Sermon: 2011 Decembers Ago
Thesis: The greatest even in history happened 2011 Decembers ago with the birth of Jesus Christ. Have you wondered about that exceptional night in Bethlehem? When Heaven and nature sang out, when God showed up in the flesh, when the temporal and eternal came together, when heaven and earth collided, when God’s plan came together through an act of love in the form of a baby who would deliver the world from sin and death.
Question: Have you experienced that night yourself?
To Us a Child Is Born
1Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan—
2The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
3You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.
4For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
5Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
6For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.
T.S. – Throughout history there was an eager expectation for the coming Savior of the world. The Jewish nation was crying out for Him to come – praying that the Messiah would show up and deliver them and when He did – they did not recognize Him as a nation. Very few gave Him the honor and the praise that was due Him. But Heaven celebrated and God’s plan was set in motion to redeem mankind from the fall in the Garden of Eden.
The Shepherds and the Angels
8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,
18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Question: Have you experienced this night from over 2,000 years ago? Have you pondered it in your heart and met this child – this Messiah – this Savior of the World?
Does it still make you wonder how powerful a night it was? How 2011 years later we still celebrate this historic event in history all over the world. It is recognized and celebrated by different ethnic groups, has been celebrated throughout the different decades and millenniums of history, by different people on different continents and climates. By people who have spoken different languages but yet all acknowledge the love language of Heaven through Jesus Christ! Have wondered about that night recently with all the nativities popping up around you?
Quotes: Christmas is the harvest time of love. Souls are drawn to other souls. All that we have read and thought and hoped comes to fruition at this happy time. Our spirits are astir. We feel within us a strong desire to serve. A strange, subtle force, a new kindness animates man and child. A new spirit is growing in us. No longer are we content to relieve pain, to sweeten sorrow, to give the crust of charity. We dare to give friendship, service, the equal loaf of bread and love…Helen Keller (1880-1968)
A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together…Garrison Keillor
Logically, Christmas is a politically incorrect festival that causes embarrassment to those Americans who are not Christian (though not to Islamic shoppers because for them Jesus is the greatest of the prophets before Muhammad and his birthday deserves to be celebrated). But Christmas is an intricate element in American culture and cannot be extirpated.…Andrew Greeley, “Let’s Give the Holidays back to the Pagans,” Chicago-Sun Times, 13 Dec 2005
Questions that you may have heard or pondered from this time changing event of history:
Before I reveal these questions take yourself back in time to 2011 Decembers ago and open your heart and mind up to catch a supernatural glimpse of this earth shaking event.
Did it seem like any other night different than millions before? Was something in the air that night – you could feel a change and excitement?
Did the sky have to hold back the thunder? Was the earth and the stars reacting to that night when the creator came to the created to restore their relationship?
Did the moon find new reasons to glow? Was the moon brighter than ever because of the light of the world showing up in the dark of night to allow this world to see again?
Did the light in the sky catch people’s attention? We know it did the wise men and the Shepherds but what about all the other people in and around Bethlehem? Did they see it and sense what was happening – or were they too busy scurrying through the streets and stores of the day?
Where the sheep as amazed as the shepherds? Where the animals impacted by the this supernatural event in the Stable? Did they watch in amazement and give praise to the new born King?
Did the willow trees whisper with excitement? Where the trees rejoicing at the birth of the Redeemer of this world?
Did all the world sense love abounding? Was love in the air blowing through the houses and inns of the day?
Was anyone able to look at the stable and not see a child but a king? The shepherds did, the wise men would a few years later, Mary and Joseph did but what about others – would you have seen a king or a new born baby in a manager?
I wish I could hear Heaven and Nature sing at that moment in time? I know they were – well I think they still are even today 2011 years ago? Do you hear their song?
Did the walls of the stable start to tremble with the glory of God? Do the walls of the churches today tremble with the glory of God at Christmas? Did you feel the walls trembling this morning during worship and experience the Glory of God?
Did anyone wake with the peace they could not explain?
I wonder if they saw a baby or an eternal King? What do you think?
