who brag about their ancestors arriving with the first fleet.
The second requirement was a little more difficult. Remember the prophecy we looked at two weeks ago from the book of Isaiah? Isaiah 7:14 All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).
Mary was a special young lady with a special past and what would become a very special future. The Catholics refer to Mary as “Mary the Mother of God.” And I think Protestants get a little uncomfortable with that statement but it is what it is. Mary was a virgin and she was being asked to be the mother of God’s son, Jesus, who we believe to be God incarnate. A very special birth that would begin with a very special conception, as God stepped outside of the very boundaries he put in place.
As you can well imagine there had to be some advance planning on that one. And that came in the form of a heavenly messenger who appeared to Mary to outline the entire plan. We all know the story; if you don’t you can find it in the book of Luke. But it all comes down to three verses at the end of Luke 1.
The Angel has told Mary that she is going to have a son and that she will name him Jesus. Mary responds by saying in Luke 1:34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” The angel says “No worries” actually if the Angel had of been an Australian he would have said “no worries” instead what he said was Luke 1:35 & 37 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. For nothing is impossible with God.”
And you gotta love Mary’s response. Luke 1:38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.
But that was only half the story. Remember that Mary was engaged and there was a pretty good possibility that her fiancé would notice that she was pregnant. I’m sure he would be able to put two and two together. Even back then people knew that it took two to tango and he hadn’t even been invited to the dance. So he was a little upset, even today in a culture that prides itself on having very few morals nobody would blame someone in Joseph situation if he decided to not go through with the wedding.
It tells us a little bit about Joseph’s character that he didn’t want to make a big scene and so we are told in Matthew 1:19 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. So, again with the angel. The story continues with Matthew 1:20-21 As he (Joseph) considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
The angel continues to fill in some details but the bottom line comes in Matthew 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.
If you are part of a family that is spread all over you know that getting the gift is usually only the first part of the mission. Now you have to get the gift to those who it is for. When we lived overseas the cheapest way to get parcels from there to here was surface mail and officially, if you asked at the post office it would take 6 to 8 weeks for your package to arrive, in theory. So we had to mail them around the middle of October. Even now we are always trying to figure out how to get my parent’s and sister’s gifts to Saint John.
The Gift of the Messiah was to arrive in a certain place as well. Earlier I had told you that Mary was from Nazareth, but that isn’t where Jesus was born.
So that lead us to The Preparation of the Place Remember there were no accidents that first Christmas. We are told in Matthew 2:1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. Which if you just want the basics of the story is kind of cool. Kind of Like “Denn was born in Chatham when Diefenbaker was King.” But really that doesn’t tell you the whole story does it? Why Chatham? Mom and Dad weren’t from the Miramachi, they didn’t stay there very long and I didn’t go back for almost forty years.
Matthew answers the “where” and when rather nicely Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. But there are a lot of questions that he leaves unanswered. And some of those questions are answered in Luke’s account and other’s we have to dig for. The most obvious question is “Why Bethlehem?” If we pull down one of our trusty maps we discover that Nazareth, where Mary and Joseph lived is up here, twenty four kms from the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee and thirty kms inland from the Mediterranean Sea, a small village that was obviously the family home to both Mary and Joseph. And Bethlehem is way down here, about 120 kms away. For us that isn’t an insurmountable distance depending on how you drive and what the roads are like it would take you between an hour and two hours to make the trip. When I was in Sierra Leone I made a trip of eighty kms going from Makeni to Kamakwie hospital in four and a half hours but this trip was worse than that.
Mary was not just pregnant Luke tells us about the trip in Luke 2:4-5 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant. Obviously pregnant. Hmm, love what it says in the KJV it says she was great with Child. And you know what I mean; there are some women who are obviously pregnant and others who are great with Child.
