Summary: The heart of the Advent Season is getting to know Jesus

Advent # 1

What’s it all about anyway?

Rumors not withstanding, I really do like the Christmas season! Bev started getting out the decorations this week. On Saturday, we’ll head out to get a tree. I’ve already got most of the gifts for which I am responsible. Three of our four kids will make their way home for the holiday week, filling up our home with noise, laughter, and dirty towels! But, that’s not the ‘it’ of Christmas!

Then, too, there are the gifts. I’m not sure why the Black Friday sales were so much a part of my consciousness this year. Perhaps it is because there are kids in the house again and I’m thinking about gifts. With all respect for those of you who were out shopping on Thanksgiving, I personally find extending shopping hours into the night of such a holiday a gross expression of what’s gone terribly wrong with Christmas! It was bad enough when stores opened at 5 AM on Friday. No matter how much they cost or how brightly they are wrapped, gifts are not the ‘it’ of Christmas.

Perhaps you’re thinking I sound like the Grinch who stole Christmas. It really is a great story and not just for kids. After he attempted to rob all the Who’s in Whoville of their Christmas, the Grinch saw them singing and stop atop his mountain to ponder. And in the famous prose of Dr. Seuss, the Grinch realized something we all need to know:

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,

stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?

It came without ribbons.

It came without tags.

It came without packages, boxes or bags.

And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.

What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store?

What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?”

Pastor Mike Slaughter writes that

“Christmas has been hijacked and exploited. We profess an allegiance to Jesus but celebrate His birth with an orgy of materialism. Christmas is not your birthday.”

What’s it all about anyway?

That’s what I want to talk about with you today.

Don’t tune me out or turn your mind to other things. This will not be a message that slams spending too much money on Christmas gifts. I’m not going to harp on the folly of putting this year’s debt on top of last year’s on a credit card that is already near maxed out. We know those things already. We don’t always live by them, but we know them. Instead, I want to turn your attention to Jesus and His Gospel for that is the ‘it’ of Christmas!

TEXT - Luke 4: 14-30

The passage that will be our text comes from a Sabbath sermon that Jesus preached. He was the guest speaker at the synagogue in Nazareth. The local boy who become something of a celebrity in the region, comes home.

READ - vv. 14-16

There are three important descriptions.

“In the power of the Spirit”

Jesus was operating beyond the natural. He was becoming known, not for His brilliant rhetoric, not because he could a crowd to fiery indignation about the Romans who occupied their nation, not because He was a humorist who broke the boredom of life. His words were compelling. He made you think, left you hungry for more.

“News spread through the whole country”

People were talking. There was a buzz and the bolder among the people were suggesting that maybe this young man was the one who would finally bring the revolution, giving them back the storied grandeur of David’s kingdom!

“Everyone praised him.”

They did not know a lot about him, but they liked what they knew.

So, we learn that Jesus went to the synagogue and, as in the custom of the day, was offered the opportunity to read the Scripture and make some comments. When Jesus went to the pulpit to speak that day, everyone had some expectations. What would he say? Would he offer any explanation about his plans? Who was this son of Mary and Joseph that some of the older folks remembered as having some scandal attached to his conception?

READ vv. 17-20

This text was loaded with emotion and meaning for that congregation. It was a statement universally connected to the hope of the Messiah. The Jews of that era were hoping for God’s Messenger to show up. They had mixed their own longing with the promises of the Scripture. Most were expecting a fiery revolutionary who would unite the people in common resistance to the Romans, who would restore God’s blessing and prosperity to the impoverished land. And, now Jesus chooses this passage, full of promise and hope.

But it was after the reading as he began his sermon that caused the stir!

READ v. 21

They clearly grasped what Jesus claimed. Isaiah’s prophecy is about the coming Messiah. Jesus is claiming to be the long awaiting Messiah!

Their responses need to catch our attention this Advent season.

READ v. 22-30

First, they were amazed. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

We know this guy. He didn’t go to Harvard in Jerusalem. Didn’t Joseph raise him? Wasn’t he the man we hired to fix our house? How can he be so powerful, say such amazing things?

