Hope of Christmas ~ 20151213 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
12/13 Hope of Christmas; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20151213_hope-of-christmas.mp3
Out in the fields around Bethlehem, to unsuspecting shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks by night,
Good news of great joy! Christmas brings a message of good news! Christmas brings great joy! Great joy for all people! Good news of great joy that casts out fear!
So how are you doing this Christmas season? Is your heart overflowing with great joy? Are you free from anxiety and fear? Has the good news totally replaced all the bad?
Great Joy and Great Suffering
If it has, may I suggest to you that you are living in a bubble? Do you watch the news? I don't, and I am still aware of things like the presidential campaign, the national debt, devastating earthquakes, suicide bombings, school shootings, ISIS beheadings, the war on terror. We live in a world that is messed up and broken. Do you know anyone that is sick? Injured? Fighting a disease? I spoke at two funerals this year. One was a very dear friend who degenerated from a debilitating disease. Good news! Great joy! Fear not! How do we bring together the joy of Christmas and the sick and broken world we live in?
Do we compartmentalize? We have a tree with lights and presents, and we live in relative safety. All is well with me, my family, my friends, my church, and that's all I really care about? Turn a blind eye to our brothers and sisters around the world who are being killed for their faith in Jesus? Turn a blind eye to the pain and despair in our own community?
Or do we despair? The Prince of Peace has failed to bring peace on earth. The Great Physician didn't heal my friend, my loved one, me. This good news of great joy hasn't brought me joy. God has failed.
Let me suggest to you that there is a better way. The good news of Christmas is big enough to bring light and joy into the darkest sickest corners of this broken world. The good news is big enough to embrace all the pain and despair in our hearts and infuse life giving hope.
Notice, for a moment, that the Christmas story didn't exempt its participants from hardship. The angel announced to the shepherds:
What?! Shepherds knew what a manger was. A manger is a stone watering trough for animals. Saturated with stable animal slobber. You don't put fragile newborn babies in unsanitary mangers! Why was the promised Messiah, the Lord, in an animal watering trough?! Because there was no room for them in the inn. Why an inn? Why Bethlehem? Why not back home in Nazareth? Because the Emperor had imposed a tax. Tax? The Emperor? What Emperor? The Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. Israel was under Roman occupation. This doesn't sound like good news of great joy for Joseph and Mary! No longer free. Forced by the Roman Emperor to register. Forced to travel right at the time of delivery. Unable to find lodging. Seeking shelter like refugees in a cave.
God didn't exempt Mary, Joseph, and his only Son from trouble. He could have. But he intentionally sent him into a troubled situation to bring peace in the midst of anguish. A year or two later, after Magi from the East arrive bearing gifts, the young couple have to flee for their lives with the baby to Egypt, and the tyrannical Herod slaughters every male child two years old or under in the whole region of Bethlehem. Good news of great joy? Try to tell that to all the mothers in Judea, weeping, refusing to be comforted (Mt.2:18).
Simeon and Consolation
Let's learn a lesson from an old man. 40 days after Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary brought him to the temple to offer the sacrifice for purification according to Leviticus 12. There was a man in Jerusalem, Simeon, to whom the Lord had revealed through the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah (Lk.2:25-26). It is said of him that he was 'waiting for the consolation of Israel'. He was waiting. He was filled with anticipation, longing, eager expectation, hope. He was waiting for consolation, encouragement, solace, comfort. He knew the prophecies. He was waiting. He had hope.
God will come down and bring comfort to his people.
Jesus would bind up the brokenhearted. He would bring comfort to those who mourn. He would bring beauty from ashes.
God will console and comfort and satisfy his people as a mother comforts her child. Have you seen a hungry infant, frantic, frenzied, demanding, inconsolable? And then satisfied, slumped in peaceful rest against his mother, with a trickle of milk running down his chin? This is the picture of comfort and satisfaction he paints for his people. This is what Simeon was longing for, eagerly expecting, anticipating.
Anna and Redemption
Learn a lesson from an old lady, Anna, a prophetess, a widow who continually worshiped God with fasting and prayer. We are told:
Just as Simeon finished thanking God and pronouncing a blessing, Anna began to give thanks to God. Fasting and praying continually are indications that you are earnestly seeking something from God. She must have heard Simeon declare 'my eyes have seen your salvation'. She began to speak of Jesus to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. Again we see waiting, eager expectation, longing, anticipation. And she was not alone in this waiting. She began pointing all those who were longing for redemption to Jesus. They were waiting for redemption, for ransom. To ransom is to buy back something that once belonged to you, or someone that was sold into slavery to pay a debt (Lev.25:29, 48), or to pay for the release of something that was set apart to be offered to the Lord. (Num.18:16). We have sold ourselves as slaves to sin, and we are powerless to escape.
We are powerless to do anything about our own situation, and we cannot pay the infinite price for another. Even the riches of the richest man are insufficient to change the eternal consequences of his actions. Jesus said:
But God says:
Our Creator is also our redeemer. He can pay the infinite price to blot out the debt of our transgressions and sins.
This world is sick and dark and twisted and broken and it is our sin that made it so. We rebelled against a good God and chose to go our own way, and sold ourselves into slavery to sin.
There were still some in Israel who understood the depths of their desperate situation, who cried out to the Lord as their only hope, who expectantly waited and hoped in and watched for the Lord, for his ransom, his redemption.
Good News For All
Christmas is about good news of great joy for all people. No one is beyond the reach of God's redeeming love. When we look around at all those who are desperately sick and evil, murderers, predators, perpetrators, we need to see an opportunity for God's magnificent grace. No one is too sick, too twisted, too broken, too far gone, that our good Lord cannot reach him or her. The good news of Christmas is that God sent a Savior, a Rescuer, a Redeemer, his only Son, God in the flesh, come down to pay our price in full.
Christmas is about recognizing our own desperate need and his infinite sufficiency. We must stop pointing fingers at God or at others and own our own guilt before God, recognize that what is wrong with the world is me, and God has set out to rescue me and purchase me and transform me and make me his own.
Receiving The Gift
Christmas is about accepting a free gift. God gave us the infinite gift of his own Son. Gifts cannot be earned. Gifts are to be received. We can do nothing to merit the gift, or to pay the gift back. A genuine gift is in a completely different category than a paycheck. Paychecks are earned; gifts are given freely, generously. Have you received God's great gift to you? Have you believed?
Already and Not Yet
Christmas is about anticipation, longing, hope. This world is not as it should be, not as it was meant to be, not as it will one day be. Christ has come, he has paid for our sins, he has begun a good work in us, but it is not yet complete. The expectation of Anna and Simeon has begun to be fulfilled, but it is not yet complete. God will one day make all things new. The grace of God has appeared, but we are still 'waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. In the mean time we will sin against others, and be sinned against. Romans 8 tells us:
In this life we may experience tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, we may be killed, we may be regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. We should not be surprised at suffering, we should expect suffering. But even in the midst of this, we can be free from fear. Even in the midst of this we can experience great joy. Can any of these things separate us from the love of Christ?
This is good news indeed. This is the hope of Christmas.
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org