We have a small train platform under our Christmas tree. It has just one oval track with the Lionel train I had as a kid. My grandkids love to play with it. I also have a number of miniature trees, people, animals, and things that came from my father when he was young. I enjoy creating a small park setting, children playing, older folks relaxing on a park bench, and so forth. For some reason its always been a snow scene, pure white. It strikes me, as I looked at it again this morning, that I, or we, try to create an idealistic image of life. It is the same as looking at a Thomas Kinkade painting or a Currier and Ives greeting card. It points to a desire, an internal longing, for an age of peace, happiness, beauty, and perfection. We may not realize it or think of it in that way, but ever since we were driven from the Garden because of our sin we have had a longing to return to that place of perfection and relationship with our Lord. We talk about Christmas as a time of peace and good will, but it is far more. It is God coming among us to provide the way, the only means, by which we can return to the life for which we long. Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.(John 10:10) We do not yet see our life complete, but in Jesus Christ we will.
What is worship? Well, of course, it is something you do when you go to church on Sundays. You sing, listen to scripture, hear a sermon, and receive communion. That is all part of worship. But worship is far more, and is by no means limited to Sundays. Worship is an attitude of the heart in humble submission to our gracious Lord. It is acknowledging and clinging in grateful love to the One who has made us and given us life. Worship is different from praise. Praise is the outward response in the words and actions of our daily life to the One we worship. Sunday is only one expression of worship. We live in worship every hour of every day as we bow in our hearts to the God of all creation. Look forward to your time of worship, fellowship and praise on Sunday, but live in the worship of our Lord always.
We get what we want, but it isn’t always good for us. The temptation to misuse the gift of our sexuality has been with us since the first fall of mankind from the will of God. But now, through our technologies and “advanced understanding” (I obviously write that with a sarcastic tone) we have removed sexuality from the intended act of marital joy and procreation within a covenant marriage. We’ve declared this to be a great advance for human life. While people have a lot of fun with their freedom, statistics show that this has not led to greater happiness and satisfaction in life. And it has led to a lot of harm. Marriage, which has been shown to bring more happiness and security, has been delayed or not entered into at all. National birthrates aren’t even at replacement levels, and the increasing elder population has put a great strain on society. The point of all this again shows the truth that God, our Designer, knew what he was doing when He first created us. We were made for marriage, sex within its confines, family, commitment, and care beyond our own personal satisfaction. It is all in God’s holy word. We really should take it a bit more seriously. No, getting what we want really is not always for our good.
We speak of the wonder of the Christmas Season particularly in the eyes of children. All of the decorations, colored lights, and friendly gatherings make this a very special time. Unfortunately, as we grow older we face all of the hassles and losses of life. The wonder is tainted by life’s realities. But that is the very point of the marvelous wonder of this Christmas time. Almighty God came into this world with all its work, hassles, and losses not only to experience all that we experience, but to redeem our lives in the midst of them. Christmas is far more than decorated trees and sales at the mall. Christmas, above all is Emmanuel, God with us. This is the wonder of all wonders. The joy of all joys. That Almighty God has loved you personally so much that He sent His only Son into your life to pay the penalty for all your sins, and to give you the assurance that, whatever your good times or bad, He will never leave or forsake you. Christmas is Emmanuel, God with us. Don’t ever lose the wonder of that truth.
What is necessary for life? Certainly air, water, and food are essential to sustain physical life. Along with rest and exercise, these keep the body moving, but life is more than the physical body. We need a reason for being. Animals survive by nature and instinct, but humans ponder the question of purpose. Why am I here? To answer this, we need fellowship with other humans to give us a sense of belonging, and we need faith to show us that there is something beyond our brief span of years. We are not self made, and we are not self sufficient. Our God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, invites us to find our meaning in Him. There are many world faiths. This shows the hunger in man for meaning. But true meaning is only found in the One who loved us enough to reveal Himself personally in Jesus Christ. That is what Christmas is about. By growing deeper in our life with Jesus we find meaning for life. And that is more necessary than just sustaining physical life.
