Christmas Matters Because of Jesus

Readings for the day (Christmas Eve – Thursday, December 24, 2015):

Isaiah 9:6-7

Micah 5:2

Luke 2:1-20

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

 

Christmas is usually a joyous time of year will all of its decorations, the family time, the songs and carols, the story, the presents, the candles. But why? Why do we like Christmas so much? Maybe it is because of it’s familiar, it’s comfortable, and it’s our tradition.

But how much of Christmas do we really believe in? Do we believe the Christmas story? Does it really matter that Jesus was born to an ordinary teenage woman named Mary and a carpenter named Joseph? Does it really matter that our God took on flesh to live among us? Does it really matter that in faith the shepherds left their flocks to come and see the child that would save the world? I mean really, it isn’t like any of us have ever seen God. We haven’t had an angel come and visit us at work to give us an earth shattering message from God like the shepherds got.

So it is understandable that a growing number of people are not coming to church. And there are many who come only a couple times a year because of the tradition, and the carols, and the decorations. So why should we believe this story? It’s not like God is anywhere near us to help us out. We pray for God to heal our loved ones. We pray for God to help us pass a test. We pray for God to give our team a victory. And when our loved ones do get better, and we do get a good score on that test, and our team does win, then we say that the doctors did a good job thanks to modern medicine, that we studied really hard, and that we have a good team this year. We don’t give God any of the credit for what He has done. And when our loved ones don’t get better, when we don’t do well on that test, or our team doesn’t win, that’s then we blame God for hating us, ignoring us, or just not existing at all. God can never win.

For us, seeing IS believing! We can’t trust that something might actually be true unless we see it with our eyes or hear it with our ears. We need proof. We need physical proof. We need something that we can see, that we can touch, that we can hear. We need something that if we get audited by the IRS that we have a paper trail. Believing in God won’t give us this. We can’t get physical proof that God exists because God is invisible. And since God is invisible and appears absent most of the time, it becomes very easy to just ignore and forget someone who is invisible. If a friend told you that they bought a new vehicle, you might believe them, but you would certainly ask them for a text message with a picture of their new wheels. Why? Because you need to see it with your own eyes. Hearing it is just not good enough. For us, seeing IS believing!

The same is true with this Christmas story. We like the idea of celebrating the birth of a baby because who doesn’t like the sweet, cuteness of a baby. We like singing the Christmas carols of Away in Manger, O Little Town of Bethlehem, and Oh Come all Ye Faithful, and whatever your favorite Christmas carol is because they are familiar, they remind us of our childhood, and it is something that we can rely on that won’t change. But what if I told you that this Christmas story isn’t just something to warm your heart and give you familiarity in the midst of an ever changing world? What if I told you that this Christmas story is not only real, but life changing and life giving? What if I told you that this little “birthday party for Jesus” that you think we are doing tonight is actually a radically changing story that is not only terrifying but also extremely comforting. Our God meets you in the messiness of your life – to give you guidance, to give you hope, to give you life; forever.

Our God, the creator of the world and everything on it, who we can’t even begin to understand, decided to take on human flesh to see for Himself the mess that we live in every day. He came to not only see the sin and the brokenness, but to give a solution to the problem. That infant baby Jesus is not just some sweet, cuddly little child, but He is God. And He came for a purpose – to take your sins and the punishment for those sins away from you and in exchange give you His righteousness, His perfection. Because of this infant’s birth that you celebrate tonight, you are seen as perfect before God.

This is why it does matter that Jesus was born to an ordinary teenage woman named Mary and a carpenter named Joseph. Because our God did not come to save just the elite few, but to save everyone, including you. Jesus did not come born in a fancy palace, but rather in a manger, a feeding trough for cattle because that’s all what was available at that time. This story does matter because without Jesus there is no hope. And without hope, stories of crime, violence, and war is all that we have. But with God becoming flesh there is hope. There is hope that one day sin will be no more; sorrow and shame will be no more.

My friends, this Christmas story matters because of San Bernardino. This story matters because of the falling grain prices. This story matters because students go to school, get bullied all day and then contemplate suicide at night. This story matters because without God things will not improve, they will only continue to get worse. The only answer to all of the problems in your life and in the life of the world is Jesus! Jesus, born to a young virgin and a humble carpenter, came into this world as an infant in order to take on all of your problems, all of your sins and give you a free, peaceful life with God for all of eternity.