It must have been overwhelming and exhilarating all at the same time, angels rejoicing with the Shepherds, wise men seeing a start appear in the sky! Mary and Joseph beholding the face of God through Jesus! Mary and Joseph being the witnesses to a virgin birth with eternal ramifications for all mankind. They looking into the eyes of the Savior of the World their king, their God their vision of God’s eternal love. A virgin Mary gave birth to the Son of God and here He was in their arms! Making Himself vulnerable to be raised and cared for by Mary and Joseph!
T.S - What have we learned from that glorious birth – from His life over 2011 years ago?
I. Nothing is impossible with God
a. Mary knew her limitations but God through the angel Gabriel reminded her that nothing is impossible with Him.
i. Luke 1:34- 37: 34“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
36Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.
37For nothing is impossible with God.”
1. God showed Mary that he could do anything that there was and is no limit to what He can do!
b. Man has limitations but God does not! God never will be limited! We are never Him! No one can tie His hands!
i. Luke 18:27-30: 27Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
28Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”
29“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God
30will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”
1. The promise is with God on our side we cannot lose or even not see impossible things done through our seemingly limited lives.
c. Faith is the key ingredient to see God do something which seems impossible and then because of our faith and trust in Him the impossible becomes possible. Do you want to see the impossible become possible!
i. Matthew 17:19-20: 19Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” 20He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
1. Illustration: Visual of a mustard seed.
a. Pull out a poppy seed to show them the size of a mustard seed!
b. Yes, Jesus said this small of faith can move mountains!
i. Story of the nuns during World War 2!
2. A New Life from One Red Paperclip. Peter Lebanon, Ohio; source: The Chronicle: Lebanon Presbyterian Church (November 2007) | posted 12/17/2007 from Preachingtoday.com
a. Stuck in a dead-end job and strapped for money, Kyle MacDonald came up with an improbable plan: starting with one red paperclip, he would trade on the Internet until he exchanged it for a house. First, he traded the red paperclip for a fish-shaped pen. Next, he traded the pen for a doorknob. He traded the doorknob for a Coleman stove. He traded the Coleman stove for an electric generator. He traded the electric generator for a Budweiser sign and a keg of beer, which he then traded for a snowmobile. Exactly one year and 14 trades later, MacDonald finally reached his goal: he exchanged a part in a Hollywood movie for a home in Saskatchewan, Canada. The true story of Kyle MacDonald is told in his book One Red Paperclip. Now the book is being made into a movie. Fame, fortune, a book, a movie deal, and a home—it all began with one red paperclip. Sounds incredible, doesn’t it? But I believe our Christian faith is like that red paperclip. Jesus said that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we will be able to move mountains (Matthew 17:20). A mustard seed is very small—far smaller than a paperclip. And yet, Jesus says if we have that much faith, "Nothing will be impossible for you."
i. With Jesus and faith nothing is impossible for you and your life! Nothing!
1. Share about Christa and my conversation!
a. She has the faith to believe she is going to raise the money to go to Burkina Faso she is at 60%!
d. Hebrews 11:6: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”
i. Did you know that the best way to please God is by stepping out in faith – doing something that seems impossible for Him! Believing that if you take the step he will do the rest!
1. So what can you do this Christmas season – What step of faith is God challenging you to make?
ii. News That Illustrates: December 19, 2011- Matt Woodley, managing editor, PreachingToday.com | posted 12/19/2011 from Preachingtoday.com
1. Tim Tebow: God’s Quarterback?
This Wall Street Journal article has some surprisingly profound, provocative, and preachable thoughts about the mixture of faith, character, and sports. Whatever people might think about Tebow the quarterback, he’s certainly demonstrated solid character as Tim Tebow the follower of Christ. In contrast, the author observes, "We have seen the disrupted careers of star athletes … whose lives in professional sports have been undermined by character faults." There’s also this fantastic quote: "Mr. Tebow may indeed turn out to be a hypocrite …. Some of us might even want that to happen, because moral failure is something we understand …. What we are far less sure how to do is to take seriously a public figure’s seemingly admirable character and professions of a higher purpose. We don’t know how to trust goodness. And who can blame us? We don’t want to be fooled again."
a. Share about our discussion of him last Wednesday night before Bible Study.