But why? Why did they have to go to Bethlehem. Well the short answer is that the Roman Government commanded it, a census was going on and People were required to register in the ancestral homes, which for Joseph and his family happened to be Bethlehem. But more than that if we go back into the Old Testament we find that God has spoken through his prophet Micah and said Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.
Bethlehem was the Birthplace of King David and it was decreed that it would be the birth place of the Messiah. Again He wasn’t just to be born any place but in a special place, even if it would require the might of the Roman Empire to see it happen.
And you have to assume that the census didn’t just happen on a whim. Long before the angel appeared to Mary and Joseph plans were being put in place to make sure the baby would be born in Bethlehem.
But while Mary and Joseph and their newborn son were far from home and their immediate family, they weren’t alone. It wouldn’t have been right for the Son of God, Prince of Peace not to be welcomed to this world.
The Preparation of the Welcome When we stop and think about that first Christmas we envision a stable under a starlit sky with the holy family surrounded by small barnyard animals standing in harmonious awe along with a group of shepherds and Three Wise Men while the little drummer boy played a solo in the back ground.
You know the story; the shepherds were tending their flocks around the town of Bethlehem when suddenly their lives are interrupted by a whole flock of angels. I guess flock isn’t the proper word, a whole host of angels. And the angels’ message is recorded in
Luke 2:9-12 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
And the shepherds followed the angels’ direction and we are told they went to Bethlehem and found the Christ child in the stable and worshipped him.
But the shepherds weren’t the only ones who came to visit the new born Matthew 2:1-2 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
It doesn’t seem like anyone has any problems with the Shepherds, you mention shepherds and everyone nods and smiles. But boy, you mention the wise men and someone inevitably jumps up and informs you “You know the wise men weren’t at the stable and probably didn’t arrive for two years.”
Boy I don’t know who started that but they should be slapped. Their rational? They refer to where the Bible says that they went to the house where the baby was, so obviously they couldn’t have been at the stable. But does that mean it happened two years later? Maybe a room opened in the inn the day after Jesus was born, maybe the innkeepers wife found out that he made them sleep in the stable and on night two maybe he was in the stable and they were in his room.
Then the revisionists talk about how it would have taken the magi two years to make the trip, although the same trip was made on Camels a few years back in 3 months, check out this website. But regardless of how long it might have taken them to get there, if God could put a star in the sky to guide the wise men he could have put it there so they arrived on time. And finally the proponents of this new tradition point to the fact that Herod ordered the death of all male children under the age of 2. So what? The man was a kook. When he was on his death bed he ordered that some of the most distinguished people in Jerusalem be arrested and killed at the moment of his death so some tears would be shed. I want to know why Mary and Joseph and Jesus would have hung around Bethlehem for two years after the census was finished, inquiring minds want to know.
Not to mention that if we read the account it says Matthew 2:1-2 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” About that time? About what time? About the time Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
And so those who greeted the Christ child at his birth not only included shepherds from the hills surrounding Bethlehem but also an undeterminable number of magi who had travelled hundreds of miles across the desert to bring gifts that would define who this child would grow up to be.
But through all the preparations there was a common thread that wove them together, a thread that has stretched down 2000 years to continue and link those who are prepared to accept the Christ child. Did you catch it?
Luke 1:38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.
Matthew 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.
Luke 2:4-5 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.
Luke 2:15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
Matthew 2:1-2 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
Did you catch it? They were listening to God but more than that they were obedient to God. And that is still critical today Jesus told his disciples in John 14:15 “If you love me, obey my commandments. And that Jesus reiterates that thought in John 15:10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.
So where you at today? A gift has been prepared for you, but the question is “Have you are prepared for the gift?”