Seeing ISN’T believing. Believing is seeing. And when you believe that this story of Jesus being born in a stable and laying in a manger is much more than just a cute little story to warm your heart at Christmas time, then you will see that our God is real. Our God is alive. Our God is always with you, not to give you what you want, but to give you want you need the most – the forgiveness of every wrong that you have done and the promise that even though you will one day die, you will have life with God for all of eternity. This is why Christmas matters. This is why our involvement in the church throughout the entire year matters. This is why our worship and devotion to God matters. Because without Jesus we won’t have hope nor would we have a future beyond this life. This world will not remind us of this, but coming to church will remind us that Jesus is real. Jesus is born. Jesus is alive and therefore you too, as a baptized child of God have life in His name Because of Jesus you are forgiven, you do have hope, you do have a future, you have been given life. Amen. Merry Christmas!

 

 

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels. Used with permission.

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For hope, look no further than the cross of Christ!

Readings for the day (4th Sunday of Advent – Sunday, December 20, 2015):

Micah 5:2-5a

Luke 1:46b-55

Hebrews 10:5-10

Luke 1:39-45

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

As we enter this week of Christmas, our scripture texts turn to focusing on Mary, the mother of our Lord.  Mary and Elizabeth, both are expecting a child – one, way beyond the normal age of bearing children, and the other extremely young for bearing children.  Elizabeth had been waiting and hoping for this to come for years.  While Mary had been waiting and hoping for anything but this to come.  And yet, God takes these two ordinary women, places them in extraordinary circumstances, and says, “I’m going to use you and your children to build up my kingdom.”  God took Elizabeth, someone who was judged and criticized in the community for her inability to bear children, and not only restored her to the community, but gave her a very important role – the mother of John the Baptist, the messenger who was called to prepare the way for the Savior of the world to come.  And God took Mary, someone who would be judged, criticized and probably even stoned to death by the community for bearing a child at the young age of 13 or 14 without being married, and God not only helped her see beyond the community’s opinion, but gave her the very important role of being the mother of God’s only Son.

Elizabeth and Mary, both had hopes of what the future would hold, but for both of these women, their future ended up turning into something far greater than what they had hoped for.  In Elizabeth’s old age, she probably just hoped for the child to be healthy.  In Mary’s young age, she probably just hoped for the strength and perseverance to carry this child.  What they had hoped for certainly came true, but God also far exceeded their expectations.

So what is it that you hope for?  Do you hope that the weather will remain nice so that your family can come home for Christmas?  Do you hope that maybe this year there won’t be a big argument that arises when your family gets together?  Do you hope that there will be some sort of miracle this year and the Vikings will actually not choke as the season comes to a close?  Do you hope that somehow 2016 is going to be better than 2015?  What is it that you hope for?

Hope is a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen the way you want it to happen.  We hope for lots of things don’t we?  As we meet a police car going a little over the speed limit, we hope that we don’t see the tail lights come on.  When the pastor gets in the pulpit, we hope that the sermon isn’t going to be super long or boring.  When the roads are slippery and the visibly is less than ideal, we hope that our tires stay on the road.  When we watch our loved ones drive off, we hope that they will make it safely to their destination.  When we see the doctor for tests, we hope that the results don’t come with the word cancer in them.  When we keep seeing expenses rise, we hope that our church can stay open for yet another year of ministry.  When we see the letter from our insurance company, we hope that our premiums aren’t going up very much.

But those premiums did go up…a lot, didn’t they?  Sometimes the word cancer does come up in our conversations with our doctor.  And a Super Bowl win for the Vikings will more than likely have to wait yet another year.  What we hope for doesn’t always happen in the way we desire it to happen.  Complications happen.  Sin happens.  Life happens.  And when life turns out differently than what we hoped it would, we are left feeling discouraged, frustrated, a failure.  We hoped for better news.  We hoped for better attendance.  We hoped for a more positive outcome. Elizabeth hoped that this pregnancy would have happened a couple decades earlier.  Mary hoped that this pregnancy would have come a few years later.

We don’t always get what we want, but God gives us hope.  Hope that is described beautifully in the magnificat, the song that Mary sings after visiting Elizabeth.  Mary says that through her Son, Jesus, God will scatter the proud.  He will bring down the powerful from their thrones.  He will lift up the lowly.  He will fill the hungry with good things.  He will send the rich away empty.  He will help his servants according to the promises that he has made.

This is what we hope for in this Christmas season.  Don’t you hope that one day pride will no longer rule over us?  Or that one day the rich and powerful will no longer reign on high in our government, in the financial, business or agricultural industries.  When Christ comes back, the lowly will be lifted up.  The hungry will be filled with good things.  We hunger for a world that isn’t so obsessed with political correctness.  We hunger for a world that doesn’t have to live in fear of each other.  We hunger for a world that won’t solely focus inwardly on themselves.  What we hunger for is what we hope for.  And what we really hope for is life without sin.  A life without temptations and distractions.  But when our hopes continually fail us, it becomes hard to trust, hard to believe, hard to remain hopeful.

