Happy New Year

Well, Christmas has come and gone and New Year’s Eve is just a memory. How are you feeling about 2016? Are you excited? Are you cautious? Are you simply resigned to it happening?

The reality is that, regardless of how we feel about the coming year, there is a very good chance that it is going to happen, with or without your permission.
We have very little control over the coming of the New Year. What we do have control over is how we react to the events of the next 365 days regardless of whether they are good or bad.
Ultimately it will be your choice whether you allow the events that come into your life to make you a better person or a bitter person. Others may determine what happens in your life, but only you will determine what happens in your heart.
So, as we bid farewell to 2015 and hello to 2016, let’s do so looking forward to the New Year as an opportunity to do great things for God and to allow Him to do great things for us. It’s a brand new year with brand new possibilities, if we are only willing to see them and claim them.
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Now that’s News!

The headlines that vied for top place this week seemed to be the new Star Wars Movie, including the multimillion dollar pay cheque that Harrison Ford received, and the mistake made at the Miss Universe Pageant.  The fairness of both stories have been debated by the masses. 


In Ford’s case it seems that he may have been paid as much as 50 x more than some of his co-stars to revive his role as Hans Solo. 

On Sunday night Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutierrez wiped away tears of joy when she was named Miss Universe 2015, the second year in a row her country had won the title.  But the $30,000 blue diamond and topaz crown remained on her head for less than two minutes before host Steve Harvey realized he had made a mistake, the actual winner was Miss Philippines Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach.


First World problems. 


And while we can’t do anything about the inequities of Star War pay cheques or beauty pageant heartbreak the Cornerstone family has dug deep and will help cap 4 fresh water springs in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  And for the thousands of families in the DRC who will now have access to clean drinking water I would suspect that is much more important news. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible

What Christmas is all About 4, Christmas is all about Hope

Christmas is all about Hope.
Start with clip from opening of A
Charlie Brown Christmas 
Contrary to what Linus thought,
Charlie Brown was in good company, there are all kinds of folks who feel the
same way about Christmas.  They are confused because they don’t feel
jolly, they aren’t experiencing Christmas cheer and they don’t understand the phrase
Ho Ho Ho.   
Instead of wanting to celebrate they
would like to find a room where they can be all by themselves and hide until
Christmas is over.  I love the significance of Christmas but I’m not
necessary a Christmas fan.  I could do without the tree, the meal and the
gifts, and I’m not sure if it’s because I’m lazy or apathetic.   
But for some people it’s deeper than
that, Christmas is a reminder of what their life isn’t or perhaps what their
life is.    
Christmas seemed to magnify and
polarize what Charlie Brown felt his life was like the rest of the year, in one
scene he goes out and looks in his empty mail box for the Christmas Cards that
aren’t there and he says.  “I know nobody likes me
why do we need a holiday season to emphasize it?”  
But there are other reasons as
well.  Maybe because there is an empty place at the table this
Christmas.  At a time of the year when family is being celebrated their
loss is magnified and it doesn’t matter if it’s the first Christmas or the
tenth Christmas it doesn’t seem to get any easier. 
And maybe the loss is because of
death or perhaps because a relationship is different than it was last
year.   
Or maybe it is the harsh reality of
economics.  You can’t provide the trappings and gifts that are expected,
or you do provide them and aren’t sure how you will pay for them when the bills
hit. 
Or maybe you’re just a melancholy
person, and if so you are in good company.  Winston Churchill often spoke
of the Black Dog, his term for the depression that followed him throughout his
life.   
Charlies Spurgeon one of histories
greatest preachers struggled with depression throughout his ministry.  In a paper entitled “When a Preacher is
Depressed” Spurgeon wrote “Fits of depression come
over the most of us. Cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down.
The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not
always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.”
And you don’t have to read very far
in the Psalms to discover the same David who wrote “The
Lord is my shepherd” also wrote in Psalm 22:6
 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by
men and despised by the people.  
And maybe you don’t fit in any of
those categories, you don’t understand why, but Christmas just isn’t merry for
you, at least not this year.
And this service isn’t designed to
drag you unwillingly into the joy of Christmas but instead perhaps to offer you
hope that God is there and that God cares.  
There is a story in the book of John
that more than any other reveals the human side of Jesus’.  Because that
is the mystery of the incarnation, that Jesus is 100 % God and 100 %
human.   And because we are afraid that people might miss Jesus’
divine nature we sometimes neglect his humanity.   
The story is told in John chapter 11
and happens just a week before Jesus and his friends would celebrate the
Passover.  And in many ways our celebration of Christmas would have many
things in common with how the Jews celebrated Passover.  It was about food
and family and celebration.  But this year would be different for one
family who lived in the village of Bethany. 
They were close friends of Jesus,
two sisters named Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus.  And we
discover that in the midst of preparation for the Passover Lazarus become sick
and dies.   
Would Passover ever be the same for
Mary and Martha?  Or would it always be a reminder of their loss?  On
my sister’s birthday in 2001 she sat in the funeral service for her middle
daughter and unborn granddaughter, who had been killed in a car accident just
days before. And every birthday since has been coloured by that event. 
When Mary and Martha realized just
how sick their brother was they sent for the friend Jesus, who they believed
had the power to save their brother, but it was days before Jesus arrived and
by then Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. 
And we pick up the story in John 11:32-36  When Mary
arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had
been here, my brother would not have died.”  When Jesus saw her weeping and saw
the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he
was deeply troubled.  “Where have you put him?” he asked them. They told him,
“Lord, come and see.”  Then Jesus wept.  The people who were standing nearby
said, “See how much he loved him!”  
There are three things we notice
here that we normally don’t see as characteristics of Christ and perhaps when we see
them in ourselves we feel guilty of being less than Christ like.  But is that fair?
So John tells us that a deep anger
welled up within Jesus. Jesus was Angry
So, what was Jesus angry about?  If you
go back it says that when Jesus saw Mary weeping and the other people wailing
with her that this anger welled up within him. 
Surely he wasn’t angry over the
tears of Mary?  Some suggested that Jesus
saw hypocrisy in the tears of the crowd, that they weren’t really friends of
Lazarus and his sister and were simply weeping for show.  But there is nothing to indicate that their
tears were anything less than genuine.  
And understand that anything I say is simply
speculation but I would suggest that Jesus was angry at the unfairness of life. 
We don’t know how old Lazarus was but it seems that he
was a peer of Jesus and if that was the case than Jesus would have felt that
death had come too soon for his friend.  
We are told in Psalm 90:10  Seventy
years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. . . And Lazarus wasn’t anywhere
near that old.  And so Jesus was angry
that Lazarus didn’t get the years that he should have had and he was angry that
Mary and Martha would be missing their brother and I think he was angry that
Lazarus would no longer be a part of his life.
I think we all have points in our lives that we are angry at
the unfairness of life, the chronic illness of a child, the suffering of a
loved one, perhaps even something that we are struggling with ourselves. 
And I would suspect at times like that, that we feel a deep
anger welling up within us and we want to demand “Why God? Why?”  Perhaps you feel like Job did when he
demanded of God Job 10:3  What do you gain by
oppressing me? Why do you reject me, the work of your own hands, while smiling
on the schemes of the wicked?
And then we feel guilty for being angry, and that just
spirals us deeper in despair. 
But cheer up, you aren’t alone. Jesus got angry as
well, angry at the injustice of Lazarus’ death, angry at the unfairness of life,
perhaps angry that he wasn’t able to be there for his friend.
The secret of course is found in Ephesians
4:26
 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let
the sun go down while you are still angry,
But it wasn’t just anger that Jesus
expressed here, the verse continues and tells us that he was deeply
troubled.  Jesus was Troubled It bugged Jesus that Lazarus had to die and Jesus
had perfect wisdom.  He knew more than
anyone the reason, he knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead and it
still bugged him.
A good friend of mine is going
through some fairly serious medical problems. 
Recently he had surgery and the news wasn’t good.
And when we broke the news to him he
was angry and troubled and so was I.  The
next day I went back in to see him and I told him “To save time I’ve made a
list of platitudes for you, these are the same ones that we have used as Pastors
from time to time.”  And I read him the
list, “God never gives us more than we can handle”  “All things work together for the good of
those who believe.”  “God has a
reason”  “We just need more faith” “think
of all the people worse off than you.” 
And that made him laugh, which made him hurt.  oops, sorry Nick.
And as true as some of those
platitudes are they normally aren’t all that helpful.
And ultimately we read in John 11:35 Then Jesus wept. Jesus was Sad
Again Jesus knew that he
would raise Lazarus from the dead, but he still wept.  He wept for Lazarus, he wept for the sisters
and he wept for himself.
It was Washington Irving 
“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but
of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the
messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”
So don’t feel bad for your
tears, Jesus wept as well and for the same reasons, there were no words.
Often you will hear people refer to John
11:35 as the shortest verse in the bible, which isn’t entirely accurate.  Actually it’s only the shortest English verse
in the bible.  But remember that the
bible wasn’t written in English it was written in Greek. 
So in the Greek “Jesus wept” is
actually the second shortest verse in the Bible, it contains 16 letters, in
comparison 1 Thessalonians 5:16 Always be joyful. contains only 14 letters in the Greek.   Interesting. 
And then Jesus Reached out to Others and Reached out to God But then Jesus did
something, he reached out to the girls, because as deep as his grief was he
understood that theirs was greater.  And
then he prayed. I love how he begins his prayer.  John
11:41-42
  Then Jesus looked up to
heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me.
 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the
sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.”
Prayer was where Jesus
turned, prayer is where David turned and prayer is where Spurgeon turned.  It connected them and grounded them.  Did it cheer them up? I’m not sure that was
the intent. It was the opportunity to connect. 
To connect with others and to connect with God, because in the dark of
the night we need others to bring warmth to our souls.    It was the Spanish writer Miguel De Unamuno who reminds us “Man dies of cold, not of darkness.”
And from the despair of
Jesus came the resurrection of Lazarus. 
We will never know the impact the raising of Lazarus would have on the
people who witnessed it, but Jesus could never have raised him from the dead if
he hadn’t of died.
Another thought from Spurgeon, “Some plants
owe their medicinal qualities to the marsh in which they grow; others to the
shades in which alone they flourish. There are precious fruits put forth by the
moon as well as by the sun. Boats need ballast as well as sail. A drag on the
carriage wheel is no hindrance when the road runs downhill.”
And so on this, the shortest
day of 2015, I offer you hope, hope in the reality that every night has a dawn,
every storm has an end and every mountain has a top.
When Matthew was writing his gospel he reached back to the
Old Testament to describe why Jesus came and this is the passage he landed on Isaiah
42:1-3
 “Look at my servant, whom I
strengthen. He is my chosen one, who pleases me. I have put my Spirit upon him.
He will bring justice to the nations.  He will not shout or raise his
voice in public.  He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a
flickering candle. He will bring justice to all who have been wronged.  
And today for those who feel like a weak reed or a flickering
Candle, Jesus reaches out to you.  And he
wants you to know that he is angry and troubled by what you have gone through
or are going through, and he wants to be there with you to bring you strength
and to bring you hope and to intercede with the Father on your behalf. 