 
 
 
 
 

By Chance and by Choice


December 6th was the anniversary of the Halifax Explosion, but I’m sure most of you knew that. And you probably knew that it was the largest man made explosion until the explosion of the atomic bomb. The Halifax explosion has defined our city for the past 90 plus years. And I knew all those things but what I didn’t know, until just recently, was that my great grand-father was here when it happened. My mother’s grandfather was a young sailor from Estonia who jumped ship in Halifax to start a new life, but he wasn’t counting on being a part of history. Family folklore says that he was behind Citadel Hill when the two ships collided and escaped the force of the blast.

More than 1900 people died that day, but Pritu Rahnell did not, and because of that, I’m writing this today.

It was by choice that Pritu jumped ship in Halifax and it was by chance he was protected from the blast of the explosion. Each of our lives will be shaped by choice and by chance. We really can’t do much about the chance but we are the author of our choices. So instead of complaining about chance, we need to do our best with our choices. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible

The Promise of the Gift

When you think of Christmas what comes to your mind? Before you answer let me tell you a story I heard many years ago. It happened in a grade four Sunday School Class and the teacher was asking the class a question, I don’t know what the context was or why she was asking it, but she was. The question was this “What is grey, has a bushy tail, collects nuts and climbs trees.” Before anyone else could answer a little boy stuck up and his hand and blurted out “I know the answer is Jesus but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me.”

So we will give you this one. When I asked the question “When you think of Christmas what comes to mind?” I know without reservation that the answer that we all thought of immediately was “Jesus” goes without saying and I will in no way question your spirituality or commitment by thinking otherwise. So I will rephrase it. “When you think of Christmas what is the second thing that comes to mind?”

Maybe you are a house decorator and you think about all the decoration that you are going to put up for Christmas, all of the things that say Christmas to you, lights and tinsel, trees and penguins. And don’t get my wife started on how dumb penguins are for a Christmas decoration, trust me on that one, you don’t want to go down that road.

And some people do a great job, decorating and others, well less than spectacular. Have I mentioned that my sister is insane? Certifiably insane, she starts decorating her house in late October and on Halloween she dresses up like Mrs. Claus, plays Christmas music and hands out candy canes to the kids. I am not making this up. But to prove there is balance in the universe if it was up to me I wouldn’t put up a single decoration. Not that I’m opposed to decorations it just that I am motivationally challenged when it comes to things like that, that means I’m lazy.

For others it’s about the baking, you have already started baking and before you are finished you will have baked enough food to feed a small third world village. And others are thinking about all those cookies and squares and how good they will be, and how much weight you will gain but it wouldn’t be right to hurt the cooks feelings, would it?

For some of you it brings to mind family and this is the time of the year that you all get together for a big dinner, family pictures and time together. And maybe for others there are laws that keep that from happening.

But regardless of what the main thing is that comes to your mind when I say Christmas, the one thing that we are all thinking about, somewhere on the list, besides Jesus that goes without saying, are gifts. Either about the gifts we will receive or the gifts we will give. The talk of the season is about gifts.

Where we will buy them, how we will wrap them, how we will get them delivered, gifts, gifts gifts. And people see gift giving in different ways. Here is an example. (video clip from Big Bang Christmas)

Some people see gift giving like Penny, just as an opportunity to give and express your feelings for others. Others, whether you want to admit it or not, are like Sheldon, and although you may never have expressed your theory of reciprocity quite as eloquently as he did, you feel the same way, you don’t receive gifts you receive obligations.

If you are in the least bit familiar with the Christmas story then you know that gifts were an important part of that event. There were tangible gifts, in the form of the gold, frankincense and myrrh that were brought by the wise men as well as the gifts that couldn’t be held and shaken or wrapped but were no less real. Like the gift that the wise men had presented of themselves, they had travelled literally hundreds of miles over hostile terrain in order to worship the Christ child, there were the shepherds who left their flocks in the hills in order to come and offer their adoration for the one who was born to be the great shepherd.

We know from the story that there was no room in the inn, but someone had to offer the family space in a stable, presumably they didn’t just move in uninvited. If you looked out in your backyard and there was a family living in your shed you’d call the police. The fact that they had a place out of the weather, was a gift.

But the very essence of Christmas isn’t about gifts plural; it’s about a gift singular. Because that night in Bethlehem 2000 years ago the greatest gift of all was given to the world. The gift of Jesus the Son of God. And before that gift was given it was promised. In the Old Testament it was promised to the people of Israel and in the Christmas story the gift was promised to Mary and then to her fiancé Joseph.

It was the account of the promise to Joseph that was read for us earlier and we are going to look at that promise this morning. Matthew 1:22-23 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.'”