Jesus speaks directly to their thoughts, telling them that they would block his ability to accomplish great things, they would miss out on His mission, because they doubted!

He compared their unbelief to that of the time of Elijah, a time when the people wandered from the Lord into worship of idols. That unbelief caused God to reach out beyond the Jewish people to two Gentiles that received His blessings! This suggestion that a Gentile could be found more worthy than a Jew for God’s blessing quickly changed the atmosphere. Those who had been amazed and admiring, quickly became furious!

Here the beginning of the Season when we celebrate Jesus’ birth and anticipate His return to earth, this lesson ought to speak to us.

We have an opportunity for blessing, but will we be in a place to receive that blessing?

OR, will we let our expectations and assumptions cut us off from the Gospel of Christ?

Will our lives be so crowded with the stuff we have piled onto Christmas that we cannot see the Christ?

A few moments ago, I quoted Pastor Mike Slaughter

“Christmas has been hijacked and exploited. We profess an allegiance to Jesus but celebrate His birth with an orgy of materialism. Christmas is not your birthday.”

The materialism of our culture can creep into our Christianity. Instead of being the One who brings us a life of hope, a life of love, a life fixed on the true Kingdom of Heaven - we can easily turn Jesus into a ‘bless-me’ god, a magician who multiplies our money, who increases our stores, who makes us healthy and wealthy.

Like those people in Nazareth who thought they knew the meaning of Isaiah’s prophecy, we too can think we ‘know’ the Scripture. Quoting isolated proof texts, misinterpreting even entire passages as we see them only through the distorted lens of our own expectations, we can block the true message of Christmas.

And, we slip into this error, what is an opportunity to find greater blessing becomes the very thing that brings our condemnation! The Word of Truth that could have set us free becomes the Truth by which we are judged.

This Advent I want to urge you to reclaim the mission that began with the birth of the Lord Jesus.

He announced that mission in Nazareth.

"God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,

Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind,

To set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s year to act!” (Luke 4:18-19, The Message)

One of the gifts of the Spirit is that He will set us free from our selfish ideas, our preconceptions about our privilege, and He will teach us to love all.

One of the great temptations of the American church in the 21st century is to be selective in the sins that we condemn. How easily we raise our voices against the sin of taking the life of a helpless baby in the womb. Abortion is so black and white in our spectrum of morality. But, we have little thought about our government’s policy of using drones in warfare that kill children who happen to be in the same village as a terrorist. What would Jesus say? We need to have ears to hear the Spirit’s voice.

We rise to condemn the greed of Wall Street that coopts the policy councils of our nation to protect the wealth and privilege of the few but we are largely silent about the religious corporations that enrich preachers who live like princes even as they promise God’s blessing to those who give more. We need to hear the voice of the Spirit.

When the Lord speaks to our traditions and disturbs our assumptions when He comes to us, we have a choice to make. We can be like the people of Elijah’s time, refusing the message, and allow the blessing of God to pass us by. We can be like the people in Nazareth who grew furious and tried to kill Jesus. Later on we learn that He did not do any miracles among them because of their unbelief. To them, He was only “Joseph’s son, the carpenter.”

OR we can respond with faith. We can humble ourselves before the Lord and ask Him to come to us new, to speak to us with words that comfort and challenge. If we hear with Faith and obedience, He will meet our spiritual poverty with true wealth. He will pardon us and set us free from the prison of selfishness. He will open our eyes and let us live authentically, not hiding ourselves from unpleasant truth, but rather becoming people of the Truth.

He will strengthen us so that we victims no longer, but victorious.

Here’s how the Lord of glory spoke the Church in the book of the Revelation.

"You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love.

So be diligent and turn from your indifference.

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne." (Revelation 3:17-21, NLT)

What’s it all about anyway?

It’s not about an orgy of materialism or even about a Jesus to make us richer and fatter.

It’s about the coming of the One who offers freedom and life to those who receive the gift.

That’s Christmas!