2. James 2:14: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? “
a. Good question by James and the Holy Spirit for us today?
i. Does your faith have deeds backing it up?
3. Our faith has no limitations if we place it in God and we step out and do something with it!
a. There are no limits if we pursue faith and do what God tells us to do!
e. Truth: Man has and will always have limitations without God. Fact of life! Reality Check!
i. But God is not bound like we are in this time and space continuum because He created it and set it in motion.
ii. God is able to be in all places and in all times past-present-future!
iii. He is able to see the destiny of our lives and he knows what lies ahead and what was laid in the past.
iv. He is able to go against the laws of this earth and the scientific dimensions of life.
v. Quote: Ray Bradbury said it best of all: “We are an impossibility in an impossible universe.” And yet here we are. And why did the impossible occur? Because God said it should be so.
vi. In a Sermon by Pastor Tom Lacey he states:
1. "If our imagination is so limited when it comes to what we can do, we ought to consider how infinitely limited we are when it comes to what God can do. As Jesus said, “If I have told you earthly things, and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you of heavenly things?” Listen: the unexpected and the amazing occur each and every moment, but when we only look for the expected and the ordinary we lose sight of the God of the impossible. There is definitely more to God than meets the eye. So believe that God is able. From a rock has sprung forth water, from the desert manna; If the Lord can make a great king out of a shepherd boy and the king of all kings from a carpenter’s son, consider his work in you. “For no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” From a maiden was born the Savior and by a prostitute the Lord was blessed. Do you need forgiveness? God forgives you. Do you seek power to forgive? God will answer you with such strength. Are you afraid of what the future brings? Fear not; be bold and of strong courage. For great is the Lord’s steadfast love toward you. What we want to see this morning is that our faith goes beyond believing in the God of the possible to embrace the God of the impossible. Faith can overcome fear, just as light outshines darkness. Jesus tells us, “Don’t be afraid, but believe.” Mk. 5.36 What stands as impossible can fall to the power of faith. The Lord makes amazing things happen when we forget our fear and embrace our faith. Mary, Jesus’ mother, is a hero of faith overcoming fear. She is someone who believed in the miracle. Let me just have you think for a moment what not believing in God’s ability to do the seemingly impossible is like. Think of it like this: Not believing in miracles is like betting against your home team. Isn’t that just the worst thing? “Yay, I’m right! We lost.” It’s the same things as betting against God. “Yay, I’m right! God can’t/won’t do it.” That is absolutely not the position in which you want to stick yourself. In any wager, take God’s side."
2. Nothing is impossible with God – Lets recall again that night 2011 years ago – Nothing is impossible!
T.S. – Video illustration: “From the Nativity!”
II. Nothing is going to thwart or stop the plan of God for this world - Christmas was and will always be.
a. Kings have tried, societies have tried – our government is trying today!
i. Herod’s failure is an example to all who are trying to thwart the plan of God – it will not work!
1. Matthew 2:13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
a. King Herod tried to stop the plan of God and he did a horrendous sinister act which he is paying for even today!
i. Herod lost he could not thwart the plan of God.
ii. The Devil could not even thwart the plan of God.
iii. Circumstances could not thwart the plan of God.
iv. God can always thwart the plans of others and take something horrible and turn it around for good in the end of time!
2. Romans 8:28-31: “28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?
a. This is a fact of life and of those situations where we scratch our heads and say how can this work out for any good?
b. We need to understand that God knows things in advance he is not limited to time and space like we are and He is orchestrating the events of this world and even our own lives to a degree.
c. I think in these types of situations we just need to know that God is with us and if He is for us who can be against us and win!
i. Answer: NO ONE!
3. Psalm 2: Tells us how futile it is to try to eliminate God and His plan for mankind.
a. 1Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?
2The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One.
3“Let us break their chains,” they say, “and throw off their fetters.”
4The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them
5Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
6“I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.”