What Christmas is all About #3, Christmas is about our Reaction

Last week we celebrated Christmas with
our children’s presentation, which I’m sure Marilyn and her crew would testify
is kind of like herding cats.  And that
was part of the process that led Charlie Brown to ask in frustration, “Isn’t
there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

And that is the question that we’ve been
attempting to answer this year, which bring us to week three of our Christmas
Series:  What Christmas is all about.

This is the fiftieth anniversary of this
iconic Christmas special, and for a Television special that was supposed to
have a very short shelf life. . . one year it has had an incredible staying
power.  Even if you have never seen the
original show you know what is meant by “a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.” 

And so in week one we looked at how the
various characters in A Charlie Brown Christmas responded to Christmas.  You’ll remember that we discovered how for
Snoopy Christmas was all about the season of Christmas, the lights the food,
all the glamour and glitz that surrounds Christmas.  For Lucy Christmas was all about what had to
be done, all about the effort.  From
organizing the Christmas Play, to making sure they had the perfect tree to
counselling Charlie Brown on how to achieve Christmas bliss, her solution.  Get involved. 
For Sally, Charlie Brown’s little sister Christmas was all about Sally,
what she wanted and expected Santa to bring her on the big day.  And for Charlie Brown himself Christmas was
about despair he was down and depressed and the holiday did nothing to improve
his mood. 

And then there was Linus, two weeks ago I
mentioned that for Linus Christmas was all about the Christmas story.  But I wondered if that was as far as it went
with Linus.  While Snoopy was quite happy
for Christmas to be nothing more than a holiday it seemed that for Linus it was
nothing more that then that fragment of the Christmas story.

Two weeks ago we went a little deeper and
dug into the scripture that Linus has been reading for us and we discovered
that for Linus Christmas was all About the Shepherds, the Angels and the
Baby.  But even that doesn’t tell us all
of the story.  Because none of those
things in themselves truly explain Christmas. 
Not even the baby in the manger.

This morning we are going to dig a little
deeper into what Christmas is all about and we’ll start with Mary’s story.

Luke 1:30, 35, 37  But
the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with
God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son.” . . . “How
will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the
power of the Most High will overshadow you.” . . . For nothing is impossible with
God.”

The first thing that The First Christmas was all about Faith The visit of the angel
Gabriel was really where the entire story began; now you know the rest of the
story, the Angel tells Mary that she is going to have a child who will be the son
of God, Mary tells the angel that isn’t going to happen because she isn’t
married and besides that she’s still a virgin, even then the two didn’t
necessarily go hand in hand.  And then
the angel tells her, no problem, the father will be the Holy Spirit. 

Now before we go on with the story I have
a theory, which I’m sure you’re dying to hear. 

This would probably be the time to insert
my theory on the Angela Gabriel, do I hear groans?  I think that we mispronounce the angel’s
name.  I don’t think it was Gabriel I
think it was Gabrielle. Think about it if you were God and you were sending an angel
to talk to a teenaged virgin about reproduction would you send a male angel or
a female angel?