One day Jesus’ disciples were discussing who was the greatest in God’s Kingdom. They, like so many of us, think about ones who accomplish great things, solve great problems, who seem to be on top of every difficulty. But Jesus responded, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”(Matthew 18:3) We talk about child like faith, but what do we mean, what did Jesus mean? I think of my two young grandchildren. One is 4 this month, and the other almost 5. When they are tired or when they are hurt they just want to crawl up into their mother’s lap and be held. There’re not trying to solve great problems. They just want to be held, to have the assurance they they are loved, to know that in their mother they have a very solid figure who is the strength of their life. They just want to know that they are loved beyond measure. “But that’s unrealistic for us! You don’t understand the trials we face!” Is it really unrealistic? At another time Jesus said to the crowd that surrounded Him “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and. humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”(Matthew 11:28-29) This doesn’t ignore the problems that exist, but it puts them where they belong, in the lap of our Lord where He can give comfort, strength, clarity for all of our needs. We need to know that we are surrounded by His love.
December is a month of anticipation. Children are anticipating the coming of Christmas. Parents anticipate the work involved in getting ready for Christmas, but hopefully also the joy of being together with family and friends, and perhaps a few days of vacation time. Yesterday began the first Sunday in the four week Advent Season anticipating the celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus. Advent also emphasized the anticipation for the promised return of Christ. The Old Testament prophets foretold the birth of the Messiah, and also His coming again to bring to fulfillment God’s purpose for mankind. Since the first Christian century people have looked forward to Christ’s return when sin, death, and the devil would finally be defeated. God has given us so much that is good in this life now, but we know that it is all still corrupted by mankind’s sinful nature. We anticipate, we long for, that completion when God will bring all things to their right and proper place in HIs plan. In that we will have His perfect peace. Whatever else we look forward to in this month never loose sight of the true fullness of life God will accomplish at the return of our Lord.
There is something inconsistent with yesterday and today coming together as they do. Yesterday was a day of thanksgiving, a day to focus on all the blessings we have received. Today is the Black Friday sales day where people rush out to get more of the stuff they said they were thankful for yesterday. Each year there are stories about the long lines in front of stores, people waiting to shop long before the store opens. Some people have camped out all night to be the first in line to get the best bargain. Some are willing to sacrifice their comfort, their time, their sleep in order to get something that likely will be obsolete or broken in a few years. We are strange people! Thanksgiving Day yesterday was about something quite different. It was about realizing and remembering all of the sacrifices that have been made for us to have the life we have. Hopefully this also stirs us to be willing to sacrifice something of ourselves for the good of others. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to get the best deal on something we want to buy, but let’s keep our perspective fixed on what is truly important.
This is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. The last Thursday in November has been designated by congress as a day for national Thanksgiving. More than ever this year it seems like Thanksgiving has become submerged with Black Friday sales and very early Christmas decorations. Even so, we need to pause and think about the meaning of this day. There has been a song running through my head the last couple of days that expresses what this day should be for us – Give Thanks written by Don Moen in 1986. Give thanks with a grateful heart
Give thanks to the Holy One
Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son
To give thanks means that we are giving thanks to a person. Who is that? Ourselves for our own strength? Our government for laws and policies they established? Some general benevolent force out there somewhere? Our thanks is only due to One who is above all, who created us and all that is. Above all the family, friends, and material things we have, He has given us the unimaginable gift of Himself in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is in Him that we have life. We can then go on to sing:
And now let the weak say, “I am strong.”
Let the poor say, “I am rich
Because of what the Lord has done for us”
Everything in our world is not perfect. There are things we need or would like to see changed. But above all we have a Lord who has chosen to be a part of our lives. In Him we live, and move, and have our being.(Acts 17:28) For that we give the most hearty thank. Do have a very blessed and Thankful Day.
As kids we would play ball or other games in our backyard. Sometimes one person or another would make a bad play. We would call for a “do over” and let the person give it another try. This was great in a backyard game, but in life we don’t get “do overs”. Unfortunately, when something is done, it is done, and we live with the memory and whatever consequences might occur. But in life, that is in our Christian life, we have something better than a do over. We have the gracious forgiveness and cleansing of our Lord Jesus. Psalm 103:12 tells us, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Yes, memories remain, and we wish we had done things differently, but there is even another aspect of God’s grace in forgiveness. He has a way of taking the bad things of the past and using them for good. God’s grace is beyond measure, and is always working for our completeness in Him.