7I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.
8Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.
9You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”
10Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling.
12Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
b. Historical examples of people trying to stop the plan of God.
i. See timeline outline at the end of sermon.
ii. Quote: This is --- “The Age of Martyrs”
1. In a recent article, Justin D. Long emphasized the startling fact that more people have died for their faith in the Twentieth Century than in all of the previous centuries combined. “During this century, we have documented cases in excess of 26 million martyrs. From AD 33 to 1900, we have documented 14 million martyrs.” He did add, however, that thankfully martyrdom has been on the decline for the past decade. "The current rate is 159,000 martyrs per year -- down from 330,000 per year at the height of the cold war. With the demise of the Soviet Union and its sponsored communism, religious freedoms have opened up. Although there are still numerous restrictions and some persecution, martyrdom -- in the form of executions and assassinations -- has been significantly curtailed."
iii. The following from http://www.christianity.com/11630665/page2/
1. Worst Genocide of the Century:
a. Possibly the worst organized killings of Christians in this century took part in Turkey. Paul Marshall in his book, Their Blood Cries Out, co-authored with Lila Gilbert, wrote, "Although Turkey is now a country with relatively few Christians, this was not always the case. Less than one hundred years ago, Turkey, or rather its Ottoman predecessor, was about 30 percent Christian. This situation changed when some two million ethnic Armenian Christians were massacred between 1905 and 1918, a genocide which the Turkish government still denies. Many of the remaining Christians fled immediately. Others facing death threats, systemic harassment, and discrimination, followed them later."
2. Uganda Holocaust:
a. Much of the persecution in recent years has been taking place in predominately Islamic nations. Idi Amin, the self-appointed President for Life, a Muslim, seized power in Uganda in a coup in 1971 and soon he and his brutal followers began to try to set up the Islamic State of Uganda with funds from Saudi Arabia and Libya. The problem they faced was that many of the population were devout Christians and so they began a systematic killing that is almost beyond belief. . . . By the end of his reign of terror in 1979 when he was toppled by Tanzanian troops, some 500,000 Ugandans had been murdered, 300,000 of which were believers.
b. Reference Transformation video of Uganda making a covenant with God in 2000 and dedicating their nation to Him.
i. They could not stop the plan of God and Amin is paying the price for his sin today in Hell!
3. China’s Struggling Christians:
a. China is a land where Christians, particularly those in the underground church, are often under attack. China recently launched a campaign of persecution against Christians who are not registered in the official state church. According to Compass Direct News Service, the campaign stems largely from government fear that the huge number of Christians in China could be swiftly galvanized into a vast antigovernment movement. Although estimates of the number of China’s Christians begin as low as 10 million, those with access to China’s unregistered house churches place the total at 50 million. Some observers have estimated the number to be as high as 90 million. Whatever the actual number, even if it is the lower estimate, this represents an incredible saga of survival and growth of the community of believers under sustained government hostility and opposition.
c. NO CHRISTMAS – NO CHRISTIANITY: Have you ever wondered what you would be missing from your life if there was no Christmas – no Christ – no Christianity? Say if the antichrist powers would have defeated Christ and Christianity.
i. I originally thought – I would not get any presents, no days off from work, no Christmas dinner, no holiday to spend with my family, no chance to listen to Christmas music and no chance to play practical jokes on others at Christmas with wacky presents. After some quiet reflection on this thought I quickly discovered that I would be missing more than what I first thought of. I soon discovered that I would be missing just about everything good that I enjoy and benefit from in my life.