But look at that magnificat again.  “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.”  God has already done this through Christ.  God Almighty himself, came down from his powerful throne on high to be with us; to be one of us.  And he came in the lowliest way possible; being born an infant with no place for him to lay his head except the straw in the middle of a barn.  Some place for our Almighty God.  Not the first place you would think of for a powerful ruler or king to be born.  And yet, this is what our God has done, for you!  He came down from his powerful throne in order to be lifted up on a tree and sacrificed for the sins of all.

There are many things that we hope for, some come true and others don’t turn out the way we wanted.  But even if things don’t happen just the way we desire them to go, doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love you any less or that He has forgotten you.  So we continue to have hope in our crucified and risen Lord, that what He has promised will indeed happen – that we too will be lifted up, and he will fill us with good things; namely his forgiveness, his love, and his mercy.  Amen.

 

 

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

Rejoice!

Readings for the day (3rd Sunday of Advent – Sunday, December 13, 2015):

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Isaiah 12:2-6

Philippians 4:4-7

Luke 3:7-18

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Christmas Eve is only 11 days away, can you believe it?  Only 11 days left of Advent.  But for many this means there is only 11 days left to get any last decorations put up, to finalize your holiday baking, to shop for those last remaining people on your list, and to get everything you need for Christmas dinner.  There are only 11 days left until those beautifully wrapped presents can finally be ripped open.  And there are only 11 days left (or less) until your house or a family member’s house is busting at the seams with people, with joy, with laughter.  There isn’t much time left, is there?

With so much to prepare for, it is very easy to lose focus on what is most important.  Christmas has become so commercialized that we either get frustrated with it or give up since it is so hard to fight against it.  And yet, I think there is a deep longing in us for something different; something new, something that changes the status quo of this world.  We all know that something needs to change in this world.  How many more people need to be killed by acts of terror?  How many more senseless acts of injustice have to happen?  Or how much longer do we need to deal with increased operating costs and lower prices at the market?  How much longer, O Lord, will the rich keep getting richer and the poor getting poorer?  We heard those promising words from Zephaniah, “I will remove disaster from you…I will deal with all your oppressors…I will save the lame and gather the outcast…I will change their shame into praise…I will bring you home.”  But when, O Lord?  When will the things of this world change?  When will your people no longer have to live in fear and uncertainty of the future?  When, O Lord?

It is as if we need John to come back and give us another word of hope; a word of expectation.  John’s message left the crowds filled with expectation and questioned if John was the Messiah; their long awaited hope for the future.  The promised one who would come and restore their lives to the way God had intended it; a life without sin.  But John’s message isn’t all that comforting.  He says that the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Any of you who does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fires of hell.  And also the Lord has a winnowing fork in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.  That’s John message – bear good fruit and make sure that you don’t end up like the chaff that will be burned on the last day.

So we end up asking the same question that the crowds asked, “What then should we do?”  What should we do to ensure that we don’t end up like the chaff that is burned?  How can we stay off on the Lord’s bad side?  John says, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”  We are called to help balance the scales, but it’s hard isn’t it?  It’s hard at times to share with others because we too have sin and we love our stuff.  But it is a big world out there and the scales are so far out of balance that it becomes depressing and overwhelming to carry out John’s instructions on our own.  So we do what we can with the resources that we’ve got.

But John has even better news.  Something different is coming.  The status quo is going to change, for the Messiah is indeed coming.  And when he comes he will remove every disaster from your life.  He will deal with all of your oppressors.  He will change your shame into praise.  And he will bring you to your heavenly home.  This is the Good News that John brought to the crowds.  This is the reason why people were coming out to hear John in the middle of nowhere.  And yet this message is one of the easiest messages to forget and lose sight of.  It is so easy to get tied up in our busyness and our routines.  It is so easy to get caught up in all of our Christmas preparations that we forget about Advent.  It is so easy to lose hope in the future, and lose hope in God when we see the destruction that takes place throughout the world.

So we need someone like John to remind us of this hope that we can find not just during Advent and Christmas, but throughout the year as well – this eternal hope that is only found through Jesus.  This is why Paul says to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  Rejoice, for our God became incarnate to live among us.  Rejoice, for your redemption is found not in your Christmas traditions, but in the soft cries of an infant.  Rejoice, for your sins have been taken away from you by this infant and placed on a cross.  Rejoice, for our God couldn’t even stay dead.

This is a joyous time of year, filled with Christmas cheer and celebrations with family and friends.  But as I saw on a church sign yesterday, “The first gift of Christmas was delivered in a manger, not a sleigh.”

When we look at the state of the world, it is very difficult to see how God could possibly be present and watching out for us.  And therefore it becomes hard to rejoice in the Lord.  But trust that the Lord is near.  For God does indeed love us.  Otherwise why would he send his one and only Son to come into this messed up world and then to sacrifice him on a tree?  Love!  It is out of great love for you that our God has done this.  The manger.  The stable.  The suffering.  The cross.  The tomb.  That was all done for you, out of love!  Rejoice in the Lord always, for the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

 

 

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

God IS Fixing This!

Readings for the day (2nd Sunday of Advent – Sunday, December 6, 2015):

Malachi 3:1-4

Luke 1:68-79

Philippians 1:3-11

Luke 3:1-6

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

“God Isn’t Fixing This.”  That’s what the cover of the New York Daily News read in big bold letters on Thursday morning, the day after the mass shooting in San Bernardino, CA.  God isn’t fixing this.  And it does feel that way doesn’t?  It feels as though God has abandoned us.  That He has forgotten about us.  That we have been left all alone in this world to fend for ourselves.  Everywhere we turn the darkness of this world appears.  We have become surrounded by the darkness.  Terror continues to unfold all around us.  We have already forgotten about the terror attacks on Paris.  And soon San Bernardino will also be forgotten as a new terrorist attack arises.

And we can try to avoid the darkness.  We can try to ignore it and act like it isn’t there.  We turn off the news.  We throw the newspaper away.  We disable the notifications from our phones.  We go to great lengths to avoid the darkness.  But no matter how hard we try, it’s still there, isn’t it?  We can’t get away from the darkness.  We can stop watching the news, but then we watch our family members, our friends, our classmates, our coworkers, our neighbors as they struggle through life looking for just a glimpse of light, a glimpse of hope.  We watch as the people we love battle addiction, and depression, and cancer, and suicidal thoughts.  We watch as our loved ones get bullied, and abused, and mistreated.  We watch as those we care about struggle to make ends meet.  With all of this darkness around, we begin to wonder if God actually is fixing any of this.  Where is God?  Why doesn’t He help us?  Why doesn’t He just fix this?  We become skeptical.  We begin wondering if the news headline is actually true.  Maybe God isn’t fixing this.  And we wonder if God is even real; if He even loves us.  We cry out for help and at the other end of the line all we hear is silence.  Our God has turned silent.

So we turn to ourselves.  We rely on no one but ourselves to fix the problems in our lives.  We tirelessly work to rid the darkness from our lives and from the lives of our loved ones, but to no avail.  The darkness is still there.  It hasn’t gone anywhere.  So we feel powerless, hopeless, defeated.  What more can we do, we ask.  What more can we do, than to turn to God, for God is fixing this.  God will fix this!

 

And God began fixing all of this when He sent John to prepare the way for Jesus to come.  John came to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.  There is hope.  God has not forgotten about us.  Don’t believe me?  Just look at where John was when he was preaching the Word of God and calling for baptism and repentance.  He wasn’t in a concert hall with ways of entertaining people and drawing a crowd.  No, John was in the wilderness – where there is nothing.  And yet people were coming out in droves to hear him.  They were coming because of the Word of God.  It is the Word of God that gives us hope in the midst of despair and light in the midst of darkness.

Today we commemorate Saint Nicholas, a bishop who strived to share the Good News of Jesus through not only his words but also his actions.  He brought the light of Christ and gave hope to people living in darkness.  He did this not to draw attention to himself; that’s why he would bring gifts to people in the darkness of the night.  And Saint Nicholas’ legacy of gift giving still takes place today.  His motivation to help others was not for his own ego, but in order to bring hope to the despairing.

And this is exactly what this Advent and Christmas season is all about.  It’s not about the decorations or the baking.  It’s not about the parties or the presents.  It is all about the reality that our God IS fixing this!  People are trying to say that God isn’t fixing our issues and therefore prayer does not work, that it is ineffective, so don’t waste your time on it.  But our prayers are heard.  Our God has promised that He does listen to our prayers.  And why not trust that our prayers are heard?  For our God began working on fixing our problems when He decided to come into the world like one of us.  The birth of Jesus happened in order to give us light in the midst of the darkness.

And God has been fixing this ever since.  The issue in the world that needs fixing cannot be resolved in congress nor can it be corrected on our own.  Since the issue in the world that is causing addiction, depression, cancer, suicidal thoughts, and mass shootings is sin, the only way to fix sin is to fix all of these sins to a cross.  God has fixed this and is continuing to fix this.  His fixing is not always in the way that we would like to see, but what we need is someone to save us from our sins and Jesus has done exactly that.  God is fixing this by fixing all of your sins to the cross and holding Christ there with nails in his hands.

No matter what it is that you are going through, or what your loved ones are going through – no matter the darkness, Jesus has come to shine His light in the midst of darkness.  Therefore we don’t live as though we have no hope.  For we have hope for the future, because of the blood of Christ.  Amen.

 

 

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.