And so we begin with Matthew 1:22-23 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.'”

1) The Promise of the Gift This scripture is a reference to the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Now if you know your Old Testament history than you know that by this time what had been known as Israel has split into two separate entities after the death of King Solomon. The Northern and Southern Kingdoms, the Northern is called Israel while the Southern is called Judah and they are battling each other as well as outside forces.

Judah has come under siege from all sides and King Ahaz, is waiting for the other shoe to drop and for his country to be attacked by opposing forces and he knows that will result in the destruction and exile of the Southern Kingdom.

And this is the setting for the prophet Isaiah to speak. And from Isaiah’s writings we get several texts that we refer to as “Messianic Prophecies” or prophecies about the coming Messiah.

It was Isaiah who wrote Isaiah 9:6 For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

But the prophecy that is referenced here comes from Isaiah 7:14 All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).

And that was a prophecy that was held onto for the next four hundred years, that there would be one who would come and reunite the divided kingdom and bring the united Israel back to her former glory.

But there was a misunderstanding. For the majority of Israel they saw the coming Messiah as a military leader who would rally the people of Israel against their oppressors and lead them in an uprising.

But they were missing the entire point that Isaiah and every other prophet in the Old Testament had been trying to make and that was the reason why the Kingdom was divided and the reason why God allowed them to be oppressed and that was because of their disobedience to God and his commandments.

What needed fixing wasn’t the political situation in Israel, it was the hearts of the people of Israel. A people who had been called to follow God but who had turned their backs on him and his ways. Oh they still wanted to be known as a nation of God but that wasn’t evident in their worship or their lives, kind of like Canada referring to itself as a Christian nation, but I digress.

And so Isaiah was saying that one would come not to fix the symptoms, that God’s blessing was no longer upon his people, but to fix the problem, and that was the sin that had separated God from his people. God hadn’t moved away from the people, the people had moved away from God.

And the story continues.

Matthew 1:22-23 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.'”

2) The Nature of the Gift: This is the very essence of Christmas; The virgin will conceive a child! It’s in our Christmas Carols, on our Christmas Cards, little children who have no idea what virgin means talk about it in Christmas pageants. But I wonder how much of that is lip service and how many actually believe that the Virgin conceived a child? There are some who argue that the Hebrew word that Isaiah used for virgin could have just as well meant “a young woman”, perhaps but that wouldn’t have been much of a sign would it?

Wouldn’t require you to be much of a prophet to make that kind of statement, would it? “And now a sign from God, a young woman will conceive!” And the sun will come up in the morning and go down in the evening. I mean if a young woman conceiving was a sign then Cornerstone would have been full of signs over the past year.

But regardless of what the word may or may not have meant, when the Angel came to Mary and told her that she would become pregnant with a son her response was Luke 1:34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” And she wasn’t saying that she was a young maiden, the word that Mary used only had one meaning and that was “Virgin”.

And there are some folks who still have a problem with the virgin birth because they say that it’s impossible, they kind of miss that’s the point. Personally I can’t figure that out. If you can believe that Jesus was and is the Son of God why can’t you believe that he was born of a virgin?

And if the issue isn’t whether or not Mary was a virgin but whether or not Jesus was the Son of God than you have bigger issues to deal with. If we believe that Jesus was indeed God then why wouldn’t he be born of a virgin?

If the idea was not just for Jesus to come and assume human form but instead was to experience all that we experienced he couldn’t just appear as an adult but had to be born. There has to be something in us that begins when the first cell separates and become two cells, I don’t know when our consciousness actually begins but that somehow leaves a mark on who we are and who we will become and Jesus experienced that with us.

And if Jesus is truly the Son of God then by definition his father would be God, not Joseph but God.

The how was explained to Joseph, remember Joseph he was engaged to Mary, and he assumed that she was a virgin, and then she drops the bomb shell that she is pregnant, he freaks out decides to break off the engagement and really who could blame him? And an angel appears to Joseph and we are told in Matthew 1:20-21 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

The first part explains the how. The child will be conceived by the Holy Spirit and the second part is the why and it is echoed in the scripture we have been looking at.