1. What if there was no Christmas or Christianity what would I be missing in life?
a. There would be no Christmas laughter
There would be no Merry Christmas
There would be no jingle bells
There would be no joy to the world
There would be no hark the herald angels sing
There would be no silent night
There would be no gift giving
There would be no lights
There would be no candy canes
There would be no God with us
There would be no reason for the season
There would be no holiday spirit
There would be no Good News
There would be no sacred romance
There would be no faith
There would be no prayer
There would be no bridge to Heaven
There would be no healings
There would be no grace
There would be no mercy
There would be no forgiveness
There would be no purpose for our lives
There would be no bondage breaker moments
There would be no freedom
There would be no eternal life
There would be no transformations
There would be no light at the end of the tunnel
There would be no revivals
There would be no church
There would be no Christians
There would be no bridge to the presence of God
There would be no Spirit filled life
There would be no life recovery
There would be no love
There would be no wise men
There would be no family gatherings
There would be no New Testament and the Bible as we know it
There would be no entrance to the Holy of Holies
There would be no revelation
There would be no Church
There would be no pastor’s
There would be no worship music
There would be no Bread of Life
There would be no deliverance
There would be no joy in life
There would be no testimonies to His resurrection power
There would be no miracles
There would be no defeating of death
There would be no salvation
There would be no hope
d. But there is Christmas and Christianity therefore we have the benefit and the blessings that comes from it.
i. Instead we do have the blessing and there is a Christmas and all these items above belong to us if we choose to receive the gift of Christmas.
1. Christmas is “Christ in us!” That’s the gift, that’s the Christmas spirit we all need to live in us!
2. We need to give him space in our hearts!
3. We need to look at the manager and see the King of Kings the Savior of the World not a baby!
a. We need to see the birth of Christianity!
i. Because of Jesus Christ we have Christmas! Yes, because of Christ’s willingness to come and His willingness to be born in a barn.
ii. Yes, because He was willing to die on the cross for us we have all the stuff mentioned above and even much more. The truth is because of Christmas we really do get an endless array of heavenly gifts.
iii. Jesus did come and He gave us the greatest gift of all “His very own life!” His sacrificial gift just keeps multiplying to this earth over and over as it touches individual lives.
ii. Christmas to me has become a time to ponder the spiritual benefits that come from its inception.
1. Christmas time is a time to reflect on the importance of its eternal benefits to me and to others. But for there to be eternal benefits to others I have to pass on the true meaning of Christmas in my life to others.
iii. Christmas is so much more than we think today- it has eternal blessings that go far beyond a material present.
1. It points to something more meaningful and wonderful than just “Lots of presents.”
iv. The truth is if we pass the gift of Christmas along to others then we ourselves will soon realize you cannot give the gift away without getting something in return from God.
1. It appears that what we sow is what we reap and these unexpected rewards come from the reason for the season. Listen to this story:
a. Leader’s Insight: Nothing for Christmas
My wife gave away the gift money, and now our kids will have no presents by Clark Cothern, guest columnist "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:8). Once upon a time (in the mid-1990s), my wife, Joy, and I received a request to sing a few songs, perform a comedy routine and then lead in a serious time of reflection about the meaning of Christmas for a group of senior citizens. That year we were especially short on both time and money. (What’s new?) We decided to accept the invitation, partly because we loved seniors, and partly because we viewed the opportunity as God’s invitation to "abound in every good work," since he had provided all we had needed. We wanted to share some laughter, warmth, memories, and the timeless Christmas story from Luke 2 with many people who probably missed their families. Our children were young enough to write out a Christmas wish list and we began to wonder if they would receive much of anything from their lists. Over the years we had tried to instill in our kids the awareness that Christmas was not about materialism, but you can imagine the looks on their faces when we said, "You may only get a couple of small gifts this year." When we accepted the invitation to perform, we hadn’t expected anything in return. After the program someone handed us an envelope. It contained a fifty-dollar love gift. We were thrilled. To us it was an unexpected bonus. Only a couple of days later we learned, through our church, that a family had just spent every last dollar moving into a new apartment, and that their circumstances had left them with nothing for Christmas. And I mean nothing. Joy and I both felt that tug in our hearts. You know the kind. It’s the one that lets you know God is asking you to do something. We knew we were being called upon to give generously to this family in need. With the holiday quickly approaching, Joy went shopping for that family. She spent all fifty dollars we had been given after the seniors’ program and quite a bit more than that out of our regular budget. When Joy showed up with all the wrapped gifts, she almost got knocked over from the kids’ hugs. The mom in that family stood there looking at all the packages, crying tears of thanksgiving. Joy beamed when she returned from her delivery. Through her giving, God had poured out even more joy to Joy. As we turned in for the night it hit us: What are we going to do for our own kids for Christmas this year? I will candidly admit that I silently struggled for a short time with some not-so-nice feelings about spending our money on another family, when our own kids would have very little for Christmas. I also admit that for the first time in a long time I thought (only for a split second) about withholding our tithe (a tenth of our income) for that two-week period, using it instead to buy things for our kids. But tithing had been our joyful habit, for years, and that selfish thought became quickly replaced by the thought that God had always provided us with everything we had needed. Joy and I made a willful decision to give happily to God what belonged to him. As I wrote out our tithe check the next day, I was grateful for the peace that flooded my soul. I was quite sure that God’s grace would continue to abound in our lives, with or without a bunch of toys at Christmas. Then, on December 22, we checked our mail. There, in the midst of a stack of Christmas cards, sat an envelope with no return address. We were curious and opened that card first. Inside the envelope was another typical Christmas card, but when Joy opened it, money, the green kind, fluttered to the ground, landing at her feet. She picked up the bills. On each corner you could read the number 100. She counted, "One, two … oh my goodness … three," and then she squealed again. Shaking four crisp bills, she screamed, "Four hundred dollars!" We both literally jumped up and down. Then we stood there for a moment, mouths open, shaking our heads. The card said simply, "You two are a blessing. God bless you this Christmas." Nobody had signed the card. To this day we have no idea who sent that card, or why. We wondered if it might have come from one of the senior citizens who saw us perform, but we really didn’t have a clue. Maybe we’ll get to thank the anonymous donor in heaven some day. I’m pretty sure that they had no idea just how timely or important that gift was to us and our kids. What we do know is that God provided, abundantly. In our kids’ minds, God’s gift to us that year was a miracle. Our kids learned, by listening to us marvel at God’s goodness, that God makes his grace abound in his children, and that his ways really are not our ways. And we learned that God’s cure for greed is giving. We learned that God releases the greedy grip materialism has on our hearts as we loosen our grip on money. I am reminded of that Christmas miracle every time I read the following words from Paul the Apostle: "Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). God expanded our joy in giving that year. He taught us (again) that when we give out of the abundant grace he provides (not out of compulsion or reluctantly), that he pours out blessings in ways we simply cannot comprehend. We sang Christmas praises that year to our grace-giving God—a God who surprised the world with his amazing provision at Christmas. His gift of Jesus magnified his glory to all who will see it. And he continues to give, abundantly, most often when we least expect it. And every time that happens, his glory is magnified again. Clark Cothern pastors Living Water Community Church, Ypsilanti, Michigan. To respond to this newsletter, write to Newsletter@LeadershipJournal.net. Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
e. So why do we miss the importance of having or celebrating Christmas?
i. Why do we so easily forget Christmas’ eternal value? Why do we underestimate its personal benefit to me and my family?
1. I think because we get so hurried this time of the year we forget to reflect on the benefits of having Christmas.
a. We neglect all the spiritual, eternal, material, emotional, psychological benefits that come because there is a Christmas. But we so often miss it because I think we get so hurried at this time of the year.
b. We really need to slow down this Christmas season and quietly reflect on what we have because Christ came and Christ gave the gift of Christmas to all of us.
c. His ultimate everlasting gift keeps on multiplying itself over and over in our lives as we receive it and then as we give to others over and over.
d. I have discovered as I give it away it just keeps coming back with more blessing and more reward. It’s really amazing how this works.
T.S. – We have learned that nothing can or ever will thwart the plan of God – Christmas was and it will always be and the final thing I learned from Christmas 2011 years ago is nothing can separate me from the love of God as a Christian.
III. Nothing can separate us from God’s love as Christians
a. Romans 8:35-39: 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
36As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
b. Article from http://www.kingofpeace.org/sermons/sermon-080402.htm:
i. Revelation from Christmas: Nothing Can Separate You from God’s Love - Romans 8:35-39
1. Paul had some awesome words of encouragement for the Christians in Rome in this morning’s reading from Romans. “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” Then Paul answers his own question with resounding words of encouragement: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” These words must have been very encouraging to their first audience, the Christians of the city of Rome. Paul wrote this letter in the year 58 to the church in Rome, a church he had not yet visited. Paul wrote the Letter to the Romans to help settle some disputes related to a problem in the early church, which took up a significant amount of Paul’s time. The questions revolved around whether gentile converts to Christianity had to take on all the requirements of Jewish law. Paul was about to go to Jerusalem with an offering from outlying churches to help the Christians through the famine in that town. He knew that when he got there, he would have to defend his missionary actions to the leaders of the Christian church. There in Jerusalem, most Christians were Jews who accepted Jesus as a Messiah. They saw Christianity as a movement within Judaism and expected converts to take on the requirements of the Jewish law, including circumcision and food restrictions. Paul defended his not requiring gentile converts to take on the law saying that Jesus had fulfilled the law. In writing to Rome, Paul faces the other side of the problem. In Rome, many Christians were gentile converts who wondered why the Jewish Christians still observed Jewish laws. Paul defended those Jews who still observed the law saying that Israel was still important to God’s plan for the world. It was OK for those who wanted to continue in Jewish traditions to do so. Paul knew that the Roman Christians had faced hardships and that more were on the way. He wanted to help settle internal conflicts and prepare the Roman Church for persecution. Just nine years earlier, all Jews had been expelled from Rome. The Roman historian Suetonius said the Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews because of a dispute over “Chrestus.” Roman historians see this as a mistaken reference to Christ. The Jews were expelled from Rome for arguments about whether Jesus was the Messiah. A few years passed and Claudius died. Jews began returning to Rome. They included Aquilla and Prisca, with whom Paul had worked in Corinth. The Jews moving to Rome after Claudius death may also have included some of Paul’s own family (Romans 16:7). Paul wrote to this group of returned Jews to bring unity and encouragement with his masterful treatise on the Christian faith. It would not take a prophet to know the church in Rome faced persecution in the near future. Hardship was inevitable at this point. In fact, Paul himself went to Rome two years later as a prisoner, stood trial and was beheaded for his Christian faith around the year 63. He knew that hardship, distress, persecution, peril, and the sword were on the horizon and he wrote to strengthen the church as it prepared for problems. Paul said “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” The Greek here is kind of fun to our modern ears. To be victorious or conquer in ancient Greek was nike, like the modern sports shoe company. However, Paul did not just say that the Christians were nike, he wrote they would be hyper nike, more than conquerors. It would make a great Christian clothing company wouldn’t it, hyper nike, more than nike. Christians would not simply conquer or be victorious, they would more than conquer. Paul went on to write, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life”—If we die, we are with God, if we live, God is with us in our hearts, in this life too. “Nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come”—Nothing you face now, nor anything you will ever face in the future will be able to separate you from God’s love. There is nothing to fear in all your tomorrows because it can’t separate you from God. “Nor powers, nor height, nor depth”—Paul isn’t being literal here referring to the top of Everest and the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Rather, no matter how joyous things are, God is still there. After all, it is when everything is going well that we are most tempted to turn away from God, as we feel we no longer need God. But when things are going good God is there. Also, no matter how low you get, no matter how depressing life is, God is there. None of that can separate you from God’s love. In fact, Paul goes on to say that there is nothing “in all creation” that “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul’s amazing words of encouragement reminded me of an interview I read with Corrie Ten Boom. Some of you may know that Corrie became an internationally renowned author through her autobiography of her life during Nazi occupation. Corrie was raised in a Christian home in Holland. When the Nazis came in and began to persecute the Jews, her family built “a hiding place” into their house, to hide a Jewish family. In time, Corrie’s family was found out and sent off to die with the family they had protected. Corrie was the sole survivor out of the two families. The interviewer asked Corrie something like, “What was the greatest miracle you experienced in the extermination camps?” She responded, “The presence of Jesus Christ.” The interviewer was a little taken aback and sought to clarify, “But didn’t you write about miracles and deliverances in the camps?” “Yes,” Corrie replied, “But the greatest miracle was Christ’s presence.” Corrie Ten Boom experienced what Paul promised to the Christians in Rome—no matter how she was persecuted, none of it could separate her from God’s love in Christ Jesus. There was no greater miracle possible and nothing else needed. So, if nothing can separate us from God’s love, then why do we experience ourselves as separated from God? Why doesn’t everyone always feel God’s love all around them? Paul wrote elsewhere about what can separate us from God. He called it sin. Paul used 24 words to describe sin in different ways. However, the word Paul liked most, was the one he used 44 times in Romans, hamartia. Hamartia is a term from target practice, an archery term meaning, “to miss the mark.” God shows us how we are to act in the person of Jesus and through the laws, such as the Ten Commandments. That is the target we have to aim for. But missing the mark alone does not separate us from God’s love. What happens is that we can get so accustomed to missing the mark, that we stop trying to aim. We can come not to care about how God is calling us to live. In doing so we turn ourselves away from God. While nothing can separate us from God’s love, we can do it ourselves. We just turn our backs on God [turn around and face away from the congregation]. God’s love is still there, but we reject it. We do what nothing else in all creation could do [turn back around and face the congregation]. We separate ourselves from God’s love. The good news is that as we have separated ourselves from God, we can turn back. It is not that we work our way back to God, earning God’s love. Instead, we simply acknowledge that God’s love was there for us all along. We might not feel it all the time, after all God’s love is more dependable than how we feel at a given moment. Yet, God’s love is ever present, especially in hardship, peril, and persecution. Because in all these things we are more than conquerors. There is nothing in all creation that can separate you from God’s love, but you. If you find yourself separated from God, just acknowledge who did the separating and ask God to flood you once more with his love. Amen.
c. Quote from David Platt’s book “Radical”
i. Chapter one “Someone worth losing everything for!”
1. “The youngest mega-church pastor in history.” …”But I found myself becoming uneasy. For one thing, my model in ministry is a guy who spent the majority of his ministry time with twelve men. A guy who, when he left this earth, had only 120 people who were actually sticking around and doing what he told them to do. More like a mini-church, really. Jesus Christ-the youngest mini-church pastor in history. So how was I to reconcile the fact that I was now pastoring thousands of people with the fact that my greatest example in ministry was known for turning away thousands of people…Soon I realized I was on a collision course with an American church culture where success is defined by bigger crowds, bigger budgets, and bigger buildings. I was now confronted with a startling reality: Jesus actually spurned the things that my church culture said were most important (I became faced with a dilemma)…Was I going to believe Jesus?...Was I going to obey Jesus? You and I choose to continue with business as usual in the Christian life and in church as a whole, enjoy success based on the standards defined by the culture around us. Or we can take an honest look at the Jesus of the Bible and dare to ask what the consequences might be if we really believed him and really obeyed him” (pages 1-3).
2. Share his story on the puddles of tears page 4-7 from the book.
Quote: What keeps the wild hope Christmas alive year after year in a world notorious for dashing all hopes is the haunting dream that the child who was born that day may yet be born again even in us and with our snow bound, snow blind longing for him...Frederick Buechner
Quote: Why did Christ come to the earth? Why in the world did the Son of God become the son of a carpenter and his wife? Why in the world did God trade a throne in heaven with a manger on earth? Have you ever thought about it? …So, why did Christ come? He came, so that when we stand before God, we would not have to be sorry. He came to pay the price for our transgressions, for our sins. We have a saying, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” That’s partly true; but we are the reason. Jesus came for you, and you, and you, and me. He came, because His love for us compelled him to come. Contributed to Sermon Central by James Buchanan
Application: His birth 2011 Decembers ago reminds us today:
• 1. Nothing is impossible with God!
• 2. Nothing will stop His divine plan for this world!
• 3. Nothing can separate the Christian from the love of God!
• So remember these nothings this year because they are some things!
Video Illustration: What happened to Christmas? -- Simply Christmas!