 Now I know that you’re thinking, “That’s just
dumb Denn, angels aren’t male or female they are asexual.”   So, close
your eyes and picture an angel.  Now is
your asexual angel a boy angel or a girl angel?”  But my theory really isn’t all that important
because we aren’t all that interested in Gabriel or Gabrielle this morning we
are interested in Mary and her response to the angel.  So the angel comes tell this young virgin
that she’s going to have a child and the father’s going to be the Holy
Spirit.  Listen to 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.

Can you imagine the faith that Mary must
have had? She must have known that people would talk about her and question her
morals. 

And when she tried to tell people that she
was still a virgin I’m sure that people were thinking, “You
keep using that word but I do not think that word means what you think it
means”

And so Mary responded with faith. Even though Mary couldn’t understand
everything, even though she didn’t have all the answers or even know where this
was going to lead she was willing to trust God. 
 

That’s why they call
it faith, remember how faith is defined in Hebrews Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the confidence
that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things
we cannot see.  Listen to how it is written in the New King James Version

NKJV Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance
of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  What is it that you can’t
see that you can only hope for?

Edward Teller gave this great definition of faith, “When you get to the end of all the light you
know and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing
that one of two things shall happen: either you will be given something solid
to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.”

Mary had no idea how she could conceive a
child without a man being involved, had no idea what would happen after she
conceived the child and no idea what would happen after the child was born, but
she believed that Her God was in control and if He said this was what should
happen then far be it for her to disagree.

If we are walking with God then there will
be times that he asks us to do the incredible and even though we won’t be able
to see the end result we are going to have to step out in faith and say, “Ok
God, you are in control.”  It’s at that
point that we are going to have to believe that he will give us something solid
to stand on or teach us to fly.

We need faith to exercise our Christian
life to the fullest and we need faith to be everything that God would have us
be as a church.  If we only ever try to
do what we know we can do then we don’t need God.  It’s by faith that miracles happen, it’s by
faith that people come to know Christ personally, and it’s by faith that people
are healed and the bible tells us in Hebrews 11:6 And it is impossible to please God
without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and
that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.  And faith will never
ask more than that you believe.

But the story didn’t end with Mary, let’s
pick up Matthew’s account  Matthew 1:18-20
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
so The First Christmas was all about Trust. 

You see Mary wasn’t the only person visited
by an Angel.  You may remember that
although Mary was a virgin, she was engaged to be married, to a man named
Joseph.  And she was about to have some
heavy duty explaining to do. What would she have said, “Joseph you know how
much I love you and I know that you are the most understanding and trusting man
in all of Nazareth and I have something to tell you.” 

Mary gets a lot of Credit for the Christmas
thing and while she should but let’s not forget about Joe, after all Mary knew
what she did and didn’t do, Joseph didn’t have the luxury, he could only take
her word for it. “You’re what? 
Pregnant?  How could that happen,
I mean I know how it happens but how did it happen without me? I thought you
loved me, I thought we were waiting until we were married, and now this.  Oh an angel, right, an angel and the father
is the Holy Spirit. Sure, so now you think I’m stupid as well, no don’t touch
me, don’t talk to me, I need time to think.”

Now let’s be honest, if your daughter
came home with that story you wouldn’t believe her, so why should we expect
Mary’s fiancée to believe what she said? It shows us the type of man that
Joseph was that even though he could have publicly denounced Mary for having
been unfaithful to him he chose to quietly end the engagement without any fuss.  But that night an Angel appeared and
basically told Joseph that he would need to trust Mary on this one.  Joseph’s response is found in Matthew 1:24
When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as
his wife.

Now people weren’t dumb then, they knew how
long it took for babies to be born. 
Joseph would be viewed as the guilty party in this case and yet he must
have just smiled and nodded and protected the virtue and reputation of his
fiancé. Maybe he had adopted the philosophy of Elsa Einstein Albert Einstein’s wife
who said “No, I don’t understand my husband’s theory
of relativity, but I know my husband, and I know he can be trusted.” 

As we go through life we will either make a
conscious decision to trust the people we meet or trust no one and while it
might be safer to trust no one it’s not a great way to live.  Author Frank Crane said
“You may be deceived if you
trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don’t trust enough.”

And so after his encounter with the Angel
Joseph believed Mary and gave her his trust. 
And with that decision he became the earthly father of the son of God.

And the story continues Luke 2:8-11
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their
flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the
radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel
reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will
bring great joy to all people. The Saviour—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been
born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!”

The
First Christmas was all about Praise
It’s obvious
that the Angels weren’t unionized because they even worked on Christmas
day.  Jesus had been born in the stable
and the heavens were rejoicing, and the angels think, “Hey this is too good to
keep to ourselves; we need to share it with others.” 

Put yourself in the Shepherd’s place, so
there you are out in the field, minding your own business and minding your
sheep when suddenly the entire field lights up and there stands this dude in a
shining white robes with great big wings, I know what I said earlier about
wings, this is artistic licence. I don’t know what your reaction would be but
mine would probably be the same as the shepherds, sheer terror.  But quickly the angels reassure them and tell
them, we bring great news, the Messiah has been born. 

Two weeks ago I spoke about the Shepherds
and if there was one group in the Christmas story that we can identify with it
would be the shepherds. 

They weren’t renowned scholars from the
East who travelled across countless miles of desert to be there, they weren’t a
King like Herod, they were just ordinary folk, who had an extraordinary
encounter with the son of God.

No other group in the story better
exemplifies the concept of grace than the shepherds. They hadn’t done anything
to deserve the invitation to meet with Jesus, there wasn’t anything they could
bring, no gold or myrrh or frankincense. 
All they had was themselves and that wasn’t much, when you think about
it they weren’t much and they really weren’t all that important, they were just
hired hands, and they had no place in the society and certainly weren’t listed
in “Who’s Who of Israel”. 

And yet they were offered a gift they
didn’t deserve and could never earn, kind of like salvation, we don’t deserve
it and we could never earn it. 

You know the story,
the shepherds went and saw the baby in the manger and after meeting the messiah
went away telling everyone they met about the child. 

The scriptures tell us
that this went on even as they returned to their flocks.  Luke 2:20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and
praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told
them.

What is your reaction to meeting
Jesus?  He has given you eternal life, or
at the very least he has offered it to you, it’s really up to you to accept
it.  Because of what God has done for you
do you praise him?  Do you thank him?  Probably, you may not skip and dance and tell
the world but I’m sure that you tell God. 
You probably don’t regret becoming a Christian, and you probably aren’t
bitter with the person who told you about Christ. 

This Christmas the greatest gift you can give
someone is to tell them what Christmas is all about, remember what the angel
said, Luke 2:10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you
good news that will bring great joy to all people.”   And that is what you
have to offer those who don’t know Jesus, Good news of great joy.

But the shepherds weren’t alone in
celebrating the birth of the baby Jesus. 
What would Christmas be without the Magi?  Their story is told in the book of Matthew,
we pick it up in Matthew 2:9-11  After they had heard the king, they went on their way,
and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over
the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were
overjoyed.  On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother
Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures
and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

The
First Christmas was all about Worship

There are those who would deny that the
wise men made it to the first Christmas, that they probably showed up two years
later, some would say because they were Wise “Men” that they had probably
gotten lost and wouldn’t ask for directions. 

But we won’t spend any time on that this
morning, this year if you want my opinion on that it will cost you a coffee.

What we do agree on, even if we don’t
always agree on the time frame was what happened after the Wise Men
arrived.  Matthew tells us that they
bowed down and worshipped the Christ child.

But what does that mean?    For many people they see worship as simply
the act where the Magi knelt at the manger. 
And so for folks like that worship is simply the act of attending
Cornerstone and singing some songs, listening as Denn tries to make a point and
then tossing a few dollars in the offering box. 

But the reality is that for the Magi the
act of worship began when they left their home in Persia long before they presented
their gifts to Jesus.

And most of know what the gifts were that
the Wise men brought to Jesus, gold, frankincense and myrrh.  And they were really nice gifts, a little
impractical for a baby but again they were men and shopping for baby gifts
really wasn’t really their thing. 

But
the most valuable gift they gave was the gift of worship. 

There
is a difference between what happened with the Shepherds and the Magi.  The shepherds, came and praised God but it
really didn’t cost them anything.  And
there are folks today who still misunderstand, they think they have come to
worship God but really they have come to conveniently praise him.   

It
is interesting that in all of the gospel accounts this is one of the few time it
says that someone came to worship Jesus. 
There are any number of times we are told he was praised, often by the
very people who would later turn their backs on him when he was arrested and crucified,
but there are only a couple of times that we are told Jesus was worshipped.

The
Magi’s worship started when they gave up their time.  There are different estimates of how long it
would have taken the magi to have made the trip from Persia to Bethlehem, the
longest being measured in years and the shortest in months but the reality is
that these men gave up a precious commodity to worship Christ and that was
their time. 

And
that’s where worship begins, when we step away from the ordinary to spend time
in his presence. 

And
I know that our time is valuable, and I know that there is so much going on
that it’s hard to carve out time on a Sunday morning, but that’s part of what
makes it worship, giving God the gift of your time.

And
the trip certainly wasn’t convenient, they had to make their way across
inhospitable terrain, with only the promise of a distant start to guide
them.  In the heat of the day and the
cold of the night I’m sure there were times that they wondered what they were
doing.  When they explained their
upcoming trip to friends and family their sanity was probably questioned.

Serving Christ won’t always be
convenient and neither will church, it goes back to:  If it was easy everyone would be doing
it.  There are times that people won’t
understand your decision to follow Christ and maybe even times that you will
question the decision you made.  There
will be times that even the guidance of a distant start would be welcome but
that’s when we just have to take it on faith. 
I’m sure the Magi could agree with the words of Hebrews
11:1-2
 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we
do not see.  

And their
worship was made complete with the gifts that they brought.  I joked early about the gifts being
impractical but there are two things you need to know, there was all kinds of
symbolism wrapped up in those gifts and they were incredibly expensive. 

From the very
beginning of the bible worship has always involved sacrifice, worship has
always involved giving back to God part of what he has given to us.

 And so this year will your Christmas involve
Faith, trust, praise and worship? 
Because unless it does you will be missing out on what Christmas is
really all about.

Chance and 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 98years.  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, (today he’d be an illegal immigrant) 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

What Christmas is all About # 2, Christmas is about the Story

For millions of people over the past fifty
years the only exposure they have had to the bible happened each Christmas as
Linus read Luke chapter 2 verses 8 to 14 from the King James version in
response to Charlie Brown’s questions: 
Doesn’t anyone know what Christmas is all about.

And when Linus is done he turns to Charlie
Brown and tells him, “and that’s what Christmas is all about.”

But is that it? Can Christmas really be
summed up in 6 verses of the bible?  And
understand that isn’t the entire Christmas story it is really just giving us a
glimpse of the entire story, but for Linus this is what Christmas is all about.

A Charlie Brown Christmas celebrates its
fiftieth anniversary this year, and millions of people around the world have
watched as Charlie Brown struggles with his conflicting feelings over the
Christmas Season.  Finally, after
watching how his peers react to the season Charlie brown asks his friend Linus
in frustration, “Isn’t there anyone who know what Christmas is really all
about?” 

And that’s a good question, a question that
he felt wasn’t being answered by those around him.  Last Sunday when we began our series we took
a little bit of time to see what it was that Charlie Brown saw in those around
him.

For Snoopy Christmas was all about the
season of Christmas, the lights the food, all the glamour and glitz that
surrounds Christmas.  For Lucy Christmas
was all about what had to be done, all about the effort.  From organizing the Christmas Play, to making
sure they had the perfect tree to counselling Charlie Brown on how to achieve
Christmas bliss, her solution.  Get
involved.  For Sally, Charlie Brown’s
little sister Christmas was all about Sally, what she wanted and expected Santa
to bring her on the big day.  And for
Charlie Brown himself Christmas was about despair he was down and depressed and
the holiday did nothing to improve his mood. 

And then there was Linus, last week I
mentioned that for Linus Christmas was all about the Christmas story.  But I wondered if that was as far as it went
with Linus.  While Snoopy was quite happy
for Christmas to be nothing more than a holiday it seemed that for Linus it was
nothing more that then that fragment of the Christmas story.

But is that enough?  Can we capture all of the Christmas story in
those six verses?  Well today we are
looking at What Christmas is all about, according to Luke 2:8-14.

Let’s start where Linus started: 

Luke 2:8  And there were in the
same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by
night.

For
Linus Christmas was About the Shepherds

And really shepherds are an iconic part of
the Christmas story.  They play a
prominent role in Christmas cards and Christmas carols, when we have extra kids
for the Christmas pageant we give them a towel and a bathroom and voila we have
more shepherds. 

Linus was even geared up to play a shepherd
in the Christmas play that Charlie Brown was trying to direct.

But what do we know about these shepherds?  Not much, and that’s what makes the story so
great. 

Because they made it into the Christmas
story we make them special, but they really weren’t, they were just a bunch of
guys who watched sheep for a living. They probably didn’t need an advanced
degree in agricultural science to qualify for the job. 

I know, it seems as if God has a special
place for shepherds in the bible.

Abel who was commended for his offering was
a shepherd.  Abraham who would be the
father of Israel had flocks of sheep, Moses who led the people of Israel out of
the slavery of Egypt was a shepherd and David, Israel’s greatest king and the
writer of the psalms, was a shepherd.  

When King David was looking for just the
right description of the compassion of God he wrote in the 23rd
Psalm “The Lord is my shepherd” and Jesus referred to himself as the good
Shepherd.

To my point exactly, Israel was an
agricultural society and sheep made up a big portion of that industry.  There were all kinds of shepherds and it was
a natural illustration and analogy because everywhere you looked someone was tending
sheep.

And that is what makes this part of the
story great, the fact that they weren’t special. 

I mean if I was God, creator of all things,
master of the universe and I was announcing the birth of my Son I’m not sure
that shepherds would have made the short list. 
Or for that matter the long list. 
Kings, emperors, potentates they would have been the ones on my list,
not the keepers of sheep.

But these guys were just ordinary people
with ordinary jobs.  Nothing special,
just a bunch of shepherds doing what shepherds do, watching their flocks.  These guys weren’t even the first string,
they were the night shift.

Now that being said there are those who
have speculated that even though they were shepherds they may not have been
your everyday run of the mill shepherds. 
Culturally we are told that because of the frequent sacrifices at the
temple, every morning and evening an unblemished lamb was to be sacrificed,
that the temple authorities kept their own private flock of sheep. 

And historically we are told that these
sheep would have been pastured near Bethlehem. 
And if all of those things are true then there is a pretty good chance
that these shepherds were in charge of the flocks from which the temple
offerings were chosen.  And if that is
the case then it is pretty cool that the birth of the “Lamb of God” who would
take away the sins of the world was first announced to those whose job it was
to take care of the temple lambs, who were sacrificed for people’s sins.

But we don’t know that for sure, what we do
know is that into the ordinary lives of ordinary men is injected an
extraordinary event.  Most of us aren’t
special enough for God to take an interest in our lives, but He does.  Remember the words of Jesus in Luke 12:6-7 “What is the
price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one
of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid;
you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

  Let’
continue with the story,  Luke 2:9,10,13 & 14  And,
lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round
about them: and they were sore afraid.  And the angel said unto them, “Fear
not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all
people” . . . And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the
heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on
earth peace, good will toward men.”

For
Linus Christmas was About the Angels

What would Christmas be without angels? 
They are an integral part of Christmas, if we didn’t have angels what
would we put on the top of our trees? 
And what would the little ones dress up as in the Christmas play; you
only need so many shepherds.  The
Christmas story starts and ends with angels along with angels in the middle,
and how could we expect anything less. 
It’s not everyday that God, the creator of the universe forsakes heaven
and comes to earth born as a baby in a stable outside a crowded inn. For an
event that was so incredible only angels could be the appropriate messengers.

Now for a little background.  Although angels are mentioned over 300 times
in the bible we really don’t know a lot about them, and most of what we know is
tradition and myth pure speculation fuelled by what I call the “Angel Cult”.

During recent years angels have become the
spiritual creature of choice.  And why
not? According to the angel cult angels are loving and caring, they’re cute and
cuddly and make no demands on our spirituality or morality and are there for
everyone.

Don’t want to burst your bubble but It’s
only speculation that angels have wings, wear halos and play harps.  We no more know what an angel looks like then
we know what an angel eats.  Although Mark Twain said “When one has tasted Watermelon he knows what the
angels eat.”  And while I normally
am in agreement with Twain I think Angels probably eat burgers.

The Christmas story is rife with
Angels.  It begins with the birth of
John, Jesus’ cousin.  You probably know
the story, but here’s a refresher. 

Mary, Jesus’ mother had a relative, we’ll
call her a cousin, named Elizabeth, who was married to a priest by the name of
Zechariah.  In Luke’s gospel we are told that
Elizabeth and Zechariah were unable to have children and that they were very
old.  Probably in their forties. 

And listen to what happened one day when
Zechariah had been chosen to go into the temple sanctuary to burn incense as an
offering.  We pick up the story in Luke 1:11-13  While
Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing
to the right of the incense altar.  Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed
with fear when he saw him.  But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah!
God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you
are to name him John.  That child,
born six months before Jesus would go on to become the man we know as John the
Baptist, who announced the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and actually baptized
Jesus in the Jordan river.  And going
back to the story we read, Luke 1:26-27 In the sixth month of
Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in
Galilee,  to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man
named Joseph, a descendant of King David.

And it was that angel who announced to Mary
that she was going to become pregnant, or as we would say in Australia “She was
going to fall pregnant.”  When Mary
objects, telling the angel that she was a virgin, and the word that Mary uses
for virgin means virgin.  Not young lady
or unmarried maiden but virgin, we read 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 Mary said “Ok”, well that was actually
a paraphrase but you get the gist.  And
you have to wonder what her family thought when she broke the news to
them.  We know that her fiancé, Joseph.
struggled with her story.  He wanted to
break off the engagement and it was only when an angel appeared to him that he
accepted what she said. 

Matthew 1:20 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 the angels don’t end there.  In the passage we started with it’s as if the
angels can’t hold back their joy as they appear to the shepherds in the sky,
bringing Tidings of Great joy.

And then an Angel appears to Mary and
Joseph again, this time not with an announcement but with a warning.  When Herod heard about the Christ child he
went berserk and ordered all the boy infants in Bethlehem to be killed and we
pick up the story in Matthew 2:13  After the wise men were
gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to
Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell
you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”   And when Herod died the
angel appeared to the family once again to let them know it was safe to return
home. 

So yeah, Linus is pretty much right on,
Christmas is about Angels, but there is more to the story. 

Luke 2:11-12  For unto you is born this day in the city of
David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a
sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a
manger.

For
Linus Christmas was All About the Baby
  It’s interesting that Linus doesn’t go deeper
than that specfic verse, he doesn’t name Jesus as a matter of fact he leaves a
whole bunch of questions unanswered:  Who
was the child?  Why was he born in
Bethlehem?  Why was he born in a stable?

But fifty years ago there was a pretty good
chance that most people would have known the answers to those questions. 

Did a little digging on line and discovered
that in the US, in 1965 47 percent of the population said they had been to
church in the past seven days.  47%,
that’s impressive.  Even non-churched
families got their kids into Sunday School because it was the right thing to do
and so the Christmas story would have been fairly well known.

Most folks would have known about the
Shepherds and the Angels and the baby Jesus. 
And they probably would have known that his mother was a virgin named
Mary, and that her and her husband, Joseph, were in Bethlehem for a census
where they couldn’t find a room to stay in and ended up in a stable.  And they probably would have at least had a
passing knowledge that Jesus was the Son of God.    

Two thousand years ago the Christ child was
a surprise to the people of Israel.  They
were waiting in anticipation for their Messiah, for God to appear and make
everything right, but they weren’t expecting Him to come as a child.

The poet George
MacDonald wrote, “They all were looking for
a king
To slay their foes and lift them high;
Thou cam’st a little Baby thing
That made a woman cry.” 

But the baby really isn’t a surprise today,
we may bemoan the fact that people don’t know the story, but to be truthful,
even today a lot of folks know about the shepherds, the angels and the baby
Jesus, if only vaguely.  Instead of
learning about the Christmas story in Sunday School, now they are educated in
Christmas by Christmas cards, Christmas carols and Christmas specials.

And most people don’t have a problem with
the baby Jesus.  After all he’s safe and
doesn’t demand much of us, not even the demands of most newborns.  The baby Jesus doesn’t demand to be fed on a
regular schedule, doesn’t ask that we change his diaper and doesn’t keep us up
at night.  Kind of like having a
grand-kid

And so Linus figured he had nailed it, Christmas
was all about the story.  And Linus had
all the main characters safely where they belonged, the Shepherds in the
fields, the Angels in the sky and the baby in the manger.  It was a simple as arranging a nativity
scene.

And so Christmas is about the story, and
the essence is summed up in those 6 verses that Linus reads so eloquently. 

Because as hard as people might try, they
can’t separate Christmas from the story. 
Christ is an integral part of the word Christmas, take out Christ and
you are left with Mas, a shortened version of the word Mass, which is the
celebration of the Eucharist, or Communion in the
Catholic church.

The star on top of our trees reminds us of
the star that guided the wise men to Bethlehem, the songs we sing remind us of
the angels proclaiming the birth of the king. 

The tree was given to us by Martin Luther a
Catholic priest who was the father of the reformation and the protestant
church.  We give gifts to remember the
gifts that were brought to the Christ Child on that first Christmas. 

Without the story we have no Christmas. 

But that doesn’t answer Charlie Brown’s
question, because what Charlie Brown’s question.  Because what Charlie Brown asks is “Doesn’t
anyone know what Christmas is all about?” And while Christmas is about the
story, that’s not what it’s all about. 

In the scripture that Linus read it ends
with verse 14 which in the King James Version reads,  Luke 2:14  Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good
will toward men.

And if that is what Christmas is all about
then John Lennon was right when he wrote these words, clip
from Happy Christmas. 

But the newer translations put a little different spin
on the words of the Angels, the New International version says Luke 2:14NIV “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”  While
the New Living Translation reads Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those
with whom God is pleased.”

And who is God pleased with?  The gift of peace, isn’t an absence of war,
regardless of the theology of John Lennon’s song, it is an internal peace.  It is the peace that Jesus spoke about in John 14:27  Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my
peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your
hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” 

And the gift of peace, like the gift of
grace and the gift of forgiveness doesn’t come from believing in a baby born in
a manger, but from believing and following the man Jesus became and not just a
head knowledge, but a heart knowledge. 
And so let’s tie things up with a couple of scriptures.  Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith. .
.  And we are told in Hebrews 11:6 And
without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him
must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.   

Has the baby in the story become real for
you?  Until that happens you really won’t
understand what Christmas is really all about. 

Thank You Salvation Army

$500,000.00, that was the amount of a cheque dropped into a Salvation Army kettle last week in Rosemount, Minnesota.  $500,000.00! I’m pretty sure the local Salvation Army thought the cheque was simply a joke, that it was too good to be true.  But it was true, the cheque was honoured at the bank, all $500,000.00. 


The couple who put the cheque in the kettle later told the Salvation Army that when they were first married they struggled to get by, often eating groceries discarded by a local grocery store.  And now they felt they were in a position to pay it ahead.  “You get to a point in life where it’s time to take care of others, the way you were taken care of,” the donors said.


They also wanted the gift to honour one of their fathers who had served in the First World War and was always grateful for the hot coffee and donuts served to the soldiers by the Salvation Army.


Neat story, this year I will be again ringing a bell alongside of a Salvation Army Kettle because it’s a little bit I can do.  And like the Minnesota couple I believe in what the Salvation Army is doing to make our communities better places. 
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.