Matthew 1:22-23 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.'”

3) The Purpose of the Gift: The prophecy tells us that the virgin will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means “God is with us”. As I mentioned earlier the blessing of God had left the people of Israel because the people of Israel had turned their backs on God and his purposes. The reason for Israel’s problems was disobedience. It wasn’t a political issue it was a “Sin” issue.

And now God was taking the unimaginable step, he was coming to be with his people. People had always known that they could go to heaven, but now heaven was coming to them.

Now understand that Immanuel was not his name it was a description of who he would be. After all there is nowhere in the bible that we see Jesus called anything but Jesus. Immanuel is a description of Jesus’ purpose in coming that God would come to earth and offer himself as the ultimate sacrifice God would be with us. But more than that it was a description of the divinity of Jesus.

Mary was a virgin, she had never been with a man and yet she became pregnant, how? The angel told Joseph Matthew 1:20 . . . For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

And so the child was the son of God, he became God with us, but why? What would possess God to do that?

We were originally created to be friends with God and yet sin drove a wedge into the relationship. Isaiah 59:2 But there is a problem—your sins have cut you off from God. Because of your sin, he has turned away and will not listen anymore. That is reiterated in the book of Micah 3:4 Then you beg the Lord for help in times of trouble! Do you really expect him to listen? After all the evil you have done, he won’t even look at you! Sin has separated us from a Holy God. In the history of Israel God was approached through an intermediary, and that was the High Priest, people didn’t have a relationship with God He was a remote and distant figure.

And that doesn’t sound like, “God with us”

And into the void came Jesus, the son of God, who lived among us and who died on a cross and spilt his blood for our sins, in order to bring us back into fellowship with God. John the apostle wrote in His first letter in the book of 1 John 2:2 He is the sacrifice for our sins. He takes away not only our sins but the sins of all the world. and in the same letter in 1 John 4:10 This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

Finally Paul tells us in the book of Romans 3:23-25 For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us. God was being entirely fair and just when he did not punish those who sinned in former times.

In all three of those verses the word that is translated sacrifice or sacrificing was translated as propitiation back in 1611 when the King James Version was translated. That’s a neat word isn’t it propitiation, if I was to ask you for a definition I wonder how many would be game to try it? It easy, you see propitiation means the act of propitiating.

Not very helpful am I? Propitiation literally means “To appease the wrath of God, so that his justice and holiness will be satisfied and he can forgive our sins.”

And so because of this atoning sacrifice that Christ has made for us, once we have repented of our sins, and that simply means telling God that we are sorry for disobeying him and turning away from those actions, and have accepted the forgiveness that Christ offers us then he becomes Immanuel, God with us.

And here is the great part of that promise that was made to Joseph concerning the gift that his son would be Matthew 1:21 “And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

The promise isn’t just that Jesus will save us from the consequences of our sin, as important as that is, but that he will save us from being the slave of sin. John 8:34-36 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. That is the gift, that you don’t have to sin. Not because you have the power to not sin but because Jesus came to set us free, if we choose to be free.

How about it? Has he set you free from sin?

 

Oops

It was supposed to be a prank that everybody would talk and laugh about for years. Instead it turned into a tragedy that cost one friend his life and another friend his freedom. All because someone didn’t stop to think.
On Thanksgiving Day, in Manchester Vermont, a 23 year old man decided to wake his visiting friend by shooting him in the chest with an air rifle. Except the air rifle was a real rifle and instead of surprising his friend he killed him. Which was probably a surprise but not the kind he was thinking of.
So Jeffrey Charbonneau is dead and his friend will be charged with his death because as the State Attorney said, “It was reckless behaviour and he meant to shoot the gun. This was not like they were hunting together or they were cleaning a gun.”
How often in our lives do things not turn out the way we had anticipated because we didn’t stop and think. We thought it would be funny or fun but never really thought it through and it ended in a much different way than we had anticipated.
God gave us a brain for a reason and if we take the time to use it we will probably have fewer regrets. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible